THE VISION OF THE SAVIOUR


by David Ross
8-30 June 2002

Introduction

This essay will explicate the Papyrus Berolinensis 22220 ("PB22220").

PB22220 "is a collection of papyrus fragments" currently published, with commentary, in The Gospel of the Savior by Hedrick and Mirecki (p. 2). The language is more-or-less standard Sahidic Coptic with a few archaisms in spelling (p. 12). That would place its Coptic authorship in the fifth century CE around the upper Nile. PB22220 itself was put to papyrus before the seventh century CE, probably, according to the inexact science of palaeography (p. 15). From there it ended up in the hands of a Dutch antiquities dealer, who sold it to the Berlin Egyptian Museum in 1967, and thence eventually it came to us (p. 2).

PB22220 represents a translation from Greek (p. 12), like so many other Christian texts preserved in Coptic. The translator on a few occasions shows influence from prior Coptic translations of Matthew, particularly in p. 98.63-99.3 == Coptic Matthew 26:31 against Coptic Zechariah 13:7 (p. 20), but for the most part did his own work.

PB22220 does not preserve the name of its story. Hedrick and Mirecki chose to call it a "gospel" "in keeping with the nature of its contents" and "of the saviour" "after its principal character" (p. 17).

The codex from which PB22220 survives had page numbers along the top. I will be following Hedrick and Mirecki in referring to these numbers to place a line in PB22220's text.


The Relation of PB22220 to Canon

PB22220 as it has come down to us was not attempting a revolution in the Jesus community. It assumes both the canonical narrative and certain canonical teachings.

Hedrick and Mirecki note parallels with the canonical Passion accounts and conclude - tentatively - "the dialogues and speeches of the Gospel of the Savior may have been contextualized in a narrative sequence" (p. 16), specifically "in conjunction with the last meal and/or Gethsemane" (p. 17).

PB22220's dialogues mirror in both form and content those of the Johannine Gospel. "But I do not remain alone, for my Father is with me, I and my Father are one" (p. 98.58-62) also exists in John 16:32 and 16:10, although Hedrick and Mirecki only recognise the latter. PB22220 also has "I am the good shepherd" (p. 99.3-4, c.f. John 10:11). Hedrick and Mirecki conclude that PB22220 includes teachings that the Gospel of John also picked up.

There seems to be a tension between the two authors, in that the author of the introduction did not try to draw a chain of influence, but the commentary on PB22220 pp.98.10b-99.20a believed it dependent on at least John (Gospel of the Savior pp. 92-95). I side with the latter. The Johannine references are either intrusive to PB22220's chains of logic or else are not complete in PB22220 alone.

The saying in p. 98.58-62 comes between "You will flee, all of you, and leave me alone" and "For it is written, I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered" (pp. 98.55-57 and 98.63-99.1). "It is written" cannot be the cause of the effect of "I and my Father are one". It can be, though, of "you will flee", as is found in Mark 14:27+50 (therefore Matthew 26:31+56) and the Fayyum Fragment (but not Luke). p. 98.58-62 is an intrusion into 98.55-99.1's logic.

As for the saying, "I am the good shepherd", it goes unexplained in p. 99.3-4, unless one also knows the Gospel of John 10:1-11.

PB22220 pp. 98.55-99.1 and 99.3-4 comprise hybrids of the teachings now found in the Gospels of John, and of Mark, Matthew, and Fayyum. None of the latter pericopes depend on PB22220.

The setting of PB22220, too, could be either Johannine (purely Last Supper), Synoptic (Last Supper to Gethsemane), or either. What it is not, is neither.

The Synoptic sayings not in the Last Supper context are Mark 14:42 and 14:50. But Mark 14:42 is also found in John, and 14:50 has been made into part of 14:27. In addition, at the outset of PB22220, 97.15-20 runs, "Blessed is [the one] who will eat with me in [the kingdom] of the heavens" and 28-30 runs, "I bought [the garment of the kingdom] with the blood of the grape". PB22220 relied on the context of a final meal, which in the Gospels corresponds to the Last Supper.

The sayings that match John, meanwhile, exist at lastest in the Last Supper context. Hedrick and Mirecki contrarily point out an "obscure mention of a 'place'" (p. 92) in p. 98.48, which may refer to Gethsemane or even the Mount of Olives, if the Coptic translation of Luke 22:40 is used here; and conclude the setting is Gethsemane. But there we are getting into unanswerable questions of whether the translator got it right. It is safest to assume either that PB22220 left its setting deliberately ambiguous, or that we require more evidence.

One could make the case that PB22220 was working from the narrative context of a predecessor or apocryphal mirror of the Gospel of John, combined with teachings that independently wound up in that Gospel. However, the easiest solution is that PB22220 was meant to be understood as a conversation at the Johannine supper.

As for the remainder of the teachings, they flow easily from Johannine dogma. Only the apostles converse with Jesus. Jesus tells them various "truths" about the universe, and shows them a couple of visions. The first, in codex page 100, follows close after Jesus's talk in the Passion "narrative sequence", and involves angels in fear of Jesus, who is piercing the heavens. Following a dialogue, and the gap after page 108, page 113 ends a vision of angels casting away their crowns before the Father. The two visions are each told in the first person. This is all secret, visionary material that accords well with the Johannine view of Jesus's ministry, that He came down to reveal the truth.

PB22220 is a mixture of narrative and "secret" visionary elements that assumed elements of proto-orthodox second-century Christianity. Clearly some other genre is needed to describe it, other than the rigid categories of "narrative" and "dialogue/discourse".


The Genre of PB22220 - and Others

PB22220 is not alone in mixing standard gospel fare with otherworldly secret knowledge. The Gospel of Mary is similar, although it is currently classed with the dialogue/discourse gospels.

As mentioned above, PB22220 contains many sayings from John and the Synoptic Gospels. Likewise, Mary 4:1-11 is a pastiche of sayings from the Synoptic/Thomas logia tradition, introduced by a few parallels to the Gospel of John and concluded with reference to Paul's epistle to the Romans (The Complete Gospels p. 362).

The start of PB22220 at pp. 98.47-99.11 depended on those Gospels as narrative biographies of Jesus. The Gospel of Mary showed no interest in Jesus's life on Earth, but did refer to Peter's hot temper (Mary 10:7, c.f. John 18:10), an apostolic tradition she possibly got from a narrative gospel.

Both PB22220 and Mary therefore depend on traditions already common to a wider Christian audience: the sayings and apostolic traditions in Mary, and the gospel narrative in PB22220.

In addition, the PB22220 and Mary both contain first-person visions of progression through the heavens, up to the "fourth" heaven. In PB22220 p. 113 the recipients of the vision are "us" apostles and in Mary 7-9 they are only "I" Mary. (p. 113.14-16, which Hedrick and Mirecki relate to Mary 16,21-17,7, which is Mary 9:16 in The Complete Gospels.)

The Gospel of Mary and, contrary to Hedrick and Mirecki, the Secret Book of James (p. 19) are not really dialogue/discourse gospels. Instead each is a "visionary gospel". I cover the genre and those two texts as its exemplars here. To sum up, such a document is a tale of a secret message from the Lord passed to the disciples. It exists in the narrative context of the overall Christian story (however limited in the case of Secret James and Mary), including sayings commonly attributed to Jesus.

I think that PB22220 can be considered a visionary gospel too, in the tradition of Mary.


The Alternatives

Hedrick and Mirecki did not have the concept of "visionary gospel" and, perhaps uncoincidentally, were at a loss to assign PB22220 to a genre. They offered three possibilities, none convincing or even clear.

They thought it "unclear whether the Gospel of the Savior is a narrative gospel like the Gospel of John, or from a dialogue/discourse gospel like certain texts in the Nag Hammadi library. In its complete form, it could easily have been a narrative gospel with extensive discourse material, such as we find in the Gospel of John" (p. 18). "On the other hand, what appear to be hints at a broader narrative frame in the Gospel of the Savior may simply be due to the composite character of the text and the carelessness of its 'author'. In that case, the Gospel of the Savior is likely another dialogue/discourse 'gospel,' such as the Apocryphon of James (I,2), The Book of Thomas (II.7), The Dialogue of the Savior (III.5)" (p. 19). They also allow for "gospel-like material... originally embedded in another text of a different genre" but only envison an "epistolary frame" such as the Letter of the Apostles (p. 19). I will be working my way backward.

The style of PB22220 need not exclude it from visionary-gospel status. Hedrick and Mirecki note that PB22220 p. 113.1-14 may be narrated by apostles, possibly hinting at that "epistolary frame". But even if we made either assumption (which the authors do not), the Gospel of Peter in the Akhmim Fragment, and the Apocryphon of James both employ the first person also. The use of the first person does not necessarily make a document an epistle, and even if the document be structured as an epistle, it still may be a visionary gospel.

We can discount outright the second option, that the narrative echoes are examples of intertextual strain deriving from a failed attempt to turn a set of narrative gospels into a discourse gospel. It is highly unlikely that a noncanonical text, after authorship, centuries of copying, a pass through the mill of translation, and further centuries of copying, could retain intertextual strain of this magnitude. It is more likely that these features are not strain, but are intentional - that in this case, the narrative of the Saviour was written in with His message.

The first option, that PB22220 is a narrative for which we have only the "John 12:20-18:11" portion, is unlikely. It is firstly dangerous to speculate on what PB22220's gospel may or may not have contained based on sections that do not exist in PB22220's parchment. Secondly, if John 12:20-18:11 had been the only verses of John that survived to the present day, that would amount to a fantastic coincidence. Even John 12:20-18:11 contains so much "narrative framework" that no-one would mistake it for a dialogue/discourse gospel, as the authors admit when they offer the further example of John 13:31-17:26. It would be a similarly wild coincidence for PB22220, if it represented a narrative gospel from which that papyrus just happened to catch the dialogue/discourse section. Thirdly, as shown here, John set out to replace an existent narrative gospel, and went about it by transplanting his beliefs into one. PB22220 had no such ambition, nor any aims radically at variance with established tradition. An incorporation of too much story would have been superfluous for PB22220. There is no evidence that PB22220 had an extensive narrative framework. Instead, it shows signs of not needing one. I conclude its narrative frame was minimal, like that of Mary or Secret James.

PB22220 therefore better fits the Mary-style visionary gospel genre than the Hedrick-Mirecki alternatives of narrative, dialogue/discource, and embedded.


Before PB22220

PB22220 shows development beyond Mary and Secret James.

The nature of the Resurrection demanded that all four Gospels include post-resurrection appearances. Accordingly, both Mary and Secret James claim their visions to be post-resurrection. Secret James put its vision 550 days away.

But the orthodox canon posted a limit on these appearances, in the interest of supporting the apostolic hierarchy as their replacement - that is, the church. Luke's Acts of the Apostles 1:3 insisted that Jesus left the world forty days after his resurrection. Marcion did not include Acts as part of his edition of Luke, the whole Nag Hammadi corpus lacks any "direct or authoritative quotation" (Smith p. 77), and Secret James either ignored or did not know the 40-day limit. The early Gnostic books clearly did not view the Acts as authoritative.

For the visionary Gospel audiences, it was still fashionable to see visions of the risen Christ, as did Paul, and to attribute them to Paul's fellow apostles. To Mary and Secret James, sayings, visions, and even apostolic traditions were all more important than the earthly biography of Jesus. In addition, as early as the Gospels of Mark and Luke, there was controversy over Saint Peter; this controversy was a going concern for Secret James, and the conclusion of Mary depends on it.

Mary and Secret James can stake some claim to be products (or relics, if you like) of the formative years of Christianity, when Jesus's earthly existence was not yet as important as his spiritual guidance. The Gospel of John belongs to a later time, after biographical narratives had become important, although it was still safe to change them.

Up until the mid-second century of the not-yet-Christian era, it was not only the "heretics" who read the biographies of the living Jesus yet chose to downplay them. Koester says of 2 Clement, "although features of the Matthean and Lukan redaction of sayings are evident, there is no trace of any narrative materials from these canonical gospels" (p. 360). That author either harmonised or quoted a harmony of Mark, Matthew, and Luke (and Thomas/Egyptians?), but only as a means to extract sayings. Around that time, Papias accepted the "the sayings and deeds of Christ" according to Mark as "accurate", but even he balked at its narrative structure: "but not in order", as Eusebius quotes him in Eccles. Hist. 3.39.15.

PB22220 stands apart from the second-century and/or visionary texts in that it covers events during the life of Jesus, and cites sayings like Mark 14:41-2 == John 14:31 ("get up, let's go, the betrayer is at hand") that are of no relevance outside those events. It also does not cast aspersions, pro or con, on the character of Peter or any other disciple.

PB22220 therefore belongs to a time when Jesus's biography as laid out in canon had become at least as important as his teachings.


At The Time Of PB22220

PB22220 presumably had a reason for assuming such vast amounts of the narrative gospels, where earlier works assumed little if any.

It so happens PB22220 was not alone in being a visionary work dependent on the mainstream canon. Another such text was The Epistle of Peter to Philip, in which Christ appeared to the apostles to grant visions of the spirit world.

The Epistle of Peter to Philip is a rare exception to the visionary genre, in that it was based on the first portions of Acts. Smith cites Marvin Meyer's introduction to VIII,2 from The Coptic Gnostic Library: Nag Hammadi Codex VIII edited by J Sieber, 1991, and also Perkins's Gnosticism p. 181. He also adds Acts's emphasis on the apostles' suffering on account of Jesus (5:41, 9:16) and Jesus's own suffering as part of the Christian gospel (1:3, 3:18, 17:3, 26:23), and claims that The Epistle of Peter to Philip brought them together in insisting that Jesus's suffering was the direct cause of the apostles' suffering (E.P.P. 138.11-17).

In PB22220's time, as Perkins put it, the proto-orthodox party of the narrative Jesus had been "pushing Gnostic authors in retreat". Even the post-resurrection visions had to take the nascent canon into account. At that point, Luke's Acts had become the only accepted Christian work that followed the post-resurrection period up to the time of Paul. The visionaries may not have liked it, but they had to deal with its limitations, including a 40-day window for Jesus appearances. The E.P.P. mentioned above gamely provided a post-resurrection appearance based on Acts.

PB22220 set its vision during the very Gospel narrative, in this way accepting subordination to the canonical gospels. It is at least possible that it did so out of aversion to post-resurrection appearances. If PB22220 knew Acts directly, this bypassed the challenge of that book's canonical limit. Even if it did not, this nonetheless hints at a post-Acts environment, in which the post-resurrection vision had gone out of style, to be replaced by the teachings of the mortal Jesus, as found in the Gospels.


Conclusion

PB22220 is a visionary gospel, and not a biographical narrative like Mark, Egerton, or even John. Instead it assumes the narrative of one or more such gospel(s). I think future research ought to treat PB22220 like the Gospel of Mary. Where PB22220 and Mary parallel other gospels, we should focus on which gospels were used, and on how. Elsewhere PB22220 and Mary are important for what they say about the development of gnosticism as heavenly speculation, particularly with reference to Enoch 1-36.



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Miscellany

The first version of this project was written 8-9 June. 10 June, John. 11-12 June, restructure. 22 June, plugged for John's Gospel as the narrative context. 23 June, plugged for the Book of Acts as an authorship context. 25-26 June, improved argumentation, and brought in evidence from the second-century orthodox. 28-30 June, more improvements.




Bibliography