The “Apocryphon Of John:” A Case Study In Literary Criticism -- By: Andrew K. Helmbold

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 13:3 (Summer 1970)
Article: The “Apocryphon Of John:” A Case Study In Literary Criticism
Author: Andrew K. Helmbold


The “Apocryphon Of John:”
A Case Study In Literary Criticism

Andrew K. Helmbold, Ph.D.*

Last Summer I told one of my colleagues working on the Gnostic texts that the literary critics seem to think that the ancient literary world was like a garden. In this garden there was a redactor hiding behind every bush. When an unsuspecting author strolled through the garden, manuscript in hand, the redactor would spring forth, seize the mann-script, and proceed to rewrite it. This approach to the literary history of a document is nowhere more dramatically illustrated than in the criticism of the Gnostic Apocryphon of John. Since a study of this document does not carry the emotional overtones associated with the criticism of Scripture, it affords us an excellent case history. Conclusions drawn from this case history cannot be discotinted as being radically influenced by the students’ attachment to the theology or religion presented by the Apocryphon.

The Apocryphon has been known in modern times for nearly seventy-five years, ever since Carl Schmidt announced the discovery of the manuscript known as BG 8502 in 1896.1 However, the text itself was not published until 1955.2 In the meantime, the Nag Hammadi discovery gave us three more variant texts of the Apocryphon (in Godices II, III, and Iv). The first of these was published, along with other material, in a photographic edition by Pahor Labib in 1956.3 All three were edited and published with German translations by Martin Krause and Pahor Labib in 1963.4 Without going into full bibliographical detail on the Apocryphon one ought also to mention two dissertations with English translations of the text: Soren Giversen, 1961,5 and Andrew Helmbold,

*Professor at Tidewater Community College, Portsmouth, Va.

1961,6 and the French translations of BG, Codex III and the long version (L:Codex II and IV) by Rodolphe Kasser.7 Needless to say, the publication of these editions and translations has opened the gates, not for a flood, but at least for a stream of interpretive, linguistic, and analytic articles.

Although disagreeing on details, most scholars who have studied the document have seen therein three major subjects discussed within a revelational frame story. The following outline covers the major divisions of the treatise, follo...

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