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The Treatise on the Resurrection

The Treatise on the Resurrection was a valued document among some ancient Gnostics, but it was completely unknown in modern times until discovered among the writings of the Nag Hammadi Library (see p. 19). It is a provocative philosophical discourse addressed by an unknown Gnostic teacher to an inquirer, possibly a non-Gnostic Christian, named Rheginos.1 Because it is in the form of a letter, the book is sometimes called “The Letter to Rheginos.” In response to Rheginos’s questions, it provides basic instruction about the nature of death and resurrection—both of Jesus and, more important, of humans. The questions Rheginos had raised concerned the character of existence in the afterlife. If, as Gnostics had maintained, salvation comes from the body rather than in the body—what kind of existence will a person have after death? The author replies by assuring Rheginos that the resurrection is by no means an illusion: it will certainly take place. But it will not involve a crass revivification of the material body—a body, the author claims, that is itself more illusory than real. After death, even though the body passes away, a person’s spirit will ascend to the heavenly realm, drawn up by Jesus himself. The flesh, in other words, is completely transitory, but the spirit is eternal: just as people were not in the flesh before they came into the world, so too they will not be in the flesh once they leave this world. The spiritual nature of the resurrection has clear ethical implications for this author. Those who deny their flesh in this life have begun to escape bodily existence and have started along the path to their heavenly home. And so fleshly pleasures are to be overcome for the sake of life to come. This teaching of a spiritual resurrection stands in sharp contrast with proto-orthodox notions of the future bodily resurrection (cf. 2 Tim 2:18).

1

For further discussion, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 131–32.

Translation by Malcom L. Peel, in Harold W. Attridge, Nag Hammadi Codex 1 (The Jung Codex) (Nag Hammadi Studies, 22) (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1985) 148–57; used with permission.

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