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The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

In the gnostic “Second Treatise of the Great Seth,” Christ himself provides a first-hand description of how he descended into the man Jesus’ body, occupied it for the length of his ministry, and then died only in appearance. Like other gnostic teachers, such as Basilides, the unknown author of this book thinks that Simon of Cyrene, who bore Jesus’ cross, was mistakenly crucified in his place, while Jesus looked on and laughed. Those who ascribe to a literal understanding of Christ’s death are said to proclaim “a doctrine of a dead man”; in so doing they subject themselves to “fear and slavery”; they are “small and ignorant.” As in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, these false believers are the proto-orthodox Christians, who foolishly believe that the Jewish Scriptures are true (from Adam to the Patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets) and that the Creator of the world is almighty. In fact, the ancient Jews and their God himself are all a “laughingstock.” Those who do not see the deeper truths about God and Christ from the Scriptures—i.e., those without gnosis—are “like dumb animals.” They think that “they are advancing the name of Christ,” especially in persecuting those who have been liberated (i.e., the Gnostics); but in fact they are completely ignorant. The name Seth does not occur anywhere in the tractate except in the title; in the Old Testament, he is said to be the third son of Adam and Eve. Some gnostic groups maintained that he was the first to whom gnosis came, the progenitor of the Gnostics themselves. This book, which was discovered at Nag Hammadi (see page 19), probably dates from the third century.

I visited a bodily dwelling. I cast out the one who was in it previously, and I went in. And the whole multitude of the ar-

chons was disturbed. And all the physical matter of the archons along with the powers born of the earth began to tremble

Translation by Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons, in Nag Hammadi Codex VII (Nag Hammadi Studies, 30) ed. Birger Pearson (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996); used with permission.


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