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On the Prologue of John and the Trimorphic Protennoia

  • Craig A. Evans

One of the dilemmas of the Fourth Gospel is that of the form and background of the first 18 verses designated as the Prologue. There has been much discussion with respect to the original form and literary unity of the underlying hymn which is thought to be the foundation of the Prologue.1 Of no less importance has been the debate concerning the Hintergrund of this hymn. Indeed, over the years there has been a variety of suggestions made as to its religious background.2

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[1] Joachim Jeremias has given a substantial defence for seeing the Prologue as a hymn in The Central Message of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965) 7190. However, Peder, Borgen, ‘Observations on the Targumic Character of the Prologue of John’, NTS 16 (1970) 288, notes: ‘Haenchen, E. and Eltester, W. have characterized the style as hymnic prose.’

[2] For a helpful discussion of the verious views of the Prologu's background see Jack, T. Sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns (Cambridge University Press, 1971) 2957. For a good discussion of recent scholarship on th Fourth Gospel as a whole see Robert, Kysar, The Fourth Evangelist and His gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975).

[3] Hermann, ridderbos, ‘The Prologue to the Gospel of John’, NovT 8 (1966) 188–9;Eugen, Ruckstuhl, Die literarische Einheit des Johannesevangeliums (Freiburg: 1951), cited by Ridderbos; Robinson, John A. T., ‘The Relation of the Prologue to the Gospel of St John’, NTS 9 (1963) 120;Pierson, Parker, ‘Two Editions of John’, JBL 75 (1956) 304, cited by Robinson; Robinson, James M., Trajectories through Early Christianity (with Helmut, Koester; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 235, has described this as a ‘general trend in Johannine scholarship’ in recognising the ‘unity of Johannine style’ throughout the Fourth Gospel.

[4] Raymond Brown, E., The Gospel according to John I-XII (Anchor Bible; New York; Doubleday, 1966) 19.

[5] Rudolf, Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John, I (Freiburg and Montreal: Herder and Palm, 1968) 225. For a recent and detailed analysis of Johannine style see Nicol, W., The Sēmeia in the Fourth Gospel: Tradition and Redaction (Leiden: Brill, 1972) especially 1719, 23–4.

[6] Brown, , 19 (emphasis mine).

[7] Robinson, John A. T., 123–5, arranges the Johannine corpus thus: Gospel (minus Prologue and Epilogue) first, epistles second, and Gospel (plus Prologue and Epilogue) third. I would take exception with this order, for 1 John appears to presuppose and to comment upon the Prologue.

[8] Robinson, James M. (ed.) The Nag Hammadi Library (New York: Harper & Row; Leiden: Brill, 1977).

[9] Rudolph, Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) 18. Bultmann believed that the Prologue parallels the Naassene Hymn while the incarnational confession parallels the 7th Ode of Solomon (p. 14).

[10] See, for example, the discussion afforded by Edwin, M. Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the Proposed Evidences (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973).

[12] See Reginald, H. Fuller, The New Testament in Current Study (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962) 123–4.

[13] Robinson, James M. has provided a discussion of the question of non-Christian Gnosticism in Nag Hammadi in ‘The Coptic Gnostic Library Today’, NTS 12 (1968) 372–80.

[14] Helmut, Koester, ‘One Jesus and Four Primitive Gospels’, Trajectories through Early Christianity, 176. See also Jeremias, , The Parables of Jesus (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963) 6689.

[15] The non-Gnostic logia of Thomas certainly lnd no particlular support to Bultmann's hypothesis, but they do attest to the possible great antiquity of parts of the Nag Hammadi library.

[16] Gesine, Schenke, ‘Die dreigestaltige Protennoia’, ThLZ 99 (1974) 733, cited by Robinson, James M., ‘Gnosticim and the New Testament’, Gnosis, Festschrift for Hans Jonas (ed. Barbara, Aland; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978) 128.

[17] Schenke, , cited by Robinson, , 128.

[18] Schenke, , cited by Robinson, , 129.

[19] Carsten, Colpe, ‘Heidnische, jüdische und christiche Überlieferung in den Schriften aus Nag Hammadi, III’, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 17 (1974) 122, cited by Robinson, , 129–30. In a recent paper, ‘Sethians and Johannine Thought: The Trimorphic Protennoia and the Prologue of the Gospel of John’ (read at 1978 SBL) 16–17, Robinson also cites and discussion the parallels offered by Yvonne, Janssens in ‘Une Source gnostique du Prologue?’ ĽEvangile de Jean: Sources, Rédaction. Theologie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 44: 1977) 355–8.

[20] Colpe, , 122, cited by Robinson, , ‘Gnosticism’, 130.

[21] Colpe, , 123, also cited by Robinson, , 129–30.

[22] This series of emanations is, of course, a common feature of Gnostic cosmology.

[23] The concept of being hidden from the ‘powers’ could be similar to 1 Cor. 2.

[24] Wilson, R. McL., ‘The Trimorphic Protennoia’, Gnosis and Gnosticism: Papers Read at the Seventh International Conference on Patristic Studies (ed. Martin, Krause; Nag Hammadi Studies 8; Leiden, Brill, 1977) 50–4. cited by Robinson, ‘Sethians and Johannine Thought’, 12.

[25] frederik, Wisse, ‘The Redeemer Figure in the Paraphrase of Shem’, NovT 12 (1970) 130–40. thinks that in the case of the Paraphrase of Shem, de-Christianization is a possibility.

[26] of course, as Wilson, 53, has correctly noted, ‘residual traces of an earlier Christian form’ would have to be present, if any such process of de-Christianization is to be discerned.

[27] Roninson, , 18.

[28] Robinson, , 17, describes Colpe's view as ‘Gnosticising sapiential hermeneutical traditions’. Therefore, what underlies the Prologue may very well have been closer to what underlies Protennoia, but in their respective forms, points of similarity are dulled. For example, the ‘threeness’ of Protennoia, i.e. its three divisions as the Thought, the Voice, and the Word, noe obscure in the Prologue, may have been more apparent in the original form of the underlying hymn.

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New Testament Studies
  • ISSN: 0028-6885
  • EISSN: 1469-8145
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