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The Impediment of the Passions: The Testimony of Truth (NHC IX,3) as Deliberative Rhetoric Against the Teaching that the Confession of Faith and Baptism are Salvific without Celibacy

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image of Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

The fragmented nature of the Nag Hammadi treatise known as The Testimony of Truth (NHC IX,3) has seriously impeded our interpretation of this remarkable text, the only Nag Hammadi text in which opposing Gnostic Christian groups are identified by name. Nevertheless, in the past decade, this treatise has become an important reference to the early Christian debate about martyrdom. The question should be asked, however, whether the passages cited by scholars have been interpreted correctly, if we have not first understood the rhetorical strategy of the author and the Sitz im Leben of the text. As the speaker advises an audience seeking after the truth, this text is best read as deliberative speech, despite its many lacunae. Viewing the text rhetorically allows us to reconstruct the message of the text, and interpret its arguments accordingly. When this is done, it becomes clear that the author does not try to persuade his audience with respect to martyrdom, but rather with respect to the passions of the soul that could prevent the soul’s salvation. The Sitz im Leben of the text is the shared discussion among Christians in general and Gnostic Christians about the efficacy of testimony and baptism for salvation, and the acceptability of sex and procreation.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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