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The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon's Commentary on John
Elaine H. Pagels
Publication Date
July 2005


“The student of gnosticism must be prepared to find structure where things seem most formless and elasticity where things seem most clear-cut. This monograph by Elaine Pagels on Heracleon’s exegesis of the Gospel of John admirably fulfills this requirement.

Two interrelated themes emerge from the study. First, in Valentinian exegesis biblical passages have three levels of meaning corresponding to the three stages of the myth of redemption—in the plêrôma, in the kenôma, and in the cosmos. What were once regarded as variations or contradictory elements in the Valentinian exegesis of John are now seen to cohere. … Second, the traditional interpretation from Irenaeus to Sagnard of the three races of men as ‘substantially determined’ natures does violence to Valentinian anthropology. The opposite view of Langerbeck and Schottroff that the Valentinians actually teach the doctrine of ‘free will’ is also wrong. We find that the transformation of natures from hylic to psychic and from psychic to pneumatic is envisaged; consequently, they cannot be ‘substantially determined.’ Neither is the three-fold distinction without meaning; but the correct category for understanding it is ‘election’ (the doctrine about psychics—those who are neither elect nor reprobate—is a ‘concession’ to catholic Christianity).”
—William R. Schoedel, Journal of Biblical Literature