Breaking the Bonds of Oblivion : An Analysis of the Role of Fate and Providence in the Apocryphon of John

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Religionshistoria


This essay aims to investigate the role of fate in the Apocryphon of John– an issue which, with a few exceptions, has been surprisingly overlooked by modern scholarship. In the few modern publications available on the subject, the concept of fate has previously solely been examined in the light of the Greek Philosophical schools, often neglecting texts from a Jewish-Hellenistic context.  Here it is argued that the depiction of fate in the Apocryphon of John, as well as the dualism between Pronoia – the providence of god – and its negative counterpart, the imitating spirit, is closely related to Jewish speculations about external influence and free will in literature such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Community Rule from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Furthermore, it is argued that the author – much like Philo of Alexandria - presents Pronoia – the providence of god - as an extension of God, a concept which preserves his transcendence and at the same time allows him to intervene in earthly activities. Similarly, the imitating spirit, which is also presented as identical to fate, works as an extension of the demiurge. As a result of this reading of the text, the dualism between God’s providential activities carried out by Pronoia and the influence of fate over mankind, carried out by the imitating spirit, becomes more evident and radical.

It has recently been argued that the discourse of enslavement under fate only was applied to “the other” and that it was used primarily to draw boundary demarcations between the own group and the ones outside it. In this essay, I go against this hypothesis and suggest that the threat of enslavement under fate primarily appears in conjunction with paraenetic discourse and is used to exhort the followers to emulate a certain behavior.

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