The “Gospel of James,” can confuse a lot of people, not realizing that there is a different between the Gospel of James and the Apocalypse of James. This mistake is quite understandable but there are large differences between the two texts. The Apocalypse of James is a letter full of secrets that Jesus communicated to James; at least that is what the author is presenting. The Gospel of James is more of a gospel style text dedicated to the infancy of Christ and background on the virgin Mary.
The Apocalypse of James has two parts, the first and second letters. The first letter is often called the Revelation of Jacob and was found in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, in 1945. A second copy of the first letter has been found in other collections of texts such as Codex Tchacos. The second letter was discovered in the same manner in 1945 but the style of writing and the content cause many to believe it was written before the first letter.
The letters were found in a collection of about 52 other texts, many of them Gnostic in style and thought. They were sealed within a large terracotta vessel, much like the Dead Sea scrolls. They were stored away during the fourth century, in order to hide the texts from destruction.
The text of the first letter is primarily a dialogue between James the Just (Jesus’ brother) and Jesus, with a fragmented account of the martyrdom of James appended to the bottom of the manuscript. The first portion of the text describes James’ understandable concern about being crucified, whereas the latter portion describes secret passwords given to James, so that he can ascend to the highest heaven (out of seventy-two) after dying.
The second letter is very Gnostic in nature and has less dialogue than the first letter. It has been the source of controversy over the last few decades because it names James’ father as Theudas rather than Joseph. Theudas also is presented as the biological father of James by the mid 2nd century Protevangelium of James. The Apocalypse of James in conjunction with Protevangelium of James have been heavily relied upon for doctrines concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary, claiming that Teudas had children already when he married the widowed virgin Mary.
This second letter also contains the rather gruesome death of James, which one would expect during a time of Christian persecution. The Roman’s had invented new and terrible ways to dispose of the unwanted Christians.
The Apocalypse of James is part Gnostic gospel and part Apocalypse.
Very little is known about who authored these text except for internal claims by James the Just. Since the letters are both fairly different in content and style of language it is fair to wager that multiple authors were involved. But whoever was involved, they were clearly of a Gnostic theological background.
Little is also known about how widespread these letters were read or received. Not much information is readily available as to whether or not the early church fathers had read such letters. If any of them had read them it would be assumed that the Alexandrian church farhers would have been the ones with access to these texts.
The First Apocalypse of James
Translated by William R. Schoedel
It is the Lord who spoke with me: “See now the completion of my redemption. I have given you a sign of these things, James, my brother. For not without reason have I called you my brother, although you are not my brother materially. And I am not ignorant concerning you; so that when I give you a sign – know and hear.”
“Nothing existed except Him-who-is. He is unnameable and ineffable. I myself am also unnameable, from Him-who-is, just as I have been given a number of names – two from Him-who-is. And I, I am before you. Since you have asked concerning femaleness, femaleness existed, but femaleness was not first. And it prepared for itself powers and gods. But it did not exist when I came forth, since I am an image of Him-who-is. But I have brought forth the image of him so that the sons of Him-who-is might know what things are theirs and what things are alien (to them). Behold, I shall reveal to you everything of this mystery. For they will seize me the day after tomorrow. But my redemption will be near.”
James said, “Rabbi, you have said, ‘they will seize me.’ But I, what can I do?” He said to me, “Fear not, James. You too will they seize. But leave Jerusalem. For it is she who always gives the cup of bitterness to the sons of light. She is a dwelling place of a great number of archons. But your redemption will be preserved from them. So that you may understand who they are and what kinds they are, you will […]. And listen. They are not […] but archons […]. These twelve […] down […] archons […] upon his own hebdomad.”
James said, “Rabbi, are there then twelve hebdomads and not seven as there are in the scriptures?” The Lord said, “James, he who spoke concerning this scripture had a limited understanding. I, however, shall reveal to you what has come forth from him who has no number. I shall give a sign concerning their number. As for what has come forth from him who has no measure, I shall give a sign concerning their measure”
James said, “Rabbi, behold then, I have received their number. There are seventy-two measures!” The Lord said, “These are the seventy-two heavens, which are their subordinates. These are the powers of all their might; and they were established by them; and these are they who were distributed everywhere, existing under the authority of the twelve archons. The inferior power among them brought forth for itself angels and unnumbered hosts. Him-who-is, however, has been given […] on account of […] Him-who-is […] they are unnumbered. If you want to give them a number now, you will not be able to do so until you cast away from your blind thought, this bond of flesh which encircles you. And then you will reach Him-who-is. And you will no longer be James; rather you are the One-who-is. And all those who are unnumbered will all have been named.”
<James said,>, “Rabbi, in what way shall I reach Him-who-is, since all these powers and these hosts are armed against me?” He said to me, “These powers are not armed against you specifically, but are armed against another. It is against me that they are armed. And they are armed with other powers. But they are armed against me in judgment. They did not give […] to me in it […] through them […]. In this place […] suffering, I shall […]. He will […] and I shall not rebuke them. But there shall be within me a silence and a hidden mystery. But I am fainthearted before their anger.”
James said, “Rabbi, if they arm themselves against you, then is there no blame?”
- You have come with knowledge,
- that you might rebuke their forgetfulness.
- You have come with recollection,
- that you might rebuke their ignorance.
But I was concerned because of you.
- For you descended into a great ignorance,
- but you have not been defiled by anything in it.
- For you descended into a great mindlessness,
- and your recollection remained.
- You walked in mud,
- and your garments were not soiled,
- and you have not been buried in their filth,
- and you have not been caught.
And I was not like them, but I clothed myself with everything of theirs.
- There is in me forgetfulness,
- yet I remember things that are not theirs.
- There is in me [….],
- and I am in their […].
[…] knowledge […] not in their sufferings […]. But I have become afraid before them, since they rule. For what will they do? What will I be able to say? Or what word will I be able to say that I may escape them?”
The Lord said, “James, I praise your understanding and your fear. If you continue to be distressed, do not be concerned for anything else except your redemption. For behold, I shall complete this destiny upon this earth as I have said from the heavens. And I shall reveal to you your redemption.”
James said, “Rabbi, how, after these things, will you appear to us again? After they seize you, and you complete this destiny, you will go up to Him-who-is.” The Lord said, “James, after these things I shall reveal to you everything, not for your sake alone but for the sake of the unbelief of men, so that faith may exist in them. For a multitude will attain to faith and they will increase in […]. And after this I shall appear for a reproof to the archons. And I shall reveal to them that he cannot be seized. If they seize him, then he will overpower each of them. But now I shall go. Remember the things I have spoken and let them go up before you.” James said,”Lord, I shall hasten as you have said.” The Lord said farewell to him and fulfilled what was fitting.
When James heard of his suffering and was much distressed, they awaited the sign of his coming. And he came after several days. And James was walking upon the mountain which is called “Gaugelan”, with his disciples, who listened to him because they had been distressed, and he was […] a comforter, saying, “This is […] second […]” Then the crowd dispersed, but James remained […] prayer […], as was his custom.
And the Lord appeared to him. Then he stopped (his) prayer and embraced him. He kissed him, saying, “Rabbi, I have found you! I have heard of your sufferings, which you endured. And I have been much distressed. My compassion you know. Therefore, on reflection, I was wishing that I would not see this people. They must be judged for these things that they have done. For these things that they have done are contrary to what is fitting.”
The Lord said, “James, do not be concerned for me or for this people. I am he who was within me. Never have I suffered in any way, nor have I been distressed. And this people has done me no harm. But this (people) existed as a type of the archons, and it deserved to be destroyed through them. But […] the archons, […] who has […] but since it […] angry with […] The just […] is his servant. Therefore your name is “James the Just”. You see how you will become sober when you see me. And you stopped this prayer. Now since you are a just man of God, you have embraced me and kissed me. Truly I say to you that you have stirred up great anger and wrath against yourself. But (this has happened) so that these others might come to be.”
But James was timid (and) wept. And he was very distressed. And they both sat down upon a rock. The Lord said to him, “James, thus you will undergo these sufferings. But do not be sad. For the flesh is weak. It will receive what has been ordained for it. But as for you, do not be timid or afraid”. The Lord ceased.
Now when James heard these things, he wiped away the tears in his eyes and very bitter […] which is […]. The Lord said to him, “James, behold, I shall reveal to you your redemption. When you are seized, and you undergo these sufferings, a multitude will arm themselves against you that <they> may seize you. And in particular three of them will seize you – they who sit (there) as toll collectors. Not only do they demand toll, but they also take away souls by theft. When you come into their power, one of them who is their guard will say to you, ‘Who are you or where are you from?’ You are to say to him, ‘I am a son, and I am from the Father.’ He will say to you, ‘What sort of son are you, and to what father do you belong?’ You are to say to him, ‘I am from the Pre-existent Father, and a son in the Pre-existent One.’ When he says to you, […], you are to say to him […] in the […] that I might […].”
‘[…] of alien things?’ You are to say to him, ‘They are not entirely alien, but they are from Achamoth, who is the female. And these she produced as she brought down the race from the Pre-existent One. So then they are not alien, but they are ours. They are indeed ours because she who is mistress of them is from the Pre-existent One. At the same time they are alien because the Pre-existent One did not have intercourse with her, when she produced them.’ When he also says to you, ‘Where will you go?’, you are to say to him, ‘To the place from which I have come, there shall I return.’ And if you say these things, you will escape their attacks.
“But when you come to these three detainers who take away souls by theft in that place […] these. You […] a vessel […] much more than […] of the one whom you […] for […] her root. You too will be sober […]. But I shall call upon the imperishable knowledge, which is Sophia who is in the Father (and) who is the mother of Achamoth. Achamoth had no father nor male consort, but she is female from a female. She produced you without a male, since she was alone (and) in ignorance as to what lives through her mother because she thought that she alone existed. But I shall cry out to her mother. And then they will fall into confusion (and) will blame their root and the race of their mother. But you will go up to what is yours […] you will […] the Pre-existent One.”
“They are a type of the twelve disciples and the twelve pairs, […] Achamoth, which is translated ‘Sophia’. And who I myself am, (and) who the imperishable Sophia (is) through whom you will be redeemed, and (who are) all the sons of Him-who-is – these things they have known and have hidden within them. You are to hide <these things> within you, and you are to keep silence. But you are to reveal them to Addai. When you depart, immediately war will be made with this land. Weep, then, for him who dwells in Jerusalem. But let Addai take these things to heart. In the tenth year let Addai sit and write them down. And when he writes them down […] and they are to give them […] he has the […] he is called Levi. Then he is to bring […] word […] from what I said earlier […] a woman […] Jerusalem in her […] and he begets two sons through her. They are to inherit these things and the understanding of him who […] exalts. And they are to receive […] through him from his intellect. Now, the younger of them is greater. And may these things remain hidden in him until he comes to the age of seventeen years […] beginning […] through them. They will pursue him exceedingly, since they are from his […] companions. He will be proclaimed through them, and they will proclaim this word. Then he will become a seed of […].”
James said, “I am satisfied […] and they are […] my soul. Yet another thing I ask of you: who are the seven women who have been your disciples? And behold all women bless you. I also am amazed how powerless vessels have become strong by a perception which is in them.” The Lord said, “You […] well […] a spirit of […], a spirit of thought, a spirit of counsel of a […], a spirit […] a spirit of knowledge […] of their fear. […] when we had passed through the breath of this archon who is named Adonaios […] him and […] he was ignorant […] when I came forth from him, he remembered that I am a son of his. He was gracious to me at that time as his son. And then, before <I> appeared here, <he> cast them among this people. And from the place of heaven the prophets […].”
James said, “Rabbi, […] I […] all together […] in them especially […].” The Lord said, “James, I praise you […] walk upon the earth […] the words while he […] on the […]. For cast away from you the cup which is bitterness. For some from […] set themselves against you. For you have begun to understand their roots from beginning to end. Cast away from yourself all lawlessness. And beware lest they envy you. When you speak these words of this perception, encourage these four: Salome and Mariam and Martha and Arsinoe […] since he takes some […] to me he is […] burnt offerings and […]. But I […] not in this way; but […] first-fruits of the […] upward […] so that the power of God might appear. The perishable has gone up to the imperishable and the female element has attained to this male element.”
James said, “Rabbi, into these three (things), then, has their […] been cast. For they have been reviled, and they have been persecuted […]. Behold […] everything […] from anyone […]. For you have received […] of knowledge. And […] that what is the […] go […] you will find […]. But I shall go forth and shall reveal that they believed in you, that they may be content with their blessing and salvation, and this revelation may come to pass.”
And he went at that time immediately and rebuked the twelve and cast out of them contentment concerning the way of knowledge […].
[…]. And the majority of them […] when they saw, the messenger took in […]. The others […] said, “[…] him from this earth. For he is not worthy of life.” These, then, were afraid. They arose, saying, “We have no part in this blood, for a just man will perish through injustice” James departed so that […] look […] for we […] him.
The Second Apocalypse of James
Translated by Charles W. Hedrick
This is the discourse that James the Just spoke in Jerusalem, which Mareim, one of the priests, wrote. He had told it to Theuda, the father of the Just One, since he was a relative of his. He said, “Hasten! Come with Mary, your wife, and your relatives […] therefore […] of this […] to him, he will understand. For behold, a multitude are disturbed over his […], and they are greatly angry at him. […] and they pray […]. For he would often say these words and others also.”
“He used to speak these words while the multitude of people were seated. But (on this occasion) he entered and did <not> sit down in the place, as was his custom. Rather he sat above the fifth flight of steps, which is (highly) esteemed, while all our people […] the words […].”
“[…]. I am he who received revelation from the Pleroma of Imperishability. (I am) he who was first summoned by him who is great, and who obeyed the Lord – he who passed through the worlds […], he who […], he who stripped himself and went about naked, he who was found in a perishable (state), though he was about to be brought up into imperishability. – This Lord who is present came as a son who sees, and as a brother was he sought. He will come to […] produced him because […] and he unites […] make him free […] in […] he who came to […].”
“Now again am I rich in knowledge and I have a unique understanding, which was produced only from above and the […] comes from a […]. I am the […] whom I knew. That which was revealed to me was hidden from everyone and shall (only) be revealed through him. These two who see I <…> (and) they have already proclaimed through these words: “He shall be judged with the unrighteous”. He who lived without blasphemy died by means of blasphemy. He who was cast out, they […].”
“[…] the flesh and it is by knowledge that I shall come forth from the flesh. I am surely dying, but it is in life that I shall be found. I entered in order that they might judge […] I shall come forth in […] judge […] I do not bring blame against the servants of his […]. I hasten to make them free and want to take them above him who wants to rule over them. If they are helped, I am the brother in secret, who prayed to the Father until he […] in […] reign […] imperishability […] first in […].”
- I am the first son who was begotten. –
- He will destroy the dominion of them all. –
- I am the beloved.
- I am the righteous one.
- I am the son of the Father.
- I speak even as I heard.
- I command even as I received the order.
- I show you even as I have found.
Behold, I speak in order that I may come forth. Pay attention to me in order that you may see me!
“If I have come into existence, who then am I? For I did <not> come as I am, nor would I have appeared as I am. For I used to exist for a brief period of time […].”
“Once when I was sitting deliberating, he opened the door. That one whom you hated and persecuted came in to me. He said to me, “Hail, my brother; my brother, hail.” As I raised my face to stare at him, (my) mother said to me, “Do not be frightened, my son, because he said ‘My brother’ to you (sg.). For you (pl.) were nourished with this same milk. Because of this he calls me “My mother”. For he is not a stranger to us. He is your step-brother […].”
“[…] these words […] great […] I shall find them, and they shall come forth. However, I am the stranger, and they have no knowledge of me in their thoughts, for they know me in this place. But it was fitting that others know through you.
“<You are> the one to whom I say: Hear and understand – for a multitude, when they hear, will be slow witted. But you, understand as I shall be able to tell you. Your father is not my father. But my father has become a father to you.
“This virgin about whom you hear – this is how […] virgin […] namely, the virgin. […], how […] to me for […] to know […] not as […] whom I […]. For this one (masc.) […] to him, and this also is profitable for you. Your father, whom you consider to be rich, shall grant that you inherit all these things that you see.
“I proclaim to you to tell you these (words) that I shall speak. When you hear, therefore, open your ears and understand and walk (accordingly)! It is because of you that they pass by, activated by that one who is glorious. And if they want to make a disturbance and (seize) possession […] he began […] not, nor those who are coming, who were sent forth by him to make this present creation. After these things, when he is ashamed, he shall be disturbed that his labor, which is far from the aeons, is nothing. And his inheritance, which he boasted to be great, shall appear small. And his gifts are not blessings. His promises are evil schemes. For you are not an (instrument) of his compassion, but it is through you that he does violence. He wants to do injustice to us, and will exercise dominion for a time allotted to him.
“But understand and know the Father who has compassion. He was not given an inheritance that was unlimited, nor does it have a (limited) number of days, but it is as the eternal day […] it is […] perceive […]. And he used […]. For in fact he is not one (come) from them, (and) because of this, he is despised. Because of this he boasts, so that he may not be reproved. For because of this he is superior to those who are below, those by whom you were looked down upon. After he imprisoned those from the Father, he seized them and fashioned them to resemble himself. And it is with him that they exist.
“I saw from the height those things that happened, and I have explained how they happened. They were visited while they were in another form, and, while I was watching, they came to know <me> as I am, through those whom I know.
“Now before those things have happened they will make a […]. I know how they attempted to come down to this place that he might approach […] the small children, but I wish to reveal through you and the spirit of power, in order that he might reveal to those who are yours. And those who wish to enter, and who seek to walk in the way that is before the door, open the good door through you. And they follow you; they enter and you escort them inside, and give a reward to each one who is ready for it.
- For you are not the redeemer nor a helper of strangers.
- You are an illuminator and a redeemer of those who are mine,
- and now of those who are yours.
- You shall reveal (to them); you shall bring good among them all.
- You they shall admire because of every powerful (deed).
- You are he whom the heavens bless.
- You he shall envy, he who has called himself your Lord.
- I am the […] those who are instructed in these things with you.
- For your sake, they will be told these things, and will come to rest.
- For your sake, they will reign, and will become kings.
- For your sake, they will have pity on whomever they pity.
- For just as you are first having clothed yourself,
- you are also the first who will strip himself,
- and you shall become as you were before you were stripped.”
“And he kissed my mouth. He took hold of me, saying, “My beloved! Behold, I shall reveal to you those things that (neither) the heavens nor their archons have known. Behold, I shall reveal to you those things that he did not know, he who boasted, “[…] there is no other except me. Am I not alive? Because I am a father, do I not have power for everything?” Behold, I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved. Understand and know them, that you may come forth just as I am. Behold, I shall reveal to you him who is hidden. But now, stretch out your hand. Now, take hold of me.”
“And then I stretched out my hands and I did not find him as I thought (he would be). But afterward I heard him saying, “Understand and take hold of me.” Then I understood, and I was afraid. And I was exceedingly joyful.
“Therefore, I tell you judges, you have been judged. And you did not spare, but you were spared. Be sober and […] you did not know.
- He was that one whom he who created the heaven and the earth
- and dwelled in it, did not see.
- He was this one who is the life.
- He was the light.
- He was that one who will come to be.
- And again he shall provide an end for what has begun,
- and a beginning for what is about to be ended.
- He was the Holy Spirit and the Invisible One,
- who did not descend upon the earth.
- He was the virgin, and that which he wishes, happens to him.
- I saw that he was naked, and there was no garment clothing him.
- That which he wills, happens to him […].
“Renounce this difficult way, which is (so) variable, and walk in accordance with him who desires that you become free men with me, after you have passed above every dominion. For he will not judge (you) for those things that you did, but will have mercy on you. For (it is) not you that did them, but it is your Lord (that did them). He was not a wrathful one, but he was a kind Father.
“But you have judged yourselves, and because of this you will remain in their fetters. You have oppressed yourselves, and you will repent, (but) you will not profit at all. Behold him who speaks and seek him who is silent. Know him who came to this place, and understand him who went forth (from it). I am the Just One, and I do <not> judge. I am not a master, then, but I am a helper. He was cast out before he stretched out his hand. I […].
“[…] and he allows me to hear. And play your trumpets, your flutes and your harps of this house. The Lord has taken you captive from the Lord, having closed your ears, that they may not hear the sound of my word. Yet you will be able to pay heed in your hearts, and you will call me ‘the Just One.’ Therefore, I tell you: Behold, I gave you your house, which you say that God has made – that (house) in which he promised to give you an inheritance through it. This (house) I shall doom to destruction and derision of those who are in ignorance. For behold, those who judge deliberarate […].”
On that day all the people and the crowd were disturbed, and they showed that they had not been persuaded. And he arose and went forth speaking in this manner. And he entered (again) on that same day and spoke a few hours. And I was with the priests and revealed nothing of the relationship, since all of them were saying with one voice, ‘Come, let us stone the Just One.’ And they arose, saying, ‘Yes, let us kill this man, that he may be taken from our midst. For he will be of no use to us.’
And they were there and found him standing beside the columns of the temple beside the mighty corner stone. And they decided to throw him down from the height, and they cast him down. And they […] they […]. They seized him and struck him as they dragged him upon the ground. They stretched him out and placed a stone on his abdomen. They all placed their feet on him, saying ‘You have erred!’
Again they raised him up, since he was alive, and made him dig a hole. They made him stand in it. After having covered him up to his abdomen, they stoned him in this manner.
And he stretched out his hands and said this prayer – not that (one) which it is his custom to say:
- ‘My God and my father,
- who saved me from this dead hope,
- who made me alive through a mystery of what he wills,
- Do not let these days of this world be prolonged for me,
- but the day of your light […] remains
- in […] salvation.
- Deliver me from this place of sojourn!
- Do not let your grace be left behind in me,
- but may your grace become pure!
- Save me from an evil death!
- Bring me from a tomb alive, because your grace –
- love – is alive in me to accomplish a work of fullness!
- Save me from sinful flesh,
- because l trusted in you with all my strength,
- because you are the life of the life!
- Save me from a humiliating enemy!
- Do not give me into the hand of a judge who is severe with sin!
- Forgive me all my debts of the days (of my life)!
- Because I am alive in you, your grace is alive in me.
- I have renounced everyone, but you I have confessed.
- Save me from evil affliction!
- But now is the time and the hour.
- O Holy Spirit, send me salvation […] the light […]
- the light […] in a power […].’
“After he spoke, he fell silent […] word […] afterward […] the discourse […].”
Original translation of this text was prepared by members of the
Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate School
The Coptic Gnostic Library Project was funded by UNESCO, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other Institutions
E. J. Brill has asserted copyright on texts published by the Coptic Gnostic Library Projects.
The translation presented here has been edited, corrected and formatted for use in the Gnostic Society Library.
For academic citation, please refer to published editions of this text.