May 26, 2024

John and Hermetic Philosophy, Hellenistic Wisdom Literature, and Apocryphal Books

 This info from GPT-5 outlines the relationship of John with Hermetic philosophy, Hellenistic wisdom literature, and apocryphal books, suggesting that John is contrived and less historically accurate. 

The Gospel of John and Hermetic philosophy 

The relationship between the Gospel of John and Hermetic philosophy is an intriguing topic because both texts share certain thematic and conceptual similarities, yet they arise from different religious and philosophical traditions. Hermetic philosophy, particularly as found in the Corpus Hermeticum, is a collection of writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a syncretic figure combining aspects of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. These writings are characterized by their mystical and philosophical content, emphasizing themes such as divine knowledge, the nature of the cosmos, and the ascent of the soul.

Here are some ways in which the Gospel of John might be compared with Hermetic philosophy:

Concept of the Logos

John’s Prologue: The Gospel of John begins with the famous prologue, "In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). This Logos theology presents Jesus as the divine Word, through whom all things were made and who incarnated as Jesus Christ.

Hermetic Texts: Hermetic writings also discuss the Logos, often as a divine principle that orders the cosmos and serves as a mediator between the divine and human realms. The Hermetic understanding of the Logos aligns with the idea of a rational, creative force central to both cosmology and spiritual insight.

Emphasis on Knowledge and Revelation

John’s Theme of Revelation: In John’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the revealer of divine truth, bringing light and knowledge to the world. This theme is evident in statements like "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12) and "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

Hermetic Knowledge (Gnosis): Hermetic philosophy places a strong emphasis on acquiring gnosis, or divine knowledge, through mystical insight and revelation. The Hermetic texts often depict a journey towards enlightenment and understanding of the divine mysteries.

Dualism and Light-Darkness Imagery

John’s Dualism: The Gospel of John frequently employs dualistic imagery, contrasting light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death. This dualism serves to highlight the spiritual battle between good and evil, with Jesus as the light overcoming darkness.

Hermetic Dualism: Hermetic writings also use dualistic imagery, describing the material and spiritual realms, light and darkness, and the process of the soul’s ascent from ignorance to enlightenment. This dualistic framework underpins much of Hermetic cosmology and soteriology.

The Role of the Mediator

Jesus as Mediator: In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the mediator between God and humanity, providing a way for believers to access divine truth and eternal life. He states, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Hermetic Mediator: In Hermetic philosophy, the Logos or Nous (Mind) often serves as a mediator, facilitating the soul’s ascent and understanding of divine realities. Hermes Trismegistus himself is depicted as a teacher and mediator of divine wisdom.

Spiritual Rebirth

John’s Concept of Rebirth: In John 3, Jesus discusses the need for spiritual rebirth with Nicodemus, emphasizing that one must be "born again" or "born from above" to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-7).

Hermetic Rebirth: Hermetic texts similarly speak of spiritual rebirth and regeneration, often describing a transformative process where the soul awakens to its divine origin and potential. 

The Gospel of John and Hellenistic Wisdom Literature

The Gospel of John exhibits several characteristics that align it with Hellenistic wisdom literature, although it is not strictly categorized as such. Hellenistic wisdom literature, which flourished during the Hellenistic period (approximately 323 BC to 31 BC), often includes writings that explore philosophical and theological themes, frequently using poetic and symbolic language. Here are some elements that connect the Gospel of John to Hellenistic wisdom literature:

1. Logos Concept

Philosophical Background: The prologue of John (John 1:1-18) introduces the concept of the Logos, a term that carries significant philosophical weight in Hellenistic thought. In Greek philosophy, particularly in the works of Heraclitus and later Stoic philosophy, the Logos represents the rational principle that orders the cosmos.

Theological Adaptation: John adapts this concept to describe Jesus as the pre-existent Word (Logos) who was with God and was God, and through whom all things were made. This integration of Hellenistic philosophical terminology into a Jewish-Christian context is a hallmark of wisdom literature's approach to bridging different intellectual traditions.

2. Emphasis on Light and Life

Symbolic Language: The Gospel of John frequently uses symbolic language, such as light, life, and darkness, to convey deeper spiritual truths. This style is reminiscent of Hellenistic wisdom literature, which often employs metaphor and allegory to explore complex theological and philosophical ideas.

Dualism: The contrast between light and darkness, good and evil, and life and death in John reflects a dualistic worldview common in Hellenistic thought and wisdom literature.

3. Revelation of Divine Wisdom

Jesus as Wisdom: In Hellenistic wisdom literature, divine wisdom is often personified and described as playing a key role in creation and human affairs (e.g., in the Book of Wisdom and Sirach). The Gospel of John presents Jesus as the incarnation of divine wisdom, who reveals God's nature and purpose to humanity.

Teaching and Revelation: John's portrayal of Jesus includes extended discourses that reveal profound theological insights, much like the teachings found in wisdom literature. These discourses often emphasize knowing God, eternal life, and the relationship between the Father and the Son.

4. Jewish Wisdom Traditions

Integration of Jewish and Hellenistic Elements: The Gospel of John integrates Jewish wisdom traditions with Hellenistic philosophical concepts. For example, the portrayal of Jesus as the Logos parallels the Jewish personification of wisdom (Sophia) in texts like Proverbs 8 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon.

Literary Style: The poetic and reflective style of John’s Gospel, especially in the prologue and the farewell discourses, shares similarities with the literary style of Jewish wisdom literature, which often blends poetry, metaphor, and theological reflection.

5. Influence of Philo of Alexandria

Philo's Logos: Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, wrote extensively about the Logos as an intermediary between God and the world. His writings predate the Gospel of John and exhibit a blending of Jewish theological concepts with Hellenistic philosophy. The Gospel of John’s use of the Logos concept suggests a possible influence from Philo’s works or a shared intellectual environment.

The Gospel of John exhibits several characteristics that align it with Hellenistic wisdom literature, including its use of the Logos concept, symbolic language, dualistic themes, and emphasis on divine revelation and wisdom. While it is primarily a theological narrative about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, it incorporates elements from both Jewish wisdom traditions and Hellenistic philosophical thought, making it a unique and complex work within the New Testament canon.

Apocryphal works are considered sacred by some groups

There are several literary works throughout history that have been created to mimic or masquerade as scripture. These texts often emulate the style, themes, and structure of canonical religious texts but are not recognized as authentic scripture by mainstream religious traditions. Here are a few notable examples:

1. The Gospel of Thomas

Description: The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

Content: Unlike the canonical gospels, it does not have a narrative structure but consists of sayings that are sometimes similar to those found in the New Testament. It presents a more mystical and esoteric interpretation of Jesus' teachings.

Reception: Although some early Christian communities might have considered it significant, it is not recognized as canonical by mainstream Christian denominations.

2. The Book of Mormon

Description: Published by Joseph Smith in 1830, the Book of Mormon is considered scripture by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Content: It claims to be a record of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent, with themes and narratives that align with biblical style and Christian doctrine.

Reception: While considered scripture by the LDS Church, it is viewed by mainstream Christianity as a 19th-century work that does not hold the same canonical status as the Bible.

3. The Kebra Nagast

Description: The Kebra Nagast ("The Glory of Kings") is an Ethiopian national epic written in the 14th century.

Content: It narrates the history of the Ethiopian royal family and connects it to the biblical lineage of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. It presents themes and narratives that align closely with those found in the Old Testament.

Reception: While not considered scripture by mainstream Christianity, it holds significant religious and historical importance in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.

4. The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ

Description: Written by Levi H. Dowling and published in 1908, this text claims to reveal the lost years of Jesus' life.

Content: It combines elements of Christian theology with esoteric and New Age philosophies, presenting an account of Jesus' travels and teachings outside the traditional biblical narrative.

Reception: It is generally considered a New Age spiritual text rather than authentic scripture by mainstream Christian denominations.

5. The Gospel of Barnabas

Description: An apocryphal gospel that claims to have been written by Barnabas, one of the apostles of Jesus.

Content: It presents an account of Jesus' life and teachings that significantly diverges from the canonical gospels, including the claim that Jesus was not crucified but was instead taken up to heaven.

Reception: It is not recognized as authentic scripture by any major Christian denomination and is considered a pseudepigraphal work.

6. The Urantia Book

Description: Published in 1955, The Urantia Book is a comprehensive text that claims to offer an expanded account of the universe, life on earth, and the teachings of Jesus.

Content: It combines science, philosophy, and religion, presenting a cosmology that includes an intricate account of the life and teachings of Jesus, often referred to as "The Life and Teachings of Jesus" section.

Reception: It is considered a work of speculative theology and philosophy, not scripture, by mainstream religious traditions.

These examples demonstrate that various texts have been created to emulate or expand upon the style and themes of canonical scripture. While some of these works are considered sacred by certain groups, they are generally viewed as pseudepigraphal or apocryphal by mainstream religious traditions. The line between scripture and literary work can often blur, especially when texts attempt to present themselves with the same authority and spiritual significance as recognized sacred texts.

Indications that suggest the Gospel of John might be contrived and less historically accurate

Here are some indications and arguments that suggest the Gospel of John might be considered contrived or less historically accurate:

1. Late Composition

Dating: The Gospel of John is generally dated to the late first century, around 90-100 AD. This later date compared to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) has led some scholars to question its historical accuracy, suggesting it may have been influenced by theological developments within the early Christian community.

2. Theological Agenda

High Christology: John's Gospel presents a very high view of Jesus as the pre-existent Word (Logos) who became flesh. This theological perspective is more developed than in the Synoptic Gospels, leading some to argue that John's primary aim was theological rather than historical.

Symbolic Language: The use of symbolic and metaphorical language, such as Jesus' "I am" statements ("I am the bread of life," "I am the light of the world"), suggests a more interpretative and theological approach rather than a straightforward historical narrative.

3. Unique Content and Style

Differences from Synoptics: The Gospel of John contains many stories and sayings of Jesus that are not found in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, the extended discourses (e.g., the Farewell Discourse in John 13-17) and the inclusion of unique miracles (e.g., the raising of Lazarus) are absent from the Synoptics. This has led some to view John's Gospel as a more independent and possibly less historically grounded account.

Literary Structure: The structured and thematic nature of John's Gospel, with its focus on signs and discourses, suggests a carefully crafted literary work aimed at conveying specific theological messages.

4. Rejection by Some Early Christians

Ebionites and Alogians: Groups such as the Ebionites, who held to a more Jewish-oriented Christianity, and the Alogians, who rejected the Gospel of John. These groups considered its theological developments as divergent from their understanding of Jesus and his teachings.

Marcionites: Marcion of Sinope, who created a distinct Christian canon excluding the Old Testament and certain New Testament writings, did not accept the Gospel of John as authoritative. He and his followers favored Luke and Pauline epistles.

5. Historical Inconsistencies

Chronological Differences: The timeline of events in John differs from the Synoptic Gospels. For example, the timing of the cleansing of the Temple and the chronology of the Passion Week events differ significantly, raising questions about historical accuracy.

Geographical Details: Some geographical details and descriptions in John are debated among scholars, suggesting the possibility of later additions or symbolic interpretations rather than precise historical reporting.

6. Scholarly Analysis

Source Criticism: Scholars have identified potential sources and influences on John's Gospel, such as the hypothetical "Signs Gospel" or other oral traditions. This suggests that the author may have compiled and reinterpreted existing material to serve theological purposes.

Redaction Criticism: The editing and redaction process of John's Gospel is believed to have involved multiple stages, indicating that the final form of the text may reflect theological elaboration over time rather than a single historical account.


Several indications suggest the Gospel of John may be less concerned with historical accuracy compared to the Synoptic Gospels. The later composition date, unique content and style, theological agenda, rejection by some early Christian groups, historical inconsistencies, and scholarly critiques all contribute to the view that John's Gospel might be a more contrived or symbolic work. These factors highlight the complex nature of John's Gospel and the diverse perspectives on its origins and purpose within the broader context of early Christian literature.

For a more detailed analysis of the issues with the Gospel of John see

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