Gnosis, Witness, and Early Christian Identities: The True Martyr in Clement of Alexandria and Gnostic Traditions Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Reaves, Pamela Mullins
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This project examines three early Christian texts that reflect diverse approaches to suffering and martyrdom in the late second and early third centuries--Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis, Book IV; the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII,3); and the Testimony of Truth (NHC IX,3). These texts question the value of suffering and construct distinctive means of witnessing Christ, which do not prioritize or promote a suffering death. Seeking a basis for these perspectives, this project considers the Christological views of each author as well as evidence for emerging, diverse Christian identities in the texts. In all cases, Christ reveals the proper path for the true Christian, but suffering is not central to it; his own distance from suffering confirms this. Limiting the significance of his death, each author emphasizes Christ's instruction, centered on individual progress toward gnosis. Strom. and Testim. Truth, specifically, promote control of the passions as a central aspect of the development of the Christian self. Such interior practices, combined with a limited interest in ecclesiastical matters, including rituals that reflect and sustain group identity, also contribute to each text's related evaluations of martyrdom. In addition, the three texts also show how responses to potential suffering surface in the context of intra-Christian debate; views of other Christians are described and condemned as each author presents his correct version of the faith. Corresponding with the heresiological efforts of Tertullian and other proto-orthodox Christians, this trend reveals that perspectives on martyrdom were critical in the evolution of group boundaries, progressively solidified via discourse of orthodoxy and heresy. At the same time, the nature of such debates illustrates the interaction of diverse Christian groups within a broad Christian community. Social identity theory serves as a useful framework for understanding how the prospect of martyrdom contributed to the emergent Christian identities and related intra-group tensions apparent in all three texts.
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  • Ehrman, Bart D.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

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