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The Nag Hammadi Scriptures
The International Edition
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
Introduced by Madeleine Scopello
Translated by Marvin Meyer
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, which is written on the front flyleaf of Nag Hammadi Codex I, may have been added after the Coptic scribe finished copying the fifth tractate of Codex I, the Tripartite Tractate. Since the first lines of the text are missing, we do not know if there was a title at the beginning of the text. In any case, a title has been conserved at the end of the treatise, "Prayer of the Apostle Paul," followed by a short colophon ("In peace. Holy is Christ"). Both the title and the colophon are in Greek, and the whole prayer was most likely translated from Greek into Coptic.
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul begins with a series of invocations addressed to the Redeemer. The person uttering the prayer, identified with the apostle Paul in order to give authority to this text, affirms connections with the divine: "[I am] yours; I have come from [you]" (A,36). Technical Gnostic terms are employed to portray the Redeemer by means of invocations employing the formula "you are," repeated for four times: you are mind, treasury, fullness, rest. Except for the word "treasury," which is translated into Coptic (aho), the terms are retained in Greek (nous, pleroma, anapausis); these terms are frequent in Valentinian literature, though they are also found elsewhere. Reflections on the treasury are also found in Authoritative Discourse 28,24, where it is said that the original home of thesoul is the treasury, to which she will return and find rest.1
According to Dieter Mueller, this prayer is reminiscent of prayers of the Corpus Hermeticum (e.g., I.3132; V.1011; XIII.1620) and invocations preserved in Greek and Coptic magical literature, and the beginning of the prayer recalls Three Steles of Seth 118,30119,1.2
The second part of the Prayer of the Apostle Paul invokes the divine as "you who exist and preexisted." These titles, with a philosophical flavor, appear quite often in Valentinian as well as Sethian Gnostic literature in reference to the highest God. The formula "the name exalted above every name" derives from Philippians 2:9; as Dieter Mueller notes,3 the author of the Prayer shows a clear knowledge of the Psalms and the Pauline epistles. We concur with this line of interpretation, especially concerning the five titles given to Jesus Christ: Lord of lords, King of the eternal realms (or aeons, ages), Son of Humanity, Spirit, Advocate (or Paraclete) of truth. The title "Lord of lords" is also present in 1 Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 17:14; 19:16, each time in connection with the title "King of kings." "King of the ages" appears as a title in Tobit 13:610, 1 Timothy 1:17, and Revelation 15:3. Although "Son of Humanity" is very frequent in the New Testament and early Christian literature, "Advocate of truth" seems to come from John 15:26 (cf. also, for "Paraclete," John 14:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1).
The suppliant of the Prayer of the Apostle Paul also asks for "authority" (A,19: exousia, "power"), which indicates apostolic prerogatives. This theme seems to be linked to line 15, where the suppliant asks for God's "gifts." Both healing for the body and redemption for the enlightened soul are requested; the theme of the enlightened soul (or light soul) is very much at home in a Gnostic context.
Lines that bring to mind 1 Corinthians 2:9 (where Paul quotes Isaiah 64:3 and Jeremiah 3:16) and 1 Corinthians 2:8 (where the term "rulers" or "archons" is also used) lead the author of the Prayer of the Apostle Paul to a Gnostic reinterpretation that transforms the meaning of the term "ruler" from a political to a supernatural one. The statement that the human heart has been formed by the psychical god (A,30) refers to the creation and realm of the demiurge, a widespread conception in Gnostic and Valentinian thought.
Because the present text is included in a codex containing several Valentinian texts, it has been suggested that the Prayer of the Apostle Paul is a Valentinian prayer.4 The place of origin of the tractate is difficult to determine: is it a text coming from the Italian branch of Valentinianism?5 Its date of composition must be before the final copying of Codex I, in the mid-fourth century, but its themes situate the date of composition more probably at the beginning of the third century.
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul1
. . . . . .2
Grant me your [mercy].
[My] Redeemer, redeem me,
for [I am] yours;
I have come from [you].
You are [my] mind:
bring me forth.
You are my treasury:
open for me.
You [are] my fullness:3
give me incomprehensible perfection.
I call upon you, you who exist and preexisted,
in the name exalted above every name,5
through Jesus Christ,
[Lord] of lords,
King of the eternal realms.6
Give me your gifts, with no regret,
through the Son of Humanity,7
the Advocate8 of [truth].
Give me authority, [I] ask of you,
give [healing]9 for my body, since I ask you
through the preacher of the gospel,10
and redeem my eternal enlightened soul and my spirit,
and disclose to my mind the firstborn of the fullness of grace.
Grant what eyes of angels have not [seen], what ears of rulers have not heard,
and what has not arisen in the human heart,11
which became angelic,
made in the image of the animate God12
when it was formed in the beginning.
I have faith and hope.
And bestow upon me
your beloved, chosen, blessed majesty,
the firstborn, the first-begotten, [B]
the [wonderful] mystery of your house.
[For] yours is power and glory
and praise and greatness,
forever and ever.
Prayer of the Apostle Paul
Holy is Christ.
The International Edition. Copyright � by Marvin Meyer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.