Jesus, Gnosis, and Dogma

Article excerpt

Jesus, Gnosis, and Dogma. By Riemer Roukema. Translated by Saskia Deventer-Metz. New York: T&T Clark, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-5674-6642-6. x and 231 pages. Paper. $24.95.

Roukema, professor of New Testament at the Protestant Theological University, Kampen, The Netherlands, offers a unique study of Jesus in Paul and the Gospels, followed by Gnostic materials on the same subject with a final statement on how these materials have entered early theological doctrine (dogma). His topics are The Origin and Identity of Jesus; The Teaching of Jesus; and his Death, Resurrection and Exaltation.

After summarizing the New Testament material Roukema describes the Gnostic material pertinent to that subject. Of special importance is the Gospel of Thomas followed then by the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, the Tripartite Tractate, Cerenthus and the Ophites, Theodotus, and the tradition of Simon of Cyrene.

Regarding the historicity and identity of Jesus, Roukema distinguishes sharply between New Testament statements of history and statements of identity. Even then, he notes that the historical narratives may be more literary history than factual history, particularly Jesus' self-understanding (that is, Son of Man). While the Gnostic documents differ among themselves they agree that the man Jesus was not the Christ. Rather the Christ, as Son of God, descended on the man Jesus (likely at his baptism) and left before the Passion. The Son of God came from an ultimate divine Trinity with no relationship to the God of Creation (that is, the Hebrew God).

Roukema appropriately summarizes the teaching of the New Testament as Jesus' announcement of the coming reign of God. People who would follow him should now live according to his moral code, based on love, with details often found in the Hebrew Scriptures. While the Gnostic material may repeat, in a somewhat different language, some of the teachings of Jesus, the reign of God is nor seen as an earthly eschatological expectation which guides our lives. Rather, it is a super-celestial reign. Followers of Jesus are created by the descent of the divine reign or light into a human body. The result is a person with divine self-knowledge. This spirirual person Win nor die, but return to the heavenly reign.

Turning to death, resurrection, and transfiguration, Roukema finds New Testament agreement that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. …