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Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions (review)

From: Journal of Early Christian Studies
Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1998
pp. 142-143 | 10.1353/earl.1998.0009

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Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.1 (1998) 142-143

Book Review

Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions

John C. Reeves. Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions. Nag Hammadi and Manichaean studies, no. 41. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996. Pp. xii + 251. $98.50.

Reeves is already appreciated for his Jewish Lore in Manichaean Cosmogony: Studies in the Book of Giants Tradition (HUC Press, 1992) and several essays on the connections between Jewish pseudepigraphic traditions and Manichaeism. In this new book Reeves argues for interrelationships of ideological formulation between Manichaeism and other gnostic or proto-gnostic sects of the regional grouping Syro-Mesopotamian gnosis. He also argues that this grouping derived foundational elements of its origin from Jewish traditions. The method by which he provides warrant for his claim is the exhaustive, conclusive study of one element important to Manichaean apologetic, the concept of prophetic succession, a concept shared with various gnostic sectarian communities of the first millennium of the common era. These communities stretched eastward from Palestine through Syria to Mesopotamia.

The first part of the book orients the reader to the concept of prophetic succession and also to relevant pseudepigraphic traditions. Within diverse sources, Christian, Muslim, and Manichaean, especially the Cologue Mani Codex (CMC), prophetic succession is a cyclical series of manifestations of the divine wisdom, the same heavenly entity, in a chain of various human messengers, prophets. A feature common to the Manichaean texts is the listing of prominent biblical, antediluvian forefathers within the chain of predecessors to Mani. In particular, the CMC, a hagiographic account of Mani's early life discovered in 1969, contains a section (45-72) which provides an apology for Mani's stature as the final prophet. The apology sets forth extracts from pseudepigraphic "apocalypses" attributed to the five early prophets Adam, Seth, Enosh, Shem, Enoch. The "apocalypses" record autobiographical accounts of angelophanies, ascents to the heavenly realm, and receptions of divine revelations. A host of motifs associated with the five forefathers emerge within the pseudepigraphic traditions of the religious communities in the late antique Near East. Jewish literature of the Second Temple and Roman era, and the literature of Gnosticism, Christianity and Islam each accumulated their own material. But there is a common feature: the forefathers are those who received and proclaimed divine wisdom.

Part two analyzes the five citations of the pseudepigraphic "apocalypses" within CMC 45-72, and relates them to Jewish traditions and others which can reasonably be associated with the region of Syro-Mosopatamian gnosis. Through his analysis he offers a model for understanding Manichaeism's relationship to these traditions, and thereby a more specific understanding of the interrelationships between the sects of the grouping. The fragmentary "apocalypses" are shown to have significant parallels with Gnostic texts (e.g., Apocalypse of Adam), Jewish and Jewish-Christian lore (e.g., Adamschriften; 1 Enoch including the similtudes [37-71]), Mandaean literature (e.g., Left and Right Ginza\; Theodore bar Konai, Liber Scholium) and other Manichaean material (e.g., Kephalaia). Investigation of the Adam and Seth "apocalypses" yield similar results. They are sectarian adaptations of traditional forefather lore sharing a complex relationship with the motifs of other groups. The trend continues in the "apocalypses" of Enosh and Shem, but they do not share Adam and Seth's popularity in Jewish post-biblical traditions. Of the five, they show the most creative and extensive composition and introduction of Manichaean motifs. The "apocalypse" of Enoch fits more closely with the "apocalypses" of Adam and Seth, but outdistances them in its dependence upon Jewish literature.

The final chapter summarizes and concludes the analyses: the "apocalypses" are, in different degrees, adaptations, developments of a breadth of traditional lore. They are not Jewish. They are products of the Manichaean form of Syro-Mesopotamia gnosis composed in conversation with other traditions common to its region. Through this composition, Mani and his message are shown to have continuity with the ancient "heralds of that Good Realm." Reeves has helpfully provided specific detailed data to support the thesis of interrelationships between the apparently disparate ideologies of Syro-Mesopotamian gnosis.

D. Jeffrey Bingham
Dallas Theological Seminary



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