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NAG HAMMURABI- THE sentences of SEXTUS; by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Nag Hammurabi



THE sentences of SEXTUS; (XII,1)

by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Introduced and translated by

Frederik Wisse






Before the discovery of the fragments of the Coptic version in Nag Hammadi Codex XII, The Sentences of Sextus were known through Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian translations, as well as through two manuscripts in the original Greek. Apart from some patristic quotations, the Coptic version is by far the oldest witness to this collection of wisdom sayings. It appears to be a faithful and consistent translation from the Greek, and it stands closer to the critical text provided by Henry Chadwick (The Sentences of Sextus; A Contribution to the History of Early Christian Ethics, Texts and Studies 5, Cambridge: The University Press, 1959) than the two Greek witnesses and the other versions. As such it is of considerable value for the study of the text and of the character of the document.

Of the approximately thirty-nine original pages of the tractate, ten survive. This assumes that the Coptic version did not contain more than the 451 sentences included in the Latin translation of Rufinus. The numeration of the sentences follows Chadwick’s edition.

Though most of the sentences are of non-Christian origin, they enjoyed considerable popularity in Christian circles. Their presence among the Nag Hammadi tractates is not surprising. They share an ascetic outlook with many other writings in the collection. Indeed, the overwhelmingly ascetic tone of the entire Nag Hammadi library may indicate that the compilers and users of these books were part of the early monastic movement in Egypt. For a discussion of the moral teaching of Sextus, the reader is referred to Chadwick’s edition.


XII 15, 1–16, 28; 27, 1–34, 28

(157) is [a sign] of ignorance. |

(158/159) [Love] the truth, and the lie | [use] like poison.

(160) [May] the right time precede your words. 5

(161/162) [Speak] when it is not proper | [to be silent], but [speak concerning] the things you know | (only) then [when] it is fitting.

(163a) [The] untimely [word | is characteristic] of an evil mind. 10

(163b) [When it is] proper to act, do not | [use a] word.

(164a) Do not wish | [to speak] first in the midst of | [a crowd].

(164b) [While it is] a skill | [to speak], it is also [a] skill 15 [to be silent].

(165a) It is [better] for you to be defeated | [while speaking the truth], than to be victorious | [through deceit].

(165b) [He] who is victorious through | [deceit] is [defeated] by the truth.

(165c) [Untrue words] are 20 [characteristic of] evil persons.

(165d) [There has to be] a great [crisis | before] the lie [is necessary].

(165e) [When there is] someone, while you speak | [the truth], even if | [you lie there is no sin].

(165f) Do not deceive 25 [anyone, especially] him who needs | [advice].

(165g) [If you speak] after | [many (others) you will see better] what is profitable.

(166) [Faithful] is he who is first with | all [good works]. 16

(167) Wisdom leads [the soul] | to the place of [God].

(168) [There is no] | kinsman of the [truth except] | wisdom.

(169) [It is not] possible for a [believing] 5 nature to [become fond of] | lying.

(170) A fearful [and slavish] nature | will [not] be able to partake in | faith.

(171a) When you are [faithful, what] | it is fitting to say [is not of greater value than] 10 the hearing.

(171b) When you [are] | with believing persons, desire [to listen rather than] | to speak.

(172) A pleasure-[loving] man | is useless [in everything].

(173) When there is no [(accounting of) sin, do not speak] 15 in anything (which is) from [God].

(174) [The] sins | of those who are [ignorant are] | the shame of those who have [taught them]. |

(175) Those on account of whom [the name of God] is blasphemed | [are dead] 20 before God.

(176) [A wise man | is] a doer of good works after | God.

(177) [May your life] | confirm [your words before those who] | hear.

(178) What it is [not right to do], 25 do not even consider [doing it].

(179) [What you do not] | want to [happen to you, do not do it] | yourself [either].

(180) [What] | it [is] shameful [to do, is also] (pp. 17–26 are missing) 27

(307/308) He is [a wise man who commends | God] to men, | [and God] thinks more highly of | the wise man than his own [works]. 5

(309) [After] God, no one is as free | as the wise man.

(310) [Everything] God possesses | the wise man has also.

(311/312) The | wise man shares in the 10 [kingdom] of God; an evil man | does not want the foreknowledge | of God to come to pass.

(313) An evil soul | flees from God.

(314) Everything bad 15 is the enemy of God.

(315) What thinks | in you, say with your mind | that it is man.

(316) Where | your thought is, | there is your 20 goodness.

(317) Do not seek goodness | in flesh.

(318) He who does [not] harm | the soul neither does (so) to | man.

(319) After God, | honor a [wise] man, 25 [since he] is the servant | [of God].

(320) [To make] the body of your | [soul] a burden | is [pride], but to be able to | [restrain] it 28 [gently] when [it is necessary | is] blessedness.

(321) [Do not become] | guilty [of] your own death. | Do not be [angry at him] who will take you [out of] 5 (the) body and kill you.

(322) If someone brings [the wise man] | out of the body wickedly, | he rather [does what is] | good for him, [for] he has been released 10 from bonds.

(323) The fear of [death] | grieves man because of | the ignorance of the soul.

(324) <It were better> | for you had [the] man-killing sword | not come into being; but when it comes, 15 say with your mind that it does | not exist.

(325/326a) Someone who says, “ | believe,” even if he spends a long | time pretending, | he will not prevail, but he will 20 fall; as | your heart is, (so) will be | your life.

(326b) A godly heart | produces a blessed life.

(327) He who will plot 25 evil against another, [he is] | the first […].

(328) [Let not] an ungrateful man | cause you to cease to do [good]. 29

(329) [Do not say with] your mind that [these | things] which were asked, (and) | [you] gave immediately, are more valuable than | [the] receiver.

(330) You will use 5 [great] property, if you give to the | [needy] willingly.

(331) Persuade a senseless brother | [not to] be senseless; if he is mad, | protect him.

(332/334) Strive eagerly 10 to be victorious over every man in | prudence; maintain self-sufficiency.

(333) You cannot receive understanding unless | you know first that you possess <it>. | In everything there is again this sentence.

(335) The 15 members of the body are a burden | to those who do not use them.

(336) It is better to serve | others than to make others | serve you.

(337) He whom God 20 will not bring out of (the) body, | let him not burden himself.

(338) Not only do not hold an opinion | which does not benefit the needy, | [but also do not] listen to it.

(339) He who gives 25 [something without] respect commits an outrage. […].

(340) If you take on the | [guardianship of] orphans, you will be | [the] father of many children (and) you will be 30 beloved of God.

(341) He [whom you serve] | because of [honor, you have] | served for a wage.

(342) If you [have given] | that which honors you …, [you have] 5 given not to man, but [you have given] | for your own pleasure.

(343/344) Do not [provoke] | the anger of a mob. [Know, then], | what is fitting for the fortunate man to [do].

(345) It is better to die [than] 10 to darken the soul because of [the] | immoderation of the belly.

(346) Say with [your] | mind that the body [is] the garment of | your soul; keep it, therefore, | pure since it is innocent.

(347) Whatever the soul 15 will do while it is in (the) body, it has | as witnesses when it goes into | judgment.

(348/349) Unclean demons | do lay claim to a | polluted soul; a faithful (and) 20 good soul evil demons | will not be able to hinder in the | way of God.

(350) Do not give the word of | God to everyone.

(351) For [those who] | are corrupted by [glory] 25 it is not assuring to [hear] | about God.

(352/353) It is not a small [danger] | for us to [speak the] truth | about God; [do not say 31 anything about] God before | [you have] learned from [God].

(354/356) [Do not] speak with a godless person | [about] God; if you are polluted 5 [on account of] impure works, | [do not] speak about God.

(357) [The] true [word] about God | is [the] word of God.

(355) Speak | concerning the word about God 10 as if you were saying it in the presence of God.

(358) If first your mind is persuaded | that you have been god-loving, | then speak to whomever you wish | about God. 15

(359) May your pious works | precede every word about | God.

(360) Do not wish to speak | with a crowd about | God.

(361) Be (more) sparing with a word about 20 God (than) about a soul.

(362) It | is better to dispose of a soul than to discard | at random a word about | God.

(363a) You conceive the body | of the god-loving man, but you will not be able to 25 rule over his speech.

(363b) The lion also | rules over the body of | [the wise man]; also the tyrant rules | [over it] alone.

(364) If a tyrant 32 threatens you, [then, especially], | remember God.

(365) [He who speaks] | the word of God [to those for whom] | it is not lawful, he is [the betrayer] 5 of God.

(366) It is better [for] | you to be silent about the word of [God] | than to speak recklessly.

(367/368) He who speaks lies about | God is lying to 10 God; a man who does not have | anything truthful to say about [God] | is abandoned by God.

(369) [It is not] | possible for you to know God when you | do not worship him.

(370) A man who 15 does evil to someone will not be able to worship | God.

(371) The love of man | is the beginning of godliness.

(372) He who takes care of men while | praying for all of them — this is 20 the truth of God.

(373/374) It is God’s business | to save whom he wants; | on the other hand, it is the business of the pious man | to beseech God to save | everyone.

(375) When you 25 pray for something and it happens | to you through God, then | say with your mind that [you have 33 …].

(376a) [A man who] is worthy of God, | [he] is God among | [men], and [he is] the son of God. 5

(376b) Both the great one exists | and he who is next | to the great one exists.

(377/378) It is better for | man to be without anything | than to have many things 10 while not giving to the needy; so also you, | if you pray to God, | he will not give to you.

(379) If you, from your | whole heart, give your bread to | the hungry, the gift is small, 15 but the willingness is great | with God.

(380) He who thinks | that no one is in the presence of | God, he is not humble towards God.

(381) He who makes his mind like unto 20 God as far as he is able, he | is the one who honors God greatly.

(382) God does not need anything, | but he rejoices over those who give to the | needy.

(383) The faithful do not speak many 25 words, but their works are numerous.

(384) It is a faithful person fond of learning | who is the worker of the truth. 34

(385) [Adjust … the] calamities | in order that […].

(386) [If you] | do not do evil to anyone, you will not be afraid | of anyone.

(387) The tyrant will 5 not be able to take away happiness.

(388) What it is right to do, do it | willingly.

(389a) What it is not right to do, | do not do it in any way.

(389b) Promise | everything rather than 10 to say, “I am wise.” |

(390) What you do well, say | with your mind that it [is] God | who does it.

(391) No man | who <looks> down upon the earth 15 and upon tables is wise.

(392) The philosopher who is an | outer body, he is not the one | to whom it is fitting to pay respect, but (the) | philosopher according to the inner 20 man.

(393) Guard yourself from lying: there is | he who deceives and there is he who is | deceived.

(394/395a) Know who God is, | and know who is the one who | thinks in you; a good man 25 is the good work | of God.

(396) They are miserable | because of whom the [word] is blasphemed.

(397) Death will [not] be able to destroy (pp. 35-end are missing).

( Parentheses indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information for the reader.

[ Square brackets indicate a lacuna in the manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets, regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. An exception to this rule is the occasional use of a different number of dots to estimate the extent of the missing portion of a proper noun. In a few instances the dots are used without brackets to indicate a series of Coptic letters which do not constitute a translatable sense unit. A bracket is not allowed to divide a word, except for a hyphenated word or a proper noun. Other words are placed entirely inside or outside the brackets, depending on the certainty of the Coptic word and the number of Coptic letters visible.

| Small strokes above the line indicate line divisions. Every fifth line a small number is inserted in place of a stroke; the frequency of these numbers, however, may vary in tractates which are quite fragmentary. A new page is indicated with a number in bold type. When the beginning of a new line or page coincides with the opening of a paragraph, the line divider or number is placed at the end of the previous paragraph.

< Pointed brackets indicate a correction of a scribal omission or error. The translator has either inserted letters unintentionally omitted by the scribe, or replaced letters erroneously inserted with what the scribe presumably intended to write.

Robinson, James McConkey ; Smith, Richard ; Coptic Gnostic Library Project: The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 4th rev. ed. Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1996, S. 503


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