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The Gospel of Nicodemus and the Harrowing of Hades Part 1

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Gospel of Nicodemus and the Harrowing of Hades Part 1

Religion
4 min.
September 7, 2021

The Gospel of Nicodemus and the Harrowing of Hades Introduction

The Gospel According to Nicodemus is actually a multi-source document which took its present form in the early Middle Ages. The fragments that make it up, however, are of more ancient origin. One of the most fascinating works of the Early Church, however, is the section commonly called The Harrowing of Hades when Jesus descended to the realm of the dead and “preached to those in captivity.”

This will require three parts to give the complete story but it is worth the reading, if for no other reason than it reflects some of the teachings of the Early Church. Later Christian theology would abandon the document as a late forgery.

Preamble

Annas and Caiaphas said: Rightly have ye said that these things are written in the law of Moses, that no one saw the death of Enoch, and no one has named the burying of holy Moses. And Jesus gave account to Pilate, and we saw him scourged, and receiving spitting on his face; and the soldiers put a crown of thorns on him, and he received sentence from Pilate; and then he was crucified, and they gave him gall and vinegar to drink, and two robbers were crucified with him, and the soldier Longinus pierced his side with a lance; and our honourable father Joseph begged his body, and he has risen again, and, as they say, the three teachers have seen him taken up into heaven. And Rabbi Levi has borne witness to what was said by Simeon the elder-that he has been set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against.

Then Didas, a teacher, said to all the assembly: If all the things which these have borne witness to have come to pass in Jesus, they are from God, and let it not be wonderful in our eyes. The chiefs of the synagogue, and the priests and the Levites, said to each other how our law holds, saying: His name shall be blessed for ever: His place endureth before the sun, and His seat before the moon: and all the tribes of earth shall be blessed in Him, and all nations shall serve Him; and kings shall come from far, adoring and magnifying Him.

Chapter 1 

And Joseph rose up and said to Annas and Caiaphas: Truly and well do you wonder, since you have heard that Jesus has been seen alive from the dead, ascending up into heaven. But it is more to be wondered at that he is not the only one who has risen from the dead: but he has raised up alive out of their tombs many others of the dead, and they have been seen by many in Jerusalem. And hear me now, that we all know the blessed Simeon, the great priest, who took up with his hands Jesus, when an infant, in the temple. And Simeon himself had two sons, full brothers; and we all were at their filling asleep, and at their burial. Go, therefore, and see their tombs: for they are open, because they have risen; and, behold, they are in the city of Arimathaea, living together in prayers. And, indeed, they are heard crying out, but speaking with nobody, and they are silent as the dead. But come, let us go to them; let us conduct them to us with all honour and respect. And if we adjure them, perhaps they will speak to us of the mystery of their resurrection.

At hearing this they all rejoiced. And Annas and Caiaphas, Nicodemus, and Joseph, and Gamaliel, went, and did not find them in their sepulchres; but, walking into the city of Arimathea, they found them there, on their bended knees, and spending their time in prayer. And kissing them, they conducted them to Jerusalem, into the synagogue, with all veneration and fear of God. And shutting the doors, and lifting up the law of the Lord, they put it in their hands, adjuring them by the God Adonai, and the God of Israel, who by the law and the prophets spoke to our fathers, saying: Do you believe that it was Jesus who raised you from the dead? Tell us how you have risen from the dead.

Karinus and Leucius, hearing this adjuration, trembled in their body, and groaned, being disturbed in heart. And together they looked towards heaven, and with their fingers made the sign of the cross on their tongues, and immediately they spoke together, saying: Give each of us sheets of paper, and let us write what we have seen and heard. And they gave it to them. And they sat down, and each of them wrote, saying:

Chapter 2 

O Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life of the dead, permit us to speak mysteries through the death of Thy cross, because we have been adjured by Thee. For Thou didst order Thy servants to relate to no one the secrets of Thy divine majesty which Thou didst in Hades. And when we were, along with all our fathers, lying in the deep, in the blackness of darkness, suddenly there appeared a golden heat of the sun, and a purple royal light shining upon us. And immediately the father of all the human race, with all the patriarchs and prophets, exulted, saying: That light is the source of eternal light, which hath promised to transmit to us co-eternal light. And Esaias cried out, and said: This is the light of the Father, the Son of God, as I predicted when I was alive upon earth: The land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim across Jordan, Galilee of the nations, the people who sat in darkness, have seen a great light; and light was shining among those who are in the region of the shadow of death. And now it has come and shone upon us sitting in death.

And when we were all exulting in the light which shone over us, there came up to us our father Simeon; and he said, exulting: Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; because I took Him up when born, an infant, in my hands in the temple; and instigated by the Holy Spirit, I said to Him, confessing: Now mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all peoples, a light for the revealing of the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel. When they beard this, all the multitude of the saints exulted more.

And after this there comes up, as it were, a dweller in the desert; and he is asked by all: Who art thou? To whom he says in answer: I am John, the voice and prophet of the Most High, going before the face of His coming to prepare His ways, to give the knowledge of salvation to His people for the remission of their sins. And seeing Him coming to me, instigated by the Holy Spirit, I said: Behold the Lamb of God! behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world! And I baptized Him in the river of Jordan, and I saw the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove; and I heard a voice from the heavens saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And now I have gone before His face, and have descended to announce to you that the rising Son of God is close at hand to visit us, coming from on high to us sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.

Chapter 3

And when the first created, father Adam, had heard this, that Jesus was baptized in Jordan, he cried out to his son Seth: Tell thy sons, the patriarchs and the prophets, all that thou heardest from Michael the archangel when I sent thee to the gates of paradise to implore God that he might send thee His angel to give thee oil from the tree of mercy, with which to anoint my body when I was sick. Then Seth, coming near to the holy patriarchs and prophets, said: When I, Seth, was praying to the Lord at the gates of paradise, behold Michael, the angel of the Lord, appeared to me, saying, I have been sent to thee by the Lord. I am set over the human race. And to thee, Seth, I say, do not labour with tears in prayers and supplications on account of the oil of the tree of mercy to anoint thy father Adam for the pain of his body, because in no wise shalt thou receive of it, except in the last days and times, except when five thousand and five hundred years have been fulfilled: then will come upon the earth the most beloved Son of God, to raise up again the body of Adam, and the bodies of the dead; and He, when He comes, will be baptized in Jordan. And when he shall have come out of the water of Jordan, then with the oil of His mercy shall He anoint all that believe on Him; and that oil of mercy shall be for the generation of those who shall be born out of water and the Holy Spirit into life eternal. Then, descending upon earth, Christ Jesus, the most beloved Son of God, will lead our father Adam into paradise to the tree of mercy.

And when they heard all these things from Seth, all the patriarchs and prophets exulted with great exultation.

[Next week: Part 2]


This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.

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