Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religion & Culture / Religious Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Michel Desjardins

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This thesis offers an in-depth study of Heracleon, an early Christian writer from the second century CE, who wrote the earliest known commentary on the Gospel of John. The text of this ancient commentary, written in Greek from the perspective of Valentinian theology, is known only from fragmentary citations made from it by Origen in his own later commentary on the same gospel. Although long-known as a representative of the Valentinian schools, Heracleon has often been neglected due to scholarly preoccupations with his teacher, Valentinus, as well as an ever-increasing emphasis on the Valentinian writings found within the Nag Hammadi codices. This thesis attempts to fill a gap in Valentinian scholarship by closely re-examining the fragments of Heracleon in an effort to gain a clearer picture of his principal teachings. In order to do so, the Greek text of each fragment is provided along with an original English translation and accompanying analysis and commentary. In addition to the original text provided in Chapter 2, Chapter 1 discusses what is known about Heracleon’s biography and situates him within the early Christian exegetical tradition. Finally, Chapter 3 supplies an integrative analysis of the major themes found within the fragments and suggests directions for further research. After close examination, Heracleon can be seen not only as an important representative of Valentinian theology but as a significant witness to early Christian allegorical exegesis. The surviving fragments reveal that Heracleon’s reading of the Gospel of John places emphasis on a number of key issues, such as the metaphysical opposition between the “eternal” and the “worldly,” the accessibility of salvation to a variety of human dispositions, and the nature of “true worship.” Unlike earlier studies on the fragments that have placed primary emphasis on their more abstract implications, this thesis demonstrates through his exegetical readings of the gospel, that Heracleon engages in a polemical discussion with a number of contemporary religious groups about how most authentically to worship God. As a result, a clearer picture of the social world in which Heracleon and other Valentinians were engaged begins to emerge.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season