The Dialogue of the Savior is preserved in a single Coptic copy found in Codex III of the Nag Hammadi codices.
According to Julian Hills in The Complete Gospels, the Dialogue of the Savior is a gospel about baptism. Hills argues:
The central theme of the Dialogue is a process of salvation described in POxy 654 (the Greek fragment of Thom 2): "Let him who [seeks] not pause [until] he finds. When he finds, [he shall marvel]. When he [marvels], he shall rule. [When he has ruled, he shall find rest]" (see DialSav 20:4). This theme supports an invitation to baptism (1-3). It is even likely that the author intended the writing as a discussion of baptism, and in particular of the question: do baptized persons belong in heaven, and or should they continue their struggle in the flesh, i.e., on earth?
The author answers the question as follows. First, the writing looks backwards - it describes a moment in the past, when Jesus and his disciples were together. But the reader sees the disciples not only as historical people; he or she finds that they stand for the community's "catechumens" (converts in training) being instructed by their "teacher" (81). In this way, the instructions to the disciples in the Dialogue are probably addressed to those in the author's community who are preparing for baptism.
Ron Cameron in The Other Gospels and Julian Hills in The Complete Gospels agree that at least four different written sources lie behind the Dialogue of the Savior. Hills argues:
Several things about this document make it almost certain that the final author combined various written sources to produce the present Dialogue of the Savior. First, a series of long speeches of the Lrod seem to belong together, in terms of subject-matter and style (see especially 1-3; 14; 22-23; 34-35; 96; 104). Second, several of the speeches have introductions that interrupt the flow of the dialogue (see especially in 24; 36; 37; 39; 40). Third, there are some abrupt changes of subject-matter, as if the author switched from one source to another and back again.
Cameron describes the sources as follows:
Into this dialogue are inserted the following sources: (1) a creation myth (127.23-131.15) based on Genesis 1-2; (2) a cosmological list (133.16-134.24) interpreted in the wisdom tradition; and (3) a fragment of an apocalyptic vision (134.24-137.3). The final redactor has introduced the entire document with (4) an exhortation, prayer, and typically gnostic instruction about the passage of the soul through the heavens (120.2-124.22), all of which is described in terms closely related to the language of the deutero-Pauline corpus, upon which the introductory second may well be dependent.
The title of the Dialogue of the Savior comes from the final redactor: while "the Lord" is used as an appelation thirty-nine times, the term "the Savior" occurs only twice in an introduction to speech. In their introduction found in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Helmut Koester and Elaine Pagels state, "The title The Dialogue of the Savior appears in the incipit and the explicit of the manuscript and is apparently a later addition."
The main source behind the Dialogue of the Savior is a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Helmut Koester and Elaine Pagels write:
The primary source was a dialogue between the Lord and three disciples. This source is preserved in the following sections of the extant work: 124,23-127,19; 128,23-129,16; 131,19-133,21(?); 137,3-146,20, i.e., in about 65% of the present text. These sections are characterized by brief questions, usually from one of the named disciples (sometimes by all the disciples) and equally brief answers of the Lord. Sometimes these questions and answers are expanded into longer units discussing a particular topic. Tradiational sayings of Jesus used in these questions and answers have parallels in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, and particularly in The Gospel of Thomas. However, a literary dependence upon any of these writings seems unlikely. Rather, the sayings tradition used here appears to be an independent one parallel to the one used in The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John.
Cameron also compares the Dialogue of the Savior with the Gospel of John:
Its use of sayings to compose dialogues marks a stage in the development of the tradition leading from the primitive collection of sayings to the creation of longer revelation discourses and dialogues. In this respect, the Dialogue of the Savior is a precursor of the Gospel of John, which much more subtly incorporates originally discrete sayings into elaborate discourses and dialogues of Jesus. Moreover, in the theological concern addressed by juxtaposing realized eschatology with futuristic eschatology, the Dialogue of the Savior is also a harbinger of the later redaction of John. Each document presents Jesus as a wisdom teacher and living revealer, who challenges his disciples to discover how revelation can come to be a reality within a community of believers.
Helmut Koester and Elaine Pagels maintain that the Dialogue of the Savior, unlike the Sophia of Jesus Christ or Pistis Sophia, is like the Gospel of John in its "elaborations and interpretations of traditional sayings." Because the Dialogue of the Savior is often "less advanced and theologically less complex than the Johannine parallels," they argue that the dialogue source should be dated sometime in the first century.
Ron Cameron offers this dating: "Whereas the dialogue source probably dates from the second half of the first century, the document in its final form was probably composed in the mid- to late second century, when the deutero-Pauline corpus was used in conjuction with the gospel traditions to authenticate the interpretations of both the 'orthodox' and the 'heretics.'" Julian Hills states that the final redaction of the Dialogue of the Savior was probably made about 150 C.E.
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