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Predestined for Conversion? Reconsidering Heracleon’s “Valentinian” Reading of John

Scholarship on Heracleon, the author of the first known commentary on the Fourth Gospel, has often overestimated the reliability of ancient sources, whose interest in presenting Heracleon as a heterodox sectarian may have overly colored their presentation. In particular, Heracleon’s comment about the woman from Sychar (John 4:1–26) that her faith was unhesitating and appropriate to her nature (Origen, Comm. Jo. 13.10/63) has been interpreted with the presumption that Heracleon believed that the woman belonged to a privileged, spiritual category of humans who were predestined to respond positively to the call of Christ.

This paper analyzes the formulas used by Origen to attribute this and other statements to Heracleon, and argues that Origen not only presents verbatim quotations and summaries from Heracleon’s writing, but also interpretative paraphrases and mere assertions, in which Heracleon’s views are mixed with those of Origen’s contemporary opponents. The view that the woman from Sychar is predestined for conversion seems to be part of Origen’s heresiological framing, rather than expressed by Heracleon.