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172 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient and enlightening...
This collection of texts gives a fascinating view of early Christian texts and views, particularly in light of the fact that these were not the writings that made it into the mainstream of church and biblical canonical development, but rather were influential in an underground, almost subversive way, in much of ancient and oriental Christianity -- were it not for the...
Published on 28 Sep 2003 by Kurt Messick

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Showing its age now
This edition of the complete Nag Hammadi corpus in an English translation has served me well for many years, but I would recommend considering instead one (or both!) of two newer publications which are considerably better, namely The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, and also The Gnostic Scriptures:...
Published on 10 Feb 2011 by E. L. Wisty


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172 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient and enlightening..., 28 Sep 2003
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
This collection of texts gives a fascinating view of early Christian texts and views, particularly in light of the fact that these were not the writings that made it into the mainstream of church and biblical canonical development, but rather were influential in an underground, almost subversive way, in much of ancient and oriental Christianity -- were it not for the existence of texts such as these, indeed, we would not have the canon of the Bible which we have today (the political motivations behind deciding which books belonged in the Bible and which books didn't owe largely to texts such as those in the Nag Hammadi Library).
'This volume...marks the end of one stage of Nag Hammadi scholarship and the beginning of another. The first stage was concerned with making this library of texts available; the second stage has been characterised by the discussion and interpretation of the texts.'
This book represents an advance in both translation and analysis; this is part of the canon of the Gnostic sect, which saw more orthodox Christianity (from which Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies derive) as the ones who were heretical.
'The Nag Hammadi library also documents the fact that the rejection was mutual, in that Christians described there as 'heretical' seem to be more like what is usually thought of as 'orthodox'.'
Gnosticism was ultimately eliminated from mainstream Christianity, save the occasional resurgence of underground and spiritual movements. Of course, Gnosticism was not an exclusively Christian-oriented phenomenon: many of the texts refer to Hebrew Scriptures only, and the question of Jewish Gnosticism is discussed by Robinson.
The Dead Sea Scrolls (of which these texts are NOT a part, despite the fact that they often get cited and analysed as part of that body of documents) shed light on the pluralistic nature of first century Judaism; the idea that there was a sect primarily of Jewish gnostics which had little or no knowledge or regard of Christianity (still at this point one sect of many, particularly in cosmopolitan centres such as Alexandria) is not a strange one.
The Nag Hammadi library consists of twelve books, plus eight leaves of a thirteenth book. There are a total of fifty-two tracts. These are now kept in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, and, as the name suggests, are written in Coptic, although it is clear that the texts are Coptic translations of earlier Greek works. Coptic is the Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet; there are different dialects of Coptic, and the Nag Hammadi library shows at least two. The were found in codex form (book form rather than scroll form). They were discovered in the mid 1940s, just a few years prior to the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls (another reason for the combination of the texts in the public imagination).
Included in these texts are The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Mary and other gospel contenders (alas, in fragmentary form--the translation in this volume however is the complete Nag Hammadi text). The Gospel of Thomas has perhaps been the highest profile text from Nag Hammadi; it has been translated and commented upon extensively, particularly in modern scholarship which discusses gospel development.
'Whoever find the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.'
This gospel does not correspond to the narrative form with which modern readers are familiar; it is a collection of sayings (one modern scholar argues that the victory of the four canonical gospels was a victory of style, rather than substance).
This gospel also helps illuminate some of the early struggles in church formation (why exactly did it go from a house-based, relatively gender-neutral organisation to a male-exclusive-hierarchical model?).
Simon Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'
Other writings include various Acts of apostles, pieces of wisdom literature, parables and stories, most of which have some basis in Hebrew scripture or Christian scripture traditions.
The afterword, by Richard Smith, traces the idea of gnosticism through medieval and renaissance writers, through the enlightenment up to the modern day, in philosophy, theology, culture and the arts. From Blake to Gibbons to Melville to modern motion pictures, Gnostic ideas permeate many works, even before the Nag Hammadi library was available for study and contemplation.
'A quite self-conscious incorporation of Nag Hammadi texts into a science fiction novel appeared in Harold Bloom's 1979 novel The Flight to Lucifer: A Gnostic Fantasy. In it the reincarnated Valentinus and his companions fly to a planet called Lucifer. Quoting our gnostic texts, the heroes wage a violent battle against Saklas, the Demiurge who is worshipped in his 'Saklaseum'. Bloom, more successful as an interpreter of literature, later confessed that The Flight to Lucifer reads as though Walter Pater were writing Star Wars. But, then, so does much ancient gnostic writing.'
This is a wonderful collection, a truly fascinating view of texts that shared the religious stage with the proto-canonical Biblical texts. It gives insight into the varieties of early Christianity and Judaism. And it makes for interesting reading.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The good news you were never meant to hear,, 25 Oct 2007
This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
Formidable. Not an easy read.

For almost 2000 years, people have prepared us for the New Testament. There's been many books about it, many sermons, even many movies. Some of it may still seem unusual to us but it's familiar. The scriptures within it were carefully selected and ordered. Many of the writers seem to have gone to great care to make their messages accessible.

We've had little if any preparation for the scriptures in the Nag Hammadi library. They weren't supposed to be around any longer. They may not be a random collection but they seem as if they were. They aren't even all Christian Gnostic. There are some non-Christian Gnostic works, some Hermetic works, even a modified excerpt from Plato's Republic. It seems unlikely that they would have been judged readily understandable even when they were first written. We know little if anything about the people who wrote them, of the people who read them, of how they played a part. They may represent a poor subset of Gnostic works: we may never know whether some powerful, clearer, more accessible Gnostic works existed but were lost to us.

But even such as they are, it is a gift that these works were saved and found.

One reading seems hardly enough. Jumping into these works unprepared mayleave you baffled. But, even if you do just jump in, you may well recognize something there's something special about these scriptures.

As preparation (or after an initial reading) some works that may help you with these scriptures are:
* Elaine Pagel's "The Gnostic Gospels". It's an exceptional presentation of relevant early Christian history and a good overvew of what mattered to the Gnostics.
* The "Hermetica", also written in the first few centuries A.D. This Hermetic work is much longer but also much better presented than the Hermetic works in the "Nag Hammadi Library". The Hermetic writings generally have a more positive view of material existence but in many ways feel similar to the Gnostic works, both being quite philosophical religious writings with plenty of mythologizing.
* The "Enneads" by the Neoplatonist Plotinus. Long, but a very clear presentation some of whose terminology and themes can be found in the "Nag Hammadi Library".

The introduction to the library by James Robinson, the general editor, will provide some helpful context. The afterward by Richard Smith on " The Modern Relevance of Gnosticism" is exceptional and may well be worth reading before you read the scriptures themselves. This afterward doesn't depend on the scriptures and introduces many modern writers whose work has been shaped by an interest in Gnosticism.

One nit: there are "textual signs" throughout the scriptures which are undoubtedly useful to scholars but which seemed a distraction.

Each scripture is short. Each has its own introduction, often done by the translator of that scripture but sometimes not. Elaine Pagels ("The Gnostic Gospels") wrote some of the introductions. These introductions provide some helpful context and summary, but not as much as I could have used. An annotated "Nag Hammadi Library" would be useful. I'm afraid I missed a lot of references, although the introductions often helped.

The historical Jesus is not to be found in the Christian Gnostic texts: just the resurrection and, to a lesser extent, the crucifixion, are referenced. You can wonder why, in these scriptures, as in Paul, the historical Jesus seems of such little interest. Most of the works seem quite abstract, quite philosophical, with free myth-making. I found it very hard to imagine who would have used these texts; it seems unlikely they could have had a mass appeal. They all seem quite serious, quite heavy.

Many of the texts are noted to have come from Alexandria, seeming not very Egyptian but very Greek. It most have been quite a place. It's seems remarkable that religious thinking was so intense. Do many of us today think so deeply about our condition?

I had some "favorites" among these scriptures after this first reading. These works may have seemed more accessible. There seems to be no benefit to reading all the scriptures in this library in the order they appear. My favorites may not at all be yours but they may also seem more accessible to you:
* The Gospel Of Truth
* The Treatise on the Resurrection
* The Gospel of Phillip
* On the Origin of the World
* The Exegesis of the Soul
* The Letter of Peter to Phillip
Although philosophical, these works are religious and hence often emotional. I was struck most by the power of "The Exegesis of the Soul".

Don't be surprised if, on first reading, these scriptures make little if any connection or sense. They are indeed quite foreign. But the power of the effort at myth-making may reach you, in which case you may want to do some background reading (either what I suggested or other) and then return to these scriptures. Richard Smith's afterword may convince you that such writings describe a compelling alternative. The Gnostic view as shared here need not be an academic interest, but suggest ways of living in this world quite unlike what orthodox religion offers. If they didn't have a significant power, it seems unlikely the orthodox Church would have been so aggressive in trying to remove all trace of these scriptures.
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92 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REVELATIONS OF THE HEAVENLY PLEROMA, 15 Mar 2002
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
This is an overwhelming body of work to digest - mercifully the explanatory introductions to each of the 45 chapters help a lot to make sense of it all. Not all the books are strictly speaking Gnostic Gospels, as it even includes a part of Plato's "Republic." The excellent introduction by James M. Robinson discusses what is known about the history of the Gnostics, the background to the documents and their theological significance.
The works that I find fascinating include The Gospels of Thomas and Philip, The Thunder: Perfect Mind, The Concept Of Our Great Power, Asclepius 21 - 29, and The Apocalypse of Peter. The afterword by Richard Smith: The Modern Relevance of Gnosticism, is particularly relevant and readable as it traces Gnostic ideas through Edward Gibbon, the Enlightenment writers, William Blake, W.B. Yeats, Helena Blavatsky, Carl Jung, Herman Hesse, Nicholas Roeg's film The Man Who Fell To Earth, science fiction writers, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others. This is a brilliant piece and I am inspired by the excerpt from Jung's "Abraxas" poem to further investigate the Jung connection. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but this volume has enormous significance and will continue to increase in stature in the following decades. It is moreover not only of importance to historians and theologians but to all spiritual people who seek to broaden their knowledge.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vastly more satisfying than the Dead Sea Scrolls, 24 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
The Dead Sea Scrolls get all the attention and popular press but the Nag Hammadi is the REAL thing. The Scrolls are murder to get through due to the huge quantities of missing text. The Nag Hammadi is in a whole different class. I don't understand why these texts and this incredibly scholarly edition don't get more attention. I am certain they will eventually be 'discovered' by the world at large due to their depth of historical significance and the quantity of the material herein. I am very grateful to the person who introduced me to this work. The Nag Hammadi is a pleasure. Enjoy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Showing its age now, 10 Feb 2011
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
This edition of the complete Nag Hammadi corpus in an English translation has served me well for many years, but I would recommend considering instead one (or both!) of two newer publications which are considerably better, namely The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, and also The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. Both of them are much more readable and useful than this edition. It's really no contest; this book is showing its age now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The interesting extras for the bible, 26 Jan 2011
By 
J. J. Rowley "rowleyjohnuk" (Loughborough, Leics) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
Brilliant collection of texts that were left out. Well worth buying to see what we are missing. Will stimulate a lot of debate and challenge the orthodox view. Buy it and see.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazingly informative, 12 Sep 2010
This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
This is my second purchase - I gave the first one away. Its full of information which we need to know and don't seem to get elsewhere.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gnostic Gospels, 28 April 2014
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Rev. T. J. Carter (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
The Nag Hammadi Library in English offers a translation from the Coptic of gospels and other writings which did not find their way into our Bible (The Canon of Scriptures) These writings are Platonic and heavily influenced by Greek thought. It opened up 'a new world' to me.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 3 April 2014
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This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
I can see why it was banded by the catholic church and I now agreed with them. Which is strange?
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43 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nine only because of difficulty reading due to missing text, 2 Jun 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Nag Hammadi Library in English: The Definitive Translation of the Gnostic Scriptures. Complete in One Volume (Paperback)
I read the Nag Hammadi Library after reading Pistis Sophia and I Highly Recommended this to familiarize with wording and text style.I spent the better part of two years reading the various chapters.This much time was needed for me due to self spiritual paths ventured upon prior to reading said texts.It really takes a sharp mind and pure heart to accept the knowledge briefed upon in this book.The knowledge enters your heart and soul rather than your mind and rational self, actually leaving your rational self in a bit of a fog.Many times I found myself unable to stay awake after reading a chapter or two,but was awakened feeling like somehow I understood.Some of my favorite parts were The Dialogue Of The Saviour;where Jesus returned to teach his disciples on the lessons to be gained in this and other spiritual planes.Book Of Genesis;where I learned that the true Adam and Eve were named Sophia (Pistis Sophia) and Barbelo (Jesus) and that who else would be the true Adam but Jesus? Anyway without the grace of God Sophia and Adamus created the chaos.Here.That explains why God sent Jesus(Barbelo) as our saviour so that we all could be in some way like him and continue with the nature of things Bettering ourselves for the good of all.That part explained the Why? I had always placed on this subject.I learned alot about myself while reading this book on my intellect, spiritual self, adapting to new ways of thinking and seeing. I guess you could say that this book has in many ways changed me.The part I find most rewarding is that it was all for the better.If you are an intelligent open-minded adult looking for a challenge I truly reccommend this one. Also for the reader looking for answers into religion without looking into religions. The various stlyes of writing I found very romantic and full of emotion. Truly a book for the reader looking to feel the words and hear the meaning.The rewards you find may surprise you.
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