An important introduction to early Christianity,
This review is from: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Gnostics, a Contibution to the Study of the Origins of Christianity (Paperback)
Since the discovery of a vast corpus of material, thirteen bound codices to be precise in 1945, together with other materials such as the recent Gospel of Judas, dubbed "Gnostic Gospels" and readily available in translation, this work of G.R.S. Mead has been largely overlooked by scholars and readers of Gnosticism. It is one of the misfortunes of history that Mead was never able to be aware of any of the complete (or mostly complete) Gnostic tracts that were discovered in Egypt after his lifetime. Mead only had the Pistis Sophia (which he translated and to date his translation remains the primary source for this later Gnostic text, together with an incomplete section of Gospel of Thomas [discovered complete in 1945], and other fragmentary Gnostic texts. Yet despite not having the actual tracts Mead was able to compile an extensive and exhaustive work on the actual Gnostics themselves, individuals such as Marcion, Cerdo, Valentinus, Basilides, and others based upon surviving works by detractors and opponents to these mystery schools and purported heretics. Indeed, even though we now have at least some of the Gnostic texts, intact or fragmentary, within those texts we still cannot be sure for certain which, if any of the Gnostic sects or teachers they might have been used by. There are a few that might well have been used by Valentinus and his followers, but otherwise, nothing can be ascertained with certainty.
When reading Mead, the reader has to be aware of his shortcomings, as he did not have access to the wide array of documents that we do now. However his ideas, his research, and his ideas and opinions have not dated their compilation at the turn of the 20th century. Furthermore Mead was responsible for the translations of the Thrice Greatest Hermes and other Hermetic texts, a symoathetic understanding of the teachings of Simon Magus, and this book, together with his "Echos from the Gnosis" are without doubt the best surce material on the actual Gnostics themselves. Yet his work seems woefully overlooked these days, by Biblical scholars since the actual text surfaced, it seems to be of little importance to know anything of the men behind the ideas and teachings of alternative Christianities to the orthodox format that has survived for centuries. Yet, it is important to remember that alternative Christianities survived too - as these early Gnostic sects developed into Manicheeism, which evolved into various "heresies" such as the Bogomils, and famously the Cathars, before re-emerging in occultism in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Gnosticism and the Gnostic teachings have re-emerged in public interest since the various best sellers on the subject have emerged such as The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, the pseudo-historical "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and the infamous wordwide bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" which needs scant introduction. This book is to be read apart from all of those, although it might read alongside "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and it's follow up work "The Messianic Legacy" as it provides interesting source material to the authors' discussions of the Early Church. Very few histories of the early Church have gone into the depth of Mead, which is what makes this work so valuable. An essential part and reading matter for anyone with a keen wish to understand the early foundations and formation of Christianity.