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on 15 March 2002
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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on 28 September 2003
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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on 26 January 2011
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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on 12 September 2010
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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on 2 June 1998
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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on 20 February 2001
My daughter and I are scientists and have stumbled upon several unique phenomena during our research into all the conditions which influence the health and well-being of mankind. These, to our surprise are identical to many of the sayings spoken by Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas, included in James Robinson's book. They bring Jesus directly into today's world, not in terms of the gloom and doom of modern day prophets and scientists, but as an absolute confirmation of God's Presence, here and now, as real live sensations that can be experienced, no matter what your religious beliefs may be, or even if you have none. Would any readers of the book, the Editor or Publishers be interested in our research papers? These take us a step beyond belief into knowing and bring this historical document to life.
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