The Gnostic Bible

Review From User :

"To know [the] principles of Gnostic Christianity is to court disaster." --Philip K Dick

Before I get too deep into this, I will present my "must read" list for anybody interested but without the mental fortitude to get through 850 pages of this stuff.

* Gospel of Thomas (probably the best of the wisdom books)
* Gospel of John (I'm recommending this for 2 reasons: 1. because it's translated by Willis Barnstone, not by a religious committee allowing him to explore the poetic beauty of the Bible that so often suffers at the hands of approved translations and 2. because it's important in the context of gnosticism)
* Gospel of Judas
* Secret Book of John (most satisfying cosmogony)
* Thunder, Perfect Mind (If you have to only read one, make it this one, its short)
* Gospel of Truth
* Gospel of Philip
* The Round Dance of the Cross
* The Prayer of the Messenger Paul
* The Songs of Solomon
* The Song of the Pearl
* The Gospel of Mary
* Poimandres
* Songs from the Mandaean Liturgy
* Parthian Songs
* A Nun's Sermon
(This may seem like a lot but many of these are pretty short. Of the major periods discussed by the book, only Islam is not represented here; if you're curious you could check Mother of Books. Its the only Islamic gnostic work included and is quite long.)

To put this review in perspective let me say that I am nonreligious, and I read this in much the same way I would read The Iliad or Beowulf. As alluded to above, I am reading this now as part of my epic post 2-3-78 Philip K Dick writings.

The Gnostic Bible attempts to bring together a corpus of major gnostic works drawing on many sources (many from the Nag Hammadi library). It does a wonderful job of drawing from many sources and selecting the most important and well preserved texts. The introductory texts and notes do a very good job of explaining the general ideas of the writing, showing similarities and differences between other works, and giving historical context. In some cases, I will probably revisit some of these works with a more critical edition. The translations by Myers and Barnstone are really quite good. In the introduction, Barstone discusses how important translating the spirit of the work is in the introduction, and it really comes through (for more details I highly recommend reading Barnstone's translators introduction). In a few cases (generally when neither Myers nor Barnstone understood the language in question) another translation was used. Who translated and the primary sources consulted are well discussed in the notes. A few of the text's, however, have been poorly translated, edited, or transcribed when the initially translation from Greek to Coptic. This comes through strongly a few times and the translators refer to these works as challenging. Still they can be interesting and are generally worth reading. Overall, Myers and Barstone have done an wonderful job with this collection.

Gnosticism is something I've been curious since high school (Pope Innocent III would be crushed if he know a Catholic school invoked an interest in gnosis) and recently my Philip K Dick addiction^Winterest has rekindled my curiosity in ancient writing (my interest goes beyond just gnosticism and into other esoteric religion). Gnosticism is also an inspiration for many great authors I love including William Blake, Jorge Luis Borges, etc. I'm really glad I finally got around to reading this. It's not for everyone though.

Some closing thoughts on the body of works themselves. Many of the works, while having the same overall themes, vary in their cosmogony, roles of various biblical and extra-biblical characters. This can make it a little confusing at times. Most of the works are either cosmogonies (often revealed in a platonic dialog-cum-gospel) or wisdom sayings. Many of the wisdom sayings present an almost Zen Jesus, much different from the Jesus of the synoptic gospels.


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