Essential Gnostic Scriptures
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The people we’ve come to call gnostics were passionate advocates of the view that salvation comes through knowledge and personal experience, and their passion shines through in the remarkable body of writings they produced over a period of more than a millennium and a half. Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer have created a translation that brings the gnostic voices to us from across the centuries with remarkable power and beauty—beginning with texts from the earliest years of Christianity—including material from the Nag Hammadi library—and continuing all the way up to expressions of gnostic wisdom found within Islam and in the Cathar movement of the Middle Ages. The twenty-one texts included here serve as a compact introduction to Gnosticism and its principal ideas—and they also provide an entrée to the pleasures of gnostic literature in general, representing, as they do, the greatest masterpieces of that tradition.
discloses knowledge that frees and awakens people, and that helps them recall who they are. When enlightened, gnostics can live a life appropriate for those who know themselves and god. They can return back to the beginning, when they were one with god. Such a life transcends what is mundane and mortal in this world and experiences the bliss of oneness with the divine. As the divine forethought, or Christ, in the Secret Book of John says to a person—every person—in the pit of the underworld, “I
lack, that you may be able to fill yourselves more. Be filled with spirit but lack in reason, for reason is of the soul. It is soul.”2 Be Eager for the Word Then I3 asked him, “Master, can we prophesy to those who ask us to prophesy to them? There are many who bring a request to us and look to us to hear our pronouncement.” The master said, “First I spoke with you in parables, and you did not understand. Now I am speaking with you openly, and you do not grasp it. Nevertheless, you were for me
blast, and great turmoil. When we passed beyond that place, we sent our minds up further. We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns, angelic praises and angelic rejoicing. Heavenly majesties were singing hymns, and we rejoiced too. Again after this we wished to send our spirits up to the majesty. When we ascended, we were not allowed to see or hear anything. The other students called to us and asked us, “What did you hear from the teacher4? What did he tell you? Where did he go?” We
to dissident knowledge and meditation probably had its beginnings with first-century Jews who were shaken by the destruction of their temple in Jerusalem and the forced diaspora into neighboring lands. With their apocalyptic vision and hope arrested by exile and the failure of god to halt Roman armies and their endless crucifixions, some Jews from Palestine and Alexandria turned from faith in the outside creator god to a revelatory knowledge attained in solitude. A similar dashing of apocalyptic
3d ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988. Robinson, James M., Paul Hoffman, and John S. Kloppenborg, eds. The Critical Edition of Q: Synopsis Including the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark, and Thomas with English, German, and French Translations of Q and Thomas. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2000. Robinson, James M., and Helmut Koester. Trajectories through Early Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971. Robson, James. Christ in Islam. The Wisdom of the East. London: Murray, 1929.