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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Gnostic Discoveries by Marvin Meyer

The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library by Marvin Meyer. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, a Division of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-06-082108-1

The collection of texts commonly referred to as the Nag Hammadi Library was discovered in Egypt in 1945. These texts are sometimes referred to as a Coptic and/or gnostic library. The author of this book, possibly taking advantage of the flurry of interest in apocryphal scriptures resulting from the immense popularity of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, provides an overview of this particular collection of texts.

Are they really gnostic? (Some, at least, are.) Are they Coptic? (They are written in the Coptic language, but do not by any means reflect the perspective of the Coptic Orthodox Church.) These are the kinds of questions addressed by the author in the early chapters. He also recounts the story of how the collection was discovered, and its subsequent history. These are probably the most interesting parts of the book, at least in a conventional sense.

The remainder of the book is taken up with a discussion of the major themes elucidated in the texts, followed by a lengthy appendix which briefly describes and summarizes all of the texts included in the library. The four thematic chapters describe and discuss “The Wisdom of the Living Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas and Thomas Texts,” “The Fall and Restoration of Sophia in the Secret Book of John and Sethian Texts,” “Salvation Through Knowledge in the Gospel of Truth and Valentinian Texts,” and “Revealers of Wisdom (Hermes, Derdekeas, Thunder and Mary) in Other Nag Hammadi Texts.”

Some of these texts are passing strange, others are (from a non-specialist perspective) fairly tedious. But both separately and together, they do provide windows into alternate belief systems, ways of thinking that were often condemned and excoriated by the mainstream church. It is interesting that prior to the Nag Hammadi discovery, many of these texts were only known through quotations and condemnations found in the writings of the early Christian heresiologists, those writing against what they saw as heretical thinking and teaching.

For someone who has heard about the Nag Hammadi Library, and wonders what all the fuss is about, this book provides a decent overview and summary, if not too much more. Recommended for those with an interest in the topic.


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