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Two discoveries of tremendous importance have given Christians today a better understanding of the early centuries of the Church than has been available for fifteen hundred years. The first was the Dead Sea Scrolls, of which much has been written already. Now, for the first time we have a chance to see and evaluate the forty-four hitherto unknown books discovered in a buried jar at Chenoboskion in Egypt, which have come down to us almost intact from Gnostic sources writing while that heresy was flourishing. The Dead Sea Scrolls have interest because they reflect an influential religious movement that may have had some impact upon the first Christians, but it was not apparently in direct contact with Christianity. Not so The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics. These were people who lived a bit later when the Church was strong, and had a well developed theology, worship and way of life. They were parallel to the early Church, derived much of their vocabulary and ideology from that Church and then went way off on their own so that they came into violent conflict with the emerging Church. Sometimes they infiltrated, sometimes there was ""cold war"", and sometimes open persecution. The importance of this book lies in the fact that up until now, we have had so little direct knowledge of their teachings -- just a very few manuscripts, excerpts quoted by the Fathers who were greatly concerned to refute what they quoted, and several polemical volumes from these same Fathers, who could not denounce and undermine the Gnostic teachings without giving the readers some idea of what they were. We have known Gnosticism through the eyes of its enemies. Now we have the teaching at first hand, and who can estimate the value of these documents better than a man who was in on their discovery, preservation, translation and release after years of no money and monumental governmental stupidity. This was Professor Doresse, though he is careful to credit his colleagues. No Old Testament scholar can do without the book; no seminarian's training will be complete without some recourse to it; and it might be a good idea if ministers in the field brought their knowledge of Gnosticism up to date. The importance of the volume is attested by the fact that this is an American edition of a book already selling widely in England, which is itself a translation of Dr. Doresse's original work in French.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1960
Publisher: Viking