THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF JESUS: Four Gnostic Gospels by Marvin W.--Trans. Meyer

THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF JESUS: Four Gnostic Gospels

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A dose of gnosis--and more than enough for the ordinary reader. The four short texts included here, The Secret Book of James, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and The Secret Book of John, are a very important fraction of the Coptic manuscripts known as the Nag Hammadi library, from the site in Upper Egypt where they were accidentally discovered in 1945. Meyer (Ferrum College, Virginia) provides a brief, popular introduction, some reasonably helpful end-notes (better placed as footnotes), and a series of adequate translations (not improved by the often ill-advised use of ""inclusive language""--e.g., ""Child of Humanity"" for the traditional ""Son of Man""). At any rate, this edition handily collects some hitherto hard-to-obtain items, so newcomers to the turbid esoteric world of gnosticism can explore and judge it for themselves. The most accessible piece is The Book of Thomas, a collection of sayings (logia) with many echoes of the canonical Gospels (e.g., ""Come to me,/ for my yoke is easy/ and my lordship is gentle,/ and you will find rest for yourselves""). The Secret Book of James has considerably fewer passages that would not sound out of place in the New Testament, but the bulk of the material here (presumably dating from the 2nd century) has left the historical Jesus far behind. The unknown authors rage against the flesh, they stress doctrine against the Law, they fashion an elitist vision of transcending the world, they often rebel against the God of the Old Testament, and they invent weird cosmogonies. (From The Secret Book of John: ""The first ruler raped Eve, and produced in her two sons, a first and a second: Elohim and Yahweh./ Elohim has the face of a bear,/ Yahweh has the face of a cat./ One is just,/ the other is unjust."") The work of scholars like Hans Jonas, Elaine Pagels, and James Robinson has shed light on some, but by no means all, of this arcane stuff. If nothing else, this volume will make it clear why Church authorities tried so hard to exterminate the threat posed by gnosticism, the first and most enduring heresy. An important historical source, fairly well presented.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1984
ISBN: 0394744330
Publisher: Random House