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Selected Books - Gnosticism

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cover The Gnostic Religion, by Hans Jonas. This was the first decent introduction to Gnosticism for the modern world, and is still of value today. Includes both heresiological and original texts (the Nag Hammadi was only published later). Very useful material on Simon Magus, the Hermetic Poimandres (shown here to be equally a Gnostic document), the Valentinian school and the "Hymn of the Pearl", and the Mandaeans and Manichaean tradition. The existentialist bent (Jonas was a student of Martin Heidegger) makes an interesting contrast to Pagel's more "orthodox" view of Gnostic religion as theistic. If all you have is this volume and the Nag Hammadi library, I think you will have a pretty good coverage of the diverse teachings of Gnosticism and related movements.

cover The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by by James M. Robinson. The Nag Hammadi Library was discovered in 1945 buried in a large stone jar in the desert outside the modern Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. It is a collection of religious and philosophic texts gathered and translated into Coptic by fourth-century Gnostic Christians and translated into English by dozens of highly reputable experts. First published in 1978, this is the revised 1988 edition supported by illuminating introductions to each document. The library itself is a diverse collection of texts that the Gnostics considered to be related to their heretical philosophy in some way. There are 45 separate titles, including a Coptic translation from the Greek of two well-known works: the Gospel of Thomas, attributed to Jesus' brother Judas, and Plato's Republic. Although the style is very dense and hard to read, and made worse by the frequent lacuna and gaps in the text, this work remains an invaluable sourcebook of Gnosticism and Gnostic Christianity.

cover The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Less a description of the Gnostic texts themselves as - to quote a friend - the Bolshevicks versus the Menshovicks. Essentially this very readable book is an account of the interaction and struggle between institutionalized Christianity and the Gnostic individualists, of which it is inevitable the former would win, not through doctrinal but through organisational superiority. Pagels also shows that although Gnostic and orthodox Christians both believed in a personal God, they differed greatly in their approach to knowing and understanding God. Gnostics followed the inward path of knowing God by knowing oneself, the Christian church the outward path of developing a religious structure to encourage social interaction amongst individuals, requiring only the simplest essentials of faith and a variety of celebrated church rituals. A very interesting look at the sociopolitical dynamics of this important time. But if you want the actual texts you will have to look elsewhere

cover Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism by Kurt Rudolph. Scholarly yet easy to read, a broader coverage of the different groups than Pagels (who just deals with power struggle between the Gnostics and the early Church). Also, more sympathetic than Hans Jonas and, being more recent, fully incorporating the Nag Hammadi findings.

cover The Gnostics by Sean Martin. Overall introduction to Gnosticism, includes chapters on Gnosticism and Christianity, Beliefs and Myths, Teachers and Traditions, Gnostic Religions, Texts and Gospels, and Influence and Legacy. (Amazon com link).

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 26 June 2001, last modified 16 July 2010