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on January 30, 2000
I have not actually read Meyer's work cover to cover, yet I have read exerpts and passages for research. I actually bought the complete Nag Hammadi works, for this is a massive collection of early gnostic material. I actually work in classical studies, but I find this Near Eastern religious activity of the 1st century BC to 3rd century AD quite fascinating. It has been suggested by other reviews on this site that the gnostic scriptures are mindless nonsense and they do not carry the weight of the traditional gospels. I suppose they would not like to hear that the gospel of John was actually a gnostic gospel. It was adopted by orthodoxy and then edited to fit its political/theological agenda. Anyone able to read Greek can see that heavy editing took place in the text of John. True Christians should not be daunted by this fact, for the original idea of Christianity was a subjective spiritual relationship with God through the Christ. Scripture was an element preserved and coveted by a later church. The earliest manuscripts we have concerning the New Testament as we know it are papyri dating back to 3rd century that contain some of Paul's letters. The earliest complete work of the New Testament dates to 4th century with the Sinaian Uncial Script. This would account for the 90,000-100,000 variations in the content of the New Testament. So don't be to quick to throw away the spiritual significance of these gnostic texts. They are reflective of the new movement of spiritual thought. To better understand the gnostic mind I recomment those to read The Gnostic Religion, by Hans Jonas. Jonas is a German Scholar (which Germans tend to be the best scholars in this field due to their diligent research).
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on December 16, 2001
Ancient Gnostic texts reveal a long-forgotten form of relationship with between humanity and the divine, and a surprisingly unique perception of the divinity among these circles.
This book presents the latest translations of four texts from the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts. The four texts chosen are classic Gnostic scriptures of particular importance to early Christianity. They are, "The Secret Book of James" (written by Jesus' brother), "The Gospel of Thomas" (the most prominent classic of Gnostic Christian spirituality, by Jesus' twin, Judas Thomas), "The Book of Thomas", and "The Secret Book of John" (by Jesus' disciple, John the fisherman).
Amazingly, each of these four authentic texts are specifically identified by the mysterious ancient authors, in the first verses, as containing secret information from Jesus Christ himself! These texts in particular make an essential contribution to our understanding of Gnosticism and its role in early stages of the development of Christianity, seeming to shed welcome new light on some previously uncertain aspects of the Christian religion.
We should be extremely grateful for the opportunity to read these fascinating documents, which were until recently all but lost forever. The Gnostic movement was systematically oppressed, and its legacy systematically destroyed, long ago by its powerful opponents. The Gnostics were triumphant in this epic story, because, in their wisdom, they deliberately sealed away their sacred knowledge to be re-discovered at a time in the distant future when they would be respected and appreciated. The Nag Hammadi library comprises 52 documents in 13 books, most of which were entirely unknown to until the Nag Hammadi artefacts were discovered.
In this book an informative introduction, including the intriguing story behind the texts, prepares a clear passage for the reader's journey into this repository of ancient wisdom. The notes at the end of the book provide a concise commentary, with useful explanation and reference to other scriptures including the Bible, to complete the reader's learning experience. The relatively thin size of this volume makes it highly accessible - most people could easily read the whole book in a single weekend!
If you have the slightest interest in history or religion - especially Gnosticism or Christianity, then you will certainly enjoy this book.
The texts in this book really are an amazing and important part of human history, and everyone should at least have a look at them.
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In 1945 a couple of Egyptians digging in the Nile River valley found a sealed storage jar that contained a collection of fifty-two ancient manuscripts, most of which were devoted to the teachings of Gnosticism, early Christians who believed that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through "gnosis" (the Greek word for "knowledge"). The Gnostic inner quest for spiritual understanding put them at odds with the authority of the Church in the first, formative centuries of Christianity. It is not surprising that the Gnostic writings were suppressed by the early Church and were really only known to us through the writings of their opponents. The discovery of these manuscripts allows us to read what these early Christians were thinking and to judge for ourselves the value of their beliefs.
Marvin W. Meyer provides new English translations of four of the most important and revealing of these early Christian texts: the Secret Book of James, the Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas, and the Secret Book of John. The Gospel of Thomas includes dozens of sayings of Jesus, such as Saying 75: "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: all came forth from me, and all attained to me. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there." The Secret Book of John talks about the four principle demons of pleasure, desire, grief and fear. These are only two choice examples, but I think they provide an indication of what you will find in these writings. Meyer also includes detailed notes that offer specific textual comparisons between the Gnostic writings and the Gospels. These are primary documents from early Christians and should be appreciated as such. Whether in the end you consider these teachings to be sadly "lost" or rightfully "abandoned," they will definitely get you to thinking about what people believe and why. "The Secret Teachings of Jesus" is (are?) well worth reading.
Final note: The cover art is of a mosaic of Christ in Glory from the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. So often book covers add nothing to the value of the book, but this is a beautiful and totally appropriate work of art for this book.
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on September 17, 2004
Nearly all knowledgeable Biblical scholars realize there have been a wide range of writings attributed to Jesus and his Apostles..... and that some of these were selected for compilation into the book that became known as the Bible.....and that some books have been removed from some versions of the Bible and others have been re-discovered in modern times.

The attention focused on Gnosticism by Dan Brown's DaVinci Code may be debatable, but the fact is that increased attention on academics tends to be predominately positive, so I welcome those with first-time or renewed interest. At least first-timers to Gnosticism are not pursuing the oh-so-popular legends of the Holy Grail, Bloodline of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

This is great......I seldom quote other reviewers, but there is one reviewer of Pagels' books who confided that he had been a Jesuit candidate and had been required to study a wide range of texts but was never was told about the Nag Hamadi texts. He said:

"Now I know why. The Gospel of Thomas lays waste to the notion that Jesus was `the only begotten Son of God' and obviates the need for a formalized church when he says, `When your leaders tell you that God is in heaven, say rather, God is within you, and without you.' No wonder they suppressed this stuff! The Roman Catholic Church hasn't maintained itself as the oldest institution in the world by allowing individuals to have a clear channel to see the divinity within all of us: they need to put God in a bottle, label the bottle, put that bottle on an altar, build a church around that altar, put a sign over the door, and create rubricks and rituals to keep out the dis-believing riff-raff. Real `Us' versus `them' stuff, the polar opposite from `God is within You.' `My God is bigger than your God' the church(s)seem to say. And you can only get there through "my" door/denomination. But Jesus according to Thomas had it right: just keep it simple, and discover the indwelling Divinity `within you and without you.'"

Here are quickie reviews of what is being bought these days on the Gnostic Gospels and the lost books of the Bible in general:

The Lost Books of the Bible (0517277956) includes 26 apocryphal books from the first 400 years that were not included in the New Testament.

Marvin Meyers' The Secret Teachings of Jesus : Four Gnostic Gospels (0394744330 ) is a new translation without commentary of The Secret Book of James, The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and The Secret Book of John.

James M. Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library in English : Revised Edition (0060669357) has been around 25 years now and is in 2nd edition. It has introductions to each of the 13 Nag Hammadi Codices and the Papyrus Berioinensis 8502.

The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (0140278079) by Geza Vermes has selected works....a complete work is more difficult to achieve than the publisher's marketing concept indicates. His commentary generates strong reactions.

Elaine Pagels has 2 books (The Gnostic Gospels 0679724532 and Beyond Belief : The Secret Gospel of Thomas 0375501568) that have received considerable attention lately. For many, her work is controversial in that it is written for popular consumption and there is a strong modern interpretation. She does attempt to reinterpret ancient gender relationships in the light of modern feminist thinking. While this is a useful (and entertaining) aspect of college women's studies programs, it is not as unethical as some critics claim. As hard as they may try, all historians interpret the past in the context of the present. Obviously there is value in our attempts to re-interpret the past in the light of our own time.

If you want the full scholarly work it is W. Schneemelcher's 2 volume New Testament Apocrypha.
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on January 30, 2000
Some of the reviews here suggest that the Nag Hammadi texts are not as authoritive as the cannonical ones because they are second century, lack historicity, and are hopelessy tainted by gnosticm.
Firstly, the gospels that you read in the Bible are not 1st century, but are rather BASED on 1st century works, and the oldest piece of one of the cannonical gospels currently known, dates from around 150AD and is a tiny fragment containing less than a dozen words. The oldest copies in existence of these gospels are in fact 6th century, making Nag Hammadi much closer to history. As for lacking in historicity, truth is a pathless land, and it is the message itself which is important. There is no religion higher than truth. The cannonical gospels, are four gospels offering a similar perspective on Jesus. Nag Hammadi texts offer another perspective, a gnostic one. In order to obtain a full picture on Jesus one must not be blinkered and rely solely on one perspective, whichever one that may be. After all the cannonical texts are hopelessy tainted by paganism. True Christianity was overwritten with many pagan themes from the ancient mystery cults of Dionysis, Mithras and others. Contrary to believe that the Romans were Christianised, in fact the Christians were Romanised. Why else were the original emporers of Rome also the popes,(Constantine etc)and why was the Church based in Rome?
Gnosticm offers another viewpoint which should be understood, but should not form the sole viewpoint any more that the Bible should.
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on April 17, 2003
Ancient Gnostic texts reveal a long-forgotten relationship with between humanity and the divine, and a surprisingly unique perception of the divinity among these circles.
This book presents the latest translations of four texts from the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic texts. The four texts chosen are classic Gnostic scriptures of particular importance to early Christianity. They are, "The Secret Book of James" (written by Jesus' brother), "The Gospel of Thomas" (the most prominent classic of Gnostic Christian spirituality, by Jesus' twin, Judas Thomas), "The Book of Thomas", and "The Secret Book of John" (by Jesus' disciple, John the fisherman).
Amazingly, each of these four authentic texts are specifically identified by the mysterious ancient authors, in the first verses, as containing secret information from Jesus Christ himself! These texts in particular make an essential contribution to our understanding of Gnosticism and its role in early stages of the development of Christianity, seeming to shed welcome new light on some previously uncertain aspects of the Christian religion.
We should be extremely grateful for the opportunity to read these fascinating documents, which were until recently all but lost forever. The Gnostic movement was systematically oppressed, and its legacy systematically destroyed, long ago by its powerful opponents. The Gnostics were triumphant in this epic story, because, in their wisdom, they deliberately sealed away their sacred knowledge to be re-discovered at a time in the distant future when they would be respected and appreciated. The Nag Hammadi library comprises 52 documents in 13 books, most of which were entirely unknown to until the Nag Hammadi artefacts were discovered.
In this book an informative introduction, including the intriguing story behind the texts, prepares a clear passage for the reader's journey into this repository of ancient wisdom. The notes at the end of the book provide a concise commentary, with useful explanation and reference to other scriptures including the Bible, to complete the reader's learning experience. The relatively thin size of this volume makes it highly accessible - most people could easily read the whole book in a single weekend!
If you have the slightest interest in history or religion - especially Gnosticism or Christianity, then you will certainly enjoy this book.
The texts in this book really are an amazing and important part of human history, and everyone should at least have a look at them.
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on May 14, 2001
In a nutshell, here is the insight from this book: Gnostic believers felt (and presumably still feel) that a relationship with God is a personal matter and that attainment of a better self is possible and something for which to strive. Gnosticism is accused of heresy because it presumes to assume that, as beings infused with the spark of God, we have in us the power to become God-like.
Christian Orthodoxy ("straight-minded" Christianity) believes that you *need* the Church to understand and communicate with God and that you can never hope to evolve beyond the simple worship of God and Jesus Christ. The underlying point that is communicated is that the Church used this premise to establish a political monopoly on the path to God.
The numerous examples in this book highlight these two different viewpoints using manuscripts unearthed nearly 60 years ago. It is interesting because those manuscripts, when combined with the political rhetoric of early Church hierarchy, give a unique insight into the political background of the early church. This book is interesting; even its opponents will give it that. Also, the author does a good job of presenting the data rather than her own opinion.
The warning, however, is that you should be careful to check your prejudices (literally: pre-judgments). If you are an ardent and dedicated Christian, you will likely find this work offensive and inaccurate. If you are a dedicated atheist or agnostic, your tendency to blow this book out of proportion.
I would have given 5 stars but the book has a tendency to ramble without direction at times.
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on March 4, 2004
I'd like to start by talking to some previous reviewers; I can understand (somewhat) why a lot of us are reluctant to give this book a listen I suppose. Down in Texas it seems we have a "Professor of Religion" or something, knowing more than this author about the books of the Bible. But it's all relative my friend from Texas, for it all depends on which denomination of Christianity you practice. These texts have been declared heretical, a denotation which refers to Satan. It's difficult for Christians to embrace the so called "pluralism" present here or, better yet, to open up to the religions of others. The Gnostic Gospels were more aimed at finding God within, and not by pointing some compass outward to the sky.
Now the one criticism I have of this particular book is that the commentary provided is somewhat cryptic and ambiguous; but I cut him some slack for that, it's a tough text to absorb. The translation is fairly concise, with some forgivable and hardly noticeable POSSIBLE mistranslations. All in all, as another reviewer said, it's a great book for those "casually interested" in the Gnostic Gospels; but I'll also take it a step further: It's for absolutely everyone. Enjoy it.
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on July 3, 2003
There are those that suggest that the Gospel of Thomas and all other Gnostic writings contradict the Bible. If that is true then the Bible falls short of telling us the entire story. The Bible was created by the Nicene Council to vindicate Peter as the survivor of the legacy of Jesus. There are numerous texts, not the least of which is "James the Brother of Jesus" by Eisenman" which hammers that suggestion to dust. When asked who would survive him (Jesus) as his heir by all the collective apostles, Jesus responded "My Brother James for which reason the heavens and earth came into being". Peter follows in his Homolies of Peter with the candid statement that if "anyone disagrees with James, including me, they are wrong", indicating that James was indeed the head of the surviving Christians. This book by Meyer is not only legitimate, but a pivotal book in the history of the truth about Jesus. It doesn't contradict the Bible unless you think that the Bible is the only book of history that is valid. To excuse all texts discovered in our era of discovery because of a religious preconception is folly and childish. The truth vindicates Jesus, though it surely will not vindicate those who know nothing about Jesus outside the Bible. Meyer helps us come out of the closet with regards to Jesus. My hat is off to you. Gnosticism means to know. The ignorant ones who don't acknowledge discovery are certainly not qualified to know the truth. What will happen when these book burners find out that Jesus is quoted in hundreds of other places as well? You are my hero Doctor. I would kiss your ring.
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on December 16, 1998
Four of the more intriguing Gnostic gospels are found here. Translated by a premeire theologian, Marvin W. Meyer lays out these gospels in a smooth and flowing style which is both enlightening and a pleasure to read. Included are some very in-depth notes and a most exhaustive bibliography. "Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be disturbed. When one is disturbed, one will be amazed, and reign over all." -from The Gospel of Thomas
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