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The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions by (Anchor Bible Reference Library)

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385478434
ISBN-10: 0385478437
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Editorial Reviews


“Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures is the one indispensable book for the understanding of Gnosis and Gnosticism. No other translations are within light-years of Layton’s in eloquence, pathos, and accuracy, while no other commentaries match his as an introduction to this perpetually relevant religious stance. Layton is particularly brilliant in his appreciation of Valentinus, the central Gnostic visionary, whose Gospel of Truth is marvelously served in this translation.”
—Harold Bloom, author of The Book of J and The Western Canon

From the Publisher

This definitive introduction to the gnostic scriptures provides a crucial look at the theology, religious atmosphere, and literary traditions of ancient Christianity and Hellenistic Judaism.

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Product Details

  • Series: Anchor Bible Reference Library
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Bible (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385478437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385478434
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
I own this book and have read it. It was wonderful for its time, but if I were buying now I'd buy the recent Nag Hammadi Library in English. Mr. Layton's collection isn't as comprehensive and I found his format a little annoying, as well as the New Age cover! The book omits some material from the Nag Hammadi find that I found myself really missing after a while. That said, I've used this book for years and have benefited enormously from it.
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Format: Paperback
While some have criticised this collection of Gnostic Scriptures, in my own experience Layton's translations of the texts and the accompanying notes are very useful. After all, how is the modern reader, removed by 1700 years from texts which were originally kept from all but the 'initiated', supposed to understand the myths and works of the Gnostics, so far removed from our conventional Philosophy and Religious ideas?

So who were the Gnostics? What on Earth is Gnosis?

The Gnostics were a fairly amorphous movement of syncretic spiritual seekers who sought direct knowledge or 'Gnosis' of God without an intermediate power controlling their access to God. Gnostics generally rejected churches, temples, and other religious institutions or when they attended them, felt as if they were the 'elite.' This caused considerable annoyance to the religious authorities, especially the Christian ones, as some Gnostics adapted Christian theology and ideas and re-shaped them to their own religious purposes. However, the Gnostics also borrowed liberally from other areas too, from Neo-Platonic Philosophy to Babylonian astrological lore. Indeed at times it is extremely hard to understand what the Gnostics believed in, especially since non-rational modes of mystical experience (such as dazzling visions of heaven and its inhabitants) are so bizarre, unmatched in our own time except perhaps by William Blake.

Layton's collection contains most of the important Gnostic texts and movements, including the Secret Book of John, The Gospel of Thomas, the Hypostasis of the Archons, and the Gospel of Truth by Valentinus.
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Format: Paperback
The book provides an in depth look at a specific class of ancient Christian literature, the so-called "Gnostic" materials (primarily found in the Nag Hammadi corpus). The book also covers some of the more interesting accounts by the so-called Church Fathers with regards to the various "gnostic" sects. Several important "Gnostics" texts are presented in new translations, all of which are superb owing to Layton's first-rate command of Coptic.
The above review by enemy@enemies.com does not do justice to the content of the work. The sexual acts referred to above are not the assertion of the author (B. Layton), but rather the assertions of a Christian heresiologist covered in the work: Epiphanius. The work itself takes into account the myriad reports given to us via the Fathers and the archaeological record in order to interpret these reports and to reconstruct a plausible socio-historical setting for the various "Gnostic" sects, if indeed there ever were such sects (a topic the book confronts). It is an academic work of the highest quality.
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Format: Paperback
While no translation of an ancient text or group of texts can be called "definitive," the translations that Bentley Layton presents in this book are certainly among the best available. The historical introduction to Gnosticism that precedes the texts is a very helpful, easy-to-follow summary of a lot of complex doctrines. His introductions to individual texts are extremely helpful.

In a graduate Coptic class, we are currently going through the "Gospel of Philip," one of the texts included in this book. A translation by Wesley Isenberg is also included in James Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library. We are reading the Coptic, but because of the multiple interpretations of the text that are possible at many points, we sometimes consult published translations such as those of Layton and Isenberg. As I have compared these two translations, I have found Layton's to be more interepretative. That is, he takes a stand on which of various possible meanings he prefers and clearly expresses this in his translation. He does this based on his own extensive knowledge of Gnostic literature and of the type of Greek literature from which the Coptic translations were made. He explains this clearly in his introduction. Thus, one may from time to time disagree with his interpretation, but one will know that Layton did not make his choice on a whim, but based on a profound knowledge of the background of the texts. He has produced a translation that is readily accessible to members of the general public as well as to scholars, and he has provided enough background information to help non-scholars see where each text fits in the Gnostic view of the universe. However, in so doing, he has not overwhelmed the reader with the masses of detail that could be included from the considerable scholarly work on the many Gnostic texts.
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