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

By Bentley Layton (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   576
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.22" Width: 6.2" Height: 1.27"
Weight:   1.52 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 31, 1995
Publisher   Anchor Bible
ISBN  0385478437  
EAN  9780385478434  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
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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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Skilled work with a difficult group of texts  Apr 9, 2008
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.
Read this book  Sep 8, 2006
If you call yourself a Christian, buy this book and read it. It gives you a different and fresh perspective on "the Jesus Movement". I do not necessarily believe the Gnostics had the right idea, but you get to see how others viewed the teachings. There are "teachings" and gospels that hearken back to the canon, as well as there being some out there stuff.
The collection of Gnostic texts that I use the most  Sep 5, 2006
This has the key texts of the ancient Gnostics, as well as key reports by heresy-hunters who opposed them, with excellent commentary and outlines of the key figures mentioned in the texts.

If someone wants to understand the Gnostics, I think this is the best place to start, beginning with the excellent historical introduction and a perusal of key texts (Apocryphon of John, Trimorphic Protennoia, Thunder Perfect Mind, The Gospel of Truth, th Letter of Ptolemy to Flora, and The Hymn of the Pearl).
An Excellent Anthology of Gnostic Texts  Mar 7, 2006
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.

The Gnostic texts are often rambling and incoherent and weave fervent visions of the spiritual universe in with magical incantations, colourful rites including baptism, singing and shouting, hymns to various heavenly beings, curses against the creator of this world (Iadobloth), as well as various obscure rites and mysteries, such as the 'Bridal Chamber.' The three most beautiful and coherent texts are the Secret Book of John, the Gospel of Truth by Valentinus, and the Gospel of Thomas.

The Secret Book of John purports to record a dialogue between the risen Jesus and the Apostle John, after his faith in Jesus is undermined by a rather unpleasant Pharisee. Jesus, after appearing in an amazing vision, then proceeds to recount to John the stock Gnostic myths of an invisible, ineffable and totally unknowable 'Father' who then for some reason creates a whole series of spirit beings in the spiritual universe, called the Pleorama. At first, everything seems to go fine, until one of these beings (Sophia) decides to try and imitate the Father and instead for reasons not entirely clear, brings forth a monster called Iadobloth. Ashamed of her failure, Sophia hides Iadobloth in a cloud of fire, and leaves.

Iadobloth however, not knowing his origin, and having mighty powers (somewhat like Blake's Urizen) proceeds to create a material universe as well as fellow beings called 'Rulers' or 'Archons', who then try to trap 'sparks' of light which live in the Pleorama into matter. Then Adam is created, first as a spirit being, and then by the evil of the Rulers he is trapped in a material body, and a consort (Eve) is made for him. The Father, finally becoming aware of this disaster, then sends another Aeon, Jesus, to redeem the trapped sparks of light in matter through saving Gnosis.

The Gospel of Truth is a work of brilliant rhetorical power by a famous Gnostic poet, teacher and theologian called Valentinus. A very subtle and beautiful attempt to wed Gnostic myth with Orthodox Christianity, Valentinus argues all our pain and suffering come from ignorance of our true Father, who while ineffable, sends forth wisdom and also the Son to redeem fallen humanity. Valentinus attempts to avoid the extremes of myths like John and in the Gospel of Truth there is no explicit cursing of the creator God, yet at the same time Valentinus does say with some subtlety that this world is a bad copy of the original heavenly pleorama, and our true happiness is to be found there. The ideas of Valentinus, presented very systematically and far more logically than by any other Gnostic anywhere else, deeply influence other Gnostic works like the Gospel of Phillip and the Acts of Thomas and John.

The third work, the Gospel of Thomas, is in my view surpassingly beautiful and the finest of all the works in this collection. Much like the simple yet profound Buddhist Heart Sutra, this mystical poetic work purveys itself as a collection of 'secret' sayings Jesus communicated with his disciples, and written down by Thomas, the 'doubter' in John. The work claims to provide the keys to immortality, provided right 'Gnosis' is present: 1 And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." (Saying 1)

While this 'Gospel' probably was written later than the canonical ones, it probably does include some authentic sayings of Jesus not included in the canonical gospels. Even if many were not spoken by Jesus, they still have great beauty and appeal.

Saying three for example points out a truth well known to Socrates: Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty." (Saying 3)

Some are somewhat less appealing: "114 Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." (Saying 114)

Another work of immense poetic power is the 'Thunder, Perfect Mind', probably a hymn to the Egyptian Goddess Isis imported into Gnostic circles (which included many women) and addressed to Sophia or Noria, Gnostic Goddesses.

Yet there is also much in this collection which is dark and almost sinister. A lot of the works point out how horrible this world is and how bad a thing it is to be trapped in a body of material; countless references to spirit beings and daemons and emanations from the unknowable Father; various descriptions of a Godhead which is sometimes ineffable and unsayable, other times Mother/Father, Mother/Father/Son, and at other times related to a heavenly Seth. Sometimes it is very hard to understand the mythical worldview of the Gnostics, but then, maybe they didn't wish to be understood by 'outsiders.'

This collection of texts is invaluable for any student of Gnosticism, however one should also purchase the excellent 'Nag Hammadi Library in English' as a companion volume to this. It is also useful to read one of the scholarly introductions to Gnosticism (i.e. Elaine Pagels) because otherwise the ideas and myths which were stamped out 14 centuries ago make no sense to one raised in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

Who knows how our religious beliefs would be, had Gnosis won out?
A whole lotta' "Huh?"  Dec 10, 2005
This book is unique in that it is the first book that you need that you won't understand. I was directed to purchase this book by a professor who was a student of Layton. I wanted to better understand the gnostic traditions and this book works to explain the gnostic mind in mind-numbing detail. The western, Enlightenment conditioned mind will not easily understand these scriptures because they don't exist in the rubric of rationalism. They are mythology. The gnostic scriptures are more like reading Hesiod's Theogony or Ovid's Metamorphoses than the New Testament. If your goal is to truly understand gnosticism Layton is indespensible. However, if all you want is a general understanding of gnostics, avoid this book. It will only muddy the water. You have been warned.

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