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Dating from the first to the thirteenth centuries, the selections in this volume represent ...
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Dating from the first to the thirteenth centuries, the selections in this volume represent Jewish, Christian, Hermetic, Mandaean, Manichaean, Islamic, and Cathar forms of gnostic spirituality, and their sources include Egypt, the Greco-Roman world, the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, China, and France. These texts show that gnosticism was a world religion that sought truths in a wide variety of traditions and expressed those truths in powerful and provocative mystical poetry and prose. This is the first time that such a diverse collection of ancient gnostic texts has been published in a single volume, and many of the texts have never before been translated into English.
Posted January 26, 2004
This book presents in one comprehensive volume a fascinating mixture of spiritual literatures that once rivalled what we now know and accept as orthodox Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Though I have not had time to read the whole volume yet, I have read the two main introductions and the epilogue closely, and plan on reading them again. They are models of detailed, accessible and articulate scholarship and have opened my eyes to the complexity, breadth and relevance of this ancient river of mystical and metaphysical wisdom that was driven underground so many centuries ago. I had heard of the Gnostic texts over the years, but had never approached them before. I am not Christian, Jewish or Muslim, but I am a practicing poet and translator with a deep interest in the mystical and sacred literatures of the world and in the Bible for its beautiful language, its millenia-long influence on our culture and civilization, and its equally long and fascinating history as a compedium of both sacred wisdom and literary styles. What this volume has borne home to me is how open to interpretation the Christian teachings were during the first three or four centuries of their existence. What I have come to accept as the main Christian tenets and beliefs were by no means the only approaches to this then radical spiritual teaching. In fact, there was a time when the Gnostic teachings were more widespread than the now orthodox version. Amazing!! What has become established as nearly irrefutable doctrine for true believers was created by repression and book-burning out of a much more fluid and diverse set of myths, legends, narratives and mystical teachings. I look forward to delving deeply into these readings, which will no doubt send me back to the Bible in its various translations to compare and contrast. I am an ardent admirer of Willis Barnstone. He is one of our master poets and translators and has rendered so many diverse poetries from world literature into lucid, poetic English that our debt to him will continue for generations. I am not familiar with Mr. Meyer¿s work, but look forward with eagerness to reading his translations as well. My impression of this book is that it is a perfect blend of art and scholarship. As Mr. Barnstone persuasively argues in his essay, 'Letting in the Light: Translating Holy Texts,' these texts need to sing as well as communicate their wisdom. That astute aphorist and commentator on the art of translation, Pierre Grange, says it all in the epigraph to this essay: 'Spiritual and mystical literatures survive on the fire of art. Without the fire the new word is dead.' I don¿t know if the word is ever entirely dead without the fire of art, but it is certainly dampened and obscured without it. Mr. Barnstone and Mr. Meyer, following Grange¿s dictum, have definitely rekindled the fires of art for these ancient literatures, presenting them in cogent and lyrical form for one of the uninitiated like me. I can¿t think of a better introduction to this material. This is definitely a volume to study, re-read and cherish.
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Posted August 9, 2009
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