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The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition

The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition

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by Willis Barnstone, Marvin Meyer

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Gnosticism was a wide-ranging religious movement of the first millennium CE—with earlier antecedents and later flourishings—whose adherents sought salvation through knowledge and personal religious experience. Gnostic writings offer striking perspectives on both early Christian and non-Christian thought. For example, some gnostic texts suggest that god


Gnosticism was a wide-ranging religious movement of the first millennium CE—with earlier antecedents and later flourishings—whose adherents sought salvation through knowledge and personal religious experience. Gnostic writings offer striking perspectives on both early Christian and non-Christian thought. For example, some gnostic texts suggest that god should be celebrated as both mother and father, and that self-knowledge is the supreme path to the divine. Only in the past fifty years has it become clear how far the gnostic influence spread in ancient and medieval religions—and what a marvelous body of scriptures it produced.

The selections gathered here, in poetic, readable translation, represent Jewish, Christian, Hermetic, Mandaean, Manichaean, Islamic, and Cathar expressions of gnostic spirituality. Their regions of origin include Egypt, the Greco-Roman world, the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, China, and France. Also included are introductions, notes, an extensive glossary, and a wealth of suggestions for further reading.

Editorial Reviews

This 880-page compilation is the most comprehensive collection of Gnostic writings ever assembled. Poet/translator Willis Barnstone and Christian scholar Marvin Meyer have combined to present an anthology of Gnostic primary sources that cover 13 centuries. The Gnostic Bible represents the diversity and sometimes the contradictions of this divergent faith.
Library Journal
Poet and translator Barnstone and Meyer (Bible & Christian studies, Chapman Univ.) have joined forces to present a large collection of gnostic source literature. The nature and beliefs of gnosticism are hotly debated. Michael Williams (Rethinking Gnosticism) and Karen L. King (What Is Gnosticism?) have argued for the abandonment of the label as something artificially applied by Christian orthodoxy to heretical movements with widely varying beliefs. Others, including the editors of this volume, argue that certain specific ideas distinguish beliefs of the gnostic religions: salvation through knowledge and enlightened living, wisdom personified as a character in a cosmic drama, and dualistic creation stories positing a higher God of the spirit and a lower demiurge who created the physical world. Meyer's introduction presents highlights of this debate. The selection of texts that follows (most elegantly translated by Barnstone) ranges across two millennia and various cultures. Each work, some translated into English for the first time, is accompanied by a clear introduction and synopsis. This is an important sampler of relatively unknown spiritual literature. The publication by Shambhala gives an underlying sense of credence to the contents as, in Meyer's words, a "sacred literature attractive to free spirits." Recommended for all libraries with an audience interested in religions, alternative spirituality, and early Christianity.-William P. Collins, Library of Congress Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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From The Gospel of the Secret Supper

Adam and Eve Choose Sin and Become Mortal
Then, I, John, questioned the lord, “How can one say that Adam and Eve were created by god and placed in paradise to obey the father’s orders, but they were then delivered to death?”

The lord answered me, “Listen, John, beloved of my father, it is the ignorant who say, in their error, that my father made these bodies of mud. In reality he created all the virtues of heaven through the holy spirit. But it is through their sin that they found themselves with mortal bodies of mud and were consequently turned over to death.”

And again I, John, questioned the lord, “How can a man become born in spirit in a body of flesh?”

And the lord answered, “Descended from angels fallen from the sky, men enter the body of a woman and receive the desire of the flesh. Spirit is born then from the spirit and flesh from the flesh. So Satan accomplishes his reign in this world and in all nations.”

He told me further, “My father permitted him to rule seven days, which are seven centuries.”

Satan’s Angel Chooses Three Trees for the Crucifixion
And again I asked the lord. I said to him, “What did he do during all that time?”

And he told me, “From the instant the devil was expelled from the glory of the father and was forbidden to take part in affairs of heaven, he sat on the clouds and sent his ministers, angels burning with fire, down below to the people. He did so from the time of Adam to Enoch. And he raised his minister Enoch above the firmament and revealed his divinity to him. He had pen and ink brought to him. And once seated, Enoch wrote sixty-seven books under the devil’s dictation, and the devil ordered him to carry them back to earth.

Enoch kept them safely on the earth and then transmitted them to his children, and he began to teach them the way to celebrate sacrifices and iniquitous mysteries. So he concealed from people the kingdom of the skies.

And Satan said to them, “See that I am your god and that there is no other god but me.” That is why my father sent me into the world, that I make known and teach people to perceive the wicked spirit of the devil. But then Satan, having learned that I had descended from the sky to this world, sent his angel, and he took the wood of three trees and gave it to Moses so that I might be crucified on a cross made from the wood, which is at this time waiting for me. And he made his divinity known to his people, and ordered the law to be given to the children of Israel, and that he cross dry through the middle of the Red Sea.

The Lord Inseminates the Angel Mary
When my father thought of sending me to the earth, he sent before me his angel named Mary to receive me. Then I came down, entered her by the ear, and came out of her ear.

And Satan, prince of this world, knew that I had come down to seek and save the beings who had perished, and he sent his angel the prophet Elijah down to earth to baptize in water. He is called John the baptizer. Then Elijah asked the prince of this world,“How can I recognize the Christ?”

And the lord himself answered, saying, “He on whom you will see the holy spirit descend like a dove and remain there, he is immersed in the holy spirit for the remission of his sins. He alone has the power to lead astray and to save.”

Is It a Sin to Marry?
Again I, John, ask the lord, “Can one be saved by John’s immersion without your immersion?”

And the lord answered me, “If I have not immersed one through the spirit for the remission of sins, no one by only immersion in water can see the kingdom in the skies, because I am the bread of life descendant from the seventh heaven. Only those who eat my flesh and drink my blood are called the children of god.”

And I asked the lord, “What must one understand by your words, eating my flesh and drinking my blood?”

The lord told me, “Before the devil was driven out with all his troops from the glory of the father, his angels prayed and glorified the father, saying in their prayers, ‘Our father who is in the skies,’ and so all their canticles rose before the throne of god. But since their fall, they cannot glorify god, at least not in their prayer.”

And I asked the lord, “How is it that all receive John’s immersion and not yours?”

The lord made this response to me: “Because their works are bad and they do not reach the light. John’s students take husbands and wives, but my students do not marry and are like god’s angels in the sky.”

I said then, “If it is a sin to know a woman, is it wrong to marry?”

The lord replied to me, “Not everyone understands the sense of this word unless he has been given grace to understand. There are eunuchs who have come out of their mother’s stomach, there are men who have become eunuchs, and there are those men who have become eunuchs by renouncing marriage in exchange for the kingdom in the skies. Whoever can understand this should understand.”

Heaven or the Lake of Fire
And then I asked the lord about the day of judgment,“What will be the sign of your coming?”

He answered me, “It will be when the name of the just will be consummated according to the name of the just ones who have been crowned and fallen from the sky. Then Satan will be freed and will leave his prison, a prey to great anger, and he will make war on the just and they will cry to the lord god in a great voice. And the lord will immediately command his angel to sound the trumpet. The voice of the archangel, in the trumpet, will be heard from heaven to the inferno. And then the sun will darken and the moon give no more light. The stars will fall and the four winds will be torn from the foundations, and they will make the earth tremble, and also the mountains and hills. Immediately the sky will tremble and the sun darken until the fourth hour. Then will appear the earthly son, and with him all the saintly angels. And then the son rises, and he will place his seat on the clouds and will sit on the throne of his majesty, with twelve messengers seated on twelve chairs of glory.

The books will be opened and he will judge the universe according to the faith they revealed. And then the earthly son will send his angels to gather the elect—from the four winds and the summits of the skies and to the corners of the world—and bring them before him. The earthly son will send for the bad demons to bring all the bad nations with him, and he will say to them, “Come here, you who say, ‘We have eaten well and drunk and enjoyed the goods of this world.’”

Then he will direct them all before the tribunal, and they will be shaking with terror. And the books of life will be opened, and there will be known the thoughts of all the nations and of their impieties.And the lord will glorify the just in their patience and good deeds. Those who have followed the angelic prescriptions will gain glory, honor, and imperishability. Those who have obeyed the iniquity of the devil will share in anger, indignation, and the torments of anguish. The earthly son will take the elect from the midst of the sinners and say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my father. Receive the kingdom that has been prepared for you since the organization of the world.”

He will say to the sinners, “Go far from me, cursed ones, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and for his angels.”

Then all the others, seeing that the time has come for the ultimate separation, will pity the sinners in their inferno, who will be there by order of the invisible father.

The souls will leave the prison of the unbelievers and also my voice will be heard, and there will be no more than one sheepfold and one pastor. And there will issue from the depths of the earth a dark gloom, which is the dark gloom of the Gehenna of fire, and fire will consume the universe from the abysses of the earth to the air of the firmament. And the lord will reign from the firmament to the infernos of the earth. The lake of fire where the sinners will live is so deep that a stone that a thirty-year-old man lifts and drops to the bottom will barely reach the floor of the lake after three years.

Meet the Author

MARVIN MEYER, PhD, (1948–2012) was Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. His books include The Gospel of Thomas and, with James Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Born in Lewiston, Maine, WILLIS BARNSTONE was educated at Bowdoin, Columbia, the Sorbonne, and Yale. He taught in Greece at the end of the civil war (1949–51), and in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War. During the Cultural Revolution he went to China where he was later a Fulbright Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University (1984–85). Former O'Connor Professor of Greek at Colgate University, he is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Spanish at Indiana University.

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