Nag Hammadi geschriften I & II * Jacob Slavenburg + Wim G. Glaudemans (isbn 9020219499 + 9020219502)

In two books of about 500 pages each, you get the complete translation of all the texts that were found in a jar near the Egyptian village Nag Hammadi in 1945 (completed by the so called “Berlin Codex”). I suppose most of you know about that discovery? Because they are mostly gnostic writings, the Nag Hammadi scriptures are often called “the Gnostic Library”. Slavenburg and Glaudemans are two Dutch gnostic experts and especially since they made this translation, they seem to almost know the scriptures by heart and refer to them a lot.

The first book opens with a short but very nice introduction to the gnostic worldview and history. Also the most probable explanation for the amount of scriptures in one jar is given. Around 367 BC Theodorus, abbot of the Pachomius-monastry of Tabannasi was ordered to translate the 39th “Easter Letter” into the local language Coptic and spread it. In this Easter Letter the determination is made what scriptures would later become the New Testament. All not-mentioned scriptures were from then on forbidden and the possession of them penal. Monks therefor decided to hide their beloved scriptures to prevent them from being burnt. They hid 52 scriptures in 13 codices (leather bindings) in a jar and burried it to be found by an Egyptian farmer 1500 years later. The farmer and other inhabitents of his village, recognised the scriptures as Christian and found them of no value. Some were used to light stoves, others sold, others hidden and many were put away and forgotten. Nobody in the West cared about the discovery and only a handfull were bought by investigators. One codex was bought by the Jung society and now this codex is known as the “Jung codex”. The Dutchman Gilles Quispel also got his hands on a few scriptures.
When the value of the discovery was finally acknowledged, investigators had a hard time to get all the scriptures together, both because many got lost, but also because the Egyptian government obstructed the process. When finally photos could be made of all available scriptures, different people in different parts of the world started to make translations. Unfortunately these were only available to experts. Later seperate writings filtered through to the larger audience and in the early 90’ies, Slavenburg and Glaudemans thought that it was time for a complete translation available for everyone.

Each scripture is introduced and explained, then given in a readable translation and then elucidated in notes. The translations are based on existing translations in other languages, but also on the different versions of the Coptic translations when the translators had their doubts. The scriptures were most likely originally written in Greek, but almost none have been found in their original form. Fortunately in most cases, Coptic copies Greek quite accurately. Some scriptures were found in the jar in different versions and the translators made the best possible translation of these. Since there are quite some pages missing, blind spots on the scriptures, etc. the text had to be completed here and there, which results in text that have a lot of [ ]’s, ()’s, etc. Overall everything turned out pretty readable, especially when reading the introduction first.

Slavenburg and Glaudemans have divided the texts in sections, like Jezus of Nazareth, Hermes Trismegistos, creation-myths, to put texts that somehow go well with eachother can be read together.

So, getting these books will give you access to a lot of apocryphical gospels, like “The Gospel Of The Thruth”, “The Gospel Of Thomas”, “The Gospel Of Philip” or “The Gospel Of Mary (Magdalene)”. Also more esoteric works like “The Secret Book Of Jacob”, “The Secret Book Of John”, “The Testimony Of Thruth”. But also Hermetic writings and typical Gnostic writings all with explanations and in a good translation. Everybody interested in early Christianity, Gnosticism, Hermeticism or the esoteric traditions of the West in general should make a small investment and get these classics for their bookshell!

And to those non-Dutch-speaking having read this review, in 1977 the first complete English translation was made under the title “The Nag Hammadi Library In English” (by James M. Robinson), so I am sure the complete works are available in English too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

76 + = 85