Category Archives: gnosticism

Het Grote Boek Der Apokriefen * Jacob Slavenburg (2009)

I was quite excited when I heard about the publication of this book. Still it took quite a while before I got myself a copy. It is a 1170 page book, printed on thin paper (and thus only 5cm thick) and however Jacob Slavenburg is on the cover as editor, he did not make any of the translations. Slavenburg has published quite extensively about early Christianity and Gnosticism and this monster work completes his publication of translated texts together with his massive Nag Hammadi publication. Most of the early Christian (gnostic) texts are now available in Dutch. I have found no English counterpart to this new “great book of apocryphal texts, secret early Christian texts”. The massive amount of texts are grouped under the headers “saying of Jesus”, “Fragments of gospels”, “Gospels”, “Youth stories”, “Early Christian lectures and letters”, “Acts of apostels”, “Revelations of visions”, “Oracles”, “Early histories of the church”, “Early texts from Edessa” and “Gnostic texts”. The texts are from the first to the fourth centuries and them being apocryphal means that they did not make it into the Holy Scripture. That is not to say that most of them are not very Christian texts, but probably there was something with them when the Bible was put together. The stories of Jesus’ youth, for example, portray Jesus as somewhat of a hothead. Many texts read like you are reading the Bible and I must say, a large part of this book is rather dull, especially when you compare them to the compilation of mostly Gnostic from the Nag Hammadi library. The texts do sometimes give a nice peak in the history of Christianity that the fourth century Church fathers did not want us to see. Sometimes amusing, sometimes slightly surprising, but I must way that I was relieved when I finally came to the short closing part with Gnostic texts which have more of my interest. The book is not cheap, but how could it be with 1170 pages, but Dutch-speaking people who want to expand their view on early Christianity are highly recommended to get this wonderfull publication.
2009 Ankh Hermes, isbn 9789020203578

Terug Naar De Bron – symposion booklet (isbn 9067322660)

Here we have the most interesting booklet in the Lectorium Rosicrucianum “symposion”-series. First the Kabbalah Philo of Alexandria of Henk Spierenburg, then the home Sancti Spiritus ((pre-)Rosicrucian organisations) by Frans Smit, a magistral article by Jacob Slavenburg about the Hermetic path of initiation based on the Nag Hammadi text “The 8th and 9th (Celestial) Spheres” and information from the “Corpus Hermeticum”. The last article is of Rachel Ritman in which she speakes about the gnostic foundation of Christianity.

Valentinus de gnosticus en zijn evangelie der waarheid * Gilles Quispel (isbn 9071608131)

A strange idea. I suppose that you all know about the finding of the ancient scrolls near the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi in 1945? Well, these ‘codices’ (plural of ‘codex’) spread around and ended up on different places. In 1952 the Dutch professor Gilles Quispel, at that time specialising himself in Valentinus, saw the change of buying one of these codices which supposedly contained a text by Valentinus: the “Gospel Of Thruth”. This Codex was named after Quispel’s friend Carl Gustav Jung and has since been known as the “Jung Codex”. Quispel learned Coptic (most Nag Hammadi texts are in Coptic) and started to translate and study the text. Ever since this time, Quispel had to write a book about “Valentinus the gnostic and his gospel of thruth”, but for 52 years there was always something else to do, like the publishing of the complete Nag Hammadi library in several countries. Afterall, Quispel finished what in fact is his true life-work. Not that this is an enormous publication and that he -in the end- spent years and years in writing it. As a matter of fact, the book is only 150 pages and Quispel wrote in a relatively short time, but like I said: this is the work that he always had to write, but never did. Hopefully this won’t make the almost-90-years-old scholar feel that there is nothing more to do!

About the book then. Quispel describes the life and time of Valentinus (ca. 150 BC) in length and also the history of the text is given. Of course also a translation. In Dutch of course, the whole book is in Dutch. Sometimes I am so happy to be a Dutchman! We have a range of brilliant scholars writing great books… in Dutch! Anyway, a gnostic, gnosticism in general and the latest findings by the Dutch scholar on the subject, here displaying his specialism in his great and playfull writing style. It really shows that this man has thaught students for many years, he knows how to write attractively and also his lectures are great to attend.

Yep, you really may need to learn Dutch.

De Geheime Woorden * Jacob Slavenburg (isbn 9020281119)

It is a bloody shame! I have searched for English translations of this book and I had to come to the woeful conclusion that there are hardly English translations of the books of Jacob Slavenburg. Slavenburg is one best Dutch writers about subjects such as gnosticism, esotericism, early christianity, etc. He cooperated in the translation of the complete Nag-Hammadi writings (resulting in a work in two volumes of about 600 pages each), he is translator of serveral new found and apocryphal gospels (Thomas, Mary Magdalene, etc.), writer of a gigantic work on the Dead Sea scrolls, writer of biographies of occultists such as HP Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner and my praise could continue for a few lines more.
So why then, isn’t this vast knowledge obtainable for the non Dutch-speaking part of the world? It is about time that some large publisher has some translations done of these wonderfull works. The largest Dutch publisher in the ‘esoteric’ field makes Slavenburg available in the Netherlands. I asume Jacob could even do the translations himself, since he gives quite a lot of lectures, which are probably also abroad and in English.

Anyway, to the book. “De Geheime Woorden” means “The Secret Words” and the book is subtitled: “a discovery of twentyfive centuries of gnosis”, which immediately describes the book perfectly.

Also some non-gnostic subjects are dealt with to put things in perspective. The book opens with Zarathustra, Greek philosophy, Plato, Stoicins, Alexander the Great and Hellenism, Philo of Alexandria, Judaism, Romans, Orphic and Eleusian mysteries, oracles and then Jesus of Nazareth and Faricians, Sadducians and Essens (?, I hope I translated that right!).

The book is full of lengthy quotes from apocryphal gospels, the Dead Sea and Nag-Hammadi texts, the bible and other religious books and more. Overall Slavenburg not only deals with the history of gnosticism, but reveals a lot about what the gnostic worldview actually has to say. Several gnostic doctrines pass the revue and you will find many variations on biblical themes with slightly different explanations of certain myths and doctrines. Around the end some ‘gnostic movements’ are attended, being Hermes Trismegistus (who is actually more the forerunner of Hermeticism ‘the other’ western esoteric streaming), alchemy, Jacob Böhme, Rosicrucianity, Freemasonry, Theosophy, Anthroposophy and new age.

Also some very nice chapters about early Christianity and about the Cathars.

All in all a great book and a very good introduction into the subject of gnosticism. Slavenburg wrote more books about this subject, which I haven’t read all so far, but his books devinately deserve an English translation!

De Triomf Van De Universele Gnosis * Antonin Gadal (isbn 907160814X)

Joost Ritman, founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, got acquainted with the Dutch Rosiciacian Society Lectorium Rosicrucianum and the “last patriarch of the old Gnostic school” at a very early age and this acquaintance is even the direct source of him starting to collect esoteric books in the first place, but so far the BPH has been the springboard for scientific investigations of the Western esoteric systems and schools. Ritman has been member of the Lectorium for many, many years, but as far as I know, this never proved in the publications that he helped to appear. Even in the library itself, there is only a fairly small Rosicrucian section of which a small part are publications of the Lectorium. Nowadays Ritman isn’t even the director of his library anymore, but obviously his voice is still of a great importance.

Ritman was only 16 when he wrote to the Frenchman Gadal (1877-1962 if my interpretation of the text is correct), “the patriarch of the Cathar brotherhood” and for only five more years Gadal had lived. Still, these five years with many letters and several meetings, haved spelled the course of the rest of Ritman’s life. This book can only be seen as Ritman’s ode to his teacher.

What is said on the cover and above this short text is actually a bit misleading. This is not really a book by Gadal, not even a compilation of texts of his hand, it is actually much more. The first article is from the hand of Joost Ritman. He clearly shows how he sees things and how he came to these ideas, Gadal has left his mark. Other articles are by J.C. Karres, someone who I hadn’t heard off before, but he was an early member of the young Lectorium Rosicrucianum, went to French to find a real Cathar, ‘accidentally’ met Gadal and brought the founders of the Lectorium and Gadal together, resulting in the most fruitfull collaboration. Gadal was from then on called the last of the ‘old brotherhood’ (stemming from the Cathars) and Jan van Rijckenborgh and Catharosa de Petri the first of the “young Gnostic brotherhood”. So quite naturally we also get articles from Van Rijckenborgh and De Petri and we can read how they met with Gadal, what they did in these early days, their visits to the Cathar caves and virtually how the philosophy of the Lectorium came into being. Not that Van Rijckenborgh and De Petri completely copied the ideas of Gadal, but to a large extent, the two parties were on the same line. This proves in articles by Gadal, which are of course the most in this book. This book is devided in two parts. The first part gives ‘the meeting’ from different views and the early days of the cooperation. The second part are ‘esoteric teachings’ by Gadal. Where the first part is very much historical or biographical, the second part is wonderfully esoteric. Gadal has some wonderfull ideas about Gnosticism, Christianity, he explains symbols and rites, speaks about the Cathar life, ideas, etc. Here and there his ideas conflict with my own, but Gadals writings are a pleasure to read.

In both ways (historical on a personal level and esoteric teachings) are quite far from the other -purely scientific- books in the series of the publisher “In De Pelikaan” of the Ritman library, but like I said, there must have been other reasons for Ritman to have this book published in the same marvelous fashion as the other books. The usual beautiful and minimal layout with a linen cover with a picture in it (excuse my scan, my scanner hates orange…), printed on thick paper and with the most extraordinary colour plates in it. Now you only have to learn Dutch!

De Nag Hammadi Geschriften (dundrukeditie) * Jacob Slavenburg & Willem Glaudemans (isbn 9020219642)

I already reviewed the earlier pressing of this translation, but here we have a completely new edition. The earlier pressings came in two 6cm thick books, this one is printed on super thin paper which resulted in one book of about 3,5 cm thick. This looks pretty strange indeed! Besides a new kind of printing the general intro, introductions to the texts, the translations and the notes are completely revised. Some intros and translations came out quite different, others remained more or less the same. There is again more information which is of course updated with the newest finding and there is now a massive index made by Henk Spierenburg. Therefor the order of the texts could now be the original order the texts were found in the codices and no longer sorted by subject. So the conclusion: even if you have the previous version, this new transation is worth the money too!

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.

Gnosis * Jacob Slavenburg (isbn 9020210262)

When I bought this book I didn’t expect that it was written after Slavenburg’s “The Secret Words” (see review elsewhere). Also this is one fairly old (1993), but a real jewel and I can be pretty short about it.
As the title suggests this book is about “Gnosis”. However it is a really small book (11,5x21x1,5 and about 150 pages of text) Slavenburg managed to give a wonderfull overview of both ancient and modern Gnosis. Supported with many quotes, with a logical stucture and (maybe even the best of all) a list with (as far I as know) all known Gnostic writings at the end of the book.
The ultimate introduction to the Gnostic tradition.

Als Een Bovenaardse Rivier * Peter Huijs (isbn 906732261)

Peter Huijs is a member of the Dutch (but very international) Rosicrucian organisation Lectorium Rosicrucianum writing for their magazine and booklets. I think this is his first book released by the Rosicrucians themselves, but aiming for a wider audience. It claims to describe the history of the gnosis and the title says: “As An Upstream River – The Hidden Barrage Of The Gnosis In Europe”. I thought that I would quickly read it to see if it is well-written. I have read my share of books about the gnosis, so…

Huijs proves to have a nice writing style and the good thing about this book is that he does not only describe the history of the gnosis, but gives a lot of hints and ideas of gnostic ideas and thinking along the way making this still fairly small book a very nice introduction for laymen, but also a deepening for those not entirely ignorant of gnosticism. Still the book is written very much in the lane of the Lectorium, mostly giving an idea of how the philosophy of this school developped and where the sources are than an all embracing history of the gnosis, so do not expect to know it all after reading this book.

Big pro though: Huijs gives original and in depth information on some subjects, like Paracelsus, Jacob Böhme and the founders of the Lectorium. Not the everyday info you can read everywhere.

A suggestion for everyone interested and able to read Dutch.

The Hermetic Museum – Alchemy & Mysticism * Alexander Roob (isbn 382288653X)

This is really a magnificent collection of ‘occult art’. If you like what you see in the occult art section of the artpages of Sententia, you definately have to get this book. It counts over 700 pages and is stuffed with Hermetic, Kabbalistic, philosophical, religious, occult and mystic art, forming a wonderfull overview of pieces full of symbolism. From well known artists such as Athanasius Kircher and William Blake, to title pages of ancient occult works and magical diagrams.
Roob managed to divide the book in sections, so the pieces are not in order of artist. These sections are explained and elucidated and most pieces are explained as well.

Between the pictures and accompanying them, you will also read many quotes from alchemical texts, explanations and history.