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.
This is a review for Dutch visitors. There are also good English versions of the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius, but never did I see a version as wonderfull as these Dutch translations by our own expert Gilles Quispel. He made very well readable translations and each of the 17 tractates of the Corpus comes with a lengthy explanation. Further there is a great introduction speaking of the Hermetic tradition and the history of the translations. Asclepius is introduced, translated and elucidated per chapter of this lenghty manuscript.
The Corpus is a collection of tractates that are ascribed to the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth that the Greek identified with their own God of Wisdom Hermes. Asclepius is a longer text giving an account of Hermes teaching his student Asclepius. Both texts contain deep and ancient knowledge and are still very helpfull today.
If you want to know more about the Hermetic tradition, please read the article in the series “the Esoteric Tradition(s) from the West” (part III).
Read Hermetic quotes here.
It is true that the Netherlands have a strong gnostic and especially hermetic tradition, but I wonder why our knowledge isn’t shared more with other countries. This book is the result of a congress that was held in the fall of 1990 in Amsterdam. 18 Experts gave lectures about the influence of the Hermetic Gnosis (an Egyptian religion) on Western culture.
The lectures are worked to articles, that are edited and explained or introduced by professor Gilles Quispel. He was born in 1916 and in 1952 he received the so-called Jung-Codex for his translation of five unknown Gnostic writings. In 1956 he brought the Coptic “Gospel Of Thomas” on his flight from Egypt, which was not ready for publishing before 1991. Further Quispel has offered the world a great work with his gigantic translation and elucidation of the “Asclepius”, which is one of the main hermetic writings.
The congress and this book has been made possible with the help of the “Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica” (or the Ritman library) from Amsterdam which owns over 15.000 writings from which a large part ancient.
The articles are by known and unknown writers, such as J. Slavenburg, J.-P. Mahé, G. Quispel himself, J. Mansveld, J. van Oort and more with as closer-off an article by J. Ritman about the “Bibliotheca”. All in all spanning an amount of over 670 pages.
The different articles are about various subjects and (in my humble opinion) not equally interesting. The book is in a way chronological and it starts in Alexandria, where the writers believe Hermeticism was founded. Then church-fathers such as Philo and Clemens of Alexandria, Origenes are dealt with and then we move through Egypt to Greece, early Christianity, Giovani Pico della Mirandola, Patrizi, Paracelcus, Böhme, William Blake, the Theosophical Society and gnosticism in different traditions.
Overall pretty exhaustive, with as only endorsement that because it are all different articles, there is no definate structure in the book. Of course also the writing-styles are different and some writers definately are much better readable than others.
I wonder how it is possible that publishers let this book run out of print. I could only find one webshop that still sells the book. Also it is a shame that the book is (again) not available in any other language than Dutch. Maybe you should try and learn Dutch?!?
note : late 2004 the book was reprinted by another publisher.