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Jacob Slavenburg

Geschiedenis Van De Westerse Esoterie – Jacob Slavenburg & John van Schaik (2021)

Two productive Dutch authors teamed up for a history of Western esotericism. They created a volume of well over 700 pages which I read from cover to cover. It is in chronological order and even though there are chapters per subject, the book is not really presented as an encyclopedia.

700 Pages may make a thick book, when you aim to describe a history of esotericism spanning thousands of years, you are still down to a few pages per subject and that is indeed what happened.

Both authors have written (at length) about Gnosticism (old and new), Hermetica, early Christianity and similar subjects in the past. The chapters about these subject in the present title are concise, to the point and clear. Of course the range of subjects of the book is much wider. It shows (a bit) which movements and thinkers have the authors’ interests and which less so. For example, their information about Freemasonry is pretty weak. The history has holes, there are typos, misunderstandings and cut corners. The information about Rudolf Steiner is better, except, when it comes to his ‘Masonic adventures‘.

I had hoped to encounter more recent information, that the authors had used sources which I had not yet had in my hands. I did not really read anything new. Still the book made a nice read. A summery and retrospect of subjects I read about sometimes long ago. The authors point to some red threads/people and because everything is in one book, make cross references.

Like I said, it is more of a book to get you started on subjects, a general introduction to a wide variety of subjects ranging from Greek philosophy, to mysticism to the Ordo Templi Orientis to New Age. The book is in Dutch and there is some stress on the Netherlands. it comes in a good looking hardcover.

2021 Van Warven, isbn 949317574X

Hermes Trismegistus – John van Schaik & Jacob Slavenburg (2020)

For the gift-giving month of December I had to come up with a present and I remembered that Slavenburg had a new book.

Co-authored with John van Schaik, Slavenburg made an overview of Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism throughout the ages. Who was he? What are the texts? What do these texts say? How did these texts come to us? Who took inspiration from these texts? There is extra focus on Hermes in the Netherlands.

Having been familiar with the subject for a long time, the book does not bring me much news. What is a pro about the book is that the authors used the most recent information, so in a few details I did learn something new.

From people clearly inspired by Hermes / Hermetism, the book continues with subjects in which this gets thinner and the authors more move towards general esotericism with Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner, OTO, etc. We close off with the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and the Hermetic chair at the University of Amsterdam.

The most interesting parts are those in which the authors quite a variety of texts to show something about different subjects. The more general parts are ‘catching up’ or perhaps rather: information for those for whom the subject is new.

The book is in Dutch by the way.

2020 Walburg Pers, isbn 946249486X

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

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 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.

De Oerknal Van Het Christendom * Jacob Slavenburg (isbn 9067322776)

This book was released just before “De Hermetische Schakel” by another publisher than Slavenburgs usual one. It is a thin book and seems to have been written in between (it is a bit sloppy at times). “The big-bang of Christianity” speaks about the first few hundred years of Christianity. Unconventional views on the person Jesus Christ, the apostles, evangelists, gnosticism, (apocryphic) writings, the upcoming Church and how Christianity became an institution. As always Slavenburg writes in detail and with lengthy quotes. Sometimes he expects background knowledge, at other times he explains things also for the beginner, so I don’t really know who to suggest this book to, but at least to people interested in early Christianity and Slavenburg-readers of course.