The preface states that the manuscript, dating from 1307, is in the possession of Sir Walter Wilkinson and that the narrator .The manuscript turns out to be a collection of insights given by a mysterious man referred to as the Copt, to the people of Jerusalem who were awaiting the coming crusaders in 1099.
The Copt responds to questions from among the people, and before each chapter begins there is a page stating the question or the request, it’s pretty easy to follow along once you see the flow of thought.
As for topics, the Copt covers quite a bit. One person asks about defeat; another asks about solitude. A woman in the audience, described as “the wife of a trader,” asks about sex. (It seemed a little unlikely to me that a woman would have asked such a question, at such a time and in such a place. But perhaps her position as the wife of a trader explains this away somehow.) There is a discussion of elegance, of miracles, and of luck. All in all, I wouldn’t say that there’s much in the way of fresh insight in here, but the value in the book is that sometimes something familiar can have a big impact when it’s said in a new way.
In the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement … there are neither winners nor losers; there are only stages that must be gone through. When the human heart understands this, it is free and able to accept difficult times without being deceived by moments of glory.
These things have been said time and again throughout history. But as I noted above, restating the same idea in a slightly different way can make a significant difference in how an individual receives the insight.
The only thing that really confused me about the book was the opening part of the preface. There is a brief description of the finding of the Nag Hammadi, and then the following:
The papyruses are Greek translations of texts written between the end of the first century BC and AD 180, and they constitute a body of work also known as the Apocryphal Gospels because they are not included in the Bible as we know it today. Now, why is that?
In AD 170, a group of bishops met to decide which text would form part of the New Testament. The criterion was simple enough: anything that could be used to combat the heresies and doctrinal divisions of the age would be included. The four gospels we know today were chosen, as were the letters from the apostles and whatever else was judged to be, shall we say, “coherent” with what the bishops believed to be the main tenet of Christianity. The other books, like those found in Nag Hammadi, were omitted either because they were written by women (for example, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene) or because they depicted a Jesus who was aware of his divine mission and whose passage through death would, therefore, be less drawn out and painful.
There’s far more information out there about the seven ecumenical councils, at which the text of the New Testament continued to be discussed; the first of these did not occur until AD 325. What is more, the idea that the canon was fixed in 170 is a bit misleading to say the least, especially when you consider the fact that Hebrews, James, and 3 John were not listed in the Muratorian Canon.
When I started reading I approached the rest of the book with interest but a little confusion about the aim of the information. In my opinion, the book would be better served without the majority of the preface, if only because it’s somewhat vague in intent. If you set it aside, however, there are plenty of nuggets of insight to be found and enjoyed in the main text of the book, so for those who find the quotes above interesting this would make for an enjoyable read.
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