Tag Archives: Joseph Rowe

The Gospel of Philip

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gospel of Philip: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Gnosis of Sacred Union by Jean-Yves Leloup, trans Joseph Rowe, and foreword by Jacob Needleman.

LeLoup Needleman The Gospel of Philip

The Gospel of Philip is from the large and important Codex II of the Nag Hammadi Library, and it consists of mystical pronouncements having to do with salvation and the Christian sacraments, notably the nymphon (“bridal chamber”). This edition is one of a set of ancient Gnostic scriptures in double translation being issued by the Inner Traditions imprint; they are translated from the Coptic into French by Orthodox theologian Jean-Yves LeLoup, and in this case Englished by Joseph Rowe. I have previously read and appreciated Leloup’s treatment of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. As in that case, the translated text is printed in parallel with a typeset version of the Coptic original. The sequence of the contents is different than I have seen in other editions of the Gospel of Philip, but it evidently follows the first translation by H.M. Schenke (1960). Leloup provides reference to the original codex pagination, and also supplies a division into 127 numbered logia (“sayings”) that may be original here.

Again, consistent with the presentation in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the English edition of Leloup’s Gospel of Philip features a foreword by American scholar of religions Jacob Needleman. While I had found Needleman’s contribution in the Mary volume to be a bit credulous and underwhelming, I found him more restrained and effective in his remarks leading into Philip.

In Leloup’s thirty-page interpretive introduction, he is at pains to present the Gospel of Philip as standing in a mutually illuminating dialogue with the gospels of the biblical canon, rather than a heretical deviation or more authentic alternative. His reading (followed by Needleman) is that the nymphon is a mystically enhanced approach to the conjugal act of human sex. To arrive at this perspective, Leloup draws on more recent kabbalistic materials, including Abulafian doctrines, as interpreted by Charles Mopsik. Leloup reads a number of logia as enjoining what I would characterize as magical eugenics.

This understanding is at variance with an interpretation of the Gospel of Philip I have previously encountered in the work of Kurt Rudolph, who took the nymphon to be the site of “the union of the gnostic with his ‘angel image’.” I think the translation provided by Leloup can equally support either reading. Furthermore, I think that both readings are likely to be of value to esoteric practitioners of my own neo-gnostic stripe.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Jean-Yves Leloup, translated by Joseph Rowe, with a foreword by Jacob Needleman.

The gospel of Mary Magdalene was discovered in the late 19th century as part of the Berlin Codex; it is not part of the later Nag Hammadi finds, although they may have stoked interest in it. Translators and readers in the first few decades after its discovery tended to pass over it in favor of the Pistis Sophia. The text itself is brief and amply intriguing. Perhaps a third of the book-in-hand consists of front matter and the nine surviving pages of the Gospel. This English edition includes the original Coptic on facing pages, almost as an ornamental touch, since the book is clearly addressed more to a popular than to an academic audience. The remaining two-thirds of the volume provide a decidedly modern commentary on the text, by its translator into French, Jean-Yves Leloup.

As appetizing as I found the ancient text, I was actually a little put off by the front matter. Jacob Needleman, whom I have read with enjoyment in more scholarly contexts, effuses in his foreword about “the way that is offered by all the spiritual traditions of the world.” (vi) English editors Tresemer and Cannon provide a preface called “Who Is Mary Magdalene?” in which they exhibit various sorts of credulity, including praise for the “meticulous research” in Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail. (x, n.)

But Leloup’s commentary is worth reading, and on the evidence of his notes, French-to-English translator Joseph Rowe has done a capable and thoughtful job. I was not entirely sympathetic to Leloup’s perspective: his being-based metaphysic, his emphasis on deity as “creator,” and even his borderline monism were all features I could live without. Still, he artfully invokes Corbin’s mundus imaginalis, and his final pages exhort the reader to self-overcoming in a way I could not help but admire. Most surprisingly, he offered philologically-informed readings of the great Abrahamic “mountaintop” dicta, i.e. the Decalogue of Mount Sinai and the Beatitudes of Mount Eremos, that I found palatable as a Thelemite.

The ancient text has a tone rather comparable to the Gospel of Thomas. I can imagine both Christian and Thelemic neo-Gnostics putting it to good use. [via]