Celebrating the Dutch Gnosis scholar Gilles QuispelMay 30, 2013
Today is the birthday of the Dutch Gnosis scholar Gilles Quispel, who was born on 30 May 1916. He was instrumental in advancing the study of Gnosis, both in the Netherlands and, through his vast international academic network, also abroad. An uneventful and predictable academic career would not have suited Gilles Quispel’s adventurous temperament. In the 1950’s he became actively involved in exploring one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century, that of the Nag Hammadi codices, in Egypt.
His introduction to his translation of Het Evangelie van Thomas, published by The Ritman Library’s publishing house In de Pelikaan in 2004, still captures the excitement of being confronted with one of the earliest sources of Christianity – the Gospel of Thomas, a source he discovered:
It is hot today in Cairo. The temperature is bearable during the day, but at night the wind carries the heat from the desert into the city. My French colleagues have gone to a restaurant to sample the delights of the Arabic cuisine. I am alone in my room at the hotel. Before me on the table, under a reading lamp, a copy of a Coptic text which I am trying to decipher. Only to think that I am the first person after so many centuries to read this! Slowly the meaning of the words dawns upon me. They are short sentences. And they all begin with the words: Jesus says. And in my mind there is that constant thought: did he really say this?
After his retirement, Quispel embarked on a second academic career as it were, translating and publishing for The Ritman Library another Nag Hammadi text: Valentinus de gnosticus en zijn Evangelie der Waarheid.
He was also a powerful speaker, who had the gift of eloquently expressing the human religious experience in word and in writing. Visitors of The Ritman Library once recalled a talk given by Quispel, on Gnosis, at a congress organized by The Ritman Library in the aptly named conference centre “The Cosmos” in Amsterdam:
‘It was as if the heavens opened’
To honour Gilles Quispel on the anniversary of his birthday, we would like to quote a passage from Quispel’s favourite The Gospel of Truth which he himself called: ‘Gnosis as a vocation’:
Hence, if one has knowledge, he is from above. If he is called, he hears, he replies, and he turns toward him who called him and he ascends to him and he knows what he is called (…) He who thus is going to have knowledge knows whence he came and whither he is going.