On Friday the 3rd March, in El Gouna, Egypt , Exhausted from pneumonia contracted in a foreign, but beloved land
-the persona (mask) slipped, the body released back into the embrace to its mother, our earth – ‘
and the mind returned to its star. Professor Gilles Quispel left us behind.(Jim West’s Petros Baptist Church Blog has an English translation of the Obituary published in the Dutch papers on Saturday)
I feel I have been fortunate to hear respecting and almost doting voices speak of Professor Quispel,
it bears thinking about today – since to my experience he was an animate presence behind
the words and sentences I read in a book, or an article. These fortunate associates and friends
of mine has heard his presentations, lectures and table talks, I have read a few lucid articles
and papers presented in topical anthologies..So I am, needless to say, perhaps not the most
qualified to speak of the recently liberated soul.
Having been born, the 30th of May, 1916.
He has throdden the selfsame soil and breathed this air for
an , from our perspective, admirable 89 years.
Professor Quispel discovered quite early in his youth that while
hard and honest labour were difficult to him, he was better equipped
for working with languages, concepts and interrelationships.
Steadily he ascended the often perilous staircase of academic study –
studying the ancient languages of the scriptures, the ancient middle
east, and theology.
While his accomplishments, within this brief space, is too numerous and exhaustive to mention in
detail – I feel, that – Without reservation, It should be stated that Gilles Quispel singlehandedly handed us the Coptic
Gnostic Library discovery from Nag Hammadi, with all its repercussions and consequences.
It was the Professor who purchased , on May the 10th, 1952, the Codex which due to its custodian and protector in the earliest phase of its discovery is called the Jung Codex – which contained 5 Gnostic scriptures, the
first of 53 which would later see the light of day. It also found a temporal home in Zürich,
which eventually lead to a bargain being struck between the Egyptian authorities and the
European scholars, they would get full access to the manuscripts over the expanse of time it
took to take photographs and other preparation necessary, only would they please hand the Jung
Codex back.. Initial work with the Nag Hammadi discovery, thus, were done in a kind of mischiveous,
“secret agent” atmosphere – in addition to the fact that the studies on the Jung Codex contributed to
an increasing academical interest in Gnosticism, Early Christianity and the Sayings tradition.
Four years later, in 1956, Quispel brought back from
Egypt photographs of the first page of the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, and translated that quite readily.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Professor set off the Thomas bomb on latter day Christianity.
To many thousands of contemporaries, the event of discovering that particular scripture and its
message had, and continues to have – a great dramatic impact on their spirituality, religiousity
and appreciation of religious history.
His perspective on the Logia contained in the Gospel of Thomas, his critics may say – is possibly
affected by his proximity to the find – he thinks the Gospel may be first century in origin
and that it was participant, on some stage¨, in the developement of the four canonical gospels.
He was also convinced that the early Gnostics were discerning about a, to us, very important
aspect of developement – namely liberation; from being slaves (both metaphorical and actual sense)
to becoming free men and women, Gnosis is a means for this liberation – Gnosis were, and is
participant in our developement towards a more observant,ethical and human civilization.
Thats the reverse of what theologian N.T. Wright thinks of it – he thinks that basically the Gnostics
couldn’t be bothered with anything worldly and was sitting around doing nothing but obsessing about their own importance.. I think I can see evidence of this behaviour some place else, but nevermind about all that.
Gilles Quispel remained in the Dutch Reformed Church all his life, while engaging in this kind of work
with _enthusiasm_ and personal investment – it takes a certain kind of integrity,to do that.
Before I read the brief note of Gilles Quispel’s death on Stephen C.Carlson’s blog
Hypotypoesis, I was thinking it would
be useful, as an experiment or meditation – to consider what message the Gospel of Thomas had
to the specific area of time when it was unearthed and subsequently published (it was published
only in a matter of a few years afte the discovery, later interesting archeological finds of this
nature remains obscure to the rest of the world for decades!); what does the Gospel of Thomas
say to people, in say, 1952 – also, is there a specific difference between now and then, and
almost two thousand years… after which I thought the best possible input, perhaps, for that
would be to ask Professor Quispel for his personal experience, which to me would mean to return
again to his books.
I am a regretful writer of anyone’s recent obituary.
I would, childishly, wish minds and hearts and hands to be
active, fervently, in whatever increases the good and decrease
the bad, never idle.. all round, no matter my own prejudices and
other flaws in vision.. I feel I do owe ..words.. and thanks to
Gilles Quispel, for inspiring me during a period of my life that
was quite despairing.