II. Some General Observations
My initial reaction to the Books of Jeu in their current incarnation is, “Whew, what a slog!” This is partly the fault of the translation; regular readers know I’m not a big fan of the “high-falutin'” school of “thees” and “thous” and such. I tend to think they’re a pretty huge impediment to the reader. Still, these books are most definitely extraordinarily jargony, far moreso than the relatively straightforward texts found in the Nag Hammadi Library (NHL).
My next observation is that the Mysteries contained in these texts are really neat. The names, symbols and barbarous words of power seem to point to a description of a vast and complex structure underlying what we know as “reality.” I’ll go into more detail on these when I get to that point in the text, but the essential point of these texts is to provide the Gnostic initiate with what amounts to a laundry list of the qualities of the various powers and principalities that stand between the individual and the true God. And, there are a LOT of them. With names like “ZOZAIOIOAI.”
Interestingly, the lines between Aeons and Archons are far blurrier in the BoJ than one would expect if one was only familiar with the NHL. It’s a common understanding among Gnostic studies that “Aeons=Good” and “Archons=Bad,” but in the BoJ this isn’t always the case. The Aeons are just as likely to stand between the practitioner and God as the Archons.
Also, I can see why a popular edition of these texts in their current form would be untenable. A popular edition would be attractive; these texts look like books of ritual magic, complete with ceremonies and seals and names of power and spells. However, there are some substantial differences between the BoJ and (as an example) the Lemegeton or other texts from the medieval grimoire tradition.
Typically, in the Western occult tradition, one learns the names of various spirits/powers/etc. in order to exert some kind of control over them or learn something from them. The BoJ, on the other hand, provides you with this information about a great number of Aeons and Archons, but the main point for providing this information is to allow you to pass by these powers as you ascend through the realms of the spirit (which consists of “Kingdoms of Light” or “Treasuries of Light”). In this sense, it might be helpful to think of the BoJ as a kind of “map” of the Pleroma that provides you with the name of each region and the means to enter and pass through unmolested by the archons. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it’s a good starting point.
Finally, the BoJ suffers from that perpetual thorn in the side of students of classical Gnostic thought: it’s beset with lacunae. Obviously, if the point of the text is to provide the user with a kind of “map,” but half of the “map” is illegible, we have to question the utility of the whole kit-and-kaboodle. We’ll talk more about this later, especially in relation to BoJ1; suffice to say, any modern reconstruction that would function as anything other than an incomplete curiosity would require some creative license and/or (let’s say) “inspiration,” as well as a willingness to experiment with the creation of barbarous words.
Next up: we crack open “The Book of the great Logos corresponding to Mysteries,” the first so-called Book of Jeu!
(1) As Andrew Phillip Smith pointed out to me, these has been a recent attempt to translate these titles (along with the “Pistis Sophia”) called The Path of Light. I haven’t had the chance to look into it yet, but apparently it relies fairly heavily on MacDermot and uses quite a bit of “Sant Mat” terminology, so I’m guessing it’s not that much more accessible than the MacDermot edition.