The science of letters is a fairly obscure element to many contemporary folks who are interested in gnosticism, but it forms an essential aspect of it. Gnosticism is born alongside the alphabet, most specifically with the abjads, and its relationship to knowledge and understanding is shaped by it. The alphabet also anchors gnosticism in a cultural time and space, distinguishing it from a family of spiritual and linguistic practices that take other forms of writing as their point of departure.
“Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.”—Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” in Illuminations (78)
I fondly recall discovering Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars in an airport bookshop in Atlanta, probably not long before or after I was accused by a classmate of being a “closet Jewish mystic” for the way I read Benjamin’s work. The text was a marvel of weaving together the discontinuous threads of Eastern European religious experience, juxtaposing Christian, Islamic, and Jewish conceptions of the sacred through an ablative rather than conjunctive methodology.