The Nag Hammadi library (also known as the "Chenoboskion Manuscripts" and the "Gnostic Gospels") is a collection of early Christian and Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.
Thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar were found by a local farmer named Muhammed al-Samman.The writings in these codices comprise 52 mostly Gnostic treatises, but they also include three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum and a partial translation/alteration of Plato's Republic. In his introduction to The Nag Hammadi Library in English, James Robinson suggests that these codices may have belonged to a nearby Pachomian monastery and were buried after Saint Athanasius condemned the use of non-canonical books in his Festal Letter of 367 A.D. The discovery of these texts significantly influenced modern scholarship's pursuit and knowledge of early Christianity and Gnosticism.
The contents of the codices were written in the Coptic language. The best-known of these works is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Nag Hammadi codices contain the only complete text. After the discovery, scholars recognized that fragments of these sayings attributed to Jesus appeared in manuscripts discovered at Oxyrhynchus in 1898 (P. Oxy. 1), and matching quotations were recognized in other early Christian sources. The written text of the Gospel of Thomas is dated to the second century by most interpreters, but based on much earlier sources.The buried manuscripts date from the 3rd and 4th centuries.
The Nag Hammadi codices are currently housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt.
The story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 has been described 'as exciting as the contents of the find itself'.In December of that year, two Egyptian brothers found several papyri in a large earthenware vessel while digging for fertilizer around the Jabal al-Ṭārif caves near present-day Hamra Dom in Upper Egypt. Neither originally reported the find, as they sought to make money from the manuscripts by selling them individually at intervals. The brothers' mother burned several of the manuscripts, worried, apparently, that the papers might have 'dangerous effects' (Markschies, Gnosis, 48). As a result, what came to be known as the Nag Hammadi library (owing to the proximity of the find to Nag Hammadi, the nearest major settlement) appeared only gradually, and its significance went unacknowledged until some time after its initial discovery.
In 1946, the brothers became involved in a feud, and left the manuscripts with a Coptic priest. In October that year, their brother-in-law sold a codex to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo (this tract is today numbered Codex III in the collection). The resident Coptologist and religious historian Jean Doresse, realizing the significance of the artifact, published the first reference to it in 1948. Over the years, most of the tracts were passed by the priest to Phokion J. Tanos,a Cypriot antiques dealer in Cairo, thereafter being retained by the Department of Antiquities, for fear that they would be sold out of the country. After the revolution in 1952, these texts were handed to the Coptic Museum in Cairo, and declared national property. Pahor Labib, the director of the Coptic Museum at that time, was keen to keep these manuscripts in their country of origin.
Meanwhile, a single codex had been sold in Cairo to a Belgian antiques dealer. After an attempt was made to sell the codex in both New York City and Paris, it was acquired by the Carl Gustav Jung Institute in Zurich in 1951, through the mediation of Gilles Quispel. It was intended as a birthday present to the famous psychologist; for this reason, this codex is typically known as the Jung Codex, being Codex I in the collection.
Jung's death in 1961 resulted in a quarrel over the ownership of the Jung Codex; the pages were not given to the Coptic Museum in Cairo until 1975, after a first edition of the text had been published. The papyri were finally brought together in Cairo: of the 1945 find, eleven complete books and fragments of two others, 'amounting to well over 1000 written pages', are preserved there.
The first edition of a text found at Nag Hammadi was from the Jung Codex, a partial translation of which appeared in Cairo in 1956, and a single extensive facsimile edition was planned. Due to the difficult political circumstances in Egypt, individual tracts followed from the Cairo and Zurich collections only slowly.
This state of affairs did not change until 1966, with the holding of the Messina Congress in Italy. At this conference, intended to allow scholars to arrive at a group consensus concerning the definition of Gnosticism, James M. Robinson, an expert on religion, assembled a group of editors and translators whose express task was to publish a bilingual edition of the Nag Hammadi codices in English, in collaboration with the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.
Robinson was elected secretary of the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices, which had been formed in 1970 by UNESCO and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture; it was in this capacity that he oversaw the project. A facsimile edition in twelve volumes was published between 1972 and 1977, with subsequent additions in 1979 and 1984 from the publisher E.J. Brill in Leiden, entitled, The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices. This made all the texts available for all interested parties to study in some form.
At the same time, in the German Democratic Republic, a group of scholars—including Alexander Böhlig, Martin Krause and New Testament scholars Gesine Schenke, Hans-Martin Schenke and Hans-Gebhard Bethge—were preparing the first German language translation of the find. The last three scholars prepared a complete scholarly translation under the auspices of the Berlin Humboldt University, which was published in 2001.
The James M. Robinson translation was first published in 1977, with the name The Nag Hammadi Library in English, in collaboration between E.J. Brill and Harper & Row. The single-volume publication, according to Robinson, 'marked the end of one stage of Nag Hammadi scholarship and the beginning of another' (from the Preface to the third revised edition). Paperback editions followed in 1981 and 1984, from E.J. Brill and Harper, respectively. A third, completely revised, edition was published in 1988. This marks the final stage in the gradual dispersal of gnostic texts into the wider public arena—the full complement of codices was finally available in unadulterated form to people around the world, in a variety of languages. A cross reference apparatus for Robinson's translation and the Biblical canon also exists.
Another English edition was published in 1987, by Yale scholar Bentley Layton, called The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1987). The volume included new translations from the Nag Hammadi Library, together with extracts from the heresiological writers, and other gnostic material. It remains, along with The Nag Hammadi Library in English, one of the more accessible volumes of translations of the Nag Hammadi find. It includes extensive historical introductions to individual gnostic groups, notes on translation, annotations to the text, and the organization of tracts into clearly defined movements.
Not all scholars agree that the entire library should be considered Gnostic. Paterson Brown has argued that the three Nag Hammadi Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth cannot be so labeled, since each, in his opinion, may explicitly affirm the basic reality and sanctity of incarnate life, which Gnosticism by definition considers illusory.
See #External links for complete list of manuscripts
The so-called "Codex XIII" is not a codex, but rather the text of Trimorphic Protennoia, written on "eight leaves removed from a thirteenth book in late antiquity and tucked inside the front cover of the sixth." (Robinson, NHLE, p. 10) Only a few lines from the beginning of Origin of the World are discernible on the bottom of the eighth leaf.
Although the manuscripts discovered at Nag Hammadi are generally dated to the 4th century, there is some debate regarding the original composition of the texts.
Gnosticism is a collection of ancient religious ideas and systems which originated in the first century AD among early Christian and Jewish sects. These various groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over orthodox teachings, traditions, and ecclesiastical authority. They considered the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the supreme divinity, experienced as intuitive or esoteric insight. Generally, Gnostic cosmogony presents a distinction between a supreme, transcendent God and a blind, evil demiurge responsible for creating the material universe, thereby trapping the divine spark within matter. Many Gnostic texts deal not in concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment.
The First Apocalypse of James is an early third century Gnostic apocalypse.
The Berlin Codex, given the accession number Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, is a Coptic manuscript from the 5th century AD, unearthed in Akhmim, Egypt. In Cairo, in January 1896, Carl Reinhardt bought the codex, which had been recently discovered, wrapped in feathers, in a niche in a wall at a Christian burial site. It was a papyrus bound book, dating to early 5th century that was written in Sahidic dialect of Coptic, which was in common use in Egypt during that time.
The Secret Book of John, also called the Apocryphon of John or the Secret Revelation of John, is a second-century Sethian Gnostic Christian text of secret teachings. Since it was known to the church father Irenaeus, it must have been written before around 180 CE. It describes Jesus appearing and giving secret knowledge (gnosis) to John the Apostle. The author describes this having occurred after Jesus "has gone back to the place from which he came". This book is reputed to bear this revelation.
The Letter of Peter to Philip is a gnostic Christian epistle found in the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt. It was dated to be written around late 2nd century to early 3rd century CE and focuses on a post-crucifixion appearance and teachings of Jesus Christ to the apostles on the Mount of Olives, or Mount Olivet.
Two versions of the formerly lost Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, also informally called the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians, were among the codices in the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in 1945. It received the name because towards the end of the text it is also expressed as the “Egyptian Gospel.” Although it is possible that it was written in Egypt, it is far more likely that the name is based on connections made between Seth of the Old Testament and Set, the ancient Egyptian god of violence, chaos, and storms. This Gospel differs from the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Truth in that it is not from a Valentinian perspective and instead focuses on a viewpoint rooted in Sethianism.
The Apocryphon of James, also known by the translation of its title – the Secret Book of James, is a pseudonymous text amongst the New Testament apocrypha. It describes the secret teachings of Jesus to Peter and James, given after the Resurrection but before the Ascension.
The Sethians were one of the main currents of Gnosticism during the 2nd and 3rd century CE, along with Valentinianism. According to John D. Turner it originated in the second-century CE as a fusion of two distinct Hellenistic Judaic philosophies, and was influenced by Christianity and Middle Platonism. However, the exact origin of Sethianism is not properly understood, yet.
The Three Steles of Seth is a 3rd-century Sethian Gnostic text from the New Testament apocrypha.
The Thought of Norea is a brief Sethian Gnostic text. The main surviving copies come from the Nag Hammadi library. The Thought of Norea is sometimes considered to belong to the New Testament apocrypha. It is one of the shorter texts of the Nag Hammadi collection and is estimated to have been written In the second century C.E.
Allogenes is a repertoire, or genre, of mystical Gnostic texts dating from the first half of the Third Century, CE. They concern Allogenes, "the Stranger", a half-human, half-divine capable of communicating with realms beyond the sense-perceptible world, into the unknowable.
The Trimorphic Protennoia is a Sethian Gnostic text from the New Testament apocrypha. The only surviving copy comes from the Nag Hammadi library.
I [am] the Thought of the Father, Protennoia, that is, Barbelo, the perfect Glory, and the immeasurable Invisible One who is hidden. I am the Image of the Invisible Spirit, and it is through me that the All took shape, and the Mother the Light which she appointed as Virgin, she who is called 'Meirothea', the incomprehensible Womb, the unrestrainable and immeasurable Voice.
The Gospel of Truth is one of the Gnostic texts from the New Testament apocrypha found in the Nag Hammadi codices ("NHC"). It exists in two Coptic translations, a Subakhmimic rendition surviving almost in full in the first Nag Hammadi codex and a Sahidic in fragments in the twelfth codex.
John D. Turner was the Cotner Professor of Religious Studies and Charles J. Mach University Professor of Classics and History Classics & Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska. He was well known for his translations of the Nag Hammadi library.
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul is a New Testament apocryphal work, the first manuscript from the Jung Codex of the Nag Hammadi Library. It seems to have been added to the codex after the longer tractates had been copied. Although the text, like the rest of the codices, is written in Coptic, the title is written in Greek, which was the original language of the text. The manuscript is missing approximately two lines at the beginning.
Gnosticism used a number of religious texts that are preserved, in part or whole, in ancient manuscripts, or lost but mentioned critically in Patristic writings.
Stephen Emmel is a Coptologist and musician.
The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth is an ancient document, one of three Hermetic texts of the mostly Gnostic Nag Hammadi findings. It is the 30th tractate in the library at large, the sixth in codex VI.
Nag Hammadi Codex II is a papyrus codex with a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts in Coptic. The manuscript has survived in nearly perfect condition. The codex is dated to the 4th century. It is the only complete manuscript from antiquity with the text of the Gospel of Thomas.
Nag Hammadi Codex XIII is a papyrus codex with a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts in Coptic. The manuscript is dated to the 4th century.
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