In 1945, in
upper Egypt near Nag Hammadi, an amazing discovery was made, a
collection of 13 ancient codices containing over 50 text, a virtual
library of Coptic text. A red earthenware jar was discovered by Alí
al-Sammán, an Arab peasant, while he was digging for sabakh, a soft
soil used for fertilizer. Almost afraid to open the jar least it
contain a Jinn, he overcame his fear when he thought that perhaps
the jar contained gold. When he smashed the jar, he found 13 papyrus
books bound in leather. Disappointed in his find, he brought the
books and the loose papyrus leaves and dumped them on the kindling
pile. His mother admitted to having used a lot of them to start
Alí al-Sammán and his brother were involved
in a blood feud with a man that had murdered their father. They
exacted revenge, murdering the man in return. Afraid that the police
would find the text, Ali asked a priest, al-Qummus Basiliyus Abd al-Masih,
to hide one or more for him. A local history teacher saw the book
and obtained one from the priest. He then sent it to a friend in
Cairo to see if it was valuable. The book was sold on the black
market which attracted the attention of the local authorities. They
then arranged clandestinely to buy another and during the
transaction confiscated 10 and 1/2 of the 13 codices which were then
placed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. A large portion of the 13th
codex was smuggled out of Egypt and offered for sale in America.
Professor Gilles Quispel, a distinguished historian of religion,
found out about the codex and persuaded the Jung Foundation in
Zurich to buy the text. Finding out that pages were missing, Quispel
flew to Cairo and went to the Coptic Museum to study the remaining
text. What he had was "The Gospel of Thomas" bound in the same
volume as "The Gospel of Phillip".
The text are primarily Gnostic scriptures that were
thought to have been destroyed during the purge of the text by the
Church. The original texts can hardly be dated later than c. A.D.
120-150 because in 180 AD Irenaeus, the orthodox Bishop of Lyons,
wrote that "heretics" "boast that they possess more gospels than
there really are,'' and the text were widely used in Gaul, Rome,
Greece, and Asia Minor. The leather and papyrus used to bind the
text date to A.D. 350-400. It is generally accepted that the
original language was Greek with the translation being Coptic.
The translation of the text was completed in the
1970's. The manuscripts offer major insights into early Christian
history and Gnosticism. There are six major catagories of writings
contained in the Library. They are Writings of Creation and
Redemptive Mythology, Commentaries on different Gnostic themes,
Initiatory and Liturgical texts, The Feminine Writings, The Lives
and Experiences of some of the Apostles, and The Sayings of Jesus.
Unfortunately, time and circumstance has taken its toll on some of
the manuscripts. Fragments exist that can't be classified in any of
the above catagories. Three of the manuscripts that have been very
well preserved are "The Gospel of Thomas", "The Gospel of Phillip",
and "The Gospel of Truth".
The Apocryphon of
The Apocryphon of James is a work of a Christian Gnostic. The
original language of the manuscript was Greek and was translated
into the Coptic. The speeches of Jesus are partly the author's
writings which incorporate complex oral and possibly very old
written stories. It is thought that the manuscript was written
before 150 CE. It can not be dated later than 314 CE.
The Apocryphon of John (Codex II)
The Apocryphon of John deals with the creation, the fall, and the
salvation of humankind. It relies on the first chapters of Genesis.
Early church officials were familiar with the text and it was still
in use in the 8th Century CE by the Audians of Mesopotamia. There
are three versions of the manuscript translated from Greek into
Coptic. It is known that the teachings contained in the text existed
before 185 CE.
The Apocalypse of Paul
Codex V contains four apocalyptic texts, the first being the
Apocalypse of Paul. This Gnostic writing concerns the ascension of
Paul through the ten heavens. Although the place of origin of the
text is unknown, it is thought to have been written no later than
the 2nd Century CE. The Apocalypse of Paul is definitely a Gnostic
writing because of it's anti-Jewish bias concerning the deity in the
The 1st Apocalypse of
The 1st Apocalypse of James is a Gnostic revelation dialogue. It
tells of a discussion between "James the Just" and the Savior
concerning the suffering that they both would go through and, in the
second part of the text, how the teaching was to be handled, the
value of women as disciples, and James' martyrdom.
The 2nd Apocalypse of
The 20 pages of the 2nd Apocalypse of James, a Gnostic writing, are
preserved in fragmented form. The text describes a revelation given
to James by the resurrected Jesus. It is told in a two part report
to James' father, Theuda by Mareim, a priest. It is considered an
early work because of the lack of any reference to the New
The Apocalypse of Adam
Narrated by Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, the Apocalypse of Adam is
a revelation given to Adam by three angels. The text is considered
to be dated to the early 1st or 2nd Century CE. Epiphanius and some
Manichaen works mention an "Apocalypse of Adam", but it is not known
if this text is the one to which they refer.
The Apocalypse of
The Apocalypse of Peter is a Gnostic text that gives an account of
revelatory visions seen by Peter and interpreted by the Savior,
Jesus. The work was likely written in the 3rd Century CE.
The Concept of Our
The text of The Concept of Our Great Power deals with
salvation and "Our Great Power" who is the Supreme God. The work is
divided into three parts or aeons. It is an apocalyptic work and is
thought to have been written in the 4th Century CE although there is
a question of this date.
The Paraphrase of Shem
For the most part, The Paraphrase of Shem is an
apocalyptic text. It relates how Shem ascends to the height of
creation and his descent back to Earth. It discusses such topics as
the Flood, Sodom's destruction, and the baptism and resurrection of
Zostrianos is one of the longest books of the Nag
Hammadi Library. It is an apocalyptic work that deals with a
heavenly journey by Zostrianos. There he meets angel guides and is
taught the gnosis of the aeons. Although there are a few points of
the text that are Christian, it is Gnostic in form.
The Melchizedek text is considered to be an apocalyptic
work. It consist, in part, of revelations given to the Priest of the
Most High God, Melchizedek, by Gamaliel, an angel. The revelations
consit of information pertaining to the denial, by some, of the
works of Jesus, his death, his subsequent resurrection, and
Melchizedek's future priestly office. The manuscript was originally
written in Greek, possibly in the 3rd Century CE. It is thought to
have been written in Egypt.
Marsanes was a Gnostic prophet. It is not known if he
is the author of the text by the same name found in the Nag Hammadi
Library. Extremely fragmented, more than half of the text has been
lost. Marsanes is an apocalyptic work which contains fragmented
accounts of visions, an ascent to heaven, discussions about reality,
and the mystical alphabet. There are no Christian elements present
in Marsanes. It was likely written in the 3rd Century CE, possibly
The Gospel of Truth
This Christian Gnostic text was written between 140-180 CE. The
manuscript is clearly of the Valentinian school and offers
reflections on the man, Jesus, and his work. The Codex is mentioned
by Iranaeus in his work "Against the Heresies". Some scholars have
theorized that Valentinus himself is the author of the text. The
manuscript is divided into three sections. The first consist of the
generation of error, Jesus as the teacher and revealer, and the
death of Jesus. The second section deals with the effects of the
"Gospel of Truth" and how one can return to the Father. And, the
third part of The Gospel of Truth focuses on the return to the
Source, the Father, with the ultimate goal of rest in the Father.
Those who realize the destiny of the return are the children of the
Father. The text appealed to and was widely used by many Christians
in the 2nd Century CE.
The Gospel of Thomas (Codex II)
The Gospel of Thomas consist of the sayings of Jesus. They include
proverbs, parables, prophecies, and the rules of the community. The
Coptic version was translated from the Greek and fragments of the
Greek text can be found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The Greek version
was written between 50-125 CE. The author is supposed to have been
Didymos Judas Thomas.
The text was most likely written in Syria and could possibly have
been originally written in Aramaic. The text, in its original form,
probably dates to the 1st Century CE.
The Gospel of Philip (Codex II)
Written possibly as late as the 2nd half of the 3rd Century CE, the
Gospel of Philip was likely penned in Syria. The Coptic version is a
translation of the Greek text. It contains sections on sacramental
initiation rituals, meanings of sacred names, explanations of the
rules for the life of initiates, interpretations of Biblical
scripture, and the sayings and deeds of Jesus. It appears to have
been written by a Christian Gnostic.
The Gospel of the Egyptians ("The
Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit"--Codex III)
There are two Coptic versions of The Gospel of the Egyptians. Both
were translated from the Greek into Coptic. The manuscript is
considered to be a Gnostic salvation history presenting the life of
the Patriarch Seth. Seth, who is imagined to be the father of the
Gnostic race, is portrayed as the author of The Gospel of the
Egyptians. The date and place of origin of the text is not known.
The Gospel of Mary
Written originally in Greek sometime in the 2nd Century CE, the
Gospel of Mary is a two-part text which describes a dialogue between
Jesus and his disciples and a special revelation given to Mary by
the Savior. The text is considered Gnostic in nature and the two
copies, one in Greek, one in Coptic, are fragmented.
"The Nag Hammadi Library In English"
On-line Study Resources on the
Nag Hammadi Library
Gnostic Society Library
Nag Hammadi and Berlin Gnostic Library
Nag Hammadi Library
Books for the
Study of the Nag Hammadi
The Gnostic Gospels,
Elaine Pagels, Vintage, 1989
The Coptic Gnostic Library: A Complete Edition of the Nag Hammadi
Codices, James M. Robinson,Brill Academic Publishers, 2000
The Secret Teachings of Jesus, Marvin Meyer, Vintage, 1986
Beyond Belief : The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Elaine Pagels,
Random House, 2003