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The Nag Hammadi Library


As you will read, the Nag Hammadi library is a set of Gnostic books discovered in 1945 by an amateur who used it as fire wood at first. You will note that most of the significant archaeological discoveries are usually done by amateurs and not professional archaeologists. The Dead Sea Scrolls was such a discovery.

There is no biblical book found amongst this library and none of these works are ‘lost’ gospels or epistles. The books that comprise this library are the ancient equivalent to modern false teachings such as prosperity gospel works or Dianetics or even Jehovah Witness tracts and so on. There is nothing in these books that reveal anything about Jesus or Christianity.

What their existence does reveal is that the ancient world was filled with people who rejected the truth and altered it to fit what they want to believe—just like today.

Again, what follows are simply excerpts on this library and Gnosticism itself.

#1. Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (pp. 520–521). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Nag Hammadi Gospels. Some radical critics of the New Testament (see BIBLE CRITICISM) claim that the Gnostic gospels are equal to those in the New Testament, and that they do not support the resurrection of Christ (see MIRACLE; RESURRECTION, EVIDENCE FOR). The Jesus Seminar places The Gospel of Thomas in their otherwise severely truncated Bible. Both of these conclusions are a serious challenge to the historic Christian Faith.

The Gnostic gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, near Cairo in 1945 and translated into English in 1977. The Gospel of Thomas (140–170) has 114 secret sayings of Jesus.

Credibility of the Gnostic Gospels. The best way to evaluate the credibility of these gospels is by comparison to the New Testament Gospels, which the same critics have grave doubts about accepting (see NEW TESTAMENT, HISTORICITY OF; NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS). Against the canonical gospels, the Gnostic gospels come up seriously short.

Late Writings. The attested dates for the canonical Gospels are no later than 60–100 (see NEW TESTAMENT, DATING OF). Gnostic gospels appeared nearly a century later. O. C. Edwards asserts “As historical reconstructions there is no way that the two can claim equal credentials” (Edwards, 27).

Historical Worth. The earliest Christians meticulously preserved Jesus’ words and deeds. The Gospel writers were close to the eyewitnesses and pursued the facts (cf. Luke 1:1–4). There is evidence that the Gospel writers were honest reporters. They also present the same overall picture of Jesus.

Beyond the New Testament, canonical lists support the existence of a New Testament canon (see Geisler and Nix, 294). Indeed, all the Gospels and Paul’s basic Epistles are represented on these lists.

Even the heretical canon of Marcion (ca. 140) accepted the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s Epistles.

Support of Church Fathers. A common body of books was cited by Fathers in the second century. This includes the six books crucial to the historicity of Christ and his resurrection, the Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. Clement of Rome cited the Gospels in 95 (Corinthians, 13, 42, 46). Ignatius (ca. 110–115) quoted Luke 24:39 (Smyrnaeans 3). Polycarp (ca. 115) cites all Synoptic Gospels (Philippians 2, 7). The Didache (early second century) cites the Synoptic Gospels (1, 3, 8, 9, 15–16). The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 135) cites Matthew 22:14. Papias (Oracles, ca. 125–140) speaks of Matthew, Mark (chronicling Peter), and John (last) who wrote Gospels. He says three times that Mark made no errors. The Fathers considered the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles to be on par with the inspired Old Testament (cf. Clement’s Corinthians [47]; Ignatius’s Ephesians [10]; To Polycarp [1, 5]; and Polycarp’s Philippians [1, 3–4, 6, 12]).

The Fathers vouched for the accuracy of canonical Gospels in early second century. This is long before gnostic gospels were written in the late second century.

Gnostic Resurrection Accounts. There is no real evidence that the so-called “Q” (Quelle, source) document posited by the critics ever existed (see Linneman; see Q DOCUMENT). It is an imaginary reconstruction, so the allegation that it has nothing about the resurrection is pointless.

The Gospel of Thomas does exist, even though it is from the late second century. Nonetheless, contrary to the critics who support this composition, it acknowledges Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, it is the living, post-death (34:25–27; 45:1–16) Christ who allegedly speaks in it. True, it does not stress the resurrection, but this is to be expected because it is primarily a “sayings” source, rather than a historical narration. Further, the Gnostic theological bias against matter would downplay bodily resurrection.

Conclusion. The evidence for the authenticity of the Gnostic gospels does not compare with that for the New Testament. The New Testament is a first-century book. The Gospel of Thomas is a mid-second-century book. The New Testament is verified by numerous lines of evidence, including other references in the New Testament, early canonical lists, thousands of citations by the early Fathers, and the established earlier dates for the Gospels.

#2. Klippenstein, R. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Bible Background Literature. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

Nag Hammadi Codices and Related Codices

Thirteen papyrus codices found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt contain texts that mostly appear to be associated with Gnosticism (which was considered a heresy by the church fathers). Most surviving gnostic texts belong to this collection, but a few other gnostic codices are also known; these include some of the same texts found at Nag Hammadi and some other texts.

The Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of writings associated with the deity Hermes Trismegistos, provides an example of Hellenistic syncretistic religion, which combines elements from different cultures, including Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian elements. Some texts from the Corpus Hermeticum were found at Nag Hammadi alongside the gnostic texts found there

Catalog by Relation to Broader Viewpoints

The Nag Hammadi texts may also be categorized according to the broader viewpoints they reflect. These categories are broadly based on how the early church fathers described the various sects of Gnosticism (for further details about particulars of each group, see the articles on each text, cataloged above). Any cataloging of the Nag Hammadi texts is difficult, since the viewpoints of Gnosticism are so broad, and the categorization can often only be based on internal evidence within the texts. With these caveats in mind, the categorization of Nag Hammadi texts by influence (or belief set that seems to be represented) is as follows.

Primarily Sethian Gnosticism Influenced Texts

The Nag Hammadi texts influenced by Sethian Gnosticism are as follows:

  •      Apocryphon of John

  •      Gospel of the Egyptians

  •      Apocalypse of Adam

  •      Three Steles of Seth

  •      Zostrianos

  •      Thought of Norea

  •      Marsanes

  •      Allogenes

  •      Hypsiphrone

  •      Trimorphic Protennoia

Primarily Valentinian Gnosticism Influenced Texts

The Nag Hammadi texts influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism are as follows:

  •      Prayer of the Apostle Paul

  •      Gospel of Truth

  •      Treatise on the Resurrection

  •      Tripartite Tractate

  •      Gospel of Philip

  •      First Apocalypse of James

  •      Interpretation of Knowledge

  •      Valentinian Exposition and its Five Subtractates (Demonstrates divergent views among Valentinian Gnosticism)

Other Gnostic Texts

The other gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi, that do not distinctly fit into Valentinian or Sethian, categories are as follows. This is not to suggest that these texts could not have been used by Valentinian or Sethian gnostics or do not reflect some of their viewpoints; they just do not display the distinct characteristics of either of these groups:

  •      Apocryphon of James (possibly a more conservative strand of gnosticism)

  •      Hypostasis of the Archons

  •      On the Origin of the World

  •      Exegesis on the Soul

  •      Book of Thomas the Contender

  •      Sophia of Jesus Christ

  •      Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul

  •      Second Apocalypse of James

  •      Authoritative Teaching

  •      Concept of Our Great Power

  •      Second Treatise of the Great Seth

  •      Apocalypse of Peter (also Docetist in its viewpoint)

  •      Letter of Peter to Philip

Texts Not Distinctly (or Traditionally) Gnostic, but Related to Gnostic Ideas

Some of the Nag Hammadi texts show ideas related to Gnosticism, but either disagree with traditional Gnosticism in places or do not demonstrably show fully formed Gnosticism. This could be because these works do not share the entire viewpoint of Gnosticism, and thus only hold to Gnosticism in part, or because in original composition they predate fully formed Gnosticism and thus show a type of forming Gnosticism. The Nag Hammadi texts that are not distinctly or traditionally gnostic, but still related to gnostic ideas are as follows:

  •      Gospel of Thomas

  •      Eugnostos the Blessed

  •      Dialogue of the Savior

  •      Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles

  •      Melchizedek

  •      Testimony of Truth

Other Texts (Philosophical, Hermetic, or Uncategorized)

The remaining Nag Hammadi texts, not classified above, are primarily philosophical or Hermetic in nature, but some defy traditional classification altogether. The texts placed into this category generally do not show explicit gnostic influence, with the exception of the philosophical work Plato’s Republic; the Coptic fragment may have been altered to reflect gnostic thought. The remaining texts not classified above are as follows:

  •      Thunder: Perfect Mind (Uncategorizable)

  •      Coptic Plato’s Republic Fragment (Philosophical)

  •      Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

  •      Prayer of Thanksgiving (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

  •      Asclepius 21–29 (Primarily Hermetic perspective)

  •      Paraphrase of Shem (Uncategorizable)

  •      Teachings of Silvanus (Uncategorizable)

  •      Sentences of Sextus (Uncategorizable)

  •      Fragments from Codex XII (Uncategorizable)

Relationship of the Various Nag Hammadi Texts

As the various classifications of the Nag Hammadi texts shows, there is something odd about these texts being grouped together. This is especially the case when the viewpoints from various texts within one codex appear to be in disagreement (or from a different line of thought) than those within the same codex; these apparent contradictions also occur within the smaller collections of codices that Robinson specifies. Whether the Nag Hammadi texts represent simply a type of broader gnostic library (as they are sometimes called), or whether they actually represent texts used by one group of gnostics, remains a mystery. It is also a possiblity that these texts really were in separate graves (as Doresse suggests [Goodacre, “Nag Hammadi Discovery,” 315]), but even if this is the case, the disagreements between texts within the same codices must be explained. If one group were to use these texts (or even particular individual codices) not just academically, but religiously, then they would have dealt with inherit contradictions among their own writings, which may fit with what some church fathers note about Gnosticism in general: its diverse and at times contradictory due to its developing mythologies and so-called revelations (e.g., Irenaeus, Haer. 1.21).


Many essentially Gnostic notions received wide attention through the sagacious persona of the recently deceased Joseph Campbell in the television series and best-selling book, The Power of Myth. For example, in discussing the idea that "God was in Christ," Campbell affirmed that "the basic Gnostic and Buddhist idea is that that is true of you and me as well." Jesus is an enlightened example who "realized in himself that he and what he called the Father were one, and he lived out of that knowledge of the Christhood of his nature." According to Campbell, anyone can likewise live out his or her Christ nature.1

Gnosticism has come to mean just about anything. Calling someone a Gnostic can make the person either blush, beam, or fume. Whether used as an epithet for heresy or spiritual snobbery, or as a compliment for spiritual knowledge and esotericism, Gnosticism remains a cornucopia of controversy. 

In December 1945, while digging for soil to fertilize crops, an Arab peasant named Muhammad 'Ali found a red earthenware jar near Nag Hammadi, a city in upper Egypt. His fear of uncorking an evil spirit or jin was shortly overcome by the hope of finding gold within. What was found has been for hundreds of scholars far more precious than gold. Inside the jar were thirteen leather-bound papyrus books (codices), dating from approximately A.D. 350. Although several of the texts were burned or thrown out, fifty-two texts were eventually recovered through many years of intrigue involving illegal sales, violence, smuggling, and academic rivalry.

Some of the texts were first published singly or in small collections, but the complete collection was not made available in a popular format in English until 1977. It was released as The Nag Hammadi Library and was reissued in revised form in 1988.

Although many of these documents had been referred to and denounced in the writings of early church theologians such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, most of the texts themselves had been thought to be extinct. Now many of them have come to light. As Elaine Pagels put it in her best-selling book, The Gnostic Gospels, "Now for the first time, we have the opportunity to find out about the earliest Christian heresy; for the first time, the heretics can speak for themselves."8 

nosticism in general and the Nag Hammadi texts in particular present a spectrum of beliefs, although a central philosophical core is roughly discernible, which Gnosticism scholar Kurt Rudolph calls "the central myth."9 Gnosticism teaches that something is desperately wrong with the universe and then delineates the means to explain and rectify the situation.

The universe, as presently constituted, is not good, nor was it created by an all-good God. Rather, a lesser god, or demiurge (as he is sometimes called), fashioned the world in ignorance. The Gospel of Philip says that "the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire."10 The origin of the demiurge or offending creator is variously explained, but the upshot is that some precosmic disruption in the chain of beings emanating from the unknowable Father-God resulted in the "fall out" of a substandard deity with less than impeccable credentials. The result was a material cosmos soaked with ignorance, pain, decay, and death — a botched job, to be sure. This deity, nevertheless, despotically demands worship and even pretentiously proclaims his supremacy as the one true God.

This creator-god is not the ultimate reality, but rather a degeneration of the unknown and unknowable fullness of Being (or pleroma). Yet, human beings — or at least some of them — are in the position potentially to transcend their imposed limitations, even if the cosmic deck is stacked against them. Locked within the material shell of the human race is the spark of this highest spiritual reality which (as one Gnostic theory held) the inept creator accidently infused into humanity at the creation — on the order of a drunken jeweler who accidently mixes gold dust into junk metal. Simply put, spirit is good and desirable; matter is evil and detestable.

By inspecting a few of the Nag Hammadi texts, we encounter Gnosticism in Christian guise: Jesus dispenses gnosis to awaken those trapped in ignorance; the body is a prison, and the spirit alone is good; and salvation comes by discovering the "kingdom of God" within the self.

One of the first Nag Hammadi texts to be extricated out of Egypt and translated into Western tongues was the Gospel of Thomas, comprised of one hundred and fourteen alleged sayings of Jesus. Although scholars do not believe it was actually written by the apostle Thomas, it has received the lion's share of scholarly attention. The sayings of Jesus are given minimal narrative setting, are not thematically arranged, and have a cryptic, epigrammatic bite to them. Although Thomas does not articulate every aspect of a full-blown Gnostic system, some of the teachings attributed to Jesus fit the Gnostic pattern. (Other sayings closely parallel or duplicate material found in the synoptic Gospels.)

The text begins: "These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, 'Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.'"11 Already we find the emphasis on secret knowledge (gnosis) as redemptive. 

#4. Strange Fire: The Rise of Gnosticism in the Church by Travers and Jewel van der Merwe

It is frightening to realise that beliefs can be created merely by passively accepting information without attempting to analyse if what is preached or taught is truth! Unfortunately today much depends on the personality delivering the message. If it is a charismatic figure with a certain appeal, he/she can say anything they want and get away with it! The only criteria for truth seems to be if a book has been published and sold many copies, the author must be right.

This is why the knowledge of the Word of God is so important. It is not enough to parrot off someone else's teaching and sound like a great name in miniature. Any man can lead you astray - no matter how nice or how spiritual he sounds. You have to stand before God yourself! The Word of God says explicitly, Study to show thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. (1 Tim.2:15). Listening to hours and hours of tapes or watching "Christian TV" is not a substitute for honest and earnest study of the Word of God. Be like the Bereans who checked out everything they heard to see if those things were so. (Acts 17:10-11). They were commended for doing so - not told they were divisive, critics, fault-finders and "heresy hunters".

An astonishing event was an outburst by Paul Crouch on the world's largest Christian TV network as he denounced anyone who would speak out for sound doctrine and against the "gnostic" trends in the church today.

    Gnosticism was an esoteric religious movement that flourished during the second and third century A.D. and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostic sects professed Christianity but their beliefs sharply diverged from those of Christianity in the early Church. To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from this transcendent realm into the material universe, which is wholly evil, and were imprisoned in human bodies. Re-awakened by knowledge, the divine element in humanity can return to its proper home in the transcendental spiritual realm. [Gnosticism, Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, Vol.12, p.10]

The definition of Gnosticism is "a system of religion mixed with Greek and Oriental philosophy (1st-6th century A.D.), intermediate between Christianity and paganism, which taught that knowledge, rather than faith, was the greatest good, and that through knowledge alone could salvation be attained." [Webster's Encyclopedia of Dictionaries; Baltimore, Maryland, Ottenheimer, 1978]. Basically what is being said here implies that man's redemption and justification is not by faith in God according to the Scriptures, but rather in "mystical knowledge" acquired by a personal experience. This is the theme that is intrinsically intertwined in all the doctrines of the cults and occults.

The issues at stake are serious. It is not merely a "cosmetic" problem. The "roots" are not only being threatened, they are being "chopped off". As this dreadful surgery is being carried out, the life is slowly sapped and in its place is another gospel. This is a gospel that puts man on the throne. A gospel that does not need the cross, the blood or even acknowledge the deity of Jesus Christ. 


Based on: God's Word.

Acknowledges: Deith of Jesus Christ.

Believes: Man is basically sinful, and only GOD can correct the evil in him.

Gives glory to: GOD

God: Believe in a PERSONAL GOD who is all good.

Salvation: Spiritual rebirth that takes place when an individual chooses to believe by faith the DEITY of JESUS CHRIST, recognises the SIN in his life and chooses to follow Christ and turn from his sin according to the Scriptures.

Faith based on: The Word of God.

The Answer: Jesus Christ - according to the Scriptures.

Christ: Jesus Christ, the one and only fully God and fully man.

The Bible: NOTHING should be added and NOTHING should be taken away from the Bible. It is the COMPLETE WORD OF GOD. Interpreted literally and the literal meaning received.

Commitment: To the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.


Based on: Man's word.

Acknowledges: Deith of man.

Believes: Man is good and getting better.

Gives glory to: Self

God: Belief in God or a great force or energy or One Mind. An impersonal God with both good and bad.

Salvation: Spiritual awakening that comes when an individual experiences "his own divinity".

Faith based on: Experience.

The Answer: Finding the "self" or "god" within and striving with "works".

Christ: A position of status held by all deserving members. Arrived at by "self", "experience" and "works".

The Bible: They pick and choose Scriptures to suit their purposes. They say the Scriptures can be "interpreted" in many different ways. Spiritualised to say whatever they want.

Commitment: To self - or God through a passive or emotional experiential form of religion.

"Mysticism is the idea that direct knowledge of God or ultimate reality is achieved through personal, subjective intuition or experience apart from, or even contrary to, historyical fact or objective divine revelation." Arthur Johnson, a professor at West Texas State University, elaborates:

    When we speak of a mystical experience we refer to an event that is completely within the person. It is totally subjective . . . Although the mystic may experience it as having been triggered by occurrences or objects outside himself (like a sunset, a piece of music, a religious ceremony, or even a sex act), the mystical experience is a totally inner event. It contains no essential aspects that exist externally to him in the physical world . . . A mystical experience is primarily an emotive event, rather than a cognitive one . . . Its predominant qualities have more to do with emotional intensity, or 'feeling tone' than with facts evaluated and understood rationally. Although this is true, it alone is a woefully inadequate way of describing the mystical experience. The force of the experience is often so overwhelming that the person having it finds his entire life changed by it. Mere emotions cannot effect such transformations.

    Furthermore, it is from this emotional quality that another characteristic results, namely, its 'self-authenticating' nature. The mystic rarely questions the goodness and value of his experience. Consequently, if he describes it as giving him information, he rarely questions the truth of his newly gained "knowledge". It is this claim that mystical experiences are "ways of knowing" truth that is vital to understanding many religious movements we see today. [Our Sufficiency in Christ, John MacArthur, Jr., Word Publishing, 1991]

The concept of Gnosticism is at the heart of Rosicrucianism, New Age thought and Manifest Sons of God teachings. By Christian orthodox definition the core of these thoughts (inner mystic knowledge) and beliefs are occultic. In varying degrees this thinking has and is infiltrating the church at an alarming rate. The Pentecostals and Charismatics are not exempt. The most common characteristic is an "elitise" mentality.

The Gnostic believes it is wrong to use only the Bible to interpret the Bible. Besides the Bible they believe there are additional inspired manuscripts and books on a par with the Bible and hearing the Voice of God apart from the Scriptures. A Rosicrucian writer neatly puts it:

    In order to obtain a satisfactory comprehension of Bible teachings, it is essential to give careful consideration to its symbolic, allegorical and mystic elements. The student and interpreter must learn to consult the vast library of Legend, symbol and myth as faithfully and as accurately as he would resort to a Lexicon of Hebrew and Greek terms and radicals. These elements - symbolic, allegorical and mystic . . . are skillful devices for concealing yet half-revealing the deepest truth. [The Sons of God: A Foreshadowing of the Coming World of the Messenger of the New Age, R. Swinburne Clymer. The Philosophical Pub.Co., Quakerstown, PA, 1923]

Preaching today is filled with allegory. Symbolism has replaced substance and in the modern day "prophetic" movement it is revelation apart from the Scriptures

#5. 1979). Biblical Archaeologist, 42.

Getting the Nag Hammadi Library into English by James M. Robinson

Robinson traces the historical sequence of the Nag Hammadi codices as they passed through various international committees before they were finally translated into English and published.

During the first years after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 French scholarship took the lead in efforts to publish it. This was under the patronage of étienne Drioton, the French Director of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, and his former pupil from Paris days, the Copt Togo Mina, who had become the Director of the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. Yet in the first decade none of the texts actually were published. Indeed, in 1960 Gerard Garitte of Louvain wrote in Le Muséon:

So fifteen years after the discovery only forty-eight of the some thousand pages that the manuscripts of Chenoboskion contain have been published in the original language: twenty-seven of the so-called Gospel of Truth … , twenty of the Gospel of Thomas, one of the tractate on the origin of the world.… At this tempo, it would take three centuries for all the texts to be edited.

The second decade saw a shift in favor of German scholarship. This was due to a number of factors. Togo Mina died in 1949 and was succeeded by Pahor Labib, who held a degree from Berlin. After the Egyptian revolution of 1952 the Department of Antiquities was reorganized under local Egyptian leadership. Finally, the Suez crisis of 1956 led to a breaking of diplomatic ties with France and the closing of the French Institute in Cairo for a number of years. By 1970 34% of the library had been published in German or French, but only 21% in English. Though the tempo was improving, the fact that within the first quarter of a century since the discovery only a third had been published at all—only a fifth in English—left much to be desired. The present essay traces the steps taken through the intermediary of UNESCO leading to the availability of all the texts in the first ten volumes of The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices and a complete one-volume English translation in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, both presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in December 1977 at San Francisco.

An International Committee had been convened at the Coptic Museum in Cairo in 1956 but did not produce effective publication plans and was not reconvened after the Suez crisis. Hence UNESCO intervened to overcome the impasse. In 1961 René Maheu, General Director of UNESCO, and Saroit Okacha, Minister of Culture and National Guidance of the United Arab Republic, launched a plan to name a “committee of translation and publication of the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi.” On 28 April 1961 N. Bammate, Chief of the Section of Human Sciences at UNESCO, invited Walter Till and another specialist yet to be designated to join with the Director of the Coptic Museum, Pahor Labib, on a month-long “technical mission” to make an inventory of the library, preferably in September 1961, in view of a meeting of the committee planned for November 1961 and the launching of the project “at the beginning of 1962.” Unfortunately, Till’s deteriorating health made such a trip impossible. But this Preliminary Committee, consisting of Pahor Labib as Chairman with Martin Krause and Michel Malinine, met in Cairo 9–30 October 1961. They submitted the first part of their report on 4 November 1961. Meanwhile an International Committee, to be created by a decree of the government of the United Arab Republic, was being nominated by UNESCO. By 20 October 1961 Gerard Garitte, Antoine Guillaumont, Martin Krause, Gilles Quispel, and Torgny Säve-Söderbergh had accepted, while the acceptance of Richard A. Parker was awaited. Henri-Charles Pucch and Walter Till had been proposed as Consultants for the Committee. The first meeting, of a week’s duration, was scheduled for the end of November or December 1961. By 22 November the date was deferred to “the first months of 1962.

#6. Barry, J. D., & Krause, M. S. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Nag Hammadi Codices. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Codices and Their Content

The titles of the Nag Hammadi texts are not consistent across various editions and translations, but most scholars recognize the titles used by Robinson in The Nag Hammadi Library. The list below presents the content of the 13 codices according to Robinson’s titles; it also gives each text’s numerical designation (e.g., “I,2,” indicating the second tractate of the first codex) and common abbreviation (e.g., “Ap. Jas.”). For additional study, see Craig Evans’ list of texts, translations, and commentaries on the Nag Hammadi texts (Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, 280–84).

Codex 1

Codex 1 is also known as the Jung Codex and includes five texts, which are as follows.

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul (I,1; Pr. Paul). This short pseudonymous prayer is written on the flyleaf of Codex 1. It has gnostic language, such as references to the “archon ear” and the “Psychic God.” This work is classified as an example of Valentinian Gnosticism.

The Apocryphon of James (I,2; Ap. Jas.). A supposed “secret message” (apocryphon) given to James and Peter by Jesus 550 days after the resurrection; presented as a pseudonymous letter written by James that claims to have been originally in Hebrew. This work may have belonged to a more conservative strand of Gnosticism.

The Gospel of Truth (I,3; Gos. Truth). This text is also found in Codex 12 (XII.2). This is not a “gospel” like the narratives of the New Testament, but rather a self-identified “Gospel of Truth”—an exposition of gnostic teaching and viewpoints on Jesus. This work seems to be a gnostic sermon with Valentinian influence, which fits with church father Irenaeus’ remark that either a disciple of Valentinus or Valentinus himself wrote the work. Irenaeus’ mention of Gospel of Truth in his work against heresies indicates that he viewed it as heretical (see Haer. 3.11.9).

The Treatise on the Resurrection (I,4; Treat. Res.). This work is a discussion on the nature of the resurrection according to a gnostic viewpoint; it departs from the New Testament’s view of resurrection, and interprets resurrection in light of its own mythological, gnostic viewpoint. It claims to be teaching received from Jesus. This work is influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism, but departs from Valentinian thought at several points, showing the viewpoint of some other form of Gnosticism that is difficult to classify.

The Tripartite Tractate (I,5; Tri. Trac.). The longest of the Nag Hammadi texts, this is an exposition of gnostic theology/philosophy in three parts: the origin of all things as emanations from God; an interpretation of Genesis 1–3 based on this explanation; and an interpretation of salvation through Christ according to this way of thinking. This work is classified as an example of Valentinian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Prayer of the Apostle Paul; Apocryphon of James; Gospel of Truth; Treatise on the Resurrection; Tripartite Tractate.

Codex 2

Codex 2 is made up of seven texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (II,1; Ap. John). This work is also found in Codex 3 (III,1), Codex 4 (IV,1), and the Berlin Codex. The Codex 2 and Codex 4 copies are known as the longer form version. Apocryphon of John describes a pseudonymous, “secret message” from the risen Christ to the Apostle John; this message is a gnostic exposition of the creation, fall, and salvation of humanity. It is particularly concerned with the question of theodicy. The Apocryphon of John is an example of Sethian Gnosticism. Premises of the Apocryphon of John were used by church father Irenaeus to oppose Gnosticism; if he knew of the work, Irenaeus viewed it as heretical (Haer. 1.29).

The Gospel of Thomas (II,2; Gos. Thom.). This is the most famous of the Nag Hammadi texts, having received thousands of pages of analysis and comparison to the canonical Gospels. Three Greek fragments of Gospel of Thomas (POxy 1, 654, and 655) were also discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, prior to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices; only after the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas were the Greek fragments identified as being from the Gospel of Thomas.

The pseudonymous Gospel of Thomas is presented as “secret sayings” of Jesus preserved by the Apostle Thomas the Twin (Didymos). The sayings could contain some authentic Jesus-material not preserved in the New Testament, but there is at times a gnostic orientation to the sayings—a cryptic flavor pointing to supposed superior wisdom and understanding as the key to Jesus’ teachings. The tractate ends with a brief narrative involving a question of Peter about Mary Magdalene that seems to elevate her status to one of the favored disciples of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas was deemed heretical, unapproved, or false by early church fathers (Hippolytus of Rome, Haer., 5.2; Origen, Hom. Luc., 1; Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.25.6).

The Gospel of Philip (II,3; Gos. Phil.). Primarily a collection of sayings of Jesus, this tractate has some narrative material, although it is not presented as a coherent whole. The pseudonymous Gospel of Philip portrays Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ “companion” (which could mean a range of things, from business partner to romantic interest). The text also purports that Jesus “used to often kiss her,” but where he kissed Mary (e.g., mouth, cheek, head) is not described due to the damaged nature of the manuscript at this point; the kiss could be interpreted as a kiss of greeting. The Gospel of Philip reflects the viewpoints of Valentinian Gnosticism.

The Hypostasis of the Archons (II,4; Hyp. Arch.). Presented as a revelation from the supposed angel Eleleth, this is a gnostic version of the events of Genesis 1–6. It shows familiarity with Jewish traditions and the writings of Paul, but its interpretation on these matters is also decidedly gnostic. This work parallels viewpoints present in On the Origin of the World.

On the Origin of the World (II,5; Orig. World). This work is also found in Codex 13 (XIII,2) and contained in a fragment from the British Museum (labelled Or 4926 [1]). On the Origin of the World is a presentation of gnostic cosmogony, including the creation of humankind by “archons” and the ordering of heaven. It includes teaching on the end times, using apocalyptic language in some places. The key figure in the account is the gnostic character Pistis Sophia. On the Origin of the World represents the traditional gnostic creation myth.

The Exegesis on the Soul (II,6; Exeg. Soul). A likely gnostic treatise that claims to explain the descent of the “soul” from heaven. The soul is presented as a female character (having a “womb”) who undergoes many indignities on Earth before being purified and married to her fiancée. The text also describes what the author views as essential for the soul to ascend again to heaven.

The Book of Thomas the Contender (II,7; Thom. Cont.). This likely gnostic work is presented as a secret conversation between the Apostle Thomas and the risen Jesus shortly before the ascension. The text pseudonymously claims this conversation was recorded by “Mathaias,” but it is not clear whether this is Matthew, the Matthias of Acts 1, or another Mathaias. In the work, Thomas is identified as Jesus’ brother and twin. The work exhorts the reader to an ascetic life, warning Thomas not to be “polluted” by intercourse with women.

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of Thomas; Gospel of Thomas, Critical Issues; Gospel of Philip; Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; Exegesis on the Soul; Thomas the Contender, Book of.

Codex 3

Codex 3 includes five texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (III,1; Ap. John). This version of the pseudonymous Apocryphon of John is known as the shorter form; a copy of this shorter version is also contained in Coptic Berlin Papyrus 8502. The shorter version does not contain the longer citation from the Book of Zoroaster or the final monologue, both of which are contained in the longer form version in Nag Hammadi Codex 2 and Codex 4 copies.

The Gospel of the Egyptians (III,2; Gos. Eg.). This work is also found in Codex 4 (IV,2). This is a mysterious, almost liturgical presentation of gnostic understandings of the origin of the “elect” gnostic people. The work claims three powers came from the “aeon of the aeons”: Father, Mother, and Son. Much of the work is a presentation of the origin of Seth, son of Adam, who is seen as a savior for humankind. The author (Gongessos) makes the pseudonymous claim that the text was originally written by Seth and hidden in the high mountains. This work fits into the category of Sethian Gnosticism. (This gnostic Gospel of the Egyptians is not to be confused with a different work bearing the same name.)

Eugnostos the Blessed (III,3; Eugnostos). This philosophical work is also found in Codex 5 (V,1). Eugnostos is the name of the teacher and supposed author of this tractate, which seeks to explain various aspects of the cosmology of the hidden world. This tractate does not seem to bear Christian influence and may belong to the era when Gnosticism was emerging; Eugnostos is textually related to the tractate which follows it in Codex 3, the Sophia of Jesus Christ.

The Sophia of Jesus Christ (III,4; Soph. Jes. Chr.). This gnostic work is also found in the Berlin Codex 8502 and a small fragment (POxy 1081). Sophia may be based on Eugnostos: it seems to use its cosmology and themes. It also purports to present the risen Christ appearing in a spiritual way to enlighten select disciples. Those named are Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, Philip, and Mary, who seem to receive these secret teachings (not Peter, John, or James).

The Dialogue of the Savior (III,5; Dial. Sav.). This tractate has many lacunae, so that much of its translation involves speculation or interpolation. It purports to contain a dialogue containing secret teachings between the “Savior” (never named as Jesus) and his chosen disciples: Judas, Matthew, and Mary. The text contains some gnostic elements, but unlike traditional Gnosticism, “the Father,” not a demiurge, creates the world.

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of the Egyptians, Gnostic; Eugnostos; Sophia of Jesus Christ; Dialogue of the Savior.

Codex 4

Codex 4 contains two texts, which are as follows.

The Apocryphon of John (IV,1; Ap. John). This longer version of the Apocryphon of John is also included in Codex 2 (see above).

The Gospel of the Egyptians (IV,2; Gos. Eg.). This work is also included in Codex 3 (see above).

For further details, see these articles: Apocryphon of John; Gospel of the Egyptians, Gnostic.

Codex 5

Codex 5 contains five texts, which are as follows.

Eugnostos the Blessed (V,1; Eugnostos). This work is also contained in Codex 3 (see above).

The Apocalypse of Paul (V,2; Apoc. Paul). One of the Nag Hammadi texts that references Paul, this gnostic work, pseudonymously bearing Paul’s name, purports to be an account of Paul’s ascension into the highest heavens, guided by a spirit child (angel) he meets on a road. Although brief, the narrative has Paul passing through various heavens, encountering the 12 apostles in the 7th heaven, and finally arriving in the 10th heaven. Church fathers Irenaeus and Hippolytus seem aware of groups that interpret Paul’s “third heaven” language from 2 Cor 12:2–4 in a gnostic fashion, and opposed this overall teaching (Irenaeus, Haer. 2.30.7; Hippolytus, Haer. 5.8). (The gnostic Apocalypse of Paul is not to be confused with a different work bearing the same name.)

The (First) Apocalypse of James (V,3; 1 Apoc. Jas.). This pseudonymous work purports to be a revelatory dialogue between the risen Jesus and his brother James, identified as James the Just. This likely gnostic text ends with James rebuking the other apostles for not understanding the “way of knowledge” and refers to James’ subsequent death. This work may fall into the category of Valentinian Gnosticism. (A copy of the [First] Apocalypse of James is also contained in Codex Tchacos.)

The (Second) Apocalypse of James (V,4; 2 Apoc. Jas.). This pseudonymous text, which in Codex 5 is also titled Apocalypse of James (the “Second” is added by modern scholarship) also purports to be a revelatory dialogue between Jesus and James the Just. But here in Second Apocalypse, James is identified as the son of Theuda rather than Joseph. The text claims that its revelation was first spoken to Mareim (described as a priest and relative of Theuda), with Mareim writing it down and then speaking it to Theuda. This text claims to reveal things that even the “archons” do not know. It ends with a supposed account of the stoning of James after he is buried up to his waist. The text displays some gnostic themes, but does not contain some later gnostic elements, such as a strict dualism.

The Apocalypse of Adam (V,5; Apoc. Adam). A gnostic interpretation of the fall, which is presented as Adam’s loss of secret knowledge. This work is pseudonymously written from the perspective of Adam, presenting his supposed saving knowledge to his son Seth and his descendants. This text does not contain explicitly Christian influence, like the Apocryphon of John or the gnostic Gospel of the Egyptians, but it still falls into the broader category of Sethian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Eugnostos; Apocalypse of Paul, Gnostic; Apocalypse of James, First; Apocalypse of James, Second; Apocalypse of Adam.

Codex 6

Codex 6 contains eight texts and one scribal note, which are as follows.

The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles (VI,1; Acts Pet. 12 Apost.). An allegory in which a pseudonymous Peter narrates an encounter he and the other disciples have with a healer named Lithargoel in the city of Habitation, where Lithargoel is offering the impoverished of the city a pearl, if they come to his city Nine Gates. The disciples then take a treacherous journey to Nine Gates; at Nine Gates, they find out Lithargoel is Jesus, who commissions them to return to Habitation and offer the people healing (using medicine). The text then offers an interpretation of this allegory, based in gnostic thought.

Thunder: Perfect Mind (VI,2; Thund.). This short, first-person address is ascribed to a female deity, who describes herself in various paradoxical statements, such as: “I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin” (VI,2, 13:16–21). This is a unique tractate among the Nag Hammadi texts, and it is difficult to characterize its religious or philosophical affinity; it contains no distinctly gnostic characteristics.

Authoritative Teaching (VI,3; Auth. Teach.). As a supposed description of the origin and destiny of the “invisible soul of righteousness,” this treatise presents a dualistic understanding of the evil nature of the material world. This work does not contain gnostic mythology about the origin of the world, but its dualism between the good soul and evil material world, and other aspects, aligns it with Gnosticism.

The Concept of Our Great Power (VI,4; Great Pow.). This work is a gnostic, apocalyptic presentation of human history, claiming that human salvation is dependent upon the knowledge of the Great Power (and “everyone in whom [the Great Power’s] form will appear will be saved” [VI,4, 36:3]). It also includes additional gnostic mythology (such as the mention of aeons and the role of archons) and ends with a judgment of souls.

Plato, Republic 588a–589b (VI,5; Plato Rep.). A brief selection from the ninth book of Plato’s Republic that deviates considerably from any Greek version. It is a parable that discusses the supposed triple nature of a person: beast (base passions), lion (courage), and man (reason). In the Coptic fragment, unlike the Greek, “the wild beasts keep [the produce of the farmer, the man] from growing” (VI,5, 51:20). This lack of faith in reason and other elements may show that the textual differences from the Greek version are due to gnostic alterations.

The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (VI,6; Disc. 8–9). This work purports to describe the process of a religious initiate and his mystagogue ascending to the eighth and ninth planetary spheres. It is presented as a dialogue between the author and a mysterious teacher. This tractate is Hermetic in its perspective, as it is related to the Corpus Hermeticum literature.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving (VI,7; Pr. Thanks.). This very brief liturgical prayer that seems to serve in the Codex as a conclusion to the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth. The prayer shows cultic practices of prayer, greeting, and sharing a meal. Like Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, this work can also be classified as Hermetic, although it has some parallels with gnostic thought. (In addition to the Nag Hammadi copy, a Greek version of this work is embedded in Papyrus Mimaut, which is a magical text, and in a Latin version is appended to a copy of Asclepius.)

Scribal Note (VI,7a). This short note by the scribe indicates that he is the one responsible for including the prayer (VI,7) after the preceding Discourse (VI,6).

Asclepius 21–29 (VI,8; Asclepius). A selection from the Hermetic writing Asclepius, this text claims to discuss various mysteries, such as the nature of sexual intercourse (which may be a metaphor for a mystery religion experience), the difference between the pious and impious (the pious have knowledge), and men creating gods and being gods themselves. It also includes some apocalyptic woes and a discussion of what must happen to each person and the universe. It is framed as a dialogue between demigod Asclepius and the god Hermes Trismegistos.

For further details, see these articles: Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; Thunder, Perfect Mind; Authoritative Teaching, Text; Concept of Our Great Power; Plato’s Republic, Coptic Version; Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; Prayer of Thanksgiving, Text; Asclepius, Text.

Codex 7

Codex 7 contains five texts, which are as follows.

The Paraphrase of Shem (VII,1; Paraph. Shem). This pseudonymous text claims to record a revelation given to Shem (the son of Noah) from Derdekeas, who is depicted as a divine redeemer. From Derdekeas, Shem learns about the supposed various powers, eschatology, and salvation; in the process, portions of Genesis (including the flood and the destruction of Sodom) are reinterpreted as the power Darkness trying to destroy Shem’s descendants and the members who will learn of his knowledge. This text may show gnostic influence (or even Manichaean influence), but it is difficult to categorize, and as such, its categorization is highly debated.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (VII,2; Treat. Seth). Despite the title of the work, which is only included at the end, this work does not mention Seth and the work does not align with traditional Sethian Gnosticism. The work actually claims to present supposed secret teachings of Jesus to a select audience of enlightened disciples. It includes gnostic mythical references to things like archons and Yaldabaoth. (If there is a corresponding First Treatise of the Great Seth, it is never mentioned in ancient literature and no copies of it are currently extant.)

Apocalypse of Peter (VII,3; Apoc. Pet). A pseudonymous text that purports to include two visions of Peter, which are explained by Jesus. The first vision is about those who claim to accept Christianity but are supposedly really against the truth by worshiping the crucified Christ. The second vision purports that the spiritual Jesus stood beside the cross laughing while the body of Jesus died on the cross. Peter is then commissioned to tell of this to “those of another race who not of this age.” This gnostic (and docetist in viewpoint) work is arguing against orthodox Christians and likely any other non-gnostics.

The Teachings of Silvanus (VII,4; Teach. Silv.). This text includes various pseudonymous teachings by Silvanus (likely a reference to Paul’s traveling companion) concerning behavior before God and other warnings. The various viewpoints represented in the work make it difficult to categorize, as it represents a wide range and blending of beliefs and ideas.

The Three Steles of Seth (VII,5; Steles Seth). This liturgical text involves Dositheos (the supposed Samaritan founder of Gnosticism) seeing and presenting the content of three supposed ancient steles inscribed by Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve (see the Apocalypse of Adam, V,5). The three steles are hymns, each affirming Sethian gnostic beliefs about the supposed triadic “Father Geradama(s).” The text ends with a scribal note, which may refer to the Three Steles of Seth or the entire codex, claiming that the book belongs to the “fatherhood” and the “son” wrote it.

For further details, see these articles: Paraphrase of Shem; Second Treatise of the Great Seth; Apocalypse of Peter, Gnostic; Teachings of Silvanus; Three Steles of Seth.

Codex 8

Codex 8 contains two texts, which are as follows.

Zostrianos (VIII,1; Zost.). Zostrianos is one of the longer Nag Hammadi texts, but the manuscript is considerably damaged. It purports to be an account of a heavenly voyage by Zostrianos, who leaves his body for the journey. The Zostrianos of the text may be a pseudonymous representation of the Persian Zoroaster. The journey has different levels, with knowledge given in each stage. The account fits with the general beliefs of Sethian Gnosticism. Philosopher Porphyry (ca. AD 234–305) may refer to this text, along with Allogenes, as works produced by a group of people that philosopher Plontinus opposed (Vit. Plot. 16).

The Letter of Peter to Philip (VIII,2; Ep. Pet. Phil.). This text opens with a short pseudonymous letter from Peter to Philip, before turning to a narrative. The narrative portion of the text purports to recall four divine encounters of the apostles: the first with Christ, the second with a voice (presumably Christ), the third with the Holy Spirit, and the fourth with Christ. The questions and answers in the disciples’ first dialogue with Christ, as well as other lines elsewhere in the text, seem to presume gnostic mythology and theology. (A copy of the Letter of Peter to Philip is also contained in Codex Tchacos.)

For further details, see these articles: Zostrianos; Letter of Peter to Philip.

Codex 9

Codex 9 contains three texts, which are as follows.

Melchizedek (IX,1; Melch.). Very poorly preserved and missing many words, this text presents Melchizedek as an eschatological high priest and warrior angel, and may identify him with Jesus (this cannot be certain because of the damaged state of the text). This text has some gnostic tendencies, and includes a reference to Seth; it also has an anti-docetic emphasis, affirming the real humanity of Jesus. However, the text’s damaged state, combined with these various viewpoints being represented (and its possible redaction by a gnostic) makes it difficult to categorize its religious perspective; nonetheless, it certainly seems gnostic in tone.

The Thought of Norea (IX,2; Norea). This text is a brief hymn or ode to the triadic “Father of All.” It also presents the character of Norea, in parallel with Hypostasis of the Archons. In gnostic literature, Norea is the daughter of Eve and sister-wife of Seth (but Norea here could also be understood as Noah’s wife or Shem’s wife). This text of Sethian Gnosticism claims that its proclamation of the triadic “Father” is from Norea and it then makes other statements about Norea, her heavenly position, and the “elect.”

The Testimony of Truth (IX,3; Testim. Truth). This very poorly preserved text is a polemical writing containing what appears to be a homily of a gnostic teacher, followed by additional material and arguments, including an interpretation of Genesis 3. The arguments in the work appear to be both against orthodox Christians and other gnostic groups, even though the author holds many gnostic viewpoints. The opposed teachers include the gnostics Valentinus, Basillidea, and Isidore. Water baptism is particularly opposed by the work. This work is very difficult to categorize in terms of its religious perspective.

For further details, see these articles: Melchizedek, Nag Hammadi Text; Thought of Norea; Testimony of Truth.

Codex 10

Codex 10 contains one text, which are as follows.

Marsanes (X; Marsanes). This is the only surviving text from Codex 10 and it is in poor condition. It is presented as a revelatory experience of Marsanes, who supposedly moves through 13 levels of ascent, metaphorically viewed as “seals,” and ascends to a triadic “supreme Father.” This text is categorized as fitting with Sethian Gnosticism, based upon its viewpoints, even though Seth is not directly mentioned.

For further details, see this article: Marsanes.

Codex 11

Codex 11 contains four texts, one of which also has five subtractates. These works are as follows.

The Interpretation of Knowledge (XI,1; Interp. Know.). This work is a gnostic interpretations of specific passages from Matthew’s Gospel and the writings of Paul. The author seems to be addressing a controversy in a community over spiritual gifts, and includes allusions to Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12. The interpretation of the author is offered according to gnostic theology, such as the equation of the jealousy of the community with the evil god (demiurge) who supposedly created the world. Based on its theology, and the work that follows it in the Codex, it may specifically represent Valentinian Gnosticism.

A Valentinian Exposition (XI,2; Val. Exp.). This text begins by saying it is revealing a “mystery” and proceeds to relate the gnostic mythology about the character “Sophia,” but this work also purports that Christ descended and became united with Sophia, after her repentance (which seems to contrast with other gnostic texts). This text is categorized as a primary source for the teachings of second-century Valentinian Gnosticism, but seems to represent some opinions that diverge from other Valentinian viewpoints.

The Valentinian Exposition, also contains five subtractates that follow it in codex; when the exposition and five subtrates are combined, the work seems catechetical in form. The five subtractrates are as follows:

  •      On the Anointing (XI,2a, On Anoint.)

  •      On Baptism A (XI,2b, On Bap. A)

  •      On Baptism B (XI,2c, On Bap. B)

  •      On the Eucharist A (XI,2d, On Euch. A)

  •      On the Eucharist B (XI,2e, On Euch. B)

These gnostic-in-viewpoint subtractates contain fragments of texts likely used among Valentinian gnostics religiously for anointing, baptism, and the eucharist.

Allogenes (XI,3; Allogenes). This text purports to present secret revelations given to Allogenes and dictated for his “son” Messos (perhaps a reference to Messos being his disciple). The text purports to address a female angel’s visit to Allogenes, followed by Allogenes’ ascent to the supernatural realm. This text is categorized as belonging to Sethian Gnosticism. This work is related to a work with a similar name, A Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos. The two Allogenes’ texts are also closely related to Zostrianos from Codex VIII, and both may be mentioned by philosopher Porphyry as created by a group of people philosopher Plotinus opposed (Vit. Plot. 16).

Hypsiphrone (XI,4; Hypsiph.). This text is very fragmentary and purports to record Hypsiphrone’s journey from “the place of my virginity” down to what is likely the material world, where she meets the being Phainops, who may be creating the first person (it is difficult to know based on the fragmentary nature of the text). Although not conclusive, this work seems to share a Sethian Gnosticism perspective; it does not mention Seth but shares much in common with what is known of the mythology of Sethian Gnosticism.

For further details, see these articles: Interpretation of Knowledge; Valentinian Exposition; Allogenes, Nag Hammadi Text; Hypsiphrone.

Codex 12

Codex 12 contains three texts, which are as follows.

The Sentences of Sextus (XII,1; Sent. Sextus). This is a Coptic version of a previously known set of ethical sayings (or maxims). The church fathers seem to have disagreed about the work’s authorship and religious perspective. The work is essentially impossible to categorize religiously as it shows a wide range of viewpoints. (Although this work is also available in Greek, Latin, and other languages, the Coptic version is the earliest manuscript, although the extant Coptic version it is not complete.)

The Gospel of Truth (XII,2; Gos. Truth). This copy of Gospel of Truth is very fragmentary. This work is also included in Codex 1 (see above).

Fragments (XII,3; Frm.). These fragments (labeled as fragments 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B) are so damaged that their translation is uncertain. It is also uncertain whether the fragments labeled “1” and those labeled “2” are from the same work or different works. (If these fragments are from two different works, then that takes the count of unique works in the Nag Hammadi Library from 46 to 47, and the overall count of texts from 52 to 53.)

Fragment 1A seems to mention ethical instruction of some sort: a description of good and evil works, and those who practice good and evil, and perhaps those that practice both. Fragment 1B mentions “god” and “my father who is … not to them a father.” Also mentioned are the words “the ignorance,” “righteousness,” “these were worthy,” and “forgive,” but any interpretation of this is highly speculative.

Fragment 2A mentions a “philosopher” and something about “they are not able to,” the “philosopher” again, and then the “world.” Fragment 2B includes the words “her,” “begot,” “him,” and “think.” Again, any interpretation is speculative, as is even the translation proposed herein.

Due to the fragmentary nature of these texts, they are generally uncategorizable in terms of religious perspective.

For further details, see these articles: Sentences of Sextus; Gospel of Truth.

Codex 13

Codex 13 is eight loose leaves bearing two texts, which are as follows.

Trimorphic Protennoia (XIII,1; Trim. Prot.). This text purports to include self-explanatory words from the “Protennoia” (“first thought”), along with narrative, describing her three descents to earth. The text claims that Protennoia creates light as the Voice and Father first, then on the second descent comes as Mother, and on the third as Son, in the form of Christ (whom the work seems to depict in a polemical, rather than positive, way). This text describes the triadic god mentioned in works of Sethian Gnosticism, but these appear to be influences on this likely redacted work; it is not distinctly Sethian gnostic. (This particular work was originally found inside the cover of Codex VI.)

On the Origin of the World (XIII,2; Orig. World.). This work is also included in Codex 2 (see above).

#7. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1984). BAR 10:01 (Jan/Feb 1984).

The story behind the discovery and eventual publication of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts has all the ingredients of a spy thriller. The discoverers, Mohammed Ali and his brother Khalifah, lived in a village named el-Kasr in Upper Egypt. While digging for mineral-rich soil called sebakh at the base of the cliffs along the Nile near the village of Homra Dom, they discovered a large sealed pottery jar. Hoping for buried treasure, they broke open the jar only to find a collection of old books written in a language they could not read. They carried the books back to their home, where their mother reportedly used some of the pages to light the fire in her oven.

Not long after the discovery of the manuscripts, it was rumored that Mohammed Ali and his brothers murdered the son of the sheriff of Homra Dom in reprisal for the death of their father some six months earlier. One result of this feud was that Mohammed Ali was afraid to return to the site of the discovery. Fearing that the books would be found by the police, Mohammed Ali placed them in the care of a Coptic priest. The priest gave one to a relative, who brought it to Cairo. The rest of the books were gradually sold to other residents of the village for small sums of money, and they in turn sold the manuscripts to antiquities dealers in Cairo.

One of these books was sold to the Coptic Museum; another made its way out of the country and was sold to friends of the psychologist C. G. Jung. They gave it to him as a birthday present, and it became known as the Jung Codex.* Ultimately, however, the bulk of the material was confiscated by the Egyptian government after having been photographed by a young French scholar, Jean Doresse. Just as Doresse’s reports were alerting the scholarly world to the existence of an important new manuscript discovery, the Suez crisis 1956 made international cooperation even more difficult than usual. As a result, most of the Nag Hammadi Codices remained inaccessible to scholars. After the codices were declared government property and deposited in the Coptic Museum, an international committee of scholars working under the auspices of UNESCO was appointed, but the committee made little progress toward publishing the documents.

Not until the American Biblical scholar James M. Robinson of Claremont Graduate School entered the picture in 1965 and succeeded in gaining the support of other scholars in reorganizing the UNESCO committee did the Nag Hammadi story gradually emerge. Robinson concentrated his considerable scholarly influence, his organizational skill, and his seemingly limitless energy on the prompt translation and publication of the Nag Hammadi documents. As the secretary of the UNESCO committee, Robinson headed an international team that photographed the manuscripts and conserved them as adequately as possible in their present repository, the Coptic Museum in Cairo. As the director of the Nag Hammadi Library project at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, he organized a team of translators, many of them young American scholars, who learned the Coptic language as they worked with the new finds. And as organizer of the Nag Hammadi excavations, he delved into the early history of Christianity in Egypt.

Many other scholars subsequently have joined a growing movement to understand the complicated historical background of early Christianity assumed by the Nag Hammadi documents. Fortunately, the papers used to stiffen the covers of the Coptic codices were legal documents that referred to specific dates; therefore the manuscripts are solidly dated to the mid-fourth century. However, the codices are Coptic translations of documents that were written much earlier. Just how these translations fit into the complex picture of early Christianity and Judaism during the first two centuries of this era is a question that is currently a matter of considerable scholarly debate.

The Nag Hammadi Codices surely help us understand the tendency toward a mystical piety based on revelation or ecstatic experience as one of the varieties of religious experience in the Greco-Roman world of late antiquity. These writings also provide new material for understanding the many types of ancient Gnosticism. How Greek philosophical thought interacted with early Christianity in both its Gnostic and emerging orthodox forms can also be illumined by these new writings.

Attempts to uncover the circumstances that led to the burial of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts have not been as successful as the archaeological excavations that were so helpful in shedding light on another major manuscript discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls. An excavation carried out by the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California, under the leadership of Robinson and Dr. Bastiaan Van Elderen, has uncovered significant remains of early Christian monastic communities near the discovery site. Direct links with the Nag Hammadi Codices themselves have not been found, however, and even the precise location of the find is not known for certain. The broader questions of how a collection of mostly Gnostic literature came to be buried near the center of early Christian monasteries considered to be bastions of orthodoxy are yet to be answered conclusively by scholars. How Gnostic and orthodox leaders interacted in the development of Christianity in Egypt and other centers of Christianity such as Alexandria and Rome is one of the concerns of a new project being undertaken by Dr. Birger Pearson and several associates under the auspices of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity.