The Nag Hammadi Library (Gnostic Society)

Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

It was on a December day in the year of 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, that the course of Gnostic studies was radically renewed and forever changed. An Arab peasant, digging around a boulder in search of fertilizer for his fields, happened upon an old, rather large red earthenware jar. Hoping to have found a buried treasure, and with due hesitation and apprehension about the jinn who might attend such a hoard, he smashed the jar open. Inside he discovered no treasure and no genie, but instead books: more than a dozen old codices bound in golden brown leather. Little did he realize that he had found an extraordinary collection of ancient texts, manuscripts hidden a millennium and a half before -- probably by monks from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius seeking to preserve them from a destruction ordered by the church as part of its violent expunging of heterodoxy and heresy.

How the Nag Hammadi manuscripts eventually passed into scholarly hands is a fascinating story but too lengthy to relate here. But today, now over fifty years since being unearthed and more than two decades after final translation and publication in English as The Nag Hammadi Library, their importance has become astoundingly clear: These thirteen papyrus codices containing fifty-two sacred texts are representatives of the long lost "Gnostic Gospels", a last extant testament of what orthodox Christianity perceived to be its most dangerous and insidious challenge, the feared opponent that the Church Fathers had reviled under many different names, but most commonly as Gnosticism. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts has fundamentally revised our understanding of both Gnosticism and the early Christian church.

PLEASE NOTE

Several of the major texts in the Nag Hammadi collection have more than one English translation; where more than one translation is available, we have listed the translators' names in parenthesis below the name of the text. Texts marked with the {*} had more than one version extant within the Nag Hammadi codices; often these several versions were used conjointly by the translators to provide the single translation presented here.

Click here for a list of all of the extrabiblical texts I could find online, including the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and other extrabiblical writings.


© Todd Tyszka
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