The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library

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source Muhammad Ali, the fellahin, discovered the sealed jar, he feared that it might contain a jinni, or spirit, but also had heard of hidden treasures in such jars. Greed overcame his fears and when he smashed open the jar, gold seemed to float into the air. To his disappointment, it was papyrus fragmenst, not gold, but for scholars around the world, it was invaluable.

Meyer then discusses the pre—Christian forms of wisdom that went onto influence what Christians believe today. In addition, some Nag Hammadi texts are attributed to Valentinus, a man who almost became Pope, and whose rejection changed the church in significant ways. Text by text, Meyer traces the history and impact of this great find on the Church, right up to our current beliefs and popular cultural fascination with this officially suppressed secret knowledge about Jesus and his followers. Marvin Meyer is one of the foremost scholars on early Christianity and texts about Jesus outside the New Testament.

For gnostics, there is light in the darkness and hope in the abyss.

The Gnostic Discoveries

Hans Jonas wrote his books on gnostic thought just as word of the Nag Hammadi discovery was emerging. In The Gnostic Religion he was able to include a supplement to the second edition: And although Jonas was able to include in his discussion last-minute thoughts about the texts that were becoming known, even he could hardly have imagined how these texts would revolutionize the way we now look at gnosis and the world from antiquity and late antiquity to modern times.

Since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library and related texts, the study of gnostic religion and its impact upon ancient and modern religion has been fundamentally transformed. When the Egyptian Muhammad Ali discovered the Nag Hammadi codices in late , he uncovered a collection of thirteen codices with over fifty ancient texts, most of them previously unknown. A goodly number of these texts may be classified as gnostic texts — texts in the Thomas tradition, texts that are Sethian, Valentinian, Hermetic, and some texts that cannot be easily classified.

Complementing the Nag Hammadi find are other discoveries of ancient texts, such as the texts in the Berlin Gnostic Codex, various documents found in a rubbish heap at ancient Oxyrhynchus, and, most recently, a newly available codex with more texts in it, including a Gospel of Judas. The availability of so many new religious texts has attracted the enthusiastic attention of scholars and others interested in gnostic religion from antiquity and late antiquity.

The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library

Three major scholarly research teams were formed to undertake the arduous task of translating the Coptic texts of the Nag Hammadi library and the Berlin Gnostic Codex: In addition, individual scholars and students of ancient and late antique religions have turned their attention to these texts, and through their scholarly labors a large number of articles and books have appeared.

David Scholer, a biblical scholar and professional bibliographer, has compiled two hefty volumes listing contributions in Nag Hammadi studies: Between volumes he has published bibliographical installments annually in the periodical Novum Testamentum. In short, scholars and authors have been productive in the study of these texts from Egypt, and articles and books have been published in impressive quantities.

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Dick; the film Stigmata, directed by Rupert Wainwright; the Wachowski brothers' Matrix film trilogy; and so on — two authors have piqued the interest of readers in a special way: Pagels and Dan Brown. Elaine Pagels is a distinguished scholar of gnostic and early Christian religion with a fine literary style and a rare ability to communicate difficult religious themes with clarity and grace.

In her books The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief, Pagels has invited readers into the exciting world of gnostic spirituality, Christianity, and ancient religions, and through her discussion of Nag Hammadi texts and other religious documents from the world of early Christianity these texts come alive. For her efforts she was accused by one reviewer of engaging in the "greening of the gnostics" — a charge recalling the old heresiological perspective.

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In The Gnostic Gospels Pagels introduces the texts of the Nag Hammadi library by emphasizing the social and political concerns reflected in the texts. As the New Testament scholar Robert M. Grant has put it, "She has a genius for detecting social realities amid what look like the speculative fantasies of the gnostics. Pagels concludes that these and similar concerns are still being addressed today: All the old questions—the original questions, sharply debated at the beginning of Christianity—are being reopened.

How is one to understand the resurrection? What about women's participation in priestly and episcopal office? Who was Christ, and how does he relate to the believer? What are the similarities between Christianity and other world religions? The Berlin Gnostic Codex and Other Texts A few decades before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, at the end of the nineteenth century, a papyrus codex related in its contents to the Nag Hammadi codices came to light in Egypt.

The circumstances surrounding the discovery remain obscure, but in January a dealer in manuscripts in Cairo offered the codex for sale to a German scholar, Carl Reinhardt. The dealer was from Akhmim, north of Nag Hammadi in central Egypt, and the codex may have come from there as well. The dealer claimed the codex had been discovered with feathers covering it in a recessed place in a wall, but that story may be a tall tale. Carl Schmidt, the editor of the codex, thought that it may have come from a cemetery or somewhere else near Akhmim. Carl Schmidt published the last text in the Berlin Gnostic Codex, the Act of Peter, in , and he was preparing to publish the rest of the codex in when curses from the days of the pharaohs seemed to visit the publishing project.

A water pipe in the print shop in Leipzig burst and destroyed the pages that were being prepared. World War I broke out and delayed publication. World War II again delayed publication. And — though this was hardly a curse the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in attracted the attention of scholars and distracted them from the work on the Berlin Gnostic Codex. At last, Walter C. Till, who had assumed editorial responsibility for the Berlin Gnostic Codex after the death of Carl Schmidt, was able to see the German edition of the first three texts in the codex through the press in Die gnostischen Schriften des koptischen Papyrus Berolinensis Berlin Gnostic Codex contains four texts written in Coptic like the texts of the Nag Hammadi library.

Other documents from the world of antiquity and late antiquity also include texts that bear a close relationship to works in the Nag Hammadi library. From an ancient accumulation of rubbish at the Egyptian site of Oxyrhynchus modern Bahnasa, between Cairo and Akhmim archeologists uncovered papyri that may add a great deal to our knowledge of the ancient world.

The site of Oxyrhynchus has proved to be a treasure trove of texts of all sorts, and volumes of Oxyrhynchus papyri have been published, beginning in , by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt and those succeeding them. Within the writings of the church fathers are additional testimonia regarding the Gospel of Thomas, and, in the Refutation of All Heresies , Hippolytus of Rome gives two quotations that originate in versions of the Gospel of Thomas 5.

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Additionally, a few texts in the Nag Hammadi library are Coptic versions of works previously known from other sources. Archeology near Nag Hammadi After the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, archeologists and other scholars turned their attention to the physical context of the Nag Hammadi library, and the result has been archeological work done in the area around Nag Hammadi and codicological work on the codices themselves.

This work has provided fresh glimpses into the history of Christianity in Egypt and the early history of bookbinding. The contributions of archeology and codicology may also help solve the mystery of who compiled the Nag Hammadi library and who buried it by the Jabal al-Tarif. Archeological surveys and excavations in the region were undertaken in the S and s under the sponsorship of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, and Peter Grossmann of the German Archeological Institute brought this work to an appropriate — if penultimate — conclusion.

In the fourth century, Apa Pachomius, often considered the father of cenobitic Christian monasticism, established monasteries all around this part of Egypt — including a monastery in a small village named Seneset in Greek, Chenoboskia , modern-day al-Qasr, the same village that was to become, much later, the home of the family of Muhammad Ali of the al-Samman clan.

Archeological work at one of the most significant monasteries in the area, at Pbow or Pabau, modern Faw Qibli , located within sight of the Jabal al-Tarif, has given a clear indication of how important and impressive a Pachomian monastery and monastic church could be.

Pbow was the administrative center of the Pachomian monastic movement, where monks from the surrounding monasteries could come for special occasions. The site of Pbow is littered with the architectural and archeological remains of the monastic church in its several stages of building and rebuilding: More granite pieces — for example, an olive press for making olive oil used for preparing food and in oil lamps — are scattered around the archeological site, and sometimes the remaining hieroglyphs and artistic markings such as stylized stars seem to indicate that the granite used in the church had been recycled from an older building, probably an Egyptian temple.

The Pachomian church at Pbow went through at least three building stages. Gary Lease, who participated in the archeological excavations and collaborated with Peter Grossmann, has described the church buildings uncovered at Pbow. The first and lowest church may have been built during the lifetime of Pachomius; the second was constructed somewhat later; and the third, the great basilica, was completed in That date for the great basilica seems secure, since a text said to be a sermon of Timothy II of Alexandria preached on the occasion of the dedication of the Pachomian basilica at Pbow refers to that very date.

Each of the church buildings at Pbow may have been quite a stately ecclesiastical structure, but the great basilica must have been especially impressive. The great basilica was an imposing church with massive brick walls, huge granite columns, and attractively decorated capitals for the columns. It might be hoped that the church buildings were not too attractive.

On the Origin of the World, Gnostic Texts

There is a legend that when Pachomius saw the finished early church at Pbow, he was disturbed at its beauty, and so he ordered the monks to twist the columns from their positions to ensure that no one would be seduced and led astray by artistic beauty. Archeological forays throughout the area, and especially around the Jabal al-Tarif and up the Wadi Sheikh Ali, have illumined other aspects of monastic life in the Nag Hammadi region.

The evidence indicates that Christian monks wandered from place to place all around this area.

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The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library [Marvin W. Meyer] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The Meaning of the. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. Before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents in the s, Gnosticism was considered to be a form of.

In the cliff face of the Jabal al-Tarif, near the boulder next to which the Nag Hammadi codices were discovered, there are caves that were used from the days of the Old Kingdom. We can speculate that in their holy wanderings the monks used this cave as a meditation chapel, in which they could focus pious attention upon the Psalms and be aided in their thoughts and prayers by the opening lines, painted on the cave wall, which would remind them of the sequence of the Psalms. The same sorts of Christian monks also seem to have hiked up the Wadi Sheikh Ali, a narrow and rather inaccessible ravine leading into the mountainous desert of the red land, off the Oishna plain not too far from the Jabal al-Tarif.

Christian monks at the site apparently noticed the pagan inscriptions and consequently rededicated the place to Christ by adding Coptic Christian graffiti. Most of the Christian graffiti are painted onto the rock in the familiar red paint as simple prayers:. Pray for me in love.

The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library

I am the servant Pakire. I am Philothe the son of David. Remember me in love. I am more of a sinner than any other person. I am Stauros the son. A stone chip left at the site includes another painted graffito: There is also a portrait of a monk named John incised onto the surface of the rock.

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If some ancient writer calls God "he", then by God the translation should say so! In The Gnostic Gospels Pagels introduces the texts of the Nag Hammadi library by emphasizing the social and political concerns reflected in the texts. A water pipe in the print shop in Leipzig burst and destroyed the pages that were being prepared. In my case, this very scholarly treatise fell upon deaf non-scholarly ears. The area had had a number of monastic communities in late antiquity, and perhaps it was a decree of Bishop Athanassius against the possession of gnostic texts that led local monks to hide them in a jar, where they remained until some locals found them by accident.

Brother John is shown with beard and robe and hands raised in the praying position, and he identifies himself in rough Coptic: At the same locale there are Byzantine bricks and potsherds, including some sherds that resemble fourth- and fifth-century red-painted slip ware found throughout the region.