Nag Hammadi   [NOG ha-MAH-dee] 

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Site of the discovery of an important collection of early Coptic Christian codices containing many lost works, including the only complete ms. of the gospel of Thomas. The modern town of Nag Hammadi is situated at the great bend in the Nile 370 mi. south of Cairo, just across the river from ancient Chenoboskion, where Pachomius established the Egyptian monastic movement about 315 CE.

In 1945 a farmer found a large clay jar containing a 12+ volume library at the foot of the nearby cliffs of Jabal al-Tarif. These mss. were probably buried during a purge of heretical books ordered by the Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria in the late 4th c. CE. All but one codex contained several works. The majority were compositions by Egyptian gnostics, including at least two original works by the Alexandrian teacher Valentinus (2nd c. CE): the Gospel of Truth & a treatise on the Resurrection. But there was also a selection from a classical philosophical text: Plato's dialog, the Republic. So not every work in this library was of gnostic origin. Many, in fact, were Coptic translations of works originally composed in Greek before the middle of the 2nd c. CE.

Thus, the Nag Hammadi codices are important relics of esoteric Christianity from the pre-Nicene era. Antiquities dealers originally sold the bulk of Codex 1 to the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. But it was returned when the Egyptian government nationalized the Nag Hammadi library to prevent further fragmentation & scattering of this major archaeological discovery. The collection has been restored at the Coptic Museum in old Cairo.

Codex 2 is the most important Nag Hammadi volume for synoptic scholarship, because it contains the gospel of Thomas: the only direct ms. evidence that collections of Jesus sayings were used in early Christian circles.

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last revised 11 January 2019


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