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
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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