NAG HAMMADI CODEX and Gnostic Christianity – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, using LOGOS LIBRONIX software



The following table lists, for the thirteen NagHammadiCodices and Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, the codex and tractate numbers, the tractate titles as used in this edition (the titles found in the tractates themselves, sometimes simplified and standardized, or, when the tractate bears no surviving title, one supplied by the editors), and the abbreviations of these titles.
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
Pr. Paul
The Apocryphon of James
Ap. Jas.
The Gospel of Truth
Gos. Truth
The Treatise on the Resurrection
Treat. Res.
The Tripartite Tractate
Tri. Trac.
The Apocryphon of John
Ap. John
The Gospel of Thomas
Gos. Thom.
The Gospel of Philip
Gos. Phil.
The Hypostasis of the Archons
Hyp. Arch.
On the Origin of the World
Orig. World
The Exegesis on the Soul
Exeg. Soul
The Book of Thomas the Contender
Thom. Cont.
The Apocryphon of John
Ap. John
The Gospel of the Egyptians
Gos. Eg.
Eugnostos the Blessed
The Sophia of Jesus Christ
Soph. Jes. Chr.
The Dialogue of the Savior
Dial. Sav.
The Apocryphon of John
Ap. John
The Gospel of the Egyptians
Gos. Eg.
Eugnostos the Blessed
The Apocalypse of Paul
Apoc. Paul
The (First) Apocalypse of James
1 Apoc. Jas.
The (Second) Apocalypse of James
2 Apoc. Jas.
The Apocalypse of Adam
Apoc. Adam
The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles
Acts Pet. 12 Apost.
The Thunder: Perfect Mind
Authoritative Teaching
Auth. Teach.
The Concept of Our Great Power
Great Pow.
Plato, Republic 588a–589b
Plato Rep.
The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth
Disc. 8–9
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
Pr. Thanks.
Scribal Note
Scribal Note
Asclepius 21–29
The Paraphrase of Shem
Paraph. Shem
The Second Treatise of the Great Seth
Treat. Seth
Apocalypse of Peter
Apoc. Peter
The Teachings of Silvanus
Teach. Silv.
The Three Steles of Seth
Steles Seth
The Letter of Peter to Philip
Ep. Pet. Phil.
The Thought of Norea
The Testimony of Truth
Testim. Truth
The Interpretation of Knowledge
Interp. Know.
A Valentinian Exposition
Val. Exp.
On the Anointing
On Anoint.
On Baptism A
On Bap. A
On Baptism B
On Bap. B
On the Eucharist A
On Euch. A
On the Eucharist B
On Euch. B
The Sentences of Sextus
Sent. Sextus
The Gospel of Truth
Gos. Truth
Trimorphic Protennoia
Trim. Prot.
On the Origin of the World
Orig. World
The Gospel of Mary
Gos. Mary
The Apocryphon of John
Ap. John
The Sophia of Jesus Christ
Soph. Jes. Chr.
The Act of Peter
Act Pet.
References to the NagHammadi tractates, and to the texts in Berlin Gnostic Papyrus, are to page and line number, except for references to The Gospel of Thomas, which are to saying number.
     Small strokes above the line indicate line divisions. Every fifth line a small number is inserted in place of a stroke; the frequency of these numbers, however, may vary in tractates which are quite fragmentary. A new page is indicated with a number in bold type. When the beginning of a new line or page coincides with the opening of a paragraph, the line divider or number is placed at the end of the previous paragraph.
[ ]     Square brackets indicate a lacuna in the manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets, regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. An exception to this rule is the occasional use of a different number of dots to estimate the extent of the missing portion of a proper noun. In a few instances the dots are used without brackets to indicate a series of Coptic letters which do not constitute a translatable sense unit. A bracket is not allowed to divide a word, except for a hyphenated word or a proper noun. Other words are placed entirely inside or outside the brackets, depending on the certainty of the Coptic word and the number of Coptic letters visible.
< >     Pointed brackets indicate a correction of a scribal omission or error. The translator has either inserted letters unintentionally omitted by the scribe, or replaced letters erroneously inserted with what the scribe presumably intended to write.
{ }     Braces indicate superfluous letters or words added by the scribe.
( )     Parentheses indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information for the reader.
James M. Robinson
1. The Stance of the Texts
The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of religious texts that vary widely from each other as to when, where, and by whom they were written. Even the points of view diverge to such an extent that the texts are not to be thought of as coming from one group or movement. Yet these diversified materials must have had something in common that caused them to be chosen by those who collected them. The collectors no doubt contributed to this unity by finding in the texts hidden meanings not fully intended by the original authors. After all, one of them, The Gospel of Thomas, begins with a word to the wise: “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.” Thus the texts can be read at two levels: what the original author may have intended to communicate and what the texts may subsequently have been taken to communicate.
The focus that brought the collection together is an estrangement from the mass of humanity, an affinity to an ideal order that completely transcends life as we know it, and a life-style radically other than common practice. This life-style involved giving up all the goods that people usually desire and longing for an ultimate liberation. It is not an aggressive revolution that is intended, but rather a withdrawal from involvement in the contamination that destroys clarity of vision.
As such, the focus of this library has much in common with primitive Christianity, with eastern religion, and with “holy men” (and women) of all times, as well as with the more secular equivalents of today, such as the counter-culture movements coming from the 1960s. Disinterest in the goods of a consumer society, withdrawal into communes of the likeminded away from the bustle and clutter of big-city distraction, noninvolvement in the compromises of political process, sharing an ingroup’s knowledge both of the disaster-course of the culture and of an ideal, radical alternative not commonly known — all this in modern garb is the real challenge rooted in such materials as the Nag Hammadi library.
To be sure, these roots, fascinating and provocative as they are, can also be confusing and even frustrating, not only for the person scarcely open to what they have to say, but also to the more attentive who seek to follow the light glimmering through the flow of language. For the point of the Nag Hammadi library has been battered and fragmented by the historical process through which it has finally come to light. A salvage operation is needed at many levels if that point is to be grasped clearly today. The ancient world’s religious and philosophical traditions and mythology were all that was available to express what was in fact a quite untraditional stance. Indeed the stance was too radical to establish itself within the organized religions or philosophical schools of the day, and hence was hardly able to take advantage of the culture’s educational institutions to develop and clarify its implications. Gnostic schools began to emerge within Christianity and Neoplatonism, until both agreed in excluding them as the “heresy” of Gnosticism. Thus meaningful and eloquent myths and philosophic formulations of that radical stance became in their turn garbled traditions, re-used by later and lesser authors whose watered-down, not to say muddied, version may be most of what has survived … though there are several “classics” in the Nag Hammadi library.
The texts were translated one by one from Greek into Coptic, and not always by translators capable of grasping the profundity or sublimity of what they sought to translate. The translator of a brief section of Plato’s Republic clearly did not understand the text, though it obviously seemed edifying and worth translating. Fortunately, most texts are better translated, but when there are duplications one can sense what a difference the better translation makes in comparison to the poor translation — which leads one to wonder about the bulk of the texts that exist only in a single version.
There is the same kind of hazard in the transmission of the texts by a series of scribes who copied them, generation after generation, from increasingly corrupt copies, first in Greek and then in Coptic. The number of unintentional errors is hard to estimate, since such a thing as a clean control copy does not exist; nor does one have, as in the case of the Bible, a quantity of manuscripts of the same text that tend to correct each other when compared. Only when the error can be detected as such in the sole copy we have can it be corrected. In addition there is the physical deterioration of the books themselves, which began no doubt before they were buried around 400 C.E., advanced steadily while they remained buried, and unfortunately was not completely halted in the period between their discovery in 1945 and their final conservation some thirty years later, When only a few letters are missing, they can often be filled in adequately, but larger holes must simply remain a blank.
The reader should not be misled by such impediments to understanding into thinking that the stance inherent in these essays is unworthy of serious consideration. Rather, we have to do here with an understanding of existence, an answer to the human dilemma, an attitude toward society, that is worthy of being taken quite seriously by anyone able and willing to grapple with such ultimate issues. This basic stance has until now been known almost exclusively through the myopic view of heresy-hunters, who often quote only to refute or ridicule. Thus the coming to light of the Nag Hammadi library gives unexpected access to the gnostic stance as Gnostics themselves presented it. It may provide new roots for the uprooted.
Those who collected this library were Christians, and many of the essays were originally composed by Christian authors. In a sense this should not be surprising, since primitive Christianity was itself a radical movement. Jesus called for a full reversal of values, advocating the end of the world as we have known it and its replacement by a quite new, utopian kind of life in which the ideal would be real. He took a stand quite independent of the authorities of his day … and did not last very long before they eliminated him. Yet his followers reaffirmed his stand — for them he came to personify the ultimate goal. Yet some of his circle, being a bit more practical, followed a more conventional way of life. The circle gradually became an established organization with a quite natural concern to maintain order, continuity, lines of authority, and stability. But this concern could encourage a commitment to the status quo, rivaling, and at times outweighing, the commitment to the ultimate goal far beyond any and every achievement. Those who cherished the radical dream, the ultimate hope, would tend to throw it up as an invidious comparison to what was achieved, and thus seem to be disloyal, and to pose a serious threat to the organization.
As the cultural situation changed with the passage of time and the shift of environments, the language for expressing such radical transcendence itself underwent change. The world of thought from which Jesus and his first followers had come was the popular piety of the Jewish synagogue, focused in terms of John the Baptist’s rite of transition from the old regime to the new ideal world whose dramatic arrival was forthcoming. In this way of thinking, the evil system that prevails is not the way things inherently are. In principle, though not in practice, the world is good. The evil that pervades history is a blight, ultimately alien to the world as such. But for some, the outlook on life increasingly darkened; the very origin of the world was attributed to a terrible fault, and evil was given status as the ultimate ruler of the world, not just a usurpation of authority. Hence the only hope seemed to reside in escape. Because humans, or at least some humans, are at heart not the product of such an absurd system, but by their very nature belong to the ultimate. Their plight is that they have been duped and lured into the trap of trying to be content in the impossible world, alienated from their true home. And for some, concentrated inwardness undistracted by external factors came to be the only way to attain the repose, the overview, the merger into the All which is the destiny of one’s spark of the divine.
Christian Gnosticism thus emerged as a reaffirmation, though in somewhat different terms, of the original stance of transcendence central to the very beginnings of Christianity. Such Gnostic Christians surely considered themselves the faithful continuation, under changing circumstances, of that original stance which made Christians Christians. But the “somewhat different terms” “under changing circumstances” also involved real divergences, and other Christians clearly considered Gnosticism a betrayal of the original Christian position. This was the conviction of not just those who had accommodated themselves to the status quo, but no doubt also of some who retained the full force of the original protest and ultimate hope. The departure from the original language could be exploited to unite opposition across the breadth of the church. Thus Gnostics came to be excluded from the church as heretics.
In the New Testament two such Gnostic Christians are repudiated at the beginning of the second century (2 Timothy 2:16–18):
Avoid empty and worldly chatter; those who indulge in it will stray further and further into godless courses, and the infection of their teaching will spread like a gangrene. Such are Hymenaeus and Philetus; they have shot wide of the truth in saying that our resurrection has already taken place, and are upsetting people’s faith.
This view, that the Christian’s resurrection has already taken place as a spiritual reality, is advocated in The Treatise on the Resurrection, The Exegesis on the Soul, and The Gospel of Philip in the Nag Hammadi library!
But the Nag Hammadi library also documents the fact that the rejection was mutual, in that Christians described there as “heretical” seem to be more like what is usually thought of as “orthodox.” The Apocalypse of Peter has Jesus criticize mainstream Christianity as follows:
They will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. But they will become greatly defiled and they will fall into the name of error and into the hand of an evil, cunning man and a manifold dogma, and they will be ruled heretically. For some of them will blaspheme the truth and proclaim evil teaching. And they will say evil things against each other … But many others, who oppose the truth and are the messengers of error, will set up their error and their law against these pure thoughts of mine, as looking out from one (perspective), thinking that good and evil are from one (source). They do business in my word … And there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgement of the leaders. These people are dry canals.
With the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity of the more conventional kind, the survival chances of Gnostic Christianity, such as that reflected in the Nag Hammadi library, were sharply reduced. The Bishop of Cyprus, Epiphanius, whose main work was a “medicine chest” against all heresies, describes his encounter with Gnosticism in Egypt about the same time the Nag Hammadi library was being collected:
For I happened on this sect myself, beloved, and was actually taught these things in person, out of the mouths of practising Gnostics. Not only did women under this delusion offer me this line of talk, and divulge this sort of things to me. With impudent boldness moreover, they tried to seduce me themselves … But the merciful God rescued me from their wickedness, and thus — after reading them and their books, understanding their true intent and not being carried away with them, and after escaping without taking the bait — I lost no time reporting them to the bishops there, and finding out which ones were hidden in the church. Thus they were expelled from the city, about eighty persons, and the city was cleared of their tarelike, thorny growth.
Gnosticism was ultimately eradicated from Christendom, except for occasional underground movements, some affinities in medieval mysticism, and an occasional tamed echo that stays just within the limits of propriety, for example within English romanticism:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And Cometh from afar.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
Gnosticism of sorts was also able to continue beyond the frontiers of the Roman-Empire-become-Christendom. It is still extant in the war-torn area of Iraq and Iran in the form of a small sect called Mandeans, which is their word for “knowers,” that is to say, “Gnostics.”
This same withdrawal to inwardness or despair of the world from which the Gnostic stance emerged, swept not only through early Christianity to produce Christian Gnosticism, but also through late antiquity in general, thus producing forms of Gnosticism outside of Christianity. There is a long-standing debate among historians of religion as to whether Gnosticism is to be understood as only an inner-Christian development or as a movement broader than, and hence independent of, and perhaps even prior to Christianity. This debate seems to be resolving itself, on the basis of the Nag Hammadi library, in favor of understanding Gnosticism as a much broader phenomenon than the Christian Gnosticism documented by the heresiologists.
There is, to begin with, the question of Jewish Gnosticism. It would seem that there is considerable historical truth to the view of the heresiologists, to the effect that some Christian heresies go back to Jewish sects. After all, Christianity itself grew up within Judaism, and it would be surprising if it did not reflect various strands of the Judaism of the day. Primitive Christianity was itself not a unified movement. The Jewish Christianity of the first generation in Galilee that developed the collection of sayings imbedded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may well have been considered heretical even by Paul and the Hellenists, and the feeling may have been mutual. Paul clearly rejected as heretical the Christian “Judaizers.” Then later in the first century all the various strands of Jewish Christianity were excluded from Judaism, as “normative” Judaism emerged in response to the threat to Jewish identity posed by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Some of the gnostic essays in the Nag Hammadi library do not seem to reflect Christian tradition, but do build upon the Old Testament, which was of course also the Jewish Bible. But the very idea of Jewish Gnosticism is at times rejected as a contradiction in terms. How could Jews designate their God as the malevolent force whose misguided blunder produced the world, a God who was ignorant of the hidden good God beyond? Since Christians worship the same God as do Jews, this argument could also be made against the very idea of Christian Gnosticism. But since the early Christian heresy-hunters clearly identified Gnostics as Christians, though of course heretical Christians, the concept of Christian Gnosticism is firmly established. To use another analogy, Simon Magus, one of the earliest known Gnostics, was from Samaria, although the Samaritans worshipped in their own way the same God as did the Jews and Christians. Hence the concept of Jewish Gnostics is intelligible, even if, from a given normative point of view, the validity of using the word Jewish, Christian, or Samaritan for such a person or text may be contested. Of course we do not actually know the Gnostics who built upon Jewish or Old Testament traditions, other than through the texts containing such traditions, so that all one really has in view in speaking of Jewish Gnosticism is just Jewish cultural traditions lacking visible Christian overlay, without necessarily any further identification of the bearers of these traditions.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has already drawn attention to the fact that first-century Judaism was quite pluralistic in its theological positions, and contained a number of divergent groups or sects. The Essenes, prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, were in a situation much like the Gnostics prior to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library: they too were a movement about which too little was known to be treated with the seriousness it deserved. Now we know that the Essenes were a Jewish sect that had broken with the official Judaism of the Jerusalem temple and had withdrawn to the desert at the Wadi Qumran. They understood their situation in terms of the antithesis of light and darkness, truth and lie, a dualism that ultimately went back to Persian dualism — and then moved forward toward Gnosticism. The history of Gnosticism, as documented in the Nag Hammadi library, takes up about where the history of the Essenes, as documented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, breaks off. Later Jewish mystical traditions, traced especially by Gershom Scholem, have shown that, inconsistent though it seems, gnostic trends have continued to carry on a clandestine existence within the context of normative Judaism.
Some traits previously thought to be characteristic of Christian Gnosticism have been shown by the Nag Hammadi library to be originally non-Christian, though a Jewish ingredient is unmistakable. Irenaeus presents Barbelo as the leading mythological figure of a Christian Gnostic group designated “Barbelo-Gnostics.” But The Three Steles of Seth is a Gnostic text without Christian ingredients that nonetheless gives Barbelo a prominent position. Hippolytus cites a “Paraphrase of Seth” as a Christian Gnostic text. But a very similar Nag Hammadi text, The Paraphrase of Shem, lacks a Christian ingredient. It is understandable that Christian heresiologists were primarily concerned to refute the Christian form of gnostic texts and movements. But this should not be taken to indicate that the Christian form is the original form, especially when the Nag Hammadi discovery gives documentation of a non-Christian form.
Another instance, though in this case not necessarily gnostic, is the mythological birth narrative in Revelation 12, which commentators have had the greatest difficulty in deriving from any version of the birth stories about Jesus. But The Apocalypse of Adam has a series of non-Christian narrations of the coming of the savior that have much the same outline, and thus show a shared mythological background that is not Christian.
It is especially the Sethian texts in the Nag Hammadi library that as a group attest a non-Christian Gnosticism that had not been previously documented so clearly. The Sethian corpus spans the transition from non-Christian to Christianized Gnosticism, as has been summarized by the leading expert on Sethianism as follows: “Most writings of our text group contain no Christian elements at all (The Three Steles of Seth, Allogenes, Marsanes, The Thought of Norea); others contain barely Christian motifs (Zostrianus, The Apocalypse of Adam) or display only here and there a Christian veneer (Trimorphic Protennoia, The Gospel of the Egyptians); while only a few (The Hypostasis of the Archons, Melchizedek, The Apocryphon of John) come near to being what is called Christian Gnosis.”
In none of these Sethian instances can one derive the texts or their mythology primarily from Christian tradition. For the Christian ingredient seems so external to the main thrust of the text that one is inclined to think it was added by a Christian editor, translator, or scribe to what had been originally composed as a non-Christian text, even though the purely non-Christian form is no longer extant. For example, the Trimorphic Protennoia, where a secondary Christianizing has taken place, has nonetheless its roots in the same Jewish wisdom speculation as does the Prologue of the Gospel of John. It is also part of this Christianizing trend when “the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit” is given by some scribe the secondary title “The Gospel of the Egyptians.” Thus one concludes that though the Sethian corpus was obviously usable by Christians (as were other non-Christian texts such as the Old Testament), it derives from non-Christian “Jewish” Gnosticism.
The Nag Hammadi library even presents one instance of the Christianizing process taking place almost before one’s eyes. The non-Christian philosophic treatise Eugnostos the Blessed is cut up somewhat arbitrarily into separate speeches, which are then put on Jesus’ tongue, in answer to questions (which sometimes do not quite fit the answers) that the disciples address to him during a resurrection appearance. The result is a separate tractate entitled The Sophia of Jesus Christ. Both forms of the text occur side by side in Codex III.
Some of the Nag Hammadi texts, and again often the Sethian traditions, seem to have appropriated a philosophic and Neoplatonic orientation. Plotinus, the leading Neoplatonist of the third century C.E., does in fact refer to Gnostics within his school: “We feel a certain regard for some of our friends who happened upon this way of thinking before they became our friends, and, though I do not know how they manage it, continue in it.” But the school turned against Gnosticism, as Plotinus’ polemics indicate. His pupil Porphyry reports in his Life of Plotinus:
There were in his time many Christians and others, and sectarians who had abandoned the old philosophy, men … who … produced revelations by Zoroaster and Zostrianos and Nicotheus and Allogenes and Messos and other people of the kind, themselves deceived and deceiving many, alleging that Plato had not penetrated to the depths of intelligible reality. Plotinus hence often attacked their position in his lectures, and wrote the treatise to which we had given the title “Against the Gnostics”; he left it to us to assess what he passed over. Amelius went to forty volumes in writing against the book of Zostrianos.
The Nag Hammadi library contains treatises with two such titles, Zostrianos and Allogenes, which hence may well be those refuted by Amelius and other Neoplatonists. And such Nag Hammadi texts as the Trimorphic Protennoia and Marsanes are quite similar in philosophic orientation. Plotinus’ own attack on gnostic “magic chants” addressed to the “higher powers” may have in view hymnic texts like The Three Steles of Seth. Thus the Nag Hammadi library makes an important contribution not only to the history of religion, but also to the history of philosophy.
The Nag Hammadi library also includes material drawing upon other religious traditions than the Judeo-Christian heritage. There are, for example, Hermetic texts that build on Egyptian lore. Typically they present dialogues of initiation between the deities Hermes Trismegistus and his son Tat. The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth in the Nag Hammadi library is such a previously unknown Hermetic text. And, whereas one could debate whether a good number of texts in the library are actually gnostic or not, depending on how one defines Gnosticism and interprets texts, a few, such as The Sentences of Sextus, clearly are not gnostic. But, just as agnostic interpretation of the Bible became possible, one may assume that these moralistic maxims could also be fitted into a gnostic orientation.
Since the Nag Hammadi library seems to have been collected in terms of Christian Gnosticism, it is sometimes difficult to conceive of some of the texts, such as the Hermetic ones, being used by persons who thought of themselves as Christian. One text even claims a Zoroastrian heritage, in that it is ascribed to his grandfather (or, possibly, uncle) Zostrianos and in a cryptogram even mentions Zoroaster. Yet Gnostics were more ecumenical and syncretic with regard to religious traditions than were orthodox Christians, so long as they found in them a stance congenial to their own. If they could identify Seth with Jesus, they probably could produce Christianizing interpretations of Hermes and Zoroaster as well.
Thus Gnosticism seems not to have been in its essence just an alternate form of Christianity. Rather it was a radical trend of release from the dominion of evil or of inner transcendence that swept through late antiquity and emerged within Christianity, Judaism, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, and the like. As a new religion it was syncretistic, drawing upon various religious heritages. But it was held together by a very decided stance, which is where the unity amid the wide diversity is to be sought.
2. The Manuscripts
The NagHammadi library is important for the content of the many lost Greek works it has preserved in Coptic translation. It also sheds significant light upon the production of the Coptic books themselves, and hence upon those who copied, read, and buried them.
The NagHammadi library consists of twelve books, plus eight leaves removed from a thirteenth book in late antiquity and tucked inside the front cover of the sixth. These eight leaves comprise a complete text, an independent treatise taken out of a book of collected essays. In fact, each of the books, except the tenth, consists of a collection of relatively brief works. Thus there is a total of fifty-two tractates. Since a single book usually contains several tractates, one may suspect that, like the books of the Bible, the texts were composed with a small format in mind, but that a larger format had come into use by the time these extant copies were made. This can be explained in terms of the history of the manufacture of books.
The roll was the usual form of a book up until the first centuries C.E., when it began to be replaced by a more economical format that permitted writing on both sides, namely the modern book with individual leaves. Technically speaking, a book in the firm of a roll is a “scroll” or “volume” (from the Latin verb meaning “to roll”). But a book in the form of a modern book is a “codex” (plural: “codices”), the Latin word for a set of wooden waxed tablets tied together as a scratch pad, which was the ancestor of the book with papyrus, parchment, or paper leaves. Whereas literary works continued to be written in the more prestigious form of the scroll, Christians (but not Jews) soon came to prefer the more economical codex. The codex was also more practical than the scroll, as anyone who has worked with microfilm knows. The inconvenience and wear-and-tear of unrolling and then rerolling the scroll every time one wanted to resume reading or look up a reference led to the replacement of the scroll with the codex, just as today there is a trend away from rolls of microfilm and toward microfiche.
In Egypt the most common writing material was papyrus. The triangular stalk of the papyrus plant is filled with fibrous pith that can be cut or peeled off in long thin strips. These strips are laid side by side and then a second layer is placed at right angles on top. When this is pressed, dried, and polished it becomes a flexible, smooth, and durable writing surface. Whereas these papyrus sheets were usually only about twenty centimeters long, those used in the NagHammadi library were often over a meter in length. Since this was a technological feat for that time, it indicated the importance of the books for those who made them.
A series of such papyrus writing surfaces was placed side by side so as to overlap a couple of centimeters where they were pasted together. The result was a papyrus roll, often about three meters long. Sheets ranging in breadth from twenty to forty centimeters would be cut from such rolls, from the right end of the roll to the left. Enough rolls would be thus cut up to produce a stack of from twenty to forty sheets, which, when folded down the middle, formed the quire of a codex. The fact that from two to six rolls were used to manufacture a single codex helps to explain the fact that a codex could contain more than one text, if each text had originally been composed with the size of the roll in view.
Since each strip of papyrus has a fiber pattern as distinctive as a fingerprint, the more fragmentary books in the NagHammadi library were reassembled by locating the position of the fibers of a fragment or a leaf on the original papyrus sheet that had been made from the papyrus strips. Then its position within the roll and ultimately within the codex could be calculated.
The Coptic Museum in Cairo, where the NagHammadi library is kept, has assigned a number to each book. At the time this was done, the numeration was thought to be the order in which they would be published, which in turn reflected a value judgment in terms of their importance and state of preservation. Only the very fragmentary fourth book is an exception to this tendency — it was given its relatively high position because the two tractates it contains are duplicates of tractates in the third book. For convenience of reference the tractates are numbered consecutively in each book. Although the numeration systems used for the books, tractates, and even pages have varied widely over the past generation, the numeration used here is that of the Coptic Museum and of The Facsimile Edition of the NagHammadiCodices and hence should supersede older numerations.
Of the fifty-two tractates, six that are duplicates (III,1; IV,1 and 2; V,1; XII,2; and XIII,2) are not included in the present work since there is a better copy that is included. Six more were already extant when the NagHammadi library was discovered, either in the original Greek (VI,5 and 7, and XII,1), or in translation, in Latin (VI,8) or Coptic (II,1 and III,4). The two in Coptic are from a papyrus codex, now in Berlin, called BG 8502, which to this extent is a codex similar to the NagHammadi library. For this reason the other two tractates it contains are included at the end of the present work. To get an impression of the amount of literature that has survived only in the NagHammadi library, one may subtract the total of twelve duplications inside or outside the NagHammadi library and thus reach the figure of forty newly recovered texts. To be sure, a few fragments existed of three of these, one in Greek (II,2) and two in Coptic (II,5 and VII,4), but they had not been identified as such until the complete text became available in the NagHammadi library. Now that the whole library is accessible, fragments of still others may be identified. But such vestiges of a tractate are more tantalizing than useful. Hence a more serious limitation on the figure of forty new texts is the fact that some of these are themselves quite fragmentary (VIII,1; IX,1, 2, and 3; XI,1, 2, 3, and 4; and XII,3). It would be safe to think of the NagHammadi library as adding to the amount of literature that has survived from antiquity thirty fairly complete texts, and ten that are more fragmentary.
Although the NagHammadi library is in Coptic, the texts were originally composed in Greek. Hence the fact that they were discovered in Upper Egypt may be misleading. Some of course have been composed in Egypt, for several contain specific allusions to Egypt: Asclepius calls Egypt the “image of heaven”; On the Origin of the World appeals to “the water hydri in Egypt” and “the two bulls in Egypt” as witnesses; and The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth instructs the son to “write this book for the temple at Diospolis (Magna near Luxor or Parva near NagHammadi) in hieroglyphic characters.” Yet the Greek-writing authors may have been located anywhere in the ancient world where Greek was used, such as Greece itself (VI,5), or Syria (II,2), or Jordan (V,5). Much the same is the case with the Bible and other ancient texts written in various parts of the ancient world and preserved in the “dry sands of Egypt.” Thus the NagHammadi library involves the collecting of what was originally a Greek literary productivity by largely unrelated and anonymous authors spread through the eastern half of the ancient world and covering a period of almost half a millennium (or more, if one takes into consideration a brief section of Plato’s Republic, VI,5).
Almost nothing is known about the different persons who translated the tractates into Coptic, or those who copied, used, and buried them, other than what may be inferred from the books themselves. The Egyptian reading public in this period was largely familiar with Greek, and hence Greek literature was imported and copied extensively. A Roman garrison town, Diospolis Parva, with Greek-speaking Galatian troops from Asia Minor, was just across the Nile from the site where the NagHammadi library was buried. A Greek inscription reading “In behalf of the [good] fortune of Emperor [Caesar] Trajan Hadrian [Augustus]” has been found at Chenoboskia, on the right bank of the Nile in sight of the place of the burial. Greek prayers to Zeus Sarapis mentioning Antioch are found in two caves in the cliff near where the books were buried. But, more and more, Greek texts such as the Bible and the NagHammadi library were translated into the native Egyptian language. This can be illustrated for the region in which the library was produced, read, and buried, and for approximately the same period of time, from The Life of St. Pachomius. This text, which itself exists in both Greek and Coptic, tells that a Greek-speaking monk from Alexandria came to Pachomius, who “made him live in the same dwelling with an old brother who knew the Greek language,” while he learned the native tongue. Meanwhile Pachomius “made every effort to learn Greek by the grace of God in order to discover the way of offering him solace frequently. Then Pachomius appointed him house manager of the Alexandrian and other foreign brothers who came after him.”
When the Egyptian language is written with the Greek alphabet (plus a few letters for sounds Greeks did not make), it is called Coptic. The NagHammadi library is written in two Coptic dialects. Even among the texts translated into the same dialect, minor divergences point to a plurality of translators, who do not correspond to the plurality of scribes responsible for surviving copies. In the case of duplicates, different translators were involved, working from divergent Greek texts. The translation process may have been spread over a wide area of Egypt, and more than a single century.
Each codex was bound in leather. The outline of the desired book size was often scored onto the leather, whereupon the flesh side of the outlined area was lined with used papyrus pasted into thick cardboards called cartonnage, producing a hardback effect. This used papyrus consisted of Greek and Coptic letters and business documents, and has produced names of persons and places as well as dates that help to determine the time and place of the manufacture of the covers. After a cover was thus lined with cartonnage, a strip of the cover was turned in at the head and foot of the front and back cover and at the fore edge of the back cover. Since the line of the animal’s spine usually ran horizontally across the cover, the narrowing of the skin leading to the animal’s tail could be retained to form a flap extending from the fore edge of the front cover. To this was added a thong to encircle horizontally the closed book. This may have been a practice taken over from the manufacture of a papyrus scroll, where a parchment wrapper and thong were traditionally used to protect it and hold it closed. A thong was also needed to hold a codex closed. Each of the NagHammadi books has a single quire, that is to say, a single stack of sheets folded down the center to produce the writing surfaces (although in Codex I the main quire is supplemented with two smaller quires). Such large quires would tend to gape at the fore edge unless securely tied. Shorter thongs extending from the head and foot of the front and back covers were tied together to aid in holding the codex closed.
Two of the covers (IV and VIII) lack a flap on the fore edge of the front cover, though they do have the usual thong. A third cover of a similar construction (V) has such a flap added to the fore edge of the front cover. These three books thus seem to have been made from smaller skins, and the poor quality of the papyrus used for their quires confirms the impression of economy. Other covers include a leather reinforcement (called by bookbinders a “mull”) that lines the spine and protects the cover and the quire from the pressure of the binding thongs that run through the fold at the center of the quire, as well as two horizontal supportive thongs lying between the cover and the mull. Three covers have such a construction (VI, IX, and X). They form a second group among the covers, together with another similarly constructed cover (II), which however is now lacking whatever lining it may have had. This group is characterized both by such advances in technique as have just been mentioned and by a higher aesthetic quality. Indeed, the cover of Codex II has rather beautiful tinted tooling. The four other covers (I, III, VII, XI) do not share distinctive traits, except for a certain primitiveness, which would make it possible to assign them to a group.
The scribes involved in producing the thirteen codices can be distinguished by their handwriting. There seem to be few clear instances of a single scribe working on more than one codex: One scribe copied most of Codex I, but a second scribe copied tractate 4 of Codex I; this second scribe also copied tractates 1 and 2 of Codex XI. A third scribe copied in a different dialect tractates 3 and 4 of Codex XI and also Codex VII. Thus three of the four books that seem unrelated to each other in terms of the way the covers were made do seem interrelated in terms of the scribes who wrote them. Conversely it was earlier thought that one scribe copied CodicesIV, V, VI, VIII and IX, which would mean that the two groups distinguished in terms of leather covers must have been related by scribal hand. But more recent study of the hands has indicated that one has to do with different, even if similar, hands, that diverge most clearly just where the bookbinding divergences take place, thereby belatedly confirming, rather than relativizing, the distinction into groups based initially only on the leather covers.
The two groups of covers plus four miscellaneous covers, and the one group of scribal hands plus miscellaneous scribes, may indicate that the NagHammadi library is a secondary merging of what was originally a series of smaller libraries or isolated books. This would seem to be confirmed by the distribution of the duplicates. No one codex contains two copies of the same work, nor is there a duplicate tractate among the books of one group of covers. Nor did the same scribe, with but one exception, copy the same text twice. The one exception would seem to be II,4 and XIII,2, which are the same text in the same scribal hand and with almost identical wording. Yet the second copy was discarded, when Codex XIII was torn apart and only one tractate (XIII,1) preserved inside the front cover of Codex VI — together with a few opening lines of XIII,2 on the back of the last leaf, which could not be discarded without mutilating the text one was seeking to preserve (XIII,1). The fact that this scribal duplication was nullified by separating off XIII,2 (except for the unavoidable opening lines) may attest to what seems to have been an awareness of the unnecessariness of such duplication. A scribal note in Codex VI expresses concern not to displease whoever commissioned the work by duplicating something already owned. Hence when duplication does turn up in terms of the whole library, one is inclined to think the books with the duplication were not produced with the whole library of thirteen books in view. Both the tractates in Codex IV are also in Codex III, so that Codex IV is wholly superfluous in the present library. And there is a total of three copies of the Apocryphon of John (II,1; III,1; and IV,1), one from each of the three classifications of covers. Thus one may conjecture that the present library derives from at least three smaller collections.
The dating of Coptic literary hands, such as those attested in the texts before us, is much less certain than is the dating of Greek literary hands, or the dating of the cursive business hands of the day. A thorough study of the hands of the NagHammadi library has not yet been made, although dates ranging at least from early to late fourth century C.E. have been proposed. The texts themselves do not normally contain dates or datable historical references. But The Concept of Our Great Power may provide one reference that can serve as a point of departure for dating Codex VI: “Cease from the evil lusts and desires and (the teachings of) the Anomoeans, evil heresies that have no basis!” While the Archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, was in hiding in the Pachomian monasteries in the late 350s C.E., “Anomoean” heretics were flourishing for a brief period in Alexandria. Probably this text received its final form no earlier than at this time.
The papyrus used for letters and business documents and reused to thicken the leather covers may be located in time and space with more ease than can the leaves that comprise the quires bound with the help of these covers. Dates found in such “cartonnage” of Codex VII are 341, 346, and 348 C.E. This indicates that the cover of Codex VII was manufactured no earlier than the latest date, but perhaps as much as a generation after these dates. A document found in the cartonnage of Codex I mentions “Diospol[is] near Chenobos[kia].” Other locations in the same general region also occur in the cartonnage of the other covers. Some of the cartonnage in the cover of Codex VII seems to have belonged to a monk named Sansnos who was in charge of the cattle of a monastery, which would no doubt account for his close relationship to the manufacture of the leather covers. The headquarters of the monastery of the Pachomian order at Pabau, where the Basilica of Saint Pachomius was located, as well as the third Pachomian monastery at Chenoboskia, where Pachomius himself began his Christian life as a hermit, are only 8.7 and 5.3 kilometers (5.4 and 3.3 miles) respectively from the place where the library was buried. Thus the provenience of the NagHammadi codices has often been identified with the Pachomian Monastic Order, which among other things involved a large-scale literary program at the appropriate time and place of the production of the NagHammadi codices. But the publication of this cartonnage in 1981 involved a critical sifting of the evidence, which proved to be less conclusive than had been previously maintained. The relation of the NagHammadi codices to the Pachomian movement remains a tantalizing possibility, more concrete than any other that has been suggested, and yet far from assured.
In view of the orthodoxy of the Pachomian monasteries reflected in The Life of St. Pachomius and other monastic legends, some have hesitated to associate the NagHammadi library with these monasteries, unless it be that such texts were copied for ready reference in refuting heresy. But a defender of Christian orthodoxy would hardly bother to collect the non-Christian texts that are in the NagHammadi library. And some of the Christian texts are not explicitly “heretical” and hence would hardly have been included in such a backlist. The very fact that the library seems to have been made up by combining several smaller collections tends to point toward individual Christian Gnostics or monasteries producing individual books or small collections for their own spiritual enlightenment, rather than to a heresy-hunting scribal campaign. Since the familiar heresy-hunting literature is in Greek, one should hesitate to postulate such a widespread heresy-hunting activity in Coptic. And the Pachomian literature transmitted through monastic channels is much more pedestrian.
Of course it is conceivable that book manufacture could have been one of the handicrafts common in monasteries to produce commodities to trade or sell for the necessities of life. Hence one could conjecture that uninscribed books were produced in the monastery and sold to Gnostics (or anyone else) to inscribe as they saw fit. But there is some evidence from that period that books were first inscribed and then bound, as when a line of writing passes through the fold at the spine. And in the NagHammadi library blotting is usually present on the first and last pages but not elsewhere, which may perhaps be explained as due to the dampness of the paste in the cartonnage at the time of the binding, in which case the quire would have had to have been inscribed before being bound.
The care and religious devotion reflected in the manufacture of the NagHammadi library hardly suggest that the books were produced out of antagonism or even disinterest in their contents, but rather reflect the veneration accorded to holy texts. The leather covers are not very ornate, compared, for example, with reports that Manichaean books were studded with jewels (though the very plain extant wooden covers of the Manichaean codices of Medinet Madi are even simpler than the NagHammadi covers). Yet simplicity would be appropriate to the Pachomian monasteries. The Life of St. Pachomius reports: “He also taught the brothers to pay no attention to the loveliness and beauty of this world, whether it be beautiful food or clothing, or a cell, or an outwardly seductive book.” The simple tooling of some of the leather covers does include crosses (II, IV, VIII). The ankh hieroglyph of life that became the Christian cross ansata is on the beautifully tooled cover of Codex II and at the end of The Prayer of the Apostle Paul. The acrostic “fish” symbol standing for the creed “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” occurs in two scribal notes (in codices III and VII). In the first case the name of the scribe is preserved in the comment “in the flesh my name is Gongessos,” which is probably the Latin name Concessus. He also had a spiritual name or title of Eugnostos. Thus he had some spiritual status, and referred to his “fellow lights in incorruptibility.” Within this spiritual circle he described the text as “God-written.” Even if such a scribal note was not composed by the scribe who copied the codex that has survived, but rather came from an earlier scribe who wrote an ancestor of the copy that survived, nevertheless the scribe of Codex III did not feel called upon to eliminate it, much less to replace it with a warning against heresy in the text. Some scribal notes, however, since they were written at the end of an extant codex, may be assumed to have been composed by the scribe of that particular codex. They reflect the godliness the scribe found in what he or she was copying. Codex II concludes with this note: “Remember me also, my brethren, [in] your prayers: Peace to the saints and those who are spiritual.” Codex VII ends on a similar note: “The book belongs to the fatherhood. It is the son who wrote it. Bless me, O father. I bless you, O father, in peace. Amen.” These scribal notes, together with the scribe’s care to correct errors, tend to indicate that the scribes were of a religious persuasion congenial to the contents they were copying.
Perhaps the common presentation of the monastic movement of the fourth century C.E. as solidly orthodox is an anachronism, and more nearly reflects the situation of the later monasticism that recorded the legends about the earlier period. When a hermit withdrew from civilization into the desert, he also tended to be out of contact with the Church, for example with its fellowship, sacraments, and authority. Early in the fourth century there was a monk in the delta named Hierakas, a scribe by trade and a learned interpreter of the Bible, who was so ascetic in his views as to argue that marriage was limited to the old covenant, for no married person “can inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Although this led to him being classified as a heretic, it did not prevent him from having a following. The Testimony of Truth in the NagHammadi library represents a similar view:
For no one who is under the law will be able to look up to the truth, for they will not be able to serve two masters. For the defilement of the Law is manifest; but undefilement belongs to the light. The Law commands (one) to take a husband (or) to take a wife, and to beget, and to multiply like the sand of the sea. But passion which is a delight to them constrains the souls of those who are begotten in this place, those who defile and those who are defiled, in order that the Law might be fulfilled through them. And they show that they are assisting the world; and they [turn] away from the light, who are unable [to pass by] the archon of [darkness] until they pay the last [penny].
The Life of St. Pachomius narrates that a “philosopher” from Panopolis (Akhmim), where Pachomius built a monastery just 108 kilometers (67 miles) downstream from where the NagHammadi library was buried, came to test the monk’s “understanding of the scriptures.” Pachomius sent his assistant Theodore to meet him:
The philosopher queried him on something for which the answer was not difficult to find, “Who was not born but died? Who was born but did not die? And who died without giving off the stench of decomposition?” Theodore replied that Adam was not born but died, Enoch was born but did not die, and Lot’s wife died but, having become a pillar of salt, did not give off the stench of decomposition. The philosopher accepted these answers and departed.
This may well be a faint echo of Pachomian debates with Christian Gnostics before the middle of the fourth century C.E. Epiphanius’ efforts to run Christian Gnostics out of town took place in Egypt about the same time.
In 367 C.E. Archbishop Athanasius wrote an Easter letter that condemns heretics and their “apocryphal books to which they attribute antiquity and give the name of saints.” Theodore, by then head of the Pachomian monasteries, had the letter translated into Coptic, and “deposited it in the monastery to serve them as a rule.” There must still have been heretics or heretical books influencing the Pachomian monastic movement which made this act necessary. Of course many of the NagHammadi texts are indeed pseudonymous, that is to say, ascribed in their titles to some “saint” of the past. In another of the Pachomian legends one of “these books that the heretics write” but “give out under the name of saints” is quoted: “After Eve was deceived and had eaten the fruit of the tree, it is of the devil that she bore Cain.” The Hypostasis of the Archons in the NagHammadi library has a narrative that points in this direction:
Then the authorities came to their Adam. And when they saw his female counterpart speaking with him, they became agitated with great agitation; and they became enamored of her. They said to one another, “Come let us sow our seed in her,” and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness and their blindness; and in their clutches, she became a tree, and left them her shadowy reflection resembling herself; and they defiled [it] foully. — And they defiled the stamp of her voice, so that by the form they had modelled, together with [their](own) image, they made themselves liable to condemnation.
Early in the fifth century C.E. Shenoute, Abbot of the White Monastery at the same Panopolis where Pachomius had founded monasteries and from which the “philosopher” had come, attacked a group at the nearby temple of Pneueit that called itself “kingless,” worshipped the “demiurge,” and would not accept Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, as their “illuminator.” These terms, which Shenoute seems to borrow from the group, are so well-known in the NagHammadi library that it may have been a Christian Gnostic, perhaps a Sethian group, even though in his polemic Shenoute calls them pagan heretics. He seized their “books full of abomination” and “of every kind of magic.” Indeed, series of vowels and unintelligible magic words (Plotinus called it “hissing”) occur in the NagHammadi library itself. Actually Pachomius himself wrote to the heads of his monasteries using a code that even his successors could not decipher! Hence the NagHammadi library and Pachomius’ “books of spiritual letters” may not have been entirely different in appearance from what Shenoute would call a book of magic. Shenoute threatened the heretics: “I shall make you acknowledge … the Archbishop Cyril, or else the sword will wipe out most of you, and moreover those of you who are spared will go into exile.” Just as the Dead Sea Scrolls were put in jars for safekeeping and hidden at the time of the approach of the Roman Tenth Legion, the burial of the NagHammadi library in a jar may also have been precipitated by the approach of Roman authorities, who by then had become Christian.
The fact that the NagHammadi library was hidden in a jar suggests the intention not to eliminate but to preserve the books. For not only were the Dead Sea Scrolls put in such jars for safekeeping, but biblical manuscripts have been found similarly preserved up and down the Nile, in some cases dating from the same period and buried in the NagHammadi region.
In fact, a second discovery, made in 1952, of manuscripts buried in a jar a couple of centuries later than the NagHammadi codices, is much more certainly the remains of a library of the Pachomian monastic order than is the NagHammadi discovery. For this discovery included archival copies of formal letters of abbots of the Pachomian Order. And the rest of the holdings are also what one would expect of a Pachomian library: biblical, apocryphal, martyriological, and other edifying material. To be sure, there are also some Greek (and Latin) classical texts, whose presence may be explained by the assumption that persons who joined the Pachomian movement gave their worldly possessions to the Order, which would thus have acquired non-Christian texts. Later they would have been taken to be venerable texts like the others in the archives, fragile and fragmentary relics to be preserved and no longer texts to be read.
This second discovery is known locally as the Dishnā Papers, since Dishnā near the river and railroad is the large town through which the texts were marketed. But the site of the discovery was at the foot of the Jabal Abū Manā‛, 5.5 km (3.4 miles) northwest of Dishna, and, more significant, 5 km (3.1 miles) northeast of the headquarters of the Pachomian Order and 12 km (7.5 miles) east of the site of the discovery of the NagHammadi codices. This manuscript discovery has been known for the past generation in scholarly circles as the Bodmer Papyri, since the largest part of it was acquired by the Bibliothèque Bodmer near Geneva. But it is only recently, in the process of tracking down the provenience of the NagHammadi codices, that the provenience of the Bodmer Papyri has been identified beyond the reports of the antiquities dealers and made public to the scholarly world.
The Bible refers to burial in a jar as a way to preserve a book and to burning as the way to eliminate one (Jer 32:14–15; 36:23). The Life of St. Pachomius reports that he got rid of a book by Origen, whom he considered a heretic, by throwing it in the water, with the comment that if the Lord’s name had not been in it he would have burned it. The burning of the greatest library in antiquity at Alexandria by Christians late in the fourth century C.E. suggests that such a ready solution would hardly have been overlooked if the intent had been to get rid of the NagHammadi library. If the codices had been part of a Pachomian library, they must have been removed not by heresy-hunters, but by devotees who cherished them enough to bury them in a jar for safekeeping, perhaps for posterity.
Two of the texts in the NagHammadi library refer to their being stored for safekeeping in a mountain until the end of time. The Gospel of the Egyptians concludes:
The Great Seth wrote this book with letters in one hundred and thirty years. He placed it in the mountain that is called Charaxio, in order that, at the end of the times and the eras, … it may come forth and reveal this incorruptible, holy race of the great savior, and those who dwell with them in love, and the great, invisible, eternal Spirit, and his only begotten Son …
Near the end of Allogenes a similar idea occurs:
Write down [the things that I] shall [tell] you and of which I shall remind you for the sake of those who will be worthy after you. And you will leave this book upon a mountain and you will adjure the guardian, “Come Dreadful One.”
On each side of the Nile Valley cliffs rise abruptly to the desert above. The section of the cliff on the right bank marking the limit of the Nile Valley and the arable land between Chenoboskia and Pabau is called the Jabal al-Ṭārif. A protruding boulder shaped somewhat like a stalagmite had broken off in prehistoric times from the face of the cliff and fallen down onto the talus (the inclined plane of fallen rock that over the ages naturally collects like a buttress at the foot of a cliff). Under the northern flank of one of the huge barrel-shaped pieces of this shattered boulder the jar containing the NagHammadi library was secreted.
In the face of the cliff, just at the top of the talus, which can be climbed without difficulty, sixth-dynasty tombs from the reigns of Pepi I and II (2350–2200 B.C.E.) had in antiquity long since been robbed. Thus they had become cool solitary caves where a monk might well hold his spiritual retreats, as is reported of Pachomius himself, or where a hermit might have his cell. Greek prayers to Zeus Sarapis, opening lines of biblical Psalms in Coptic, and Christian crosses, all painted in red onto the walls of the caves, show that they were indeed so used. Perhaps those who cherished the NagHammadi library made such use of the caves, which would account for the choice of this site to bury them. The jar rested there a millennium and a half …
3. The Discovery
In the month of December peasants of the Naj‛ Hammdādī region of Upper Egypt fertilize their crops by carrying nitrates from the talus of the Jabal al-Tārif to their fields, using the saddlebags of their camels. Two brothers, Muhammad and Khalīfah ‛Alī of the al-Sammān clan, hobbled their camels on the south side of the fallen boulder and came upon the jar as they were digging around its base. Muḥammad ‛Alīreports that at first he was afraid to break the jar, whose lid may have been sealed on with bitumen, for fear that a jinn might be closed up inside it; but, on reflecting that the jar might contain gold, he recovered his courage and smashed it with his mattock. Out swirled golden-like particles that disappeared into the sky — neither jinns nor gold but perhaps papyrus fragments! He wrapped the books in his tunic, slung it over his shoulder, unhobbled his camel, and carried the books home, a hovel in the hamlet of al-Qaṣr, which was the ancient site of Chenoboskia where Pachomius had begun his life as a Christian.
Half a year earlier, during the night of 7 May 1945, the father of the two brothers, whose name was ‛Alī, while on his job as night watchman guarding irrigation equipment in the fields, had killed a marauder. By mid-morning he had in turn been murdered in blood vengeance. About a month after the discovery of the books, a peasant named Aḥmad fell asleep sitting in the heat of the day on the side of the dirt road near Muḥammad ‛Alī’s house, a jar of sugar-cane molasses for sale beside him. A neighbor pointed him out to Muḥammad ‛Alī as the murderer of his father. He ran home and alerted his brothers and widowed mother, who had told her seven sons to keep their mattocks sharp. The family fell upon their victim, hacked off his limbs bit by bit, ripped out his heart, and devoured it among them, as the ultimate act of blood revenge.
Aḥmad was the son of the sheriff, Īsmā‛īl Husayn, a strong man imposed on al-Qaṣr from outside, indeed, a member of the Hawāra tribe, who is so alienated from society that it considers itself non-Arabic though directly descended from the Prophet. The village of the Hawāra, Ḥamrah Dūm, is just at the foot of the Jabal al-Tārif, for which reason Muḥammad ‛Alī has been afraid to return to the site of the discovery lest his vengeance be in turn avenged. In fact Aḥmad’s brother did avenge the death at the time by killing two members of the al-Sammān clan. Even a decade later, Aḥmad’s young son, who by then was a teenager, heard that at dusk there was to be in al-Qaṣr a funeral procession of the family of Muḥammad ‛Alī. He proved his manhood by sneaking into town and shooting up the procession, with a score killed and wounded. Muhḥammad ‛Alī proudly shows a wound just above his heart, to prove that they tried but failed in vengeance. But he stoutly refused to return to the cliff to identify the site of the discovery until a camouflage costume, a governmental escort, and of course a financial consideration combined to persuade him to change his mind.
The village of al-Qaṣr was so glad to be rid of the sheriff’s son that no eye witnesses could be found to testify at the hearing. But during this period the police tended to search Muḥammad ‛Alī’s home every evening for weapons. Having been told that the books were Christian, no doubt simply on the basis of the Coptic script, Muḥammad ‛Alī asked the Coptic priest of Al-Qaṣr, Bāsīlīyūs ‛Abd al-Masīh, if he could deposit the books in his house. A priest’s home would hardly be searched. Coptic priests marry, and this priest’s wife had a brother, Rāghib Andrawus, who went from village to village in a circuit teaching English and history in the parochial schools of the Coptic Church. Once a week when he taught in al-Qaṣr he stayed in his sister’s home. On seeing one of the books (Codex III), he recognized its potential value and persuaded the priest to give it to him. He took it to Cairo and showed it to a Coptic physician interested in the Coptic language, George Sobhi, who called in the authorities from the Department of Antiquities. They took control of the book, agreeing to pay Rāghib £300. After what seemed endless delays, Rāghib finally received £250 upon agreeing to make a gift of the balance of £50 to the Coptic Museum, where the book was deposited. The Register of the Museum records the date as 4 October 1946.
Thinking the books were worthless, perhaps even a source of bad luck, the widow of ‛Alī had burned part of them in the oven (probably Codex XII, of which only a few fragmentary leaves remain). Illiterate Muslim neighbors bartered or purchased the remainder for next to nothing. Nāshid Bisādah had one, and entrusted it to a gold merchant of NagHammadi to sell in Cairo, whereupon they divided the profit. A grain merchant is reported to have acquired another and sold it in Cairo at such a high price that he was able to set up his shop there. The villagers of al-Qaṣr identify him as Fikrī Jabrā’īl, today the proprietor of the “NagHammadi Store” in Cairo; however, he stoutly denies any involvement, though familiar with this story. Bahīj ‛Alī, a one-eyed outlaw of al-Qaṣr, got most of the books. Escorted by a well-known antiquities dealer of the region, Dhakī Basṭa, he went to Cairo. They first offered the books to Mansoor’s shop at Shepherds Hotel, and then to the shop of Phokion J. Tano, who bought their whole stock and then went to NagHammadi to get whatever was left.
Most of Codex I was exported from Egypt by a Belgian antiquities dealer in Cairo, Albert Eid. It was offered for sale unsuccessfully in New York and Ann Arbor in 1949, and then on 10 May 1952 was acquired in Belgium from Eid’s widow Simone by the Jung Institute of Zürich and named the “Jung Codex.” It was returned to Cairo bit by bit after publication, where it is conserved in the Coptic Museum. Meanwhile Tano’s collection was taken into custody by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities to prevent it from leaving the country. After Nasser came to power it was nationalized, with a token compensation of £4,000. Today the NagHammadi library is back together again, conserved in the Coptic Museum.
The Director of the Coptic Museum at the time of the discovery, Togo Mina, had studied in Paris under the Abbot Étienne Drioton, who had subsequently become Director of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt. Togo Mina had been a classmate of the wife of Jean Doresse, a young French scholar who came to Egypt to study Coptic monasteries. Togo Mina was glad to give him access to Codex III and to make plans with him for a predominantly French edition of the library, plans cut short by Mina’s death in 1949. In 1956 a meeting of some members of an international committee in Cairo led to the publication of The Gospel of Thomas in 1959. And the Jung Codex was gradually published in six volumes from 1956 through 1975. Meanwhile the new Director of the Coptic Museum, Pahor Labib, made plans to publish the better part of the library with the German scholars Alexander Böhlig and Martin Krause.
The General Director of UNESCO, René Maheu of France, worked out an agreement in the early 1960s with the Minister of Culture and National Guidance of the United Arab Republic, Saroite Okacha, to publish a complete edition through an international committee jointly chosen by Egypt and UNESCO. But when it was discovered that many of the choicest texts had already been assigned for publication, the UNESCO plan was limited to a facsimile edition. The project was rather dormant until the International Committee for the NagHammadiCodices was appointed at the end of 1970. The Facsimile Edition of the NagHammadiCodices was published by E.J. Brill in twelve volumes from 1972 through 1984. A number of the earlier assignments have by now been published, and complete editions in English, German and French are currently being prepared. The present volume makes use of the translations from the seventeen-volume English edition, entitled The Coptic Gnostic Library (see p. x).
With the publication of The NagHammadi Library in English the work has only just begun, for it marks a new beginning in the study of Gnosticism. Over a century ago students began to study Gnosticism in order to know what the heresy-hunting Church fathers were talking about. Around the turn of this century the History of Religions School broadened this issue by seeking the origins of Gnosticism throughout the ancient Near East. Between the two world wars, Hans Jonas produced a philosophical interpretation of Gnosticism that for the first time made sense of it as a possible way to understand existence. Rudolf Bultmann then reinterpreted the New Testament in terms of an interaction with Gnosticism involving appropriation as well as confrontation. Yet the results of this century of research into the origin, nature, and influence of Gnosticism stand in a certain ambivalence, as if hanging in suspense. One cannot fail to be impressed by the clairvoyance, the constructive power, the learned intuitions of scholars who, from limited and secondary sources, were able to produce working hypotheses that in fact worked so well. Yet the discovery of the NagHammadi library has drawn attention to how meager those sources were. For even though the discovery of the NagHammadi library was quite accidental and its contents somewhat arbitrary, the flood of new source material it contains cannot fail to outweigh the constructions and conjectures of previous scholarship. But, for the first generation after the discovery, the new source material was at best a trickle, and the suspense produced stagnation, as the scholarly community waited and waited. Now the time has come for a concentrated effort, with the whole NagHammadi library accessible, to rewrite the history of Gnosticism, to understand what it was really all about, and of course to pose new questions. Rarely has a generation of students had such an opportunity! May the readers of The NagHammadi Library in English share this exhilaration, and this responsibility, with those who produced it.
Introduced and translated by
Dieter Mueller
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul occupies the front flyleaf of Codex I, also known as the Jung Codex. The scribe apparently added this prayer to the collection of tractates in the codex after he had finished copying The Tripartite Tractate (I,5). The title, followed by a brief colophon, is placed at the end of the prayer. The Greek language retained in that title was no doubt the original language of the prayer as a whole. The short text is of unknown provenance. Its general gnostic affinities are clear. Details such as the reference to the “psychic God” (A,31) may indicate Valentinian connections. That association in turn suggests a date of origin between the second half of the second century and the end of the third century.
In form and content The Prayer of the Apostle Paul echoes various other compositions. It displays a striking resemblance not only to prayers in the Corpus Hermeticum (1:31–32; 5:10–11; 13:16–20) but also to invocations found in magical texts. Furthermore, its beginning is rather similar to that of the hymn of the First Stele of The Three Steles of Seth (VII,5). Both documents may use a common tradition. There are also similarities within The Gospel of Philip (II,3). In general, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul is heavily indebted to the Psalms and the Pauline letters. The most striking echo of the apostle, and at the same time a clear index of gnostic orientation, is the request to be granted “what no angel-eye has seen and no archon-ear has heard and what has not entered into the human heart” (cf. 1 Co 2:9).
I A, 1–B, 10
A.I(Approximately two lines are missing.)|[your] light, give me your [mercy! My]| Redeemer, redeem me, for5[I am] yours; the one who has come| forth from you. You are [my] mind; bring me forth!| You are my treasure house; open for me! You|[are] my fullness; take me to you!| You are (my) repose; give me10[the] perfect thing that cannot be grasped!|
I invoke you, the one who is| and who pre-existed in the name|[which is] exalted above every name, through Jesus Christ,|[the Lord] of Lords, the King of the ages;15 give me your gifts, of which you do not repent,| through the Son of Man,| the Spirit, the Paraclete of|[truth]. Give me authority|[when I] ask you; give20 healing for my bodv when I ask| you through the Evangelist,|[and] redeem my eternal light soul| and my spirit. And the First-born of the Pleroma of grace —25 reveal him to my mind!
Grant| what no angel eye has|[seen] and no archon ear|(has) heard and what| has not entered into the human heart30 which came to be angelic and (modelled)| after the image of the psychic God| when it was formed| in the beginning, since I have| faith and hope.35 And place upon me your| beloved, elect,| and blessed greatness, the| Firstborn, the First-begotten,B.I and the [wonderful] mystery| of your house; [for]| yours is the power [and]| the glory and the praise| and the greatness| for ever and ever. [Amen.]|
Prayer of Paul|(the) Apostle.|
In Peace.
10 Christ is holy.
Introduced and translated by
Francis E. Williams
The Apocryphon of James is a pseudonymous work translated from Greek to Coptic, which professes to be a letter written by James, the Lord’s brother; the alleged recipient’s name is illegible but might have been that of the early Christian heterodox teacher, Cerinthus. The letter in turn introduces a secret writing, or “apocryphon”—hence our title for the entire tractate. This apocryphon is meant for an elect few—even among the disciples, for James and Peter only—but salvation is promised to those who receive its message.
“James’” letter states that the apocryphon is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and mentions another even more secret apocryphon, which James has already sent. These details are presumably inserted for the sake of atmosphere.
The apocryphon, which comprises the bulk of our tractate, makes Jesus appear to the disciples 550 days after the resurrection, take Peter and James aside to “fill” them, and give them, in a series of speeches, his final and definitive teaching, heretofore delivered only “in parables.” He then ascends to the Father’s right hand, with James and Peter unsuccessfully attempting to follow. This closes the apocryphon; the letter now resumes, and states that the revelation just given was meant, not for the disciples of Jesus, but for the “children” who would be “born” later. While the disciples believed the revelation, they were angry over these later children, and James therefore dispatched them to other places. This, presumably, is meant to explain why our tractate formed no part of the apostolic preaching (or the canonical scripture?).
Jesus’ speeches in the apocryphon are partly the author’s composition, but incorporate older material, which seems to be the product of complex oral and perhaps written transmission; some of it can be compared with the material underlying the canonical gospels. The speeches show Jesus announcing that he has descended to save God’s “beloved” sons, and inviting them to follow him back to the place from which he (and they?) came. He assures them of salvation in the strongest terms, while at the same time urging them to earnestness and zeal, and warning them that they can be lost. The first and longest of the speeches, however, is a two-page exhortation to martyrdom. Its distinctive style, manner, and subject matter suggest that it may be a later interpolation.
It is clear that the persons for whom this tractate was written made a distinction between themselves and the larger Christian church. Probably they rejected the doctrine of the atonement; they certainly ignored the second coming of Christ and the general resurrection, and hoped to ascend, in soul or spirit, to the kingdom of heaven, which they meanwhile felt to be within themselves. This outlook, together with the large amount of typically gnostic terminology in the tractate, has led most investigators to conclude that the work is Christian Gnostic, even though it lacks the Valentinian, and other well-known gnostic theologies. The reporting of a special postresurrection appearance of Jesus, and the appeal to James as a source of secret and superior tradition, are means Gnostics often used to legitimate their message.
The exhortation to martyrdom, James’ letter, and the description of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples, may be secondary; these and other questions relating to the document’s literary history have been investigated and deserve further investigation. It has been urged that the tractate must have been written before 150 C.E., while it was still possible to speak of “remembering” orally delivered sayings of Jesus and writing them down; this language, it is argued, would not have been used after the fixing of the Gospel canon. The apocryphon’s many resemblances to the Fourth Gospel’s “farewell discourses” might also help to establish its date. To use these as a criterion, however, one must decide whether they are allusions to the actual text of the Fourth Gospel, or independent discussions of the same questions. In any case the tractate cannot be later than 314 C.E., when the persecution of the church, and with it the risk of martyrdom, came to an end.
I 1, 1–16, 30
[James] writes to|[]thos: Peace|[be with you from] Peace,|[love from] Love,5[grace from] Grace,|[faith] from Faith,| life from Holy Life!|
Since you asked| that I send10 you a secret book| which was revealed to me| and Peter by the Lord,| I could not turn you away| or gainsay (?) you;15 but [I have written] it in| the Hebrew alphabet and| sent it to you, and you| alone. But since you are| a minister of the salvation20 of the saints, endeavor earnestly| and take care not to rehearse| this text to many—this| that the Savior did not wish| to tell to all of us, his25 twelve disciples.| But blessed will they be| who will be saved through| the faith of this discourse.
I| also sent you,30 ten months ago, another secret| book which the Savior| had revealed to me. Under the circumstances, however,| regard that one| as revealed35 to me, James; but this one2[untranslatable fragments]| the twelve disciples|[were] all sitting together10 and recalling| what the Savior had said| to each one of them, whether| in secret or openly,| and [putting it]15 in books—[But I]| was writing that which was in [my book]| lo, the Savior appeared, [after]| departing from [us while we] gazed| after him. And five hundred20 and fifty days since he had risen| from the dead, we said| to him, “Have you departed and removed yourself from us?”|
But Jesus said, “No, but| I shall go to the place from whence I came.25 If you wish to come| with me, come!”
They all answered| and said, “If you bid| us, we come.”
He said,| “Verily I say unto you,30 no one will ever enter| the kingdom of heaven at my| bidding, but (only) because| you yourselves are full. Leave| James and Peter to me35 that I may fill them.” And| having called these two,| he drew them aside and bade| the rest occupy themselves| with that which they were about.40
The Savior said, “You have received mercy37[untranslatable fragments]| Do you not, then, desire to be filled?| And your heart is drunken;10 do you not, then, desire to be sober?| Therefore, be ashamed! Henceforth, waking| or sleeping, remember| that you have seen| the Son of Man, and15 spoken with him in person,| and listened to him in person.| Woe to those who have seen the| Son [of] Man;| blessed will they be who20 have not seen the man, and they| who have not consorted with him, and| they who have not spoken with him,| and they who have not listened to| anything from him; yours is25 life! Know, then, that he healed| you when you were ill| that you might reign. Woe| to those who have found relief from| their illness, for they will30 relapse into illness. Blessed are| they who have not been ill, and| have known relief before| falling ill; yours is the| kingdom of God. Therefore, I35 say to you, ‘Become| full and leave no space within| you empty, for he who is coming| can mock you.’”
Then| Peter replied, “Lo,40 three times you have told us,4 ‘Become [full’; but]| we are full.”
The [Savior answered]| and said, [“For this cause I have said]| to you, [‘Become full,’] that5[you] may not [be in want. They who are in want],| however, will not [be saved]. For it is good to be full,| and bad to be in want. Hence, just as| it is good that you (sg.) be in want and,| conversely, bad that you be full, so10 he who is full is in want,| and he who is in want does not become full as| he who is in want becomes full, and| he who has been filled, in turn, attains| due perfection. Therefore, you must be in want15 while it is possible to fill you (pl.), and| be full while it is possible for you to be in want,| so that you may be able [to fill]| yourselves the more. Hence become| full of the Spirit,20 but be in want of| reason, for reason (belongs to) the soul;| in turn it is (of the nature of) soul.”|
But I answered and said to him, “Lord,| we can obey you25 if you wish, for we have forsaken| our fathers| and our mothers and our villages| and followed you. Grant us, therefore,| not to be tempted30 by the devil, the evil one.”|
The Lord answered| and said, “What is your (pl.) merit| if you do the will of the Father| and it is not given to you from him35 as a gift while| you are tempted by| Satan? But if| you (pl.) are oppressed by| Satan and40 persecuted and you do his (i.e. the Father’s)5 will, I [say] that he will| love you, and make you equal| with me, and reckon|[you] to have become5 beloved through his providence| by your own choice. So| will you not cease| loving the flesh and being| afraid of sufferings? Or do10 you not know that you have yet| to be abused and to be| accused unjustly;| and have yet to be shut| up in prison, and15 condemned| unlawfully, and| crucified <without>| reason, and buried|<shamefully>, as (was) I myself,20 by the evil one?| Do you dare to spare the flesh,| you for whom the Spirit is an| encircling wall? If you consider| how long the world existed25<before> you, and how long| it will exist after you, you will find| that your life is one single day| and your sufferings one| single hour. For the good30 will not enter into the world.| Scorn death, therefore,| and take thought for life!| Remember my cross| and my death, and you will35 live!”
But I answered and| said to him, “Lord,| do not mention to us the cross| and death, for they are far6 from you.”
The Lord answered| and said, “Verily I say| unto you, none will be saved| unless they believe in my cross.5 But those who have believed in my| cross, theirs is the kingdom of| God. Therefore, become seekers| for death, like the dead| who seek for life;10 for that which they seek is revealed to them.| And what is there| to trouble them? As for you, when you examine| death, it will| teach you election. Verily15 I say unto you, none| of those who fear death will be saved;| for the kingdom <of God>| belongs to those who put themselves to death.| Become better than I; make20 yourselves like the son of the Holy Spirit!”|
Then I asked him,| “Lord, how shall we be able| to prophesy to those who request| us to prophesy25 to them? For there are many who| ask us, and look| to us to hear an oracle| from us.”
The Lord| answered and said, “Do you not30 know that the head of| prophecy was cut off with John?”|
But I said, “Lord,| can it be possible to remove| the head of prophecy?”
The Lord35 said to me, “When you (pl.)| come to know what ‘head’ means, and| that prophecy issues from the| head, (then) understand the meaning of ‘Its head was7 removed.’ At first I spoke| to you (pl.) in parables| and you did not understand;| now I speak to5 you openly, and| you (still) do not perceive. Yet| it was you who served me| as a parable in| parables, and as that which is open10 in the (words) that are open.
“Hasten| to be saved without being urged!| Instead, be| eager of your own accord and,| if possible, arrive even before me;15 for thus| the Father will love you.|
“Come to hate| hypocrisy and the evil| thought; for it is the thought20 that gives birth to hypocrisy;| but hypocrisy is far from| truth.
“Do not allow| the kingdom of heaven to wither;| for it is like a palm shoot25 whose fruit has dropped down| around it. They (i.e., the fallen fruit) put forth| leaves, and after they had sprouted,| they caused their womb to dry up.| So it is also with the fruit which30 had grown from this single root;| when it had been picked (?),| fruit was borne by many (?).| It (the root) was certainly good, (and) if| it were possible for you to produce the35 new plants now, <you>(sg.) would find it.
“Since| I have already been glorified in this fashion,| why do you (pl.) hold me back| in my eagerness to go?8 For after the [labor], you have| compelled me to stay with| you another eighteen days for| the sake of the parables. It was enough5 for some <to listen> to the| teaching and understand ‘The Shepherds’ and| ‘The Seed’ and ‘The Building’ and ‘The Lamps of| the Virgins’ and ‘The Wage of the| Workmen’ and ‘The Didrachmae’ and ‘The10 Woman.’
“Become earnest about| the word! For as to the word,| its first part is faith;| the second, love; the| third, works;15 for from these comes life.| For the word is like a| grain of wheat; when someone| had sown it, he had faith in it; and| when it had sprouted, he loved it because he had seen20 many grains in place of one. And| when he had worked, he was saved because he had| prepared it for food, (and) again he| left (some) to sow. So also| can you yourselves receive25 the kingdom of heaven;| unless you receive this through knowledge,| you will not be able to find it.
“Therefore,| I say to you,| be sober; do not be deceived!30 And many times have I said to you all together,| and also to you alone,| James, have I said,| ‘Be saved!’ And I have commanded| you (sg.) to follow me,35 and I have taught you| what to say before the archons.| Observe that I have descended| and have spoken and undergone tribulation| and carried off my crown9 after saving you (pl.). For| I came down to dwell with| you (pl.) so that you (pl.) in turn| might dwell with me. And,5 finding your houses| unceiled, I have made my abode| in the houses that could receive me| at the time of my descent.|
“Therefore, trust10 in me, my brethren; understand| what the great light is. The Father| has no need of me,| —for a father does not need a son,| but it is the son who needs15 the father—though I go to him.| For the Father| of the Son has no need of you.|
“Hearken to the word;| understand knowledge; love20 life, and no one will persecute| you, nor will anyone| oppress you, other| than you yourselves.|
“O you wretches; O25 you unfortunates; O| you pretenders to the truth;| O you falsifiers of knowledge;| O you sinners against the Spirit:| can you still bear to30 listen, when it behooved you| to speak from the first?| Can you still bear to| sleep, when it behooved you to be awake| from the first, so that35 the kingdom of heaven might receive you?10 Verily I say unto you,| it is easier for a pure one| to fall into defilement, and for| a man of light to fall5 into darkness, than for you to reign| or not reign.
“I have remembered| your tears and your mourning| and your anguish, (while you say) ‘They are far| behind us.’ But now, you who are10 outside of the Father’s inheritance,| weep where it is necessary| and mourn and| preach what is good,| as the Son is ascending as he should.15 Verily I say| unto you, had I been sent| to those who listen to me, and| had I spoken with them,| I would never have come20 down to earth. So,| then, be ashamed for these things.|
“Behold, I shall depart from you| and go away, and do not wish| to remain with you any longer, just as25 you yourselves have not wished it.| Now, therefore, follow| me quickly. This is why| I say unto you, ‘for your sakes| I came down.’ You are30 the beloved; you are they| who will be the cause of life| in many. Invoke the Father,| implore God often,| and he will give to you. Blessed35 is he who has seen you with Him| when He was proclaimed among the| angels, and glorified among| the saints; yours (pl.) is life.| Rejoice and be glad as11 sons of God. Keep his will| that you may be saved;| accept reproof from me and| save yourselves. I intercede5 on your behalf with the Father, and he will| forgive you much.”
And when we| had heard these words, we became glad,| for we had been grieved| at the words we have mentioned10 before. But when he saw us| rejoicing, he said, “Woe to you (pl.)| who lack an advocate!| Woe to you, who stand in need| of grace! Blessed will they be15 who have| spoken out and obtained| grace for themselves. Liken| yourselves to foreigners;| of what sort are they in the eyes of your20 city? Why are you disturbed| when you cast yourselves away| of your own accord and| separate yourselves from your city? Why| do you abandon your dwelling place25 of your own accord,| making it ready for those who want| to dwell in it? O you| outcasts and fugitives, woe| to you, for you will be caught! Or30 do you perhaps think that the Father| is a lover of mankind, or that he is| won over without prayers, or that he| grants remission to one on another’s behalf, or| that he bears with one who asks? —35 For he knows the desire and| also what it is that the flesh needs! —|(Or do you think) that it is not this (flesh) that desires| the soul? For without the soul| the body does not sin, just as12 the soul is not saved without|[the] spirit. But if the soul| is saved (when it is) without evil, and| the spirit is also saved, then the body5 becomes free from sin. For it is the spirit| that raises the soul, but the body that| kills it;| that is, it is it (the soul) which kills| itself. Verily I say unto you,10 he will not forgive the soul the sin| by any means, nor the flesh| the guilt; for none of those who have| worn the flesh will be saved.| For do you think that many have15 found the kingdom of heaven?| Blessed is he who has seen himself as| a fourth one in heaven!”|
When we heard these words, we were distressed.| But when he saw that we were distressed,20 he said, “For this cause I tell| you this, that you may| know yourselves. For the kingdom| of heaven is like an ear of grain after it| had sprouted in a field. And25 when it had ripened, it scattered its| fruit and again filled the field| with ears for another year. You| also, hasten to reap| an ear of life for yourselves that30 you may be filled with the kingdom!|
“And as long as I am| with you, give heed to me| and obey me; but| when I depart from you,35 remember me. And remember me| because when I was with you,| you did not know me.| Blessed will they be who have| known me; woe to those who have40 heard and have not believed!| Blessed will they be who13 have not seen, [yet have believed]!|
“And once more I [prevail upon] you,| for I am revealed to you (pl.)| building a house which is of great value to5 you when you find shelter| beneath it, just as it will be able| to stand by your neighbors’ house| when it threatens to fall. Verily| I say unto you, woe10 to those for whose sakes I was sent| down to this place; blessed| will they be who ascend| to the Father! Once more I| reprove you, you who are;15 become like those who are not,| that you may be with those who| are not.
“Do not make| the kingdom of heaven a desert| within you. Do not be proud20 because of the light that illumines, but| be to yourselves|as I myself am| to you. For your sakes I have| placed myself under the curse, that you25 may be saved.”|
But Peter replied| to these words and said,| “Sometimes you urge| us on to the kingdom of30 heaven, and then again you turn| us back, Lord; sometimes| you persuade and draw| us to faith and promise| us life, and then again you cast35 us forth from the kingdom| of heaven.”
But the Lord answered| and said to us, “I have given you (pl.)| faith many times; moreover,| I have revealed myself to you (sg.),14 James, and you (pl.) have not| known me. Now again I| see you (pl.) rejoicing many times;| and when you are elated5 at the promise of life,| are you yet sad, and do you| grieve, when you are instructed| in the kingdom? But you, through| faith [and] knowledge, have received10 life. Therefore, disdain| the rejection when you| hear it, but when you hear| the promise, rejoice the more.| Verily I say unto you,15 he who will receive life and| believe in the kingdom will| never leave it, not even if| the Father wishes| to banish him.
“These are the things that I shall tell20 you so far; now, however, I shall| ascend to the place from whence I came.| But you, when I was eager| to go, have cast me out, and| instead of accompanying me,25 you have pursued me.| But pay heed to the glory that awaits| me, and, having opened| your heart, listen to the hymns| that await me up in the heavens;30 for today I must| take (my place at) the right hand of the Father.| But I have said (my) last word to| you, and I shall depart from you,| for a chariot of spirit has borne me aloft,35 and from this moment on I shall strip myself| that I may clothe myself.| But give heed; blessed| are they who have proclaimed| the Son before his descent40 that, when I have come, I might ascend (again).| Thrice blessed15 are they who [were]| proclaimed by the Son| before they came to be, that| you might have a portion5 among them.”
Having said these words,| he departed. But we bent (our) knee(s),| I and Peter, and gave thanks| and sent our heart(s) upwards| to heaven. We heard with10 our ears, and saw with| our eyes, the noise of wars| and a trumpet blare| and a great turmoil.
And| when we had passed beyond15 that place, we sent our| mind(s) farther upwards and| saw with our eyes and heard| with our ears hymns| and angelic benedictions and20 angelic rejoicing. And| heavenly majesties were| singing praise, and we too| rejoiced.
After this| again, we wished to send our25 spirit upward to the| Majesty, and after ascending we| were not permitted to see or hear| anything, for the other| disciples called us and30 asked us, “What did you (pl.)| hear from the| Master? And what has| he said to you? And where| did he go?”
But we answered35 them, “He has ascended and| has given us a pledge and| promised life to us all and| revealed to us children (?)| who are to come after us, after bidding16[us] love them, as we would be|[saved] for their sakes.”
And| when they heard (this), they indeed believed| the revelation, but were displeased5 about those to be born. And so, not wishing| to give them offense,| I sent each one to another| place. But I myself went| up to Jerusalem, praying that I10 might obtain a portion among the beloved,| who will be made manifest.|
And I pray that| the beginning may come from you,| for thus I shall be capable of15 salvation, since they will be| enlightened through me, by my faith—| and through another (faith) that is| better than mine, for I would that| mine be the lesser.20 Endeavor earnestly, then, to make| yourself like them and| pray that you may obtain a portion| with them. For because of what| I have said, the Savior did25 not make the revelation to us| for their sakes. We do, indeed, proclaim| a portion with those| for whom the proclamation was made,| those whom the Lord has made his30 sons.
Introduced and translated by
Harold W. Attridge and George W. MacRae
The Gospel of Truth is a Christian Gnostic text with clear affinities to the Valentinian school, offering a subtle yet moving reflection on the person and work of Jesus. The tractate has no explicit title in the manuscript and is known by its incipit. Many other works in antiquity, such as the “gospel” of Mark and the “revelation” of John, were similarly identified by their opening words. A Valentinian work entitled the “Gospel of Truth” is attested in the Adversus Haereses (3. 11. 9) of Irenaeus. Unfortunately the heresiologist reveals little about the content of the work, except that it differed significantly from the canonical gospels. Given the general Valentinian affinities of the text of Codex I, it is quite possible that it is identical with the work known to Irenaeus. If so, a date of composition in the middle of the second century (between 140 and 180 C.E.) would be established. On the basis of literary and conceptual affinities between this text and the exiguous fragments of Valentinus, some scholars have suggested that the Gnostic teacher himself was the author. That remains a distinct possibility, although it cannot be definitively established. Whatever its precise date and authorship, the work was certainly composed in Greek in an elaborate rhetorical style, by a consummate literary artist.
Despite its title, this work is not a gospel of the sort found in the New Testament, since it does not offer a continuous narration of the deeds, teachings, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. The term “gospel” in the incipit preserves its early sense of “good news.” It defines the text’s subject, not its genre, which is best understood as a homily. Like other early Christian homilies, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews, The Gospel of Truth alternates doctrinal exposition with paraenesis (e.g., 32, 31–33, 32) and, like that canonical work, it reflects on the significance of the salvific work of Jesus from a special theological perspective.
Identification of the work as a homily says little about its literary or theological dynamics. Analysis of both surface structure and underlying conceptual scheme is made difficult by the elusive character of the discourse, which combines allusions to familiar elements of early Christian tradition, sometimes in unusual associations, with references to less familiar notions. Similarly elusive is the frame of reference of the text, which seems to slip quite easily from cosmic to historical, then to personal or psychological perspectives. These qualities of the work may indicate something of its intended function. Traditions familiar from the New Testament are given a new meaning by being set in a conceptual environment, the structure of which remains artfully obscured. Nonetheless, certain key themes and perspectives characteristic of Valentinian theology, such as the principle that knowledge of the Father destroys ignorance (18, 10–11; 24, 30–32), are emphasized. The work was thus probably designed to introduce Valentinian soteriological insights to members of the great church.
The work is divided into three large blocks of exposition separated by two formally distinct units, a festive “Litany on the Word” (23, 18–24, 9) and a paraenetic appeal (32, 31–33, 32). Each of the three blocks of exposition also contains three thematically distinct sections. After an introduction (16, 31–17, 4), the first block begins with a description of the generation of Error (17, 4–18, 11), which comes forth from the Father, but for which the Father is not responsible, and by which he is not diminished. A mythological account, like that of the fall of Sophia, found in many gnostic texts (c.f., e.g., The Hypostasis of the Archons or On the Origin of the World), no doubt underlies this description of Error. The text then (18, 11–19, 27) turns to Jesus and his work as revealer and teacher. To illustrate the last notion, the text appeals to traditions like that of Jesus in the temple in Luke 2, although the allusion may be to noncanonical accounts of the youth of Jesus. The final segment of the first block (19, 27–24, 9) mentions, without any docetic qualifications, the death of Jesus (20, 25), then interprets that event, with images drawn from Colossians and the Apocalypse, as an act of revelation. That act reveals the essence of the Father and the origin and destiny of the human self in Him. Through that insight the powers of Error are overcome.
The second major block of exposition (24, 9–33, 32) describes the effects of the revelation of the “gospel of truth.” It produces unity with the Father (24, 9–27, 7). It makes possible authentic human existence, imaged in traditional gnostic terms as a state of wakefulness (27, 7–30, 16), a condition of joy and delight graphically contrasted with the nightmarish existence of those in ignorance. Finally the revelation opens the way to ultimate return to the Father (30, 16–32, 30).
The final block of exposition focuses on the process of reintegration to the primordial source. The return begins (33, 33–36, 39) as gentle attraction, imaged as an alluring perfume. That attractive fragrance is in fact the spirit of incorruptibility which produces forgiveness. The agent of the return (36, 39–40, 23) is the Son, who is the name of the Father. The identification of Son and Name involves the most subtle of the reflections of the text (38, 6–40, 23), combining ancient Jewish-Christian exaltation patterns with philosophical semantics. The final portion of the text (40, 23–41, 14) describes in festive terms the ultimate goal of the process of return, rest in the Father. Those who recognize that their destiny is in the source from which they have come are the children whom the Father loves.
The Gospel of Truth’s combination of literary and conceptual sophistication with genuine religious feeling suggests much better than the rather dry accounts of gnostic systems in the heresiologists why the teaching of Valentinus and his school had such an appeal for many Christians of the second century.
The following translation is based on the text of Codex I; the text of Codex XII is very fragmentary.
I 16, 31–43, 24
The gospel of truth is joy| for those who have received from| the Father of truth the grace of knowing him,| through the power of the Word that came forth from35 the pleroma, the one who is in the thought| and the mind of the Father, that is,| the one who is addressed as| the Savior, (that) being the name of the work he is| to perform for the redemption of those who were17 ignorant of the Father, while in the name [of]| the gospel is the proclamation| of hope, being discovery| for those who search for him.
When5 the totality went about searching for the one| from whom they had come forth — and the totality was| inside of him, the| incomprehensible, inconceivable one| who is superior to every thought —10 ignorance of the Father brought about anguish| and terror; and the anguish| grew solid like a fog,| so that no one was able to see.| For this reason error15 became powerful; it worked on its own matter| foolishly,| not having known the truth. It set about with a creation,| preparing with power and20 beauty the substitute for the truth.|
This was not, then, a humiliation for him,| the incomprehensible, inconceivable one,| for they were nothing, the anguish and the oblivion and the creature25 of deceit, while the established| truth is immutable,| imperturbable, perfect in beauty.| For this reason, despise| error.
Thus30 it had no root; it fell into| a fog regarding the Father, while it was involved in| preparing works and| oblivions and terrors, in order that| by means of these it might entice those35 of the middle and capture| them.
The oblivion of error was| not revealed. It is not a18[] from the Father. Oblivion| did not come into existence from the Father,| although it did indeed come into existence because of him.| But what comes into existence in him is knowledge,5 which appeared in| order that oblivion might vanish| and the Father might be known. Since| oblivion came into existence because| the Father was not known, then if10 the Father comes to be known, oblivion| will not exist from that moment on.
Through this,| the gospel of the one who is searched| for, which <was> revealed to those who| are perfect through the mercies15 of the Father, the hidden mystery,| Jesus, the Christ,| enlightened those who were in darkness| through oblivion.| He enlightened| them; he showed (them) a way;20 and the way is the truth| which he taught them.
For this reason| error grew angry at him,| persecuted him, was distressed at him|(and) was brought to naught. He was nailed to a tree (and) he25 became a fruit of the knowledge of| the Father. It did not, however, cause destruction because| it was eaten, but to those who ate it| it gave (cause) to become glad| in the discovery, and he30 discovered them in himself,| and they discovered him in themselves.
As for the| incomprehensible, inconceivable one, the| Father, the perfect one, the one who| made the totality, within him is35 the totality and of him the totality has need.| Although he retained their perfection| within himself which he did not give| to the totality, the Father was not jealous.| What jealousy indeed (could there be)40 between himself and his members?19 For, if this aeon had thus [received]| their [perfection], they could not have come []| the Father. He retains within himself their perfection,5 granting it to them as a return to him| and a perfectly unitary| knowledge. It is he who fashioned| the totality, and within him is the totality| and the totality was in need10 of him.
As in the case of| a person of whom some| are ignorant, he| wishes to have them know him and| love him, so —15 for what did the totality have need of| if not knowledge regarding| the Father? — he became a guide,| restful and leisurely.| In schools he appeared (and) he spoke20 the word as a teacher.| There came the men wise| in their own estimation,| putting him to the test.| But he confounded them because they25 were foolish. They hated| him because they were not really| wise.
After all these,| there came the little| children also, those to whom30 the knowledge of the Father belongs. Having been strengthened,| they learned about the impressions| of the Father. They knew,| they were known; they were glorified, they| glorified. There was manifested in their35 heart the living book| of the living — the one written| in the thought and the mind20[of the] Father, which from before the| foundation of the totality was within| his incomprehensibility — that (book)| which no one was able to take,5 since it remains for the one who will take it| to be slain. No one could have become manifest| from among those who have believed| in salvation unless| that book had appeared.10 For this reason the merciful one, the faithful one,| Jesus, was patient in accepting sufferings| until he took that book,| since he knows that his death| is life for many.15
Just as there lies hidden in a will, before| it is opened, the fortune| of the deceased master of the house,| so (it is) with the totality, which| lay hidden while the Father of the totality was20 invisible, being something which is| from him, from whom| every space comes forth.| For this reason Jesus appeared;| he put on that book;25 he was nailed to a tree;| he published the edict| of the Father on the cross. O| such great teaching! He draws| himself down to death though life30 eternal clothes him. Having stripped| himself of the perishable rags,| he put on imperishability,| which no one| can possibly take away from him. Having entered35 the empty spaces of| terrors, he passed through| those who were stripped naked by| oblivion, being knowledge| and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart,21[]| teach those who will receive teaching.|
But those who are to receive teaching [are]| the living who are inscribed in the book5 of the living. It is about themselves that they receive instruction,| receiving it| from the Father, turning| again to him. Since the| perfection of the totality is in the Father,10 it is necessary for the totality to| ascend to him. Then, if| one has knowledge, he receives what are| his own and draws| them to himself. For he who is15 ignorant is in need, and| what he lacks is great,| since he lacks that which will| make him perfect. Since the perfection of| the totality is in the Father20 and it is necessary for the totality to| ascend to him and for each| one to receive what are his own,| he enrolled them in advance, having| prepared them to give to those25 who came forth from him.
Those| whose name he knew in advance| were called at the end,| so that one who has knowledge is| the one whose name the Father30 has uttered. For he whose name| has not been spoken is ignorant.| Indeed, how is one| to hear if his name has not| been called? For he who is35 ignorant until the end is a creature| of oblivion, and he will| vanish along with it. If not,| how is it that these miserable ones have22 no name, (how is it that) they do not have| the call? Therefore,| if one has knowledge, he is| from above. If he is called,5 he hears, he answers,| and he turns to him who is calling| him, and ascends to him. And| he knows in what manner he| is called. Having knowledge, he does10 the will of the one who called| him, he wishes to be pleasing to him, he| receives rest. Each one’s name| comes to him. He who is to have knowledge| in this manner knows where he comes15 from and where he is going.| He knows as one| who having become drunk has turned away from| his drunkenness, (and) having returned to himself,| has set right what20 are his own.
He has brought many| back from error. He has gone| before them to their places,| from which they had moved away,| since it was on account25 of the depth that they received error, the depth of the one who encircles| all spaces while there is none| that encircles him. It was a great| wonder that they were in the Father,| not knowing him, and (that) they were30 able to come forth by themselves,| since they were unable to| comprehend or to know the one| in whom they were. For if| his will had not thus emerged from him —35 for he revealed it| in view of a knowledge in which| all its emanations concur.|
This is the knowledge of| the living book which he revealed to the23 aeons, at the end, as [his letters],| revealing how| they are not vowels| nor are they5 consonants,| so that one might read them and| think of something foolish,| but they are letters of the| truth which they alone speak10 who know them.| Each letter is a complete <thought>| like a complete| book, since they are| letters written by15 the Unity, the Father having| written them for the aeons in order that by| means of his letters| they should know the Father.
While his wisdom| contemplates20 the Word, and his teaching| utters it, his knowledge| has revealed <it>.| While forebearance is| a crown upon it,25 and his gladness is in harmony| with it, his glory| has exalted it, his image| has revealed it,| his repose has30 received it into itself, his love| has made a body over it,| his fidelity has embraced| it. In this way the Word| of the Father goes35 forth in the totality, as the fruit24[of] his heart and| an impression of his will.| But it supports the totality; it| chooses there and also receives5 the impression of the totality,| purifying them, bringing them back| into the Father, into the Mother,| Jesus of the infinite| sweetness.
The Father reveals10 his bosom. — Now his bosom| is the Holy Spirit. — He| reveals what is hidden of him —| what is hidden of him is| his Son — so that through15 the mercies of the Father| the aeons may know him| and cease laboring in search of| the Father, resting there| in him, knowing20 that this is the rest. Having| filled the deficiency, he abolished| the form — the form of| it is the world, that| in which he served. —25 For the place where there is envy| and strife is deficient,| but the place where (there is) Unity| is perfect. Since the deficiency| came into being because the30 Father was not known, therefore, when| the Father is known,| from that moment on the deficiency will no longer exist. As| in the case of the ignorance| of a person, when he comes35 to have knowledge, his ignorance| vanishes of itself,| as the darkness vanishes| when light appears,25 so also| the deficiency vanishes| in the perfection. So| from that moment on the form is not apparent,5 but it will vanish| in the fusion of Unity,| for now their works | lie scattered. In| time Unity will perfect10 the spaces. It is within| Unity that each one| will attain himself; within| knowledge he will purify himself| from multiplicity into15 Unity, consuming| matter within himself| like fire, and| darkness by light, death by| life.
If indeed these things have happened20 to each one of us,| then we must| see to it above all that| the house will be holy| and silent for the Unity.25(It is) as in the case of some people| who moved out of dwellings| having| jars that in| spots were not good.30 They would break them, and| the master of the house would not suffer loss.| Rather (he) is glad because| in place of the bad jars|(there are) full ones which are made35 perfect. For such is| the judgment which has come from26 above. It has passed judgment on| everyone; it is a drawn sword,| with two edges, cutting| on either side. When the5 Word appeared, the one that is| within the heart of those who utter it —| it is not a sound alone| but it became a body — a great| disturbance took place among10 the jars because some had| been emptied, others filled;| that is, some had been supplied,| others poured out,| some had been purified, still15 others broken up. All the spaces| were shaken and disturbed| because they had no order| nor stability.| Error was upset, not knowing20 what to do;| it was grieved, in mourning,| afflicting itself because it knew| nothing. When| knowledge drew near it — this25 is the downfall of (error) and all its emanations —| error is empty,| having nothing inside.|
Truth appeared;| all its emanations knew it.30 They greeted the Father in truth| with a perfect power| that joins them with the Father.| For, as for everyone who loves the truth —| because the truth is the mouth35 of the Father; his tongue is the| Holy Spirit — he who is joined27 to the truth is joined| to the Father’s mouth| by his tongue, whenever he is to| receive the Holy Spirit,5 since this is the manifestation of the| Father and his revelation| to his aeons.
He manifested| what was hidden of him; he explained it.| For who contains,10 if not the Father alone?| All the spaces are his emanations.| They have known that they came forth| from him like children| who are from a grown15 man. They knew| that they had not yet| received form nor yet| received a name, each one of which| the Father begets.20 Then, when they receive form| by his knowledge,| though truly within him, they| do not know him. But the Father| is perfect, knowing25 every space within him.| If he wishes,| he manifests whomever he wishes| by giving him form and giving| him a name, and he gives a name30 to him and brings it about| that those come into existence who, | before they come into existence, are| ignorant of him who fashioned them.|
I do not say, then, that35 they are nothing (at all) who have not| yet come into existence, but they are28 in him who will wish| that they come into existence when he| wishes, like| the time that is to come.5 Before all things appear,| he knows what he will| produce. But the fruit| which is not yet manifest| does not know anything, nor10 does it do anything. Thus,| also, every space which is| itself in the Father is from| the one who exists, who| established it15 from what does not exist.| For he who has no| root has no| fruit either, but| though he thinks to himself,20 “1 have come into being,” yet| he will perish by himself.| For this reason, he who did not exist| at all will| never come into existence. What, then, did he25 wish him to think of himself?| This: “I have come into being like the| shadows and phantoms| of the night.” When| the light shines on the terror30 which that person had experienced,| he knows that it is nothing.|
Thus they were ignorant| of the Father, he being the one29 whom they did not see. Since| it was terror and disturbance| and instability| and doubt and5 division, there were many| illusions at work| by means of these, and|(there were) empty fictions, as if| they were sunk in sleep10 and found themselves in| disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place| to which they are fleeing, or| without strength they come (from) having chased| after others, or they are involved in15 striking blows, or they are receiving| blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places,| or they take off into| the air though they do not even have wings.20 Again, sometimes (it is as) if people| were murdering them, though there is| no one even pursuing them, or they themselves| are killing their neighbors,| for they have been stained with25 their blood.| When those who| are going through| all these things wake up, they see nothing,| they who were in the midst30 of all these disturbances,| for they are nothing.| Such is the way| of those who have cast| ignorance aside35 from them like sleep,| not esteeming it as anything,| nor do they esteem its30 works as solid| things either, but they| leave them behind like a dream in the night. The5 knowledge of the Father they value| as the dawn. This is the way| each one has acted,| as though asleep at the time| when he was ignorant.10 And this is the way| he has <come to knowledge>, as if| he had awakened. {and} Good| for the man who will return| and awaken. And15 blessed is he who has opened| the eyes of the blind.
And| the Spirit ran after him,| hastening from| waking him up. Having extended his hand20 to him who lay upon the| ground, he set him up| on his feet, for| he had not yet risen.| He gave them the means of knowing25 the knowledge of the Father and the| revelation of his Son.| For, when they had seen him and had| heard him, he granted them to| taste him and30 to smell him and| to touch the| beloved Son.
When he had appeared| instructing them about the Father,| the incomprehensible one, when he had breathed into them35 what is in the thought, doing| his will, when many had| received the light, they turned31 to him. For the material ones were strangers| and did not see his likeness| and had not known| him. For he came5 by means of fleshly| form, while nothing blocked| his course because| incorruptibility is irresistible,| since he, again, spoke10 new things, still speaking about| what is in the heart of the Father, having| brought forth the flawless word.|
When light had spoken| through his mouth,15 as well as his voice| which gave birth to life, he| gave them thought and understanding| and mercy and salvation and the powerful spirit| from the infiniteness20 and the sweetness of the Father.| Having made punishments| and tortures cease — for it was they which| were leading astray from his face some| who were in need of mercy, in25 error and in bonds —| he both destroyed them with power| and confounded them with knowledge.| He became a| way for those who were gone astray30 and knowledge for those who were| ignorant, a discovery for those| who were searching, and a support| for those who were wavering,| immaculateness for those who35 were defiled.
He is the shepherd| who left behind the ninety-32 nine sheep which were not lost.| He went searching for the one which| had gone astray. He rejoiced when he| found it, for ninety-nine5 is a number that is in the left hand| which holds it. But| when the one is found,| the entire number| passes to the right (hand). As10 that which lacks the one — that is,| the entire right (hand)| draws what was deficient and| takes it from the| left-hand side and brings (it) to the15 right, so too the number| becomes one hundred. It is the sign of the one who is in| their sound; it is the Father.| Even on the Sabbath, he labored for the sheep| which he found fallen into the20 pit. He gave life to| the sheep, having brought it up| from the pit in order that you| might know interiorly —38 you, the sons of interior39 knowledge —| what is the Sabbath, on which it is not fitting25 for salvation to be idle,| in order that you may speak| from the day from above,| which has no night,| and from the light30 which does not sink because it is perfect.|Say, then, from the heart that| you are the perfect day| and in you dwells| the light that does not fail.35 Speak of the truth with those who| search for it and (of) knowledge to those| who have committed sin in their error.33 Make firm the foot of those| who have stumbled and stretch out| your hands to those who are ill. Feed| those who are hungry and5 give repose to those who are weary, and| raise up those who wish to| rise, and awaken those who| sleep. For you are the| understanding that is drawn forth. If10 strength acts thus, it becomes| even stronger. Be concerned with yourselves;| do not be concerned with| other things which you have| rejected from yourselves.15 Do not return to what you have vomited| to eat it. Do not be moths.| Do not be worms, for you have already| cast it off. Do not become a20(dwelling) place for the devil, for| you have already destroyed him.| Do not strengthen (those who are) obstacles to you| who are collapsing, as though (you were) a support (for them).| For the lawless one is someone to treat25 ill rather than the just one.| For the former| does his work as a| lawless person; the latter as| a righteous person does his30 work among others. So| you, do the will of the Father,| for you are from him.|
For the Father is sweet and in| his will is what is good.35 He has taken cognizance of| the things that are yours that you might find rest| in them. For by the| fruits does one take cognizance of| the things that are yours because the children of the Father34 are his fragrance, for| they are from the grace of his| countenance. For this reason the Father loves| his fragrance and manifests it5 in every place, and if it mixes| with matter he gives his fragrance| to the light and in his repose| he causes it to surpass every form|(and) every sound. For it is not the ears that10 smell the fragrance, but|(it is) the breath that has| the sense of smell and attracts the fragrance| to itself and is submerged| in the fragrance of the Father, so that he15 thus shelters it and takes it to the place| where it came from,| from the first fragrance which| is grown cold. It is something in a| psychic form, being20 like cold water| which has frozen (?), which is on earth| that is not solid, of which those| who see it think it| is earth; afterwards it dissolves25 again. If a breath| draws it, it gets hot. The fragrances,| therefore, that are cold are from the division.| For this reason faith came;| it dissolved the division,30 and it brought the warm pleroma| of love in order that| the cold should not come again| but there should be the unity of| perfect thought.35
This <is> the word of the gospel| of the discovery of the pleroma, for| those who await35 the salvation which is coming| from on high. While their| hope, for which they| are waiting, is in waiting — they whose image5 is light with no shadow| in it — then, at that time,| the pleroma| is proceeding to come. The <deficiency>| of matter came to be not through10 the limitlessness of| the Father, who is coming to give time for| the deficiency, although no one| could say that the incorruptable one would| come in this way. But15 the depth of the Father was multiplied| and the thought of| error did not exist| with him. It is a thing that falls,| it is a thing that easily stands upright (again)20 in the discovery of him| who has come to him whom he shall bring back.| For the bringing back| is called repentance.|
For this reason incorruptibility25 breathed forth; it pursued the one| who had sinned in order that he might| rest. For forgiveness is| what remains for the light in the deficiency,| the word of the pleroma.30 For the physician runs to the place| where sickness is, because| that is the will that is| in him. He who has a deficiency, then, does not| hide it, because one has what35 the other lacks. So the pleroma,| which has no deficiency,| but fills up the deficiency, is what he36 provided from himself for filling up| what he lacks, in order that| therefore he might receive the grace. For when| he was deficient, he did not have5 the grace. That is why| there was diminution existing in| the place where there is no grace.| When that which was diminished| was received, he revealed what he10 lacked, being (now) a pleroma;| that is the discovery of the light| of truth which rose upon him because| it is immutable.
That is why| Christ was spoken of in their15 midst, so that those who were disturbed| might receive a bringing back, and he| might anoint them with the ointment. The ointment is| the mercy of the Father who will have mercy| on them. But those whom he has anointed20 are the ones who have become perfect.| For full jars are the| ones that are usually anointed. But when| the anointing of one (jar) is dissolved,| it is emptied, and the25 reason for there being a deficiency is the thing| by which its ointment goes.| For at that time| a breath draws it, a thing| in the power of that which is with it.30 But from him who| has no deficiency, no seal is removed| nor is anything emptied,| but what he lacks| the perfect Father fills again.35 He is good. He knows| his plantings, because it is he| who planted them in his paradise.| Now his paradise| is his place of rest.
This37 is the perfection in the thought| of the Father, and these are| the words of his meditation.| Each one of his words5 is the work of his| one will in the revelation| of his Word. While they were still| depths of his thought, the Word| which was first to come forth revealed 10 them along with a mind that| speaks, the one Word in| silent grace. He was called| thought, since they| were in it before being revealed.15 It came about then, that he| was first to come forth at the time when the will of him| who willed desired it.| And the will is what the Father20 rests in and| is pleased w

[ Square brackets indicate a lacuna in the manuscript. When the text cannot be reconstructed, three dots are placed within the brackets, regardless of the size of the lacuna; a fourth dot, if appropriate, may function as a period. An exception to this rule is the occasional use of a different number of dots to estimate the extent of the missing portion of a proper noun. In a few instances the dots are used without brackets to indicate a series of Coptic letters which do not constitute a translatable sense unit. A bracket is not allowed to divide a word, except for a hyphenated word or a proper noun. Other words are placed entirely inside or outside the brackets, depending on the certainty of the Coptic word and the number of Coptic letters visible.
( Parentheses indicate material supplied by the editor or translator. Although this material may not directly reflect the text being translated, it provides useful information for the reader.
| Small strokes above the line indicate line divisions. Every fifth line a small number is inserted in place of a stroke; the frequency of these numbers, however, may vary in tractates which are quite fragmentary. A new page is indicated with a number in bold type. When the beginning of a new line or page coincides with the opening of a paragraph, the line divider or number is placed at the end of the previous paragraph.
< Pointed brackets indicate a correction of a scribal omission or error. The translator has either inserted letters unintentionally omitted by the scribe, or replaced letters erroneously inserted with what the scribe presumably intended to write.
{ Braces indicate superfluous letters or words added by the scribe.
Robinson, James McConkey ; Smith, Richard ; Coptic Gnostic Library Project: The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 4th rev. ed. Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1996, XIII

Published: May 30, 2015, 12:07 | Comments Off on NAG HAMMADI CODEX and Gnostic Christianity – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, using LOGOS LIBRONIX software
Category: ArchBishop

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