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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Nag Hammadi Library

An important set of texts discovered in Upper Egypt in December 1945 which shed much light on Gnostic scriptures and teachings. It contains fifty-four texts in thirteen leather-bound codices, found in a jar by peasants in the town of Nag Hammadi. Much mystery surrounds their recovery from various middle merchants who sold the different codices to different people. The first codex was sold to the Bollingen Foundation and was given as a gift to Carl JUNG. The others were in the meantime in the possession of different people in various countries. Through a long process of negotiations, the manuscripts were later gathered together and put into the Coptic Museum in Egypt.

The manuscripts are written in Coptic language, used in Egypt from the first few centuries of the common era to the 7th century, and are translations from the Greek originals. They were buried in about 400 CE, at a time when Athanasius of Alexandria was persecuting heresies in Egypt.

The discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices enlarged our knowledge of the Gnostics apart from the report of their critics, such as Iraeneus. It revealed that, while Gnosticism was closely identified with Christianity, it had strands of thought independent of Christianity.

Most of the texts were hitherto unknown to scholars, while some were already known to exist through previous discoveries of ancient manuscripts. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, which contains about 114 “secret” sayings of Jesus recorded by Didymos Judas Thomas, was a far more complete version of Greek manuscripts discovered in upper Egypt fifty years before.

See also GNOSTICISM.

 

P.S.H.

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