Friday, March 7, 2014

Intriguing Findings of Nag Hammadi Library

Nag Hammadi Library
A town known as Nag Hammadi in northern Egypt had a collection of ancient writing which was discovered in 1945 and these collections have been titled as the Nag Hammadi library, the vast findings of which represented the writings known as Christian Gnosticism. Nag Hammadi also known as Chenoboskion and in classical antiquity meaning geese grazing grounds, was located on the west bank of the Nile in Qena Governorate around 80 kilometers, North West of Luxor. It had a population of about 30,000 inhabitants most of whom were farmers and they produced sugar and aluminum. The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of ancient Gnostic text containing over fifty text discovered in Upper Egypt. It is often considered as an example of the lost books of the Bible and according to some theory; the early Christians had made attempts to destroy these scripts since they contained the secret teaching about Jesus and Christianity.

Moreover it was considered to be the result of the dedicated efforts of the Gnostic monks to save the truth about Jesus Christ from the persecution of non Gnostic Christians. The Nag Hammadi script was written on papyrus in the form of codex, which could be opened flat and written from front as well as the back page and was not rolled into a scroll. This important discovery was found in the form of twelve leather bound papyrus codices which were buried in a sealed jar and found by a local farmer by the name Mohammed al-Samman. It included a vast number of primary Gnostic Gospels scripts which were once thought to be destroyed during the struggle of the early Christians to define orthodoxy scriptures like the Gospel of Thomas, Philip and the Gospel of Truth. The text in these codices contained fifty two major Gnostic treatises though they also included three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum with partial translation alteration of Plato’s Republic.

Nag Hammadi
The codices were written in Coptic language and the works were translated from Greek and the best known is probably the Gospel of Thomas where the Nag Hammadi codices have the complete text. Presently, the Nag Hammadi codices are in the custody of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. The discovery of Nag Hammadi library has been narrated as an exciting expedition as the contents itself. In the same year in December, two Egyptian brothers found several papyri in large earthenware vessels while digging around the Jabal al-Tarif caves near modern Hamra Dom in Upper Egypt. Their discovery was not reported immediately since they were keen on selling the manuscripts individually at intervals and make some money but their mother worried over this issue and thinking that these manuscripts would have dangerous effect, burned several of them. The knowledge of the Nag Hammadi library became gradually known and its significance was only acknowledged sometime after its initial discovery.

Towards the year 1946, the brothers got involved in some disagreement and left the manuscripts with a Coptic priest where his brother-in-law, sold a codes to the Coptic Museum in October. The significance of the artifact drew the attention of the resident Coptologist and the religious historian, Jean Doresse and they got the first reference published in 1948. All through the years, majority of the tracts got transferred by the priest to a Cypriot antiques dealer in Cairo after which it was retained by the Department of Antiquities, to safeguard them from being sold out of the country. The scripts, was then handed over to the Coptic Museum in Cairo after the revolution in 1952 and was then declared as national property. Moreover, the director of the Coptic Museum, Pahor Labib, was also very keen in keeping the manuscripts in the country of its origin.

Nag Hammadi 2
A single codex in the meanwhile had been sold to a Belgian antique dealer in Cairo after which an attempt was made to sell the same in New York as well as Paris and finally in 1951, the same was in the custody of Carl Gustav Jung Institute in Zurich through the mediation of Gilles Quispel and was intended as a birthday present to the psychologist and hence the codex was known as the Jung Codex, named Codex I in the collection. In 1961, after Jung’s death, a quarrel took place over the ownership of the Jung Codex and the pages were not handed over to the Coptic Museum in Cairo, till 1975 after the first edition of the text was published. The discoveries of these papyri were finally brought together in Cairo, with eleven complete books and fragments of two others, all amounting to over 1000 written pages which are preserved there. While the Nag Hammadi library was an interesting discovery, its scripts have given us some insight about the early heretic which were taught and practiced during that period.

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