The Nag Hammadi Library

In 1945, in upper Egypt near Nag Hammadi, an amazing discovery was made, a collection of 13 ancient codices containing over 50 text, a virtual library of Coptic text. A red earthenware jar was discovered by Alí al-Sammán, an Arab peasant, while he was digging for sabakh, a soft soil used for fertilizer. Almost afraid to open the jar least it contain a Jinn, he overcame his fear when he thought that perhaps the jar contained gold. When he smashed the jar, he found 13 papyrus books bound in leather. Disappointed in his find, he brought the books and the loose papyrus leaves and dumped them on the kindling pile. His mother admitted to having used a lot of them to start fires.

Alí al-Sammán and his brother were involved in a blood feud with a man that had murdered their father. They exacted revenge, murdering the man in return. Afraid that the police would find the text, Ali asked a priest, al-Qummus Basiliyus Abd al-Masih, to hide one or more for him. A local history teacher saw the book and obtained one from the priest. He then sent it to a friend in Cairo to see if it was valuable. The book was sold on the black market which attracted the attention of the local authorities.


They then arranged clandestinely to buy another and during the transaction confiscated 10 and 1/2 of the 13 codices which were then placed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. A large portion of the 13th codex was smuggled out of Egypt and offered for sale in America. Professor Gilles Quispel, a distinguished historian of religion, found out about the codex and persuaded the Jung Foundation in Zurich to buy the text. Finding out that pages were missing, Quispel flew to Cairo and went to the Coptic Museum to study the remaining text. What he had was “The Gospel of Thomas” bound in the same volume as “The Gospel of Phillip”.

The text are primarily Gnostic scriptures that were thought to have been destroyed during the purge of the text by the Church. The original texts can hardly be dated later than c. A.D. 120-150 because in 180 AD Irenaeus, the orthodox Bishop of Lyons, wrote that “heretics” “boast that they possess more gospels than there really are,” and the text were widely used in Gaul, Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor. The leather and papyrus used to bind the text date to A.D. 350-400. It is generally accepted that the original language was Greek with the translation being Coptic.

The translation of the text was completed in the 1970’s. The manuscripts offer major insights into early Christian history and Gnosticism. There are six major categories of writings contained in the Library. They are Writings of Creation and Redemptive Mythology, Commentaries on different Gnostic themes, Initiatory and Liturgical texts, The Feminine Writings, The Lives and Experiences of some of the Apostles, and The Sayings of Jesus. Unfortunately, time and circumstance has taken its toll on some of the manuscripts. Fragments exist that can’t be classified in any of the above categories. Three of the manuscripts that have been very well preserved are “The Gospel of Thomas”, “The Gospel of Phillip”, and “The Gospel of Truth”.


The Apocalyptic Texts

The Apocryphon of James

The Apocryphon of James is a  work of a Christian Gnostic. The original language of the manuscript was Greek and was translated into the Coptic. The speeches of Jesus are partly the author’s writings which incorporate complex oral and possibly very old written stories. It is thought that the manuscript was written before 150 CE.  It can not be dated later than 314 CE.

The Apocryphon of John (Codex II)

The Apocryphon of John deals with the creation, the fall, and the salvation of humankind. It relies on the first chapters of Genesis. Early church officials were familiar with the text and it was still in use in the 8th Century CE by the Audians of Mesopotamia. There are three versions of the manuscript translated from Greek into Coptic. It is known that the teachings contained in the text existed before 185 CE.

The Apocalypse of Paul

Codex V contains four apocalyptic texts, the first being the Apocalypse of Paul. This Gnostic writing concerns the ascension of Paul through the ten heavens. Although the place of origin of the text is unknown, it is thought to have been written no later than the 2nd Century CE. The Apocalypse of Paul is definitely a Gnostic writing because of it’s anti-Jewish bias concerning the deity in the 7th heaven.

The 1st Apocalypse of James

The 1st Apocalypse of James is a Gnostic revelation dialogue. It tells of a discussion between “James the Just” and the Savior concerning the suffering that they both would go through and, in the second part of the text, how the teaching was to be handled, the value of women as disciples, and James’ martyrdom.

The 2nd Apocalypse of James

The 20 pages of the 2nd Apocalypse of James, a Gnostic writing, are preserved in fragmented form. The text describes a revelation given to James by the resurrected Jesus. It is told in a two part report to James’ father, Theuda by Mareim, a priest. It is considered an early work because of the lack of any reference to the New Testament.

The Apocalypse of Adam

Narrated by Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, the Apocalypse of Adam is a revelation given to Adam by three angels. The text is considered to be dated to the early 1st or 2nd Century CE. Epiphanius and some Manichaen works mention an “Apocalypse of Adam”, but it is not known if this text is the one to which they refer.

The Apocalypse of Peter

The Apocalypse of Peter is a Gnostic text that gives an account of revelatory visions seen by Peter and interpreted by the Savior, Jesus. The work was likely written in the 3rd Century CE.

The Concept of Our Great Power

The text of The Concept of Our Great Power deals with salvation and “Our Great Power” who is the Supreme God. The work is divided into three parts or aeons. It is an apocalyptic work and is thought to have been written in the 4th Century CE although there is a question of this date.

The Paraphrase of Shem

For the most part, The Paraphrase of Shem is an apocalyptic text. It relates how Shem ascends to the height of creation and his descent back to Earth. It discusses such topics as the Flood, Sodom’s destruction, and the baptism and resurrection of the Savior.


Zostrianos is one of the longest books of the Nag Hammadi Library. It is an apocalyptic work that deals with a heavenly journey by Zostrianos. There he meets angel guides and is taught the gnosis of the aeons. Although there are a few points of the text that are Christian, it is Gnostic in form.


The Melchizedek text is considered to be an apocalyptic work. It consist, in part, of revelations given to the Priest of the Most High God, Melchizedek, by Gamaliel, an angel. The revelations consist of information pertaining to the denial, by some, of the works of Jesus, his death, his subsequent resurrection, and Melchizedek’s future priestly office. The manuscript was originally written in Greek, possibly in the 3rd Century CE. It is thought to have been written in Egypt.


Marsanes was a Gnostic prophet. It is not known if he is the author of the text by the same name found in the Nag Hammadi Library. Extremely fragmented, more than half of the text has been lost. Marsanes is an apocalyptic work which contains fragmented accounts of visions, an ascent to heaven, discussions about reality, and the mystical alphabet. There are no Christian elements present in Marsanes. It was likely written in the 3rd Century CE, possibly in Syria.

The Gospels

The Gospel of Truth (Codex I)

This Christian Gnostic text was written between 140-180 CE. The manuscript is clearly of the Valentinian school and offers reflections on the man, Jesus, and his work. The Codex is mentioned by Iranaeus in his work “Against the Heresies”. Some scholars have theorized that Valentinus himself is the author of the text. The manuscript is divided into three sections. The first consist of the generation of error, Jesus as the teacher and revealor, and the death of Jesus. The second section deals with the effects of the “Gospel of Truth” and how one can return to the Father. And, the third part of The Gospel of Truth focuses on the return to the Source, the Father, with the ultimate goal of rest in the Father. Those who realize the destiny of the return are the children of the Father. The text appealed to and was widely used by many Christians in the 2nd Century CE.

The Gospel of Thomas (Codex II)

The Gospel of Thomas consist of the sayings of Jesus. They include proverbs, parables, prophecies, and the rules of the community. The Coptic version was translated from the Greek and fragments of the Greek text can be found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The Greek version was written between 50-125 CE. The author is supposed to have been Didymos Judas Thomas.
The text was most likely written in Syria and could possibly have been originally written in Aramaic. The text, in its original form, probably dates to the 1st Century CE.

The Gospel of Philip (Codex II)

Written possibly as late as the 2nd half of the 3rd Century CE, the Gospel of Philip was likely penned in Syria. The Coptic version is a translation of the Greek text. It contains sections on sacramental initiation rituals, meanings of sacred names, explanations of the rules for the life of initiates, interpretations of Biblical scripture, and the sayings and deeds of Jesus. It appears to have been written by a Christian Gnostic.

The Gospel of the Egyptians (The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit--Codex III)

There are two Coptic versions of The Gospel of the Egyptians. Both were translated from the Greek into Coptic. The manuscript is considered to be a Gnostic salvation history presenting the life of the Patriarch Seth. Seth, who is imagined to be the father of the Gnostic race, is portrayed as the author of The Gospel of the Egyptians. The date and place of origin of the text is not known.

The Gospel of Mary

Written originally in Greek sometime in the 2nd Century CE, the Gospel of Mary is a two-part text which describes a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples and a special revelation given to Mary by the Savior. The text is considered Gnostic in nature and the two copies, one in Greek, one in Coptic, are fragmented.

The Acts

The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles

Written sometime in the 2nd or 3rd Century CE, the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles is a composite work. It has been argued that, although found with the other text of the Nag Hammadi Library, the work is not gnostic.

The Act of Peter

The Act of Peter was written at the end of the 2nd Century CE. The text deals with how the virginity of the daughter of Peter was protected and how Ptolemy’s soul was saved. The text is not considered Gnostic.

The Prayers

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul

The text of The Prayer of the Apostle Paul was originally written in Greek. It is the front flyleaf of Codex 1, the Jung Codex. Considered to possibly have Valentinian connections, it is dated to between the 2nd half of the 2nd Century AD and the end of the 3rd Century AD. The content of the prayer relies heavily on the Psalms and the Pauline letters.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving and Scribal Note

This text is a short Hermetic prayer expressing thanks for receiving godly knowledge. It is thought to have been written in the 2nd or 3rd Century CE with some scholars dating it even earlier.

The Valentinian Texts

The Treatise on the Resurrection (Codex I)

This eight page didactic letter gives an unorthodox interpretation about survival after death. The probable time of its composition is the late 2nd Century CE. Its author is unknown, although it is clear that he is a Christian Gnostic of the Valentinian school. The text often relies on the New Testament as the author’s proof for his conclusions. There are no clues as to where the manuscript could have been written.

The Tripartite Tractate (Codex I)

Thought to have been written in the early to mid-third Century CE by an unknown author, The Tripartite Tractate is a Valentianian work on the separation from and the re-integration into the godhead. The manuscript was originally written in Greek and then translated into Coptic. It consist of three segments, the first being and explanation of the emanation of supernatural entities from their source. The second section is a brief interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and the third part focuses on the Savior and salvation.

A Valentinian Exposition

The Valentinian Exposition is a remarkable set of text due to the fact that it reveals theological disagreements among many of the various groups of Valentinian theologians. The texts deal with creation, redemption, the Sophia, and other thoughts and rituals of the Valentinians.

Dialogue and Revelatory Texts

The Hypostasis of the Archeons (Codex II)

Written by an anonymous author, the Hypostasis of the Archons is an interpretation of Genesis Chapers 1-6. The work of a Gnostic teacher, the manuscript is a revelation discussion between an angel and a questioner. It is dated possibly to the 3rd Century CE and the text was translated from Greek.

The Book of Thomas the Contender

The Book of Thomas the Contender is a dialogue of revelation between the resurrected Jesus and Judas Thomas as told by Mathaias. It was probably written in the 1st half of the 3rd Century CE. The text likely originated in Eastern Syria and was originally written in the Greek.

Eugnostos the Blessed

Eugnostos is a letter that was written by a teacher to his disciples. The letter addresses religious and philosophical questions. The focus of the letter is to describe the existence of the invisible world. Eugnostos was probably written in Egypt during the last half of the 1st Century CE.

Dialogue of the Savior

Composed in Greek possibly during the 2nd Century CE by an unknown author, The Dialogue of the Savior is thought to be a compilation of several generations of Christian thought. Although the text is fragmented, one can discern the content and style of the discourse. The manuscript consist of a monologue by the Savior and conversations he had with his disciples, Matthew, Mary, and Judas.

Thunder: Perfect Mind

Like The Acts of Peter and the 12 Apostles, Thunder: Perfect Mind has been in question as to its gnosticism. It is one of the most unusual works in the Nag Hammadi Library. The manuscript is a revelatory dialogue presented by a female who is never identified.

The Discourse on the Eighth and Nineth

This Hermetic discourse discusses the 8th and 9th spheres that surround the Earth. It is thought to have been written in Egypt in the 2nd Century CE.


Originally written in Greek, the only form of Aclepius is a Latin translation. The text consist of a dialogue between Asclepius, a Hermetic initiate, and Trismesgistus. The discussion deals with the mystery, the pious and impious, creation of gods, the apocalypse, and the fate of humans. The text is considered not to be Gnostic in nature.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

This text is a revelatory dialogue of Jesus to Gnostic believers. It tells the story of Christ from his descent to Earth, his work there, his crucifixion, and his return to Heaven. The work is considered to be a combination of Christianity and Gnosticism.

The Three Steles of Seth

Considered a revelation text, The Three Steles of Seth reveals a Gnostic Sethian worship sect. The revelation was given to Dositheos, who is thought to be the founder of Gnosticism. Journeys to heaven and a Triad are subjects covered in the manuscript. The writing has no Christian influence present.

The Letter of Peter to Philip

Presented as an epistle from Peter to Philip, the text is a Christian Gnostic work. It consists of questions and answers between Jesus and the Apostles; Jesus answering from a “great light” which appeared to the men. The text is thought to have been written around the last part of the 2nd Century CE or early 3rd Century CE.


This manuscript deals with the visions of Allogenes. It is supposed to have been written in Alexandria shortly after 300 CE. The original language of its composition was Greek.

Various Other Texts

On the Origin of the World (Codex III)

On the Origin of the world was written by an unknown author possibly in the early 4th Century CE. It is a mixture of Christian ideas, Jewish views, Greek philosophy, Manichaean ideas, and Egyptian thoughts. It was translated from Greek into Coptic and the text does not fit any of the known Gnostic schools of thought. The manuscript includes elements of Genesis Chapters 1-2, Enoch, and Jubilees.

The Exergesis on the Soul (Codex II)

The Gnostic mythological tale of the soul’s fall into the world and then her return to heaven was influenced by Hellenistic and Jewish romance works. The feminine aspect of the story is rare in ancient text, but can be found in Jewish writings of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. It was most likely written in Alexandria at the beginning of the 3rd Century CE.

Authoritative Teaching

This work is another from the Nag Hammadi Library that is a cause of dissension as to its origin. Some scholars believe it to be Gnostic; others think it could be a 2nd Century CE Platonists work. The text deals with the origin of the soul, it’s conditions, and the souls destiny.

Plato, Republic

The text of Plato, Republic is a Coptic re-telling of the parable of the Ninth Book of Plato’s Republic. It deals with the human soul and is considered Gnostic or Manichaean in origin.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

This text is a revelatory dialogue of Jesus to Gnostic believers. It tells the story of Christ from his descent to Earth, his work there, his crucifixion, and his return to Heaven. The work is considered to be a combination of Christianity and Gnosticism.

The Thought of Norea

Probably written in either Egypt or Syria, this untitled text is the shortest in the Nag Hammadi Library. The date of the writing is set sometime in the late 2nd Century CE or early 3rd Century CE. It is named The Thought of Norea from a part of the text itself. The manuscript is a Gnostic hymnic work; an invocation to a divine triad.

The Testimony of Truth

Written by a Christian Gnostic, this fragmented manuscript consists of two parts; truth verses lies and miscellaneous added information, including writings against the beliefs of other Gnostic communities which conflicted with the beliefs of the writer of The Testimony of Truth. The author was most probably from Alexandria. There has been put forth that Julius Cassianus could have been the author of the text.

The Interpretation of Knowledge

This manuscript addresses a community that is having problems with jealousy and hatred concerning the use of spiritual gifts. It is a Gnostic work which uses New Testament writings and their applications. The author uses Christian teachings, but interprets them in the Valentinian school of theology.


Extremely fragmented, the Coptic manuscript of Hypsiphrone is in such poor condition, it is hard to understand the content. Some scholars deem it to be of the Sethian school of thought.

The Sentences of Sextus

The Sentences of Sextus was widely used in Christian circles. There are copies of the manuscript in Latin, Armenian, Syriac, and Georgian. It is classed as “wisdom” sayings. The Coptic version was translated from the Greek and is considered to be the most extant.

Trimorphic Protennoia

The Trimorphic Protennoia is a Barbeloite work. It is similar to the Johannine descents of the Logos. It could have been written in the early 2nd Century CE.