The Nag Hammadi Library
About the Nag Hammadi Library (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures)
The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient books (called “codices”) containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary “Gnostic Gospels” – texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define “orthodoxy” – scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth. The discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi library, initially completed in the 1970’s, has provided impetus to a major re-evaluation of early Christian history and the nature of Gnosticism.
For an introduction to the Nag Hammadi discovery and the texts in this ancient library, we offer several resources. First, read an excerpt from Elaine Pagels’ excellent popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi texts, The Gnostic Gospels. Then, for an overview of the Gnostic scriptures and a discussion of ancient Gnosis, read this excerpt from Dr. Marvin Meyer’s introduction to The Gnostic Bible. For another brief general overview, we offer an Introduction to Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Library by Lance Owens.
For further reading, The Gnostic Society Library Bookstore provides a selection of the foremost books on the Nag Hammadi library and Gnostic tradition.
Texts in the Collection:
All the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi are available in the Gnostic Society Library; the collection is indexed in alphabetical order, and by location in the original codices. A subject categorized list of the writings is also given below. You may search the entire collection of texts for keywords or phrases using our custom Nag Hammadi Search function.
We have special collections of resources dealing with two particularly important texts, the Gospel of Thomas, and The Secret Book (Apocryphon) of John. Several introductory lectures on the Nag Hammadi materials are provided, below.
For many of the major writings in the Nag Hammadi collection more than one translation is provided in our library; where multiple translations are made available, we have listed the translators’ names in parenthesis below the name of the scripture. Many of these translations are based on the work originally sponsored by the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California.
Several prominent scholars have granted us permission to present their original translations of Nag Hammadi texts here in the Gnostic Society Library. We are particular indebted to the assistance and contributions of Dr. Willis Barnstone, Dr. John Turner, Dr. Stevan Davies, and the late Dr. Marvin Meyer. Copyright information is give with the various translations in the library; contributors to this collection retain all copyright to their works.
The International Edition of The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (published in 2007) provides authoritative translations for all of the Nag Hammadi texts, along with introductions and notes on the translations. We also highly recommend The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer; this comprehensive volume includes excellent introductory material and provides beautiful translations for the most important Nag Hammadi scriptures. In preview, we provide an excerpt from Dr. Marvin Meyer’s introduction to The Gnostic Bible.
Other important primary Gnostic texts – ancient writings discovered in the century before the recovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, including texts like the Gospel of Mary – are cataloged in the Classical Gnostic Scriptures section of the The Gnostic Society Library. Many scriptures in the Nag Hammadi collection were influence by Valentinus (c. 100–160 AD) and his tradition of Gnosis. Due to his importance, we have a large section of the library dedicated specifically to Valentinus and the Valentinian Tradition.
If you would like to see the ancient manuscripts themselves, digital images of the original Nag Hammadi Codices are available online at the Claremont Colleges Digital Library.
When analyzed according to subject matter, there are roughly six separate major categories of writings collected in the Nag Hammadi codices:
Writings of creative and redemptive mythology, including Gnostic alternative versions of creation and salvation: The Apocryphon of John; The Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; The Apocalypse of Adam; The Paraphrase of Shem. (For an in-depth discussion of these, see the Archive commentary on Genesis and Gnosis.)
Observations and commentaries on diverse Gnostic themes, such as the nature of reality, the nature of the soul, the relationship of the soul to the world: The Gospel of Truth; The Treatise on the Resurrection; The Tripartite Tractate;Eugnostos the Blessed; The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; The Teachings of Silvanus; The Testimony of Truth.
Liturgical and initiatory texts: The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; The Prayer of Thanksgiving; A Valentinian Exposition; The Three Steles of Seth; The Prayer of the Apostle Paul. (The Gospel of Philip, listed under the sixth category below, has great relevance here also, for it is in effect a treatise on Gnostic sacramental theology).
Writings dealing primarily with the feminine deific and spiritual principle, particularly with the Divine Sophia: The Thunder, Perfect Mind; The Thought of Norea; The Sophia of Jesus Christ; The Exegesis on the Soul.
Writings pertaining to the lives and experiences of some of the apostles: The Apocalypse of Peter; The Letter of Peter to Philip; The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; The (First) Apocalypse of James; The (Second) Apocalypse of James,The Apocalypse of Paul.
Scriptures which contain sayings of Jesus as well as descriptions of incidents in His life: The Dialogue of the Saviour;The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Apocryphon of James; The Gospel of Philip; The Gospel of Thomas.
This leaves a small number of scriptures of the Nag Hammadi Library which may be called “unclassifiable.” It also must be kept in mind that the passage of time and translation into languages very different from the original have rendered many of these scriptures abstruse in style. Some of them are difficult reading, especially for those readers not familiar with Gnostic imagery, nomenclature and the like. Lacunae are also present in most of these scriptures – in a few of the texts extensive sections have been lost due to age and deterioration of the manuscripts.
The most readily comprehensible of the Nag Hammadi scriptures is undoubtedly The Gospel of Thomas, with The Gospel of Philip and the The Gospel of Truth as close seconds in order of easy comprehension. (Thankfully, these texts were all very well preserved and have few lacunae.) There are now several published editions and translations of most of these scriptures available; the standard complete edition is the The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, edited by Marvin Meyer, published in 2007.
To help place the Nag Hammadi materials into a better focus, the Library has collected a series of introductory lectures and commentaries by Dr. Stephan Hoeller on Nag Hammadi texts; these are all in mp3 format. (You will find a much more extensive catalog of lectures by Dr. Stephan Hoeller introducing Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Library available at BC Recordings.)
Christ: The Misunderstood Redeemer – An understanding of the Gnostic perception of Christ is crucial to any meaningful reading of texts in the Nag Hammadi collection. In this lecture Dr. Stephan Hoeller uses several of the works in the Nag Hammadi Library to introduce the Gnostic Christ. (MP3 format, 75 min.)
Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, a brief introductory lecture on the sources of Gnostic tradition (hosted at BC Recordings).
Thomas and Philip: Gospels of the Gnostic Christ, discussing Gnostic soteriology as revealed in these principal Nag Hammadi texts; a presentation introducing the ten part set of lectures on the most popular and valued writings from the Nag Hammadi Library (hosted at BC Recordings).
Redemption and Redeemer in the Gospel of Thomas – The Gospel of Thomas is one of the most important Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi. In this lecture, Dr. Hoeller explores the “soteriology” – the concept of a redeemer and the process of redemption – as developed in the text of the Thomas Gospel. (MP3 format, 75 min.)
The Sorrow of Sophia: Feminine Divine Image of Suffering – Gnosticism developed a unique understanding of the feminine aspects within divinity. In this lecture Dr. Hoeller explores the Gnostic image of the suffering and the alienation of the divine feminine, using as his text a reading from The Exegesis on the Soul (NHL II,6). (MP3 format, 80 min.)
In Memoriam — Dr. Marvin Meyer
On August 16, 2012 there passed from this earthly life a great light of the Gnosis, and one of the most delightful and insightful men of our epoch.
Marvin Meyer held the chair of Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies and was co-chairman of Religious Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. He also served as director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at the same university. He was arguably the most prolific author and prestigious scholar of Gnostic literature in the world today. Among the very large number of translations and commentaries dealing with Gnostic texts, some of the best known are the international edition of The Nag Hammadi Scriptures(which he edited and to which he made major contributions), the normative edition the The Gospel of Thomas, his several works dealing with “The Gospel of Judas”, and the splendid anthology, The Gnostic Bible, co-authored with Willis Barnstone.
Marvin Meyer was a man after our heart. We were personally acquainted with him for several decades, back to the time when he acted as assistant to Professor James Robinson at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, California. More importantly, he was truly sympathetic to our Gnostic tradition, while rejecting the academic fads of some of his colleagues which came to sow confusion in recent years. In this regard he refuted the contention that the word “Gnostic” had no legitimacy in the present discourse. (See his Introduction to The Gnostic Bible.) The news of his death shocked and saddened all of us who knew him or knew of him.
May God’s Holy Angels receive him and guide him to the light of the Pleroma!
+Stephan A. Hoeller