The Nag Hammadi Library

Posted By Thomas Perez. March 31, 2012 at 6:00pm. Copyright 2012.

The Nag Hammadi

And what of the other books that Constantine discarded as error? The other books I refer to is that of the Gnostic writings, a bible with about 50 books, discovered in 1945, commonly now known as the Nag Hammadi. Some of these books have names like ‘The Gospel of Thomas,’ ‘The Gospel of Philip,’ ‘The Gospel of Mary’ and ‘The Gospel of Truth’ – this is the Gnostic Bible. A Bible of which I happen to own a copy of. Other discoveries were also found, such as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, 1947 – 1956, dated between 150 B.C. – 68 A.D. Discovered by a shepherd boy in a cave near the Dead Sea, this collection of nearly 500 scrolls contained, among other writings, fragments of every Old Testament book except Esther. Believed to have been written between 250 BC – 68 AD by a Jewish sect called the ‘Essenes’. The scrolls confirmed the reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures that had been handed down through the centuries from one scribe to another. Of particular interest was the book of Isaiah, found in its entirely – the oldest manuscript of a complete book from the Old Testament, dating to about 100 B.C. Other finds include The Pseudepigrapha (a collection of Jewish writings from the 2nd temple period onward, not included in the canon of Scripture). These book are not to be confused with the Apocrypha written in the same time period as the Pseudepigrapha. the exact number of these books (Pseudepigrapha) are not known.

For the sake of this chapter, we will concentrate on Gnosticism and their esoteric claims, Since the Bible – the traditional one – has stood the test of time and the disciplines of history and archaeology, is it not only fair that we critique The Gnostic Bible with the same historical scrutiny that the more familiar Bible has received? When we observe the Gnostic bible, we should take careful notice that it does not make any mention of cities, rivers, valleys, or specific sequential events as our traditional Bible does. Instead they contain musings from various teachers who were knowledge seekers, or as they later came to be defined as, ‘Gnostics.’ The Gnostics were a group of thinkers who were influenced by Plato. They often differed on many issues, but this much is true, they believed that all matter was evil. Since all matter was considered evil, including man, they believed that God could not have become man. In other words, they denied orthodox teachings on the incarnation of Christ. They speculated about the origin of evil and its relationship to creation. Man must find his own way to salvation, they claimed, and his problem is not sin but rather the need for self knowledge.

This ideology created a dualistic approach to Gnosticism. Dualism is the ontological view that reality is composed of two kinds of beings, (as in Plato, the good and the bad), (as in Descartes), minds and bodies. According to ‘A.E. Taylors’ ‘Plato’, Plato expressed the idea of dualism, expressing a Creator – Demiurge. In his dialogues, a contrast between the essential world of ideas and the transient, corruptible world of appearance exists. The Gnostics, upholding to this position of Plato, see the human body as imprisoned. An imprisonment presenting an obstacle to the free development of the life of the spirit, thereby, inhibiting the true knowledge (gnosis) from becoming illuminated. (On the different interpretations of the Platonic Demiurge see H. Schwab, ‘Weltschopfung’, W. Theiler, ‘Demiurge’ Also see the famous passages condemning the body in ‘Phaedo’ and ‘Cratylus’ On dualism in Plato see U. Bianchi ‘Prometeo, Orfeo, Adamo Rome 1976 pg 42). The contrast of the two are the results of a Creator – Demiurge (def of the word Demiurge in Greek means ‘craftsman’). What is meant by Demiurge is a divine being who, in Plato’s account in the Timaeus, formulated the visible world as a mistake, resulting in a dualism of entities or principles, the good and the evil. As discussed in chapter 7, the dualistic independent conception of evil is not a monotheistic system, nor is it intrinsically or Biblically Jewish. This ideology is found in Plato’s Timaeus. Moreover, according to the ‘Oxford Dictionary of World Religions’ “Gnosticism was a complex religious movement, having at least some of its roots in the Jewish and pagan thought, but appearing in a developed form as a Christian heresy in the 2nd cent. Among the systems of that time, those of ‘Valentinus’, ‘Basilides’, and (somewhat apart from the rest) ‘Marcion’ are the best known. These systems ranged from the genuinely philosophical to the extensively mythological and magical. The Bible was used and expounded, and Jesus usually held a significant place, but much was different from mainstream Christianity” (376). When it is expressed that Gnosticism had its roots in Jewish thought, it is expressing the Kabbalah (a teaching of Jewish mysticism and esoteric writings). According to Block Darrell, “It is now generally believed that the evidence suggests that Gnosticism was a Jewish movement which subsequently reacted to Christianity or that Gnosticism emerged directly in reaction to Christianity” The Missing Gospels. (2006). Thomas Nelson. pp. 28–30. Furthermore, “Opponents of Gnosticism (e.g. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus) pointed to the plain sense of the scriptures and the unbroken tradition of the Church as proof against the legitimacy of esoteric revelations; to the absurdity of Gnostic cosmology and supreme God; to the reality of Jesus’ sufferings; and (apparently without good reason) to the immoral character of the Gnostics themselves (396). These thoughts later found its way in the curious documents of “that other bible”.

For the record let me state that the Gnostic writings are not eyewitness accounts of the events of the New Testament. Even scholars who want to give these documents credibility say that the very earliest date is about 150 A.D. Other writings are attributed to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, many hundreds of years after the time of Jesus. Here is a breakdown of the titles and dates of these esoteric documents, often called The Nag Hammandi Library discovered in 1945:

From the Gnostic Writings We Have:

1.The Gospel of Philip. 150 – 300 AD. According to Bart Ehrman, “The Gospel of Philip was written between 150 A.D. and 300 A.D., while Philip himself died 80 A.D., making it extremely unlikely to be his writing. Most scholars hold a 3rd century date of composition” (Lost Christianities. (2003). New York: Oxford University Press. pg 11-12).

2. The Gospel Thomas. Scholars date the book anywhere from 50 – 100 A.D. However, the general consensus is that it was written about 150 – 200 AD. According to John P. Meier, “Scholars generally fall into one of two main camps: an “early camp” favoring a date for the “core” of between the years 50 and 100, before or approximately contemporary with the composition of the canonical gospels and a “late camp” favoring a date in the 2nd century, after composition of the canonical gospels” (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus vol. 1, pg. 128)

3. The Gospel Mary. Dated 5th cent AD. Although discovered in 1896, scholars date the document as late as the 5th cent as cited earlier. When upon examination, the Gospel of Mary is similar to that of other Gnostic writings. As to which Mary is the book inferring to is not always agreed among scholars. Moreover, according to Andrew Bernhard, “the term ‘gospel’ is used as a label for any written text that is primarily focused on recounting the teachings and/or activities of Jesus during his adult life” Other Early Christian Gospels: A Critical Edition of the Surviving Greek Manuscripts, Library of New Testament Studies 315 (London-New York: T & T Clark, 2006), pg. 2).

4. The Gospel of Judas. Found in a 4th cent Coptic text. However, critical scholars propose that the text might be a translation from an earlier Greek version. According to H.C. Puech and Beate Blatz, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, pg 387) “It has been speculated, on the basis of textual analysis concerning features of dialect and Greek loan words, that the current Coptic fourth century text may be a translation from an older Greek manuscript dating, at the earliest, to approximately AD 130–180”. Cited in support is the reference to a “Gospel of Judas” by the early Christian writer Irenaeus of Lyons, who in arguing against Gnosticism, called the text a “fictitious history” (Refutation of Gnosticism, bk. 1 ch. 31). However, there remains no solid evidence that an early Greek version existed before the current 4th cent Coptic version.

5. The Gospel of Truth. Written about 140 – 180 AD. Some scholars suggest that it was written by Valentinian Gnostics. Irenaeus rejected it and declared it heresy. Irenaeus is cited as saying “But the followers of Valentinus, putting away all fear, bring forward their own compositions and boast that they have more Gospels than really exist. Indeed their audacity has gone so far that they entitle their recent composition the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the apostles, and so no Gospel of theirs is free from blasphemy. For if what they produce is the Gospel of Truth, and is different from those the apostles handed down to us, those who care to can learn how it can be show from the Scriptures themselves that [then] what is handed down from the apostles is not the Gospel of Truth” (Adversus Haereses).

To Be Continued

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