The Nag Hammadi Library

The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945.

This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary Gnostic scriptures - 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, completed in the 1970's, has provided impetus to a major re-evaluation of early Christian history and the nature of Gnosticism.

Several of the major texts in the Nag Hammadi collection have more than one English translation; where more than one translation is available, we have listed the translators' names in parenthesis below the name of the text.

Texts marked with the {*} had more than one version extant within the Nag Hammadi codices; often these several versions were used conjointly by the translators to provide the single translation presented here.


An Overview of the Nag Hammadi Texts

When analyzed according to subject matter, there are 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


  • 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. (These texts were all also thankfully very well preserved and have few lacunae.)

There are various translations of most of these scriptures available; the most complete being the one volume collection The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by James Robinson, from which the translations presented here are principally quoted.

Source: Biblioteca Pleyades