What are the Ancient Texts Discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt?

Nag Hammadi Texts
In the years following the founding of Christianity, many different groups appeared who based their teachings on different versions of what Jesus reputedly taught. Since this was nearly 2000 years ago, it's difficult for most people to understand the enormous variety of groups and teachings that used the name Christian. Looking at the many types of Christianity that exist today can give some idea. There is the Roman Catholic Church, with a wide variety of monastic orders (Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, Carmelite, etc.). There are the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches of Greece and Egypt that descended from the Byzantine Empire. There are the protestant and evangelical churches that began with Martin Luther's questioning of Catholic dogma. Then as now, each group believed that their interpretation of reality, according to what they thought Jesus taught, was the only correct way of thinking.

Most people are unaware that, somewhere in the 4th century, the existing Biblical canon (list of acceptable books, chosen by authorities as having been inspired by God) was defined the Bible as we know it didn't always exist. Before that, many different books had been written by the first followers of Jesus. A great number of these scriptures, which had guided earlier churches, were rejected at some point as being apocryphal. During the Dark Ages to follow, many of these excluded works disappeared they probably were not copied as much as the canonical books, being labeled as heretical and thus illegal. But archeology has discovered copies of some of these forgotten writings.

The most famous example of archeological findings of ancient Christian book collections was at Qumran in Israel, beginning in 1946, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But another, less popular and more enigmatical find occurred in an area near the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi in 1945. The scrolls discovered in both these locations took many years to be organized, translated and published, for both technical and political reasons. In many cases, they are seen as threatening some of the traditional views of modern Christianity, showing that in certain situations in the distant past, the followers of Jesus looked at the world and the life of their founder much differently than we do today.

In 1977, for the first time, the texts found in Egypt were made available to the public, being referred to as the Nag Hammadi Library, and their interpretation began. In general, these ancient writings are believed to have belonged to a philosophical group known as the Gnostics. This name comes from the Greek word gnosis, to know, and refers to the belief of these people that salvation comes from direct personal knowledge of God or reality, not from faith in the teachings or intersession of others between the individual and God. According to some, the Gnostics believed that this direct experience was not only desirable and possible, but that they possessed techniques which could lead anyone to this experience.

Some of the more controversial concepts indicated in the ancient texts discovered at Nag Hammadi have triggered both a wider interest in questioning traditional Biblical teachings, and a more reactionary defense of those teachings. Among these concepts, according to some interpretations, appear to be a belief in reincarnation; a recurrent cycle of leaving the spiritual realm that is man's true home, being born in flesh for a time, returning to the spiritual plane to absorb the experiences of the years spent in the material world, and then being born again into the physical world to continue learning. This is opposed to the modern idea that man has only one physical life in which to choose a right or wrong path, and that the results of that choice are reflected in his subsequent destination to eternal damnation or eternal bliss. Some of the Nag Hammadi tractates (books) which contain ideas about reincarnation (of people in general, or of Jesus) are the Apocryphon of John, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Melchizedek, Marsanes, and the Sophia of Jesus Christ.

Another point raised in these writings, a very touchy issue for most modern believers, has to do with the role of the feminine in Christianity and in salvation. The Dialogue of the Savior, the Thunder: Perfect Mind, and the Thought of Norea touch on this subject. In several of the Nag Hammadi texts, Mary Magdalene is shown to have been not only a disciple of Jesus, but possibly his most advanced and beloved student. Such concepts are mentioned in the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of the Egyptians mention Mary as a disciple. This would indicate that, during the many centuries in which Christian churches were led exclusively by male priests, the exclusion and repression of women was against the original teachings of Jesus, and may have been an intentional distortion of those teachings. Some have taken the discipleship of Mary Magdalene so far as to suggest that she was the wife of Jesus, or the mother of his child. This idea, not specifically stated in the ancient texts discovered at Nag Hamaddi, would put Jesus on the level of normal human beings, which offers promise for some (if Jesus was human, and if he attained godhood, then others can follow his example to also become perfect) and threats to others (if Jesus was human, then the doctrines by which the Church has oriented western civilization for centuries is incorrect).

Some of the doubts raised by the ancient texts discovered in Nag Hammadi have to do with the editing of the Bible itself who chose to remove these books from the accepted Biblical canon, and why? Did early church fathers feel that their domination of the faithful would be threatened by teachings that could eliminate the necessity for a priesthood to interpret the will of God to men? And, since the protestant churches rejected so much of the doctrine of Catholicism, why did they continue to use the version of the Bible that had been edited by the Roman Catholics? Maybe someday, definitive answers will be found.

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

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