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The Nag Hammadi Library Paperback – October 12, 1990

4.4 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Nag Hammadi Library was discovered in 1945 buried in a large stone jar in the desert outside the modern Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. It is a collection of religious and philosophic texts gathered and translated into Coptic by fourth-century Gnostic Christians and translated into English by dozens of highly reputable experts. First published in 1978, this is the revised 1988 edition supported by illuminating introductions to each document. The library itself is a diverse collection of texts that the Gnostics considered to be related to their heretical philosophy in some way. There are 45 separate titles, including a Coptic translation from the Greek of two well-known works: the Gospel of Thomas, attributed to Jesus' brother Judas, and Plato's Republic. The word gnosis is defined as "the immediate knowledge of spiritual truth." This doomed radical sect believed in being here now--withdrawing from the contamination of society and materiality--and that heaven is an internal state, not some place above the clouds. That this collection has resurfaced at this historical juncture is more than likely no coincidence. --P. Randall Cohan

About the Author

James M. Robinson, consultant for this collection, is widely known for his groundbreaking contribution as the permanent secretary of UNESCO's International Committee for the Nag Hammadi codices, and his many published works on Gnostic texts and the Sayings Gospel Q.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (November 21, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060669357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060669355
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This collection of texts gives a fascinating view of early Christian texts and views, particularly in light of the fact that these were not the writings that made it into the mainstream of church and biblical canonical development, but rather were influential in an underground, almost subversive way, in much of ancient and oriental Christianity -- were it not for the existence of texts such as these, indeed, we would not have the canon of the Bible which we have today (the political motivations behind deciding which books belonged in the Bible and which books didn't owe largely to texts such as those in the Nag Hammadi Library).

'This volume...marks the end of one stage of Nag Hammadi scholarship and the beginning of another. The first stage was concerned with making this library of texts available; the second stage has been characterised by the discussion and interpretation of the texts.'

This book represents an advance in both translation and analysis; this is part of the canon of the Gnostic sect, which saw more orthodox Christianity (from which Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies derive) as the ones who were heretical.

'The Nag Hammadi library also documents the fact that the rejection was mutual, in that Christians described there as 'heretical' seem to be more like what is usually thought of as 'orthodox'.'

Gnosticism was ultimately eliminated from mainstream Christianity, save the occasional resurgence of underground and spiritual movements. Of course, Gnosticism was not an exclusively Christian-oriented phenomenon: many of the texts refer to Hebrew Scriptures only, and the question of Jewish Gnosticism is discussed by Robinson.
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Format: Paperback
This is a book of more interest to scholars, perhaps, than to the general public. The Nag Hammadi library was discovered in the Egyptian desert, near Nag Hammadi, in 1945. The library was composed of scrolls buried by the Gnostics, who in the fourth century maintained a monastery nearby. They were contained in a buried clay jar, in an apparent attempt by Gnostic Christians to save them from destruction by the Constantinian Christians who had orders from the Christian Emperor, Constantine, to destroy all such writings as heresy, along with those who adhered to them.
Over the nearly 2,000 years buried in the desert sand, time took its toll, and many of the scrolls were fragmentary as a result. Yet the 38 scholars who undertook the translation from the ancient Egyptian (coptic) in which they were written, did a magnificent job: not only translating, but also making commentaries comparing them to those gospels which Constantine's scholars considered canonical, and discarding all others as heretical.
This volume is one of the results, with the various codices identified with the translators, and beginning with their commentaries.
Other volumes of a similar nature, including two books by Dr. Elaine Pagels--one of the translators--"The Gnostic Gospels" and "Beyond Belief," are also available on Amazon. Dr. Pagels taught at Barnard College, where she chaired the Department of Religion, and Columbia University. She is currently professor of religion at Princeton.
The Nag Hammadi Library consists of twelve codices as well as fragments of a thirteenth, and fifty-two separate tractates. A brief history of the effort to translate and edit the materials is included in the preface to this book.
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Format: Paperback
I'll admit that I'm a beginner in the study of Gnosis, and over estimated myself when I ordered this book. After reading snippets of it, like I would the bible, I realized that I was nearly in over my head. This book is confusing. Many others who I've spoken to have advised that one reads many books about the Nag Hammadi findings before they read the actual findings. They couldn't be closer to the truth. Besides the fact that it's confusing, it's a common Gnostic belief that you must learn from a teacher before learning on your own.
On that note, despite how useful this book is. I'd advise anyone, at all interested in the subject matter, to first look for books by Elaine Pagels and Stephan Hoeller, first to get an idea of what you can expect to actually be reading.
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The Nag Hammadi Codices is to Christianity as the Dead sea scrolls are to Judaism. This book is the aggregate work of dozens of scholars to translate and present this important collection to the public. Written roughly towards the end of the fifth century C.E. this is a collection of heretical gnostic texts written in Egypt most likely by a group of Valentinian Monks. This is the largest collection of primary sources of Gnostic writing ever found. It contains several extremely important early Christian texts such as The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, The Apocryphon of James, and the Dialogue of the Saviour. The translation work is inspired and the introduction is superb. Occaisionally the lacunae in many of the writings can be very distracting making it harder to read through no fault of the editors. However, aside from that this is a highly engageing read. My hat goes off to the people who brought us this masterwork. Each tractate has an introduction and overview that greatly aids the reader in his/her understanding of the book overall. For those with an interest in Christianity or, more specifically in gnostic Christianity this book is an absolute must.
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