A cache of early Christian texts accidentally unearthed in the Egyptian desert over a half century ago put a spotlight on the birth of Christianity, suggesting that it was anything but harmonious and smooth. The death and resurrection of Jesus and tumultuous events that followed triggered a complex, diverse, and contentious process involving groups of early Christians in ideological clashes over interpretations of Jesus' teachings. The earthenware jar discovered by a peasant seeking fertilizer near Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt, contained fifty-two mostly Gnostic texts: lost gospels, wisdom literature, poems, hymns, prayers, sayings of the Savior, and apocalyptic material. The writings provided scholars with a lens for viewing primitive Christianity through the beliefs of the Gnostics.
At a time when the proto-orthodox church leaders vigorously defended the church against heresies, punishing and excommunicating their opponents and destroying their religious texts, someone hid the cache of Gnostic Christian books. The ancient monastery of St. Pachomius stood only about fifty miles from the site of the discovery and was known to be a place of significant early Christian activity. Scholars theorize that the Egyptian Christian monks living at St. Pachomius hid the sacred texts, not to destroy them but to preserve them. The documents were put together in ways that suggest the manufacture of them was done with respect and veneration. Many of the texts were written in the Egyptian Coptic script, translated from the original Greek. For these reasons, the monks most likely hid the library for safekeeping.
In this book, you will learn about the Nag Hammadi treasures, the various Gnostic sects and their founders, and their spiritual and ideological differences with orthodox Christianity. You will gain an understanding of the Gnostic view of creation and salvation and why they emphasized an inner, experiential knowledge — gnosis — as a means of salvation. You will also discover their belief in a feminine aspect of God. You may conclude that the threads of their sacred works add to the beauty and vibrancy of the tapestry of early Christianity.