The Lost Gospel

In December 1945 an Arab peasant made an astonishing archaeological discovery. A collection of early Christian Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi. That year, thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar were found. The Nag Hammadi Gospel (popularly known as The Gnostic Gospels) comprised fifty-two mostly Gnostic tractates (treatises), but they also include three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum and a partial translation / alteration of Plato's Republic. Rumors obscured the circumstances of this find, perhaps because the discovery was accidental and its sale on the black market illegal. In his "Introduction" to The Nag Hammadi Library in English, James Robinson suggests that these codices may have belonged to a nearby Pachomian monastery, and were buried after Bishop Athanasius condemned the uncritical use of non-canonical books in his Festal Letter of 367 AD. The contents of the codices were written in Coptic, though the works were probably all translations from Greek. The best-known of these works is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Nag Hammadi codices contain the only complete text.

After the discovery it was recognized that fragments of these sayings attributed to Jesus appeared in manuscripts discovered at Oxyrhynchus in 1898, and matching quotations were recognized in other early Christian sources. Subsequently, a 1st or 2nd century date of composition circa 80 AD for the lost Greek originals of the Gospel of Thomas has been proposed, though this is disputed by many if not the majority of biblical matter researchers. The once buried manuscripts themselves date from the 3rd and 4th centuries.

For years even the identity of the discoverer remained unknown. One rumor held that he was a blood avenger; another, that he had made the find near the town of Naj ‘Hammadi at the Jabal al-Tarif, a mountain honeycombed with more than 150 caves. Originally natural, some of these caves were cut and painted and used as grave sites as early as the sixth dynasty, some 4,300 years ago. Thirty years later the discoverer himself, Muhammad ‘Ali al-Samman, told what happened. Shortly before he and his brothers avenged their father’s murder in a blood feud, they had saddled their camels and gone out to the Jabal to dig for sabakh, a soft soil they used to fertilize their crops. Digging around a massive boulder, they hit a red earthenware jar, almost a meter high. Muhammad ‘Ali hesitated to break the jar. But realizing that it might also contain gold, he raised his mattock, smashed the jar, and discovered inside thirteen papyrus books, bound in leather. Muhammad ‘Ali asked the priest, al-Qummus Basiliyus Abd al-Masïh, to keep one or more for him.

Some of the leather-bound manuscripts found at Nag Hammadi

During the time that Muhammad ‘Ali and his brothers were being interrogated for murder, Raghib, a local history teacher, had seen one of the books, and suspected that it had value. Having received one from al- Qummus Basiliyus, Raghib sent it to a friend in Cairo to find out its worth. Sold on the black market through antiquities dealers in Cairo, the manuscripts soon attracted the attention of officials of the Egyptian government. Through circumstances of high drama, as we shall see, they bought one and confiscated ten and a half of the thirteen leather-bound books, called codices, and deposited them in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. But a large part of the thirteenth codex, containing five extraordinary texts, was smuggled out of Egypt and offered for sale in America.

Word of this codex soon reached Professor Gilles Quispel, distinguished historian of religion at Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Excited by the discovery, Quispel urged the Jung Foundation in Zürich to buy the codex. But discovering, when he succeeded, that some pages were missing, he flew to Egypt in the spring of 1955 to try to find them in the Coptic Museum. Arriving in Cairo, he went at once to the museum, borrowed photographs of some of the texts, and hurried back to his hotel to decipher them. Tracing out the first line, Quispel was startled, then incredulous, to read: “These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.” Quispel knew that his colleague H.-C. Puech, using notes from another French scholar, Jean Doresse, had identified the opening lines with fragments of a Greek Gospel of Thomas discovered in the 1890s. But the discovery of the whole text raised new questions: Did Jesus have a twin brother, as this text implies? Could the text be an authentic record of Jesus’s sayings? According to its title, it contained the Gospel According to Thomas; yet, unlike the Gospels of the New Testament, this text identified itself as a secret gospel.

Quispel also discovered that it contained many sayings known from the New Testament; but these sayings, placed in unfamiliar contexts, suggested other dimensions of meaning. Other passages, Quispel found, differed entirely from any known Christian tradition: The “living Jesus,” for example, speaks in sayings as cryptic and compelling as Zen koans: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’ ” What Quispel held in his hand, the Gospel of Thomas, was only one of the fifty-two texts discovered at Nag Hammadi. Bound into the same volume with it is the Gospel of Philip, which attributes to Jesus acts and sayings quite different from those in the New Testament:
“ ... the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended.] ... They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’ The Savior answered and said to them, ‘Why do I not love you as [I love] her?’ ” Other sayings in this collection criticize common Christian beliefs, such as the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection, as naïve misunderstandings. Bound together with these gospels is the Apocryphon (literally, “secret book”) of John, which opens with an offer to reveal “the mysteries [and the] things hidden in silence” which Jesus taught to his disciple John.

Muhammad ‘Ali later admitted that some of the texts were lost—burned up or thrown away. But what remains is astonishing: some fifty-two texts from the early centuries of the Christian era, including a collection of early Christian gospels, previously unknown. ... What Muhammad ‘Ali discovered at Nag Hammadi, it soon became clear, were Coptic translations, made about 1,500 years ago, of still more ancient manuscripts. The originals themselves had been written in Greek, the language of the New Testament: As Doresse, Puech, and Quispel had recognized, part of one of them had been discovered by archaeologists about fifty years earlier, when they found a few fragments of the original Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas. About the dating of the manuscripts themselves there is little debate.

Examination of the datable papyrus used to thicken the leather bindings, and of the Coptic script, place them about A.D. 350-400. But scholars sharply disagree about the dating of the original texts. Some of them can hardly be later than about A.D. 120-150, since Irenaeus, the orthodox Bishop of Lyon, writing about 180, declares that heretics “boast that they possess more gospels than there really are” and complains that in his time such writings already have won wide circulation, from Gaul through Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor. Quispel and his collaborators, who first published the Gospel of Thomas, suggested the date of about 140 for the original. ... But recently Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University has suggested that the collection of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although compiled about 140, may include some traditions even older than the Gospels of the New Testament, “possibly as early as the second half of the first century” (50-100)—as early as, or earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. ...

Why were these texts buried—and why have they remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? Their suppression as banned documents, and their burial on the cliff at Nag Hammadi, it turns out, were both part of a struggle critical for the formation of early Christianity. Some scholars said the Nag Hammadi texts, and others like them, which circulated at the beginning of the Christian era, were denounced as heresy by orthodox Christians in the middle of the second century.

(Sources : Secret of The Da Vinci Code : “The Unauthorized Guide To The Bestselling Novel” Collector’s Edition; and Wikipedia)

(Pics sources : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kodeks_IV_NagHammadi.jpg;
Secret of The Da Vinci Code : “The Unauthorized Guide To The Bestselling Novel” Collector’s Edition page 34)
The Lost Gospel The Lost Gospel Reviewed by Tripzibit on 15:50 Rating: 5

4 comments:

  1. woow...pasti dah sangat tua bgt tuh, klo dipegang remuk ga ya ? wkwkwkwkwkwk

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for that. Have you seen this version of the Corpus hermeticum?
    http://www.tphta.ws/TPH_CHHT.HTM

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  3. (RiP666) Wah,yg pasti harus hati2 bro megangnya, asal gak ada rayapnya aja hehe...

    (The Prince of Centraxis) You're welcome. Thanks for your information about Corpus Hermeticum,i haven't seen it before

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  4. It's interesting, but considering the only sources are "Davinci Code", it makes the reliability spurious at best.

    ReplyDelete

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