The most significant discovery of Christian manuscripts (ever) was the Nag Hammadi Library, popularly (and a bit inaccurately) known as “the Gnostic Gospels.”
One of the intriguing features of the discovery is that no one is quite sure how it happened. When I was in graduate school, everyone heard a standard tale that we then passed along with some glee to our students. But now that story is in a bit of disrepute — thanks in large part to that destroyer of New Testament Scholarship Orthodoxy, my friend and colleague, Duke professor, Mark Goodacre, as you will see in subsequent posts..
Just to be clear: the discovery itself was definitely made. We have the books of the Nag Hammadi Library, readily available in English translations. And I want to talk about a few of them. But first I want to talk about what we know and don’t know about the discovery itself.
I’ll start, in this post, by giving the popular tale that, until relatively recently, just about everybody knew. This is how I laid it out when I didn’t realize there was much to dispute in it, many years ago in the early editions of my undergraduate textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press).
In a later post, Mark Goodacre will explain why he thinks this story is dubious. And in a post after that, I’ll explain why I’m not so sure he’s right.