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Nag Hammadi is a small town in Egypt that rocked the world close to 80 years ago. At around that time, villagers found clay pots that contained ancient writings that stood to turn the world upside down, as far as biblical scholarship is concerned. Nag Hammadi has revealed ancient texts that show alternative manuscripts and artifacts to the Bible. Many people were thinking that the artifacts uncovered in the small Egyptian town almost a century ago is going to drastically change what we believe about Christian theology, the nature of Christ, the character of the relationship between God and man, and the connection of faith in general. Despite the sensational headlines, things didn’t pan out that way. This is also thanks to the discovery of the Gospel according to Thomas.
In spite of all that, Nag Hammadi scrolls have essentially reaffirmed the basic traditional translation of the Christian Bible. After this discovery, and all the sensational headlines and expectations of biblical scholars for both secular and religious from all over the world, things still remained the same. This highlights an immense amount of discord between text on a research level and what the Bible has taught by Bible colleges and seminaries around the world.
Egypt Bible’s Canon
Understand that there is a tremendous amount of literature out there that purportedly undermine our traditional comprehension and appreciation of everything about Christianity. However, despite this abundance of materials, they really don’t have that much of an effect. If anything, Nag Hammadi highlights the importance of biblical scholarship, as well as textual continuity.
Where does the Bible come from? When asked this question, a lot of Christians often draw a blank. They think that the Bible they read continuously and oftentimes, habitually is just something that was handed from one generation to another.
Interestingly enough, around the 100s, all the way up to the 300s, there were many competing gospels and bibles. In fact, the main reason why a pope in the in the 200s commissioned St. Jerome to come up with the Latin version of the Bible was to set a standard for these many competing bibles out there. The early church needed this standard, so they can have a clear idea of what Christianity means, and people could see eye-to-eye as far as support and evidence are concerned.
Egypt’s Factoring Dangers
As you can well imagine, if people are operating from many different, and often wildly varying versions of the Bible, it’s anybody’s guess what their appreciation of Christianity is. In fact, the first attempts at standardizing the Bible were simply a means to minimize what the early church considered heresies. The biggest threat at that time involved a body of proto-Christian theology called Gnosticism.
Gnosticism indicates a faith in an unknown god. At some levels, Gnostics believe that God is unknowable, and that there are distinct conflicts between the flesh, the spirit, and between the holy and the unholy.
It’s important to keep this in mind when exploring the impact of the Nag Hammadi scrolls because the literary material found at this site speaks to this alternate version of Christianity. At an earlier point in the in the church’s development, Gnosticism was actually quite popular. In fact, it seemed to have enjoyed a greater amount of popularity than standard doctrinal Christianity. It’s easy to see why. According to Gnostic traditions, God is to be experienced directly.
Egypt’s Modern Bible
There’s no need for a priesthood or a hierarchy. It operates on a purely decentralized and fragmented infrastructure. This flies in the face of how Christianity eventually developed in the Western world. The whole notion of a church, or even a fellowship of believers operating out of the same set of scriptures was unknown to the almost purely experience-based approach and foundation of Gnosticism.
While critics can be seen celebrating the impact of the Gospel of Thomas, it resulted not to have much of an impact at all. Indeed, when doing some forensic archaeology of alternative texts from that period of church history, it turns out that at around that time.
One competing Bible gospel that came out of Nag Hammadi was the Gospel of Thomas. This really blew people’s minds wide open because there are certain pro-homosexuality and quasi-homoerotic passages from the Gospel of Thomas. Indeed, many skeptics of the traditional Christian Bible have said that the Gospel of Thomas was the anti-Bible in the sense that it opened a lot of doubts regarding the underpinnings and doctrinal foundations of the conventional Bible.
Egypt Gnostic Impact
The Gnostics actually came up with a tremendous amount of books, letters and epistles, which most we’re not really written by the Apostles they are named after. For example, the Gospel of Thomas may not have been written by the Apostle Thomas. Similarly, the Gospel according to Judas, the Apostle who stuck his finger through Jesus’ side, was not written directly by Judas Iscariot.
The true meaning of Nag Hammadi really boils down to highlighting the often rancorous and conflicting debate between the streams of scholarship that eventually resulted in the Christian. Bible we know of today and other strains of thoughts mostly conflicted with each other. Both are extremely impressionistic and personal in nature.
If anything, the highly decentralized and fragmented nature and infrastructure of Gnosticism wore itself out. While it was quite successful in the beginning as the church started to suffer persecution at the hands of Romans, more and more Gnostics left Christianity. In fact, it could be argued that there were never Christians in the first place, and all of these were made possible by the threat of death.
Compare this with Christians who staked their lives and their deaths on the book that eventually would become the Bible that we know today. Nag Hammadi not only highlights the tremendous ferment excitement about Bible scholarship, but it also sheds a spotlight on the dangers and pitfalls involved in reading too much of our modern expectations and prejudices into long-running written debates of a past age.