The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

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Ben C. Smith
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The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:04 pm

Does somebody at this forum have a solid approach to understanding the logic, as it were, behind the selection of texts found in the ten thirteen codices of the Nag Hammadi collection?

It certainly looks to me as if, like the Qumran texts, the Nag Hammadi texts form (at least part of) a curated collection, meaning that they are far from a random sample of (Christian, Jewish, Neoplatonic, or other) texts from the surrounding culture. Nor is it obvious to me that their being considered heretical by the Catholic church is the main cause for their individual admission to the collection, since (A) they occupy entire codices (rather than sharing those codices with, say, the four canonical gospels or the like) and (B) there is an excerpt from Plato, too, among the texts. In other words, even if the local monastery may have gotten rid of these texts for reasons having to do with their status in the Catholic church, the fact that they were all bound up together in codices seems to me to mean that they were already viewed as a collection (or set of collections) of some kind before someone disposed of them.

Yet, if they form a collection, what kind of collection is it? What is the common factor? Bentley Layton has a translation of many of the texts in The Gnostic Scriptures, but a quick comparison and contrast of his table of contents with the overall text list from Nag Hammadi suggests that he has excluded fewer than he has included; so their being "Gnostic" in the eyes of Layton, at any rate, cannot be the common factor. He provides a helpful diagram of the kinds of texts he included (Gnostic, Thomasine, Basilidean, Hermetic, Valentinian):

Bentley Layton, Historical Relationships of Gnostic Scriptures.png
Bentley Layton, Historical Relationships of Gnostic Scriptures.png (35.99 KiB) Viewed 4972 times

But obviously the Nag Hammadi collection as a whole must operate on a broader scale than these converging streams, and is anything distinctly Basilidean to be found in the codices?

So what is the common factor? Any ideas? Or what book should I consult for a good, comprehensive answer to (or at least treatment of) the question?

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:16 pm

For reference, a list of the texts from Nag Hammadi (reformatted from the Nag Hammadi Library site):

Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, The
Allogenes (= Foreigner, The)
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Adam, The
Apocalypse (Revelation) of James, The First
Apocalypse (Revelation) of James, The Second
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Paul, The
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Peter, The
Apocryphon (Secret Book) of James, The
Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John, The*
Asclepius 21-29
Authoritative Teaching
Book of Thomas the Contender, The
Concept of Our Great Power, The
Dialogue of the Savior, The
Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, The
Eugnostos the Blessed*
Exegesis on the Soul, The
Gospel of the Egyptians, The (= Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, The)*
Gospel of Philip, The
Gospel of Thomas, The
Gospel of Truth, The*
Hypostasis of the Archons, The (= Reality of the Rulers, The)
Hypsiphrone
Interpretation of Knowledge, The
Letter of Peter to Philip, The
Marsanes
Melchizedek
On the Anointing
On the Baptism A
On the Baptism B
On the Eucharist A
On the Eucharist B
On the Origin of the World*
Paraphrase of Shem, The
Plato, Republic 588A-589B
Prayer of the Apostle Paul, The
Prayer of Thanksgiving, The
Second Treatise of the Great Seth, The
Sentences of Sextus, The
Sophia of Jesus Christ, The
Teachings of Silvanus, The
Testimony of Truth, The
Thought of Norea, The
Three Steles of Seth, The
Thunder, Perfect Mind, The
Treatise on the Resurrection, The
Trimorphic Protennoia (= Three Forms of First Thought)
Tripartite Tractate, The
Valentinian Exposition, A
Zostrianos

Asterisked texts appear more than once in the codices.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by davidmartin » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:37 pm

i wonder if the diminution of the various 'heretical' groups by the mid-4th century has something to do with it
if there were significant valentinian, sethian or other branches about you'd expect each codex to reflect one of the branches (well.. some do seem to)
but if these groups had shrunk and become less common maybe lumped more together under 'alternative spirituality' they could have intentionally tried to appeal to different flavours at once, if say they were being sold. this is just a big guess

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by DCHindley » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:44 pm

Maybe the collector was using these books to *refute* Gnostics. If I recall correctly, the copyist made a couple notes apologizing to the collector for duplications he had made (probably charged by line). To me that means he was reviewing manuscripts he had access to to pick out those his collector buddy was seeking.

The NH codices are believed to be written mid 4th century CE, which was a bit earlier than the period that Epiphanius was gaining a reputation, started in Egypt, for studying heresies.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:46 pm

davidmartin wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:37 pm
if there were significant valentinian, sethian or other branches about you'd expect each codex to reflect one of the branches (well.. some do seem to)
Can you clarify the highlighted bit?

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:47 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:44 pm
Maybe the collector was using these books to *refute* Gnostics.
Okay, very interesting idea. What do you think was the logic behind this particular selection of texts to refute?

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:56 pm

The contents of the individual codices (reformatted from the Nag Hammadi Library site):

Codex I (The Jung Codex)

Prayer of the Apostle Paul, The
Apocryphon (Secret Book) of James, The
Gospel of Truth, The*
Treatise on the Resurrection, The
Tripartite Tractate, The

Codex II

Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John, The (Long Recension)*
Gospel of Thomas, The
Gospel of Philip, The
Hypostasis of the Archons, The (= Reality of the Rulers, The)
On the Origin of the World*
Exegesis on the Soul, The
Book of Thomas the Contender, The

Codex III

Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John, The (Short Recension)*
Gospel of the Egyptians, The (= Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, The)*
Eugnostos the Blessed*
Sophia of Jesus Christ, The
Dialogue of the Savior, The

Codex IV

Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John, The (Long Recension)*
Gospel of the Egyptians, The (= Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, The)*

Codex V

Eugnostos the Blessed*
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Paul, The
Apocalypse (Revelation) of James, The First
Apocalypse (Revelation) of James, The Second
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Adam, The

Codex VI

Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, The
Thunder, Perfect Mind, The
Authoritative Teaching
Concept of Our Great Power, The
Plato, Republic 588A-589B
Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, The
Prayer of Thanksgiving, The
Asclepius 21-29

Codex VII

Paraphrase of Shem, The
Second Treatise of the Great Seth, The
Apocalypse (Revelation) of Peter, The
Teachings of Silvanus, The
Three Steles of Seth, The

Codex VIII

Zostrianos
Letter of Peter to Philip, The

Codex IX

Melchizedek
Thought of Norea, The
Testimony of Truth, The

Codex X

Marsanes

Codex XI

Interpretation of Knowledge, The
Valentinian Exposition, A
— On the Anointing
— On the Baptism A
— On the Baptism B
— On the Eucharist A
— On the Eucharist B
Allogenes (= Foreigner, The)
Hypsiphrone

Codex XII

Sentences of Sextus, The
Gospel of Truth, The*
Fragments

Codex XIII

Trimorphic Protennoia (= Three Forms of First Thought)
On the Origin of the World*

Asterisked texts appear more than once in the codices.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by davidmartin » Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:06 pm

hmm now you asked me! i think the problem is just when you think a codex might be for a certain sect, it has one text that spoils it

codex 1 seems very valentinian though. you've got the gospel of truth, tripartite tractate and i think the treatise on resurrection is also valentinian and the prayer of apostle paul fits
but the secret book of james i'm not so sure it is to be honest. if it were maybe that would be a full valentinian house?

codex 6 if you ignore the 1st text looks first half simonian-ish and the second half hermetic

just look at codex 7, it's rock solid sethian (basilidian even) then there's the teaching of silvanus, what is that doing there?!

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:47 pm

Does the diagram in your opening post match the (list of the) various codices and their contents (two posts up from this one) ?

Further to davidmartin's determinations (?) -
davidmartin wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:06 pm

codex 1 seems very valentinian ... you've got the gospel of truth, tripartite tractate and i think the treatise on resurrection is also valentinian and the prayer of apostle paul fits
but the secret book of james i'm not so sure it is to be honest. if it were maybe that would be a full valentinian house?

codex 6 if you ignore the 1st text looks first half simonian-ish and the second half hermetic

just look at codex 7, it's rock solid sethian (basilidian even) then there's the teaching of silvanus, what is that doing there?!
.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:59 pm

davidmartin wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:06 pm
hmm now you asked me! i think the problem is just when you think a codex might be for a certain sect, it has one text that spoils it

codex 1 seems very valentinian though. you've got the gospel of truth, tripartite tractate and i think the treatise on resurrection is also valentinian and the prayer of apostle paul fits

but the secret book of james i'm not so sure it is to be honest.
Yes, I think the Apocryphon of James may be your odd man out in codex I:

Francis E. Williams, “The Apocryphon of James,” in The Nag Hammadi Library, volume 1, page 22: But beyond this, it is doubtful whether it can be fitted into any Gnostic category named and described by the Fathers. The only clear resemblance between its teaching and the Valentinian is its tripartite division of the human being, with the place of honor accorded to the spirit; but this is found in the teachings of various Gnostic schools. Otherwise, the mythology typically associated with Valentinianism is missing; where, for example, is the fall of the suffering Sophia? Besides, as Orbe was the first to point out, it would be surprising if Valentinians would write or use a document which advocates martyrdom as strongly as ours does.

If the gospel of Philip in codex II and the Apocryphon of James in codex I were to switch places, codex I could be pretty solidly Valentinian (the Prayer of the Apostle Paul being perhaps the weakest link, but not very weak).
codex 6 if you ignore the 1st text looks first half simonian-ish and the second half hermetic

just look at codex 7, it's rock solid sethian (basilidian even) then there's the teaching of silvanus, what is that doing there?!
I kind of see what you mean. Some of the codices are close, but not quite fully "there" as representing an individual sect.

What do you think draws these particular sects (Thomasine, Valentinian, Sethian, and so on) together overall?

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