The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Ben C. Smith
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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Oct 21, 2020 7:01 pm

MrMacSon wrote:
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?!
.
Not at a glance, no. That is what I am trying to determine. Is there a pattern to which kinds of sectarian materials were selected and, as a related matter, to how they were organized?

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by DCHindley » Wed Oct 21, 2020 7:12 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
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?
I was thinking that there are no annotations or marginal notes. Kind of strange for something someone venerated for the deep knowledge that they convey. It represents a wide variety of different kinds of works. These are for reference, not destruction. We don't even know for sure under what circumstances it was found, as it surfaced in the antiquities market.

But when I looked at the passage from Plato's Republic I was struck by the strange way that the text was translated into Coptic. The translator grasped the tripartite nature of the human condition expressed by Plato, but in other ways seemed to miss the mark. Of course, I had to do most of my thinkin' usin' English translations (I read 2-3 well respected ones). There is quite a difference between ETs of this passage, so I am not surprised the E.T. of the Coptic also seems so far from what the Greek seems to say.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by DCHindley » Wed Oct 21, 2020 7:21 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
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?
I was thinking that there are no annotations or marginal notes. Kind of strange for something someone venerated for the deep knowledge that they convey. It represents a wide variety of different kinds of works. These are for reference, not destruction. We don't even know for sure under what circumstances it was found, as it surfaced in the antiquities market.

But when I looked at the passage from Plato's Republic I was struck by the strange way that the text was translated into Coptic. The translator grasped the tripartite nature of the human condition expressed by Plato, but in other ways seemed to miss the mark. Of course, I had to do most of my thinkin' usin' English translations (I read 2-3 well respected ones). There is quite a difference between ETs of this passage, so I am not surprised the E.T. of the Coptic also seems so far from what the Greek seems to say.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by andrewcriddle » Fri Oct 23, 2020 8:20 am

IMVHO the texts were collected by monks pursuing an Evagrian "Origenist" spirituality which the mainstream church from c 400 CE came to regard as heretical. The texts drew a distinction between the physical world and spiritual reality which these monks found helpful and they were able to overlook elements in these texts which at face value both they and the mainstream church would have regarded as unorthodox.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Oct 23, 2020 8:41 am

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Oct 21, 2020 7:21 pm
But when I looked at the passage from Plato's Republic I was struck by the strange way that the text was translated into Coptic. The translator grasped the tripartite nature of the human condition expressed by Plato, but in other ways seemed to miss the mark. Of course, I had to do most of my thinkin' usin' English translations (I read 2-3 well respected ones). There is quite a difference between ETs of this passage, so I am not surprised the E.T. of the Coptic also seems so far from what the Greek seems to say.
I myself have never looked at this version of (part of) the Republic, but I do remember reading somewhere that the translator does not seem to have understood the work.
andrewcriddle wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 8:20 am
IMVHO the texts were collected by monks pursuing an Evagrian "Origenist" spirituality which the mainstream church from c 400 CE came to regard as heretical. The texts drew a distinction between the physical world and spiritual reality which these monks found helpful and they were able to overlook elements in these texts which at face value both they and the mainstream church would have regarded as unorthodox.
Okay! Something concrete to pursue. Thank you. Do any of the texts in the collection stand out as not fitting your idea very well? Any strays? Also, is there anything written up about it (whether by you or by anyone else) that I could consult?

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by andrewcriddle » Fri Oct 23, 2020 9:21 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 8:41 am

andrewcriddle wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 8:20 am
IMVHO the texts were collected by monks pursuing an Evagrian "Origenist" spirituality which the mainstream church from c 400 CE came to regard as heretical. The texts drew a distinction between the physical world and spiritual reality which these monks found helpful and they were able to overlook elements in these texts which at face value both they and the mainstream church would have regarded as unorthodox.
Okay! Something concrete to pursue. Thank you. Do any of the texts in the collection stand out as not fitting your idea very well? Any strays? Also, is there anything written up about it (whether by you or by anyone else) that I could consult?
See https://www.academia.edu/4542381/Origen ... ices_2013_

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by mbuckley3 » Fri Oct 23, 2020 9:55 am

An unhelpful note. Let's take the New Testament as an analogy. If all the pieces were anonymous, how would we determine the 'logic' of the collection? For instance, what is Hebrews doing there? Knowing as we do the 'key' of apostolic authorship, the attribution of Hebrews to Paul explains its inclusion. But only up to a point. It still does not reveal the 'logic' which included these particular documents from the much wider number of allegedly apostolic writings available in the second century.

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Oct 23, 2020 10:18 am

mbuckley3 wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 9:55 am
An unhelpful note. Let's take the New Testament as an analogy. If all the pieces were anonymous, how would we determine the 'logic' of the collection? For instance, what is Hebrews doing there? Knowing as we do the 'key' of apostolic authorship, the attribution of Hebrews to Paul explains its inclusion. But only up to a point. It still does not reveal the 'logic' which included these particular documents from the much wider number of allegedly apostolic writings available in the second century.
No, that is a great point, and the possible analogy of the Bible (OT or NT or both) had occurred to me, but what I came to is this: if I find, say, a Gideon Bible in a hotel room, I already know the reason why I am going to find certain texts on its pages and not others. The reason is the canon. Bibles tend to include only texts deemed canonical by the group producing them. So the question is pushed back: why are some books canonical and not others? And a canon can result from very complex historical circumstances, traditions, and pressures (witness the push to include more nonwhite, nonmale authors in the Western literary canon).

So, obviously, the answer to my question about the Nag Hammadi texts could hypothetically be that those texts (and not others) formed somebody's ancient canon. And, in that case, I would ask the inevitable next questions. Whose? How do we know? Is the same list attested elsewhere? Why were those books considered canonical and not others? And so on. If, however, these works are not (part of) a canon, then I am forced to explore other avenues.

Possibly a closer analogy, but one still very much in the spirit of your example, would be certain kinds of Bibles, specifically certain kinds of New Testaments: those which include the Psalms, and others which include the Psalms and the Proverbs. So all of the books are canonical, but most canonical works are left out. Why? Publishing a shorter work or a pocket version is obviously a factor, but why those texts? I remember wondering this as a child and never really coming up with a solid answer. (Someone once suggested that the reason was that a lot of the Psalms are predictions about Jesus; I wondered to myself, though, then what about Isaiah?)

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by mbuckley3 » Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:24 pm

A further unhelpful note. To force my analogy : in an alternative universe, 13 codices containing 27 texts appear on the Cairo antiquities market over a couple of years in the late 1940s. A brilliant scholar asserts that they form a unified collection, the library of an ancient cult, which he terms the New Testament. He fails to convince his brilliant peers, who point out with impeccable logic that this ragbag of texts only derives its unity from the enterprise of dealers in antiquities over a period of years.
As Mr Hindley has indicated, the 'smashed jar' provenance story ( late, inconsistent, an Orientalist fantasy ) has met increasing disbelief ( Mark Goodacre, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Brent Nongbri ). This undermines the notion that the Nag Hammadi texts form an ancient collection. As I understand it, while some of the codices are connected, judging by scribal hand, we are still left with 7 sub-groups/individual items. Further, the dating by cartonnage only applies to a sub-group of 3. So we have no definite provenance, no specific location ( monastery, grave ), no cover-all date. They should be regarded as stand-alone texts, with no sitz im leben, as are the Askew, Bruce and Berlin codices discovered long ago, unless that 'key' is found which demands that the Nag Hammadi texts are studied as a collection and so have a 'logic' to their choice and arrangement.
Of course, to be fair, if someone can come up with a compelling answer to your 'logic' question, that in itself would point to the 'key'...

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Re: The logic of the Nag Hammadi collection.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:29 pm

mbuckley3 wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:24 pm
A further unhelpful note. To force my analogy : in an alternative universe, 13 codices containing 27 texts appear on the Cairo antiquities market over a couple of years in the late 1940s. A brilliant scholar asserts that they form a unified collection, the library of an ancient cult, which he terms the New Testament. He fails to convince his brilliant peers, who point out with impeccable logic that this ragbag of texts only derives its unity from the enterprise of dealers in antiquities over a period of years.
As Mr Hindley has indicated, the 'smashed jar' provenance story ( late, inconsistent, an Orientalist fantasy ) has met increasing disbelief ( Mark Goodacre, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Brent Nongbri ). This undermines the notion that the Nag Hammadi texts form an ancient collection. As I understand it, while some of the codices are connected, judging by scribal hand, we are still left with 7 sub-groups/individual items. Further, the dating by cartonnage only applies to a sub-group of 3. So we have no definite provenance, no specific location ( monastery, grave ), no cover-all date. They should be regarded as stand-alone texts, with no sitz im leben, as are the Askew, Bruce and Berlin codices discovered long ago, unless that 'key' is found which demands that the Nag Hammadi texts are studied as a collection and so have a 'logic' to their choice and arrangement.
Of course, to be fair, if someone can come up with a compelling answer to your 'logic' question, that in itself would point to the 'key'...
Thanks for this. All of it sounds familiar, and I have read it before (and Robinson's own story kept changing in the details, if I recall correctly), but overall I am woefully undereducated on the topic of the provenance of the codices. Any assumption on my part that they form a curated collection such as what we find at Qumran may well be mistaken.

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