Chenoboskion, Gnostic Texts of
CHENOBOSKION, GNOSTIC TEXTS OF
The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the Coptic Gnostic library from the region of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, are set forth in detail by J. M. Robinson in the introduction to The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices (Leiden 1972). Recent study of the codices at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo shows that the library should be described as consisting of 12 codices and one unbound tractate, "The Discourse on the Three Appearances," formerly Codex XIII, which in antiquity had been placed inside the front cover of Codex VI. Of Codex XII only 9 folios and some loose fragments survive. The covers of Codices I-XI are extant, though many of the papyrus leaves are fragmentary. At least parts of 1,139 inscribed pages have been identified. The tendency of scholars to date the codices in the 4th century receives support from a preliminary study of documentary fragments in the cartonnage of the cover of Codex VII: the papyrologist J. W. B. Barns has assigned the dates a.d.339 and 342 to two such documents. Under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt and in conjunction with UNESCO, volumes of a photographic facsimile edition of the papyri are now appearing at regular intervals. Editions of a number of tractates have appeared in various languages, and a complete English-language edition is being published in the series "Nag Hammadi Studies" (Leiden).
The contents of the library, numbering 53 tractates, have been considerably clarified by editing and analysis, calling attention to a wide diversity of writings, some of them not Gnostic at all. For example, tractate 5 of Codex VI, untitled but provisionally called "The Discourse on Injustice," was identified by H. M. Schenke as a passage from the Republic of Plato poorly translated into Coptic; also, F. Wisse identified the first tractate of Codex XII, despite its fragmentary nature, as a Coptic version of the Sentences of Sextus. There are other works of doubtfully Gnostic character that were previously unknown, e.g., "The Teachings of Silvanus" (VII.4), a Christian wisdom document, and "The Exegesis on the Soul" (II.6), a myth of the imprisoned soul, supported by biblical and Homeric quotations. Of the literature of Christian or Christianized Gnosticism a variety of literary genres are represented: gospels "of Truth" (I.2 and XII.2), "of Thomas" (II.2), "of Philip" (II.3), "of the Egyptians"(III.2 and IV.2); secret books "of James" (I.1) and "of John" (II.1, III.1, and IV.1); acts "of Peter and the Twelve Apostles" (VI.1) and "The Letter of Peter to Philip" (VIII.3), despite its title; apocalypses "of Paul"(V.2), "of James" (V.3 and 4), "of Peter" (VII.3). There are several apparently non-Christian Gnostic works of great importance for the problem of Gnostic origins, including treatises such as "The Allogenes" (XI.3), apocalypses such as "The Paraphrase of Shem" (VII.1) or "The Apocalypse of Adam" (V.5), prayers such as "The Three Steles of Seth" (VII.5), and revelation discourses such as "The Thunder: Perfect Mind" (VI.2). In one case there is strong evidence for the Christianizing of a Gnostic treatise, "Eugnostos, the Blessed" (III.3 and V.1), by transformation into a revelation of the risen Jesus to his disciples, "The Sophia of Jesus Christ" (III.4 and Berlin Codex 8502). A large number of tractates retell, with variations, the familiar Gnostic myth of the origin of the world and of man; "The Nature of the Archons" (II.4) is a good example. The tendency to classify the bulk of the collection as "Sethian" is being called into question. Some works are recognizably Valentinian (e.g., several in Codex I, also V.3 and XI.1 and 2) and others Hermetic (VI.6, 7, 8), but it s difficult to classify the remainder in terms of a known Gnostic sect.
Research on the documents thus far has tended to stress the importance of the Jewish material in them and the view that Gnosticism in its origins was independent of Christianity.
Bibliography: d. m. scholer, Nag Hammadi Bibliography 1948–1969 (Nag Hammadi Studies 1; Leiden 1971), with annual bibliographic supplements in Novum Testamentum. The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices (Leiden 1972–). Texts and translations. m. malinine et al., Epistula Iacobi Apocrypha (Zurich 1968). r. kasser et al., Tractatus Tripartitus (Bern 1973–). j. e. mÉnard, L'Évangile selon Philippe (Paris 1967). r. a. bullard, The Hypostasis of the Archons (Patristische Texte und Studien 10; Berlin 1970). m. krause and p. labib, Gnostische und hermetische Schriften aus Codex II und Codex VI (Glückstadt 1971). a. bÖhlig and f. wisse, The Gospel of the Egyptians (Nag Hammadi Studies 4; Leiden 1973). w. foerster, ed., Die Gnosis 2 (Zurich 1971). Studies. a. bÖhlig, Mysterion und Wahrkeit (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des späteren Judentums und des Urchristentums 6; Leiden 1968). m. krause, ed., Essays on the Nag Hammadi Text's in Honour of Alexander Böhlig (Nag Hammadi Studies 3; Leiden 1972). g. macrae et al., Essays on the Coptic Gnostic Library (Leiden 1970). h. c. puech, "Gnostic Gospels and Related Documents," in e. hennecke and w. schneemelcher, eds., New Testament Apocrypha v.1, tr. r. m. wilson (Philadelphia 1963) 231–362. r. m. wilson, Gnosis and the New Testament (Philadelphia 1968).
[g. w. macrae]