Han Solo : Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match
for a good blaster at your side, kid.
Luke Skywalker: You don't believe in the Force, do you?
Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature. Birger A. Pearson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007. 362 pp.
The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, eds. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2009. 880 pp.
Voices of Gnosticism . Miguel Conner. Dublin: Bardic Press, 2011. 225 pp.
Forbidden Faith: The Gnostic Legacy, from the Gospels to the Da Vinci Code . Richard Smoley. Harper San Francisco, 2006, 244 pp.
William Blake's "Elohim Creating Adam." Blake, a kind of Gnostic, believed that lower angels
created the Earth, while the true God was very far away.
Gnosticism, the Hellenistic mystery religion centered in Alexandria, Egypt, predated and then merged with Christianity, only to be rejected as heresy and violently suppressed. Gnosis is merely the Greek for knowledge, and Gnosticism - more or less, the Knowers - was a coinage that dated only from commentary literature in English in the seventeenth century. The Gnostics, to begin with a single one of their characteristics, rejected the Christian idea that salvation could be achieved by faith, as well as the Greek ideas that grew into materialism. They instead claimed that there was a special secret knowledge that, if sought and learned, could allow the spirit to escape the physical body and return after death to a remote realm of nonphysical existence.
For two centuries, from roughly 100 to 300 CE, the founders of Christianity were locked in a fierce battle with the Gnostic current over who would define Christian doctrine. For those who believe in biblical inerrancy it should be recalled that there was no central accepted orthodoxy for centuries after the death of Jesus. The faction that became Catholicism confronted not only the Gnostics but endless other claimants within the Christian fold, and imposed their views only when Christianity became the Roman state religion after Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325, and the tendency within Christianity that he endorsed gained the military power to physically crush their religious rivals. The twenty-seven documents composing the New Testament were not approved as canonical until long after that. They were first even proposed in a single list by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE and finally approved by the Catholic church only in 1546.
That said, even the most Christianized Gnostics, apart from making a prominent place for Jesus in their pantheon, remained an essentially different religion, rejecting even the God that Christians believe created the earth and humanity. The victorious faction within Christianity burned the Gnostics' books and their churches, and sometimes the Gnostics themselves. Thereafter, in Europe, the Gnostic current went underground. Echoes of its mystical views have persisted to our own day as the Western Esoteric Tradition. Its French adherents, the Cathars, were the victims of an exterminating crusade in the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth century Rosicrucianism revived ideas of the ancient Gnostics mixed with support to the Protestant Reformation against Catholicism.
In the century beginning in 1850 an occult revival, led by figures such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, explicitly looked back to Gnosticism as an alternative mystic world view to Christianity, adding elements from Buddhism. Since the end of World War II, and quickening from the 1960s, there has been a new revival of many forms of ancient mysticism. Within that ferment has been growing interest in Gnosticism, fueled by the discovery, at the village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, of the first large collection of Gnostic writings. These only became available to American readers with the publication of translations from the Coptic as The Nag Hammadi Library in 1978, popularized the following year by Elaine Pagels in her book The Gnostic Gospels .
For some eighteen hundred years all that was known of the Gnostics derived from the voluminous hostile polemics against them by the early Church Fathers, written mainly by Irenaeus (130-202), bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (present day Lyons in France); Hippolytus of Rome (170-235); and Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa (160-225). The first actual document written by the Gnostics themselves to resurface in the West was the Pistis Sophia , discovered in 1773 in a Coptic translation from the original Greek. This was translated into Latin in 1856, into German in 1905, and the first English version, by Theosophist G.R.S. Mead, made from the Latin and German versions, was published only in 1921. Beyond this there were only two known original Gnostic documents, the Bruce Codex, which also sat ignored in the British Museum for centuries, from its acquisition in 1769 to its first English publication only in 1978. Lastly, there was the Berlin Codex, four short documents in Coptic, discovered in 1896 but not translated until 1955 and not widely circulated until the 1970s.
The subject was revolutionized by the Nag Hammadi collection. These took more than thirty years to translate and publish, and the work of analyzing them and trying to understand their meaning and historical context began really in the 1980s, with major revisions of our understanding emerging only in the last ten years. Birger A. Pearson's Ancient Gnosticism is one of the best summaries of our current knowledge about the Gnostics. William Barnstone and Marvin Meyer in The Gnostic Bible offer an exhaustive collection of the known Gnostic writings, grouped for the first time by the various Gnostic schools of thought, an essential aid in disentangling this difficult subject. Miguel Conner's Voices of Gnosticism is a transcript of a number of radio interviews with scholars in the field, a light chatty overview. Richard Smoley's contribution is a brief glimpse at the influence of Gnosticism on European esotericism down to our own day.
My Encounters with Gnosticism
I first heard of Gnosticism at the age of sixteen back in 1958 in reading Hermann Hesse's novel Demian . As you can see from the above, little that was reliable was known about this set of beliefs even when I ran into them, much less when Demian was published, in German in 1919. In the story, shy schoolboy Emil Sinclair comes under the influence of Demian, a mysterious older schoolmate. When the story of Cain and Abel is recounted by a teacher, Demian tells Sinclair that Cain was the real hero and Abel was a weakling who deserved to die. Demian gives Sinclair a note telling him that the soul is like a bird whose aim is to fly away from the Earth to find a God named Abraxas. One of Sinclair's teachers tells him that Abraxas was, in antiquity, the name "of a godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements." Demian ultimately reveals that he and his mother belong to an ancient secret religion that traces its lineage back to Cain and reveres the God Abraxas, who presides over both good and evil. A teacher says that people who believed this in ancient times were a sect called Cainites.
Sinclair by accident discovers Demian's secret church. There he is befriended by the organist, Pistorius. He tells Pistorius that he has dreams of flying. Pistorius replies that this is the first step in teaching his spirit how to fly beyond the Earth to reunite with Abraxas, that the secret of surviving death lies in special spiritual knowledge and training, which most people will not bother to undertake. To jump ahead to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, some of these contain accounts of astral travel. For example, in Zostrianos the character of that name is visited by "the angel of knowledge" who takes him on a journey through the heavens. Birger Pearson comments:
"Zostrianos can be seen as a detailed description of the heavenly world, populated by beings we have already encountered in other Sethian texts, including the heavenly Seth, and many more besides." I will come later to who the Sethians were. Marsanes is another of the tractates focused on astral travel.
Coming from a family of spiritualists who believed in the Astral Plane and its many ethereal denizens, I was intrigued by this tale of the ultimate secret society that claimed to know the mystery of soul travel. I didn't much care for the notion of embracing evil on a par with good, or see anything admirable in Cain, but I did want to find out more. Only on reading Birger Pearson more than fifty years on did I discover that Hesse had been conned by the old Church Fathers. The Cainites never existed. They were the malicious concoction of an anonymous Church heresiologist known as Pseudo-Tertullian in the 220s. His invention was picked up and imaginatively amplified by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, circa 310-403 CE.
Hesse, who had been born in Germany but raised in Switzerland, appears to have acquired his knowledge of Gnosticism from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Hesse underwent psychotherapy with Jung's student Josef B. Lang in 1916-1917. He finished the manuscript of Demian in October 1917 (see Ralph Freedman's Hermann Hesse: Pilgrim of Crisis ). Jung in 1916 had penned his own version of a Gnostic myth, Seven Sermons to the Dead , in which he wrote: "Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible." This was first published privately only in 1920 and circulated only to friends, but Hesse may have seen it or had discussions with Lang about its contents, as its ideas are strongly present in Demian .
The Core Gnostic Mythos
Around 1960 an older family friend with a large library gave me a copy of F. C. Burkitt's Church and Gnosis . This presented a wholly different vision from Hesse's Cainites, which I immediately abandoned. Burkitt, whose text was based on lectures given in 1931, was working with scant sources, mainly the Church heresiologists and the Pistis Sophia . This last was written later than most of the Gnostic texts found in 1945 and was consequently highly Christianized, claiming to recount eleven years that the resurrected Jesus spent with his disciples in Jerusalem after his crucifixion. Even from these limited materials it was plain that there were many varieties of Gnosticism.
According to the Church heresiologists, Gnosticism was founded by Simon Magus, a Samaritan contemporary of Jesus. The Samaritans are closely related to the Jews and lived in what is now southern Syria. There is a story about Simon in the New Testament book of Acts, where he is described as a wonder worker and prophet in Samaria. It claims that he was converted to Christianity by Philip on a mission there, but then was rebuffed by Peter on a later mission to Samaria, when Simon is said to have offered money to be given the gift of healing.
Birger Pearson accepts that Simon Magus was probably the first Gnostic teacher, but regards the story in Acts as an invention to magnify the importance of Peter and dismisses the idea that Simon had anything to do with Christianity as "obviously tendentious." He points to the fact that Christian apologist Justin Martyr (100- circa 165), himself a Samaritan, describes Simon as having moved to Rome, where he had a large following and preached his non-Christian theology.
According to this source, Simon Magus came from the village of Gitta, and had a companion named Helen, a former prostitute who Simon claimed was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy. Justin also states, mistakenly, that a statue in Rome was built in Simon's honor inscribed in Latin "to the holy god Simon." Birger Pearson tells us that the statue was found in 1574 and the inscription actually reads "to the faithful god Semo Sanco," a figure in the Roman religion associated with Jupiter.
Simon left no writings so it is impossible to know the details of his system. The element of the fallen Helen is similar to the Gnostic myth of the fall and redemption of Sophia. According a fourth century writing by Clement of Rome, Simon was the favorite disciple of John the Baptist. And while John is revered by Christians as the herald of Jesus as the Messiah, he is also treated as a revered authority by the Mandaeans, the only surviving Gnostic sect, who reject Jesus as a false prophet.
The two major Gnostic figures of the second century and focus of the heretic hunters were Valentinus of Rome (circa 100-160) and Basilides of Alexandria (dates unknown but he taught circa 117-138 CE). Valentinus' doctrines had strongly Christian elements. He was narrowly defeated to be the Christian bishop of Rome. Very little was known about Basilides except that he was the main Gnostic proponent of Abraxas (more commonly spelled Abrasax, a name that by numerology came out to 365, the number of days in the year). On this slim foundation I formed a lifelong dislike of Valentinus as a place-seeker in the world of conventional religion, and a great fondness for Basilides.
The Gnostic congregations were highly decentralized. Their core belief was a strong dualism: that the world of matter was deadening and inferior to a remote nonphysical home, to which an interior divine spark in most humans aspired to return after death. This led them to an absorption with the Jewish creation myths in Genesis, which they obsessively reinterpreted to formulate allegorical explanations of how humans ended up trapped in the world of matter. And they loved myth-making, each prominent teacher embroidering and changing the creation myths in ways large and small.
The basic Gnostic story, which varied in details from teacher to teacher, was this. In the beginning there was an unknowable, immaterial, and invisible God, sometimes called the Father of All and sometimes by other names. "He" was neither male nor female, and was composed of an implicitly finite amount of a living nonphysical substance. Surrounding this God was a great empty region called the Pleroma (the fullness). Beyond the Pleroma lay empty space. The God acted to fill the Pleroma through a series of emanations, a squeezing off of small portions of his/its nonphysical energetic divine material.
In most accounts there are thirty emanations in fifteen complementary pairs, each getting slightly less of the divine material and therefore being slightly weaker. The emanations are called Aeons (eternities) and are mostly named personifications in Greek of abstract ideas. Like the God, they are nonphysical light beings. They are described as androgynous or bisexual. The Aeons in turn generate large numbers of simpler entities, sometimes called angels. The first of the great emanations, according to several Gnostic groups, is named Barbelo. This is a predominately female persona. A common stipulation is that only Barbelo is able to see or communicate with the invisible Father God. Even the other nonphysical dwellers in the Pleroma have no contact with this remote entity, sometimes called the Silent God. Often there is a central trinity of Father, Mother (Barbelo), and Son.
The common outcome of the myth rests on the thirtieth emanation or Aeon, Sophia. This is both the Greek word for Wisdom and also a woman's name. Sophia becomes jealous of the power of the Father of All to create. Without permission of her consort, the other of her matching pair, she gives birth or otherwise creates an offspring. It proves to be monstrous, with the head of a lion and the body of a serpent. She names him Yaldabaoth. He is also called Saklas (in Hebrew, the fool), and Samael (the blind God).
Ashamed of her progeny, Sophia takes Yaldabaoth outside of the Pleroma and hides him in a cloud. There he matures alone, having no knowledge of his origins. Imbued from birth with a portion of the divine material he inherited from his mother, Yaldabaoth, now given the title Demiurge (Greek: craftsman), creates a dozen Archons (Commanders), and then, in a mirror image of the great emanations of the Pleroma, hundreds of lesser angels. Yaldabaoth then creates the cosmos, understood to mean, not the entire universe as in modern usage, but the known planets. These were, in the order then understood: Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the zodiac of visible stars. According to the new Ptolemaic system of astronomy, all of the stars were thought to be attached to a single crystal sphere.
Yaldabaoth assigns seven of his Archons to rule over the seven planetary spheres, then creates the Earth and decides to populate it. He has his angels make Adam, each of 365 angels contributing a single part. But Yaldabaoth and his Archons find that their creature is lifeless, or at least unable to stand. By this time Sophia has discovered what her offspring has done and is horrified at the fate of the humans he is in process of creating, who will be encased in deadening matter as in mobile tombs. In one version she and her consort come down from the Pleroma and trick Yaldabaoth into breathing life into Adam and Eve, thereby giving them and their descendants greater spirit power than the Demiurge is able to retain. In another version Christ or another Illuminator comes to earth disguised by a magic helmet and imbues the near-lifeless human prototypes with tiny divine sparks.
Yaldabaoth then creates the Garden of Eden, not on Earth as in Genesis, but at the level of the stars. He cruelly tells his human captives not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In some versions, for example, in The Hypostasis of the Archons among the Nag Hammadi texts, the serpent is the agent of Sophia, urging Adam and Eve to disobey; in more Christianized accounts it is the Christ who comes to the garden to warn Adam and Eve of the Demiurge's plan to enslave them in deadening matter. As must be clear by now, Yaldabaoth is known by Jews and Christians as Jehovah, or just as God. The Gnostics frequently and ironically quote Yaldabaoth declaring that he is a jealous god, claiming in his ignorance that he is the only God.
The Gnostics similarly offer counter versions of the accounts of God's destructiveness in Genesis, where the vindictive Demiurge sends flood and fire in a vain effort to wipe out humanity, of which he has become jealous. Noah's flood is an act of blind vengeance thwarted not by Noah's ark but by entities from the Pleroma hiding the children of Seth in a cloud. Sodom and Gomorrah were holy cities destroyed out of Yaldabaoth's cruelty. In the Apocalypse of Adam , Abrasax is one of three angels who come from the Pleroma to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this and several other Sethian texts, so called because of the importance given to Adam's third son, it is the incorporeal Seth who provides salvation, and is called, not a savior, but an "Illuminator of knowledge." Note that unlike the God and Jesus figures of Christianity, such saving acts are not offered to individuals and are not scheduled for masses at the end of the world but are extremely rare events directed to groups of the people of Seth threatened by the Demiurge and his Archons. There are other illuminators mentioned in Gnostic texts, so its seems that Seth is primus inter pares, not the unique God figure Jesus is imagined to be, and his role, like that of lesser illuminators, is mainly to awake susceptible humans to their inner spark and prepare them for their cosmic journey.
Finally, the role of a savior, even in the later documents when this is (mostly) Jesus, is not to die for people's sins. Sin has little to do with the Gnostic vision, particularly the peculiar Christian concept of original sin borne by every human. The savior figures in Gnosticism try to wake people up from the deadening effect of being encased in matter and prepare them for the arduous nonmaterial individual flight through the cosmos after death to try to reach the Pleroma and re-merge their divine spark with the main mass located there.
In the Gnostic cosmos each of the "planets" is ruled by one of the Archons and the spirit released from matter by death must persuade the Archon to allow it to pass through that "planet's" crystalline sphere.
Burkitt has an interesting discussion of this cosmology that I have not seen reprised in the recent works. Burkitt proposes that the planetary cosmology so central to the Gnostic mythos was an effort by Jewish Christians to incorporate the latest science of their day into their belief system. It looks bizarre to us today only because the ancient science has been since discarded. The new science of the second century CE was the Ptolemaic model of the universe, the pride of Greek civilization of its day. This was the model in which the Earth was a sphere in the center of the universe. The Earth was thought to be surrounded by nested transparent crystal spheres, the "seven heavens" of proverb, one for each of the planet-type objects, which included the Sun and Moon. The eighth sphere, the ogdoad, contained all of the fixed stars. On the other side of this sphere of the zodiac were imagined various celestial locations, from Plato's realm of perfect ideas to the abode of gods, to the Christian heaven, to the Gnostic Pleroma.
That this was a wrenching ideological change was because the Hebrew scriptures, today the Old Testament, embodied the view general among not only the Jews but virtually all the surrounding peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean except the Greeks, that the world was not only the center of the universe but was flat, covered with a single hard bowl called the firmament. For example, in the book of Job, Elihu asks Job, "Can you beat out [ raqa ] the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal (Job 37:18)?" The Jewish Encyclopedia expands on this:
Often see on the Internet as a "Gnostic" image this is actually a depiction of the ancient Hebrew
cosmology of the Old Testament with a flat earth and a single hard dome called the Firmament
containing the sun and stars. This is an 1888 engraving by French astronomer Camile Flammarion
illustrating a story of a medieval monk who claimed he came to the end of the Earth and found
a hole in the hard dome and stuck his head out.
"The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse." (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4684-cosmogony#2736)
For the ancient Jews the planets and stars were all stuck to a single hard surface over a nearly flat Earth, so close that birds could bump into the stars. One could stop here and ask our present day Evangelical believers in biblical inerrancy who are so numerous in the American Congress how the God of the universe could have been so ignorant.
F. C. Burkitt points to the difficulty this bumptious cosmology posed for Jewish Christians living in cosmopolitan, Greek-dominated Alexandria:
"Towards the end of the first century of our era this new, scientific, 'Ptolemaic' view of the world had come to be held by most cultivated persons in much the same sort of way as most cultivated persons now believe in 'Evolution'."
In both systems the Earth was the center of a relatively tiny universe. The Hebrew cosmology with its one fixed dome could not explain the motion of the planets among the fixed stars. Ptolemy envisioned a set of nested transparent spheres, each of which could rotate independently of the others. This could explain the rising of the Sun, which in the Hebrew/Biblical cosmology simply hid behind a distant mountain every night, and the wanderings of the known planets.
Gnostic illustration of the Ptolemaic system. Behemoth and Leviathan appear in the book of Job, the
first guarding the land, the second the seas. In Genesis God divides the waters between those in the
heavens and those of the earth. Our cartographer places Leviathan at the end of the solar system to
be close to the heavenly waters.
Even a century after the heyday of ancient Gnosticism Catholic theologians were reluctant, on biblical grounds, to accept that the Earth was round, and still retained the old Jewish cosmology of a single solid sky. Saint Augustine (354‰ÛÒ430) on the nature of the firmament wrote, "We may understand this name as given to indicate not it is motionless but that it is solid." He also ridiculed the idea that the Earth was round and people on the other side of the globe walked upside down: "But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible."
The Gnostics, then, sought to remain current with the science of their day. But in the Ptolemaic system the planets had been promoted from mere moving points of light to the central points on gigantic crystal spheres far larger than the Earth. Many of the Greeks now thought of the planets as minor gods. For the Gnostics in particular this posed the problem of how the escaping spirits were supposed to get through each of the eight transparent spheres to reach the Pleroma. Hence their concern with inventing verbal formulas and supposed passwords for the voyaging spirits to declaim to each planetary Archon or its minions to gain passage.
The Gnostics also differed from the Christians on how the material world would end. For the Christians it would come with the rise of the Anti-Christ, the battle of Armageddon, and the second coming of Jesus to hold the Last Judgment in which all of the dead would be raised at once in their physical bodies. For the Gnostics there was no general resurrection, only the departure of individual spirits, and never with their physical bodies, which the spirit was eager to escape. The material world would fade away as more and more of the divine sparks departed to rejoin the Pleroma, and would finally simply collapse when all of the divine material was gone. Humans whose spark was missing or too weak, or who lacked any consciousness of their true state and therefore made no effort to reach the Pleroma would simply be extinguished.
Insofar as Jesus is grafted onto this very different world view, the radical distinction the Gnostics made between matter and the nonphysical world made it impossible for them to accept the idea that any entity from the Pleroma was ever actually a human being, much less that any human being could possibly be a God. Their various groups found different solutions for this, all of which fall under the doctrine called Docetism, the belief that Jesus was never human and appeared on Earth as a kind of phantom. One version of this has the ghostly Jesus watching from a nearby hillside as some poor human is crucified in his place. In another the spirit of Seth "puts on" the body of Jesus like a costume or a case of spirit possession and leaves it before the crucifixion, making Jesus something of an animated puppet. In a related and nominally more Christian version the Christ of the Pleroma is the entity that enters and possesses the body of the mere human Jesus, usually at the time of Jesus' baptism, leaving it again just before the crucifixion.
In my youth I absorbed this mythos with fascination. I never took it literally, in part because the contrarian retellings of Genesis seemed so intentionally allegorical, and because of the obvious limitations of the science of the second century. I was always interested, if not quite a believer, in the possibility of realms of nonphysical entities and some kind of afterlife. I did not on that account ever become so world denying as the Gnostics. Reduced to its most minimal essentials, I read Gnosticism as resting on a few simple propositions:
‰Û¢ There is no God or savior figure that answers any kind of personal prayers. The Christian conceit that they can ring up God or Jesus for an uplifting chat on that huge switchboard that can handle millions of simultaneous very personal calls, or get results by praying to improve the health of their ailing uncle, win for them the coveted promotion at work, or improve their love life, is utterly absent from the Gnostic vision.
‰Û¢ Insofar as there is any survival of human personalities after death this is not guaranteed and cannot be secured by personal declarations of loyalty to any supernatural entity as Christianity maintains. But it may happen and this depends on a combination of one's innate nature, which is not changeable, modified by knowledge and concentration on that end.
‰Û¢ Insofar as anyone survives death, contrary to the Christian version, they do not take their body with them, and are not instantly transported to a post-death destination such as heaven. Instead, as an incorporeal shade, they must make their way by their own wits across the visible universe to a place beyond the stars where they would become part of the plane of nonphysical, bisexual energy beings.
‰Û¢ Life in one's physical body exaggerates the separation of subject and object, and even in one's most alert states of consciousness is like sleep compared to existence as a disembodied spirit.
‰Û¢ There are many kinds of nonphysical entity of the types the Greeks called daimons, as on Earth there are all kinds of people with many and complex motives. This differs from the Christian hard division of all supernatural entities into wholly good or wholly evil, angels or devils, although the Gnostics did pose an opposition between the entities from the Pleroma and those of the Demiurge, mainly on their different attitudes toward physical matter.
The Gnostic Canon Today
The Nag Hammadi Codices
Birger A. Pearson, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara, is a distinguished scholar of Gnosticism and one of the translators of the Nag Hammadi Codices. (A codice is something between a scroll and a book. They are leather bound sheets of handwritten text.) The Nag Hammadi discovery was of fourth-century translations into Coptic of older Greek originals. There were twelve codices or volumes, containing forty-four separate documents, called tractates, plus eight duplicates. The best guess on their origin is that they were part of the library of a Christian monastery and were buried by monks who sought to protect them from destruction during an intolerant purge by their superiors. There are by now numerous editions in English. The earlier ones simply present the whole collection. Recent scholarship has shown that the texts, as one would expect from a library collection, are from different sources, not all Gnostic, and among the Gnostic documents, from different schools. This is easier to follow in the most recent collection, The Gnostic Bible , compiled by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, which includes materials from other sources beyond Nag Hammadi.