The Nag Hammadi Codices Essay

1567 words - 6 pages

One of the most important historical manuscripts ever, the Nag Hammadi Codices, some of the oldest ‘books’ ever discovered, reveal an unparalleled glimpse into alternative versions of early Christianity. The Codices were found in 1945 by two farmers in Egypt. They were digging near the town of Nag Hammadi, and found a large ceramic vessel containing several very old books. The farmers sought to make money from their find but got into a dispute and chose to leave the manuscripts with a Coptic priest. A traveling English teacher who was a friend of the priest noticed the books some time later, recognized their potential significance, and took one to the Coptic Museum in Cairo. The remainder of the codices and texts were then sold to various people by the priest’s mother, in the belief that they were worthless. Because of this, the Nag Hammadi collection surfaced slowly and its significance was not acknowledged until long after its discovery. The collection was consolidated bit by bit, and today all of the codices reside in the Coptic Museum in Cairo except for a half leaf which is in Yale University’s Beinecke Library. (Tertullian)
Originally there were twelve codices plus 8 sheets from a thirteenth. In total there were fifty two papyrus texts, written originally in Greek and later translated to Coptic. Some of the texts were duplicated, which brings the number of unique texts down to forty five. (Tertullian) There were many more uninscribed papyrus fragments and sheets found (over one hundred and fifty), and it is believed this is because the texts were bound before they were written leading to the conclusion that bookmaker had to make sure the writers had enough pages, and in the end, some were simply not needed. It is hard to tell the total number of texts per book as the bindings are weakening, falling apart and sheets could have been lost or removed through their many owners. Eleven of the twelve codices at the Coptic Museum have their original covers and are still partially attached to their bindings; the twelfth cover with its papyrus cartonnage is the only piece of the Nag Hammadi library that is still in private ownership. (schoyen collection)
The texts were bound using a Coptic style binding. They featured sheep leather covers which were made from one large piece of leather that wrapped around the entire book. The covers were strengthened with four-to-six layers of Papyrus which the leather was wrapped around and pasted down to. An extra flap was added to the for-edge of the cover, and a long strip of leather was attached to this flap, which was then wrapped around the book several times. This strap, along with straps in the middle of the head and tails of both covers, were used to tie the book closed. The texts were bound using long leather strips passed through the texts at two, six, twenty-four, and twenty-eight centimeters from the head of the texts. The strips were run from the outer holes through the middle of the text block and...

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