This section includes documents — generally classed by scholars as Gnostic — that were known prior to the Nag Hammadi Library discovery. Modern understanding of Gnosticism was grounded upon these documents (many of which became available only in the last half of the nineteenth century) and upon the comments of the early Christian "patristic heresiologists" until the discovery of the Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi in 1945. The Nag Hammadi Library texts have helped put all of these previously know documents into a more complete context.
Classical Gnostic Scriptures and Fragments
Texts from the Askew Codex. The Askew codex was bought by the British Museum in 1795, having been previously acquired by a Dr. Askew from an unknown source. It is more commonly known by the name inscribed upon it's binding, "Piste Sophiea Coptice". G.R.S. Mead suggests a more appropriate name might be "Books of the Savior". (The complete text of Pistis Sophia in the translation of G.R.S. Mead is provided here in the Library.)
Texts from the Bruce Codex. This codex of Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic manuscripts was found in upper Egypt by a Scottish traveler, James Bruce in about 1769. The first translations of the text began to be made in the mid-1800's. The passages below are based on the 1892 translation of Carl Schmidt.
Texts from the Berlin Gnostic Codex (Akhmim Codex, Papyrus Berolinensis 8502) - including The Gospel of Mary. This Coptic codex was acquired in Cairo in 1896. It contains portions of three Gnostic texts now known as the Apocryphon of John, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of Mary. Despite the importance of the find, several misfortunes including two wars delayed its publication until 1955. By then the Nag Hammadi texts had also appeared, and it was found that portions of two texts in this codex were also present in the Nag Hammadi library: the Apocryphon of John, and the Sophia of Jesus Christ. Both of these texts from the Berlin Gnostic Codex were used to augment the translations of the Apocryphon of John and the Sophia of Jesus Christ which appear in the Nag Hammadi collection. Also include in the codex is the only surviving copy of the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene):
Gospel of Thomas fragments in the Papyrus Oxyrhynchus: In 1897 and 1903 three ancient fragments from a Greek version of the Gospel of Thomas were discovered during archeological excavations at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. It was initially unclear what document might have originally preserved these sayings of Jesus -- the Gospel of Thomas had been lost to history. But the discover in 1945 of a complete and well-preserved version of Thomas in Coptic made it possible to identify the Oxyrhynchus texts as belonging to a lost Greek edition of the Thomas Gospel. The three Oxyrhynchus fragments preserve several logion found in the complete Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas -- OxyP 1 (which stands for "Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragment 1") contains sayings 26 to 30, 77, and 30 to 31; OxyP 654 contains sayings 1 to 7; OxyP 655 preserves sayings 36 to 40. This allows comparison of the Coptic texts with the original Greek version (the Gospel was originally written in Greek) and helps validate the surviving version of Thomas.
Marcion and His Writings. Marcion was one of the most important critics of the developing orthodox agenda of scriptural interpretation. The central issue of concern to Marcion was the clear disparity between the Old Testament Deity, and the God declared in the New Testament. We have provided here a large section introducing Marcion and presenting his writings, including an extensively annotated and hyperlinked text of Marcion's The Gospel of the Lord.
Gnostic Acts and Other Classical Texts. Despite efforts of the evolving orthodoxy to destroy all Gnostic scriptures and documents, a few texts did survive which contained extensive sections of clearly Gnostic character and provenance. The primary examples of these are the sections known as the "Hymn of Jesus" within the Acts of John and the "Hymn of the Pearl" in the Acts of Thomas. (The library also offers two audio lectures examining the Gnostic themes embedded within these important documents: The Hymn of the Pearl: A Classic Gnostic Myth from the Acts of Thomas, and Highlights from the Acts of John: The Nature and End of Suffering (MP3 format). We suggest you follow along in the texts while listening to the lectures. See the Christian Apocrypha and Early Christian Literature section for a listing of other noncanonical Acts and Apocrypha of a less primarily Gnostic tone.)
- The Hymn of Jesus and The Mystery of the Cross
From The Acts of John, translated by G. R. S. Mead. Also available here is Mead's excellent introduction and commentary on the Hymn of Jesus.
The Acts of John
The complete text, translated with commentary by M. R. James.
- Hymn of the Pearl
From the Acts of Thomas. This is a beautiful, classic Gnostic myth.
The Acts of Thomas
The complete text, translated with commentary by M. R. James.
- The Secret Gospel of Mark
Discovered by Prof. Morton Smith in 1958. Also included is an essay on popular and scholarly response to Morton's publication of the Secret Gospel of Mark
Gnostic Fragments in Patristic Sources. In the polemical writings of the Church Fathers against the Gnostics, several fragments of their (soon to be destroyed) works were preserved. Many of these are collected here, with the source noted.
- Translation of The Naassene Psalm
An excerpt quoted by Hippolytus in Refutations.
- Basilides: Fragments from his Writings
Collected from works by Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.
- Ptolemy: Commentary on the Gospel of John Prologue
Found in Irenaeus, Against Heresies.
- Ptolemy: Letter to Flora
Found in Epiphanius, Against Heresies.
- Epiphanes: On Righteousness
Found in Clement of Alexandria, Stromaties.
- Theodotus: The Excerpta Ex Theodoto
Found in Clement of Alexandria, Stromaties
- Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John
Found in Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John
- The Ophite Diagrams
Celsus' and Origen's descriptions of a Gnostic diagram used by the Ophites