"The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out."
The Nag Hammadi codices are a collection of early Christian texts from the third and fourth centuries. They were discovered in 1945 by two brothers near the Jabal al-Tarif caves in Egypt, and area which is thought to have been the birthplace of the Christian monastic movement. The Nag Hammadi codices were written at different times, in different places, and by different people, but are bound together by the underlying ascetic attitude to life which was prevalent among Gnostic Christians.
In total the Nag Hammadi library consists of fifty-two remarkably well-preserved books which offer invaluable insight into the early Gnostic movement. Their discovery was particularly important for the study of early Christianity because, up until that point, the only information scholars had about the Gnostic movement came exclusively from writers who had condemned it as heretical. The Nag Hammadi codices now offered scholars, as well as the rest of the world, their first look at the Gnostics from the point of view of the Gnostics themselves.
The entirety of the Nag Hammadi library is currently translated, published, and available to the public, but the publication project was not without its difficulties. Politics, rivalries, and monopolization of the text hindered work until UNESCO intervened in 1970 and named a committee to finish the project. Funding from the Smithsonian Institution and the Coptic Gnostic Library Project also helped to speed things along and finally, in 1977, the entire Nag Hammadi library was released into the public domain.
The Nag Hammadi codices were discovered entirely by accident, but the importance of this find has had numerous religious, historical, philosophical, and societal implications. The beginning of the largest religion in the world today, Christianity, was complex and varied. The Nag Hammadi codices give us a glimpse into one of its early movements, one that was quite popular and influential in its day, but was later condemned as heresy.
Unfortunately, Gnostic texts such as the Nag Hammadi codices are sometimes used today in an effort to undermine and attack Christianity by calling into question its teachings and historical origins. Because of this, many Christians feel that reading or learning about the Nag Hammadi library would be unadvisable or even heretical.
It is important to remember, however, that Christians shouldn't shy away from knowledge. The Bible encourages us to learn gladly and to use our discernment in all that we do. A motivating quote from Proverbs 18:15, for example, tells us that "the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out." The spirit is inspired by God to seek out wisdom and knowledge. We should never have to close ourselves in out of the fear that new information may challenge our beliefs.
Many Christians find that learning about the historical origins and development of their faith has helped them draw even closer to God. Seeing how God has worked through history to shape and reveal His message can, in fact, help to strengthen rather than weaken one's convictions. If you're interested in learning more about how Christianity developed, then the Nag Hammadi codices are a great place to start.