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Nag Hammadi papyri, The

Collection of more than forty Gnostic documents, unearthed in the mid-1940s near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. According to The Da Vinci Code, these are "the earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible" (245-46).

The Nag Hammadi documents do not "match up with the gospels in the Bible"-that much is true. The documents found at Nag Hammadi are not, however, "the earliest Christian records." The documents in the New Testament were written between AD 40 and 100. Most of the texts at Nag Hammadi were copied between the third and fifth centuries AD. In fact, the oldest document at Nag Hammadi is probably Gospel of Thomas, which seems to have been written around AD 140-nearly a half-century later than the latest New Testament text!

Because so much of Dan Brown's argument in The Da Vinci Code hinges on the dates and contents of these texts, we've included a complete listing of the Nag Hammadi documents, with a summary of the contents and the approximate date of each document's original composition.


Approximate Date of Composition

Summary of Contents

Acts of Peter and the Twelve

AD 150-250

Tale of a pearl merchant who turns out to be Jesus; not to be confused with the Christian writing Acts of Peter from the late second century


AD 300-350

Refers to Gnostics as members of the race of Seth (allogenes means "from another race")

Apocalypse of Adam

AD 160-300

Adam tells Seth how he and Eve became more powerful than their Creator, never explicitly mentions any Christian themes or characters

Apocalypse of James 1

AD 200-300

Supposed dialogue between Jesus and James the brother of Jesus

Apocalypse of James 2

AD 150-180

Supposed dialogue between Jesus and James the brother of Jesus, ending with James' martyrdom

Apocryphon of James

AD 140-160

Mildly Gnostic letter, claiming to come from James the brother of Jesus

Apocryphon of John

AD 160-200

Presents the deity of the Old Testament and creator of the physical world as an evil demigod


Approximate Date of Composition

Summary of Contents



Greek philosophicaltractate

Authoritative Teaching

AD 150-200

Gnostic tractate, urging people to avoid physical pleasures

Book of Thomas the Contender

AD 150-225

Supposed"secret words" spoken by Jesus to Thomas and recorded by Matthias; perhaps connected to the Gospel of Matthias

Concept of Our Great Power

AD 300-390

Gnostic description of salvation and of the end of the world

Coptic Apocalypse of Paul

AD 160-260, perhaps

Describes Paul's supposed ascension through several levels of heaven

Coptic Apocalypse of Peter

AD 250-300

Describes Jesus as if he possessed no physical body

Coptic Gospel of the Egypttians

AD 200-300

Presents Jesus as the rein carnation of Seth, third son of Adam and Eve

Dialogue of the Savior

AD 150-200

Found only in fragments, which present a consistently negative view of sexuality and of women

Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth

AD 150-200

Guide for Gnostics to experience the mystical realm

Epistle of Peter to Philip

AD 180-220

Supposed letter, followed by a Gnostic discourse concerning the nature of Jesus Christ


Approximate Date of Composition

Summary of Contents

Eugnostos the Blessed


Presentation of Gnostic cosmology; some elements may be pre-Christian

Exegesis on the Soul

AD 200-250

Short story, recounting the Gnostic myth of the soul's fall from heaven

Gospel of Philip

AD 160-300

Collection of Gnostic sayings from several previous writings, apparently reflecting the teachings of Valentinus

Gospel of Thomas

AD 130-150

List of supposed sayings of Jesus

Gospel of Truth

AD 250-350

Gnostic reworking of the Creation and of the ministry of Jesus

Hypostatis of the Archons

AD 250-350

Mythological presentation of Gnostic cosmology



Fragments of text describe the descent of a heavenly figure similar to Sophia

Interpretation of Knowledge

AD 160-200

Valentinian reinterpretation of the teachings of Jesus and Paul


AD 200-300

Descriptions of Gnostic experience and rituals


AD 200-300

Fragments of text seem to provide a Gnostic reinterpretation of the Old Testament account of Melchizedek

Origin of the World

AD 290-330

Presentation of Gnostic theology


Approximate Date of Composition

Summary of Contents

Paraphrase of Shem


Fragments, presenting a negative view of sexuality

Prayer of Thanksgiving

AD 150-250

Brief prayer of gratitude for having received gnosis

Prayer of the Apostle Paul

AD 160-300

Brief prayer with similarities to Three Steles of Seth and Gospel of Philip

Republic (Plato)


Gnostic adaptation of the philosopher Plato's classic work

Sentences of Sextus


List of wise sayings

Sophia of Jesus Christ

Uncertain, some portions may stem from the late first or early second centuries

List of supposed questions from the apostles, to which Jesus provides Gnostic answers; probably an adaptation of Eugnostos

Teachings of Silvanus

AD 160-220

Unlike other Nag Hammadi documents, not a Gnostic text; emphasizes spiritual growth through self-denial

Testimony of Truth

AD 180-220

Polemic against competing Gnostic groups

Thought of Norea

AD 180-240

Depicts a feminine savior, apparently the counterpart of the biblical figure Seth

Three Steles of Seth

AD 220-260

Includes many Gnostic hymns and prayers


Approximate Date of Composition

Summary of Contents

Thunder, Perfect Mind


A divine female figure,"Thunder," sings hymns about herself; not clearly Gnostic, Jewish, or Christian in origin

Treatise of the Great Seth


Supposedly the words of Jesus to a group of Gnostic believers; Simon of Cyrene is crucified instead of Jesus

Treatise on the Resurrection

AD 180-200

Brief letter denying the future physical resurrection of believers

Trimorphic Protennoia

AD 160-200

Description of the descent of"the First Thought" of God into the world

Tripartite Tractate

AD 200-250

Gnostic description of salvation history and cosmology

Valentinian Exposition on Baptism, Anointing, and the Eucharist

AD 150-180

Gnostic reinterpretations of Chrisian rituals


AD 260-300

Description of Gnostic cosmology

See also Apocryphon of John; Bible; canon; Coptic Apocalypse of Paul; Coptic Apocalypse of Peter; Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians; Dialogue of the Savior; Gnosticism; Gospel of Philip; Gospel of Thomas; Gospel of Truth; Gospels, canonical.

Printed with permission from Bethany House Publishers, South Bloomington, Minnesota from the book "The Da Vinci Codebreaker : an easy-to-use fact checker for truth seekers" by James L. Garlow.

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