To Catholics and other Christian believers, there are only four authentic gospels of Jesus Christ—those written by the evangelists Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Almost everything we know about the life and teachings of Jesus comes from these four sources.
Even well-known historians who lived in the time of Jesus, such as Eusebius and Tacitus, hardly mentioned him in their writings. That’s rather strange, considering the numerous miracles Jesus was said to have performed during his public life.
Surely, there must have been other sources of information on Jesus’ life and teachings around that time.
Indeed there were, but these were systematically suppressed and destroyed by the emerging Orthodox Christian Church authorities. That’s why the Christian world never knew anything about them.
However, in 1945, an Arab peasant named Muhammad Ali al Samman discovered in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt, a big earthen jar which contained 13 papyrus books bound in leather—which turned out to be secret gospels of Jesus Christ that lay hidden there for about 1,600 years.
These books containing 52 texts or codices were the lost Secret Gospels of Jesus Christ.
According to the book “Gnostic Gospels” by Harvard religious historian Elaine Pagels, the papyrus manuscripts “were sold in the black market through antiquities dealers and soon attracted the Egyptian government which confiscated most of them. But a large portion was smuggled out of Egypt and sold in America.”
Pagels added that when Professor Gilles Quispel, a distinguished Dutch religious historian, deciphered the first line of the papyrus text deposited in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, he was startled to read the following:
“These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down…”
What Quispel read was from the “Gospel of Thomas” which French scholar Jean Dorrese had identified to be the opening of the fragments of the Greek Gospel of Thomas discovered in the 1890s.
“Unlike the gospels of the New Testament,” Pagels pointed out, “this text identified itself as a secret gospel. It also contained many sayings known from the New Testament, but placed in unfamiliar contexts, it suggested other dimensions of meaning.”
Other passages, Quispel found out, differed entirely from any known Christian tradition. The living Jesus, for example, speaks in sayings as cryptic and compelling as Zen Koans.
During the early formation of the Orthodox Christian Church in the second and third centuries, there were as many as 50 or 60 gospels of Jesus Christ in circulation.
And the most prolific of Christian apologists, Ireneus, the Orthodox Bishop of Lyons, declared that “heretics claimed they possessed more gospels than there really are.”
But as Pagels said, “Those who wrote and circulated these texts did not regard themselves as heretics. Most of the writings use Christian terminology unmistakably related to a Jewish heritage. Many claim to offer traditions about Jesus that are secret, hidden from the many who constitute what in the second century came to be called the ‘Catholic Church.’
“These Christians are now called Gnostics, from the Greek‘gnosis,’ usually translated as‘knowledge.’ As the Gnostics use the term, we could translate it as‘insight,’ for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself… To know oneself, at the deeper level, is simultaneously to know God.”
Incidentally, the word “heresy” does not necessarily mean the teaching or belief is false or untrue, but only that it deviated from the official teaching or belief.For example, during the Middle Ages, it was the official church teaching and belief that the sun revolved around the Earth, that the Earth was the center of the universe. Anyone who believed otherwise, like Galileo, was called a heretic and was arrested and imprisoned by the so-called Holy Inquisition.
Now everybody knows Galileo was correct and the Church teaching was wrong.
Concluded Pagels: “When Muhammad Ali smashed that jar filled with papyrus on the cliff near Nag Hammadi and was disappointed not to find gold, he could not have imagined the implications of his accidental find. Had they been discovered 1,000 years earlier, the Gnostic texts almost certainly would have been burned for their heresy… Today, we read them with different eyes, not merely as ‘madness and blasphemy’ but as Christians in the first century experienced them —a powerful alternative to what we know as orthodox Christian tradition.”
For me, the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts are doubly significant and more credible precisely because they did not suffer the scrutiny by the ecclesiastical authorities for doctrinal “errors,” unlike what happened to the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran Caves in 1947, which were initially examined by an international committee headed by a Dominican Catholic priest.
Fortunately, Oxford University published the entire Dead Sea Scrolls without the Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat of any church.
Attend the next Soulmates, Karma and Reincarnation Seminar on April 2, Room 308, Prince Plaza I, Legaspi St, Legaspi Village, Makati. For details and reservations, tel. 8107245 or 0998-9886292.