Sunday, February 21, 2010



There are the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (Nag Hammadi is Arabic for the old monastery the Greeks called Khenoboskeion, about sixty miles north of Thebes where the Nile takes a big bend, about ten miles off the river in the eastern desert). In the same year and under very much the same circumstances in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, a peasant, while digging for fertilizer, found a special cache just like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contained thirteen volumes, beautifully bound in leather. They weren't scrolls at all, but volumes, marvelously preserved, as if they had been written yesterday. They were regular books with pages, whose wrappings and bindings we still have. These leather bindings contained forty-nine different works, five of them repeated works. One of these thirteen volumes is in the Jung Museum in Zürich. (The museum may have to give it back to the Egyptian government. There's a big fuss going on about it now.) The other twelve are in the Old Cairo Coptic Museum in Cairo. These contain forty-nine works, written and preserved and put away in an early church, many of them going back to the First Century A.D., others to the Fourth Century A.D. Most of them are Coptic translations of Greek documents that are lost today. They have started to come out now. As with the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was a lot of political and other pressure to keep them from coming out.

This library is a marvelous thing. Van Unnik says that the books were written in a little local country church in Egypt before the apostasy ever took place—before there was any Gnosticism. They represent in certain ways the pure teachings of the Early Church. (We won't discuss this problem here.) These documents are very numerous and can be correlated with others—for example, the Mandaean texts.

Especially through the efforts of a woman called Ethel Drower (who's in her eighties now), who spent many years among the Mandaeans of southern Mesopotamia, we know something about the very secretive Mandaean religion, a last holdover of the people who came from the Dead Sea. Their traditions and their ancient writings describe them as possibly leaving the Qumran people (the Dead Sea Scroll group) at the fall of Jerusalem. They first went up to Haran, then down the river. Some two thousand or so Mandaean people remain today. They have their own language and preserve the marvelous records they've kept for all this time. The Mandaeans went down to Qumran in the time of Joseph ben Rekha (they call themselves Rekhabites). He arrived just before Lehi went out into the desert. People were doing this sort of thing in Book of Mormon days, going out into the desert to live the gospel in its purity, setting up their own churches and communities—"the church in the wilderness"—then practicing their baptisms. These doctrines were taught in those communities. The Mandaean writings relate very closely to the Nag Hammadi, and to the Dead Sea Scrolls people, too, because the Mandaeans came from there.
I challenge you to make three meaningful statements about anything without some reference to the Physical Universe." When you start out with these basic principles of Christianity—the creation, the incarnation, the resurrection—which are all physical—how are you going to get around them?

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