Have you heard the true tale of the Bedouin named Mohammed Ali?
I begin this true story at its beginning in 1945, in Egypt, in the land just above the bend of the Nile, north of the Valley of the Kings, across the river from the city of Nag´ Hammâdi, near the hamlet of al-Qasr, under a cliff called Jabal al-Tarif.
An Egyptian Bedouin named Mohammed Ali was out gathering sabakh, a nitrate-rich fertilizer for the crops that he grew in the small hamlet of al-Qasr.
He was aghast to stumble upon a skeleton as he dug, and bewildered when he uncovered a two-foot high earthenware jar. A bowl had been placed over the top, and it was sealed with bitumen.
At first, the Bedouin thought an evil genie was within, but when he shook the heavy jar, he heard things moving and thought it might be gold.
He smashed the jar open and out fluttered pieces of gold particles that he tried to catch, but they disappeared. When he peered into the jar, he was dismayed to find twelve leather-bound books.
Mohammed Ali was illiterate, so he placed no great value on books, but was confident he could sell them and make something for his troubles. So he carried the jar filled with books back to the homestead.
Now, Mohammed Ali also happened to be a fugitive from the law, for he had wielded the weapon that spilled the blood of a patriarch during a violent incident in a generation-long family feud, not so very long before.
After a few days of mulling over possibilities, he decided to give his find to the local Coptic priest for safekeeping. You see, he feared the authorities soon would be lurking about and would confiscate his possession before he could receive any money for it.
His mother ripped out many pages to keep the home fire going, and I grieve and wonder what ancient treasures she burned.
Anyway, the priest passed it on to his brother-in-law, a traveling tutor, who brought the books to the Coptic museum in Cairo on October 4, 1946.
What was found were ancient compositions, written in Coptic that had been translated from ancient Greek. The volumes were leather-bound pages of papyrus, and no doubt the gold dust that Mohammed Ali witnessed was from papyrus fragments that had broken off.
Under the leadership of UNESCO, Egypt, and the American scholar James Robinson, these anthologies and collections of texts with titles like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene have now been translated into many languages.
I contend that when USA Christians fall in love with the Mystery of God; we will begin the world again.
These ancient texts offer NO new answers; but they do provide us with a glimpse of Christianity at its very roots, and it was most diverse indeed.
The most likely source for these books that have become known as the Nag Hamadi Library, was the Pachomius Monastery, which thrived for centuries just three miles from the burial site.
Scholars agree that most likely a monk from there buried these books in the wilderness under the cliff of Jabl al-Tarif for safe-keeping.
These texts had been deemed heretical by those who were gaining power through the political arena; the Proto-orthodox.
In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine, a pagan warrior became the first Christian ruler, but waited until he was on his deathbed before being baptized.
I contend that the most decisive event in the history of Christendom occurred when Emperor Constantine accepted the Christian faith, for those who had once been persecuted were now protected by an earthly king.
Both a patriarchal monarchical state and church were formed at the same time.
Power struggles and debates were common among the early Christians.
Individual churches determined which texts were read, and they all had their favorites.
Constantine sought to unite his empire, and uniting the church was a savvy political move.
He announced he would pay for fifty illuminated copies of scripture to be bound, and thus the biblical canon was established and sealed.
There was fierce debate among the bishops about what should be included and what left out.
The proto-orthodox, who had now become the dominant voice, determined what was heretical for everyone.
The proto-orthodox demanded much-loved scripture to be burned, usually because it did not fit their understanding of God.
Many of these texts were considered Gnostic.
Gnosis is defined as knowledge discerned intuitively.
Gnostic texts offer deep mystery that is discerned via intuition, not rational thought.
This is not the way for fundamentalists.
A Gnostic is open to receiving intuitive knowledge of deep spiritual truth.
For students of the New Testament, this is a much greater find than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Forty of the texts had previously been unknown to modern scholars.
Thirty-five scholars worked diligently on these translations, and all agreed that the bound books themselves date back to the fourth century and were written in Coptic translated from Greek and Aramaic-which is what Jesus spoke!
The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of the sayings of Jesus, words of wisdom, proverbs, parables, and some very confounding mysteries.
About 35 of the 114 sayings have no counterpart in the New Testament, while at least 20 are almost identical, and 54 have similarities.
Many scholars concur that the sayings were originally written in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his followers.
It is very possible the sayings are closer to the words Jesus actually spoke than what is found in the canonical gospels.
Two thousand years ago, there was lively debate about who Jesus was, and why he came.
The proto-orthodox, who were the majority, considered these gnostic texts anathema and thus deemed them heretical for many reasons.
The main reason is that they did not fit neatly into the evolving dogma.
Gnostic texts offer us mystery, not answers.
Jesus said he came that we would have life to the full; abundant life [John 10:10] and that takes deep thought.
Falling in love with the Mystery of God is a great place to start.
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