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Sold on the black market through antiquities dealers in Cairo, the manuscripts soon attracted the attention of officials of the Egyptian government.Through circumstances of high drama, as we shall see, they bought one and confiscated ten and a half of the thirteen leather-bound books, called codices, and deposited them in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

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But realizing that it might also contain gold, he raised his mattock, smashed the jar, and discovered inside thirteen papyrus books, bound in leather.

Returning to his home in al-Qasr, Muhammad 'All dumped the books and loose papyrus leaves on the straw piled on the ground next to the oven.

The 52 texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt include 'secret' gospels poems and myths attributing to Jesus sayings and beliefs which are very different from the New Testament.

Scholar Elaine Pagels explores these documents and their implications.

One rumor held that he was a blood avenger; another, that he had made the find near the town of Naj 'Hammádì at the Jabal al-Tárif, a mountain honeycombed with more than 150 caves.

Originally natural, some of these caves were cut and painted and used as grave sites as early as the sixth dynasty, some 4,300 years ago.

Other passages, Quispel found, differed entirely from any known Christian tradition: the "living Jesus," for example, speaks in sayings as cryptic and compelling as Zen koans: Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. " Other sayings in this collection criticize common Christian beliefs, such as the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection, as naïve misunderstandings.

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." What Quispel held in his hand, the Gospel of Thomas, was only one of the fifty-two texts discovered at Nag Hammadi (the usual English transliteration of the town's name). Bound together with these gospels is the Apocryphon (literally, "secret book") of John, which opens with an offer to reveal "the mysteries [and the] things hidden in silence" which Jesus taught to his disciple John.

But a large part of the thirteenth codex, containing five extraordinary texts, was smuggled out of Egypt and offered for sale in America.

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