Romance and Danger at Nag Hammadi

Maia Kotrosits


The story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts – a tale about a hapless Arab peasant who uncovers the buried secrets of early Christianity – has accompanied most scholarly and popular explorations of Nag Hammadi literature. As a colonialist relic, however, it is more than a quirky tale of the accidents of history. It represents and perpetuates the orientalist epistemological tropes that have since been fixed onto the individual texts themselves: seeking/finding, secrecy/unveiling (esoterism), and sexual taboo/sexual excess (asceticism/libertinism). This paper explores the resonances of this story with the history of Nag Hammadi scholarship, as well as with popular renderings of Nag Hammadi texts. It uses the recent cultural studies interests in affect theory to ask: what is at stake in casting what is called “Nag Hammadi literature” as the romantic and dangerous “East” to the Bible’s domesticated and rational “West”?


Nag Hammadi; orientalism; affect theory

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391