Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices -- Old Video

I've been digging around for materials on the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices and found this remarkable piece. It is pretty terrible quality, pulled from a VHS of an old documentary, and with Dutch subtitles. But the interest is in showing footage of Muhammad Ali al Samman, who discovered the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, alongside the late Gilles Quispel. There is a long Pasolini-style camera gaze at Muhammad Ali for several seconds after Quispel says that his discovery will "change the mind of millions".

This short video clip features also a young Elaine Pagels in the classroom, a younger James Robinson in his office, the scene of the discovery, and the type of oven used by Ali's mother to burn several of the texts:



So what is this video? The uploader tags it as "The Discovery of the Nag hammadi Library", but a little digging has suggested to me that this is a clip of a BBC documentary called The Gnostics. I can't find out the date of the documentary but I am guessing that it must be early 1980s. Clearly it has to post-date Robinson's narrative of the discovery, which first appeared in 1979, and the appearance of Pagels would suggest that it also post-dates her Gnostic Gospels, also published in 1979. Ali clearly looks a bit older than his (mid 70s?) photograph in Robinson's 1979 article. My guess would be that this documentary dates from about 1983-4. I am struggling to find much more than this, though.

2 comments:

Brent said...

Mark,
There is a book called The Gnostics by Tobias Churton that was published in 1987 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in association with Channel Four Television Co. and Border Television. Perhaps it's associated with the documentary and has further information.

Mark Goodacre said...

Bingo! Yes, this is it. One of the sources I had looked at mistakenly gave the video as coming from the BBC, which spoilt the search. I will blog this in a bit more detail later. I had not realized about the book -- many thanks.