The Gnostic Gospels contain 52 texts, including The Gospel of Thomas, The Apocryphon of John, and The Gospel of Philip. The texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 and offer accounts of Christian history that differ from those found in the Bible. Early Christian leaders largely rejected the Gnostic Gospels as heresy.
The content of the Gnostic Gospels is varied, including sayings attributed to Jesus, an account of the Garden of Eden told by the serpent, philosophical observations on the soul and numerous poems. A text titled "The Thunder, Perfect Mind" is even written from the perspective of a female deity.
The Gnostic Gospels derive their name from the Greek word "gnosis," which can be translated as "insight" or "knowledge." Gnostic Christians claimed to have secret knowledge not available to the rest of the Christian church. Gnostics held a number of beliefs that set them apart from orthodox Christians, including an emphasis on the importance of knowing oneself, with the suggestion that God and self are not wholly separate entities. While church leaders typically regarded Gnostic Christians as heretics, the Gnostics themselves felt they were perpetuating the true knowledge of the church.
Other Gnostic texts had already been discovered prior to 1945, including The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene and The Secret Gospel of Mark. However, the Nag Hammadi texts have helped scholars more fully understand these earlier discoveries.