Murder and Manuscript
December 20, 2007

We might not have the Nag Hammadi library if it had not been for a gruesome murder. The collection was found in 1945 by two brothers in Egypt, Muhammed and Kalifah Ali. As Giovanni Filoramo tells it, when the brothers took the jar containing the texts back to their village, they got caught up in a blood feud: “The father, a night watchman of the irrigation system for the neighboring fields, had some months previously surprised a thief during one of his tours of inspection and killed him. The following morning, in accordance with a widely held tradition of vendetta, he too was murdered. About a month after the discover of the library, Ahmad, a molasses dealer who was passing through, fell asleep in the midday heat near the house of Muhammed Ali. A neighbor informed Muhammed Ali that the unfortunate man was his father’s murderer. Muhammed Ali thereupon rushed home to tell his brothers and his mother the good news. The whole family set upon the victim, and literally tore him limb from limb. The climax of the blood feud was to cut up his heart and divide it among themselves.”

The police learned of the murder, and issued a warrant for Muhammed’s arrest. He believed the texts were cursed, and had deposited the texts with a Coptic priest, and from there, through a complicated series of exchanges, they finally ended up in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

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