Courtesy of the Nag Hammadi Archive of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity

Papyrus-lined cover of Codex VII. The covers of the Nag Hammadi Codices not only preserved the 1,240 pages of texts, keeping most of them intact after 1,600 years, but they also provided a key to dating this archaeological treasure: Each leather cover was stiffened by layers of papyrus. Many of these discarded papyri were the discarded personal and business documents of monks from the nearby Pachomian monasteries and often contained specific names and dates. This particular codex cover was made in part from business documents belonging to a monk named Sasnos, who had charge of the monastery herds. These documents refer to the years 333, 341, and 348, indicating that codex VII was put together in the middle of the fourth century.

Like each of the 13 codices or books of the Nag Hammadi library, Codex VII is made up of separate tractates or essays written in Coptic (an ancient Egyptian language). The 52 tractates of the entire Nag Hammadi collection explore the world view of a heretical Christian sect known as the Gnostics, who were in direct conflict with orthodox Christian authorities. The texts often highlight the mutual antagonisms of the two groups.