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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

An Incredible Diversity of Beliefs

Pagels presents a history of the evolution of orthodox Christianity from the first century through the fourth century. She portrays The Secret Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic texts as scriptures championed by certain Christians who were opposed by Iraneus in the seco...
Pagels presents a history of the evolution of orthodox Christianity from the first century through the fourth century. She portrays The Secret Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic texts as scriptures championed by certain Christians who were opposed by Iraneus in the second century and later by other Church Fathers. The main difference between the Gnostic Gospels and those of the New Testament canon lies in the former's emphasis on searching for the Divine within ourselves instead of within an exterior God. Although that idea was reinvented in many defferent forms, not only throughout the history of Christianity but also in other religions such as Buddhism, the proponents of orthodoxy ultimately prevailed at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. Pagels applauds in particular the evidence she uncovers of an incredible diversity of beliefs within Christianity during its first three centuries of existence.To me the appreciation of diverse Christian beliefs during that early period is the most important benefit I received from reading BEYOND BELIEF.

posted by Anonymous on December 15, 2005

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Most Helpful Critical Review

6 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

a misrepresentation of modern scholarship

There is no definitive proof that the Gospel of Thomas predates the canonical gospels. The text, which most scholars only date to around 200 A.D. (much later than our earliest versions of the canonical Gospel and other sources like the Gospel of Peter)and was utilized b...
There is no definitive proof that the Gospel of Thomas predates the canonical gospels. The text, which most scholars only date to around 200 A.D. (much later than our earliest versions of the canonical Gospel and other sources like the Gospel of Peter)and was utilized by the gnostic sect in Egypt and Syria. The gnostics, who drew on other traditions besides Christianity, were not a peace loving, accepting group. They tended to be elitist, believed that only men could attain the 'true light' and were anti Jewish. Everything that was discovered when the Gospel of Thomas was found was not as earth shaking as it is portrayed. Fragments of Thomas, about a third, had been available since the late 1800's and all of these arguments were made than as well. The author should have done more historiographical research before writing. This is all old news and much of it is incorrect or misrepresented. Buy Phillip Jenkins book 'The Hidden Gospels' instead.

posted by Anonymous on August 1, 2003

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2005

    An Incredible Diversity of Beliefs

    Pagels presents a history of the evolution of orthodox Christianity from the first century through the fourth century. She portrays The Secret Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic texts as scriptures championed by certain Christians who were opposed by Iraneus in the second century and later by other Church Fathers. The main difference between the Gnostic Gospels and those of the New Testament canon lies in the former's emphasis on searching for the Divine within ourselves instead of within an exterior God. Although that idea was reinvented in many defferent forms, not only throughout the history of Christianity but also in other religions such as Buddhism, the proponents of orthodoxy ultimately prevailed at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. Pagels applauds in particular the evidence she uncovers of an incredible diversity of beliefs within Christianity during its first three centuries of existence.To me the appreciation of diverse Christian beliefs during that early period is the most important benefit I received from reading BEYOND BELIEF.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2004

    Provides hope to all doubting Thomas's

    A true Christian who believes in the word of God, who believes that the word of God is wholly inspired and wholly sufficient, who believes that God¿s word is infallible and inerrant, and who has based his or her faith mainly on the teachings in the Gospel of John and in the writings of Saint Paul, such Christian should not read this book. It will be dangerous to his/her belief and spiritual health. But to a Christian who is a true seeker, who really wants to know as to what Jesus taught to his disciples, who values the teaching of Jesus as described in the Synoptic Gospels, that is, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and who is open minded to accept the teachings contained in the Gnostic Gospels, including the Gospel of Thomas, this book is an eye opener. To such a Christian, this book will help to dig deep into the spiritual knowledge that is `beyond belief¿. The spiritual experience of such seeker would be more on knowledge (gnosis) based than on faith and belief based. This book has potential of dividing the fundamental Christians from other Christians in a big way. This book could create a new class of Christians who would be open minded, who would put their faith in the `new-age type¿ philosophical knowledge that Jesus imparted to his disciples. Such Christians would have less faith in salvation that will come in believing in the person of Jesus , but in knowing and doing the things that Jesus knew and taught. Fundamental Christians would consider this book, Beyond Belief, as a work of Satan, and it would be a proscribed book in the Bible belt in the USA. Do not expect fundamental preachers ever talk about this book on their TV programs.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2003

    a misrepresentation of modern scholarship

    There is no definitive proof that the Gospel of Thomas predates the canonical gospels. The text, which most scholars only date to around 200 A.D. (much later than our earliest versions of the canonical Gospel and other sources like the Gospel of Peter)and was utilized by the gnostic sect in Egypt and Syria. The gnostics, who drew on other traditions besides Christianity, were not a peace loving, accepting group. They tended to be elitist, believed that only men could attain the 'true light' and were anti Jewish. Everything that was discovered when the Gospel of Thomas was found was not as earth shaking as it is portrayed. Fragments of Thomas, about a third, had been available since the late 1800's and all of these arguments were made than as well. The author should have done more historiographical research before writing. This is all old news and much of it is incorrect or misrepresented. Buy Phillip Jenkins book 'The Hidden Gospels' instead.

    6 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 12, 2011

    Excellent history of the origins of the Bible

    Although a history book, I was pulled into it much like a mystery novel. I couldn't put it down. To avoid spoilers, stop here. Pagel tells the story of how and why the early church staked out its claim on what are now known as the canonical texts of the Bible versus the Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi, i.e., The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary Magdelene, etc. Those communities that favored The Gospel of Thomas were prone to liberal interpretations of Jewish scripture and the gospels. The communities that favored the canonical texts wanted a more controlled and conservative interpretation. Seeing the Gnostic camp as a threat, it was Irenaeus in the 2nd century who carved out the reasons for limiting the texts to what we know as the Bible today. He also drew guidelines for how scripture should be interpreted. He then proclaimed that those who didn't agree with him would be declared heretics, excommunicated, and thereby consigned to live eternity in hell. Likewise, he declared that Jews should also serve the same fate as the heretics. Irenaeus' teachings were put into practice 150 years later when Athanasius of Alexandria canonized the texts of the NT and then ordered all other non-canonical texts to be destroyed. The Gnostics, not bearing to see their beloved texts destroyed, hid their scrolls in earthen-ware jars in Nag Hammadi. These texts were discovered in 1945. Elaine Pagels is one of the first people to write popular accounts of these texts.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    More smoke and mirrors

    I actually did not like this book at all. It is heavily skewed in the direction of support for the "orthodox" point of view and seems a deliberate obfuscation of the facts. For example Western Emporer Constantine and Eastern Emporer Licinius met in Milan, Italy in 313 AD and signed together the "Edict of Milan" which was nothing more than a statement of religious toleration. Constantine did convene the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD trying to gain a unified, universal church. Christianity was not recognized as the "State religion" until Emporer Theodosius I issued an edict on 27 February, 387 AD. We hear a lot about Paul's sayings (typical of a Western christian) and a lot about The Gospel of John) with a very definite positive slant (which I suppose is natural for one that passed priestly muster at the council) and very little about the Gospel of Thomas (most of which seems negative). I find it odd that no one ever mentions Theodosius I at all and Constantine continues to get credit for something he did not do. The feeling I got from this book (I read it twice so am doubly disappointed) was that one needs to stick with the "approved biblical text" and just accept whatever you are spoon fed. If it excludes, Mary Magdalene, the Mother Mary, James and others, no sweat, we apparently do not want the real story anyway. Just feed us a good line. We will bite. I don't know about others, nor can I speak for them, but I would like the truth and, if current doctrine isn't supported by the truth, then so be it. What I am sick of is lies and coverup.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2004

    The Gospel of Thomas is still secret!

    This is interesting reading for those of us who are not well acquainted with early Christian history. The main focus of the book is historical reasons that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John became the four gospels of today's New Testament and why other first century writings were not included. There is an excellent historical review of second and third century events that affected the early church and caused church leaders to accept or reject competing 'gospels'. Curiously, the gospel of Thomas really is not examined very extensively. Only a few short fragments of Thomas are discussed and mainly in comparison to the gospel of John. Dr. Pagels does us the favor, though, of pointing out that 'denominationalism' existed even in the early church and shows that Christians searching for the early, untaintedand original teachings of Christ really will find what Paul found; that is, that believers followed early human personalities as much as they did Jesus (much as they do today). The author also shows the same rigid skepticism that I've noted in other religious academics when they evaluate Biblical historical accuracy. She notes that most academics agree that we know little about the birth of Jesus which seems a very odd conclusion. Historically, we know that Mary and the brothers of Jesus outlived Jesus and were active in the early church. We know that Paul (and his doctor, Luke) met with leaders of the early church. Mary, the mother of Jesus, by tradition lived and died in Ephesus (there's even a site there that they show the tourists)and Paul traveled to Ephesus. Luke records the geneology of Joseph, the family ties of Mary to John the Baptist, the leaders of Rome and local politicians at the time of his birth and the reason that Jesus was born where he was i.e. Bethlehem. OK, we do not have a birth certificate to show an academic but who better to get birth information from than the mother. Dr. Pagels recites personal anecdotes about her own family in the book and I suspect they are pretty accurate-she and the other academics should give Luke and Mary the credence they deserve.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2003

    not what i was looking for

    it is beautifully and scholarly written but i found it more argumentative than informative or belief sustaining. what i was looking for was what the holy apostle thomas said or believed from info that was found in the dead sea scrolls and other ancient sources. what i found was more a dissertation on what and why certain things were left in in the bible and others taken out.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Clear and concise research written extremely well.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    Excellelnt view of the origins of the Church

    The author really did her homework. The historical background and novel are very good and she also included the Gospel of Thomas in the back. All possible questions about meanings of words etc are referenced in the various sections.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2005

    superb scholarship but see Osho for the meaning

    If you want a more general introduction see Pagel´s book on the Gnostics where she tells about the finding of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts in 1945. But she is a scholar and not a mystic and Jesus talked in parables(at least thats what we have)so if you want to understand what Jesus means go to the clearest and best of the modern mystics and read Osho´s The Mustard Seed. If cant buy it then you can find it online.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2003

    Thesis A Bit Weak

    Not a bad reed, but as an argument for Thomas' view of Jesus as opposed to John's, it was ultimately unconvincing. Were I setting the NT canon today, I'd probably have to side with the Church Fathers. I tend to doubt if Christianity would be more than a historical footnote today if the opposite decision had been made.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2003

    I COULD WISH...

    that this was as good as her other books, but it is not. She is wonderful in sharing with the reader some of her own experiences with the consoling, helping, aspects of religion, and seeing in religious gatherings certain qualities that she needs after the death of her son. This part of the book is sweet and moving. The problem is that she has a couple of points to make, and determines to make them no matter what. This is what makes a large part of her book more a polemic than a considered history. One example: she says that only John, of the gospel writers, asserts that Jesus is the Son of God. The others, she says, like Thomas, treat him as a rabbi, teacher, and Messiah, but not the Son of God. She finds John's assertion radical. In context, she argues that early Christianity, only a few decades after the death of Christ, was full of gnostic impulses, sanctioned, she suggests, by the synoptic gospel treatments. But to pursue this line of argument, she has to ignore all of St. Paul, who repeatedly references the 'Son of God.' One senses that her need to find other ways to believe Christianity than the officially-sanctioned 2,000-year doctrine is related to her personal loss. In the end, this reader sympathized with her loss, but could not assent to her readings of the texts, which seem, frankly, eccentric. The book should have been terrific, given the subject matter and the writer. Unfortunately, it is not.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

    Reading Pagels is always a pleasure

    I was hoping to learn more about the Gospel of Thomas.

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  • Posted November 14, 2011

    A Great Book ¿ More Than Just The Gospel Of Thomas

    The premise of this book is perhaps deceiving as it offers the reader a lot more than just an investigation or explanation of the Gospel of Thomas. Pagels offers a very personal reflection on said Gospel, how it relates to the canonical gospels and what it means to Christians and non-Christians alike. However to be fair the title ¿Beyond Belief¿ is accurate as Pagels provides insight into how her own belief evolved throughout her life from her experience with evangelicals as a teenager to a professor as an adult. Pagels expounds on the thought of Irenaeus of Lyons, one of the most prominent of the early Church Fathers who was instrumental in the formulation of orthodox belief, the Gospel of Thomas not forming part of this system. A complete translation of the Gospel of Thomas is also provided as an appendix and is worth reading again and again. Unlike many of the other Gnostic Gospels it relates to mainstream Christianity and can easily be understood.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2004

    Brilliant Introduction to Early Christianity

    This book hardly needs another review, but I feel it got an undeserved bad rap in some earlier reviews. Quite apart from being argumentative, I found it to be quite scholarly. Ms. Pagels does a very good job of presenting her information on the critical first 200 years of Christianity in it's historical perspective. New it may not be, but it was new to me, and filled in what I have been looking for, a good jumping off place to the study of the roots of Christianity. The combination of the complete Gospel of Thomas, along with some interpretation and a lot of historical perspective make this a must read for anyone who believes that faith and knowledge not only can, but must co-exist.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2003

    Silliness

    You will want to read the actual Gospel of Thomas along side this book. The gnostic gospels delve into a certain silliness that even the most convincing author can't hide. Nonetheless, this author steps outside conventional scholarship to present a picture of gnostic gospels as mainstream.

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    Posted February 8, 2010

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    Posted April 26, 2011

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    Posted March 6, 2010

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    Posted April 22, 2011

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