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With insight and passion, Pagels explores a remarkable range of recently discovered gospels, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, to show how a variety of "Christianities" emerged at a time of extraordinary spiritual upheaval. Some Christians questioned the need for clergy and church doctrine, and taught that the divine could be discovered through spiritual search. Many others, like Buddhists and Hindus, sought enlightenment -- and access to God -- within. Such explorations raised questions: Was the resurrection to be understood symbolically and not literally? Was God to be envisioned only in masculine form, or feminine as well? Was martyrdom a necessary -- or worthy -- expression of faith? These early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed -- and their explorations led to profoundly different visions of Jesus and his message. Brilliant, provocative, and stunning in its implications, The Gnostic Gospels is a radical, eloquent reconsideration of the origins of the Christian faith.
1. The Controversy over Christ's Resurrection: Historical Event or Symbol?
2. "One God, One Bishop": The Politics of Monotheism
3. God the Father/God the Mother
4. The Passion of Christ and the Persecution of Christians
5. Whose Church Is the "True Church"?
6. Gnosis: Self-Knowledge as Knowledge of God
Posted July 23, 2006
This book, as well as Gnosticism as a subject, is something to digest, not sample and rebuke when it doesn't concur with your average tastes. Gnosticism does make sense, and each variance on it has some sort of valid point. Orthodox Christianity may not have faith in these points, and may even believe the opposite, but that doesn't discredit the matter at hand, only the reader and sect's ability to consider other opinions. No one knows for certain exactly what went down so many moons ago. We have our gut instincts, logical conclusions, and maybe even a little evidence but in the end there will always be loose ends to tie up in this or any belief system. I think Pagels and the Gospels themselves do a fair job of posing possible scenarios, and fresh (albeit ancient) ideas are certainly needed in a perhaps stale field. My belief is that texts such as this, along with the ideas they convey, will increase in number, even if not in quality. They pose questions that must be answered, if that means breaking our piggy bank of spiritual coinage to see what we've really been rattling at for two thousand years, then so be it. May not be fun, may not be pretty, but thoughts are unstoppable, so we might as well read things like The Gnostic Gospels with a grain of salt. I really liked the book's format, as well the text seemed chronological, but varied enough for prolonged interest. Pagel's vault of knowledge has also been dilligently concentrated and made accessible to the layperson in a similar manner to The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. There are certainly things missing in our collage of information regarding Gnosticism it is very likely some key pieces have been long converted to dust, and I think Pagels has artfully painted in the gaps with good reason and scholarly prudence. All in all, the main point of distaste for this book so far has been the topic, so I must ask this: If you by nature have an inclination toward rejecting an idea, why commit so much time to reading about it?
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Posted June 8, 2006
Most of the reviews for this claim that this book as well as other Gnostic writings are inaccurate because the bible which is 'truthful' says something different. Don't believe them, Gnostics were not pagans, they were a sect of christians that had a different interpretation of Christ and who were declared evil by the early church for it. If you want to get a different perspective don't blindly follow, read, learn, think for yourself.
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Posted September 9, 2006
The Gnostic Gospels is mainly a summary of what the gnostics believed about various subjects, such as the resurrection of Jesus, salvation, martyrdom, and spiritual maturity. Throughout the book Pagels compares the gnostics with ¿the orthodox,¿ whom she interprets as the catholic church in the late first and early second century. Pagels is well informed on the topic and an engaging writer. However, while Pagels claims to be interested in Christianity and not promoting one view over the other (p.150-151), the focus of her book and her conclusions indicate otherwise. Though her analysis of the gnostics is thorough, there are some problems with her interpretations of the New Testament writers. Her treatment of the resurrection of Christ is most critical. She is right to acknowledge that Christianity considers this to be ¿one unique historical moment¿ (p.3). Yet she portrays the New Testament writers as giving different views of Jesus¿ resurrection. In her opinion, some insist on a bodily resurrection while others indicate a ¿spirit¿ resurrection. This is simply not the case. The gospels and Paul emphasize the bodily resurrection throughout their writings. According to Pagels, Mark and Luke report that Jesus appeared ¿in another form,¿ meaning something other than a human body. Luke 24:16 says that two disciples were kept from recognizing who Jesus was at first. But this does not prove that Jesus¿ appearance was something other than human, rather something was done to the disciples to keep them from truly seeing him. Later in the passage it says that ¿their eyes were opened and they recognized him¿ (24:31), not that Jesus¿ appearance changed. Only Mark uses the phrase ¿in another form¿ in a passage which does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. Mark 16:12-13 is a brief summary of the events Luke describes in more detail (Luke 24:13-35). Given these facts, it seems warranted to interpret Mark in light of Luke and not the other way around. She also uses the incident with Mary in John 20:11-17 as another example of a gospel writer describing something other than a bodily resurrection. Pagels states that Jesus commanded Mary not to touch him. However, the Revised Standard Version (which Pagels uses) does not say this. Jesus actually says, ¿Do not hold me,¿ (New Revised reads, ¿Do not hold on to me¿). She was clinging to him and Jesus was telling her to let go because he wanted her to report to the other disciples. Other passages Pagels sites are the two accounts of Paul¿s conversion recorded by Luke (Acts 9:3-9 Acts 22:6-11). ¿One could suggest that certain people, in moments of great emotional stress, suddenly felt that they experienced Jesus¿ presence. Paul¿s experience can be read this way¿ (p.6). But this does not make any sense for Paul. He was not under ¿great emotional stress ¿ the Christians he was hunting down and persecuting were the ones under stress. Paul was imprisoning the people who believed Jesus was the Son of God, so he had no predisposition to have hallucinations of Jesus. Pagels notes the apparent contradiction in the two passages mentioned above in reporting the incident with Paul. However, in both reports the men with Paul did not see a person as Paul did. As far as the voice, Acts 9 says that they ¿heard the voice¿ and in Acts 22 Paul says they ¿did not hear the voice of the one speaking to me.¿ Acts 9 does not claim that they actually heard what was said to Paul, which is the point Paul is trying to make in Acts 22. Paul¿s companions heard and saw something indistinguishable, so they were not able to give testimony as to what or who it was. Paul¿s dramatic life change is best explained by the fact that he did encounter someone on the road to Damascus. Would Paul, a learned Jewish leader, be willing to be persecuted, imprisoned, ostracized, and executed for something he hallucinated or for a feeling of Jesus¿ presence? Finally, Pagels¿ treatment of Paul¿s writings on the resurrection gre
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Posted November 8, 2007
Elaine Pagels deserves all the kudos she won with her 1979 study of early Christianity. Her research into the many documents comprising the Nag Hammadi Library is marvelously thorough and perceptive. Mentioning her own involvement via personal comments adds another dimension to the enjoyment of the book. What emerges is a revelation of just why the followers of gnosis and self-realization were branded as heretics and why these original texts were excluded from the 'orthodox' Christian canon. Seekers of the true, or 'lost' Christianities, will be rewarded. Pagels wonders in print whether perhaps gnosticism was influenced by Hindu teachings, by the spiritual science of yoga, but never asks where Christ was between the ages of 14 and 30. The answer to that question is revealed in a new book from Self-Realization Fellowship, see below.
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Posted September 4, 2002
This book is an excellent and enlightening book; however, I recommend before purchasing this book you choose another introductory book or source about Gnosticism. It is imperative you have a good, basic understanding of who the Christian Gnostics were and how they differed from the early Christians. Once you have that understanding, purchase this book and keep it permanently in your library. This book delves into the fascinating specifics of why these two groups held opposing opinions about Jesus' mission, teachings, and life.
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Posted April 18, 2006
The value of this book from a cultural standpoint is outstanding, however, one should keep in mind that gnosticism, often refered to as part of the 'roots' of christianity, started off as a sect apart from the christians. It wasn't until later when a lot of christians decided to join the gnostic sect that it began to have a 'semblance' of christianity. The gnostic writings in of themselves are only valuble in providing us with what the gnostics believed, nothing of historic accuracy. They pretty much took existing christian writings and re-wrote them to fit in with gnostic views. Hence, if you want to learn about the history of early christianity, don't look here, it doesn't have it. Rather read The history of the Church by Euesibius, who actually wrote his history before the Catholic Church was even organized.
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Posted December 17, 1999
When I first heard of the Nag Hammadi find, in the Egyptian desert in 1945, I was entranced. It was as significant as the Dead Sea scrolls, because of the determined attempt to destroy all evidence of the Gnostics and their literature by the Constantinians.<P> So, I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Pagels briefly, in 1981, in New York, accompanied by my friend Dr. John Kiley.<P> I highly recommend this book. The scholarship and research is evident, and yet it is clearly written so that any interested person can enjoy it without being burdened by the jargon of academia.<P> A fascinating book, which will increase your knowledge of the Gnostics exponentially.
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Posted April 9, 2006
This book claims that second century A.D. gnosticism is just as valid as (or more valid than) historic 'orthodox' Christianity. Many of Ms. Pagels' criticisms of institutional Christianity are valid. However, her effort to privilege second century gnosticism over historic first century Christianity collapses like a house of cards--by her own admission. Nearly all scholars, before and after Nag Hammadi, agree that the second and third century gnostic writings are historically inferior to the New Testament writings. Gnostic texts were written over 100 years after Christ lived, rather than 20 years or less, which is the case of the earliest New Testament writings, many written by actual eyewitnesses of the events. Ms. Pagels can only find one scholar to give tenuous support to her position: 'Recently Helmut Koester of Harvard University has suggested that the collection of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although compiled c. 140, may include some traditions even older than the gospels of the New Testament' (p. xvii). But even this scholar can give only superficial support--notice the words '_may_ include', '_some_ traditions', '_suggested_'. Ms. Pagels tries to deflect criticism by creating a big conspiracy theory of the church's 'suppression' of gnostic writings. Though the catholic church did become suppressive centuries later, the simple fact is that the second century church had no power to suppress anything. Her claim that Irenaeus 'suppressed' gnostic documents in 180 A.D. is fraudulent. Though the gnostic and consumerist desire to worship self and turn oneself into a god sounds really appealing these days, it neglects a true knowledge of self, which reveals the dark and hopeless evil inside of us and our need for the death of Jesus to liberate us from sin. Instead of reading a secondhand work like this, interested readers should read for themselves the New Testament and the Gospel of Thomas, compare them, and make up their own minds about who Jesus is.
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Posted April 27, 2000
The New Testament as we know it contains some of the stories about Christ's time on earth, these gospels give more accounts. It is easy to see how they could have been banned by the early Christian hierarchy -- Christ is more like us here. There is also discussion about our goal to be not just like Christ, but to obtain the spirit of the Christ.
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This is the third book I've read regarding the Gnostic Gospels and is my favorite thus far. The author is well learned & explores some esoteric Gnostic concepts in easy to grasp terms. However, the book is quite a short read and does not cover Gnostic Philosophy & writings in totality so this is definitely supplemental reading.
As an ex-Catholic, Gnostic teachings have renewed my faith but in a different way. As the originals Gnostics taught, I agree that Gnosticism is a mature form of spirtuality (many of the teachings are similar to other philosophical religious thought - Buddhism is one example). Thus, this book would definitely not appeal to literalist Christians who blindy follow archaic scripture
Overall, it was a great read!
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Posted January 26, 2006
Even before copies of the Gnostic gospels were found in Nag Hammadi, Christians knew of there existence because of the writings of early Church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Ireneous of Lyons, who being disciples of the apostles, had already refuted the teachings of the gnostics. I find it incredulous that one who claims to be a scholar would accept gospels written 200-300 years after Christ as being more credible than the ones written by eyewitnesses, i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
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Posted February 26, 2012
Pagels offers great insight for those who find themselves "at the edge of orthodoxy" but still hold fast to the pursuit of self- and divine-knowledge. Gnosticism offers plenty of food for thought.
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Posted February 3, 2012
Pagels writes in a way that is both scholarly and approachable. You don't have to be a doctoral student to read this book, yet her work is at that level. Sound scholarship, and well-written.
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Posted January 25, 2012
Posted July 18, 2006
The Gnostic Gospels is certainly interesting, however they hardly have a direct effect on anyone today! The Bible itself is a book of FAITH ( I do not need to see to believe!) Lets get one historical fact correct. Luke WAS NOT an eyewitness, he interviewed others , then wrote his gospel, he was Greek, not Judean.
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Posted January 1, 2006
The 'scholarly work' of Elaine Pagels is purely disgusting when one considers that the Gnostics, the producers of the Gnostic Gospels, were a cult of pagans infatuated with ritual orgies and other heathen practices.
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Posted November 13, 2002
Posted January 12, 2000
Posted May 22, 2012
Pagels objectively introduces the subject of the Gnostic Gospels—she describes the history of the texts, some basic differences between Gnostic beliefs and Orthodox beliefs, and then summarizes by saying that Christianity would have developed quite differently (or perhaps even fizzled out like other mystic fad religions) if Gnosticism had survived. She supports neither Orthodoxy or Gnosticism in this book, but provides an objective historian’s view on the two faiths. This is a fantastic introduction to Gnosticism, and it lacks the sensationalism of many Gnostic scholars today. Highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2001
The book jacket and the introduction are intriguing - but the rest of the text becomes repetitive and dry. The alternative view of Christ's life and death, and the disparate account of his teachings make for good points to quote and discuss with friends; but the efforts to sustain that interest failed with this reader.
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