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Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity Paperback – Sep 19 1989


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Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity + The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics + Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed edition (Sept. 19 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722328
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #181,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13 2004
Format: Paperback
Jesus interprets Genesis 1 to 3 in a radical new way, and the subsequent four centuries of orthodox and Gnostic Christians resulting thought process leads to modern ideas on relationships.
In first century Jerusalem there was conflict between the pagan Rome and Jewish culture and religion. There were also a struggles between Jews that had an accommodative posture toward Rome (led mostly by the upper classes and Priests that had the most to lose) and those, mostly more conservative and rural, that resisted Roman influence. In modern terms, Jesus was a resistance leader.
Pagels argues the conflict was partly due to Jesus' interpretation of Genesis. In Genesis 1:28, the basis for marriage was procreation - and by Jewish law, marriage without children was grounds for divorce. Christ turned the law upside down. When asked what the grounds for divorce were, his answer, in Matthew 19:4-6, is that there are none. "This answer shocked his Jewish listeners and, as Matthew tells it, pleased no one".
After the crucifixion, but long before the Reformation, two groups competed for the heart and soul of Christianity - the orthodox and Gnostics. The same Scriptural texts supported radically different viewpoints. Orthodox Christians read Genesis as "history with a moral" - and their viewpoint was "a proclamation of moral freedom". Pagels implies this led to the development of the rights of man, democracy and equality under the law. Gnostics believed that Genesis was a "myth with a meaning". They argued that Genesis could not be read literally because it didn't make sense. There were two different creation texts which didn't agree (Genesis 1:26, 27 and 2:7); they questioned if Adam and Eve could hear God's footsteps (Genesis 3:8) and wonder why God an omniscient God would ask "where are you?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith TOP 500 REVIEWER on Feb. 23 2008
Format: Paperback
Pagels unravels a tangle of collective feelings about good and evil, like an archaeologist of the Western mind. She explores the history of ancient concerns - What dangers must we fear? What limits on ourselves must we observe, or lose our souls? To these fearful questions, answers have accumulated in our minds for at least 4,000 years. Pagels sifts the residue of ancient texts, exposing the choices we have made. In the growing legend of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, she finds a powerful cautionary tale. If the original sin was seeking knowledge of good and evil, what does that say about sanity? There are many ways to interpret this tale, but how was it actually interpreted by religious and political leaders over the course of history? Pagels documents the rise of a religious doctrine against the perils of freedom.

For peace and unity to prevail, most leaders of Jewish, Christian, or Muslim communities have felt it essential that ordinary people must doubt their own ability to know right from wrong. They needed to see that free will was the root of evil, and obedience the cardinal virtue of religion. As Augustine put it,

"... obedience ... is, so to speak, the mother and guardian of all the virtues of a rational creature. The fact is that a rational creature is so constituted that submission is good for it, while yielding to its own rather than its Creator's will is, on the contrary, disastrous." (The City of God, 14:12)

So the people must cease trusting their own minds, and turn for guidance to a higher authority. But which external authority should they follow?

In this great inquiry, as usual, Pagels combines the roles of textual analyst, literature critic, anthropologist, and even social therapist. Her work remains important and relevant decade after decade.

--author of Correcting Jesus
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alexander J. MacDonald on April 16 2000
Format: Paperback
I have been doing alot of thinking about the (supposedly!) inherent sinful nature of sex. This book, as no other I have found, deals with this subject.
Does humankind live in a world that has fallen due to one man's (Adam's) sin? Or is the world good (sex included) as God designed it to be from the beginning? How did people come to believe that celibacy was superior to sex (i.e., the in-built natural sex drive)?
Pagels answers these and other questions in this remarkable book. A must read for anyone concerned about the origins of the various positions of historic Christianity regarding human sexuality.
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Format: Paperback
This was an excellent read! I don't often get to the last page and wish there was more...but this was one! I will be looking for more from this author.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are a student of early Christianity, this is another brick in the wall for your studies. If you are a beginner, this is a good platform from which you can conduct further research.

The Christian population has long been haunted by their sexual hang-ups, the taboos that have surrounded sexual unions and that certain sects have long viewed celibacy as the conduit for a higher level of spiritual awareness. In a frank and expository text, Elaine Pagels reveals that all of these maladies were caused by both early political forces between Rome and the church and the misconceptions of a sexually troubled individual. By comparing the tenets and writings of Augustine with other Christian writers and thinkers of his time, we see the extreme contrasts that existed at these important decision-making times. By having the (Catholic) church adopt Augustine's troubled conclusions over ones that have more rationality, the sexual act became attached to guilt, sin and shame instead of being viewed as a normal, natural extension of humanness. Since that time we have fought a troublesome and unnecessary conflict inside our social consciences.
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