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Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity [Paperback]

Elaine Pagels
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 19 1989
Deepens and refreshes our view of early Christianity while casting a disturbing light on the evolution of the attitudes passed down to us.

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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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From Publishers Weekly

The disgust felt by early Christians for the flesh was a radical departure from both pagan and Jewish sexual attitudes. In fact, as Princeton professor Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels) demonstrates, the ascetic movement in Christianity met with great resistance in the first four centuries A.D. Sex became fully tainted, inextricably linked to sin under the teachings of Augustine. This troubled sinner invoked Adam and Eve to justify his idiosyncratic view of humanity as permanently scarred by the Fall. Instead of being dismissed as marginal, Augustine's grim outlook took hold, according to Pagels, because it was politically expedient. Now that Christianity had become the imperial religion, Rome wanted its imperfect subjects to obey a strong Christian state. This highly provocative history links the religious roots of Western sexual attitudes to women's inferior status through the centuries.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pagels explores the development of the ideas of human nature, moral freedom, and sexuality in the four centuries following Christ. Focusing on the various interpretations of the Genesis creation stories, she concludes that early Christians regarded their message to be one of moral freedom and human worth. In the 5th century, Augustine turned the tide with his view of human depravity and original sin (which he linked with sexuality). She argues that his interpretations, implying human incapacity for true political freedom, appealed to the interests of the emerging Christian state and forged the mainstream of ensuing Christian theology. In her analysis, Pagels does not convincingly deal with other foundational biblical material, although she does ably dismantle Augstine's identification of sexuality with original sin. Cynthia Widmer, Williamstown, Mass.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Village Reader Review July 13 2004
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars At the root of our fears concerning freedom Feb. 23 2008
By Brian Griffith TOP 500 REVIEWER
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Work About an Often Overlooked Subject April 16 2000
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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5.0 out of 5 stars All things old are new again... Feb. 13 2006
Elaine Pagels is perhaps best known as the author of the popular text, `The Gnostic Gospels', highlighting a lesser known arena in early Christian history. Her reputation is somewhat controversial, as is her writing, but one thing is certain - she is a good writer, interesting to read, and she will make her readers think. This particular book, `Adam, Eve and the Serpent' deals with issues surrounding sexuality and gender, a hot topic in the social and cultural situations of today, but similarly of concern throughout much of Christian history. There is a tug-of-war between `traditional values' (leaving aside that there are various traditions) and `revisionist' or `modern' ideas, and few are in agreement over where the boundaries should be drawn.
Pagels explores some of the ways in which these traditional roles of gender and patterns of sexual expression arose to become so powerfully ingrained in western Christian society. To this day, most people make the appeal to the early chapters of Genesis both as the paradigm for what God intended for the world as well as the explanation, if not the actual instance, of sin and evil encroaching upon the world. Pagels begins with a copy of the first few chapters of Genesis, and traces ways in which ancient Jewish and early Christian communities interpreted these chapters.
Each chapter in Pagel's book highlights a particular theme. The first chapter looks at the understanding of Jewish culture of the early Genesis stories that would have formed the world view of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles and church leaders, all of whom were born and raised into this Jewish culture.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Adam, Eve and the Serpent.
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.
Published on Nov. 6 2011 by A. Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars Explores where our sexual conflicts originated....
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... Read more
Published on March 22 2011 by Ronald W. Maron
5.0 out of 5 stars The many influences of one myth...
"Adam, Eve, and the Serpent" is a brief, fascinating introduction to the world that shaped early Christian thought. Read more
Published on May 21 2004 by Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock
5.0 out of 5 stars So Much For That Simple And Unified Body Of Early Christians
Elaine Pagels' knowledge of the development of Christianity during its first four centuries is very much in evidence in ADAM, EVE AND THE SERPENT as she describes the evolution of... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004 by Peter Kenney
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and fascinating...
This scholarly though very accessible text explores the early Christian interpretations of the Book of Genesis, particularly Adam and Eve's exile from paradise, due to disobeying... Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2004 by C. Middleton
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a suspense story
The nice thing about this book is that it is written like a suspense story. I couldnt stop it till I finished it. Very talented scholar/writer
Published on Dec 27 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, thought provoking, but is it right?
If you just have a chance to glance at the book, (1)read pg 150, this is the last page before the epilogue(and is a very concise summary of the book's topics), then read the... Read more
Published on Nov. 9 2003 by R. M. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars How Sex Became Sin
Elaine Pagels writes about how sex became sinful among Christians. In its early stages, most of the followers of Jesus were Jews who understood that the command of God was to be... Read more
Published on July 31 2003 by Virgil Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful book that leaves out pertinent information
I liked how the book exposed the criticism of St. Augustine's beliefs on original sin. It is interesting that prominent Catholic theologians (Pelagius, Julian, and John... Read more
Published on May 8 2003 by Ray Kidder
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Sex Sinfull?
I dunno, but I hope so. At least that's more fun than the modern attitude of having it urged upon us as 'healthy.'
Save healthy for brushing your teeth. . .
Ms. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2002 by the wizard of uz
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