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The Gnostic Gospels [Paperback]

Elaine Pagels
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 19 1989 Vintage
A provocative study of the gnostic gospels and the world of early Christianity as revealed through the Nag Hammadi texts.

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Gnosticism's Christian form grew to prominence in the 2nd century A.D. Ultimately denounced as heretical by the early church, Gnosticism proposed a revealed knowledge of God ("gnosis" meaning "knowledge" in Greek), held as a secret tradition of the apostles. In The Gnostic Gospels, author Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Without a doubt: Gnosticism celebrates God as both Mother and Father, shows a very human Jesus's relationship to Mary Magdalene, suggests the Resurrection is better understood symbolically, and speaks to self-knowledge as the route to union with God. Pagels argues that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day, serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership. Her contrast of that developing orthodoxy with Gnostic teachings presents an intriguing trajectory on a world faith as it "might have become." The Gnostic Gospels provides engaging reading for those seeking a broader perspective on the early development of Christianity. --F. Hall

Review

"The first major and eminently readable book on gnosticism benefiting from the discovery in 1945 of a collection of Gnostic Christian texts at Nag Hammadi in Egypt." --The New York Times Book Review

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I know what I know Nov. 26 2005
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In her prize-winning book 'The Gnostic Gospels', a book which has remained in the popular eye for the past two decades since its first publication in 1979, Elaine Pagels has put together a popular treatment of a hitherto (but since more popularly-accessible) academic-only subject. The discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library were very much a topic of conversation, but always topics about which things were spoken, rather than of which things were spoken. This book helped change that in common parlance, and also served as a basic primer for those new to the field who would then proceed to more in-depth study and analysis.
In her relatively substantial introduction, Pagels goes through a history of the coming into light of the texts of Nag Hammadi, contrasting it with the more popularly known Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the Nag Hammadi texts also had their fair share of intrigue and cloak-and-dagger kinds of dealings, until finally coming into the relatively safe hands of museums and academics.
Pagels proceeds from this background with a brief history of Christian thought in the first few centuries after Christ. She particularly highlights the contrasts between orthodoxy and catholic trends, and how each relates to a gnostic point of view. What are the issues of the resurrection? Why was this taken literally? What authority is conferred upon those who saw the risen Lord, and why was it not so evenly spread (Mary Magdalene, alas, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick authority-wise, despite being listed numerous times as the first witness of the resurrection, and indeed the apostle to the apostles, proclaiming his resurrection to the unbelieving men).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Village Reader Review July 13 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Well, after reading The Da Vinci Code and watching the special on TV, I naturally went out and bought more books - at least, that is natural for me, anyway. The result is not quite a review, more like thinking out loud.
It has been said that history is written by the winners. One of the books recently finished, and used by Brown (and possibly also Perdue in Daughter of God) is Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels. What a thought provoking work. In this case, the 'winner' was a unified church. How to summarize what happened? The book itself is only 151 pages - but the intro prior to the main thesis of the book is over 35 pages. The intro lays out the basis for the 151 pages that follow.
As the church was forming, there was an organized group that became the orthodoxy of the 'only holy apostolic and catholic church' (I think that is the wording, I'm not a Catholic). The church was organized along strict hierachical lines. But the 'losers' in the early development were a group that felt that each individual had the knowledge (gnosis) to determine what the right spiritual search/meaning/path was for them - therefore very loosely organized at best.
Much of the work used for this philosophy was writtne down and saved by monks near Cairo and hidden when the church determines that history should be written by the winners, er, wait, when they decided that anything outside the agreement enforced by Constantine was heretical and must be destroyed. The dating on these texts is concurrent or prior to the texts used in the New Testament - ranging from about 60 to 120 AD. These monks hid the scrolls & parchments in large pottery, which was discovered about 60 years ago after 1000 years in hiding.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Classic Study of Gnosticism June 13 2004
Format:Paperback
Often the first book read by the aspiring student of gnosticism, Pagel's "The Gnostic Gospels" is a classic for a reason. This study carefully teases out the various threads of gnostic heresy, and explains precisely why gnosticism was heresy through the writings of the early theologians (Tertullian, Irenaeus, and others). Gnosticism presented a form of Christianity that had great intellectual appeal and threatened the institutional form of the religion already taking root in the early church through it's focus on self-realization of divinity. To this day, mystics and theologians walk a tenuous line between orthodoxy and gnosticism, especially when questioning where faith ends and experience begins. Pagels clearly deliniates the various theological struggles between the gnostic sects (many of whom were very different from each other) and the universal church, and how theology and power collide- and how they do not.
Pagel's study is not without it's flaws. It is quite brief, and does not cover gnostic theology or studies with real depth beyond the conflicts of doctrine. It's also expected that the reader is already familiar with the gnostic texts- this is not an overview of gnosticism. But other than that, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to study gnosticism and it's discontents.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Elaine Pagels: Gnostic Gospels Oct. 31 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I should have read this decades ago. Elaine Pagels is a true scholar. Made me want to read more by her.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
In THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS, Elaine Pagels writes that in the second century C.E., Christians who followed the solitary path they believed Jesus advocated-of self discovery in the search for the divine-lost their struggle with orthodox Christians who interpreted Jesus' message differently. But for the discovery of their writings at Nag Hammadi in 1945, their experience would have been lost forever. Pagels suggests the orthodox church was so powerful that if these gospels had been discovered at any time earlier, they probably would have been destroyed as heretical material. Pagels includes the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches in her definition of orthodox Christianity (any group that holds the four gospels of the new testament of the bible as doctine).
Unlike Gnosticism (which refers to the individual search for the knowledge of god within), orthodox Christianity was organized and external. Key aspects of orthodox Christianity included a hierarchical structure (priests, bishops and the pope); a belief in male supremacy; and doctrinal conformity (belief that god became man, died and was resurrected from the dead, i.e., the message of the four gospels of the new testament of the bible).
The psychological reality is that most people are afraid of the unknown and prefer to have direction in spiritual matters so the orthodox approach had great appeal for the masses. However, in spite of the dominance of orthodoxy, over the course of the twenty centuries or so since Jesus lived and died, some individuals such as Blake, Dostoevsky, and saints like Teresa and Francis probably experienced something akin to the Gnostic path.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief introduction to the Gnostic scriptures
This is a brief but informative introduction to the belief systems known as Gnosticism and their differences with Ecclesiastical Christianity. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2009 by Pieter Uys
4.0 out of 5 stars Adequate introduction to Gnostic scriptures
This brief but informative study of the cluster of beliefs known as Gnosticism and its differences with Ecclesiastical Christianity is recommended. Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2009 by Pieter Uys
4.0 out of 5 stars What makes a "heresy"?
A fortuitous event occured on an Egyptian hillside nearly half a century ago. The finding of a set of papyrus books might have sundered the Christian world irreparably. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2007 by Stephen A. Haines
1.0 out of 5 stars Missing text to back up theories, and Far from truth. Sad
This is a sad diversion from the true Gospel. I tried to get in to what was being writen but she lacked evidence and text to back up her wild theories. Read more
Published on July 6 2004 by Chris Schroader
4.0 out of 5 stars Good History of Early Christianity
This is not exactly a fun page-turner but it is a good resource for anyone interested in early Christianity. Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by Garry L. Morey
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly awesome
Chapter 5 and 6 make this book priceless to me. I love all of Professor Pagels works and own them all. Read more
Published on May 23 2004 by Beth DeRoos
5.0 out of 5 stars COMPELLING!!!!
This work compellingly investigates the relationship between Christian Gnosticism and the nescient orthodoxy in the early centuries of the Christian movement. Read more
Published on May 6 2004 by William Ellison
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of Gnostic thought.
For the majority of folks, the Christian religion in the early centuries after the death of Jesus is that of the Catholic/Orthodox Church pure and simple. Read more
Published on April 9 2004 by shr nfr
2.0 out of 5 stars Topic misrepresented by the title!
Seveal months ago I embarked upon an intellectual and spiritual journey after reading "The Da Vinci Code". Read more
Published on April 7 2004 by Rodger Raubach
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