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The Gnostic Gospels Paperback – Sep 19 1989

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (Sept. 19 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724537
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 9 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #12,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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


"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

4.1 out of 5 stars

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on Nov. 26 2005
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 By A Customer on July 13 2004
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on Oct. 17 2007
Format: Paperback
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. Or it might have heralded a new ecumenical movement undreamt of in an earlier day. The books proved to be the writings of a Christian sect known as the Gnostics. This group formed shortly after the death or disappearance of the teacher known as Jesus. The followers of this teacher generated many interpreters in the years after his disappearance, but these were either absorbed in the orthodoxy created by Roman Emperor Constantine or killed or driven into exile by the hierarchy established by his fiat. Most of their writings disappeared with them.

Pagels, a specialist in the Gnostic gospels, presents the story of the find and outlines the philosophy with sympathy and clarity. In six succinct chapters, she reveals the drastic departure from what we know as Christianity today. Although others have questioned the notion of the Trinity, the Gnostics were firmly opposed to the tripartite division of one spirit into three identities. The "resurrection", so firmly entrenched in today's faith, was viewed in a completely different way by the Gnostics. Their writings contest the notion of Jesus as a deity in human form. Furthermore, the Gnostics couldn't accept the restricted group of "observers" of the resurrected Jesus that orthodox accounts relate. Displays of the spirit would occur down through time, they contested, and to all who were prepared to see it. This universal revelation overturned the sort of hierarchical structure that was developing among other Christians and would be endorsed by Constatine. The Gnostics felt relations with the deity should be universally available.
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