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Elaine Pagels

Teoksen Gnostilaiset evankeliumit tekijä

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Tietoja tekijästä

Elaine Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship best known for her studies and writing on the Gnostic Gospels. Pagels graduated from Stanford University receiving a B.A. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1965. She näytä lisää received a Ph.D in religion from Harvard University in 1970. She is the author of The Gnostic Gospels (1979), which won the National Book Award (Religion 1980) and the National Book Critics Circle Award (Criticism 1979). Pagels is also the author of Adam, Eve and the Serpent (1988), The Origin of Satan (1995), Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (2007), and Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012). (Bowker Author Biography) näytä vähemmän
Image credit: Elaine Hiesey Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion, Princeton University. Photo by Denise Applewhite, 1996 (photo courtesy of Princeton University)

Tekijän teokset

Gnostilaiset evankeliumit (1979) 4,863 kappaletta
Why Religion?: A Personal Story (2018) 354 kappaletta
The Gnostic Paul (1975) 276 kappaletta

Associated Works

Elävä Buddha, elävä Kristus (1995) — Johdanto, eräät painokset2,106 kappaletta
The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (2007) — Johdanto, eräät painokset683 kappaletta
The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Fourth Revised Edition (1996) — Avustaja — 556 kappaletta
Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (1979) — Avustaja — 536 kappaletta
Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism (2008) — Esipuhe, eräät painokset28 kappaletta
The Other side of God: A polarity in world religions (1981) — Avustaja — 27 kappaletta
Asceticism (1995) — Avustaja — 25 kappaletta

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Gnostic Gospels Group Read, 75 Books Challenge for 2012 (huhtikuu 2012)


Beyond Belief: the Secret Gospel of Thomas
Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagel’s book Beyond Belief is somewhat a continuation of her book, the Gnostic Gospels. It was written more than 20 years later, and in addition to being a historical account of the Gospel of Thomas, it also includes elements of a memoir. The results is a book that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It isn’t a memoir, however, the elements of memoir make it so that it doesn’t quite read as history either.

Pagels’ focus, “is how certain Christian leaders from the second century through the fourth came to reject many other sources of revelation and construct instead, the New Testament gospel canon of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, along with the ‘canon of truth,’ which became the nucleus of the later creeds that have defined Christianity to this day.” Pagels chooses the Gospel of Thomas as a vehicle for comparison to the canonical gospels, particularly the Gospel of John. Of all the canonical gospels, John is the gospel believed by most scholars, to have been most heavily influenced by the gnostics. Pagels describes the process by which canonical and gnostic gospels, rather than being complementary, were set up to be rivals by the men who were intent on establishing a universal Christian church.

Her protagonist is not Thomas but instead, Irenaeus, the 2nd century BCE Bishop of Lyons. Despite his hard-line orthodoxy, Pagels portrays his motives with sensitivity and understanding. He was the primary architect of the four-Gospel canon. She points out that he wasn’t opposed to diverse interpretations of scripture; what he opposed was the gnostics’ methods. The gnostics were what we might today call elitist. For example, they believed that there were two levels of baptism. The basic level required a person to repent past sins, confess his faith to Jesus Christ, and promise to live according to that faith. The second level required “soul-searching” - asking question after question to know oneself (gnosis) and attain spiritual transformation, therefore becoming Christ-like. This division of the congregation into “basic” and “higher level” Christians greatly concerned Irenaeus because of its exclusivity. Pagels does a wonderful job explaining Irenaeus’s motives. He was not a philosopher, but instead was a person thrust into a leadership position at a young age who had grown up watching his teachers and mentors violently persecuted and killed. Any threat to Christian unity was concerning to him. He believed unity was needed to create a strong community assured in the strength of its common faith against Roman foes.

As Pagels shows the progression of the orthodoxy and its growing strength against the decline of gnosticim, she incorporates pieces of her own spiritual evolution. Like Irenaeus, her own journey is rooted in grief. She must navigate the impact of the death of her young son on her personal beliefs. While I sympathized with her personal journey, I felt that it was a bit misplaced in this particular book. She didn’t focus on it enough. However, if she had, the historicism of the journey away from gnosticism and toward orthodoxy would have lost its focus and therefore power. It would have been better to write a separate and more in-depth memoir. Instead, she inconsistently sprinkled in personal thoughts and feelings that felt out of place. I enjoyed reading the historical aspects of Beyond Belief. And I would have loved to read more about her own personal journey. Just not in the same book.
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Mortybanks | 35 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 25, 2024 |
I remember first hearing about the Gnostic Gospels during the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code craze of the early aughts. At that time, the gospels were offered up as sort of legitimate “source material” for some of the wilder imaginings in Brown’s novel. I was curious about them, so I bought Pagels’ book. At the time, I simply wasn’t educated enough to understand what I was reading. I’m not sure I even finished her book. It sat on my shelf for many years. After reading the Bible and excerpts from the Talmud, in addition to two histories of the Bible, I figured that rereading Pagels’ book would enrich my understanding of early Christianity. I was not wrong.

Pagles helped me understand something that I had been curious about for much of my adult life. As someone who grew up influenced by Christian grandparents, but who was not raised Christian myself, I could never fully understand how early Christianity quickly surpassed its mother religion, Judaism, and became so dominant in the world within a span less than four hundred years. What Pagels helped to explain is that this phenomenon was not accidental. She makes her point by exploring the contrast between Christian orthodoxy and gnosticism. Her book is less about the gnostic texts themselves and more about their place in the building of the early Christian church.

But first, what does “gnostic” mean and what are the gnostic gospels? Gnostic, at its most rudimentary, means knowledge. As the term relates to religious or philosophical thought, it describes the intuitive process of getting to know oneself. This process includes continual questioning and was influenced by the Greek philosophers. There wasn’t a separate gnostic religion, rather there were diverse groups within early Christianity (long before “the Church” had been established) who shared the belief that to know oneself at the deepest level is to know God.

The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of thirteen papyrus books discovered in a huge earthenware jar in Upper Egypt in 1945 by an Arab farmer. After scholarly examination, they were determined to be Coptic (Egyptian dialect) translations from c. 350-400 CE of original Greek texts that dated from no later than c. 120 CE. They included texts from the earliest century of the Christian era: previously unknown gospels of Thomas and Philip as well as other apocalyptic gospels and letters.

The one criticism I have of Pagels’ book is that we don’t get a full sense of what any one of the gnostic gospels was like to read. She quotes from the texts, however, in fairness, her purpose is not to offer up a translation of them. Her intent is to show how the gnostic and orthodox forms interacted and to explain what the interaction tells us about the origin of Christianity.

The Christian religion did not develop in a vacuum; instead it was a religious, social and political movement. During its early centuries, Christians were persecuted in the most horrific ways. In response, Christian leaders intentionally set out to develop an orthodoxy that would “rally the troops”. There was a need for Christians to coalesce and defend themselves. Christians were being persecuted while they were simultaneously growing in large numbers across large geographical swaths. An orthodox canon was critical to the development of a strong Christian social and political identity. Gnosticism, with its diverse beliefs, did not lend itself to strength in numbers. It would almost seem that no two gnostics could agree on anything because they wanted to keep asking questions and explore deeper for knowledge. Gnosticism appealed to only a certain type of intellectual believer. Orthodoxy was relatively more straightforward and in some ways simpler. It relied on a commitment to the apostolic creed rather than endless questioning and seeking. It appealed to the masses. Orthodox leaders, people such as Clement, Bishop of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, over time developed concepts that evolved into the hierarchy that still exists today in Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Pagels shows that it was this orthodoxy and this church architecture, that strengthened the early church. Once the Roman emperor, Constantine, converted, the structure was in place that enabled Christianity to spread and take lasting hold so effectively.

And while Gnosticism itself did not take hold as a competing religion, remnants of it have survived. For example, gnostics attributed some of their religious traditions to figures who stood outside the twelve apostles - Paul, Mary Magdalene, and James, the brother of Jesus. These figures did not “die” with the supremacy of orthodoxy and still live on today as important early Christians. The Gospel of John, one of the four orthodox gospels, was also an important gospel to gnostics, though for different reasons.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the Gnostic Gospels. I do wish that Pagels had included more examples of gnostic texts, so that I could start to formulate my own opinions. I also believe that there was an opportunity to show that while the gnostic churches themselves may have died out, there must be connections to later developments in the Reformation and beyond. One wonders if Luther or any of the Protestant reformers used any of the same arguments as the gnostics against the heavy hierarchy of the church. Perhaps the subject of another book…
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Mortybanks | 50 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 19, 2024 |
Elaine Pagels is best known for her works on ancient Christian heterodoxies such as The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief. Several of her later books, however, use related research to invert the question, and to interrogate the sources and effects of orthodoxy. These titles include The Origin of Satan and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. The 2012 volume Revelations belongs to this later class. It examines the Johannine Apocalypse in its original historical context and its early reception, up to and barely through the formation of the Christian scriptural canon. In the process, Pagels paints pictures of early Christianity that are likely to be unfamiliar to the wide audience to whom the book is addressed.

In particular, and contrary to standard Christian framings of the text of Revelation, she observes that its author John was almost certainly not a self-identifying "Christian." He was instead a Jew who identified Jesus as the Messiah. He was concerned with Roman persecution of Jews, and overtly resentful of gentile converts to Pauline proto-Christianity whom he regarded as pseudo-Jews. She contrasts John with his contemporary Ignatius Christophoros, a chief originator of the concept and pattern of the Christian orders of clergy. It is one of many ironies concerning John's Revelation that it would eventually be used by Christians to vilify Jews and to enforce the political structures of orthodox Christianity.

Given my own longstanding interests, I was especially tickled that Pagels spent nine pages on Apuleius of Madaurus, whom she used to provide a window on the pagan intellectual and religious context in the second century. In her account, Apuleius comes off rather like an ancient Roman Robert Anton Wilson.

Other key figures in the book include Irenaeus, a founder of Christian heresiological thought, and Athanasius, a Constantinian bishop at the core of the effort to unify "creed, clergy, and canon" (169). The history attempts to account for the fact that John's Revelation went from being one of many such visionary documents in circulation to its later status as the only "authorized" Christian text of its type. (It was, of course, still in the company of its Hebrew precedents in Isaiah and Daniel.) In a way, it became the vision to end all visions, a "seal" forbidding the canonization of other such writings and inoculating against them.

Only in a short "Conclusion" is there any treatment of more recent receptions of Revelation, and it pivots on the Reformation and the US Civil War. It doesn't even mention the subsequent widespread reading of the text as a curious species of allegorical science fiction, nor the way that it has been influential in the genesis of new religious movements--Christian and post-Christian--in the modern era. Inasmuch as the Revelation to John forms the locus classicus for many of the central mythemes of Thelema, I would strongly recommend this book to Thelemites. It supplies an overview of positive history to complement psychological treatments of the vision such as Lawrence's Apocalypse and esoteric exegesis like that of Pryse's Apocalypse Unsealed.
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paradoxosalpha | 22 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 18, 2024 |
An overview of the document cache found at Nag Hammadi in 1945, this turned into an excellent overview of early church history, and how orthodoxy finally triumphed. Very well written, footnoted and indexed, the best description of the real gist of this book is a quote from the end of chapter 6: "For ideas alone do not make a religion powerful, although it cannot succeed without them; equally important are social and political structures that identify and unite people into a common affiliation."
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dhaxton | 50 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 24, 2024 |



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