Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Gnostic Gospels” as Want to Read:
The Gnostic Gospels
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Gnostic Gospels

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  9,586 ratings  ·  390 reviews
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

The Gnostic Gospels
is a landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal. First published in 1979 to critical acclaim, winning the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Gnostic Gospels has continued
ebook, 0 pages
Published June 29th 2004 by Random House (first published November 12th 1979)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Gnostic Gospels, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Gnostic Gospels

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
The so-called apocryphal gospels, discovered by a farmer in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, are here explained in the context of late second-century RC church history. Gnostic (gnosis, Gk: knowledge) Christians did not believe that human intermediaries (priests, etc.) were necessary for an individual to find God. For the gnostics, enlightenment was an entirely inward and self-determined process. Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus was not divine but an ordinary man with an extraordinary m ...more
Dan Schwent
As someone who was subjected to Catholic school for 12 years, I've always been somewhat interested in all the Gnostic texts that didn't get included in the bible. So when I saw this on my girlfriend's bookshelf, I had to give it a read.

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 examines whether or not Christ actually rose from the dead or if it was a symbolic, not literal event.

Chapter 2: Chapter 2 covers the structure of the Catholic church and how it ties back to Peter and the Apostles, one of many church ideas th
Oct 06, 2007 Eva rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think the bible isn't the last word on Christianity
This book is a classic. It describes, catalogues, quotes, and interprets portions of the secret gnostic gospels which were ordered destroyed in the 4th century after Christ. How, then, did we gain access to them? Some crafty monk shoved bits and pieces of papyrus into a clay jar and buried it, like a time capsule, for 20th century archeologists to discover and historians to argue about for another 16 centuries.

What do the gnostic gospels disclose? Well, read if you want the full story, but let's
Erik Graff
Oct 08, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of early Christianity
Recommended to Erik by: Elaine Pagels
Shelves: religion
For over four years I occupied one of the cheapest singles in Union Theological Seminary's Hastings Hall. The room had been used for guests and, so, was larger than any other single, a wall having been apparently torn out. Consequently, it was large enough to accomodate both myself and my girlfriend, Janny, after she transferred from Grinnell to Barnard College a couple of blocks away south on Broadway.

I'd gone to Grinnell also, having done my thesis there on the subject of scholarly theories ab
The Nag Hammadi texts, containing the Gnostic Gospels, were found in Egypt in 1945. These codices were compiled in the 4th century AD, but the gospels themselves date to the 2nd century AD. The Gnostic teachings are quite different from those of the orthodoxy. The Gnostics had an egalitarian approach to the sexes. Sex itself was held a sacrament, and Jesus himself had a consort in Mary Magdalene. All this points to one of the most fundamental differences of Gnosticism to the Orthodox Christianit ...more
Not surprising, a couple hundred years after the death of Christ there were different interpretations on what his life meant and what his essential message was. Christianity was becoming a hierarchical institution that understood itself as the guardian of the true faith. Beliefs and practices outside of the canon was consider heresy and had to be destroyed. A number of documents were buried at that time and not discovered until 1947. These alternative gospels show some of the different interpret ...more
Barnaby Thieme
This brief introduction to the Gnostic scriptures discovered at Nag Hammadi is instantly recognizable as a classic. It is beautifully written, deeply informative, and utterly fascinating. Pagels presents the Gnostics as representing various competing doctrines in the charged religious landscape of the first few centuries of the first millennium, competing against groups that would eventually ascend as canonical and orthodox representatives of the catholic church of Christ.

Pagels is clearly inte
This is a really fascinating book, and a great introduction to Gnosticism. It's learned, it places theological ideas in a socio-political context, and it's enjoyable to read. Pagel's biggest success is in the way she ties the controversy between gnostic and orthodox ideas into contemporary social and political issues and uses them to explain why orthodox ideas ultimately won out. It paints a picture where orthodox Christianity isn't the camp that won because it's ideas were any 'truer,' but beca ...more

This is one of the most fascinating books on the history of early Christianity. Although it does contain just quotes and selections from the texts themselves, Pagels does a remarkable job analyzing and giving them a greater historical context.

The Gnostic texts also gave a radical re-evaluation of the history of early Christianity, the nature of God, the figure Jesus, the resurrection, the role of women and whether or not a 'Church' as it exists in the Catholic tradition, was always extant
Miles Zarathustra
If you're gullible enough to buy the idea that the Bible is infallible, this book is not for you.

If you're feeling like there has got to be more to the story that what you are told, this book is an wonderful starting place. Elaine Pagels is concise and lively in style, and her scholarship is excellent. Others have filled in with greater bulk and more voluminous scholarship, but this book (and the other I have read) get straight to the point. Her books are short and a good read.

The title refers t
Christine Giraud
May 22, 2007 Christine Giraud rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any one interested in theology
This book is about how, after JC's death, there was a struggle between heretic believers- those who believed in personal enlightenment and shunned a church hierarchy- and the disciple of John's beievers- patriarchal, hierarchal, congregational- and why John's side won. GG is based on the gnostic gospels which were discovered in urns buried in a cave in Egypt 1950. They had likely been suppressed by the dominant faction.

It does a good job describing how present-day Christianity evolved and, in a
Jody Mena
Fascinating and thought provoking. This is a very thorough historical examination of the conflict between the orthodox and gnostic perspectives of Christianity in its first centuries, based on various scriptures (canonical and apocryphal) as well as the writings of religious scholars and historians from that time. At the end, the author disclaims that she doesn't necessarily agree with or 'side' with a gnostic view of Christian philosophy. More's the pity - she demonstrated quite well, in my opi ...more
Given that my atheism was birthed from a Catholic upbringing, you'd think I'd know a little more about Christian history, but I don't. Enter Elaine Pagels, Christian historian par excellence! I'd heard her discussing Revelations on Fresh Air earlier this year and was intrigued, so I figured I'd give her work a try. Well worth it.

For the uninitiated, the canonical Christian New Testament represents but a handful of documents chosen from numerous texts about the life and times of Jesus written in
I found the book fascinating. The description of the discovery and coming to light of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic writings including gospels, apocalypses, and other early Christian/Gnostic books called apocryphal that did not make it into the New Testament because of the heretical views expressed. The narrative shows the extreme division among early Christian groups and the struggle between ecclesiastical authority (orthodoxy) and individual conscience (the various heterodox ...more
Pete daPixie
One of the few Christian writers I can enjoy reading.
Derek Davis
What did it mean to be a "Gnostic" in the early days of Christianity? It's an interesting question but a misleading one, because there was no single Gnostic point of view to match that of the rigid, institutional Catholic Church that has come down remarkably unchanged over two millennia. To further confuse the issue, the Gnostics included many groups that were not Christian.
These twin considerations–the broad, indefinite character of Gnostic belief and the triumph of a single-outlook Church–are
The best overview of the history and meaning of the gnostic gospels. Pagels does a fine job in outlining the amazing history of the finding of these manuscripts in a jar by an Arab shepherd in the late 40's, and the near miraculous way they were saved from destruction. It is heartbreaking to consider that some were used by his mother to start fires, what work may have been lost there.

These variant views of Christianity were sidetracked by the early Christian fathers who determined which of the
Cooper Cooper
During the first and second centuries, when Christians were still a persecuted minority and stuggling to organize themselves, a zillion sects duked it out ideologically, ginning out a plethora of interpretations of what Christianity actually signified. The Catholic Church as we know it today eventually won out and, after gaining secular as well as religious power when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, began vigorously persecuting dissident sects as heresie ...more
I was already familiar with the Gnostic Gospels, mainly through the lectures and writings of Bart Erhmann, before I picked up this earlier book. However Elaine Pagels' study on these writings of Early Christianity is essential in spreading light on this topic. One of the things this book does so well is setting the gnostic idea in its time and how it was at odds with "Orthodox" Christianity. She writes on how Gnosticism simply wasn't equipped to survive amongst an alternative Christianity that f ...more
Siew Ee
A very intriguing and insightful read on the similarities and differences between gnostic and orthodox Christians of the early Christian movement. The book presented a very different view of the origins of Christianity from what I used to know.

What made the most impact on me was the documentation that showed some parallels between the Gnostic movement and Buddhism. To begin with, the word Gnostic comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge”, which is more or less equated to “enlightenm
Lage von Dissen
Prior to the proto-orthodox movement, there were several Christian sects that co-existed during the first couple centuries of the common era. These varied Christian views differed greatly in terms of their doctrine, as well as some fundamental issues like how they viewed God, Jesus, and what they thought of as their ultimate purpose or goal in life. Concepts that most modern day Christians consider universal or consider to be basic tenets of Christianity were not so common or universal when Chri ...more
While this is a decent overview of the findings at Nag Hammadi in general, there are also an awful lot of exaggerated caricatures of 'orthodox Christianity' in here. Elaine seems to conflate ancient orthodoxy with modern Catholicism, which is a huge mistake. Eastern Orthodoxy is much closer (if not the same?) to ancient orthodoxy, and the veracity of many of her claims against the latter don't hold up from a closer look at the theology of the former.

For example, she says the ancient orthodox Chu
Really fascinating introduction to some recently-rediscovered (1945) early Christian texts that didn't make the cut for the New Testament. Pagels makes a persuasive case that the Gnostics - though themselves a diverse group with a variety of different interpretations of Christ's life and message -- generally held beliefs that tended to undercut efforts to establish a global, institutionalized, catholic religion, and therefore had to be sidelined. The passages she quotes highlight the Gnostics' a ...more
Jeff Holt
So far, this is the most lucid study of the Gnostic Gospels that I have come across. I have previouly read "The Gospel of Mary" which included "The Gospel of Thomas" and the scholar of that book was so biased that she would make statements such as "Now we know that..." about Mary Magdalene. I don't care for that sort of editorial leading. Pagels is far more tentative and interested in presenting all of the facts about the subject. Having already read her wonderful "The Origin of Satan," I though ...more
Katelis Viglas
I liked it, even if it is confined only on a historical description and analysis of some subjects, related to the Gnostic texts. It is very interesting that Elaine Pagels doesn't hesitate to speak about power and political games, hidden under or being obvious on the surface of the religious phenomena in the early christian centuries. The text has a very simple style; the problem remains that there aren't included so much references to other disciplines, as one would expect in a so large field of ...more
Vincent Chough
The 4 stars are given in regards to the quality of the writing, and this does not reflect whether or not I agree with the content.

The fact is that I don´t agree with much of what Pagels has to say, but she is a very good writer and has no problem making her point-of-view understandable. She has a lot of knowledge on the subject and is in fact an (the?) authority. Interesting how one´s position on faith taints every interpretation, however.

This is a challenging book for all Christians, and I ca
A well written work whose basic thesis is that the modern New Testament exists in its current form for a political reason: because the four gospels trace Divine Authority to the Church and the pope. Other so called Gnostic Gospels were discarded or rejected because they allowed the faithful to find their own salvation within themselves. In short, gnosticism was a threat to Church authority in the same way that Protestantism was: neither require a pope or a church or a priest. Thus, Gnoticism was ...more
Earl Mcgowen
The story of Christianity is largely a story about the struggle between heterodoxy and orthodoxy. Even from its roots, Christianity confronted an identity crisis between the Orthodox and the Apocryphal communities in the third century.

Around 325, Constantine lifted the Roman persecution against Christians. As so often is the case in history, the oppressed become the oppressors. In 367, the Archbishop of Alexandria declares that all Apocryphal gospels be destroyed. And, by the end of the 4th cent
Vinod Peris
At a recent social gathering one of my friends mentioned the Gnostic Gospels and a potential link to Indian religions. I was reading Reza Aslan's "Zealot" at the time and was intrigued with this possibility. I scoured the internet to find a book that would enlighten me on this prospect and Elaine Pagel's book was highly acclaimed. I have to confess that I had high expectations when I started reading this book and was quickly disappointed as much of this was covered in Reza's highly readable book ...more
In December of 1945, an important archeological findings of papyri were discovered in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. The contents of the papyri have not been translated and deciphered for 30 years because of the political wrangling of scholars, curators, and people who wanted to make money out of the discovery. These papyri contain the writings of Gnostics in second century C.E. The writings give us a view of the chaos and the political battle in the Early Christian era between the Orthodox Christi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Hey Marcel... 3 38 Jun 23, 2012 06:43PM  
  • The Gnostic Bible
  • The Nag Hammadi Library
  • Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
  • Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament
  • The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
  • The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?
  • The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
  • The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus
  • Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith
  • The Gospel of Judas
  • Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing
  • The Fall of the Athenian Empire
  • Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
  • The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture
  • The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins
  • The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English
  • The Other Bible
Elaine Pagels is a preeminent figure in the theological community whose scholarship has earned her international respect. The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, she was awarded the Rockefeller, Guggenheim & MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years.
As a young researcher at Barnard College, she changed forever the historical landscape of the Christian r
More about Elaine H. Pagels...
Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters

Share This Book

“The gnostic understands Christ’s message not as offering a set of answers, but as encouragement to engage in a process of searching: “seek and inquire about the ways you should go, since there is nothing else as good as this.”48 The rational soul longs to see with her mind, and perceive her kinsmen, and learn about her root … in order that she might receive what is hers …49 What is the result? The author declares that she attains fulfillment:  … the rational soul who wearied herself in seeking—she learned about God. She labored with inquiring, enduring distress in the body, wearing out her feet after the evangelists, learning about the Inscrutable One.… She came to rest in him who is at rest. She reclined in the bride-chamber. She ate of the banquet for which she had hungered.… She found what she had sought.50” 1 likes
“What interested these gnostics far more than past events attributed to the “historical Jesus” was the possibility of encountering the risen Christ in the present.49 The Gospel of Mary illustrates the contrast between orthodox and gnostic viewpoints. The account recalls what Mark relates: Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene … She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.50 As the Gospel of Mary opens, the disciples are mourning Jesus’ death and terrified for their own lives. Then Mary Magdalene stands up to encourage them, recalling Christ’s continual presence with them: “Do not weep, and do not grieve, and do not doubt; for his grace will be with you completely, and will protect you.”51 Peter invites Mary to “tell us the words of the Savior which you remember.”52 But to Peter’s surprise, Mary does not tell anecdotes from the past; instead, she explains that she has just seen the Lord in a vision received through the mind, and she goes on to tell what he revealed to her. When Mary finishes, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her. But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, “Say what you will about what she has said. I, at least, do not believe that the Savior has said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas!”53 Peter agrees with Andrew, ridiculing the idea that Mary actually saw the Lord in her vision. Then, the story continues, Mary wept and said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart? Do you think I am lying about the Savior?” Levi answered and said to Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered … If the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her?”54 Finally Mary, vindicated, joins the other apostles as they go out to preach. Peter, apparently representing the orthodox position, looks to past events, suspicious of those who “see the Lord” in visions: Mary, representing the gnostic, claims to experience his continuing presence.55 These gnostics recognized that their theory, like the orthodox one, bore political implications. It suggests that whoever “sees the Lord” through inner vision can claim that his or her own authority equals, or surpasses, that of the Twelve—and of their successors. Consider the political implications of the Gospel of Mary: Peter and Andrew, here representing the leaders of the orthodox group, accuse Mary—the gnostic—of pretending to have seen the Lord in order to justify the strange ideas, fictions, and lies she invents and attributes to divine inspiration. Mary lacks the proper credentials for leadership, from the orthodox viewpoint: she is not one of the “twelve.” But as Mary stands up to Peter, so the gnostics who take her as their prototype challenge the authority of those priests and bishops who claim to be Peter’s successors.” 1 likes
More quotes…