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The Gnostic Gospels

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,477 Ratings  ·  433 Reviews
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 to grow in reputation and influence over the past two decades. It is now widely re ...more
Paperback, 182 pages
Published September 19th 1989 by Vintage (first published November 12th 1979)
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William1
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
Nov 28, 2010 Dan Schwent rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
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
...more
Eva
Oct 06, 2007 Eva rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Erik Graff
Oct 08, 2014 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  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
...more
Hadrian
Apr 06, 2012 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
Reread.

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
...more
Fredstrong
Dec 15, 2007 Fredstrong rated it it was amazing
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
Jan
Mar 27, 2015 Jan rated it really liked it
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
...more
Katie
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
Christine Giraud
May 22, 2007 Christine Giraud rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Marvin
Dec 24, 2009 Marvin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
...more
Ken-ichi
Apr 06, 2015 Ken-ichi rated it liked it
Shelves: history, religion
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
...more
Behnaz
Sono cresciuta da una madre appartenente ad una minoranza musulmana e un padre laico. Durante gli anni della scuola non ho mai frequentato le lezioni di religione ( questo a prescindere dal paese in cui mi trovavo). Di conseguenza posso dire di essere una perfetta ignorante per quanto riguarda le religioni e in modo particolare il cristianesimo.
Il libro di Elaine Pagels offre un'introduzione completa ma allo stesso tempo semplice e scorrevole dell'origine del cristianesimo. Lei stessa, professor
...more
Jody Mena
Jun 01, 2015 Jody Mena added it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dave
Jan 03, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-read
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
Jan 02, 2009 Pete daPixie rated it liked it
Shelves: historical-jesus
One of the few Christian writers I can enjoy reading.
John
Aug 13, 2015 John rated it really liked it
This was a re-read (for Easter!); I can't recall when I first read it, but I'm guessing it's been 15-20 years. On that first read, I found this study of the early Christian texts that didn't make it into the Bible incredibly eye-opening. Many years later, I can see the flaws more easily; it's fairly repetitious, and Pagels bases her arguments about the Gnostics on only a handful of texts, even though many more were available to her (some make a sudden appearance in the final chapter, and you hav ...more
Derek Davis
Jul 01, 2013 Derek Davis rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Bruce
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
...more
Cooper Cooper
Aug 08, 2009 Cooper Cooper rated it really liked it
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
Siew Ee
Aug 15, 2012 Siew Ee rated it liked it
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
...more
Lage von Dissen
Apr 29, 2013 Lage von Dissen rated it liked it
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
Jason
Jul 11, 2011 Jason rated it liked it
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
...more
Rachel
Sep 28, 2009 Rachel rated it really liked it
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
Jul 08, 2013 Jeff Holt rated it it was amazing
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
Kelly
Jun 25, 2015 Kelly rated it liked it
I read this book for my book group at church. While it started out very readable, it became harder to follow as she increasingly included quotes from the Gnostic Gospels to support her arguments. Due to my inexperience with the Gnostic texts, I found this to be a hard method to follow. I found the book very thought provoking, and I certainly learned much about the early church that I had never even considered. I am glad I read it, but I don't know that it would fall under the category of 'enjoya ...more
Vincent Chough
Dec 27, 2011 Vincent Chough rated it really liked it
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 dont 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 ones position on faith taints every interpretation, however.

This is a challenging book for all Christians, and I came
...more
Mark
Jan 13, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
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
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Hey Marcel... 3 39 Jun 23, 2012 06:43PM  
  • The Nag Hammadi Library
  • The Gnostic Bible
  • The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle
  • The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?
  • The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus
  • Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
  • The Fall of the Athenian Empire
  • The Gospel of Judas
  • Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith
  • Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing
  • The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
  • The Gnostic Scriptures: Ancient Wisdom for the New Age
  • The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins
  • The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
  • The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion
  • All The Emperor's Horses
  • Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism
  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture
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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
More about Elaine Pagels...

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“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
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