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Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity
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Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,570 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Deepens and refreshes our view of early Christianity while casting a disturbing light on the evolution of the attitudes passed down to us.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
ebook, 224 pages
Published October 5th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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It is a truth, occasionally stated, and rarely followed, that before one adopts a faith, joins a religion, or becomes a member of an organized body of worshippers, one ought to understand, intimately, that faith and its implications. One ought also to learn and understand how the faith started and how it came to be as it is when one finds it. I encounter from time to time people, good souls usually, who try to convince me to be born again. Listening to their statements, which generally begin, "T...more
Lee Harmon
Augustine, arguably Christianity’s greatest teacher, often stressed the sinful nature of sexual desire. Adam’s sin corrupted the whole of nature itself, and infants are infected from the moment of conception with the disease of original sin. When did this idea come about that sex is inherently sinful? When did the fall become the Fall?

In Genesis 1, God gifted the power of earthly rule to Adam. Yet, in the late fourth and fifth centuries, this message began to change. Adam’s prideful desire for s...more
May 13, 2007 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Well-educated people wanting to understand sex and sin
The Book of Genesis is only about four pages long but its interpretation has arguably had more impact on the character of Western views on sin and sex than any other document. Originally labeled heretical by the Pope, Augustine's reading of Genesis was later lobbied not only into acceptance but dominance that is so long-standing, so pervasive that we automatically take it for granted. It seems "natural" to Westerners to associate sex and sin; women and sinful temptation. Pagels unpeels this onio...more
Aug 04, 2008 dan added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to dan by: heretics and believers
Shelves: 2008
This was my second favorite Pagels book, after The Gnostic Gospels. The book most contains quotes and analysis of early Christian (and some contemporary Jewish) thinkers from Jerome to Augustine and Julian of Eclanum. While nominally about sexual mores, the book thoroughly explores the idea of free will and Augustine's paradoxical idea of hereditary original sin. As with all books about early Christianity, I found myself in much closer agreement with the heretics.
PIECE OF TRASH!!! Obvious and subtle manipulations of Holy Scripture. She quotes a verse and makes a point out of it that would be contradicted if she took the time to read a verse or two before or after. Has she read the Bible, or does she just get her quotes from an internet Bible search using a few key words? This book made me INCREDIBLY angry. I had to put it down, for I do not wish to expend mental energy by getting angry.
I really enjoy Pagels' work. She isn't writing from a Christian, this is right, point of view. She is writing from a historical/analytical point of view. I liked how she links religion and poltics and calls Jesus a political protestor--very interesting.
Dave Mackey
Pagels work is hard to define much less analyze and provide a rating of. Pagels at the end of her work notes that "In the present book, I set out to see how Christians have interpreted the creation accounts of Genesis." (pg. 152) But the work ranges broadly across the first several hundred years of Christian history with a pervasive interpolation of quotations and insights both ancient and modern. What many may find most objectionable is the questions she raises regarding Augustine's theology, a...more
Taylor Storey
If I pursue a graduate degree, at this point it would probably be connected in some form to early church history. Preferably pre-constantine/augustine, and emphasizing eastern christianity. That being said, this book nails the topic I think is most important to the way I and many others are living life (whether you know it or not): Is human nature mostly good or mostly bad? It is not very readable unless you are mildly familiar with the names of church fathers and some academic biblical studies....more
If you're new to Pagels I would suggest that you start not here but with The Gnostic Gospels. That is the foundation, it seems to me, on which all of her other works build. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent focuses on why early Christians came to believe sex was inherently sinful. An excellent question. It begins with more of the fascinating story of the Valentinian gnostics, who were so troublesome to the early church. Apparently, like earlier Talmudic scholars, the gnostics saw little usefulness in S...more
Robert Mitchell
In spite of Pagels’ thorough Introduction and well-known areas of expertise, I was for some reason still looking for a comparative religions-type approach to the Eden account when I began Adam, Eve, and The Serpent. I stubbornly held out hope until I reached the Epilogue and read that the book was born from her quest for “a ‘golden age’ of purer and simpler Christianity” and became an analysis of “how Christians have interpreted the creation accounts of Genesis.” I won’t tell you whether Pagels...more
This is basically a history of Christian thought/ opinion/ dogma about this story from Christ through Augustine (about 500 AD.) I find the seriousness which this obviously ludicrous myth is debated amazing, but completely astounding is that the interpretation Augustine came up with became the one the religion went with. Over the 500 years, almost every interpretation imaginable was offered by learned theologists, some of which were very reasonable. But it was Augustine who came up with the idea...more
Finally finished this one for the book group. Basically it is a history of the development of Christian morality in the first four centuries of the Christian Church which is still being taught in many churches today. Apparently, we have Augustine to thank for many of the beliefs about sexuality and relationship that are alive and well in the twenty-first century--he's the one who came up with the concept of original sin.

The book has some problems in that the beginning is repetitive in a couple...more
A fascinating look at early Christianity and the nuanced ways that the story of the Fall has influenced theological debates for centuries and continues to influence much that we take for granted about underlying theological assumptions today.

I was especially impressed by Pagels' interrogation of Augustine -- she's clearly not a big fan -- and the time and care that she spent investigating his influence on Christian thought from then until now. I was surprised to learn how little free will Augus...more
A thought-provoking book, even though I don't agree with Pagels' vision of Augustine and original sin. I enjoyed her detailed description of the 1st century Roman world. It was fascinating to read about the hundreds of gods reverenced by pious Romans, and about the devotion to duty which inspired many of them, even the emperors.
Also Pagels did well in demonstrating the courage of the ealy Christian martyrs. The book helped me understand why Christians were originally called "atheists"--they ha...more
Erik Graff
Nov 13, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: Elaine Pagels
Shelves: religion
Pagels was working on the material for this book when I took her course on Genesis at Union Theological Seminary in New York. My roommate and friend at the time was one of her students at Barnard College, so we got to know her and her husband personally, being invited to at least one party at their apartment.

As in her class, Pagels is clear and accessible to non-specialists. Like most of her books, except her doctoral dissertation, this one, while confined to the first centuries of the Church, d...more
This is really a book about how the concept of original sin evolved and became Catholic doctrine. Most of the time is spent discussing Augustine, his views, those who opposed him, and why his views eventually dominated. Some of the quotes are pretty amusing and bizarre--especially the one about Adam's sin being perpetuated via semen--LOL! But the implications of the debate (from 300-500 ad) are still with us today. I especially enjoyed a couple of pages in which Pagels discussed why people have...more
I picked this book up when I left my P. Heather book in Mansfield, OH. I love Elaine Pagels who combines excellent scholarship with the ability to write articulately and clearly for non-scholars without dumbing things down. This book is re-working of several scholarly articles that Pagels had written for the general audience. THe focus of the articles is how the interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis (the two creation stories) evolved in early Christianity and how this interpretatio...more
This is hard to rate because I still have a very Augustinian view of human nature. So I'll leave it here for now.
Sirpa Grierson
Excellent insights from a scholar on the formation of the early Christian church. Her thesis is that “certain ideas—in particular, ideas concerning sexuality, moral freedom, and human value—took their definitive form during the first four centuries as interpretations of the Genesis creation stories, and how they have continued to affect our culture and everyone in it, Christian or not, ever since.” Xxviii Excellent information on how the Nicean Creed came about and how many diverse voices of the...more
Saint Augustine was a dick...
Nov 28, 2008 Larry rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all women
Recommended to Larry by: I read all her publications
Ms. Pagels scholarship in the area of early Christian writing is again impressive. In this work she reviews the Judeo-Christian creation myth and its permutations in gender relations. The story is worth the effort to read if only to give one a historical perspective on women's rights or lack thereof. Christianity has done little in the area of gender equality and, in fact, has been a barrier for women to overcome. Not at all dissimilar to the Bible's historical relationship to slavery.
The story of Adam and Eve is, like, maybe the best, most important story of all time. (According to me.) So it's really fun to really dissect it and trace it's effect on everything that followed. Pagels focuses on different ways it had an impact on society and culture, and how it was interpreted (things from advocating original sin to tackling the relationship between spirit and flesh.) She's a good writer and I wish she would attack alllllll Old Testament stories in this way.
This amazing book shows that we are not inherently sinful. St. Augustine manipulated the Genesis 1-3 text to say that we are and the Catholic Church adopted his interpretation as a means of controlling people. Like sick people need to take their medicine (i.e. the sacraments of confession and communion) regularly. The protestant reformers, particularly John Calvin, continued and exacerbated Augustine's misinterpretation.
The book tries to show how the interpretation of the Genesis account changed over time. In the beginning, when Christianity was an outlaw cult, Genesis was interpreted as proof of individual human freedom. Then when Christianity became the official religion of the empire, Genesis was re-interpreted and humanity had to be governed for its own good.

Interesting if a little short.
Pagels suggests that the doctrine of original sin, especially as we have it through Paul and Augustine, is a revaluation of all values, not only in the context of the classical culture of Greece and Rome, but also of the Jewish culture from which it grew, and even in the development of some of the early Christian fathers.
William Poe
Excellent book. Informative. I most enjoyed the discussion of Augustine and his invention of a hereditary "original sin" that somehow changed what is "natural." A good read for those interested in the the development of the Christian religion and the foundations of the medieval period.
David Rubio
I enjoy Elaine Pagels but was really hoping to have this book be about the Book of Genesis. Rather, it covers the period of the early church writers during the first 3 centuries. I already have her book on the Gnostics so much of this was just repetition.
Loved this book in college. Refreshing for a course I'm helping teach. Interested to see what a more "Mature" perspective brings.

-- Even better than the first time around. Fascinating stuff, especially if you are a Bible believer.
Lisa Watt
This woman is a Gnostic genius. If you have any religious training, and are ready to open your mind and consider another viewpoint, please allow Elaine Pagels to be your devil's advocate. I promise you she won't disappoint
Fascinating commentary on original sin, Stoicism and other religious matters. At least as the worldly scholars understand it. This is deep stuff and it made me examine more closely the doctrines I espouse.
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Elaine Pagels is a preeminent figure in the theological community whose impressive scholarship has earned her international respect. The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, Pagels was awarded the Rockefeller, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years.
As a young researcher at Barnard College, she changed forever the historical landscape of the...more
More about Elaine Pagels...
The Gnostic Gospels Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters

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