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

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  2,091 Ratings  ·  64 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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Jan 26, 2008 Howard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 04, 2011 Lee Harmon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Graff
Oct 08, 2014 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  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
Mar 12, 2014 Shaun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Saint Augustine was a dick...
David Metting
Dec 11, 2014 David Metting rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How did Christianity change from a movement proclaiming freedom and liberation to a movement announcing human enslavement to sin? And how was the story of Adam and Eve, interpreted widely and differently, influential to that end? What happened had profound implications for Christianity and Western culture and in this book Elaine Pagels does a fantastic job of answering those questions.

The book is chronologically linear, beginning with attitudes toward sexual morality during the time of Jesus of
May 13, 2007 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
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.
Taylor Storey
Feb 23, 2014 Taylor Storey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 21, 2014 D.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: biblical scholars, open-minded investigators into history
This is another book that's haunted my shelves for about a couple decades, so the time to read it finally came. Having owned it for so long, I've forgotten why I originally bought it and there are no helpful jacket blurbs to help me know what I thought it was about (even the 'Sex and Politics...' subtitle was missing from my edition), so the whole thing was a surprise to me. I've never read Pagels before, either, so she's a new authour to me.
First things first: this book is a brief look at the e
Jun 06, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 12, 2014 Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Pagels has always been both a great inspiration and a fun read for me. Her earlier books "The Gnostic Gospels" and "The Origin of Satan" both profoundly influenced my spiritual ideas and actually strengthened that aspect of my being that I choose to call "Faith".

Her works show the canonical and non-canonical early religious texts to be human quests for the divine and the ineffable (very much like my own spiritual questions and reflections) and to not only be human endeavors, but by virtue o
Robert Mitchell
Aug 31, 2013 Robert Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2012 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 14, 2010 Joy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group
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
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
Nov 27, 2010 Nikki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Richard Shepard
Mar 28, 2015 Richard Shepard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dense, complex and enthralling. This book explores the history and theology of Christianity from it's inception to the time of Augustine. The author admits she started her research looking for "real Christianity" and discovered instead that it is multifaceted. Some see it as a pathway to freedom and liberation while others see it as a rationalization of and treatment for mankind's depravity.
If you have any interest in the fundamental nature of Christianity and the nature of mankind as viewed thr
Dave Mackey
Mar 29, 2014 Dave Mackey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, own
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
Sirpa Grierson
Dec 03, 2012 Sirpa Grierson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: information-text
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
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.
Nov 28, 2008 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Jan 28, 2012 Mariana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 13, 2008 lp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 11, 2010 The rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dry read, but a lot of interesting insights.
Jul 07, 2012 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mar 06, 2013 Miriam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Janice Hussock
May 14, 2016 Janice Hussock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The accounts of creation in Genesis always troubled me. I was raised in a Jehovah's Witness family and found the account of the domination of women intolerable. Eve being an afterthought angered me. The dominion over other species also troubled me. If creation was so good, how could it fall so far? Additionally, why should all humans suffer because of a first couple? The very idea that only two people populated the earth is utterly ridiculous. Genetic variety is important. Genesis viewed as myth ...more
Nov 14, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up in a thrift store simply because of its catchy title, but I quickly became hooked. This is a brilliant intellectual history of the idea of freedom in early Christianity. Pagels focuses on five separate periods in christianity, starting with Jesus and the reception of his ideas by Paul, and including the period of the Roman martyrs, the gnostic Christians, and culminating in the epoch-making work of Augustine. If you are a newby to this field, like me, you will be introduced ...more
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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 about Elaine Pagels...

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“So long as Christians remained members of a suspect society, subject to death, the boldest among them maintained that, since demons controlled the government and inspired its agents, the believer could gain freedom at their hands only in death.” 1 likes
“By the beginning of the fifth century Catholic Christians lived as subjects of an empire they could no longer consider alien, much less wholly evil.
[...] By the beginning of the fifth century few who dealt with the government firsthand - certainly not Chrysostom and finally not Augustine either - would have identified it with God's reign on earth.”
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