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The Gnostic Gospels

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  9,360 ratings  ·  380 reviews
An account of the gnostics, who were left out at the Council of Nicaea & ended as repressed heretics as the Xian Church gradually organized itself & became socially respectable. Gnostics didn't accept the orthodox clergy as anything more than a necessary but insufficient 1st step. Gnostics accepted orthodoxy as a starting point but held that salvation came as the r ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published 1981 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1979)
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William
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
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Eva
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
...more
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
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Fredstrong
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
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
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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
Hadrian
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
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
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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
...more
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
Ken-ichi
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
Dave
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
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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
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
Marvin
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
...more
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
Jason
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
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
...more
Mark
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
...more
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
Boni
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
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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 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

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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
“Rediscovering the controversies that occupied early Christianity sharpens our awareness of the major issue in the whole debate, then and now: What is the source of religious authority? For the Christian the question takes more specific form: What is the relation between the authority of ones own experience and that claimed for the scriptures, the ritual and the clergy?” 0 likes
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