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The Gnostic Gospels

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  12,078 Ratings  ·  518 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 November 12th 1979)
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The 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 message. Th ...more
Dan Schwent
Jun 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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

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
Erik Graff
Jan 17, 2009 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
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
Dec 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Mackey St
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The Gnostic Gospels is a well written, thoroughly researched book on the gospels that were purposefully not included in what is now known as the "Christian Bible." These include the famous scrolls found in a cave and known as the "dead seas" scrolls among other writings - all of which have been dated and authenticated.

Having been subjected to an ultra-conservative parochial school education whose science and history never made sense to me and whose religious timeline for history never quite fit
کتاب یک سری عقاید فرقه های گنوسی یا عرفانی مسیحی قرن های اول و دوم میلادی را بر اساس متون یافت شده تپه های ناگ حمادی بررسی میکند.
یکی از نکات جالب برای من شباهت زیاد عقاید با عرفان ایرانی بود از جنبه های مختلف از جمله تغییر چهره دین و محدود کردن و کوتاه کردن دست نهاد دین و مرجعیت دینی ارتدوکس.

در مورد سرچشمه عقاید عرفانی اختلاف نظر وجود داره گروهی معتقد هستند تحت تاثیر اندیشه های شرق آسیا این افکار شکل گرفته و گروهی ریشه اون رو در اندیشه های زرتشتی و از خاستگاه ایران میدونند.
Christine Giraud
May 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jul 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
John Pistelli
In this 1979 classic of popular non-fiction, religious scholar Elaine Pagels explains to a broad audience the theological significance of the trove of early Christian writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Not only that, but she also places these documents in their social and political context, largely to explain why the diverse body of thought labeled "gnostic" was so decisively defeated by the ideas and institutions of what would become Christian orthodoxy. Finally, Pagels, while unsurpri ...more
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Robert Case
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of history
Recommended to Robert by: A radio interview of the author
Shelves: non-fiction
I began this book with a fascination with the ancient Minoan civilization, a keen interest in the people and cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, and knowing virtually nothing about Gnosticism. What an enlightening and enjoyable read! The book is based upon Elaine Pagels' interpretations of fragments of early texts, written in Coptic during the first two hundred years following the crucifixion. The author summarizes not just the writings of these early spiritual leaders, but also examines them ...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
Jan 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Pete daPixie
One of the few Christian writers I can enjoy reading.
Cooper Cooper
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Colin Cordner
As a general introduction to the phenomenon of gnosticism, or to the gnostic texts themselves, Prof. Pagels' famous book is quite flawed. Despite her laudable attempt to recover a sense of neutrality late in the work, her analysis as a whole is afflicted with unscholarly and often frankly political biases. These are further compounded by the simple lack of depth or profundity in her theoretical analysis.

As example of the first bias, the reader can sense the palpable and obvious attempt to juxtap
Jason Robinson
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heady stuff, but still accessible for the layman.
Claudia Zwarg
Interesting read, even if not quite into this particular mythology.
Bob Adamcik
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My review of Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels is posted here:
Quinn Horvath
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting material, a little hard to read at times.
Derek Davis
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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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...
“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” 3 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.” 3 likes
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