Tag Archives: elaine pagels

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity by Elaine Pagels.

Pagels Adam Eve and the Serpent

In her epilogue to Adam, Eve, and the Serpent Elaine Pagels insists that her ambition in this book is neither to discover nor to indicate the nature of the “real Christianity.” In that case, she could have avoided a lot of the confusion raised by her presentation, if only she had been a little bit more skeptical about the original message of “Jesus,” whom she quotes–on the basis of the canonical Gospels–as blithely as she cites the writings of Augustine or any of the other Church Fathers. She knows well enough that “the gospels of the New Testament are neither histories nor biographies in our sense of these terms,” (5) but she still handles them as though they might serve in those capacities.

Still, for a book that is designed to straddle the line between scholarship and popularization, Pagels does a good job. And her topic couldn’t be more interesting. She traces the development of Christian interpretations of the Edenic myth of Genesis, and how they were used to formulate and express ideas about sexuality, politics, free will, and guilt. She accepts the Luke-Acts epic as though it were history, and even so, manages to demonstrate important facts about the history of early Christianity: its diversity (with a chapter on “Gnostic Improvisations”) and its profound difference from the Augustinian orthodoxy that underlies nearly all modern Christianities.

Her treatment of Augustine is fascinating, and she claims to have been as surprised herself by the results of her research as most of her Christian readers will be. Although she was originally sympathetic to Augustine from her readings in his ConfessionsOn the Trinity and The City of God, her effort to reopen a conversation forcibly closed by papal authority in April 418 C.E. led her to the dialogue between Augustine and the Pelagian naturalist Julian of Eclanum. In contrast with the traditional secondary sources, Pagels finds Julian thoughtful and scripturally attentive. Augustine, whose Opus Imperfectum Contra Julianum has never been published in English translation, seems “idiosyncratic” and tendentious in his novel doctrine of congenital human depravity. 

In Pagels’ account, the combination of Augustine’s theological innovations with the establishment of imperial Christianity resulted in the rejection of an earlier Christian ethos of freedom, and its replacement with one of guilt. This study deserves the careful consideration of everyone who thinks that they have read and understood Genesis 3:16-19, since hardly any readers, medieval or modern, have been able to approach the Edenic myth without the long Augustinian shadow of “original sin” cast upon it. Before Augustine, Justin Martyr could say to the prefect who condemned him to death: “Do what thou wilt: we are Christians.” (49)

Living Buddha, Living Christ

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, introduced by Elaine Pagels, the 1995 hardcover from Riverhead Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Thich Nhat Hahn Elaine Pagels Living Buddha, Living Christ from Riverhead Books

“Buddha and Christ, perhaps the two most pivotal figures in the history of humankind, each left behind a legacy of teachings and practices that have shaped the lives of billions of people over the course of two millennia. If they were to meet on the road today, what would each think of the other’s spiritual views and practices?

Thich Nhat Hanh has been part of a decades-long dialogue between the two greatest living contemplative traditions, and brings to Christianity an appreciation of its beauty that could be conveyed only by an outsider. In lucid, meditative prose, he explores the crossroads of compassion and holiness at which the two traditions meet, and reawakens our understanding of both. ‘On the altar in my hermitage,’ he says, ‘are images of Buddha and Jesus, and I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors.'” — flap copy


The Origin of Satan

The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics by Elaine Pagels, the 1996 paperback edition from Vintage Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elaine Pagels The Origins of Satan from Vintage Books

“In the Old Testament he is merely the Adversary, a forbidding member of God’s retinue. How then did Satan become the Gospels’ prince of darkness, who brings about the crucifixion of Jesus as part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil? And why did jesus’ followers increasingly identify Satan with their human antagonists—first Jews, then pagans, and then heretics of their own faith?

In this groundbreaking work of religious and social history, the author of The Gnostic Gospels traces the relationship between the embattled members of a breakaway Jewish sect and the myth they invoked to explain their persecution. The Origins of Satan is at once a masterpiece of erudition and a book resonant with contemporary implications. For in its pages we come to understand how the gospel of love could coexist with hatreds that have haunted Christians and non-Christians alike for two thousand years.” —back cover


Adam, Eve, and the Serpent

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity by Elaine Pagels, the 1989 paperback edition from Vintage Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elaine Pagels Adam, Eve, and the Serpent from Vintage Books

“How did the early Christians come to believe that sex was inherently sinful? When did the Fall of Adam become synonymous with the fall of all humanity? What turned Christianity from a dissident sect that championed the integrity of the individual and the idea of free will into the bulwark of a new imperial order—with the central belief that human beings cannot choose not to sin? In this provocative masterpiece of historical scholarship Elaine Pagels re-creates the controversies that racked the early church as it confronted the riddles of sexuality, freedom, and sin as embodied in the story of Genesis. And she shows what was once heresy came to shape our own attitudes toward the body and the soul.” — back cover


The Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, the 1989 paperback from Vintage Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels from Vintage Books

“In 1945 an Egyptian peasant unearthed what proved to be the Gnostic Gospels, the sacred books of one of the earliest Christian sects. This landmark study, a winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, draws on those texts to illuminate the world of the first Christians and to examine the different ways in which both Gnostics and the orthodox constructed God, Christ, and the Church. Did Jesus literally rise from the dead? Was there only one God, and could He be both Father and Mother? Whose version of Christianity came down to us and why did it prevail? Brilliant, provocative, and stunning in its implications, The Gnostic Gospels is a radical yet accessible reconsideration of the origins of the Christian faith.” — back cover


Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elaine Pagels'  Beyond Belief from Vintage

 

 

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Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

You may be interested in Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels, due for release in a couple of days.

“Through the bestselling books of Elaine Pagels, thousands of readers have come to know and treasure the suppressed biblical texts known as the Gnostic Gospels. As one of the world’s foremost religion scholars, she has been a pioneer in interpreting these books and illuminating their place in the early history of Christianity. Her new book, however, tackles a text that is firmly, dramatically within the New Testament canon: The Book of Revelation, the surreal apocalyptic vision of the end of the world . . . or is it?

In this startling and timely book, Pagels returns The Book of Revelation to its historical origin, written as its author John of Patmos took aim at the Roman Empire after what is now known as ‘the Jewish War,’ in 66 CE. Militant Jews in Jerusalem, fired with religious fervor, waged an all-out war against Rome’s occupation of Judea and their defeat resulted in the desecration of Jerusalem and its Great Temple. Pagels persuasively interprets Revelation as a scathing attack on the decadence of Rome. Soon after, however, a new sect known as “Christians” seized on John’s text as a weapon against heresy and infidels of all kinds-Jews, even Christians who dissented from their increasingly rigid doctrines and hierarchies.

In a time when global religious violence surges, Revelations explores how often those in power throughout history have sought to force ‘God’s enemies’ to submit or be killed. It is sure to appeal to Pagels’s committed readers and bring her a whole new audience who want to understand the roots of dissent, violence, and division in the world’s religions, and to appreciate the lasting appeal of this extraordinary text.”

The Gnostic

You may be interested in Voices of Gnosticism and The Gnostic: A Magazine of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality put out by Bardic Press. I saw several issues of The Gnostic at the Esoteric Book Conference and thought they were well done. I regret not picking them up at the time, but they are available still.

 

Voices of Gnosticism

“For several years, Miguel Conner has engaged the most prominent writers and scholars on Gnosticism and early Christianity on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio. These interviews with 13 leading scholars represent one of the best ways to get to know ancient Gnosticism, the movement that has inspired Dan Brown, Philip Pullman, Philip K. Dick and The Matrix movies. Read what the best minds have to say about the Gnostic sects, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, Mary Magdalene, heresy, the origins of Gnosticism, and the original teachings of Jesus.

Elaine Pagels · Marvin Meyer · Bart Ehrman · Bruce Chilton · Stevan Davies · David Fideler · Birger Pearson · John Turner · Einar Thomassen · Jason BeDuhn · Karen King · Jane Schaberg · April DeConick”

 

The Gnostic 1

“The first issue of a tri-annual journal on Gnosticism in all its forms. Featuring interviews with Alan Moore and Sethian Gnostic expert John Turner; a complete translation of the Gospel of Judas; Tim Freke on The Gospel of the Second Coming; articles on William Burroughs, Philip K.Dick, the Alternative Judas, Gnosticism and Magic; columns, book reviews and more.”

 

The Gnostic 2

“The second issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Featuring an interview with Colin Wilson and an indepth examination of his ideas on the occult. An interview with Tessa Dick, widow of Philip K Dick, plus an excerpt from her memoir and Anthony Peake’s analysis of Dick’s precognitive abilities. An interview with noted scholar April DeConick on the Gospel of John. The Gnosticism of the TV series The Prisoner. Kimetikos, Jeremy Puma’s Gnostic practice. Tony Blake’s meetings with remarkable people including J.G. Bennett, David Bohm and Idries Shah. Articles on asceticism, the symbolism of the Bible, resurrection, Schrodinger’s Gun, a short story by Andrew Phillip Smith. Extensive book reviews, original art and more.”

 

The Gnostic 3

“The third issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Featuring a cover by C.G. Jung, Lance Owens on Jung’s Red Book. Interviews with David Tibet of Current 93, Jacob Needleman and Zohar expert Daniel C. Matt. Articles on Gnostic anime, Robert Graves, Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Luke, William Blake, deja vu, coincidence, a ten page comic, reviews and much more.”

 

The Gnostic 4

“The fourth issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Alan Moore’s Fossil Angels, an investigation into the contemporary occult scene. Interviews with Stephan Hoeller and Miguel Conner. Anthony Peake on the Quantum Pleroma. Sean Martin tells a Gnostic sci-fi tale. Robert M.Price on the Gnostic Gospel of John. Bill Darlison on the zodiac in the Gospel of Mark. Gnostic influences on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The plight of the Mandaeans. The gematria of Marcus the Magician. The Gospel of Thomas, a translation and Fourth Way interpretation. Gnostic politics. John Cowper Powys. The complete text of the Gnosis of the Light–a book within a magazine! Egyptian cat mummies and more. And we review enough books to fill a whole shelf. Cover and interior illustrations by Laurence Caruana.”