The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

Fascinating insight into early Christianity gnostic

In 1945 fifty-two papyrus texts were found in an earthenware jar buried in the desert in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These texts are Coptic translations from Greek texts that were written by gnostic Christians around the same time as the New Testament. They are very different from the Christianity we know, though.

Gnostic Christians had many ideas and beliefs in common with Catholic Christians, but they differed on some key ideas. So much so that they eventually were branded as heretics and shunned from Christianity altogether, which is most likely why these texts were buried around the same time the New Testament was being compiled.

I believe that the key difference can be found in the names of the two groups. The Greek meaning for gnosis translates to ‘knowledge’ while Catholic translates to ‘universal’. So the Catholics cater for the masses while the Gnostics focus on the self.

World renowned religious scholar, Elaine Pagels, examines several of the key differences between the Gnostic and Catholic Christians. These differences include beliefs about Christ’s resurrection, structure/authority in church, the gender of God, the Passion of Christ, and martyrdom. She sees these differences as instrumental in the downfall of the Gnostics and the rise of the Catholics, particularly the structure of the church.

I found the Gnostic Gospels absolutely fascinating. It was easy to read and Pagels did a brilliant job bringing these ancient texts to life. I think it says a lot about human nature that the Catholic version of Christianity won out over the much more solipsistic and antiauthoritarian Gnostics were proclaimed heretics!

There are a plethora of David Bowie songs that could fit with this book, but I’m going to go with his last one, Lazarus. Like the Gnostics, Bowie spent a lot of time researching religion, so his last words on the matter are the most appropriate.

Description

The Gnostic Gospels is a landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal. First published in 1979 to critical acclaim, winning the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Gnostic Gospels has continued to grow in reputation and influence over the past two decades. It is now widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality published in our time.

In 1945 an Egyptian peasant unearthed what proved to be the Gnostic Gospels, thirteen papyrus volumes that expounded a radically different view of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ from that of the New Testament. In this spellbinding book, renowned religious scholar Elaine Pagels elucidates the mysteries and meanings of these sacred texts both in the world of the first Christians and in the context of Christianity today.

With insight and passion, Pagels explores a remarkable range of recently discovered gospels, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, to show how a variety of “Christianities” emerged at a time of extraordinary spiritual upheaval. Some Christians questioned the need for clergy and church doctrine, and taught that the divine could be discovered through spiritual search. Many others, like Buddhists and Hindus, sought enlightenment — and access to God — within. Such explorations raised questions: Was the resurrection to be understood symbolically and not literally? Was God to be envisioned only in masculine form, or feminine as well? Was martyrdom a necessary — or worthy — expression of faith? These early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed — and their explorations led to profoundly different visions of Jesus and his message.

Brilliant, provocative, and stunning in its implications, The Gnostic Gospels is a radical, eloquent reconsideration of the origins of the Christian faith.

Details

Title: The Gnostic Gospels

Author: Elaine Pagels

Published: 1979

ISBN: 0679724532 (ISBN13: 9780679724537)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Religion, Christianity

Pages: 182

Source: Own Copy

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Amazon US

Amazon UK

The Book Depository

Goodreads

This book is part of the David Bowie Reading Challenge #DBowieBooks

Books Read: 3/100

1984

The Great Gatsby

The Gnostic Gospels

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

  1. Fascinating post, Jade. I wondered about reading this one but feared it might be too heavy going; you’ve reassured me! Although a lapsed Catholic, I’ve never lost my interest in religion. And an very appropriate choice of song.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My husband has this on the huge pile of books by the side of his bed that he has yet to read – once he’s finished it I shall nab it; sounds fascinating. That song is fabulous isn’t it – and so much meaning there. Thanks for sharing although it still makes me very emotional!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s