When her infant son was diagnosed with fatal pulmonary hypertension, award-winning author Elaine Pagels was moved to explore her faith. In Beyond Belief, her spiritual journey becomes a springboard for an intellectual and professional re-examination of early Christian faith. Controversial and thought-provoking, this international bestseller investigates the politics of Christianity and how the church crafted a Bible and a faith far more stringent than previously thought. In her search for meaning, Elaine Pagels discovers ...
When her infant son was diagnosed with fatal pulmonary hypertension, award-winning author Elaine Pagels was moved to explore her faith. In Beyond Belief, her spiritual journey becomes a springboard for an intellectual and professional re-examination of early Christian faith. Controversial and thought-provoking, this international bestseller investigates the politics of Christianity and how the church crafted a Bible and a faith far more stringent than previously thought. In her search for meaning, Elaine Pagels discovers that the history of the Church - and therefore the history of the Western world - could have been significantly different. This moving testament to history, faith and humanity, Pagels will challenge and transform everything you know of Christianity. 'Those who are moved by religion but who find that they can no longer accept the official doctrines of their church will find this marvellous book a source of inspiration and hope' Karen Armstrong 'This is writing about religion of the first order: enlightening, intelligent, inclusive and humane' Peter Stanford, Independent
Elaine Pagels first came to my attention on PBS; she was commenting on some facet of the Bible, the focus of the program. Since then, I've seen her a number of times when she has been interviewed regarding historical aspects of the Bible. I've found her opinions to be intelligent and shared succinctly. When I found this book discussing the cache of texts and fragments found in a jar in Nag Hamadi (Egypt, found in 1945), I knew she would shed some historical light on these works.
I was not disappointed; Pagels set the scene to explain why these banned works might have been hidden around 360 AD. When we look at religion today, everything seems clear and organized. However, after Christ's death, the emerging Church was in conflict and in flux.
The fact that Dr. Pagels is not a theologian is a bonus; she looks at the Nag Hamadi texts and pieces from the view of a historian. She helped me see why these texts were not selected for the final version of the New Testament. I am always surprised by the disparity between Mathew, Mark, Luke and John's version of God's story . Now I see that there were many more versions of God's story that were not selected for the final version of the New Testament.
Pagels explains that Iraneous, the Bishop of Lyons, was trying to weave various factions of the emerging Church into a more cohesive whole. Iraneous viewed John's gospel to be the most important of the four gospels. Only in John is Christ equated with God; in the other gospels, Christ is a paragon of goodness (Christ is not called God).
Probably the most important reason Iraneous did not select the Thomas text was the fact that Thomas did not say Christ was divine; his writings encouraged touching the Divine through deep thought and ritual. Neither of those two things required an organized Church. Hmmmmm.
Pagels paints Iraneous with an all-too-human stroke of the brush. He did not seem to think women capable of understanding spirituality. From Pagel's quotes by this bishop, the reader can see that he was fairly pompous and narrow minded. But through his tireless efforts to condense the news of Christ's life into the New Testament, he probably saved the Christian Church from devolving into countless warring factions (that might eventually have killed the Christian movement).
I find Pagels to be highly readable and she explains the complex geopolitical facts of the time that had such an effect on the early Christian believers.
Sep 8, 2011
I usually do not find Pagels' books very useful. She is obviously an expert on the fields she writes about, but her books drift around too much. In the present book, relatively little is about the gospel of Thomas. I was looking for more info on how it compares to the canonical gospels, but what I found was ramblings about Christianity. To be fair (?) I have somewhat the same complaint about Karen Armstrong.
Mar 10, 2011
Beyond Belief describes the events and discussions during the apostlic age, particularly the views of the gnostics and their differences with latter accepted cannon. Very interesting, especially if you have no background information on the contents of the scrolls and books found at Nag Hammadi. This is a comfortable, friendly book to read, as it also presents the information from the view of the author's journey into religion.
Apr 16, 2009
I love Elaine's work. She's done all the research for me so I don't have to dig in all those dusty old tomes and piece together history. It's so enlightening to have a more wholistic view of the origins of Christianity as well as an understanding of the political and social structure of that time.
Jun 14, 2007
Pagels does it again !
The fourth of her series is as enlightening as the others. She takes you back in time, before the "church' and illuminates early Christians and Jews, their turmoil, their beliefs, and their strange new fellowship. A must read for anyone seeking answers to their personal spirituality.
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