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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas Paperback – May 4, 2004
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At the center of Beyond Belief is what Pagels identifies as a textual battle between The Gospel of Thomas (rediscovered in Egypt in 1945) and The Gospel of John. While these gospels have many superficial similarities, Pagels demonstrates that John, unlike Thomas, declares that Jesus is equivalent to "God the Father" as identified in the Old Testament. Thomas, in contrast, shares with other supposed secret teachings a belief that Jesus is not God but, rather, is a teacher who seeks to uncover the divine light in all human beings. Pagels then shows how the Gospel of John was used by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon and others to define orthodoxy during the second and third centuries. The secret teachings were literally driven underground, disappearing until the Twentieth Century. As Pagels argues this process "not only impoverished the churches that remained but also impoverished those [Irenaeus] expelled."
Beyond Belief offers a profound framework with which to examine Christian history and contemporary Christian faith, and Pagels renders her scholarship in a highly readable narrative. The one deficiency in Pagels examination of Thomas, if there is one, is that she never fully returns in the end to her own struggles with religion that so poignantly open the book. How has the mysticism of the Gnostic Gospels affected her? While she hints that she and others have found new pathways to faith through Thomas, the impact of Pagels work on contemporary Christianity may not be understood for years to come. --Patrick OKelley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Needless to say, defenders of orthodoxy have been less than thrilled by the prospect of having to defend themselves against what they must have believed was, quite literally, a dead letter. The sharp tones of offended orthodoxy are evident in many of the reviews of this book found on this site, but that's really their problem, not Pagels's. If you are seeking after a glimmer and a hint of an alternative Christian path, an alternative to what Catholicism and its spin-offs offer, this might be a good place to start.
As an historian, Pagels takes a bold and risky step when she begins her book with a personal narrative of a parent's anguish at the prospective death of a child. It was this anxiety and anguish that led her into a church not as an academic analyst, but a customer, as it were. Still, she could not suspend her scholarly curiosity as the process of a faith reaffirmed unfolded.
Some reviewers have made the outrageous charge that Pagels is anti-Christian. Having just put down the book, I find this charge ludicrous. It would be true only if "Christian" is defined as someone who accepts without question a particular interpretation of a particular text with no possibility of there being anything else ever.Read more ›
Now, the squawk: The title of "Beyond Belief" leads the reader to expect an exegesis of the Gospel of Thomas. Although the Gospel of Thomas is mentioned from time to time, this book is about something else entirely. To the extent that it interprets any Gospel at all, the book interprets the Gospeal of John. The thrust of the book, particularly in its second half, concerns the ascendancy of the Gospel of John, as supported by church fathers such as Iraneaus and Athanasius. At the same time, it talks about the suppression of alternative or non-canonical writings, including but hardly limited to the Gospel of Thomas. Moreover, Dr. Pagels discusses at some length, the doctrinal squabbles between the orthodox movement chracterized by Iraneaus and the more liberal gnostic movement, characterized by Valentinus.
The book is interesting and provides a sketchy introduction to the panoply of gospels extant in the early church. It is well worth reading. Like any quality scholarly work, it invites the reader to further research. With voluminous footnotes and a seemingly comprehensive bibliography it points the reader to library shelves and, most likely, to interlibrary loans for further essential reading.
The book, however, talks a whole lot less about the Gospel of Thomas than the title would have us believe. I advise the reader first to read the Gospel of Thomas itself. Then read the Gospel of John. Then, and only then, read this book to find out about the Ascendancy of John, and look elsewhere for a full interpretation of Thomas.
"Beyond Belief" is intensely interesting to the right audience. It is part gospel analysis, which she translates from ancient Greek, part early Christian history and part personal story meant to provide context in understanding the beauty of modern Christianity. One audience for this book is those seeking to understand factually what Jesus taught and what happened to Christianity in the early centuries following his death (30 ce) and how the Gospel of Thomas can shed light on that understanding.
But another audience, the one for whom this book will resonate most deeply, are readers with an intuitive grasp of "transcendence" and the teachings of Jesus that verify the union that can be experienced between God and man. This is what Saint John of the Cross referred to when he wrote "All and Nothing." ("Here I stand alone transcending all knowledge"). Pagels points out that this experience is taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas and expressed in the Vedic literature of India. ("I am That"). It is found in the writings from many religious traditions.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Elaine Pagels is one of the true guideposts for spirtitual Christian exploration. As an accomplished religion scholar, her examination of early church history has been cogently... Read morePublished 12 days ago by Andrew Dickos
Shame that so much was omitted from the Bible. The Romans controlled everything that went into the Holy BiblePublished 2 months ago by Goldie
Elaine Pagels first came to my attention on PBS; she was commenting on some facet of the Bible, the focus of the program. Read morePublished 2 months ago by JJares
I stasrted with a question as to how John Lennon and Nowhere Man were related to the non-canonical gospels. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Professor Roger
I found the book to be a great resource for a better understanding of the Bible and, although the author is clearly a learned scholar of the gnostic gospels, the book is very... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Pagels is always enlightening for the true seeker. I have a much better understanding of the real Jesus now instead of the mainstream celebrity Jesus.Published 3 months ago by Costx
Its a well written book and would fit perfect in any self help library. Not a study guide nor is it biblical in any sense of the word.Published 3 months ago by Dick2407