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Showing 1-10 of 130 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 310 reviews
on April 2, 2017
I want to thank Dr. Pagels for making me realise for the first time that the Gospel of Thomas is not just gnostic /cosmic gibberish. It has real deep spiritual meaning and I loved this book for that. Now I have much more appreciation for the Gospel of Thomas and the tools to understand it as it was meant to be. Unfortunately, she quickly deviates from this subject and goes to explain the conflicts in Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries for the rest of the book. Actually, this well-written book is more about the life of Church father Irinaeus than Thomas.
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on May 2, 2016
I stasrted with a question as to how John Lennon and Nowhere Man were related to the non-canonical gospels. Pagels had a speaking engagement nearby and a local theologian recommended going (which I could not) or reading the first chapter of Beyond Belief. I ended up reading all of the book and it answered most of my questions but raised many more. She is a historian of religion and covers the period from the end of the New Testament through to Constantine when church and state were completely one. I will return to her work, especially on the Gospel of Thomas, where I really began chasing many rabbits down many holes.
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on March 28, 2013
Elaine Pagels is an intense investigative scholar who minutely examines early Christian texts, searching for an ongoing assessment of faith, while able to question religious orthodoxy. Pagels reveals the various diversity of many interpretations. She believed that the "rogue" voices of Christianity encouraged "the recognition of the light within us all.
Pagels struggled with her own faith after her two and one half old son was diagnosed with a rare lung disease.
She believed that Thomas taught that all human beings had divine light. Thomas believed that Jesus was an exemplar of God, not God himself, that the individual can access the divine through deep reflection, prayer, and staying close to God through Christian Community rituals. The trust here is a 're-interpretation of the Gospel of John. The doctrinal squabbles provided thought stricture, and effectively squashed writings that might have been included within orthodox teaching.
Those who are sincerely interested, and want to understand what Jesus taught, and what happened in the early centuries, within the church, following his death would benefit from this book. Those who share an intuitive grasp of transcendence that taught in many religious traditions, will certainly discover verification for their beliefs. The desire for knowledge of the experience of, an individualized Oneness with God, is desire for benevolent propitiousness and therefore, overwhelming.
Untangling some of the complex strands of the divine conflict has practical and intellectual consequences. One must unlearn previous teachings, and open the mind, to see, to understand, previously hidden precepts. No one can ban the imagination, but too often, the imagination has been herded toward supporting and expressing already established beliefs. Interpretation is manifold. Controversy arises when only one side can speak "the truth," while others are deemed, or branded, as speaking lies. This is a powerful book written carefully and thoughtfully. The researcher has been tested by the fire. Excellent.
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on June 8, 2014
This book is beyond excellent and is informative to the tenth power!. Any person who has any thoughts about alternative religious views should read this book. Dr. Pagels is first, a very accomplished writer, and second, has more knowledge than anyone this reader has encountered concerning Gnostic thoughts and beliefs. In addition Dr. Pagels gives "chapter and verse" as to where the information has been obtained and what the impact of the information might reveal to the interested reader. I would recommend this book to any person who has interest in Christianity and how it evolved, and what was omitted, and who might have been responsible for the omissions.
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on April 12, 2004
Is `Jesus' God or simply "one of us" pointing us to God? This question is the crux of Pagels' book: the Gospel of John (Jesus is divine) or the Gospel of Thomas (Jesus comes forth from the divine light, but so do we all). The Nicene council cemented the Christian statement of faith, but according to Pagels' history, could have, or should have, pushed another gospel.
`Beyond Belief' is more than a discussion about why John got in the Bible; `Beyond Belief' is also a book about the skeptic, for skeptics. This is a book that affirms the questioning Christian and historically supports the doubting `Thomas'. With Pagels you will have a friend and advocate; one who states that it is not only dutiful, but historically correct for Christians to question the divinity of Jesus.
This book is, in actuality, about accepting your place, in the Christian world, as a heretic. Heresy originally meant - the act of choice. And if you `choose' which elements of Christianity to accept and practice, and which to reject, then you fit Pagels' definition of heretic. For Pagels the choice not to unquestioningly accept religious authority is good, right and what those seeking both truth and God, must ultimately do. Elaine Pagels so states: "Most of us, sooner or later, find that, at critical points in our lives, we must strike out on our own to make a path where none exists." Highly recommended for those who think outside the big box.
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BEYOND BELIEF compares the Gospel of John with the Gospel of St. Thomas found among a cache of texts near Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt in 1945. Pagels suggests that both were written about the same time, about sixty years after Jesus's death. John emphasizes belief in Jesus Christ as god (something that is not implicit in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke); Jesus is a supreme being, separate from man and if we are to be saved we must believe in him. Thomas, on the other hand, argues that God's light shines within and that we should seek to know God through our own, divinely given capacity.
Parts of BEYOND BELIEF are quite compelling, such as Pagel's portrayal of early Christians living by the Golden Rule, even during the plague when they stayed with their fellow Christians while everyone else ran away to save themselves. Non-believers saw this and wanted to be part of this compassionate religion. Most of the book, however, deals with how the New Testament came about. Pagel gives most of the credit to early church father Irenaeus who emphasized the Gospel of John and put it above Matthew, Mark, and Luke although it was written later. Pagels argues that the Gospel of John may have been a response to the Gospel of Thomas, since it is the only one that shows St. Thomas doubting Christ when he appeared to the Apostles after rising from the dead.
A later chapter deals with Christianity after Constantine's conversion when he called together catholic bishops to form the Nicene Creed, during which time many of Irenaeus ideas were given an official stamp. A later bishop, Athanasius, called for the destruction of "apocryphal" texts and it was most likely then that St. Thomas's gospel was hidden at Nag Hammadi. Athanasius wanted right thinking among his subjects and warned against something called "epinoia," or spiritual intuition, "a deceptive, all-too human capacity to think subjectively, according to one's preconceptions."
If you're expecting a thorough analysis of the Gospel of St. Thomas, you won't find it here (although Pagels does refer the reader to other scholars who discuss it extensively). You will, however, find the entire text in an appendix. Some of it is quite enigmatic, especially saying 114 in which Peter asks Jesus to make Mary Magdalen leave since "females are not worthy of life." Jesus promises to make her male "for every female who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Much of St. Thomas's Gospel is every bit as enigmatic.
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on July 16, 2016
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 applied to the personal experiences that have shaped her life and approach to faith. She is a fine and lucid writer, and I've learned much from her.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2012
The author is a well known scholar of Christian history, and in this book she evaluates the impact of the gospel of John in shaping the beliefs of early Christian faith. Using the historical facts, all available gospels, and political, social and economic factors during second to fourth century, she observes that the major players were bishop Irenaeus of second century living in Gaul, France and Emperor Constantine helped to establish the Christian faith. Much of the principle beliefs of the church were founded on the gospel of John. john refers to Jesus as "My Lord and my God" in John 20:28, his message is simple in that the Life of Jesus, death and resurrection and the narrative scenes of wedding at Cana, encounter with Nicodemus, meeting a Samaritan woman near a well, Pilate asking his prisoner for truth, and resurrection are widely celebrated today

A brief summary of this book is as follows: Early church was described as a meeting place for people seeking miracles; healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising the dead. To join the church, one had to repudiate family and their values. When Justin Martyr was baptized in 140 A.D., in Rome, he described his experience as walking on to the spiritual side, away from bad habits. In 4th century, when Emperor Constantine became a Christian, he decriminalized Christianism and convened a meeting of church leaders to cull a common statement of beliefs and early traditions to define Christianism as a faith.

The author notes that Paul, John and Luke connect Jesus with Passover. According to them, Jesus blesses the bread and wine and instructed them to eat in remembrance of him; just as Passover recalls how God delivered Israel through Moses. John gives a different chronology, according to him the last meal occurs before the feast of Passover. His version of last supper is different from that of Paul, Mark, Matthew, and Luke in that Jesus did not perform the rituals of Holy sacrament in which he washes the feet of his disciples. According to him Jesus was arrested on Thursday and brought to trial on the following day, at about noon, on the day of preparing the Passover lamb. Jesus was sentenced to death, tortured and crucified. In this narrative, John draws a parallel with sacrificial lamb. After crucifixion, the Roman soldiers don't break the bones assuming Jesus is dead. Therefore, according to John, Jesus is the living bread that comes down from heaven and whoever eats this bread and drink his blood lives forever (John 19:36, 6:35-60). Paul strengthen this claim by proclaiming that whenever you eat his bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death, until he comes (I Corinthians 11:26). This was a highly contested debate among the rest of the apostles and Christians of that time. The key concepts of John were simple; God = Word of God = Jesus Christ. "All things were made through him and without him nothing was made (John 1:3). God manifests himself in and through this world as Jesus. These were powerful messages.

Irenaeus observed that Gnostic gospels were delusional and demonically inspired. He argued that John understood Jesus more than any other apostles and welded John with well liked Matthew and Luke. Irenaeus anticipated wrong interpretation of canonized gospels that may lead to a theology that he did not envision, so he created orthodox apostolic Christianity. After about 200 years, when Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria in 367 C.E., believed Irenaeus and ordered to destroy all gospels except the canonized texts.

Irenaeus wrote the basic architectures of Christianity and instructed his congregation to keep only those revelations that defined an orthodox movement. He foresaw a strong faith of the future with a canon of truth and apostolic tradition that transformed into the very early versions of New Testament. Irenaeus observed Matthew tracing Jesus' family back to King David; Luke emphasizing Jesus' role as a priest; and Mark referring Jesus as a prophet. For Irenaeus these three fall short of calling Jesus as God, but John has no hesitancy in doing so. Irenaeus determined that John is "more elevated" than the other three apostles since they missed something that John understood. Irenaeus goes further in his five volume refutation of heretics and Jews as someone who killed the Lord of Christian faith. Emperor Constantine translated Christian prejudice against Jews into legal precedence. He forbade Jews from entering Jerusalem. He also forbade Jews accepting Christians becoming Jewish converts, conversely any Jew preventing another Jew converting to be a Christian will be condemned to die. To strengthen the church, he convened a meeting of all bishops of various Christian groups at Nicaea to formulate a standard for belief and practices of the church. Apostle John, bishop Irenaeus and Emperor Constantine are responsible for the Christianism to be a powerful religion of modern times.

Irenaeus, Libros Quinque Adverses Hearses, edited by W.W. Harvey (Cambridge, 1851)

Irenaeus, the "Canon of truth and the gospel of John: making a difference through hermeneutics and ritual' In Vigiliae Christianae 56.4 (2002), 339-371.

1. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation
2. The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels
3. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume
4. The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas: Meditations on the Mystical Teachings
5. Codex Sinaiticus
6. Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy
7. On the Apostolic Preaching
8. Against Heresies
9. Interpreting the Gospel of John (Guides to New Testament Exegesis)
10. Early Christianity (Classical Foundations)
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on January 11, 2017
Ms. Pagels stirred in me a desire to learn more about the beginnings of organized Christianity and some of the organizational heroes such as Polycarp and Irenaeus. I enjoyed the way in which she inserted her own questions and doubts about her faith as a motivating force for her research.
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on April 8, 2015
For years I have heard word of mouth stories about how the early Christians were treated by the Romans but this is the first time I have read an historical accounting of their suffering. More than that, I had no idea of the turmoil of beliefs amongst the early followers. Ms. Pagels' book has a logical time line of events, names and places as to how the orthodoxy of today evolved. She also details a missing element in the orthodoxy of today, gnosticism! It would appear that we have missed out on a whole element of the teachings of Christ to preserve the central power of the believers in the catholic church. I found her book to be uplifting and it has opened a whole new element in my spiritual beliefs.
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