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The Gnostic Gospels Paperback – September 19, 1989
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Gnosticism's Christian form grew to prominence in the 2nd century A.D. Ultimately denounced as heretical by the early church, Gnosticism proposed a revealed knowledge of God ("gnosis" meaning "knowledge" in Greek), held as a secret tradition of the apostles. In The Gnostic Gospels, author Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Without a doubt: Gnosticism celebrates God as both Mother and Father, shows a very human Jesus's relationship to Mary Magdalene, suggests the Resurrection is better understood symbolically, and speaks to self-knowledge as the route to union with God. Pagels argues that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day, serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership. Her contrast of that developing orthodoxy with Gnostic teachings presents an intriguing trajectory on a world faith as it "might have become." The Gnostic Gospels provides engaging reading for those seeking a broader perspective on the early development of Christianity. --F. Hall
"The first major and eminently readable book on gnosticism benefiting from the discovery in 1945 of a collection of Gnostic Christian texts at Nag Hammadi in Egypt." --The New York Times Book Review
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The Gnostic texts, discovered in 1948 buried in a remote Egyptian cave, describe a spiritual tradition of meditation, inner visions, and self-discovery, rather than a quest for salvation. The author's translation and interpretation from the Gospel of Thomas follows: "There is light within a man of light, and it lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness."
In Pagels' reconstruction of the period, another profound distinction between the Gnostics and the orthodox view that became the Roman Catholic church, was the participation of women and men as equals in their religious traditions. Mary Magdalen as apostle, is the prominent example. The texts describe God in both masculine and feminine terms with a complementary description of human nature. The book is a fascinating look into the founders and the founding of Christianity.