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The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters Paperback – March 1, 1992

4.7 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Elaine H. Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She is the author of The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Johannie Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, and the best-selling Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Trinity Press International; Reprint edition (March 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1563380390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1563380396
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Seth Aaron Lowry on April 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
After reading several other book written by Pagels concerning gnosticism and gnostic beliefs, I have to say that this offering is definitely her finest. First, Pagels doesn't polemicize the issue by claiming that Paul was a gnostic or that he was strictly orthodox, but instead shows how 2nd century exegetes, both gnostic and orthodox, understood Paul. Furthermore, one of the great strengths of this work resides in the fact that Pagels allows the gnostic followers to speak for themselves by citing frequently from newly discovered gnostic texts. Instead of telling us what she believes the gnostics considered true she permits the gnostics to tell us themselves.
The book itself is broken is broken up into seven chapters and each chapter deals with an individual Pauline epistle. Interestingly enough, the gnostics, like the orthodox, also accepted Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews as Pauline, but they did reject the pastorals epistles. The first two chapters deal with Romans and I Corinthians and are by far the best sections of the book. Instead of interpreting the book literally as their orthodox counterparts did, the gnostics read the epistle to the Romans allegorically. Therefore, what was perceived as a treatise commenting on Jewish/Gentile relations in the church by the orthodox, the gnostics believed the text spoke about pneumatic/psychic relations. They believed Paul used such terminology secretly and that only the initiated believers could understand the real meaning behind the text. Also, of great interest to the gnostics were passages stressing grace and faith in the life of the christian.
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Pagels presents Gnostic Christians' interpretations of Paul's letters almost line by line. Not the easiest book to read, but extremely helpful in understanding the Gnostic elements of early Christianity. Some knowledge of Gnosticism is presupposed, and Gnostic terminology is not always defined. FYI, I've compiled a list of key terms below, with my (admittedly non-expert) definitions.
sarkic - earthly, hidebound, ignorant, uninitiated
hylic - similar to sarkic
psychic - "soulful," partially initiated
pneumatic - "spiritual," fully initiated
aion - one of various levels of reality
archon - one of various powers in the cosmos
pleroma - fulfillment, the higher reality of archetypes (related to Plato's realm of Ideas)
kenoma - the visible or manifest cosmos, "lower" than the pleroma
charisma - gift, or energy, bestowed by pneumatics through oral teaching and personal encounters
sophia - "wisdom," worldly understanding; personified as Lady Wisdom
logos - divine ordering principle of the cosmos; personified as Christ
hypostasis - emanation (appearance) of God, known to psychics
ousia - essence of God, known to pneumatics
gnosis - "knowledge," direct insight into God attained by pneumatics
If all this seems baffling, you might want to read "Jesus and the Lost Goddess," an excellent summary of Gnosticism by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy.
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Format: Paperback
In this book Elaine Pagels takes a systematic look at how certain Pauline letters were interpreted and cited by gnostic exegetes. These epistles are Romans, l Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Hebrews. Pagels uses several gnostic sources such as Valintinus and many gnostic opponents including Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons. One of the benefits of reading THE GNOSTIC PAUL is that we learn even more about the diversity that flourished in early Christianity during the first three centuries before Constantine. Pagels is very good at peeling away layer after layer in her study of this period in church history.
The author is an excellent writer and the format is easy to follow. The subject matter, however, requires some prior knowledge of Christian gnosticism and a familiarity with the Nag Hammadi documents. For supplementary reading I recommend especially two other books by Elaine Pagels. They are THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS and BEYOND BELIEF: THE SECRET GOSPEL OF THOMAS.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a good choice to begin to learn about the amazing history of the Christian Church.

Especially Gnosticism and the early Christian Church, and especially the creation of the New Testament Bible. For a different review....here is my review of books that build on these interests, especially the "lost" books of the New Testament Bible and the concepts of Gnosticism.

Nearly all knowledgeable Biblical scholars realize there have been a wide range of writings attributed to Jesus and his Apostles..... and that some of these were selected for compilation into the book that became known as the Bible.....and that some books have been removed from some versions of the Bible and others have been re-discovered in modern times.

The attention focused on Gnosticism by Dan Brown's DaVinci Code may be debatable, but the fact is that increased attention on academics tends to be predominately positive, so I welcome those with first-time or renewed interest. At least first-timers to Gnosticism are not pursuing the oh-so-popular legends of the Holy Grail, Bloodline of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

This is great......I seldom quote other reviewers, but there is one reviewer of Pagels' books who confided that he had been a Jesuit candidate and had been required to study a wide range of texts but was never was told about the Nag Hamadi texts. He said:

"Now I know why. The Gospel of Thomas lays waste to the notion that Jesus was `the only begotten Son of God' and obviates the need for a formalized church when he says, `When your leaders tell you that God is in heaven, say rather, God is within you, and without you.' No wonder they suppressed this stuff!
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