Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas


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During the last 25 years, award-winning author Pagels has been on a personal and intellectual quest to understand the origins of Christianity. In this exciting new book, she traces the source to the Gospel of Thomas.

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May 10, 2016

Well Worth the Reader's Time

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

Not focused

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.

Sandra M

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

Awesome research

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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