July 22, 2020

Jun 15, Frank Kermode reviews book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels; drawing (M). A review of Elaine Pagel’s book. Beyond Belief, published in by Random House, is a sort of sequel to The Secret Gospels, in that it incorporates the new. Jun 24, One person’s hagiography is another’s heresy, observes biblical scholar Pagels, though that hasn’t stopped generations of Christians from.

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In the spring of the yearthe Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt wrote a famous letter to his flock.

Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels | : Books

Athanasius of Alexandria was one of the most determined clerics in Christian history, but it had taken him a long time to get his own opinions established as the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Ever since the death of Jesus, Christians had been in pavels and constant dispute about what we might call his ontological status.

Was he a divinely inspired man, a seer and a prophet, but still only a man? Or was he God himself, for a time disguised in the flesh of the man from Nazareth, but now returned to his pre-existent state as the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity? Athanasius had been the most persistent champion of the kind of theology that is now enshrined in the Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus Christ was begotten by God the Father before all worlds, and was God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.

But it had been a close run thing and Athanasius would probably not have won at all if it had not been for the intervention of the Emperor Constantine, who wanted a united Catholic Church to act as a powerful cement for his far-flung empire. Anyway, by Lent Athanasius felt confident enough to indulge in a bit of heretical book beyind.


He announced his approval of the 27 books that were to become known as the New Testament, and went on to denounce another set of texts that had been around as long as the ones he was now officially canonising as part of the Christian Bible.

He described the works he wanted to outlaw as empty and poisonous myths that led people astray. As a Lenten exercise these books were to be hunted down and destroyed. But events were to prove that not everyone was happy with the decree of Athanasius. Some monks based near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt decided to defy him. Rather than destroy the offending texts, they removed more than 50 of them from the monastery library, hid them in a jar to preserve them, and buried them by a nearby cliff.

For centuries scholars wondered what was in these heretical books, which they dubbed Gnostic, because it was believed they claimed to promote a secret spiritual knowledge available only to the elect. Elains books were known only through quotations sprinkled through the writings of their theological enemies in the orthodox party.

Beyond Belief Reader’s Guide

But that was a bit like getting your information on Senator Kerry from the Drudge Report. Victors always rewrite history and scholars suspected that that’s what had happened here. Not having the texts in question before them, however, they couldn’t be sure what these so-called poisonous myths actually contained.

Fast forward 1, years to December He is looking for a natural fertiliser to spread on his fields when he comes across an obviously ancient earthenware jar. When he and his brother break the jar open, they discover a cache of 13 leather ppagels codices, or papyrus books, containing more than 50 tractates, including what came to be known as the famous gnostic gospels. Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University, belef made the translation and interpretation of these elaaine her life’s work.

Beyond Belief

In her latest book she concentrates mainly on why the Gospel of John made it into the New Testament and the Gospel of Thomas didn’t. She argues persuasively that John was written as a direct attack on Thomas.


Thomas, one of the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi, is a collection of sayings of Jesus, with no narrative framework. It is what scholars call a sayings gospel, a list of aphorisms attributed to Jesus. Pagels uses her analysis of John and Thomas to discuss the struggle that went on in early Christianity between those who believed that Jesus taught that the divine light was present in all people; and those who, like the author of John, claimed that Jesus had taught that humanity inhabited a profound spiritual darkness that only he could illuminate.

There was no salvation except through him. Significantly, it is to Thomas in the Gospel of John that Jesus says: Except that scholars like Pagels are beginning to regret that the victory was so overwhelming and one-sided.

She admires the mystical generalities of the gnostics and is temperamentally allergic to the violent certainties of the winning side in Catholic Christianity. The fact is that humans, if they want one at all, generally craft the kind of religion that suits them. If you want a modern version of this ancient conflict you could compare the fluffy affirmations of New Age spirituality with the flinty negations elqine Vatican Catholicism. Some people like a epaine that soothes and affirms their humanity, while others like a faith that has a bit of the bejond to it.

It usually comes down to a choice between a swamp and a hard place. So it’s not surprising that so many people take to the hills. History books The Bible reviews.