The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

The Gnostic Gospels is a landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal. First published in 1979 to critical acclaim, winning the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Gnostic Gospels has continued to grow in reputation and influence over the past two decades. It is now widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality published in our time.

In 1945 an Egyptian peasant unearthed what proved to be the Gnostic Gospels, thirteen papyrus volumes that expounded a radically different view of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ from that of the New Testament. In this spellbinding book, renowned religious scholar Elaine Pagels elucidates the mysteries and meanings of these sacred texts both in the world of the first Christians and in the context of Christianity today.

With insight and passion, Pagels explores a remarkable range of recently discovered gospels, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, to show how a variety of “Christianities” emerged at a time of extraordinary spiritual upheaval. Some Christians questioned the need for clergy and church doctrine, and taught that the divine could be discovered through spiritual search. Many others, like Buddhists and Hindus, sought enlightenment—and access to God—within. Such explorations raised questions: Was the resurrection to be understood symbolically and not literally? Was God to be envisioned only in masculine form, or feminine as well? Was martyrdom a necessary—or worthy—expression of faith? These early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed—and their explorations led to profoundly different visions of Jesus and his message.

Brilliant, provocative, and stunning in its implications, The Gnostic Gospels is a radical, eloquent reconsideration of the origins of the Christian faith.

About Elaine Pagels

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ELAINE PAGELS is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of Reading Judas, The Gnostic Gospels —winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award—and the New York Times bestseller Beyond Belief. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Published June 29, 2004 by Random House. 183 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, History, Law & Philosophy, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1979 ISBN: 0394502787 Page count: ...

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BC Books

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Now I have to ask, “Where’s Thomas and Phillip or ‘The Truth’?” All new gospels I’ve discovered are thanks to a farmer in Egypt 60 years ago and this book not only explores the gospels I just mentioned and many more, but also tries to explain why these gospels may have been kept out of the “Good...

Jan 11 2006 | Read Full Review of The Gnostic Gospels


As she did in the NY Times article, she (correctly) denies that this says anything about the historical Jesus, but goes on to make several spurious points about what it might say and its actual dating.

Sep 19 2012 | Read Full Review of The Gnostic Gospels

London Review of Books

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The Satirist

(The Gnostics could not accept the notion that an all-good God could create this Fallen World, and so posited a second God, a false Creator God whom they felt the orthodox wrongly worshipped in lieu of the true God.) Gnostics asked why the God of the orthodox—if he were all-powerful—would feel th...

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