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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas…
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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003)

by Elaine Pagels

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Pagels uses the terminal illness of her child as a pretext for finding solace in non-confessional religion. This becomes the basis for unleashing her brand of speculative philosophy regarding the common academic theme of "other Christianities". Pagels is not a believer (she is a Bauranian and, as a result, has a willfully imprecise conception of faith) but manages, as a hanger-on, to lob her ideas over the wall in the hopes of hitting some aspect of long-held doctrine.

Her speculation is only as entertaining as one's standards and knowledge of Christianity allow, and one gets the sense that this book could as well not have been written. Any pretense of being a religious historian surely carries a burden of having an exacting knowledge of theology; however, not demonstrating such is a flaw that leaves almost anything else Pagels offers as unconvincing.

This reviewer, as one who follows the biblical Jesus Christ, turns to books such as this looking for challenging material with which to wrestle; disappointment comes, as here, when an author, for whatever reason, offers lightweight theology and obscurantist history. ( )
  PapaGottlieb | Jul 15, 2019 |
This book had been on my wishlist for a while, as I've always been interested in the "disappeared" books of the Bible. (Well, always... at least as long as I knew such things existed, anyway!) So, when perusing the religion section of the Mecosta library, this title jumped out at me. (Additionally, the rest of their religion section is rather un-challenging, conventional mainstream to right wing Christianity.)

So, I broke my long standing rule to not check out library books (due to my extended history of large library fines) and picked it up. It was immediately fascinating and I found myself reading it at every spare moment. I do have to say, however, that the subtitle is a bit misleading. This book is more about how the Gospels came to be the Gospels and how the others, the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, etc., came to be forgotten. There is some particular focus on Thomas, but really only a small portion of that gospel makes it into the book.

But that's okay, because what was most interesting to me was the church history and how the issues the church is dealing with today are the same issues it's been dealing with since the dawn of Christianity -- who belongs and who doesn't, what beliefs are approved of and which aren't, and what's to be done about those we disagree with. Linked to that is how certain interpretations of texts came to be thought of as essential to Christian faith -- even those that were at one time highly controversial and aren't necessarily explicitly stated in the texts themselves -- most notably the idea that Jesus = God.

Highly recommended to all those who question. ( )
2 vote greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
About the author: quoting from the book's inside cover, "Elaine Pagels earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in classical studies at Stanford, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She is the author of . . .[other books, including] "The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. She is currently the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. . ." About the book: quoting from the book's back cover, Frank Kermode wrote for 'The New York Times Book Review, ". . .Spurred on by personal tragedy and new scholarship from an international group of researchers, Pagels returns to her investigation of the 'secret' Gospel of Thomas, and breathes new life into writings once thought heretical. As she arrives at an ever-deeper conviction in her own faith, Pagels reveals how faith allows for a diversity of interpretations, and that the 'rogue' voices of Christianity encourage and sustain 'the recognition of the light within us all. . .' The book has extensive chapter notes and is well indexed.
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  uufnn | Nov 18, 2016 |
Seemed repetitive after reading Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels. To my disappointment the book didn't offer much info about the actual gospel of Thomas. ( )
  ramuneza | Apr 3, 2016 |
Pagels is a recognized scholar of religion, and the author of The Gnostic Gospels, among others. This book might be her best.

Don't buy this expecting a dull, scholarly exposition on the Gospel of Thomas. It's hardly that. It's sort of an unobtrusive evangelism for unorthodox Christianity, a plea for the kind of "religious truth" that can never hide behind a stale set of doctrine.

Pagels bares her soul in this book, and her passion for spirituality, religion and Christianity shines. The result is inspirational. This is the book that turned me on to Pagels' scholarship, and I've felt a distant kinship ever since. It's really less about the Gospel of Thomas and more about diversity and meaning within the early Christian movement. John's Gospel actually gets as much attention as the Gospel of Thomas. While John hints of gnostic influence, it also finds itself in direct opposition to Thomas on many topics, such as the divinity of Christ. Pagels embraces this diversity of ideas, and spends a great deal of time discussing how the canon of acceptable scripture grew.

I love engaging, thought-provoking books, and Pagels never disappoints. ( )
2 vote DubiousDisciple | Sep 24, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375501568, Hardcover)

Shortly after Elaine Pagels’ two-and-half-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare lung disease, the religion professor found herself drawn to a Christian church again for the first time in many years. In Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas Pagels, best know for her National Book Award-winning The Gnostic Gospels, wrestles with her own faith as she struggles to understand when--and why--Christianity became associated almost exclusively with the ideas codified in the fourth-century Nicene Creed and in the canonical texts of the New Testament. In her exploration, she uncovers the richness and diversity of Christian philosophy that has only become available since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts.

At the center of Beyond Belief is what Pagels identifies as a textual battle between The Gospel of Thomas (rediscovered in Egypt in 1945) and The Gospel of John. While these gospels have many superficial similarities, Pagels demonstrates that John, unlike Thomas, declares that Jesus is equivalent to "God the Father" as identified in the Old Testament. Thomas, in contrast, shares with other supposed secret teachings a belief that Jesus is not God but, rather, is a teacher who seeks to uncover the divine light in all human beings. Pagels then shows how the Gospel of John was used by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon and others to define orthodoxy during the second and third centuries. The secret teachings were literally driven underground, disappearing until the Twentieth Century. As Pagels argues this process "not only impoverished the churches that remained but also impoverished those [Irenaeus] expelled."

Beyond Belief offers a profound framework with which to examine Christian history and contemporary Christian faith, and Pagels renders her scholarship in a highly readable narrative. The one deficiency in Pagels’ examination of Thomas, if there is one, is that she never fully returns in the end to her own struggles with religion that so poignantly open the book. How has the mysticism of the Gnostic Gospels affected her? While she hints that she and others have found new pathways to faith through Thomas, the impact of Pagels’ work on contemporary Christianity may not be understood for years to come. --Patrick O’Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:21 -0400)

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[This book] explores how Christianity began by tracing its earliest texts, including the secret Gospel of Thomas, rediscovered in Egypt in 1945.... [The author explores] historical and archeological sources to investigate what Jesus and his teachings meant to his followers before the invention of Christianity as we know it.... [She] compares such sources as Thomas' gospel ... with the canonic texts to show how Christian leaders chose to include some gospels and exclude others from the collections we have come to know as the New Testament. To stabilize the emerging Christian church in times of devastating persecution, the church fathers constructed the canon, creed, and hierarchy--and, in the process, suppressed many of its spiritual resources. -Dust jacket.… (more)

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