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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003)

by Elaine Pagels

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2,349345,029 (3.67)28
[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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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
A fascinating exegesis on the early church, which not only serves to give some background to the so called ‘apocryphal gospels,’ but also highlights the path some of the early church fathers took to control doctrine. I approached this book simply wanting to know more about these lost teachings, but left with a broader understanding of how our current teachings of Christianity were formed. I have more questions than answers, and I’m ok with that. ( )
1 vote eliason | Sep 28, 2021 |
Pagels here describes the differences between the Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic text and the gospel of John, an orthodox text. She puts forth that John is written to combat certain heresies identified by the orthodox bishop Iraneus (or his predecessor, I can't remember right now) -- specifically the heresies in thomas: that God is in us and we are in God.

A fun and easily read romp. ( )
  wickenden | Mar 8, 2021 |
The author argues for an ongoing assessment of faith and a questioning of religious orthodoxy. Spurred on by personal tragedy and new scholarship from an international group of researchers, she investigates the “secret” Gospel of Thomas and breathes new life into writings once thought heretical. As she arrives at an ever-deeper conviction in her faith, she 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.”
  PAFM | Apr 20, 2020 |
The title, or maybe it's only the subtitle of this book is misleading, since Pagels' subject is to examine how a diversity of Christian communities with differing practices and sacred writings became a unified whole. Most of the history of the first centuries of Christianity I have read assume what is today the orthodox consensus was in place from the earliest days of Christianity, making any history by default a tale of how divergent teachings arose and were suppressed. Pagels takes a different approach, starting with the reality of diverse communities of Christians and showing something of the way a majority held version of Christianity prevailed and then suppressed competing interpretations of the life and teaching of Jesus. This is intended for a popular readership and it is fascinating. ( )
  nmele | Sep 2, 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 |
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On a bright Sunday morning in February, shivering in a T-shirt and running shorts, I stepped into the vaulted stone vestibule of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York to catch my breath and warm up.
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There is an invisible world out there, and we are living in it.
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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.

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