Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas

Pagels, Elaine

Published by Pan Books, 2005
ISBN 10: 0330431978 / ISBN 13: 9780330431972
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Synopsis: When her infant son was diagnosed with fatal pulmonary hypertension, award-winning author Elaine Pagels was moved to explore her faith. In Beyond Belief, her spiritual journey becomes a springboard for an intellectual and professional re-examination of early Christian faith. Controversial and thought-provoking, this international bestseller investigates the politics of Christianity and how the church crafted a Bible and a faith far more stringent than previously thought. In her search for meaning, Elaine Pagels discovers that the history of the Church and therefore the history of the Western world could have been significantly different. This moving testament to history, faith and humanity, Pagels will challenge and transform everything you know of Christianity. 'Those who are moved by religion but who find that they can no longer accept the official doctrines of their church will find this marvellous book a source of inspiration and hope' Karen Armstrong 'This is writing about religion of the first order: enlightening, intelligent, inclusive and humane' Peter Stanford, Independent

Review: 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

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Title: Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
Publisher: Pan Books
Publication Date: 2005
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Good

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