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Beyond Belief
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About the Author

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.

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Pagels, a prominent religious scholar, presents the codification of the New Testament in the early church. In 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, a cache of heretofore unknown Christian writings was discovered. The common belief is that these writings, suppressed by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c.180 C.E.), were as he had described them: less than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and filled with inaccuracies and heresy. However, Pagels, when she began to examine the texts, found them quite the opposite, laden with spiritual power. Her first book about the texts, The Gnostic Gospels, was a preliminary exploration of the meaning of this discovery to the worldwide Christian community. Cassandra Campbell is an excellent reader; her diction is clear and understandable, even when the proper names and Greek terms could cause confusion. She presents the material in a straightforward way that adds to the effectiveness of the work. Suitable for libraries with a large religion collection and college and divinity school libraries. Recommended.-Nancy Reed, McCracken Cty. P.L., Paducah, KY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Pagels has accomplished a very rare thing, an examination of early religious writings that is a good read, accessible, and at times even dramatic and poignant." --The Columbus Dispatch

"This remarkable book will stir and provoke thought. It offers rewards to any reader concerned with the promise and power of faith, and the hunger for spiritual discovery." --The Christian Science Monitor

"Lucid . . . a spiritual as well as an intellectual exercise. . . . [Pagels] seems to rejoice that in the earliest years of Christianity there existed these strange, dissident doctrines." --Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review "With the winning combination of sound scholarship, deep insight and a crystal clear prose style . . . [Beyond Belief] portrays the rich and beautiful heritage that was lost when champions of religious orthodoxy turned on many of their fellow Christians and declared them 'heretics'." --Los Angeles Times "Brilliantly lucid, elegantly written . . . [Pagels'] book is so readable you can't put it down." -- Providence Journal-Bulletin

"Just as topical today as it was nearly two thousand years ago. . . . Pagels is great at pulling together the details that allow us to understand not only what people were arguing about but why." -San Jose Mercury News "Majestic. . . . Exhilarating reading, Pagel's book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a mystery writer." -Publishers Weekly "This luminous and accessible history of early Christian thought offers profound and crucial insights on the nature of God, revelation, and what we mean by religious truth." -Karen Armstong "As relevant as today's front page." -The Washington Post Book World

In this majestic new book, Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels) ranges panoramically over the history of early Christianity, demonstrating the religion's initial tremendous diversity and its narrowing to include only certain texts supporting certain beliefs. At the center of her book is the conflict between the gospels of John and Thomas. Reading these gospels closely, she shows that Thomas offered readers a message of spiritual enlightenment. Rather than promoting Jesus as the only light of the world, Thomas taught individuals that "there is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness." As she eloquently and provocatively argues, the author of John wrote his gospel as a refutation of Thomas, portraying the disciple Thomas as a fool when he doubts Jesus, and Jesus as the only true light of the world. Pagels goes on to demonstrate that the early Christian writer Irenaeus promoted John as the true gospel while he excluded Thomas, and a host of other early gospels, from the list of those texts that he considered authoritative. His list became the basis for the New Testament canon when it was fixed in 357. Pagels suggests that we recover Thomas as a way of embracing the glorious diversity of religious tradition. As she elegantly contends, religion is not merely an assent to a set of beliefs, but a rich, multifaceted fabric of teachings and experiences that connect us with the divine. Exhilarating reading, Pagels's book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a good mystery writer. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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