By Chet Yarbrough
The Gnostic Gospels
By: Elaine Pagels
Narrated by Lorna Raver
Elaine Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Modern Library calls Pagels’ book, “The Gnostic Gospels” one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century.
Like the beginning of a story of adventure and mystery, Pagels recounts the discovery of a fifty-two text collection of papyrus sheets recounting the beginnings of the Christian church.
For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundation of institutional religion.
According to Pagels, the Coptic text of “The Gnostic Gospels” show that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about.
- Was Jesus simply a prophet or the Son of God?
- Was he preaching for the creation of a religion ?
- Were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution?
- Was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?
Pagels’ interpretation of “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.
A fundamental theme of “The Gnostic Gospels” is that the “Kingdom of God” is present within every human being, then and now, and that self-knowledge is the source of admittance to grace.
If one believes this teaching, it does not mean one must abandon organized religion but it redefines the role of the church.
Pagels’ interpretation of the “Gnostic Gospels” implies the role of the church is not to ritualize admittance to the “Kingdom of God” by christening mankind or bludgeoning all who do not accept a church’s vision of religion.
It suggests the church’s role is to aid personal revelation. Maybe Dostoevsky’s parable of “The Grand Inquisitor” is more insight than imagination.
Doubt remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation. Gnostic documentation is distant from “witnesses to the truth”. “The Gnostic Gospels” were written 300 or 400 years after Jesus’s time.