Skip to comments.Beyond Belief
Posted on 01/02/2006 3:58:35 PM PST by don asmussen
--- Beyond Belief: A Book About Elaine Pagels ---
by Elaine Pagels
Reviewer:benjamin m. guyer (gainesville, fl. USA)
In this book, Elaine Pagels once again attempts to debunk traditional Christianity by selectively using Gnostic texts - in this case the Gospel of Thomas (hereafter, "GThom")- as her ammunition.
Rather than presenting a new, scholarly engagement of the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas, Pagels scatters heavy doses of her own personal beliefs between her rehashing of previously developed theses. Simply put, she has nothing new to say on a scholarly level, but plenty to say autobiographically.
Dr. Pagels seems to be someone who is thoroughly disenchanted with Christianity, particularly of the evangelical persuasion. In this book proposes that if GThom had been included in the canon of the New Testament, then Christianity would have been "nicer": it would have allowed for more individuality, promoted women more, and been less "oppressive".
Such an argument reads like an exercise in creative writing; it is, indeed, imaginative. However, such an argument is nothing more than speculation - how could such an argument be proven? It can't be. But, this semi-scholarly work by Pagels doesn't rely on the concreteness of its thought or the use of its sources.
In fact, it is downright bizarre that GThom and Gnosticism are used as sources for her own personal vendetta against Christianity when GThom says that women cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven unless they make themselves male. Having heard her speak on this particular saying several months ago at the University of Florida, it is clear to me that her selective use of Gnostic texts to support a de-centered, feminist Christianity cannot really stand on its own when left to face its Gnostic sources.
If you are interested in learning about Dr. Pagels' personal life, personal gripes, tragedies, and spiritual path, this is a great book to start out with. However, if you are looking to really learn about the Gospel of Thomas, look elsewhere. Reading Richard Valantasis' translation of the Gospel of Thomas would be a good place to start.
Presents an Interesting Point of View in a Scholarly Manner
Reviewer:Timothy Kearney (Roslindale, MA United States)
There has been quite a deal of interest in the person of Mary Magdalene in the past year due in no small part to Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE.
Chances are if you see Karen's King's THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALA: JESUS AND THE FIRST WOMAN APOSTLE in any bookstore, it will be grouped with other books about Mary Magdalene as a way of promoting Brown's book.
King's book is not meant to be fiction and readers looking for support of the information in Brown's nook will be somewhat disappointed. People with an interest in early Christianity and Biblical scholarship will not be disappointed, however.
King's book is a scholarly presentation of an early Christian document called "The Gospel of Mary." The portrait presented in this gospel is rather different from that of the Bible.
In the Gospel of John, the only follower who truly understands Jesus is "the Beloved Disciple" and in The Gospel of Mary, only Mary truly understands "the Savior" and the other disciples are fumbling around a bit. While this may be accurate, Peter and the apostles' foibles are well documented by the four evangelists, the Gospel of Mary is a post-resurrection account.
If we look at writings such as "The Acts of the Apostles" we see the Christian community as one where harmony with occasional misunderstandings is the order of the day. An alternate view is presented in "The Gospel of Mary." In this writing we see the befuddlement of some of the male apostles. As anyone should expect in a study of any ancient text, King provides context for understanding "The Gospel of Mary," looks at it as an individual piece, and compares and contrasts it to traditional Christianity.
She also includes a thorough bibliography, a tool much appreciated by people involved in research, and a glossary of sorts that will assist people who are not familiar with early Christian writings (or those of us who have not studied them in recent years). It is probably not necessary to state that King does not hold the point of viewe that Mary of Magdala was a reformed prostitute, a point of view that was correctly debunked years ago.
When I purchased this book, I was not looking for a new approach to Christianity, nor was I looking for hidden or lost documents of Christianity that will shed light on the errors of mainline Christianity for the past 1500 years. I am a Catholic with a keen interest in biblical studies looking for something that will give me a new perspective on scripture.
I have found in the actual "Gospel of Mary" spiritual snippets that are interesting, and King's scholarship gives me a slightly different perspective of early Christianity.
The book is interesting, but has not radically reshaped my understanding of Christianity, but I have always looked at the history of Christianity from a realistic and human point of view.
I also realize that some people interested in this book may be aware that "The Gospel of Mary" would have been considered heretical by Christian leaders in its day. Of course we need to remember that some of Origen's writings were deemed heretical at one time. Meister Eckhart was likewise called a heretic. Even Thomas Aquinas, who many consider the ultimate in orthodoxy, was considered questionable in his day.
Looking at "The Gospel of Mary" in a new way is appropriate and something King does rather well. With this in mind, I am not certain that the "Gospel of Mary" is necessarily a document that was suppressed without a good reason. First of all, it is not really a gospel. The canonical gospels and even The Gospel of Thomas are not post-Pentecost settings. The latest event in the canonical gospels is the Ascension. This is not the case of "The Gospel of Mary which seems to be post Ascension. "The Acts of Mary" rather than "The Gospel of Mary" may be a more accurate title of the work, since it resembles other early Christian writings in the "acts" genre.
Also, in an age when many people are feeling excluded in mainline Christianity, an ancient writing that proposes a different way of looking at Christianity is intriguing, but those who originally adhered to this work would have been exclusive, so to speak, seeing others as not understanding.
So this work that some are embracing because it is inclusive from our point of view, are actually embracing a work that in its day would have been exclusive. While the individual approach expressed by "The Gospel of Mary" is somewhat what we believe the interior life, which is so important in Christianity is all about, there is also a communal dimension which the canonical gospels stress, but is not really found in the fragments used in the translation of "The Gospel of Mary."
Amazon.com: Reviews for The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle: Books
Any comments on this book & its reviews?
?Will it be banned by the Supreme Courts....?
?....are they 'Absolute'.....myth?
?....is 'Jesus' a sacred secret name?
Can you tell me? -- Really I don't have a clue, and I'm just posting this stuff to try to find out..
Is this all connected to Dan Brown's DA VINCI CODE thing?
Da Vinci plot may get new twist to placate Catholics
Thanks for the link. -- Do you know if any of those early writings refer to siblings of Jesus? -- Could he have had a brother, killed in Rome by Nero?
The "brothers" of Jesus were James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.
None of which are on record as traveling to Rome.
Eventually James assumed leadership of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
As friction between Jews and Christians increased, the Christian tolerant procurator, Festus, died ~62CE.
Before Nero could send a new procurator, the priest Annas (the younger) had James thrown from the temple walls and his body stoned.
Thanks again for the info..
--- Was James really Jesus' brother? ---
The point of departure for considering this question is Mark 6:3 (cf. Matthew 13:55-56), where James is actually named as Jesus' brother, along with four other men; at least two unnamed and unenumerated sisters are also mentioned. Until recently, Roman Catholic opinion has been dominated by the position of St. Jerome (in his controversial work, Against Helvidius), who argued that although "brothers" and "sisters" are the terms used in Greek, the reference is actually to cousins.
Dispute has focused on the issue of whether that view can be sustained linguistically, and on the whole the finding has been negative. Before Jerome, Helvidius himself had maintained during the fourth century that the brothers and sisters were just what their name impliessiblings of Jesus: although he had been born of a virgin, their father was Joseph and their mother was Mary.
That view clearly played havoc with the emerging doctrine of Mary's virginity after Jesus' birth, and that issue occupied the center of attention. In a recent work which received the Imprimatur, John P. Meier has endorsed the Helvidian theory, to some extent on the basis of support from second century Fathers.10 During that century, a group referred to as the Ebionites even denied Jesus' virgin birth in the technical sense; his "brothers" and "sisters" were implicitly that in the full sense of those words (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1-2).
Richard Bauckham has given new currency to the view of Jesus' relationship to James developed by Epiphanius during the fourth century (Panarion 1.29.3-4; 2.66.19; 3.78.7, 9, 13), and supported by the second-century Protoevanglium of James 9.2 and perhaps the Gospel of Peter (according to Origen's Commentary on Matthew 10:17):11 Mary was Jesus' mother, not James', since Joseph had a wife prior to his marriage to Mary.
Joseph's relatively advanced age is traditionally held to account for his early departure from the narrative scene of the Gospels, and that reasonable inference lends support to this theory, while James' emphasis on the Davidic identity of the Church (see Acts 15:16) is easily accommodated on this view. James' seniority relative to Jesus might be reflected in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32).
The story of those with Jesus seizing him in the midst of exorcism (Mark 3:21; cf. 3:31-35) reflects the kind of almost parental concern an older brother might feel for a younger brother.
Another, more pragmatic
consideration provides support for Epiphanius' theory, although in a modified form. As mentioned, Joseph disappears from the scene of the Gospels from when Jesus was about twelve years old. His death at that time has been the traditional surmise, and such a chronology has implications for understanding Jesus' relationships with his siblings. On the Helvidian view, Mary must have given birth to at least seven children in twelve years (Jesus, his brothers, and two or more sisters).
Assuming that not every child she gave birth to survived infancy, more than seven labors would be required during that period, all this within a culture that confined women after childbirth and prohibited intercourse with a woman with a flow of blood, and despite the acknowledged prophylactic effect of lactation and Joseph's age.
Although the consideration of a likely rate of fertility provides some support to the Epiphanian theory, in its unadulterated form it strains credulity in its own way. A widower with at least six children already in tow is not perhaps the best candidate for marriage with a young bride. A modified form of the theory (a hybrid with Helvidius' suggestion) would make James and Joses the products of Joseph's previous marriage, and Jesus, Simon and Judah the sons of Joseph with Mary.
The latter three sons have names notably associated with a zealous regard for the honor of Israel, and may reflect the taste of a common mother. Absent their names, or even a count of how many were involved, no such assignment of marriages can be attempted for Jesus' sisters.
On the Helvidian view, James was Jesus' younger and full brother, in a family quickly produced whose siblings were close in age. On the Epiphanian view, James was older, and Jesus' half brother, it seems to me that, suitably modified, Epiphanius provides the more plausible finding.
Bruce Chilton on Jesus' brother James
Are there any historical facts to back up James as the brother of Jesus?
I'd reply, but I shouldn't be FReeping from work. :)
I just called your boss, and he said its OK to post, -- as long as its for religious purposes..
I routinely pray he doesn't find out.
The Earthly Father: What if Mary wasn't a virgin?
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