This book should have been titled Pagels vs Irenaeus.
The premise that she tries to support is that there was a great deal of diversity in the early Christian church. Irenaeus and Bishop Polycarp, among others, felt that the diversity was threatening the viability of the Christian faith. They moved to remove the diversity to present a more unified front to the very real threats and persecutions. After the Nicean Creeds and the legalization of Christianity the church fathers took this stance further. This evolved into a program to eradicate all divergent philosophies.
I feel the reason that Dr. Pagels chose to write this book was to put words to her own personal struggle. Her struggle is: that she does not want anyone to get in between God and herself. Indeed, this does sound like a valid course of action but I wonder if it really does not speak to a notion of pride. It is far simpler to live ones spiritual life without comment or interference from others. This is especially true if the other person has an air of authority.
If Pagels accepts the canonical representation created by John and Irenaeus she could only get to God through their Christ. Christ, for her, seems to be the embodiment of their credo and thus filters out all access to God except through their interpretation. Scholars likely love to debate this, but for me it really is less material.
I come away from this book wondering about, how to navigate the complex web of very human individuals - trying to be spiritual. Without these interactions I doubt spirituality can really exist. Now, I am left to reconcile the risk of disingenuous external authorities to the vagaries of self deception.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes I would. I may not agree with her points and the methods she uses to win the reader to her way of thinking but it is well worth the read.
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