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Beyond Belief

The Secret Gospel of Thomas
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 6 hrs and 17 mins
4 out of 5 stars (390 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Spurred by personal tragedy, Elaine Pagels turns to a consideration of the Gnostic Gospels, in particular, the Gospel of Thomas. As opposed to the Gospel of John, which asserted that Jesus was an eternally existing aspect of God who came to earth to save humankind, the "secret" Gospel of Thomas agrees that Jesus was in some sense divine, but says that a streak of divinity can be found in all of us. The Church Fathers did not like Thomas' ideas, and attempted to suppress his Gospel as heretical. Pagels believes that Thomas' words lead to a more open, welcoming, and equitable kind of Christianity. If Beyond Belief is at odds with conservative theological certainties, it nonetheless speaks to Jesus' humanity, and to our own.
©2003 Elaine Pagels (P)2004 Books on Tape

Critic Reviews

"Exhilarating reading, Pagels's book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a good mystery writer." (Publishers Weekly)
"A fresh and exciting work of theology and spirituality." (Booklist)
"With the winning combination of sound scholarship, deep insight and crystal-clear prose style that distinguishes all her work, Pagels portrays the great variety of beliefs, teachings and practices that were found among the earliest Christians." (Los Angeles Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Buford
  • Somerset, KY, USA
  • 06-08-04

Gospel of Thomas is somewhat a misnomer

The book is less an exploration of the Gospel of Thomas than an exploration of the competing movements and ideas that were present in the early Christian Church. It begins by comparing the gospels of John and Thomas using a unique, to this listener anyway, hypothesis but moves quickly to a broader view of the first three centuries of Christianity. It is none the less an excellent representation of the impeccable research and sensitivity of Elaine Pagels.

The listener is brought to see the importance of the Nag Hammadi texts to the understanding of First-Third Century "Gnosticism" and what would have been lost had these documents not been hidden some 1600 years ago. The question occurs: What documents might not have been preserved and thus lost from these formative years of Christianity? Based on the importance of the Nag Hammadi texts, we are intellectually poorer for any that might have been lost.

The book is very easy to follow. The narrator does an excellent job in reading the text with authority and understanding. It is, technically speaking, a very good presentation.

I certainly recommend it to those who have interests in this area of historical research.

82 of 87 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • James
  • Indian Trail, NC, USA
  • 07-16-04

Dr. Pagels hits a home run (almost a grand slam)

I am not sure why she did not include the full text of Thomas, perhaps in deference to her friends who have published the Gospel of Thomas already. I am sure her book has led to many purchases. I was expecting the Gospel of Thomas to be a part of the book, based on the title. She compares and contrasts Thomas to the Gospel of John. So, read these books first and keep them by your side as you read or listen to this book. I found the book a great read, with some pretty good insight into the mind and culture of early Christians and the way they approached and developed the canon. Her creativity and style are very engaging and you forget you are actually reading one of the very top scholars of pre-orthodox Christianity. She seems to also have a spiritual grasp of her subject and shares some of her own spiritual trials. This book is more than a history lesson, it is a spiritual lesson which should leave you with a deeper sense of connection to your Higher Power. I can't wait for her next book, it should be a grand slam!

29 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

It has very little to do with Thomas!

I actually liked Pagel's work, I read two of her books before, Gnostic gospels and Reading Judas, the problem with this volume is that it is exceedingly misleading, not only that many of the materials here came from researches and arguments from her other books, but only approximately two chapters actually has anything to do with the Gospel of Thomas, the rest are early church history and polemnics. So if you already have the Gnostic Gospel, you can pretty much spare yourself this one.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Pagels vs Irenaeus

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.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • gsrayburn
  • Annapolis, MD United States
  • 06-15-19

Beyond Belief

Excellent presentation of the history of early Christinity. Dr Pages is a brilliant historian and an excellent presenter.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Compelling

I am a Christian and found this work to be fascinating. Christians whose faith is threatened by works such as this apparently have very little faith to begin with. It is serves all of us to know of the varieties of Christianity in the early years of its existence, and it should also be reassuring to the faithful that what we believe is what won out. Listen to this work carefully: distinguish between the evidence she provides and the conclusions she makes based on such evidence. The former is important, and we need to know about it. As for the latter, make your own conclusions.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Mick
  • BOTHELL, WA, United States
  • 10-27-11

Lack of chapter structure is maddening

Great vocal performance. Easy to listen at normal and 2X speed. Book chapters not coinciding with audio file divisions makes it extremely difficult to stop, pause, break, and resume without having to scan around for review before proceeding. My main issue with this book is that it is sold as a book on the Gospel of Thomas but spends little time on the book itself and generally bounces around general Gnostic/Orthodox theological and ritualistic differences between early church communities and all the problems Irenaeus found while establishing orthodoxy. The book should be titled "Hey Everybody, Listen to Me!: The Story of Irenaeus". Interesting book but Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels is head and shoulders better in so far as it covers gnosticism more thoroughly. The one chapter contrasting the Gospel of John with Thomas does not provide justification for the title.

TL:DR - Not really much Thomas material. Book chapters are aggravating. Good performance though.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Get Over "Belief"

This is an excellent book to help understand that the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, those that must be blindly "believed" in order to be "saved" and get into "heaven", are the product of a few delusional and power-hungry white men and have very little to do with the actual teachings of Jesus. They are simply interpretations by mere mortals - fallible, flawed and weak like everyone else - ,that through the ages have calcified into rigid dogma that "must be believed" in order to be "saved". This book sheds much needed light on the development of early Christianity. Thank you, Elaine Pagels

8 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Love This Lady! So Brilliant”

This is the second book of hers I have finished. I have three or more waiting. I was a conservative minister for 20 years and when preparing for the ministry, studied many of the things she talks about. But like Paul Harvey, I never got this side of the story of the early church. I feel like a window has been opened, and fresh air just poured into the room. I have driven my wife crazy reading her sections of one of her books. So very happy that I stumbled upon this diamond. It makes me sad that so many churches Catholic and Protestant, because of their views on women’s place in the church have missed out on so much that women have to offer. It is a wealth of information, from women like her, waiting for all of us to open our eyes to see and learn.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Clarity

A great book if you want to understand the understanding of those who were on the forefront of Christianity; their intentions, motivations and self interest branded as religion.