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Publisher's Summary

The Gnostic Gospels provides engaging listening for those seeking a broader perspective on the early development of Christianity. Author and noted scholar Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Without a doubt: Gnosticism celebrates God as both Mother and Father, shows a very human Jesus' relationship to Mary Magdalene, suggests the Resurrection is better understood symbolically, and speaks to self-knowledge as the route to union with God.

Pagels argues that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day, serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership. Her contrast of that developing orthodoxy with Gnostic teachings presents an intriguing trajectory on a world faith as it "might have become".

©1979 Elaine Pagels (P)2006 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"The first major and eminently readable book on gnosticism benefiting from the discovery in 1945 of a collection of Gnostic Christian texts at Nag Hammadi in Egypt." (The New York Times Book Review)

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  • Laura
  • Boynton Beach, FL, USA
  • 05-19-06

The other side of Jesus

Interesting, enlightening and intense: the listener learns about another side of Jesus, one that encourages his disciples to find the truth within themselves.

The issues before the early church are discussed and you come to understand why the church rejected these gnostic teachings. They felt that Jesus intended to be accessible to more than an educated, elite few. That's hard to argue, but the idea of self-knowledge is also appealing, at least to me.

Dr Pagels refrains from editorializing, which I appreciated. She tells you what the manuscripts say, develops some of the concepts, and leaves it to you to decide what you believe.

This book is so packed with information that I think I would have preferred the printed form, so I could re-review particular passages. I also found the reader's voice to be rough and raspy, unlike Dr Pagel's voice which is smooth and pleasant (as seen on TV).

Overall, very worth the effort, and you'll probably want to listen to it more than once.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Colin
  • ReadingUnited Kingdom
  • 02-27-07

A must-read

There is so much to know about Christ, the origins of the Christian faith, and how it turned out the way it has.
Unfortunately for a great many reasons the contents of these and probably many other texts have been hidden from the world for hundreds of years and its great to have these particular ones set out so well in their greater context.

This book introduces and suggests things that most Christians (or anyone for that matter) would never consider a possibility, enhances many pieces of understanding and severely challenges others.
There's no new religion here, but the one you had is supplied with some interesting additions!

Dr Pagels' extensive subject knowledge of the texts of the Nag Hammadi library as well as other historical, political and religious sources, brings up some key questions and facts, attempts to answer them in light of a far wider body of evidence and leaves the reader wanting to continue the study...
Which is possibly the best thing a book like this can do

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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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.

For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundations of institutional religion. 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.

Frustration remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation, because gnostic documentation is, like every written document of the time, removed from “witnesses to the truth”, i.e. people who lived in Jesus’ time.

However, the Coptic text shows that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about; i.e. was he simply a prophet or the Son of God, was he preaching for the creation of a religion or were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?

Pagels’ interpretation in “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests that Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.

The more fundamental issue in “The Gnostic Gospels” is the idea of the “Kingdom of God” being 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 necessarily require abandonment of organized religion but it suggests that church institutions’ only role is to aid personal revelation; 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.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Seeker77
  • Dunkirk, MD United States
  • 05-08-12

This title is not a reading of the Gnostic Gospels

Any additional comments?

The topic was interesting, well written and well read but I was expecting a reading of Gnostic Scriptures and that I did not get.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • CB
  • 02-25-10


I was looking forward to this book, and was disappointed. The author spends more time talking about what is referred to as the catholic church and/or the "Orthodox" Christian church, and "Orthodox" christianity, rather than on what the Gnostic Gospels reveal, the story behind them etc.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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A bit disappointed...

The books contents were rather shallow compared to the source material.
I wish that there were more quotes and passages to the actual gospel and less speculation on the authors part.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A very clear argument.

I enjoyed this book, as the author presented a very clear account of the strives between Christian Orthodoxy and Gnostic Christianity. It is no wonder that this book has stood as an authoritative work on the subject.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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One of many excellent books by Dr. Pagels

Fascinating material and very respectful treatment by Dr. Pages. A must read for thoughtful people.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Too general

Would you try another book from Elaine Pagels and/or Lorna Raver?

I listened to Prof. Pagels book on the Gospel of Thomas and was a little disappointed as she spoke very little of this specific gospel and more about the history of the Catholic Church. In any case, she got me intrigued about the gnostic gospels so I tried listening to this book and it's more of the same. She doesn't reveal exactly what is in these secret and/or gnostic gospels. I am returning this book. I wish the Nag Hammadi Scriptures were on audible.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Not really finding what interests me...Nag Hammadi by Marvin Meyer is not in audible, Meister Eckhart's texts are not available and there is nearly nothing on Hindu Vedantic philosophy. So I don't know.....

Would you listen to another book narrated by Lorna Raver?

Yes, why not.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Gnostic Gospels?

It's not what I would have cut, it's what is missing that is the problem.

Any additional comments?

Please add more philosophy and religious texts to audible.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Who is this Jesus of Nazarene?

What made the experience of listening to The Gnostic Gospels the most enjoyable?

This gives one a different impression of who Jesus really was.

What other book might you compare The Gnostic Gospels to and why?

Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels.

Any additional comments?

Elaine Pagels does a very good job at presenting the unknown Jesus. He's more alive, more of a mystic and deeper than the orthodoxy. I've been familiar with her work since I was in university. She's so very thorough in her research and complete in her narrative. I wish we would have gotten some Gnostic scripture from this, but her other books do provide that. I've also independently researched Gnosticism so it wasn't necessary for me to have that contain in her book. I'd recommend it without hesitation.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful