Monday, August 31, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #2 ~ The Gnostic Gospels

Facebook has a meme going around encouraging folks to name "15 books that will always stick with you." This is the second one on my alphabetical list.

The Gnostic Gospels ~ by Elaine Pagels, 1979

I bought this book in hardback when it first came out in 1979 and read it avidly. It won awards (the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award) and has become a sort of landmark. I have seen it quoted in book after book. It was 1945 when a peasant turned up thirteen papyrus volumes in a place in Egypt called Nag Hamadi. These "books" that became known as gnostic gospels, from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. These manuscripts showed a radically different view of early Christianity than what I'd learned so far, and I was fascinated. Scholars are still arguing about the early Gnostic Christians, but I was first introduced to them by this book. I found out that early Christians dared to ask questions that orthodox Christians later suppressed. I learned that Gnostic Christians did not have a hierarchical system, but shared leadership, even among women. I learned from Pagels's study of the Nag Hamadi scrolls that different doesn't necessarily mean wrong. You might say this book's scholarship led me to return to school for another degree: I went to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta for an MDiv, a Master of Divinity degree. This book, as you can see, opened up a whole new world for me that led to being ordained in the United Methodist Church.

This is another of those books I've mentioned on my blogs before, like in the five books that mean a lot to me. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels is rated 10 out of 10, a book I couldn't put down.

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