Beyond Belief ~ by Elaine Pagels

I’ve been meaning to get to this book for a long time.  I’ve read quite a lot of books which deal with the history of  Christianity because it’s so fascinating from an historical point of view – especially early Christianity and the formation of the Church and establishment of the Bible as it is plus the Protestant Reformation and its many ramifications.

Early Christianity can be quite a muddle but … I usually read Bart Ehrman or Karen Anderson (linked on this site)  or  Diarmaid MacCulloch  and other religions, too,  but I’ve read a Pagels or two as well.  Pagels is some kind of Protestant (maybe “gnostic”),   while Ehrman and Anderson don’t seem to be anything particular and their writings geared toward the historical.

Beyond Belief
by Elaine Pagels
2003 / 272 pages
read by Cassandra Campbell – 6h 9m
rating: 8 / nonfiction history of Christianity
(read and listened)

The book concerns the way the Biblical Canon –  especially the Gospels – were chosen to be the front-and-center writings of the New Testament.

The Gospels according to Matthew Mark and Luke were not problematical at all.  But John’s account was far more controversial.  The problem was the Gospel of Thomas which was available until some time after 325 AD. His ideas clashed dramatically with those of John.     Actually,   it may be as much about a man namedIrenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul,  as it is about Thomas or John because Irenaeus and his followers supported John over Thomas and realized an “official” collection of the writings as a whole, of those available,  needed to be established.  The bulk of the book concerns how Thomas got left out of the Gospels in favor of John.  (And then the documents were hidden for a couple thousand years.)

There’s a certain amount of background which discusses the Didache, one of the very first documents which outlines the basic principles of Christianity,  ethics, the Lord’s Prayer, a few sacraments, and the organization.  This was available prior to most other writings.

But there were lots and lots of writings and Irenaeus  thought one solid system for Christianity was needed –    a Bible (meaning Bibliotech).   He disliked the ideas of Thomas and emphasized the ideas of John so he villainized the Thomasites and sanctified the Johannites (and Paul).    John’s message became orthodox and the other writers (Phillip and Valentinius and others –  many more than just Thomas) were banished,  only to become found and recognized in 1945 and later.

Pagels writes very nicely but the book is quite dense so at 3/4 through I thought – I need the Kindle version here! lol!  Dear Reader,   I started over with the more immersive and enhanced experience of “read and listen”  where I can go back and relisten to passages,  note how names are spelled,  Google for more info,  check the Notes sections,  etc.

I got so entranced I made CHAPTER NOTES

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