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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relentlessly Searching For The Truth, 16 Jun 2004
By 
Peter Kenney (Birmingham, Alabama, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Paperback)
In this book Elaine Pagels takes a systematic look at how certain Pauline letters were interpreted and cited by gnostic exegetes. These epistles are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Hebrews. Pagels uses several gnostic sources such as Valintinus and many gnostic opponents including Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons. One of the benefits of reading THE GNOSTIC PAUL is that we learn even more about the diversity that flourished in early Christianity during the three centuries before Constantine. Pagels is very good at peeling away layer after layer in her study of this period in church history.
The author is an excellent writer and the format of the book is easy to follow. The subject matter, however, requires some prior knowledge of Christian gnosticism and a familiarity with the Nag Hammadi documents. For supplementary reading I recommend especially two other books by Elaine Pagels. They are THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS and BEYOND BELIEF: THE SECRET GOSPEL OF THOMAS.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as her Gnostic Gospels, 24 May 2003
By 
J. Mann - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Paperback)
The letters of Paul typically have as their theme the difference between Judaism and Christianity. According to Pagels the Gnostics believed Paul was secretly a gnostic and the Jew/Christian divide was actually his way of explaining to other gnostics how gnostics should relate to non-gnostic Christians.
Paul's comments that he needs to visit the Christian churches in order to explain things further is taken as evidence that "true" Gnostic teaching has to be passed on orally and cannot be written down.
The book goes through each letter written by Paul, interpreting it in Gnostic terms. For example the Letter to the Romans is about Gnostics obeying the "law" of the Christian church (where non-Gnostic Christian equals Jew in the letter).
While this line of interpretation is interesting in understanding how the Gnostics read Paul, it doesn't seem particularly convincing. The format of interpreting each letter by Paul leads to a fair amount of repetition in terms of explaining the doctrinal principles, while at the same time never dealing once and for all with any one doctrine.
This is a disappointing book from the author of The Gnostic Gospels (which is a fantastic book). It would have been better if the format of the former book was maintained, with each chapter explaining how the Gnostics read Paul for one particular doctrine, with evidence taken from the different letters to reinforce the detail of the doctrinal belief. Perhaps this combination of evidence would have made the Gnostic position more believable.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even in early Christianity, symbolic interpretations were asserted, 16 Oct 2007
This review is from: Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Paperback)
Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, scholars knew little about Valentinian Christian theology: fragments by Valentinians and anti-Valentinian writings.

Pagels has now also begun applying what she has learned from the Valentinian Nag Hammadi texts in order to carefully present how the Valentinians interpreted the letters of Paul. For passage after passage from Paul's letters, she demonstrates the Valentinian claim that Paul was writing with two audiences in mind: one literal-minded in their understanding of Christianity, the other symbolically-minded. Moreover, we learn that rather than break away from the literal-minded Christians, Valentinians mingled with them, careful not to offend them but privately finding literal beliefs wanting but with the hope that those who held them could be led to a superior, symbolic understanding of Christianity which Valentinus claimed Paul himself had transmitted privately to initiates. This was, of course, not a teaching that literal minded Christians welcomed and the Valentinians, like other Gnostics, were labelled as heretics. Neither group appreciated the other but the Valentinians displayed an acceptance that the other group did not.

Some people may see in the rise of science a threat to Christianity. What seems remarkable (as this book clearly shows) is that as early as the 2nd century of Christianity, far before the rise of modern science, people had rejected a literal belief in Christianity while at the same time recognizing that many people would not be able to benefit from a symbolic understanding without special efforts, if at all.

This division among people into those who understand literally and those who understand symbolically was also noted by Pagels in her earlier book "The Gnostic Gospels". Of course, it extends beyond Christianity and religion in general and into our own time. In the introduction to his book "Misquoting Jesus", Bart Ehrman traces openly his own change from someone who had believed the Bible literally: it doesn't lead him to Gnosticism but it does lead him to question about the Bible "what if God didn't see it that way?".

That the Valentinians were acutely aware of conflicts within Christianity in the 2nd century and had developed the rich theology that Pagels presents so as to be able to teach Paul in a symbolic manner while not offending or confusing those who take him literally seems well worth being aware of. Initiation may have served as a way to point out what had been mistakenly been taken as literal was intended as mythic.

Whether Paul intended his letters to be understood in the way that the Valentinians believe is not answered by Pagels but she doesn't discount it, leaving it to other scholars and her own future research to consider that more. As she noted in the introduction, not all of the Valentinian Nag Hammadi texts have been studied with respect to their exegesis of the Pauline letters. And, of course, we do not know what other hidden texts may be found in the future, if any, that may enhance our understanding of early Christianity.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super Seller, 7 April 2013
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This review is from: Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Paperback)
Brand New , Fine book. Surprised. The print and cover are just fine.
Raedy to bee red and put in your library.
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Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters
Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters by Elaine Pagels (Paperback - 1 Mar 1992)
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