Dr. Elaine Pagels

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief

Dr. Elaine Pagels, a highly renowned religion scholar and a Professor of Religion at Princeton, explores her investigation into the “secret” Gospel of Thomas. She presents a groundbreaking diversity of interpretations in faith and shows how a “rogue” voice in Christianity can enhance the recognition of the light within us all.

Dr. Elaine Pagels Text Excerpt

Dr. Elaine Pagels
The idea of Christianity as a statement of: “you have to believe
these things and you have to accept these books.” Both of
those are formulated in the fourth century. So I am saying wait
a minute there’s three hundred years….
Who had the authority to do this?
Dr. Elaine Pagels
That’s a really good question. Most of the process is
anonymous. We do know that there were some leaders of the
churches in earlier centuries who selected certain texts. For
example, one of my favorites is a Bishop who lived in what is
now France. His name Irenaeus. He said “well we know there
are many Gospels but really the heretics are the people who
say they have more Gospels than there really are. There can’t
be more than four Gospels and there can’t be fewer.” And if
you asked him why not he’d say ”well because there are four
corners of the universe and four winds, so therefore there can
only be four Gospels.“
True story?
Dr. Elaine Pagels
True story. And he also says “and furthermore only these are
written by the disciples of Jesus and his disciples.” Well, we
know this isn’t the case because the ones that were found in
Upper Egypt, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary
Magdalene, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Peter, are also
attributed to the same people. And most New Testament
scholars would not think that we actually know who wrote the
ones in the New Testament. So what you see…
Truly? What you just said?
Dr. Elaine Pagels
Yeah. Yeah.
They really don’t believe we in fact know that it’s John,
Mathew, Mark, Luke?
Dr. Elaine Pagels
If you read any commentary, usually they don’t. They could say
“well tradition says this.” Now, for example, if something says
The Gospel according to Mathew, it doesn’t necessarily mean
that Mathew wrote it. It meant that you could be a disciple of
Mathew. And you’d say “this is the Gospel according to
Mathew my teacher.”
So there are different collections of the teachings of Jesus. And
now we have more of them, some of which were declared by
Bishop Irenaeus in the second century, to be heretical. He said
there can only be four and those are the ones we call Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John. And all the others, he said, are
illegitimate secret Gospels.
One thing you find among the ones found in Upper Egypt, and
by the way they were found in a Christian Monastery. They
were treasured by the Monks. They were copied and revered
and put in the Monastery library. Those usually claim to be
secret Gospels.
That is, the Gospel of Saint Mathew tells you what Jesus taught
on the hills of Galilee to thousands of people. So does Luke.
But the Gospels of John in the New Testament tells you things
that Jesus said to certain disciples. And the Gospel of Thomas
starts with the words “these are the secret sayings which the
living Jesus spoke and which the twin Judas Thomas wrote
So these are meant to be secret teachings. Now, good
questions is: did Jesus have those kinds of secret teachings?
Well, the Gospel of Mark in chapter four says he did. It says,
Jesus speaks to his disciples saying “to you is given to know the
mystery of the kingdom of God but to those outside everything
is in parables so that they won’t understand.“

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