Matthew, Mark, Luke, and ... Thomas? the Editors Interview Elaine Pagels

U.S. Catholic, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and ... Thomas? the Editors Interview Elaine Pagels


After Elaine Pagels' young son died of a rare lung disease, and later when her husband was killed in a climbing accident in the Rockies, friends would often comment that her faith must be a real help in her grief. It was. Pagels was able to find hope in the midst of Christian community, ritual, and liturgy that she didn't experience anywhere else. But when she realized that that that comfort had little to do with confessing belief in any creed, she began to question how Christianity came to be associated with intellectual assent to a set of beliefs.

That wasn't always the case, she learned. In the bestselling Beyond Belief.' The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Random House, 2003) Pagels describes how early church leaders supressed another interpretation of Jesus' message--one found in the ancient documents Pagels first popularized in her 1979 book, The Gnostic Gospels, winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Princeton professor admits she still has more questions than answers about the origins of early Christianity and the nature of faith. But, she says, "I struggle with it because it still somehow speaks to me."

What is the Gospel of Thomas? Most Catholics only know of the four gospels of the New Testament.

Like most people, I thought there were only four gospels. But when I went to graduate school, I learned there were all these secret gospels--the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter, not to mention the Secret Book of John, the Secret Book of Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Letter of Peter to Paul, the Prayer of the Apostle Paul.

These writings, all attributed to Jesus and his disciples, were found in a cave in Egypt in 1945 by an Arab peasant digging around a cliff near the village of Nag Hammadi. He thought the 6-foot-high jar might contain buried treasure, so he smashed it. To his disappointment, it contained just some old fragments of papyrus. So he took them home. Later, his mother said she used some of them for kindling.

It turned out that what he had found was a whole library of early Christian writings, 53 in all, that came from the oldest monastery in Egypt, founded about 320. They were originally written in Greek like the New Testament, but the ones he found were in Coptic. We don't know who actually wrote them, just as we don't know for certain who wrote the New Testament.

When were they written?

There are scholars who say that some of these are really early gospels, written perhaps even before the narrative gospels. So if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written in the year 60, 70, 80, or 90, Thomas might have been written in 50, only 20 years after the death of Jesus. Other scholars say they were written around 140. I think the best guess would be around 90 or 100--around the time of the Gospel of John. Both the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John are interpreting Jesus after the other gospels.

Why isn't the Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament?

In 367, the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, Athanasius, one of the great Fathers of the church, wrote to the monasteries and said, "I know there are a lot of secret, illegitimate books that you like, get rid of all of them--except for 27." Those 27 books would come to be called the New Testament. So the others were destroyed, except someone apparently was insubordinate to the bishop and took those texts out of the library, sealed them in a jar, and buried them to preserve them.

Why are these writings important?

First of all, they remind us that there were in the early Christian movement a lot of other writings, a lot of other kinds of Christianity that were winnowed out in the process of constructing the institutional forms of religion we today call Christianity. The Roman Empire was vast, and Christian groups were scattered all over. They were quite diverse. They weren't uniform and simple. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and ... Thomas? the Editors Interview Elaine Pagels
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.