Murakami Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Q&A | August 19, 2014

Richard Kadrey: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Richard Kadrey



Describe your latest book. The Getaway God is the sixth book in the Sandman Slim series. In it, the very unholy nephilim, James Stark, aka Sandman... Continue »
  1. $17.49 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

spacer

This item may be
out of stock.

Click on the button below to search for this title in other formats.


Check for Availability
Add to Wishlist

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas

by

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas Cover

 

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

FROM THE FEAST OF AGAPE TO THE NICENE CREED

On a bright Sunday morning in February, shivering in a T-shirt and running shorts, I stepped into the vaulted stone vestibule of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York to catch my breath and warm up. Since I had not been in church for a long time, I was startled by my response to the worship in progress——the soaring harmonies of the choir singing with the congregation; and the priest, a woman in bright gold and white vestments, proclaiming the prayers in a clear, resonant voice. As I stood watching, a thought came to me: Here is a family that knows how to face death.

That morning I had gone for an early morning run while my husband and two-and-a-half-year-old son were still sleeping. The previous night I had been sleepless with fear and worry. Two days before, a team of doctors at Babies Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, had performed a routine checkup on our son, Mark, a year and six months after his successful open-heart surgery. The physicians were shocked to find evidence of a rare lung disease. Disbelieving the results, they tested further for six hours before they finally called us in to say that Mark had pulmonary hypertension, an invariably fatal disease, they told us. How much time? I asked. “We dont know; a few months, a few years.”

The following day, a team of doctors urged us to authorize a lung biopsy, a painful and invasive procedure. How could this help? It couldnt, they explained; but the procedure would let them see how far the disease had progressed. Mark was already exhausted by the previous days ordeal. Holding him, I felt that if more masked strangers poked needles into him in an operating room, he might lose heart——literally——and die. We refused the biopsy, gathered Marks blanket, clothes, and Peter Rabbit, and carried him home.

Standing in the back of that church, I recognized, uncomfortably, that I needed to be there. Here was a place to weep

without imposing tears upon a child; and here was a heterogeneous community that had gathered to sing, to celebrate, to acknowledge common needs, and to deal with what we cannot control or imagine. Yet the celebration in progress spoke of hope; perhaps that is what made the presence of death bearable. Before that time, I could only ward off what I had heard and felt the day before.

I returned often to that church, not looking for faith but because, in the presence of that worship and the people gathered there——and in a smaller group that met on weekdays in the church basement for mutual encouragement——my defenses fell away, exposing storms of grief and hope. In that church I gathered new energy, and resolved, over and over, to face whatever awaited us as constructively as possible for Mark, and for the rest of us.

When people would say to me, “Your faith must be of great help to you,” I would wonder, What do they mean? What is faith? Certainly not simple assent to the set of beliefs that worshipers in that church recited every week (“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .”)——traditional statements that sounded strange to me, like barely intelligible signals from the surface, heard at the bottom of the sea. Such statements seemed to me then to have little to do with whatever transactions we were making with one another, with ourselves, and——so it was said——with invisible beings. I was acutely aware that we met there driven by need and desire; yet sometimes I dared hope that such communion has the potential to transform us.

I am a historian of religion, and so, as I visited that church, I wondered when and how being a Christian became virtually synonymous with accepting a certain set of beliefs. From historical reading, I knew that Christianity had survived brutal persecution and flourished for generations——even centuries—— before Christians formulated what they believed into creeds. The origins of this transition from scattered groups to a unified community have left few traces. Although the apostle Paul, about twenty years after Jesus death, stated “the gospel,” which, he says, “I too received” (“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day”),it may have been more than a hundred years later that some Christians, perhaps in Rome, attempted to consolidate their group against the demands of a fellow Christian named Marcion, whom they regarded as a false teacher, by introducing formal statements of belief into worship. But only in the fourth century, after the Roman emperor Constantine himself converted to the new faith——or at least decriminalized it——did Christian bishops, at the emperors command, convene in the city of Nicaea, on the Turkish coast, to agree upon a common statement of beliefs——the so-called Nicene Creed, which defines the faith for many Christians to this day.

Yet I know from my own encounters with people in that church, both upstairs and down, believers, agnostics, and seekers——as well as people who dont belong to any church——that what matters in religious experience involves much more than what we believe (or what we do not believe). What is Christianity, and what is religion, I wondered, and why do so many of us still find it compelling, whether or not we belong to a church, and despite difficulties we may have with particular beliefs or practices? What is it about Christian tradition that we love——and what is it that we cannot love?

From the beginning, what attracted outsiders who walked into a gathering of Christians, as I did on that February morning, was the presence of a group joined by spiritual power into an extended family. Many must have come as I had, in distress; and some came without money. In Rome, the sick who frequented the temples of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, expected to pay when they consulted his priests about herbs, exercise, baths, and medicine. These priests also arranged for visitors to spend nights sleeping in the temple precincts, where the god was said to visit his suppliants in dreams. Similarly, those who sought to enter into the mysteries of the Egyptian goddess Isis, seeking her protection and blessings in this life, and eternal life beyond the grave, were charged considerable initiation fees and spent more to buy the ritual clothing, offerings, and equipment.

Irenaeus, the leader of an important Christian group in provincial Gaul in the second century, wrote that many newcomers came to Christian meeting places hoping for miracles, and some found them: “We heal the sick by laying hands on them, and drive out demons,” the destructive energies that cause mental instability and emotional anguish. Christians took no money, yet Irenaeus acknowledged no limits to what the spirit could do: “We even raise the dead, many of whom are still alive among us, and completely healthy.”

Even without a miracle, those in need could find immediate practical help almost anywhere in the empire, whose great cities——Alexandria in Egypt, Antioch, Carthage, and Rome itself——were then, as now, crowded with people from throughout the known world. Inhabitants of the vast shantytowns that surrounded these cities often tried to survive by begging, prostitution, and stealing. Yet Tertullian, a Christian spokesman of the second century, writes that, unlike members of other clubs and societies that collected dues and fees to pay for feasts, members of the Christian “family” contributed money voluntarily to a common fund to support orphans abandoned in the streets and garbage dumps. Christian groups also brought food, medicines, and companionship to prisoners forced to work in mines, banished to prison islands, or held in jail. Some Christians even bought coffins and dug graves to bury the poor and criminals, whose corpses otherwise would lie unburied beyond the city walls. Like Irenaeus, the African convert Tertullian emphasizes that among Christians there is no buying and selling of any kind in what belongs to God. On a certain day, each one, if he likes, puts in a small gift, but only if he wants to do so, and only if he be able, for there is no compulsion; everything is voluntary.

Such generosity, which ordinarily could be expected only from ones own family, attracted crowds of newcomers to Christian groups, despite the risks. The sociologist Rodney Stark notes that, shortly before Irenaeus wrote, a plague had ravaged cities and towns throughout the Roman empire, from Asia Minor though Italy and Gaul. The usual response to someone suffering from inflamed skin and pustules, whether a family member or not, was to run, since nearly everyone infected died in agony. Some epidemiologists estimate that the plague killed a third to a half of the imperial population. Doctors could not, of course, treat the disease, and they too fled the deadly virus. Galen, the most famous physician of his age, who attended the family of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, survived what people later called Galens plague by escaping to a country estate until it was over.

But some Christians were convinced that Gods power was with them to heal or alleviate suffering. They shocked their pagan neighbors by staying to care for the sick and dying, believing that, if they themselves should die, they had the power to overcome death. Even Galen was impressed:

[For] the people called Christians . . . contempt of death is obvious to us every day, and also their self-control in sexual matters. . . . They also include people who, in self-discipline . . . in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a level not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400079087
Subtitle:
The Secret Gospel of Thomas
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Author:
Pagels, Elaine
Author:
Elaine Pagels
Subject:
Bible - Criticism Interpretation - New Testament
Subject:
Bible - Controversial Speculation
Subject:
Bible - Apocrypha
Subject:
Christianity - General
Subject:
Christianity - Literature
Subject:
Religion-Bible - Apocrypha
Subject:
Religion-Bible - CriticismInterpretation - New Testament
Subject:
Religion-Bible - Controversial Speculation
Subject:
Religion-Bible - Criticism Interpretation - New Testament
Subject:
Biblical Studies - Apocrypha
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Criticism & Interpretation - New Testame
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Studies - Apocrypha
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Studies - Controversial Speculation
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Studies - Bible Study Guides
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Studies - Wisdom Literature
Subject:
Religion : Biblical Commentary - New Testament
Subject:
Religion : Christianity - General
Subject:
Biblical Criticism & Interpretation - New Testament
Subject:
Biblical Studies - Controversial Speculation
Subject:
Christianity
Subject:
Christianity-Apocrypha
Subject:
Christianity-Biblical Criticism
Subject:
Christianity-Gnostic and Apocrypha
Subject:
Metaphysics-Esoteric Christianity
Subject:
Religion Western-Gnosticism
Subject:
main_subject
Subject:
all_subjects
Publication Date:
20040504
Binding:
ELECTRONIC
Language:
English
Pages:
272

Related Subjects

» Religion » Christianity » Apocrypha
» Religion » Christianity » Bibles » Reference
» Religion » Christianity » Biblical Reference » Criticism
» Religion » Christianity » General

Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 272 pages Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - English 9781400079087 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A thoughtful and rewarding essay, as we've come to expect from Pagels, and sure to arouse fundamentalist ire."
"Review" by , "Even those who possess only a nodding acquaintance with Gnostic writings will find themselves stimulated by her arguments and perhaps transformed by her conclusions. A fresh and exciting work of theology and spirituality."
"Review" by , "[L]ucid...a spiritual as well as an intellectual exercise....[Pagels] seems to rejoice that in the earliest years of Christianity there existed these strange, dissident doctrines."
"Review" by , "With the winning combination of sound scholarship, deep insight and crystal-clear prose style that distinguishes all her work, Pagels portrays the great variety of beliefs, teachings and practices that were found among the earliest Christians."
"Review" by , "Pagels has accomplished a very rare thing, an examination of early religious writings that is a good read, accessible, and at times even dramatic and poignant."
"Review" by , "Brilliantly lucid, elegantly written...[Pagels'] book is so readable you can't put it down."
"Review" by , "Just as topical today as it was nearly two thousand years ago....Pagels is great at pulling together the details that allow us to understand not only what people were arguing about but why."
"Review" by , "As relevant as today's front page."
"Review" by , "This luminous and accessible history of early Christian thought offers profound and crucial insights on the nature of God, revelation, and what we mean by religious truth....A source of inspiration and hope."
"Review" by , "A book many readers will treasure for its healing, its good sense, and its permission to think, imagine, and yet believe."
"Review" by , "It is as generous as it is rare that a first-rate scholar invites the reader to see and sense how her scholarship and her religious quest became intertwined. Elaine Pagels calls for a generosity of mind as she takes us into the world of those early Christian texts that were left behind but now are with us. Her very tone breathes intellectual and spiritual generosity too rare in academe."
"Review" by , "[A] wonderful little book....A small book with a fair amount of scholarly apparatus and tone but without overly academic language, it is highly recommended..."
"Synopsis" by , The award-winning author of The Gnostic Gospels provides an intriguing analysis of the early origins of Christianity, based on the teachings from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, exploring the faith of the early Christians and offering revealing new interpretations of such topics as the creation of Eve, the virigin birth, and the nature of our relationship with God. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 150,000 first printing.
"Synopsis" by , [This book] explores how Christianity began by tracing its earliest texts, including the secret Gospel of Thomas, rediscovered in Egypt in 1945 ... [The author explores] historical and archeological sources to investigate what Jesus and his teachings meant to his followers before the invention of Christianity as we know it ... [She] compares...
spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.