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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (2,483 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Elaine Pagels Narrator: Cassandra Campbell Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2004 ISBN: 9781415904381
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In Beyond Belief, renowned religion scholar Elaine Pagels continues her groundbreaking examination of the earliest Christian texts, arguing for an ongoing assessment of faith and a questioning of religious orthodoxy.

Spurred on by personal tragedy and new scholarship from an international group of researchers, Pagels returns to her investigation of the “secret” Gospel of Thomas, and breathes new life into writings once thought heretical. As she arrives at an ever-deeper conviction in her own faith, Pagels reveals how faith allows for a diversity of interpretations, and that the “rogue” voices of Christianity encourage and sustain “the recognition of the light within us all.”

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Quotes & Awards

  • 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. The Columbus Dispatch
  • 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. San Jose Mercury News
  • Majestic. . . . Exhilarating reading, Pagel’s book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a mystery writer. Publishers Weekly
  • 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. Karen Armstong
  • As relevant as today's front page. The Washington Post Book World
  • 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. Karen Armstong
  • “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.”

    Karen Armstrong, New York Times bestselling author of The Case for God

  • This remarkable book will stir and provoke thought. It offers rewards to any reader concerned with the promise and power of faith, and the hunger for spiritual discovery. The Christian Science Monitor
  • Lucid . . . 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. Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review
  • "With the winning combination of sound scholarship, deep insight and a crystal clear prose style . . . [Beyond Belief] portrays the rich and beautiful heritage that was lost when champions of religious orthodoxy turned on many of their fellow Christians and declared them 'heretics'. Los Angeles Times
  • Brilliantly lucid, elegantly written . . . [Pagels’] book is so readable you can’t put it down. Providence Journal-Bulletin
  • “Lucid…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.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “With the winning combination of sound scholarship, deep insight and a crystal clear prose style…[Beyond Belief] portrays the rich and beautiful heritage that was lost when champions of religious orthodoxy turned on many of their fellow Christians and declared them ‘heretics.’”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “As relevant as today’s front page.”

    Washington Post Book World

  • “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.”

    Columbus Dispatch

  • “Brilliantly lucid, elegantly written…[Pagels’] book is so readable you can’t put it down.”

    Providence Journal-Bulletin

  • “This remarkable book will stir and provoke thought. It offers rewards to any reader concerned with the promise and power of faith, and the hunger for spiritual discovery.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • Beyond Belief offers a profound framework with which to examine Christian history and contemporary Christian faith, and Pagels renders her scholarship in a highly readable narrative.”

    Amazon.com, editorial review

  • “Pagels’ writing—spare, elegant, and provocative—leads readers step-by-step down a spiritual path to one’s inner self. 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.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Exhilarating reading, Pagels’ book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a good mystery writer.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “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.”

    San Jose Mercury News

  • “Majestic…Exhilarating reading, Pagels’ book offers a model of careful and thoughtful scholarship in the lively and exciting prose of a mystery writer.”

    Publishers Weekly

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Angela | 2/11/2014

    " This book explores how Christianity began by tracing its earliest texts, including the secret Gospel of Thomas, rediscovered in Egypt in 1945. When her infant son was diagnosed with fatal pulmonary hypertension, Elaine Pagels's spiritual and intellectual quest took on a new urgency, leading her to explore historical and archeological sources and to investigate what Jesus and his teachings meant to his followers before the invention of doctrine -- and before the invention of Christianity as we know it. The astonishing discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, along with more than fifty other early Christian texts unknown since antiquity, offers startling clues. Pagels compares such sources as Thomas's gospel (which claims to give Jesus' secret teaching, and find its closest affinities with kabbalah) with the canonic texts to show how Christian leaders chose to include some gospels and exclude others from the collection we have come to know as the New Testament. To stabilize the emerging Christian church in times of devastating persecution, the church fathers constructed the canon, creed, and hierarchy -— and, in the process, suppressed many of its spiritual resources." Drawing on new scholarship -— her own, and that of an international group of scholars —- Pagels shows that what matters about Christianity involves much more than any one set of beliefs. Traditions embodied in Judaism and Christianity can powerfully affect us in heart, mind, and spirit, inspire visions of a new society based on practicing justice and love, even heal and transform us. (Publisher's blurb) ~~~~ An exploration of gnosticism, among other things, that I read too quickly to actually absorb anything. Set aside for a re-read at some future date. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sirpa Grierson | 2/11/2014

    " Fascinating insights on gnosis and the development and ridigification [my own word?]of the "creed" in the early Christian church. Includes the formation of the confusing doctrine of the Trinity that does not echo earlier Christian teachings of three distinct personages with a unified mission. I was not entranced with the chosen translation of Thomas that was included by Pagels but as I haven't bothered to learn to read Greek I am at the mercy of the translator :( "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Christina | 2/10/2014

    " interesting read but a little tedious at times .... for me. i found myself scimming through a lot of it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Liz Allen | 2/9/2014

    " Despite the thrilling possibility of the discussion of the "lost gospels", this book fell short of my expectations. Deals with how tthe 4 gospels forming the Christian cannon were chosen, eliminating all other doctrine from the Bible and from Christian thought for nearly 2000 years. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chloe | 2/8/2014

    " This book is a bit more subdued, in my opinion, from her other works. But it goes into more detail as to the early Christian discussion and debate on what is orthodox, what would eventually be considered canon, and what would ultimately be included in the New Testament. Which I guess the subject matter lends itself to a more subdued book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carol | 2/7/2014

    " After reading Picoult's Change of Heart, I was given this book as a Mom's Day gift. I enjoyed Pagels' guidance through the debate of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries regarding the life and teachings of Jesus. As a Religion Prof a Princeton, Pagels has studied the debate of those years through not only those gospels included in the Bible but also the hidden 50 books that were not included and that were found in Neg Hammadi in 1945. A fascinating read that is 'healing, good sense, and gives permission to think,imagine and yet believe'. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jennifer Stringer | 2/5/2014

    " Once I got over the Osama Bin Laden look-alike on the cover, I was able to get into this book. The title of the book is "Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas" and that is my biggest beef with the book. Hardly any of it was about Thomas. She did explain the difference between gnostic and traditional study. Of course, like the gospels, the book of Thomas wasn't written by Thomas, but by his students decades later. In reading this book, I saw for the first time how things weren't so black and white. There were a lot of folks claiming to be Christian and profiting from the title - so there came a need to find some "universal" or catholic principles that all Christians could agree on. The dispute was primarily one of belief vs. knowledge and I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with aspects of both. It was intersting to read how the Jesus-is-God idea crept into thought, and how spiritual inspiration was discredited and eventually banned as herectical. It's easy to understand how so many seminary students find themselves loosing their faith when discover the history of how the Bible was put together.For me,when Love speaks to your heart, the history matters litte. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jon | 1/27/2014

    " Misleading title and repetitive subject matter, though not without some salvageable information. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jessica | 1/20/2014

    " I have always found religious/Christian scholarship fascinating, and Pagel's discussion of the secret gospel of Thomas is groundbreaking to how Christianity shaped itself over the centuries, and how "subjective" the creation of modern-day faith has become. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Brandon | 12/28/2013

    " Great idea, but very poor scholarship. Bart Ehrman's early work on Gnosticism makes a similar argument but with a solid exegetical backbone. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Stacy Hawley | 12/28/2013

    " Full of interesting thoughts, I dont agree with them all, but they are thought provoking and I enjoyed them. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Susan Janke | 12/16/2013

    " Another studious read...I personally think it is important to be aware of all the texts that are available and not just the ones "they" want you to read... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Notary Tim | 12/6/2013

    " An excellent update to her earlier works about the Gnostic Gospels and other early-Christian beliefs and documents, Beyond Belief is well worth reading for anyone who wants a good understanding of how Christianity came to be the way it is. Highly recommended. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Tess Rupprecht | 11/20/2013

    " Ms. Pagels is a very serious and thorough writer. To the Christian believers, please read with an open mind. And always keep your bible handy, listen to the Holy Spirit for He alone can guide us into all truths. Thanks! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Richard | 7/15/2013

    " Don't be fooled - Pagles, A Harvard Professor, a bestselling author and a cool feminist writes for a completely clueless audience and doesn't shed much light AT ALL on the Gnostic situation. I find her simply a panderer. Oh well. Guess that screws my chances of getting into Harvard. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laurel | 5/18/2013

    " Interesting perspectives on the very early Christian church...believers have been disagreeing on the "nature of Christ" and how "Christians" should think, believe and behave since the VERY beginning...Pagels decribes those disagreements in a very accessible manner. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rick | 3/30/2013

    " How Bishop Iraneus shaped the Christain canon "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Martin | 4/1/2012

    " Not as great as "The Gnostic Gospels", not a lot of new information, just a slightly deeper examination of the role Thomas plays in the Bible and apocrypha. I listened to the audiobook which also included a lecture and Q&A from somewhere, and it was like whatever. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Genie | 2/11/2012

    " Excellent book... very accessible overview and summary of the Gospel of Thomas and how it became a "secret" gospel, how the existing Old and New Testaments became the canon they are today. Pagels is very good at synthesizing and making good arguments. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 David Waggoner | 9/1/2011

    " A better book than 3 stars suggests...more like 3 1/2 stars. Its point of view is very insightful. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tracy | 6/11/2011

    " I am a huge fan of Elaine Pagels. Whole this work did not offer as much analysis of the GOT as I wanted, it did offer a closer look at the Early Church. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gary | 5/2/2011

    " I COULDN'T RATE IT ANY HIGHER. EVERYTHING ELAINE WRITES IS FIVE STARS. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jennifer | 4/14/2011

    " This book was interesting in parts, but mostly tedious. I wasn't impressed with her writing style. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ann | 12/28/2010

    " Pagels' take on the Gnostic gospel of Thomas. Interesting look at early Christian beliefs. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Word | 11/10/2010

    " Too short - intriguing and lyrical book, very personal, but dumbed down and truncated for the mass market. Needed to be at least double the length. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 10/16/2010

    " Pagels is very good at giving the history and the conflicts in the emergent canon by investigating a work that was cut out. She is clearly sympathetic to the gnostic material, without being dismissive of the canon. As a result you get a deeper appreciation of both. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rbose77 | 9/7/2010

    " absolutely stunning, emotionally moving and mind blowing! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Paul | 8/31/2010

    " ...some insights. (read sometime prior to date indicated) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Notary | 7/18/2010

    " An excellent update to her earlier works about the Gnostic Gospels and other early-Christian beliefs and documents, Beyond Belief is well worth reading for anyone who wants a good understanding of how Christianity came to be the way it is. Highly recommended. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jan | 5/1/2010

    " An excellent examination of the earliest Christian texts that questions religious orthodoxy. "

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About the Author
Author Elaine PagelsElaine Pagels earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in classical studies at Stanford, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She is the author of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent; The Origin of Satan; and The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. She is currently the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and she lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband and children.
About the Narrator

Cassandra Campbell, Audie Award–nominated narrator and winner of thirty-nine Earphones Awards, has performed in regional theaters across the country and in several off-Broadway shows at the Public Theater and the Mint Theater. In addition to narrating audiobooks, acting, and directing, she is a commercial and documentary voice-over artist.