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Extended Audio Sample Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas Audiobook, by Elaine Pagels Click for printable size audiobook cover
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: Jennifer Van Dyck Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: May 2004 ISBN: 9780739310694
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Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s most important writers and thinkers on religion and history, and winner of the National Book Award for her groundbreaking work The Gnostic Gospels, now reflects on what matters most about spiritual and religious exploration in the twenty-first century. This bold new 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 finds 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–that has come to light since the publication in 1979 of The Gnostic Gospels, 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.
Provocative, beautifully written, and moving, Beyond Belief, the most personal of Pagels’s books to date, shows how “the impulse to seek God overflows the narrow banks of a single tradition.” Pagels writes, “What I have come to love in the wealth and diversity of our religious traditions–and the communities that sustain them–is that they offer the testimony of innumerable people to spiritual discovery, encouraging us, in Jesus’ words, to ‘seek, and you shall find.’”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alicia | 2/16/2014

    " I thought this book was great. I really liked that it talked about lots of the gospels that aren't in the Bible. I have often wondered, as the author did, how Christianity got the place it is today. It seems like there are so many different denominations and I have wondered how we branched out "this far." As I have now discovered, there were many differences among early Christians as well. We just don't always hear about that because where there were disagreements, often those are the gospels that weren't included in the Bible as we know it today. I think this is a great book for anyone who wants to explore more about the roots of Christianity and learn more about why we have the gospels that we have and why we don't have the ones we don't. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kelly | 2/15/2014

    " Excellent, excellent, excellent. Three excellents. This book explained perfectly why I had come to loathe the Christian religion so much, while at the same time it renewed my admiration, hope, and maybe even love for Jesus again. In other words, no more throwing little baby Jesus out with the bathwater. Thank you, Elaine Pagels. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 McKenna | 2/14/2014

    " Pagels presents a lot of very interesting information in this book, but I found it disorganized. There is no introductory chapter or conclusion, and no common thesis running throughout the book; rather, it seems to be a collection of loosely related facts. Even the title is misleading, because it's really only partially about the Gospel of Thomas. In other words, it's worth reading for the interest of the facts presented, but it could have benefited from some better editing. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kara | 2/11/2014

    " Lots of really nice snippets of faith here. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Gabrielle | 2/10/2014

    " Excellent and highly readable account of early Christianity. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mark | 2/6/2014

    " The book compares the outlook of the apostle Thomas with the writings that became the book of John. His outlook is that God is within all of us and Jesus told us to find the way to heaven. Even that all people have the spirit of God within us and need to come to Gnosis ( a mutual knowing or understanding of one another with God) through meditation, introspection and study. My main complaint is that very little of the book actually discusses what Thomas' teachings are. Mostly, the book focuses on how his teachings were repressed in favor of John in the creating of the canon of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. First Pagels focuses on Irenaeus who pushes for a 'four-formed' canon in the 2nd century, then she focuses a large part of the book on Roman Emporer Constantinus' conversion and acceptance of Christianity, his patronage, and his organization of bishops to create the Nicene Crede, which is still the basis for ecclesiatical books included as orthodox Christian teachings and the basis for most subsequent versions of the bible. She makes MANY references to the books of Nag Hammadi, which were the basis for her book The Gnostic Gospels. I find her writing to be interesting, although with sheer amount of dates and names, it can be a bit dry. It is educational to read about how the teachings of Christ were captured and synthesized into what has become the Catholic Church. She follows many of the political and ideological controversies of the first few centuries after Christ's life. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Alisha G | 2/5/2014

    " Pagel's essay is more of a discussion about the various scriptural interpretations embraced by the early Christian sects than a history of the formation of the Catholic Church and the New Testament. I would've preferred the latter. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chip | 1/19/2014

    " Yes, there is a discussion of the Gospel of Thomas; yes, there is a little about the author's struggle to find her own faith; there's even a compact overview of the first millenium of Christianity. What this book is concerned with mostly is the internecine war for dominance between the proponents of the Gospel of John and the proponents of every other Gospel. This book dissects and examines the history of that war and demonstrates how the results of this war shaped, and continues to shape, the Christian world today. The rest mentioned previously is the gilding on the frame; the meat of this book is the incisive examination of the winners (the Orthodoxy) and the losers (the Gnostics). Very well done and a compelling read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Charlotte | 1/16/2014

    " This book was used as a study book for a Tuesday morning discussion group. While it's subtitle is the Secret Gospel of Thomas (and the text of the complete Gospel of Thomas is printed in the back, we found it to be more of a history of the development of the early Christian Church. In 1945 a stone jar was found at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt containing other writings from the beginning of the Christian era. These texts had been hidden when they had been ordered to be destroyed. Elaine Pagels stepped inside a church during a morning run, and found herself drawn to the spiritual power she felt there. This began a search for her in determining at what point the church moved from the strong spiritual base in its early years to one of creeds and statements of beliefs. (She also now sees now a swing back to the spiritual base, with less interest in creeds.) Studying early writings helped her see that there was a wide diversity of interpretations in the years following Christ's death, and the creeds and beliefs statement (culminating in the canonization of the books to appear in the Bible during the time of Constantine) were a desperate effort by those who felt the many groups with what seemed like strange interpretations to protect what they saw as the "true faith." Much of the book is history. Pagels sees that harm sometimes results from unquestioning acceptance of religious authority. Her final words are, "What I have come to love in the wealth of our religious traditions--and the communities that sustain them--is that they offer the testimony of innumerable peopleto spiritual discovery. Thus they encourage those who endeavor, in Jesus words, to "see, and you shall find." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Frankie | 1/7/2014

    " Building on already delightful overview of Elaine Pagels' Gnostic Gospels, this explores one of those gospels that is one of the most complete to be found with some of the most startling differences between it and the traditional 4. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jessica | 12/10/2013

    " 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. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Rae | 12/10/2013

    " Interesting stuff about early Christianity but not as good as her other titles. I had a hard time staying with this one. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Gloria | 11/29/2013

    " This started with a really personal reason for the author to write this book, a sick child. It quickly morphs into a history book though. Pretty interesting as a whole, but not meant to be inspiring. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Connie | 11/23/2013

    " interesting to learn more history of the church but I got lost at times "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Holly Bond | 11/2/2013

    " Interesting, but at times hard to follow and a little repetitive, but overall worth it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tiffany | 7/22/2013

    " Interesting & informative. Was expecting it to go in depth with the Gospel of Thomas, but that didn't happen. Still, I'm glad I read it and intend to read more from this author. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ann Canann | 6/26/2013

    " 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 Harry Dangel | 8/28/2012

    " Opened a whole new world about how the canon of the Bible was selected and the fights (politics) that occurred. Although I understand the importance of academic scholarship in examining the gospel of Thomas, I'm not convinced that it should replace the gospel of John. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angella Graff | 7/30/2012

    " I loved it, but then again I love almost anything by Elaine Pagels. Once again she really captured my attention. For any theology scholar, Elaine Pagels is a must! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Notary Tim | 6/27/2012

    " 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. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Word Artisan | 5/29/2012

    " 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 Marjorie Turner | 4/14/2012

    " I've read this book, and listened to it on CD, and both time was completely engaged. The author does a good job putting the writings of Thomas and the four gospels, especially John in the context of the times they were written. It explains a lot, and makes me curious to learn more about Thomas. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jennifer | 9/15/2011

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

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Brandon | 8/26/2011

    " 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 Paul Forste | 8/13/2011

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

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Lindsay | 8/11/2011

    " This ended up being more about John and Iranaeus than Thomas. I think I was looking forward to something a little more like the Gospel of Mary Magdala by Karen King. The history of the early church is fascinating, but I prefer it in smaller chunks. I need a break from non-fiction now. "

  • 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

Jennifer Van Dyck has appeared on Broadway in Hedda Gabler, Dancing at Lughnasa, Two Shakespearean Actors, and The Secret Rapture. She has been in new plays by Keith Bunin, Ellen McLaughlin, Catherine Filloux, Douglas Post, A. R. Gurney, and Albert Innaurato. Her film and television credits include Series 7, States of Control, Bullets over Broadway, numerous Law & Order episodes, Ed, Spin City, and The Education of Max Bickford. Her audiobook narrations have won her three AudioFile Earphones Awards.