Critical Overview

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Critical response to Pagels's The Gnostic Gospels varied from admiration for her writing abilities to accusations that she was inaccurate in numerous aspects of the book. B. Cobbey Crisler's article in The Christian Science Monitor calls Pagels' s efforts "refreshing" and ‘‘a challenge, especially when 'gnosticism' was regarded by its own adherents to be for the initiated only.’’

Henry Chadwick, writing in the Times Literary Supplement a decade after the book's publication, compliments Pagels's writing skills, noting that she is a ‘‘gifted, clever communicator’’ and has ‘‘an enviable gift for writing easily.’’ He accuses her, though, of lacking ‘‘full rigour,’’ particularly when she attempts to show that the Gnostics were sympathetic to women's religious roles and that their exclusion from the orthodoxy deprived Christianity of a particular richness. "But for most readers that will matter little,’’ he laments.

Kathleen McVey, in Theology Today, recognizes that Pagels's book is geared toward an audience with minimal knowledge of Gnosticism and early Christianity, but she also complains that The Gnostic Gospels is ‘‘calculated to appeal to the liberal intellectual Christian who feels personally religious but dislikes 'institutional religion.'’’ Similar to Chadwick, McVey is not impressed with Pagels's analysis of the ancient sources and believes that she makes mistakes in her interpretations. ‘‘I hope that the intellectually curious will refuse to be swept along’’ by Pagels's arguments, McVey writes, "but will instead investigate the matter for themselves.’’

Many critics, including McVey and Chadwick, are doubtful...

(The entire section is 708 words.)