(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

The Relationship between Gnosticism and Contemporary Religious Issues
Pagels wrote The Gnostic Gospels to offer the lay public a glance at a series of ancient religious documents and to make the argument that Gnosticism's demise was due to orthodox Christianity's success in building a universal, catholic community. She also wants her readers to use the discovery of the Gnostic documents as a launching pad for current conversations about Christianity, religious authority, humanity, and spirituality. Because of the discoveries at Nag Hammadi, "all the old questions—the original questions, sharply debated at the beginning of Christianity—are being reopened,’’ Pagels asserts.

Pagels believes that the discovery and analyses of the Nag Hammadi documents should encourage modern men and women to revisit "the controversies that occupied early Christianity.’’ These debates are as alive today as they were in the second century and focus on one question: From where does the church take its authority? The late discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts in the twentieth century is a fortunate accident; if they had been found one thousand years earlier, Pagels muses, they may have been destroyed for their heretical statements. Their discovery today allows a large number of people to read them and reconsider the theological and philosophical underpinnings of Gnosticism in a different light.

The Gnostic texts raise other issues related to contemporary life besides simply religious issues, according to Pagels. She argues that psychotherapy shows a strong similarity to the Gnostic view of human nature. Both psychotherapeutic practice and Gnosticism agree, in opposition to orthodox Christianity, "that the psyche bears within itself the potential for liberation or destruction,'' according to Pagels.

Egalitarianism in Early Christianity
Pagels is careful to note that Gnosticism in the second century A.D. incorporated a wide variety of religious and philosophic thinking. However, she does stress that most Gnostics had...

(The entire section is 845 words.)