Steve Paulson interviews Elaine Pagels

Religion is marking Holy Week in the way that secular media often does – by publishing articles about Christian controversy (e.g. Did Jesus really rise?). This year it’s an interview with Elaine Pagels, the expert on gnostic writings of the early Church.

It’s an interesting article – Pagel’s presents the material included in the Gospel according to Judas as representing not so much a literal teaching about the relationship between Judas and Jesus as much as it is a sign of an early controversy about the extent that Christians were called to martyrdom.

Link: Gospel according to Judas | Salon Books.

For much of her career, Pagels has straddled two worlds — the academic and the popular. She’s often the go-to expert when a magazine needs a comment on the latest theory about Mary Magdalene or some other bit of revisionist Christian history. But her standing among the scholars who study early Christianity is more complicated. Conservative scholars tend to dismiss the Gnostic texts as a footnote in Christian history, hardly worth all the hype that’s been generated by “The Da Vinci Code” and other racy stories. Not surprisingly, these scholars have questioned Pagels’ interpretations of early Christian texts.

With Harvard historian Karen L. King, Pagels has written a new book, “Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity.” The authors argue that this recently discovered gospel offers a new understanding of the death of Jesus. I spoke with Pagels by phone about the bitter quarrels among early Christians, why it’s a bad idea to read the Bible literally, and the importance of this new discovery.

The last part of the interview discusses Pagel’s understanding of the way that faith and religion can be in conversation with each other – especially since both are fundamentally about using metaphor to describe the ineffable.

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Thanks for linking this; I agree with her very strongly about the hurdle modern people have to jump in order to begin a faith journey. I really think we need to start always keeping these skeptical people in mind when we talk about faith, so we can work out how to overcome the initial I like that her solution tolerates skepticism of – but doesn’t deny the possibility of – miracles and other “unlikely” events; that’s how I see it, too. (Surely in so strange a universe as our own all things are at least possible!)
    BTW, do you mean “…the way that science and religion can be in conversation with each other…” in your last paragraph there?

  2. (That should say “…so we can work out how to overcome the initial resistance….”
    Don’t know what happened there, sorry.)

  3. I did mean “science and religion” – that’s what comes of typing too late at night. /me blushes.

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