She also told how the Gnostics, though far from united in their beliefs, practiced and preached a far more esoteric Christianity than that of the Church; and how the Church suppressed and destroyed the Gnostic writings. The documents found in Egypt had obviously been hidden there to preserve them from destruction. In her later book , reviewed here, Pagels takes up the story again, this time investigating how the traditional patterns of gender and sexual relationship arose in our society. In the process she saw that the sexual attitudes we associate with Christian tradition evolved during the first four centuries of the Common Era, when the Christian movement, which had begun as a defiant sect, transformed itself into the religion of the Roman Empire. Many Christians of the first four centuries took pride in their sexual restraint, eschewed polygamy and divorce, which Jewish tradition allowed — and they repudiated extramarital sexual practices commonly accepted by their pagan contemporaries, practices that included prostitution, abuse of slaves and homosexuality.

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Start your review of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity Write a review Jan 03, Howard rated it it was amazing It is a truth, occasionally stated, and rarely followed, that before one adopts a faith, joins a religion, or becomes a member of an organized body of worshippers, one ought to understand, intimately, that faith and its implications.

One ought also to learn and understand how the faith started and how it came to be as it is when one finds it. I encounter from time to time people, good souls usually, who try to convince me to be born again.

Listening to their statements, which generally begin, It is a truth, occasionally stated, and rarely followed, that before one adopts a faith, joins a religion, or becomes a member of an organized body of worshippers, one ought to understand, intimately, that faith and its implications.

Listening to their statements, which generally begin, "The Bible says I am not a profound scholar in these matters, but I know enough to suspect that it may not have happened in quite that way. This book looks at some of the ideas at the core of Christian belief and practice and helps to sort out for the reader how they came to be as they are stated today. Along the way, we learn some of the history of the early Christian church and how it changed. Initially, it was a small, esoteric sect, an outgrowth of the Jewish faith.

It was wrapped up in beliefs about the immanent end of the world and a single all-powerful God. It opposed most of the customs and politics of the Roman world in which it found itself. As time went on, it attracted the notice of the authorities who frequently persecuted its members.

There is a famous statement by Gibbon to the effect that all religions were viewed by the masses as equally valid, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful. In the first couple of centuries A. As time went on, the membership of the Christian sect grew. Persecution was stepped up, but to little permanent effect. As the numbers grew, so did its influence. Eventually, Constantine "converted" and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire.

It is not clear that he, personally, believed, but he had considerable political and practical reasons and justifications for his policy. The Church now found itself flooded with members whose theological motivations were slight.

It was intimately bound up with a society and a government which it had previously viewed as corrupt and wicked. Bishops were now powerful people. The outlook of the organized church changed. It became increasingly concerned with structure, discipline, obedience, and corporate purity. As outsiders, believers could grasp and express free will by cheerful martyrdom and by leading personally pure lives. As part of the government, and the Patriarch of Constantinople was to be, in effect, the imperial minister of state for religion, believers were inevitably co-opted into and made part of the corruption they had always seen in the world around them.

The outlook darkened and theology shifted. The concept of liberty and the idea of a good and virtuous government shifted. The Fall in Genesis 3 came to be perceived as dooming man to loss of free will. Man was sinful and could not, in any way avoid it, thanks to Adam. Virginity came to be emphasized, perhaps as a way to differentiate true believers from the sinful world.

Death was no longer natural to man as an animal but was a punishment visited on man for his sin. Adam, had he not sinned, would have been immortal, pure, and it was argued a virgin. Since he did sin, his descendants were doomed in perpetuity to sin as well. It may be that Augustine and his supporters have a great deal to answer for. Pagels has managed in the brief space of or so pages to tell the tale with remarkable clarity and understanding. She does not give a complete history nor does she cover all the points of controversy between the developing Orthodox and the others increasingly thought of as heretics, Gnostics for example.

She has written other books to cover other aspects of the early Christian world. This one, however, gives a coherent picture of what they will never teach in confirmation class but which nonetheless has formed and directed what is taught in confirmation class. The set of beliefs and understanding of man and the world Weltanschaung is the wonderful German word for it that largely informs the Christian church to this day was defined and crystallized in those first four or five centuries.

This is a history one should understand before committing to the creed that derives from it.


Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity



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Adam, Eve, and the Serpent


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