May 2, 2019 posted by

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. Elaine Pagels. Reviewed by Frank Thomas Smith. In The Gnostic Gospels, reviewed in Number 2 of Southern Cross Review. In Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Pagels traces the interpretation of Genesis from the Second Temple period through Augustine’s battles with the Pelagians. “How did the early Christians come to believe that sex was inherently sinful? When did the Fall of Adam become synonymous with the fall of all humanity?.

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He argued that all humankind was fallen and that human will was incorrigibly corrupt.

Refresh and try again. The teachings of the Western church on original sin are entirely consistent with a strong sense serpsnt human freedom. Pagels sees Christian virginity and the freedom it brings as an escape from obligation and a form of proto-feminism, abd early escape from biological destiny.

Not at all dissimilar to the Bible’s historical relationship to slavery. Although the deutero-Pauline letters differ from one another in many ways, on practical matters they all agree. That quibble was quickly forgotten, however when I became enthralled with the actual thesis of the book.

So Augustine sees Adam’s sin as choosing to self-govern, previous church fathers see adsm image as the opportunity to self-govern. 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.

Yet, in the late fourth and fifth centuries, this message began to change. Insofar as the doctrine of original sin apgels political implications, it is an ally of liberty.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent

A doctrine that man was weak, fallible, and unable to govern himself was more useful to an Empire and a Catholic Church that both wanted obedience. The outlook darkened and theology shifted.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: During the course of her investigations, Pagels became fascinated with the extraordinary influence this tale has had on western culture. Read it Forward Read it first. If I pursue a graduate degree, at this point it would probably be connected in some form to early church history.


The book appears to be largely made of revised articles Pagels had published elsewhere, but the flow is seamless enough and the concepts cohere so much as ane allow that to go unnoticed unless one reads the footnotes. But the truth is just the opposite. Humanity is sick, suffering, and helpless, irreparably damaged by the fall, for that ‘original sin,’ Augustine insists, involved nothing else than adam’s prideful attempt to establish his own autonomous self-government.

Then, her conclusion is boiled down into one fairly simple point, which she immediately says might not be the reason that this morality has persisted for over years, this is her best serpnt thought on the subject. There are strong feminist undercurrents in this book. In many other writers’ hands, this would have been a painful and dry read, but Pagels manages to make it an engaging if not entertaining and interesting exploration.

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Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels

In the late fourth century and the fifth century, Christianity was no longer a suspect and persecuted movement; now it was the religion of emperors obligated to govern a vast and diffuse population.

She does it extremely well, and anyone reading this will have a much better grasp on several key points of controversy within the Christian world during its first four centuries. What turned Christianity from a dissident sect that championed the integrity of the individual and the idea of free will into the bulwark of a new imperial order — with the central belief that human beings cannot choose not to sin?

As the foundation of her analysis of the doctrine of original sin, Pagels appeals to what she regards as the pillars of Protestantism: 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.


This was my second favorite Pagels book, after The Gnostic Gospels.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels | : Books

The faithful always had an inarticulate sense sensus fidelium that these dogmas were implicit in the Gospel and indeed central to it: This distrust was confirmed by their experience of George III and his ministers, whom they suspected of having a libido dominandi that would reduce the American colonists to servitude.

Even with it’s problems, I would still recommend this book. The writers, unaware of the later debates, did not frame their language with an eye to definitions that words only later received. Self-government is the worst system of government—except for all the rest. There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

Augustine uses the passage to deny that human beings have free moral choice, which jews and christians had traditionally regarded as the birthright of humanity made ‘in God’s image. Pagels performs this service for the peculiarly Catholic practices of consecrated virginity and celibacy.

View all 4 comments. Quotes from Adam, Eve, and th Listening to their statements, which generally begin, “The Bible says Both antiquity and modern writers such as Henry Chadwick in The Early Church have recognized that asceticism, including virginity, can be a disguise for self-will. Return to Book Page. The book has some problems in that the beginning is repetitive in a couple of places–something I think Pagel’s editor might have wanted to help her with. Pagels No preview available – As in her class, Pagels is clear and accessible to non-specialists.

Pagels scholarship in the area of early Christian writing is again impressive. And we admit that the same nature exists in every race, and the same virtue.