Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
by Elaine Pagels



  1. From the Feast of Agape to the Nicene Creed.
  2. Gospels in Conflict: John and Thomas.
  3. God's Word or Human Words?
  4. The Canon of Truth and the Triumph of John.
  5. Constantine and the Catholic Church.


The Origin of Satan (1996)

The Origin of Satan notes is a scholar's readable examination of how the New Testament associates Satan with Jews resistant to the teachings of Christianity. The chapters are:

  1. The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish War.
    Mark, a young co-worker or disciple of the apostle Peter, wrote his gospel during (or just after) the Rebellion of the Jews against the Romans. Thus, it can be thought of as 'war literature'.

    Pagels writes: "The figure of Satan becomes ... a way of characterizing one's actual enemies as the embodiment of transcendent forces. For many readers of the gospels ever since the first century, the thematic opposition between God's spirit and Satan has vindicated Jesus' followers and demonized their enemies." [The continuation of this in the third millennium will be familiar to observers of the domestic and foreign policies of George W. Bush.] For the Gospel of Mark, the enemies were especially Jewish enemies. "Yet while Mark sees the Jewish leaders as doing Satan's work in trying to destroy Jesus, his own account is by no means anti-Jewish, much less anti-Semitic. After all, virtually everyone who appears in the account is Jewish, including, of course, the Messiah." (p.34)

  2. The social history of Satan: from the Hebrew Bible to the Gospels.
    In the second century b.c.e., the Essenes and other dissidents against assimilation of the Jews into other cultures such as the Hellenic begin "to invoke the satan to characterize their Jewish opponents; in the process, they turned this rather unpleasant angel into a far grander - and far more malevolent - figure. No longer one of God's faithful servants, he becomes what he is for Mark and for later Christianity - God's antagonist, his enemy, even his rival." (p.47) "The Essenes ... place at the center of their religious understanding the cosmic war between God and his allies, both angelic and human, against Satan, or Beliar, along with his demonic and human allies." (p.58)

  3. Matthew's campaign against the Pharisees: deploying the devil.
    When Matthew was writing, "Jesus' followers were a marginal group opposed by the ruling party of Pharisees, which had gained ascendancy in Jerusalem in the decades following the Roman war. ... the 'intimate enemies' had become primarily Pharisees."

  4. Luke and John claim Israel's legacy: the split widens.
    Luke was a disciple of Paul. Luke's perspective was of a Gentile convert, who represented Jesus' followers as "virtually the only true Israelites left."

    Pagels writes that "John presents the viewpoint of a radically sectarian group alienated from the Jewish community. ... John's fierce polemic against those he sometimes calls simply 'the Jews' at times matches in bitterness that of the Essenes."

    In the gospels by Luke and John, it is said that "Jesus himself identifies his Jewish opponents with Satan." (p.88)

  5. Satan's earthly kingdom: Christians against Pagans.
    "What makes that Christians' message dangerous ... is not that they believe in one God, but that they deviate from monotheism by their 'blasphemous' belief in the devil." (p.143)

  6. The enemy within: Demonizing the Heretics.
    "Church leaders troubled by dissidents within the Christian movement discerned the presence of Satan infiltrating among the most intimate enemies of all - other Christians, or, as they called them, heretics." (p.148)

    I am sympathetic to the Valentinians (although demonized by the wide-ranging Irenaeus), who


The word "satan" derives from the Hebrew sãtãn [enemy] from sãtan [to oppose].

Writings of dissidents were grouped as the apocrypha [hidden things] and the pseudepigrapha [false writings].

Some historical dates:

The word "satan" derives from the Hebrew sãtãn [enemy] from sãtan [to oppose].

Satan appears in the New Testament of the Bible, such as this, from early in Mark (i, 13), after Jesus is baptized by his cousin John and recognized by the Holy Spirit:

Satan appears in the New Testament of the Bible, in Luke iv, 5-8:

and Revelations xii 7-9:

Satan appears in the Qur'an [or Koran], which is the word of God as spoken by Muhammad and remembered and written down after his death]. This is from Surah (chapter) 47, verse 26:

Adam, Eve, and The Serpent (1988)
by Elaine Pagels

See also blog of Adam, Eve, and The Serpent.

I intend to show that religious insights and moral choices, in actual experience, coincide with practical ones. ... moral choices are often political choices

... "Is exegesis (what one reads out of the text) merely eisegesis (reading into the text)?" Certainly not; but anyone concerned with the history of hermeneutics [the art of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures] confronts the question of interpretation, a question biblical interpreters share with lawyers who debate the meaning of the Constitution, ... and with anthropologists and historians who ponder their data. ... those who seriously confront the Bible will realize that genuine interpretation has always required that the reader actively and imaginatively engage the text.
[p. xxvii]


  1. 'The Kingdom of God Is at Hand'

    Adam's sin was not sexual indulgence but disobedience. ... the real theme of the story of Adam and Eve is moral freedom and moral responsibility.
    [p. xxiii]

  2. Christians Against the Roman Order

    Christians also began to apply the creation account to their own precarious political situation, in which they were constantly subject to persecution by the Roman authorities. About one hundred years after Jesus' death ... the Christian philosopher Justin invoked Genesis to argue that humankind owes allegiance only to the God who created all humanity — the God of Israel, now the God of the Christians.
    [p. xxiii]

  3. Gnostic Improvisations on Genesis

    Gnostic Christians declared that the story [of Adam and Eve], taken literally, made no sense; thus they themselves set out to read it symbolically, often allegorically, ... Gnostic Christians, who disagreed with one another on almost everything else, agreed that this naive story hid profound truths about human nature.
    [p. xxiv]

  4. The 'Paradise of Virginity' Regained

    During the third and fourth centuries, some of the most ardent Christians insisted that to realize the greatest freedom one must 'renounce the world' and choose poverty and celibacy. ... [This leads Pagels to] explore what motivated men — and especially women — to embrace that ascetic life; and what kinds of freedom its advocates did indeed find in choosing celibacy.
    [p. xxv]

  5. The Politics of Paradise

    In the late fourth century, Augustine was living in an entirely different Christian world ... for Christianity was no longer a dissident sect. ... their old rhetoric ... no longer applied to this new circumstance, which made them allies of the emperor. ... What they [his Jewish and Christian predecessors] had read for centuries as a story of human freedom became, in his hands, a story of human bondage.
    [p. xxvi]

  6. The Nature of Nature.

    Augustine spent the last twelve years of his life battling for his interpretation of Genesis against a young Christian bishop, Julian of Eclanum, who attacked and criticized his theory of original sin not only as an abrupt departure from orthodox Christian thought but as a Manichaen heresy [recognizing two creative powers, one good and one evil].
    [p. xxvi]