February 13, 1943
|Known for||Nag Hammadi manuscripts|
(m. 1969; died 1988)
(m. 1995; div. 2005)
|Awards||MacArthur Fellowship (1981)|
National Book Award (1980)
National Book Critics Circle Award (1979)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1979)
Rockefeller Fellowship (1978)
Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities (2012)
|Alma mater||Stanford University (B.A., 1964; M.A., 1965)|
Harvard University (Ph.D., 1970)
|Discipline||History of religion|
Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey (born February 13, 1943), is an American historian of religion. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Pagels has conducted extensive research into early Christianity and Gnosticism.
Her best-selling book The Gnostic Gospels (1979) examines the divisions in the early Christian church, and the way that women have been viewed throughout Jewish history and Christian history. Modern Library named it as one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century.
Early life and education
Pagels (pronounced Paygulls) was born February 13, 1943, in California. She is the daughter of Stanford University botanist William Hiesey. According to Pagels, she has been fascinated with the Gospel of John since her youth. She found it to be "the most spiritual of the four gospels". After joining an Evangelical church at the age of 13, she quit when the church announced that a Jewish friend of hers who had been killed in a car crash would go to hell because he had not been "born again". Pagels remained fascinated by the power of the New Testament. She started to learn Greek when she entered college, and read the Gospels in their original language. She graduated from Stanford University, earning a B.A. in 1964 and M.A. in 1965. After briefly studying dance at Martha Graham's studio, she began studying for a Ph.D. in religion at Harvard University as a student of Helmut Koester and part of a team studying the Nag Hammadi library manuscripts.
Pagels completed her Ph.D. in 1970, and joined the faculty at Barnard College. She headed its Department of Religion from 1974 until she moved to Princeton in 1982. In 1975, after studying the Pauline Epistles and comparing them to Gnosticism and the early Church, Pagels wrote the book, The Gnostic Paul which argues that Paul the Apostle was a source for Gnosticism and hypothesizes that Paul's influence on the direction of the early Christian church was great enough to inspire the creation of pseudonymous writings such as the Pastoral Epistles (First and Second Timothy and Titus), in order to make it appear that Paul was anti-Gnostic.
Pagels' study of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts was the basis for The Gnostic Gospels (1979), a popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi library. It was a best seller and won both the National Book Award in one-year category Religion/Inspiration[note 1] and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Modern Library named it one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. She follows the well-known thesis that Walter Bauer first put forth in 1934 and argues that the Christian church was founded in a society espousing contradictory viewpoints. A review of the book in the UK newspaper, The Sunday Times, led to the UK broadcaster, Channel 4, commissioning a major three-part series inspired by it, called Jesus: The Evidence. The programme triggered a national furore, and marked a significant moment in the changes that religious broadcasting was already undergoing at that time. As a movement Gnosticism was not coherent and there were several areas of disagreement among the different factions. According to Pagels's interpretation of an era different from ours, Gnosticism "attracted women because it allowed female participation in sacred rites".
In 1982, Pagels joined Princeton University as a professor of early Christian history. Aided by a MacArthur fellowship (1980–85), she researched and wrote Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, which examines the creation account and its role in the development of sexual attitudes in the Christian West. In both The Gnostic Gospels and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Pagels focuses especially on the way that women have been viewed throughout Jewish and Christian history. Her other books include The Origin of Satan (1995), Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (2007), and Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012).
In April 1987, Pagels's son Mark died after five years of illness, and in July 1988, her husband Heinz Pagels died in a mountain climbing accident. These personal tragedies deepened her spiritual awareness and afterwards Pagels began research leading to The Origin of Satan. This book argues that the figure of Satan became a way for Christians to demonize their religious and cultural opponents, namely, pagans, other Christian sects, and Jews.
Her New York Times bestseller, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), contrasts the Gospel of Thomas with the Gospel of John, and argues that a close reading of the works shows that while the Gospel of Thomas taught its adherents that "there is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe [-] If it does not shine, there is darkness", the Gospel of John emphasizes the revelation that God as Jesus Christ is the "light of the world". On Pagels' interpretation, the Gospel of Thomas claims, along with other non-canonical teachings, that Jesus was not God, but rather, a human teacher who sought to uncover the divine light in all human beings. This non-canonical viewpoint is in contradiction with the four New Testament gospels. Pagels argues that the Gospel of John was written as a rebuttal to the viewpoints put forth in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. She bases her conclusion on the theory that, in the Gospel of John, the apostle Thomas is portrayed as a disciple of little faith who cannot believe without seeing and, that the Gospel of John places an emphasis on Divine Jesus Christ as the center of belief, which Pagels views as a hallmark of early orthodoxy. Beyond Belief also includes Pagels' personal exploration of meaning during a time of loss and tragedy.
In 2012, Pagels received Princeton University's Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities for, as one nominator wrote, "her ability to show readers that the ancient texts she studies are concerned with the great questions of human existence though they may discuss them in mythological or theological language very different from our own." In 2015, Pagels was given the National Humanities Medal.
While Pagels and other scholars argue for reading the Gospel of John as responding to ideas advanced in the Gospel of Thomas, other scholars have reacted critically to these suggestions. Larry Hurtado writes that John portrays Thomas as no worse than, for example, Peter in John 21:15-23 where Peter is discomfited by being asked by Jesus whether he really loved him and Jesus' later admonishment of Peter and that the actions of Thomas in John 11 are portrayed no worse than that of the group of disciples. Hurtado also notes that Thomas's request to see Jesus in the post-resurrection accounts is answered positively by Jesus and that Thomas is not represented polemically but as coming to faith.
She married theoretical physicist Heinz Pagels in 1969, with whom she had a son and adopted two children. In April 1987, their son Mark died at age six and a half, followed 15 months later by the death of her husband in a climbing accident. Pagels married law professor Kent Greenawalt from Columbia University in June 1995. Each had been widowed about six years earlier, left with children. She had a son and a daughter, while Greenawalt had three sons.
The couple divorced in 2005.
- Pagels, Elaine H. (1973). The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon's Commentary on John. Society of Biblical Literature monograph series. 17. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. ISBN 9780687206322. OCLC 447422. - based on the author's thesis
- ——— (1975). The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International. ISBN 9781563380396. OCLC 1043495966.
- ——— (1979). The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780394502786. OCLC 1002324965.
- ——— (1989). Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780394521404. OCLC 17326302.
- ——— (1995). The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780679401407. OCLC 32168225.
- ——— (2003). Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780375501562. OCLC 50913545.
- ———; King, Karen L. (2007). Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 9780670038459. OCLC 85255593.
- ——— (2012). Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 9780670023349. OCLC 746833711.
- ——— (2018). Why Religion?: A Personal Story. New York: Ecco. ISBN 9780062368539. OCLC 1059513469.
- This was the award for hardcover Religion and Inspiration.
From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual awards for hardcover and paperback books in many categories, including several nonfiction subcategories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including those in the 1980 Religion and Inspiration category.
- Colby, Vineta, ed. (1995). Pagels, Elaine Hiesey (February 13, 1943 – ). World authors 1985–1990. H. W. Wilson. ISBN 9780824208752.
American religious scholar and historian, was born in Palo Alto, California, to William McKinley Hiesey, a research biologist, and Louise Sophia (Van Druton) Hiesey.
- Pagels, Elaine (2018). Why Religion: A Personal Story. HarperCollins. pp. 0–4.
- Pagels 2004, p. chapter two.
- Fabrizio, Doug. "A Conversation With Elaine Pagels". radiowest.kuer.org.
- "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-08.
- Sheahen, Laura (June 2003). "Matthew, Mark, Luke and... Thomas?: What would Christianity be like if gnostic texts had made it into the Bible?". Faiths & Prayer. Beliefnet. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Wallis, Richard (January 27, 2016). "Channel 4 and the declining influence of organized religion on UK television. The case of Jesus: The Evidence" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 36 (4): 668–688. doi:10.1080/01439685.2015.1132821. ISSN 0143-9685. S2CID 147313606.
- "Revelations". RadioWest. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
- Magill, Frank Northen, ed. (1997). Elaine Pagels. Cyclopedia of world authors. 4. Salem Press.
In 1987 Pagels and her husband Heinz suffered the loss of their six-year-old son Mark to a rare lung disease. Fifteen months later, Heinz Pagels fell to his death while hiking in Aspen, Colorado. Elaine Pagels was left to raise their children.
- Pagels The Origin of Satan, p.xv. "In 1988, when my husband of twenty years died in a hiking accident, I became aware that, like many people who grieve, I was living in the presence of an invisible being — living, that is, with a vivid sense of someone who had died. During the following years I began to reflect on the ways that various religious traditions give shape to the invisible world, and how our imaginative perceptions of what is invisible relate to the ways we respond to the people around..."
- Staff. "Oates and Pagels receive Behrman Award". Princeton University. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Staff Report. "Princeton honors two professors". The Trentonian. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- "Elanie Pagels". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
- Hurtado, Larry. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Eerdmans, 2005, 474-479.
- Good, Dierdre (2011). "Elaine Hiesey Pagels (1943–)". In Stange, Mary Zeiss; Oyster, Carol K.; Sloan, Jane E. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World. SAGE. pp. 1061–1062. ISBN 978-1-4129-7685-5. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
In 1969, she married Heinz R. Pagels, a noted theoretical physicist,
- Remnick, David (March 26, 1995). "The Devil Problem". The New Yorker. Vol. 71. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
“The Origin of Satan” will be published in June . It is dedicated to the living: “To Sarah and David with love. ”That same month, Pagels will marry Kent Greenawalt in an Episcopal church in Princeton.
- Smith, Dinitia (June 14, 2003). "The Heresy That Saved A Skeptic". New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
- Williams, Mary Alice (October 10, 2003). "Elaine Pagels". Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. PBS.
- "The Gnostic Gospels". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
- "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation". Retrieved March 13, 2019.
- Pagels, Elaine (2004), Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Faculty page, Princeton University Department of Religion
- Works by or about Elaine Pagels in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Diane Rogers, "The Gospel Truth," Stanford Magazine (January/February, 2004). – A profile of Elaine Pagels in the Stanford alumni magazine.
- "The Politics of Christianity", Edge.org. – A talk by Pagels exploring some of the political issues raised by her work.