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. 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. (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. 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. Virginity came to be emphasized, perhaps as a way to differentiate true believers from the sinful world. She has written other books to cover other aspects of the early Christian world. 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.
Her ability to synthesize the often complex thoughts of a host of biblical and early church voices on topics ranging from free will to human nature to original sin to celibacy is impressive.
Reading Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, a book that has been on my shelf for about 16 years, transported me back to those days of pouring over the texts. The final two chapters were hard for me to get through as it was a lot of textual analysis and discourse/dialogue between early church fathers. In the end, Pagels states it flat out: WHY did the Church adopt Augustine's ideas of original sin, asceticism/virginity/chastity above all, loss of liberty and free thought (things that were not part of Jesus's original teachings)??
Augustine, arguably Christianitys greatest teacher, often stressed the sinful nature of sexual desire. Human beings are incapable of self rule, not in any genuinely good way. Because of Adams disobedience, the sexual desire of our disobedient members arose in those first human beings.
Like most of her books, except her doctoral dissertation, this one, while confined to the first centuries of the Church, deals with matters which, while ancient, are still relevant.
Finally, we see the hugely influential opinions of Augustine, including the development of his theology of "Original Sin" and his understanding of nature. Another interesting point is how faulty Augustine's reasoning behind "Original Sin" are, especially when compared with modern scientific understanding.
The Book of Genesis is only about four pages long but its interpretation has arguably had more impact on the character of Western views on sin and sex than any other document.
Known collectively as the Nag Hammadi Library, the manuscripts show the pluralistic nature of the early church & the role of women in the developing movement.