- Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity © 1988
- Vintage Books: Random House, Inc. © 1989
- 189 pages
Adam, Eve, and the Serpent is a baptism into the various debates and controversies that swirled through the first three centuries of Christendom. It’s obvious on every page that Pagels knows the players in the early church (both orthodox and heterodox) like the back of her hand. This book is a popular (but never dumbed-down) distillation of her scholarly work.
The most fascinating aspect of this book was the relationships she drew between three apparently distinct fields: sexual ethics, free will, and politics. Genesis 1-3 was used and abused by theologians and heretic-hunters in their attempt to explain the world. Pagels frees branded heretics like Valentinus and Julian to speak to these fields in their own voice, rather than in the caricatured lampooning of orthodoxy.
I do have problems with Pagels, specifically on her view of the Nag Hammadi documents. She seems to believe that they reflect a tradition as ancient as the canonical gospels. After reading documents like the Gospel of Thomas, I can’t help but understand them as secondary spiritualizations of a life and teaching that were far more concrete. Scholars like N. T. Wright have situated Jesus so firmly in first century Judaism, it seems impossible to believe he was a wandering mystic offering enlightenment.
That said, Pagels is a brilliant and honest historian who should be read by anyone with an interest in early Christianity.