ADAM, EVE, AND THE SERPENT by Elaine Pagels

ADAM, EVE, AND THE SERPENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lucid and succinct examination of the early Christian debate about sexuality and free will. Was Adam's original sin disobedience or carnal knowledge? Are suffering and death a part of nature or were they introduced with the Fall? Are we all tainted by original sin or are we free to choose salvation or damnation? These questions may seem old-fashioned, even esoteric, to many, but they were extremely important to the early Church fathers; and their answers, Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels, 1979) argues, brilliantly and convincingly, influence our attitudes towards sexuality and free-will even today. By focusing on how various Church fathers--Origen, Chrysostom, Julain, Pelagius, Augustine--read the first three chapters of Genesis, she shows how Christian attitudes arose from these men's psychologies and political situations. Gingerly avoiding literary reductionism, she elucidates the interdependence of Biblical exegesis and the environment of the scholar. Thus, as the Christian's position in the world changed from persecuted outsider to established leader, the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent came to assume different meanings. The early emphasis on human freedom, including freedom from the responsibilities of family and sexuality, shifted with Augustine to an emphasis on human depravity and dependence. Pagels reminds us how many of our values, both repressive ones about sexuality and liberating ones about individual worth and human freedom, arose from the debates of the early Church fathers. An illuminating and inspiring piece of scholarship.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1988
ISBN: 0679722327
Publisher: Random House