A different look at Adam’s apple – Part 2

A different look at Adam’s apple – Part 2

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The American historian Elaine Pagels, known for her books and lectures on gnosis, upset the theological applecart in 1989 with her book Adam, Eve and the Serpent [1], to be read as one great accusation of the western way of thought that is inspired by the ideas of Augustinus. She poses that in the first hundred years of our era, Christians and Jews viewed the paradise story in the framework of the free will: the human being was himself responsible for his actions, had the choice and the responsibility for the act of good and evil.

When Constantine the Great (273-337) embraced Christianity, that all changed. Christian bishops, formerly the subject of persecution, torture and execution, suddenly received tax benefits, gifts from the imperial coffers, prestige and even power at the court. In this atmosphere church father Augustinus (354-430) came to a very different interpretation of the paradise story. He introduced the idea that humanity had lost the right of political freedom with the sin of Adam, and were in need of an exterior authority. He stated furthermore that Adam’s sin was not disobedience, which brought death to all his descendants, but that Adam’s sin perpetuated itself into his descendants. As a result everyone was per definition guilty from the moment of his/her birth onwards. Especially the sexual life had to suffer and public nudity was pernicious, for Adam and Eve had to hide their nakedness. This, according to Pagels had an incredible influence on the lives of western man, up to the present day. She refers in her book to the many other views on the paradise story, like those of the ancient gnostics, who found the literal interpretation of the story nonsensical. They read it symbolically, often as an allegory. The most radical among them turned the entire story around and told it from the viewpoint of the serpent. They said that this one was wiser than all other animals and because of that desperately tried to convince Adam and Eve to partake of the tree of knowledge and to defy the prohibition of their jealous procreator. This serpent, they argued, was the actual manifestation of Christ. Other gnostics read it as an allegory of religious experiences, concerning the discovery of the authentic spiritual self (Eve) and the soul (Adam). The gnostic author of The Exegesis on the Soul [2] viewed Eve as a reflection of the deviated soul, searching for spiritual unity. Another gnostic author viewed her as the divine energy behind all of existence.

Leaders of the Orthodox Church accused the gnostics of projecting their own bizarre fantasies on the text.

Elaine Pagels has written books like Living Buddha – Living Christ, The gnostic gospels, The origin of Satan, The strangest Bible book, and her final book Why religion. She is a much requested speaker and finds interested people everywhere, also within present day Christian churches.  



[1] Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the serpent – Sex and Politics in Early Christianity, Random House Usa Inc 1989

[2] The Exegesis on the Soul, The Gnostic Society library Translated by William C. Robinson Jr. retrieved 11:44 (CET), 6 June 2021

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Date: June 8, 2021
Author: Theo Leyssen (Netherlands)
Photo: Graham Hobster auf Pixabay CCO

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