Adam, Eve and the Serpent - A Tryst That Doomed the World
The book is one of those rare scholarly books which can be easily digested by general audiences which takes a very unique approach to the study of Adam and Eve as they rise and fall in the Garden of Eden.
The abiding thesis of the work is that most of the sexual attitudes of Christianity flow from interpretations of the Garden of Eden events and the intrusion of a "subtle beast" serpent into the "good" harmony of Adam and Eve.
Most of the book is devoted to the debate between Augustine and Julian as to how these events ought to be understood and transmitted to believers.
For those who are familiar with Christianity in the West, Augustine is one of the titular theologians of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Augustine helped to shape medieval Christianity as he wrote against many of what were denominated heresies and his "Confessions" and "City of God" are foundational texts for insight into Medieval Christianity.
Of particular interest to Pagels is Augustine's teachings on the extent to which descendants of Adam and Eve are bound by original sin.
Augustine argued that when Adam and Eve sinned, theology continues to debate just what that sin was although Pagels argues that it was sexual in nature, they sinned for all humanity since all future humans were contained in the sperm of Adam; consequently, all humans are born into sin and needs the church and government to protect humanity from itself.
Martin Luther would much later develop this concept into his doctrine of two kingdoms.
Therefore, in Augustine's view, there can be no salvation outside the church and without government the world would be in anarchy (Those calling for government bailouts and government regulation of Wall Street can cite Augustine as authority.
Opposing Augustine's view is that of Julian who argued that whereas Adam and Eve did sin in the Garden of Eden, that sin is particular to Adam and Eve and does not curse all humanity because humans have free will which means that humans can choose whether to do good or evil and such choices can be made both inside and outside the church.
Further, Julian held that humanity does not need any type of external force to persuade humanity to do good or to do evil.
It is easy to understand why Augustine's view was accepted over Julian's for Augustine privileges the presence and role of the church in the salvific process and the intrusion of church and government into the lives of individuals and groups.
As John Calvin noted, humans and the world are doomed due to the original sin of this first couple and only the few who are "elected" by God in Christ will be saved from the eternal flames.
Another contribution of Augustine is the major influence sexual urges have on humans and emphasis on Pauline passages which enable humans to check those urges.
The book is replete with narratives of early Christians, such as Perpetua and Myedonia, who struggled to enact in their lives Paul's instruction that it was better not to marry and even if one was married it was better to live as if one was not married.
Pagels traces the development of celibacy among both single and married Christians and shows how Christianity has been and continues to be obsessed with sex and things sexual.
For instant, if celibacy is preferred as Paul and Jesus suggest, then what is God's plan for the perpetuation of the human race? Pagels hints at this question but she does not answer it.
She suggests that, had Adam and Eve not sinned God would have provided some way for humans to "multiply" but she does not say what that method might have been.
However, Adam and Eve did sin and since humans must multiply through sexual intercourse, Pagels does not give any comfort to those who seek to live faithfully while enjoying their sexuality.
Therefore, while I read the book with eagerness, I was dissatisfied and frustrated at the end when I found myself having more questions than when I started reading this interesting and insightful book.
Still, I recommend the book highly.