Colbert Report: Elaine Pagels On The Bible genre: Hip-Gnosis & Video-Philes

The following video clip is from an interview of Elaine Pagels conducted by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report. While we know that the program is primarily about comedy, the clip does offer some worthwhile dialogue.

Elaine Pagels has written a new book in conjunction with Karen L. King called Reading Judas: The Gospel Of Judas And The Shaping Of Christianity. Pagels has been writing about religion from an historical perspective for many years and is best known for her prior books, The Gnostic Gospels, Adam, Eve, And The Serpent, and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel Of Thomas. Pagels' writings point out that today's version of the Bible is undoubtedly the result of historical events, politics, and all things found in the well established practice of humans attempting to influence other humans.

I would suggest that Pagels is first and foremost an historian who has as her primary focus uncovering the actual facts that underlie our current religious beliefs and institutions. While many would find her work to be threatening to the absolute notions advanced by religious doctrine, her work is an invaluable contribution to the history of religion.

In reality, few people actually have a clear understanding of the history behind the origin of the Bible. The Bible was not written in the same way that a book comes to fruition today. In fact, the Bible was more of a compilation of numerous books (codex as they were referred to during that period of time) that were approved for incorporation into the Bible (a compilation if you will).

The process by which that compilation took place has been studied extensively by Pagels and it involved numerous considerations that have been intentionally overlooked by those who prefer to portray the Bible as an absolute document. Publishing a book then was a far different process than publishing a book today. Which books were published and what content was acceptable often resulted from the particular goals and objectives of those in power.

Those gospels that appear in today's Bible result from that process and unless one understands the motivations that existed at that time, little can be determined about their authenticity...let alone whether they were the words of "God" handed down to carefully chosen disciples.

Unfortunately, proponents of the Bible as the absolute word of "God" spin a circular argument. The contention is that the end product is the result of "God's" will...in other words, he led man to the proper finished product and those books that were discarded or rejected from prior versions of the Bible were removed as a matter of divine instruction. The problem with that argument is that it fails to examine the men involved and the power and the politics that may have existed.

When that equation is tested against history, one cannot ignore the political and social context that existed at each juncture...events that were wholly human and frequently manipulated. As powerful religious institutions emerged...institutions that often mirrored the state in terms of power and influence…the propensity to alter the doctrine diminished as such matters were primarily removed from the direct influence of the political arena. Nonetheless, I contend that the current documents were still subject to human influences and they are far more the result of human interaction than divine intervention.

Daniel DiRito | July 7, 2007 | 9:22 AM
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