The Gnostic Gospels.
by Elaine Pagels.
Written by an academic who is an ‘expert’ in gnosticism, this popular work gives a brief introduction to the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi.
This book is far, far too short, and inspires me to read the complete translation of these early, unorthodox Christian texts. As short as it is, the book is dense with information and valuable interpretation.
Most interesting is the author’s main argument that the conflict between orthodoxy and gnosticism was as much political as it was theological — in fact, that doctrine comes more from politics than from the teachings of Jesus.
Pagels does a very good job of evoking the climate of A.D. 60-200, during the establishment of the Catholic church and its constant attacks against the gnostic Christians — who were often part of the catholic church itself — especially their belief in personal experiences of enlightenment, even though they did not necessarily disbelieve in having a “regular” church.