It is a long way from the Nile Valley of Egypt to the front page of The New York Review of Books but the fascinating story of The Gnostic Gospels (Random House, 1979) by Elaine Pagels has traveled that far.
Books written by good scholars seldom achieve bestseller status. When the book is about a little-known collection of manuscripts associated with heretical religious sects and written in a dead language that few people have even heard of, best-seller status is even more remarkable. It is a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of Professor Elaine Pagels (with a “g” as in gelatin), formerly of Barnard College and now on the faculty of Princeton University, that her book The Gnostic Gospels has been so well received by the publishing establishment and the reading public. Summarized in a series of articles in The New York Review of Books, offered as a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection, and translated into several other languages, her book is a lucidly written account of the significance of the Coptic Gnostica documents found in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt.