I have mixed feelings about this. I love that it is ancient writings of the deepest thoughts and beliefs of middle eastern followers of Jesus. It doesn't get any more mysterious, strange and mystical than this so I love it for that. Also as an archeology fanatic this is incredibly telling about how people two thousand years ago thought, as much as the hieroglyphics on the walls of the pyramids tell of life thousands of years ago.
What struck me the most about the writings is the incredibly frustrating time I had trying to figure out what they were talking about. You will see what I mean when you read them.
At one point it tells of the disciples of Jesus sitting around sharing what he told them.
And I got the feeling that the conversations of Jesus were incredibly verbose, confusing,
impossible to decipher sermons about the soul, spirit, and mind, and the roles of each of these, and how to get to heaven, how to get close to God, etc. I do get the sense that the disciples were also very frustrated, by the way they would question Jesus repeatedly, hoping for clarification, only to become more and more confused by his answers.
I see that some of the disciples, in particular John, were outraged that Jesus shared some of his deepest thoughts with a woman, Mary of Magdela. What a shame then as today women are often pushed aside as religious leaders. At one point the other disciples basically said to John, "Who do you think you are to question the fact that Jesus loves Mary more than the rest of us?"
But one has to wonder how much the ego of each disciple, and desire to present him/herself as the most favored one, influenced these books and caused them to be distorted or fabricated to show each one in the best light. At least it seems to me that way as I read them. I picture many heated arguments and jealousies among them.
I can't give this five stars, since I found myself becoming frustrated by the impossible to understand talking in riddles that is the standard language in all these books, especially the words of Jesus.
It sounds like doubletalk. Each sentence requires several minutes of puzzling over, and in the end you give up, shrug and try to accept that whatever they were trying to say, communicating clearly, precisely, and succintly was not something they were familiar with.
It is also obvious to me in places that there was heavy influence from Buddhist philosophy.
Jesus repeatedly tells that the kingdom of heaven is found within yourself.
He repeatedly tells that to enter the "realm of light", material concerns must be rejected.
There is also an interesting paragraph on fornication, and how it opens the door to other evils, so it should be completely rejected for more important matters, namely being pure enough to enter heaven and be with God and the angels. It goes into some fairly florid language actually describing how fornicating can cause your insides to metaphorically rot, and opens the door to evil beings having free reign with your body, mind and soul.
I wonder if these books were not included in the standard books of the Bible due to no one having any idea what they are really talking about. (Of course in this case this was not discovered until after the official Bible was assembled.) I don't mean to say that it is so holy and religious that a mere mortal can't comprehend it. I mean that it is almost gibberish. I don't know if the real meanings of these books have been lost in translation or that is the way they really talked back then. Probably a bit of both is the answer.
If you read them be prepared for some major frustration.
The two parts I mentioned, the arguments of Jesus loving Mary best, and warnings to beware of fornicating, are some of the only parts I could understand what they were talking about. You won't find any new religious revelations in these.
There are also various arguments put forth concerning the role of Judas. Judas claims that Jesus actually asked him to turn him in to be put to death so that he could fulfill his heavenly mission on Earth. He goes on to claim that he, Judas, was the most favored disciple, hence the request from Jesus to take on this important role. As others have pointed out, why would Jesus need help to turn himself in? I think that there is more to this story than we know!
I find the most important thing philosophically in these is this: Jesus states at one point that "Many trees will be planted in my name. They will wither and die without bearing fruit". (Now THAT is definitely a very good thing to leave out of the "official" Bible if you are trying to win over large masses to your church.)
He goes on to say in essence that he is not to be worshiped as God, or prayed to, or asked for help, or have churches created in his name. Others will disagree with me on this point. But I do think that Jesus is saying what I have felt all along.
He was indeed a "being of light" and a great teacher. Just as Buddha was a great being of light and a teacher.
But he was pointing the way. And that way is found nowhere but inside each of us.