The New York Times Bestselling author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), she is a prominent scholar and author on the subject of the Gnostic Gospels. Her works include Reading Judas (2007) and Revelations (2012).
She studied religion at Stanford and Harvard. She later taught at Barnard College and Princeton University.
Her 1979 work, The Gnostic Gospels, won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
She had two children with theoretical physicist, Heinz Pagels, whom she married in 1969.
She was influenced by author Ernest Hemingway.