Did Paul Distort Christianity?
In Philemon, he says the sort of thing that one would say to a close friend or confidant. In regard to the slavery issue, to read what is said in Colossians and Ephesians outside the context of other Pauline remarks in Philemon and 1 Cor. 7 is a huge mistake. In Philemon, we hear loud and clear the clarion call for the emancipation of the slave Onesimus. He is to be treated "no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ." Paul's remarks in Colossians and Ephesians are meant to ameliorate the situation and help slaves out, and when Paul has the opportunity, as he does in Philemon, this shows where his argument is leading--toward emancipation.
I will save the majority of my comments on the Nag Hammadi finds for the next e-mail, but for now I'll just say that those documents do not deserve the name Christian. They are antithetical to what our first-century sources would characterize as Christian--values which include, among other things, a profoundly Jewish appreciation of the goodness of creation, human sexuality, and marriage.
Gnosticism certainly deserved to be deemed a heresy precisely because: 1) It is so very anti-Semitic in character; 2) It espouses a message of self-salvation from within, which is antithetical to the idea of a God who intervenes repeatedly in human history and even takes on human form, lives, dies, and rises again--a God who offers salvation from without, through Jesus, by grace through faith; and 3) Gnosticism is profoundly elitist--it's self-salvation only for those in the know. As you yourself have suggested, theology is reduced to anthropology in the hands of the Gnostics.
More to come. For now I will just re-stress-enough with the caricatures of Paul. He was more in concert with Jesus and Jesus' agenda than you allow. And Paul was a far better advocate for women than several of the Gnostics who urged that women had to become "male," or like a man, in order to be fully human and so saved.
Receiving your e-mail, I see that we have much to discuss, especially Paul's views of marriage and slavery, on which we have different viewpoints.