I first came across Elaine Pagels probably over 10 years ago, and was intrigued. There's a separate set of gospels? As it turns out archaeology has revealed (by pure serendipity) both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi manuscripts. The Essenes, the Gnostics, new groups of religious adherents new to me.
Then later I met a Coptic Christian from Egypt and also learned that one of the oldest traditions of Christianity is the Syriac Church. There is even a very interesting and ancient tradition of Christianity in the South Indian state of Kerala, purportedly started by doubting Thomas himself. Their rituals would be unrecognizable to us today but seem to reflect much more "pure" traditions of ancient Christ Cult practices.
Even the Armenians linked Christianity to State power before the European church (with the Roman Empire). In fact, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is still run by Armenian priests, as well as there are monastaries in continuous inhabitation by Armenians for many centuries in spite of the fact that there had been no Armenian state for most of that same time period!
Furthermore, the Ethiopians insist they possess the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed, the Ethiopian languages are Semitic languages and their lifestyles are closest to what we would consider the bibilical, nomadic lifestyles we read about in the bible.
Lastly, I most recently learned of the Mandeans located in Iraq. Today there are up to 100,000 adherents of this tradition and have been labeled by Orientalists as the only continuously practiced lived tradition of Gnostics! Since the glorious Bushkrieg of 2003, all of them have been dispersed to Jordan, Syria, the U.S. and other places outside of their homeland. These communities who had been tight lipped and secretive seem to be descendents of John the Baptist!