What’s this Gospel of Judas I’ve been hearing about in the news lately?
“Well, it’s not a gospel. And it’s not written by Judas.” (Collin Hansen)
Well, now that we have that out of the way, you probably still want to know a bit more. So, here’s a bit more. The Gospel of Judas is an ancient writing that had its origin several generations after the final book of the New Testament was penned. It was authored by someone(s) of Gnostic persuasion and those of the persuasion of either this writing or one quite similar to it was directly spoken against as early as 180 A.D. by the Christian writer, Irenaeus, when he wrote in part I of his work entitled “Against Heresy” (31.1):
“They believe that Judas the Betrayer was fully informed of these things and that only he understanding the truth like no one else fulfilled the secret of betrayal that confused all things, both in heaven and on earth. They invented their own history called the Gospel of Judas.”
Gnosticism manifested itself in a variety of ways, but a brief summation of its primary, common tenets can be read here.
What does the Gospel of Judas claim or teach?
Among other things, it’s primary claim is that Judas was “the good guy,” indeed, that he was the only one of the disciples that truly understood what Jesus was about. The other disciples are in touch with a lesser god than the one Judas is in touch with and Judas’ special knowledge comes at his personal request of Jesus to give him such insight.
Needless to say, this is a far cry from the Gospel of Luke’s depiction of Judas, with which John’s Gospel agrees:
“. . . Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3 TNIV)
“As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:27a TNIV)
But that assumes, of course, that the Gospel accounts bound up in our Bibles have it right. Addressing that very point, Scot McKnight has well said:
“. . . the only substantial argument against the alternative Gospels is a confidence that God’s Spirit directed the Church (inspired the texts and preserved the texts and led the Church to recognize the texts) to the canonical Gospels. But, along with this we can say this: the text is late, the orthodox Christians said The Gospel of Judas was nonsense, and the theology (which is clearly gnostic) is not 1st Century Jewish/Galilean. No one can dispute any of these three points.”
And those observations are substantial enough for me.
How did the Gospel of Judas come to be found and be made known today?
“The ancient manuscript, a 3rd- or 4th-century translation of a 2nd-century original, probably written in Greek, was unearthed by looters near El Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s. It came to the attention of scholars in 1983 when an Egyptian antiquities dealer tried to sell it to American researchers for $3 million.
“After the document passed through several hands and venues, including 16 years deteriorating in a safe deposit box in Hicksville, N.Y., National Geographic reached an agreement in 2004 to help finance its authentication and translation in return for publication rights.” (The Washington Post)
Why is this manuscript receiving so much attention right now?
To release such information right now only makes good business sense. How so? You can piggy-back on all the publicity/controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code as well as with the spirit and emotion of this time in the calendar year (Easter). And that sort of level of publicity is vital, seeing as how:
“I’m still on the nervous side economically,” Roberty said. “I have to take in another $2.3 million before I break even.” (Mario Jean Roberty, a Swiss lawyer who purchased the Gospel of Judas in 2001)
“Ted Waitt, founder of computer-maker Gateway Inc., donated approximately $1 million to underwrite National Geographic‘s efforts. National Geographic, in turn, passed this money on to Mario Jean Roberty . . .”
Does this manuscript have any real significance for Biblical studies?
“There are a lot of second-, third- and fourth-century gospels attributed to various apostles. We don’t really assume they give us any first century information.” (James M. Robinson; chief editor of religious documents found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and an international leader among scholars of Coptic manuscripts)
Don’t miss the tongue-in-cheek humor in this quote. It’s sort of like the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones calmly drops a menacing, sword-flourishing villain with a shot from his pistol.
But where there’s smoke there must surely be fire, right?
The text of the Gospel of Judas has precious little in common with anything in the Biblical texts in terms of content and/or style. I agree with Mark D. Roberts:
“. . . nothing cures a naïve affection for Gnosticism more than actually reading Gnostic works.”
So do what I’ve done – take the time to actually read the Gospel of Judas. I feel confident you’ll be nothing but utterly under whelmed and mightily bored with what works out to less than seven pages of single-spaced, twelve point type with generous margins. Read the text in light of Gnosticism’s basic beliefs and you’ll get a leg up on much of what appears to be obscure upon a superficial reading of the Gospel of Judas. The entire text is also available now as a .pdf download.
How hard is National Geographic promoting this story?
A two-hour television special is set to air tomorrow night (Sun., Apr. 9) on the National Geographic channel at 7:00 p.m. CST. The Gospel of Judas will also serve as the basis for the cover story for the May issue of National Geographic. All of that will serve as tools for the mass marketing of several books by National Geographic and those connected with the restoration of the Gospel of Judas manuscript.
What will ultimately become of the Gospel of Judas?
“The manuscript will ultimately be returned to Egypt, where it was discovered, and housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.” (New York Times)
What’s your take on all this, Dave?
I’ll let Ben Witherington speak for me on that since I’m filing this quote of his in my “Man alive, I wish I had said that first!” file:
“You will see me suggesting we all need to take a deep breath before consuming too much baloney.” (Ben Witherington)
And if you’ve forgotten what bologna is made of, remember what Doug Williams says his father (a butcher) told him:
“Bologna is just eyes, ears, nose, tits and tail!”