The Gospel of Judas

This week in Washington D.C., National Geographic released the The Gospel of Judas to the public. It has been translated from the original Coptic. This is an exciting time for Biblical archeologists and a troubling time for the orthodoxy because of the contents for the new gospel.

From the website:

The Gospel of Judas, however, gives a very different account. The text begins by announcing that it is the “secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover.”

It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus’ closest friend, someone who understands Christ’s true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus’ disciples. In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, “‘you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'”

I would not count myself among the orthodoxy but it would certainly change the reading of one of my favorite books, Dante’s Divine Comedy. Like many of the other Gnostic texts that have been discovered over the last 100 years, there is something truly amazing about these finds. It makes you stop and evaluate why you believe what you believe. For example, the ridiculous claim that the Earth is around 6,000 years old. You can’t find that in the Bible anywhere because someone made it up (James Ussher) and it has now become a central Christian dogma – a distortion of the book of Genesis. If you haven’t read the story of how this odd calculation came about, I urge you to read it. Stephen Jay Gould has an excellent article called, Fall in the House of Ussher.

Another odd historical fact is that many Christians believe that what is in the Bible came directly from God and should be interpreted literally. What a bizarre claim since the New Testament as we know it today was not “canonized” until 397 AD by a few powerful bishops at an event called the First Council of Nicaea Council of Laodicea(?). The original Apocrypha was edited, revised, and entire books removed for various reasons. So, the Bible we have today exists because some Catholic church leaders voted up or down on books or sections that were too controversial. I guess God needed to keep the people from uprising. The funny thing is that not until the invention of the printing press more than 1000 years later, in 1455, would normal people even be able to read the Bible.

Based on the past, I think it’s fair to give this new discovery an objective look. It especially interesting that books like this and Gospel of Thomas were a few of the entire books cut from the final Canon.

There is a great article on the Canonization of the Bible by Larry A. Taylor, here. Also, don’t miss the upcoming documentary about the discovery.

6 comments On The Gospel of Judas

  • Agree with you 100%. Ohhhhhhhh the controversy, we are blasphemers… 🙂

  • Ron, Thanks for the clarification. What was the event or meeting that established the final canon? I did a little more digging and discovered that the first use of the “official” 27 books was Athanasius of Alexandria. Was the a particular event when this was decided or did it just kinda happen? Athanasius sounds like he was a pretty violent guy. From Wikipedia:

    Along with the standard method of excommunication he used beatings, intimidation, kidnapping and imprisonment to silence his theological opponents. Unsurprisingly, these tactics caused widespread distrust and led him to being tried many times for “bribery, theft, extortion, sacrilege, treason and murder.

    Yikes! What ever the event, it does sound like the selection process for the official canon was somewhat arbitrary. It’s amazing that something so arbitrary has become so embedded in faith and dogma. The circular logic usually invoked to defend the canonization of this version of the Bible is that God acted in such a way to make it so. Hmmm. The International Bible Society summarizes it like this:

    Questions still arise now and then about the canon. Some wonder why just these 66 booklets were chosen. Why not 65 or 67? … To these questions we reply that these books are the ones that God himself has chosen to preserve for us, and he has not told us exactly why.

    I have disagree that the Gospel of Judas is a “non-event.” One of the central beliefs in Christianity is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. This new discovery calls this belief into question since it indicates that Jesus actually asked Judas to give him up to the Romans. This seems like a pretty big deal to me. I would also be interested in your understanding of Ussher’s timeline. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for this in the Bible. It’s a bit like the assumption of Mary – it was a doctrine of the Church and made “truth” by Pope Pius XII.

  • Matthew,

    Its Ron from over at the JungNet group. Now you are discussing MY field of expertise, Theology! You’ve got a few things wrong here. First of all the New testament was not created by, ” a few powerful bishops at an event called the First Council of Nicaea.” The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with establishing the canon of Scripture. Rather it dealt with Christological doctrines. The developement of the canon required a much lengthier process, though you are right to suggest that Catholic councils, ecumenical and otherwise, were instrumental in which books were deemed inspired. Which makes it very problematic that Protestants (not Catholics) later removed the so-called “Apocrypha”, at a late date, ostensibly in order to make amendments in conformity with the Jewish Rabbinic canon that came into existence a couple hundred years after the Christian Church already existed. The deleted books did have the added inconvenience of supporting Catholic doctrines the Protestants would rather have forgotten (like prayers for the dead).

    Secondly there is nothing earth-shattering or new to be found in the Coptic Gospel of Judas. It is a 3rd or 4th Century Coptic translation of a 2nd Century Greek original. A typical Gnostic text, it is no more credible than any of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of other Gnostic and other existing apocryphal works. National Geographic is apparently hyping it to make back the money they’ve invested in it.

    Theologically speaking it is really a non-event.

    Ron

  • Ron,

    I have a question for you. My agreeing with Matthew more pertained to the statement:

    “For example, the ridiculous claim that the Earth is around 6,000 years old.”

    I understand your particular area of expertise, Theology, certainly provides a more adequate frame of reference for the subject matter itself. Although, how do you account for this accusation in your opinion. I tend to agree with Matthew pertaining to this statement having no reference to where it may have been stated. Unless, you can discredit this ever having been stated (if so I apologize), how can you justify this to discredit science and not so recent findings that put that claim out of date by at least 30,000 years (the earth being about 6000 years old)?

    Second, your statement:

    “You’ve got a few things wrong here. First of all the New testament was not created by, ‘ a few powerful bishops at an event called the First Council of Nicaea.’ The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with establishing the canon of Scripture. Rather it dealt with Christological doctrines.”

    Knowing Matt as a man of science, I see his reference as to putting the word of God into scripture in the hands of men, ‘a few powerful bishops’, as somewhat a metaphor as well. Regardless of who they were, their actions were in some way dictated by their environment and status. We as humans are flawed. Although having the ability to reason, we still lack perspective with limited perception of God in his entirety. -If that makes any sense at all. You’ll have to excuse me I tend to ramble.-

    How can man accurately depict the word of God with our limited understanding? Whoever was to write the word of God, through his son and subjects, how are we to know that its accurate? I can’t speak for Matt but I believe regardless of who wrote it, they’re limited to their own understanding and motivated by their experiences in what they wrote. This isn’t even accounting for the loss in translation into English from its original form. As you know in any language terminology varies when being translated from one language to the next and serves as another opportunity for misinterpretation. Preachers who often consider themselves to speak God’s message often find themselves interpreting it to their congregation as how they understand it and what it was meant to be through some parable of ethics and morals. Is this really doing the Bible justice as we all know the same message is not being preached universally with respect to the bible?

    So, I do apologize. I guess my question is posed to you for more of what I read out of Matt’s blog. Disregarding historical facts related to theology how do you feel about the subject matter itself? I don’t know if you adhere closely to Christianity as your faith. I know this is not the direction you were going with your message to Matt. Obviously you are knowledgeabe and would just like to know your opinion.

    Thanks

  • I am very sorry. When rereading what I post I noticed a big mistake. When I referred to Matt’s questioning the Earths age and I said 30,000 years, I was referring to fossils that dated back to us being upright. Although, Matt now has a post that dates back even further than that (Fish Fossil), obviously in an earlier stage of evolution. I guess the right thing to say in terms of Earth’s age would say about 4 billion years old give or take 10 million years. That’s what I meant. Oops.

  • Here is a link to a recent discussion (audio) on the NPR Talk of the Nation website.

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