April 6, 2006

The Gospel of Judas.

Soon to be published, the text of this document from the 3rd or 4th Century AD, found in the 1970s:
[T]he Gospel of Judas puts Judas in a positive light, identifying him as Christ's favourite disciple and depicting his betrayal as the fulfilment of a divine mission to enable the crucifixion - and thus the foundation of Christianity - to take place.

This view is similar to that held by the Gnostics - members of a 2nd Century AD breakaway Christian sect, who became rivals to the early Church.

They thought that Judas was in fact the most enlightened of the apostles, acting in order that mankind might be redeemed by the death of Christ.

As such they regarded him as deserving gratitude and reverence.

MORE: National Geographic is publishing the gospel, and it will also have a documentary on its cable channel on April 9th.



UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge cries heresy.... and marketing.

39 comments:

Tom Strong said...

I've never understood why people don't see Judas that way. Even in the Gospels, it's clear that his betrayal was utterly necessary.

MadisonMan said...

Yes, you might say that he had a tougher road to travel than any other disciple, as he was required to betray Jesus. Sure, Peter did too, but it's not like Peter suffered for it like Judas did -- The Pope lives in St. Peter's after all, not St. Judas'.

Part of the Gnostics problem, I think, is that they put Judas on too high a pedestal. While Christ might not have been Christ without Judas' betrayal, JC is still the main player.

John Jenkins said...

There's reason a necessary act can't also be a morally bad act. Unless you're going to deny free will (which is a whole different question), then the choice to betray one's friend to his enemies is going to be considered a bad one, whatever the eventual consequenes thereof (unless you're a straight consequentialist, which is incompatible with Christian ethics).

John Jenkins said...

That should (obviously) say "no reason."

HD_Wanderer said...

I've never understood the gnostic viewpoint. Just because Judas' betrayal was foreseen, and necessary for God's plan, doesn't make it a good thing from Judas' point of view. It was still a betrayal. The gospels would suggest that Judas would have agreed in that he killed himself in remorse.

CB said...

One thing I don't understand in the Bible (actually, I don't really understand any of it) is why Judas' ID of Jesus was necessary. Jesus was such a menace that he had to be executed, but they didn't even know who he was? And if they had just asked, it seems like Jesus would have identified himself.

Goesh said...

You certainly have a wide range of topics. I've always found Judas Maccabeus more relevant, even though I am not a Jew.

Hamsun56 said...

From the gospel of Bob:

"In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side."

Freeman Hunt said...

I think that the story leader is a bit misleading.

Judas Iscariot's reputation as one of the most notorious villains in history could be thrown into doubt with the release of an ancient text on Thursday.

Isn't this just another non-canonical writing among many many many others?
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CB said...

For an interesting perspective, read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which features a young Jesus striking his playmates dead in childish scuffles. I suppose it makes sense that a child with supernatural powers would have some issues.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

HD_Wanderer says: I've never understood the gnostic viewpoint. Just because Judas' betrayal was foreseen, and necessary for God's plan, doesn't make it a good thing from Judas' point of view. From what I understand of gnosticism, by its very name it holds out hope that anyone on this Earth can directly perceive God in all His aspects. I assume that as an enlightened apostle, Judas would be able to do so.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

BTW, what exactly is the grammatical error that makes the phrase "31-page fragile document" sound so clumsy? (Deleted the last one, which had a grammatical error.)

Scott Mehring said...

If Judas' necessary betrayl should be viewed in a positive light, then why is Jesus reported as saying "Woe to the one who betrays me, for it is better had that one not been born," (or something to that effect, im quoting from memory)?

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Scott, the author of each text had an agenda, as did the people who selected some texts and excluded others. Even the Gospels contradict each other on less consequential points. (Of course, these agenda-driven authors and editors may also have been fulfilling God's plan.)

HD_Wanderer said...

The gospels don't really contradict themselves. At times they talk about the same events from different perspectives and at others about different but similar events witnessed by different people. Several people have done quite good time lines on the subject including Dale Foreman's Crucify Him which goes over the events of His trial and death.

Travis Wheatley said...

I had always thought that one of the supposed interpretations of the Wandering Jew was that after Judas hung himself he found he could not die and was forced to wander the earth. Apparently this is not a maintstream view, for I found no reference to it in wikipedia. Has anyone else heard/read this? I remember reading a book where Judas/the wandering jew had the task of preventing someone from gathering all thirty pieces of silver he was paid to betray Jesus, but it was a while ago, so I'm fuzzy on the details. Anyway, if it were true (figuritively, for the sake of the narrative), perhaps Judas is serving out a sentence and earning redemption.

Synova said...

What I've heard is that probably Judas was trying to force the hand of God because he was a believer in the immediate fulfilment of the Messiah taking earthly power and that he didn't believe that it would turn out the way it did. So through the best intentions and belief in Christ he betrayed him, believing that the result would be that God would *win* and Christ would take the throne promised.

How often do people who think they understand what God wants and try to make it happen?

Richard Dolan said...

HD Wanderer contends that "[t]he gospels don't really contradict themselves. At times they talk about the same events from different perspectives and at others about different but similar events witnessed by different people."

That's a difficult thesis to defend. Take just one example -- the dating of the Last Supper. Mark, Matthew and Luke describe the Last Supper as a Passover meal. John is quite definite in dating the Last Supper as occurring on the evening before the beginning of Passover. Not an inconsequential detail, to say the least.

Additionally, the synoptics all describe acts by Jesus at the Last Supper consistent with the establishment of the Eucharist. Luke includes an injunction by Jesus to "do this in memory of me." There is no mention of any such events in John's gospel -- no breaking of the bread, no blessing it or handing it to the disciples, no cup of "the new convenant," nothing that remotely suggests that Jesus did anything at the Last Supper giving rise to any sacrament or ritual of the Eucharist.

There are many other aspects (hardly details) about the Passion and Death of Jesus -- surely, the central event in the gospels -- on which the four evangelists are in disagreement - was there a trial before the Sanhedrin, if so did it occur on the night of Jesus' arrest or the next morning, was Jesus sent to Herod, what did Jesus say from the Cross, etc.

These differences, if you prefer to avoid the word "contradictions," have been the subject of much scholarly analysis in the last 30 or so years. John Meier, Geza Vermes, Raymond Brown, EP Sanders, JD Crossan, and Paula Fredricksen are just a few of the eminent scholars who have joined in those debates. Vermes (Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford, and a prolific writer about Jesus in the context of first century Judaism) recently published a little book, titled simply "The Passion," comparing the four gospel narratives and noting the key areas of agreement and disagreement among them. (For reasons he explains in detail, he accepts John's account of the dating of the Last Supper.)

None of the evangelists (whoever they were), or any redactors who may have worked on those texts before they became canonical, were writing history. All accepted as truth that Jesus was the Son of God (whether they understood that concept in the terms ultimately adopted in the Nicene Creed is another matter), and used snippets from the Old Testament as proof texts. Facts established by such proof texts were just as "true" for them as observed events. Obviously that is a very differnt notion of "truth" than any historian would bring to the task. Just to stay with the Passion, for example, Brown shows how key elements of the gospel narrative of the Passion is shaped by and perhaps derived from the accounts of David's kingship in the Bible. Brown also shows that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke (the only gospels having any such accounts, and offering two accounts that differ sharply on most major aspects of the birth of Jesus) are almost entirely derived from proof texts and similar such ahistorical evidence.

It's odd that the Gospel of Judas is getting such play today. About 10 years ago there was a burst of interest in the gnostic gospels, of which there are several (the Gospel of Thomas being perhaps the most interesting). Elaine Pagels wrote about them, and all were published to some fanfare. Yet none of them reflected any original tradition traceable to the time of Jesus, and thus have nothing much to say about the events of the first century. Since they were all at best derivative from the canonical sources (if not wholly fanciful), scholars interested in the historical Jesus, and in understanding the four canonical gospels and how they were composed, don't have much use for the gnostic accounts. Their real interest today is in understanding the different subgroups among Christians of the second and third centuries (when most of them were written) as the early Church tried to sort out what the Jesus tradition really meant.

Tom T. said...

If memory serves, the same interpretation of Judas as presented in this text is also set forth in The Last Temptation of Christ. There, Jesus was closer to Judas than to any of the other Apostles, and He chose him for the necessary role of betrayer because Judas was the only one strong enough to be relied upon to carry it out.

downtownlad said...

How many trillions of hours has mankind wasted discussing a person that never even existed?

The Cranky Insomniac said...

Freeman Hunt said:

I think that the story leader is a bit misleading.

Judas Iscariot's reputation as one of the most notorious villains in history could be thrown into doubt with the release of an ancient text on Thursday.

Isn't this just another non-canonical writing among many many many others?


You're absolutely right. This fits squarely in the tradtion of the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. While it seems fascinating, it's not going to radically change the world.

Madisonman - I'm not sure why you think the Gnostics put Judas on too high of a pedestal. JC is the main player in the Gnostic gospels, albeit not in the same way he is in the New Testament gospels.

I've posted more here for those of you who might be interested.

Wickedpinto said...

Unless you're going to deny free will (which is a whole different question), then the choice to betray one's friend to his enemies is going to be considered a bad one, whatever the eventual consequenes thereof (unless you're a straight consequentialist, which is incompatible with Christian ethics).

Well, the betrayal was a necessary point of the gospels. Christ did not forgive peter for denying him, nor did he forgive peter for betraying him. So, If it was gods plan from the first moment, not only god, but christ, god on earth, deliberately engaged in a subversive propaganda campaign to manipulate the will of man. Which is counter to free will. Is god a cruel propagandist, willing to ALLOW believers to commit cruel, and heretical acts? or is god a cold blooded prick who left his only son a victim to heretics?

Also, the important part, Christ did not forgive the betrayor or the denier, he forgave the masses of jews who did not understand the message while on the cross. Either the church follows the teachings, and leadership of someone who would save his own ass over the son of god, or the forgive him, and thereby act hypocriticaly towards judas, or they forgive both, and blame a man who is depicted as appologetic, and confused (pilate.)

If you have faith the answer is, "god is" if you are not of faith, you will never find an answer.

SteveWe said...

One might also look at Satan in this light. When God ordained that there be free will, good and evil became necessary -- otherwise there can be no point to free will. So, some entity had to "hold" the polarity of evil and darkness. Who should volunteer for this eternal task? None other than the archangel who loved God the most.

Wickedpinto said...

I find a problem with the whole Satan/Lucifer comparisson to judas, but I think that is the general metaphorical mythology of judas.

Of course I'm an atheist.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Downtownlad said: "How many trillions of hours has mankind wasted discussing a person that never even existed?"

That's just goofy. A Jew named Jesus lived in the first century AD. Whether he was God or psychotic, Jesus is the most significant person in history.

Wickedpinto said...

I believe he was specificaly identified by Josefus. (spelling?)

He existed, his value as the son of god can be argued, but his existence cannot.

For instance, you can be called a know nothing tardo who can't seperate fact from fiction as long as it serves your purposes, but it doesn't eliminate the fact that you exist/existed Downtown.

Marghlar said...

Richard Dolan said: Since they were all at best derivative from the canonical sources (if not wholly fanciful), scholars interested in the historical Jesus, and in understanding the four canonical gospels and how they were composed, don't have much use for the gnostic accounts.

Haven't some scholars suggested that the Gospel of Thomas, at least, predates the canonical Gospels, and was possibly contemporaneous with Q? I seem to remember Marvin Meyer suggesting that in his introduction to the translation...

You are obviously much more knowledgable than I am on this topic -- I'm just curious. Dating documents like these can certainly be challenging, but what is your basis for asserting that all the non-canonical gospels were authored significantly later than the canonical gospels?

pudge said...

Richard Dolan: Take just one example -- the dating of the Last Supper. Mark, Matthew and Luke describe the Last Supper as a Passover meal. John is quite definite in dating the Last Supper as occurring on the evening before the beginning of Passover. Not an inconsequential detail, to say the least.

There's some controversy about this, to be sure, but this is not a significant problem, as -- no doubt you are aware -- there are several reasonable ways to reconcile it. For example, the way the Jews and Greeks computed the day were different (midnight to midnight vs. sunset to sunset), and that could account for why John, writing a couple of decades later, identified a different day.

Further, the synoptics are not as explicit about the date of the Last Supper, and it is possible that the widely accepted interpretation is false: they say what was eaten, which is the traditional Passover meal, but it does not necessarily mean it was the Passover meal.

Additionally, the synoptics all describe acts by Jesus at the Last Supper consistent with the establishment of the Eucharist. ... There is no mention of any such events in John's gospel

This is, of course, not evidence of anything in particular. All you are noting is that John did not include all the details that the synoptics did. So what?

Marghlar: Haven't some scholars suggested that the Gospel of Thomas, at least, predates the canonical Gospels, and was possibly contemporaneous with Q? I seem to remember Marvin Meyer suggesting that in his introduction to the translation...

I don't recall specifics about dating, but certainly some scholars have suggested strongly that Thomas is as reliable a Gospel as the others. Bruce Metzger has some interesting things to say on the subject, about how totally nonsensical Thomas is. Jesus Under Fire was a good book rebutting the outrageous claims of The Jesus Seminar on that subject.

pudge said...

Dating documents like these can certainly be challenging, but what is your basis for asserting that all the non-canonical gospels were authored significantly later than the canonical gospels?

Oops, forgot to add: the evidence simply does not support anything earlier. There's nothing there. Our oldest references and earliest copies of e.g. Thomas date no earlier than the second century, at least 20 years after John's writings, and probably more.

There's no indication of any kind that these writings had any influence whatsoever on the writings of the gospels (let alone the rest of the New Testament), or that their writers had any special insight into what actually happened.

HD_Wanderer said...

Mr. Dolan, most of the "contradictions" you speak of are addressed quite well in the book I mentioned by Dale Foreman. The trial for instance was a series of events not a single event. I'm not familiar with Last Supper date issue, but several other date issues are cleared up when considering the different way the time was measured and recorded at that time in that culture. For instance a day was evening to evening rather than morning to night, and the time between Friday and Sunday was considered to be three days.

Thanks for the good discussion.

Marghlar said...

Pudge --

The fact that we don't have extant copies before a certain date doesn't necessarily mean that the documents weren't written until that date. These are, after all, documents that were copied and recopied.

Meyer presents textual evidence suggesting that Thomas predates the gospels, and that it might predate Q, or stand in parallel with Q. For instance, Thomas often contains parables covered by the synoptic gospels, but without interpretations of the parables. That might suggest an earlier composition.

I don't know either way -- Meyer's evidence doesn't seem that conclusive. But is there either textual or record evidence strongly suggesting a post-dating? I'm really interested to know -- please cite me a source, if you've got one.

Richard Dolan said...

I don't think the inconsistent accounts of key events in the four gospels can be dismissed as easily as some commenters suggest. It seems quite doubtful that any of the gospel writers were as ignorant of Jewish customs regarding the importance of nightfall in counting the beginning and ending of days as some suggest. Bear in mind that all of them were very familiar with Jewish scripture, and continually referred to it for proof texts in writing about and trying to understand the life and death of Jesus. It's an odd (but not impossible) hypothesis to assert that the same writers and the early Christian communities they wrote for were ignorant of such basic Jewish practices and customs as when a day began or ended.

But the real point where I may disagree with pudge, marghlar and others is whether one is discussing these texts from the perspective of an historian or literary critic, or instead from that of a person of faith. While I am the latter, my interest in these textual issues (and of the gnostic texts as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls) is the former. For example, I can't imagine any historian would dismiss the fundamentally different accounts about the Last Supper in the synoptics vs. John with a "so what," as pudge does.

Soe commenters point out that there is no universally accepted position on any of the key issues surrounding the historical Jesus or the significance, if any, of the gnostic sources in understanding the Jesus tradition. Even putting aside the many kooks and cranks who write about these issues, it is certainly true that there is scholarly disagreement about literally every detail relating to the historical Jesus except for the fact that he lived and died in the first century (a fact recorded by Josephus independently of the canonical sources (although with much less emphasis or detail compared with his account of John the Baptist), and a fact also reflected (albeit derivatively) by Roman historians writing relevant histories only slightly later). There is also a broad but not universal scholarly consensus -- based on textual, linguistic and other detailed analyses, along with comparisons to all other available sources from the period -- that the gnostic texts came relatively late in the formation of the Jesus tradition, and do not reflect an independent tradition (either oral or written) providing reliable information about the historical Jesus or the events of the first century.

One commenter asked for my sources in offering the view that the gnostic sources have basically nothing to say about the historical Jesus. In almost every serious scholarly book on the historical Jesus, the author begins with a discussion of sources, dating and methods. A detailed discussion of methodology and the dating of all of the available sources (canonical, extra-canonical, gnostic, Josephus, Livy, etc.) is available in JP Meier, Jesus: A Marginal Jew (vol. 1). Meier's discussion of those issues alone runs into the hundreds of pages, with the usual detailed notes and academic bibliography. The same ground is covered, somewhat less exhaustively, in books by EPSanders, Jaroslav Pelikan (e.g., The Changing Face of Jesus, Whose Bible Is It?), JD Crossan (The Birth of Christianity, The Historical Jesus, etc.), and G. Vermes in his three volumes on Jesus the Jew in the context of the first century Judaism in which he lived and (at least in Vermes' view) from which he never deviated. Each of them is a truly eminent scholar in this field, and they provide a good overview of these issues from very diverse confessional perspectives -- Meier writes as a professor, historian and Catholic priest (his work is orthodox enough to earn an imprimatur and (if memory serves correctly) a nihil obstat); Sanders as a professor (most recently at Duke) and a Protestant; Pelikan as a Greek Orthodox and Sterling Professor of History at Yale; Vermes as the first chairholder at Oxford on Jewish studies, born Jewish, converted to Catholicism, ordained a priest and started out as a scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, eventually left the priesthood and the Church, reverted to Judaism and pursued his academic interest in first century issues; JD Crossan as a former Catholic priest (he married a nun), a professor in Chicago and one of the leading scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar. While those authors disagree about many things, none of them (with the possible exception of JD Crossan in a few instances) accepts the gnostic sources as a source of independent information about the historical Jesus, and all of them give detailed explanations for their reasons.

pudge said...

Marghlar: The fact that we don't have extant copies before a certain date doesn't necessarily mean that the documents weren't written until that date

Sure, but there is NO evidence supporting earlier dates: no references, no copies, and a style that suggests they were not contemperaneous with earlier events (except where, as in the case of Thomas, it seems to have a similar original source).

Meyer presents textual evidence suggesting that Thomas predates the gospels, and that it might predate Q, or stand in parallel with Q.

Really really bad evidence.

For instance, Thomas often contains parables covered by the synoptic gospels, but without interpretations of the parables. That might suggest an earlier composition.

Yes, and it might simply be that it was removed. :-)

pudge said...

richad dolan: I don't think the inconsistent accounts of key events in the four gospels can be dismissed as easily as some commenters suggest.

Obviously. And I, and many scholars, don't think they are as significant as you suggest.

It's an odd (but not impossible) hypothesis to assert that the same writers and the early Christian communities they wrote for were ignorant of such basic Jewish practices and customs as when a day began or ended.

No such suggestion was made. You misunderstand. It could be that John was simply writing for his audience, which was more likely to consider midnight-midnight time.

I can't imagine any historian would dismiss the fundamentally different accounts about the Last Supper in the synoptics vs. John with a "so what"

What I was referring to was the notion that John merely omitted some information. That, indeed, is a "so what?" I don't consider that a "fundamental" difference.

And perhaps most historians would not use that language, but many would express a similar sentiment. Criag Blomberg, a foremost authority on the Gospels, said that "the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it's fair to judge them." I've no doubt you agree with the latter clause, even if not the former.

Marghlar said...

Pudge: I'd like to see something from a credible source explaining why the Gospel of Judas ought to be dated closer to 180 than 95 (when John was written). I think you are tending toward assumptions that support your pre-existing viewpoint on which story is true.

Furthermore, you come across as a little glib about the textual variances. Mark, which probably was the earliest gospel according to most sources, didn't include a resurrection account. That was added later on. This is hardly an "insignificant" deviation -- it was the main point of the whole account.

I'm certainly not suggesting that people of faith can't decide that the addition, and not the original stopping point, represents the more accurate position. Or, for that matter, that everything that the Council of Nicaea did was divinely inspired.

But for those of us who look at this history as history, and not through a lens of faith, it all starts to run together, frankly. I see a lot of books being written long after the fact, all by partisan writers trying to push a theological point of view. I see differences between those gosepls decided to be canonical, as well as differences between the canonical gospels and the other writings that were rejected.

SO: I am not claiming that Judas actually has a greater claim to authenticity than the other gospels. I know nothing that would indicate that. It does seem partisan to a particular point of view -- but then so does the Gospel of John. I think there is scholarly disagreement about the date of authorship of Thomas. But the point is -- it was all written a while after, by people with a strong point of view, in the context of religious disputes. Probably none of it was by first-hand observers.

Seems like we ned a leap of faith in order to decide which version of events is "accurate." Otherwise, we'd want to maintain some scholarly distance from the whole question, which may not be answerable.

Richard Dolan said...

For anyone who would care to read the Gospel of Judas on line, it is posted (in English) at: http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/_pdf/GospelofJudas.pdf

Richard Dolan said...

Sorry - the complete address for the online copy of the Gospel of Jusas in English is: http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/_pdf/GospelofJudas.pdf.

It is also available on line in Coptic if anyone is interested: http://www9.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/_pdf/CopticGospelofJudas.pdf.

goliah said...

Like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi discoveries, this latest 'gospel' increases the amount of new scriptural material only available this century making the concept of 'canonical scriptures' and the traditions built upon them even less convincing.

What might 'Christianity' look like if all these resources were available from the beginning? Check this link: www.energon.uklinux.net