Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gospel of Judas Uncovered.

A document found in Egypt may be the Gospel of Judas, the infamous disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, an act that led to the crucifixion. New York Times excerpt:

An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today. In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so.

Though some theologians have hypothesized this, scholars who have studied the new-found text said, this is the first time an ancient document defends the idea. The discovery in the desert of Egypt of the leather-bound papyrus manuscript, and now its translation, was announced by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington. The 26-page Judas text is said to be a copy in Coptic, made around A. D. 300, of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before.

Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.
"The codex has been authenticated as a genuine work of ancient Christian apocryphal literature," Mr. Garcia said, citing extensive tests of radiocarbon dating, ink analysis and multispectral imaging and studies of the script and linguistic style. The ink, for example, was consistent with ink of that era, and there was no evidence of multiple rewriting.

"This is absolutely typical of ancient Coptic manuscripts," said Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at the University of Munster in Germany. "I am completely convinced." The most revealing passages in the Judas manuscript begins, "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus.

Unlike the accounts in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the anonymous author of the Gospel of Judas believed that Judas Iscariot alone among the 12 disciples understood the meaning of Jesus' teachings and acceded to his will. In the diversity of early Christian thought, a group known as Gnostics believed in a secret knowledge of how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton
who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was."

The Gospel of Judas is only one of many texts discovered in the last 65 years, including the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Philip, believed to be written by Gnostics. The Gnostics' beliefs were often viewed by bishops and early church leaders as unorthodox, and they were frequently denounced as heretics. The discoveries of Gnostic texts have shaken up Biblical scholarship by revealing the diversity of beliefs and practices among early followers of Jesus.

As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out. For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

Another piece of the puzzle that makes up the story of early Christianity seems to have been unveiled. As someone who can be called a skeptic, I have, in the course of my education, read many of the aforementioned Apochryphal Gospels. The Nag Hammadi Library and the Adventures Unlimited Press have been invaluable tools in what passes for my research into this shady realm. Most of these works were written long before the traditional Biblical Gospels, and they depict a movement that was very different from the one portrayed by the Catholic church. That is why they are regarded as heretical.

As a cynic, it would come as little surprise if the Catholic church either, A, spun this story the way they usually do when faced with inconvenient facts and inconsistent story lines. The church leaders play the "literal word of God" card one minute, then play the allegory card the next, so it will be interesting to see how they react to this news that the betrayal of Jesus was a planned job.

The other option, option B, would be for the church leaders to try to ignore this news altogether. I'd bet my chips on option A. The church has never been shy about speaking out about things like this, and I don't expect it to start slinking into the shadows now.

Full Story


Ken Kaniff from Connecticut said...

I will say I saw some interesting discussion re: Judas on the talking-head shows last night. I am glad to see some gnostic throught trickle into the Pauline Church. However, we have to understand that this manuscript is from an Egyptian/Coptic sect, so these writings may represent thought already diverged from the mainstream of christian thought.

In other words, if 3000 years into the future archaeologist uncover the book of Mor(m)on somewhere in New Salt Lake City they might consider it part of Christian thought, when it really represents an offshoot of the main religion. So we nee d to view these writings with an eye to the peoplethat wrote them, not just the times in which they were created.

Love this blog!

listerplus said...

Thanks for tuning in Ken.

I'll go one step further. Suppose that 3000 years from now, some piece of gibberish from Charles Manson or L.Ron Hubbard survived. Would those writings be mistaken for our religions?

Even funnier, what if the lyrics to Frank Zappa's spoof of Hubbard, "The Church of Appliantology" ended up being passed around as our Holy Writ?

Having said all that, keep in mind that this gospel, like many of the apocryphal writings that were not included in the official Bible, were written before the accepted gospels, and were therefore much closer to the action and people that they describe.

Thanks for the kind words, and keep those hits coming!