The Gospel of Judas Iscariot -- New fodder for the Jesus Seminar?

Every few years, a new discovery supposedly makes us reconsider the historical Jesus. When the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Nag Hammadi in 1947, it was one of those discoveries. While most scholars recognize it for a mid-second century Gnostic work, there are scholars like those nutty guys at the Jesus Seminar who think it is at least as important as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (and probably more important). This "Gospel" of Thomas has kept them in the limelight for many years hawking their books and congratulating each other for their brilliance in not being taken in by the orthodox understanding of scripture.

Well, next month, the scholars at the Jesus Seminar get a new "Gospel" to fawn over -- the Gospel of Judas. The ancient manuscript of this "Gospel" has apparently been floating around the Egyptian market for years, but someone has finally decided to translate the work. Time magazine runs a tantallizing lead on the manuscript in an article entitled "A Kiss for Judas -- A long-lost 2nd century 'Gospel' may portray Jesus' betrayer as closer to a hero than a heel", which reads:

It could be a passion story as co-written by Mick (Sympathy for the Devil) Jagger and The Matrix's mess-with-your-metaphysics Wachowski brothers: Judas Iscariot, vilified in the Gospels as Jesus' great betrayer, was not merely an Apostle--he was perhaps Christ's closest confidant. Technically speaking, he did drop a dime on Jesus. But there were extenuating circumstances, some having to do with the belief that the God of the Old Testament was not the ultimate God, that this world is not what it seems and ... well, for a full explanation, you'll just have to see the movie.

So, in his make-over, Judas Iscariot appears to not only be an apostle, but Jesus' closest confidant. What else does this ancient "Gospel" say? According to "Another Take on Gospel Truth About Judas -- Manuscript Could Add to Understanding of Gnostic Sect" from the Washington Post:

Some of the manuscript's passages echo descriptions in the New Testament of Jesus's arrest, recalling how Roman authorities aimed to "seize [Jesus] in the act of prayer" and how Judas "took some money and he delivered [Jesus] over to them," Hedrick said, quoting from his translation.

Although Judas cooperates in the arrest of Jesus, Hedrick said, the codex does not depict him as a villain.

"Judas is not a bad guy in this text," Hedrick said in an interview. "He is the good guy, and he is serving God."

According to UPI in an article entitled "Theologians say Judas gospel adds little":

In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus forgives Judas and sends him to the desert for a period of prayer and contemplation. In the New Testament gospels, the two never meet after Judas' betrayal, and Judas kills himself.

So, is there any reason to believe that this document is authentic? In other words, is there reason to believe that this "Gospel" is a more accurate depiction of the relationship between Judas Iscariot and Jesus then found in the canonical Gospels? Apparently not. According to the Washington Post article:

Hedrick and other scholars said the codex was produced in the 4th or 5th century and reflects the theological traditions of a 2nd-century sect of Gnostics, a community that believed true spirituality derived from a self-knowledge, or "gnosis." Figures depicted as sinful in the Old Testament, such as Cain and Esau, were typically extolled under Gnostic theology.

As early as the year 178, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, a heresy watchdog of the early church, targeted the community for declaring that "Judas the traitor . . . alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal."

I am sure that this fourth century gnostic work will soon be making the rounds on Internet discussion boards being touted as more proof that the Gospels found in the Bible are inaccurate and that Christians have no reason to see the Bible as inerrant. I am less certain that the Jesus Seminar will adopt this document since it seems more obviously a late production than the Gospel of Thomas, but I am always surprised at how devoted they are to the Gospel of Thomas, too. I will look forward to seeing how they deal with this.


Layman said…

Good work.

I have a follow up, "A Layman's Guide to the Gospel of Judas."

I try and hit the highpoints about origins and historical relevance.
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 would 'Christianity' look like if all these resources were available from the beginning? For a divine comedy check this link:
Layman said…
These materials were not available "from the beginning" because they did not exist at the beginning. They only came into existence more than one hundred years after Jesus' time and several decades after the New Testament Gospels. Most are over a hundred years after Paul's letters as well.

And these "gospels" are condemned by their opening lines. Unlike the Christian message, which relied on what had been publically confessed by the apostles and their followers, the gnostic gospels tend to rely on 'secret' teachings that no one had heard before. This is not only due to their gnosticism, but was in fact the only justification they could offer for suddenly coming up with teachings no one had heard before.

And just how many secret teachings did Jesus confide in only one special uber-disciple? Was it the "secret sayings" Jesus gave to Thomas? Or the "Secret Gospel of Mark"? Or is it the "secret account" Jesus gave to Judas? Boy, it is tough for those gnostics to believe so strongly in Jesus' "secret" teachings while obviously believing that Jesus could not keep a secret.

This is not a matter of faith, or bias, or suppression. It is a simple straightforward matter of history. The NT Gospels, even though criticized by many scholars, are really the only ones that offer us any significant historical information about Jesus. There is no reason to think that the "secret" teachings mentioned in the gnostic Gospels have any historical credence.

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