So-called Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas – Another Gospel?

This year the National Geographic announced that they had ‘discovered ‘ the ‘lost’ Gospel of Judas (April 6, 2006).  This announcement has been all over the media this past week, after the press announcement – having been carried in the press, on the radio, and on the net.  Apparently they have planned three books, and a television special this Sunday evening.  Gospel of JudasBased on reports, the release of this so-called ‘discovery’ was carefully timed to occur prior to the Christian Easter celebration, and the upcoming release of The Da Vinci Code movie.

No surprise on the timing of this announcement (apparently this document has been around for a while).  Reports from the Washing Post and other media indicate that the promoters are hoping to cash in big on the claims being generated by The DaVinci Code -ie, that there are a number of other ‘lost gospels‘. Problem is, this ‘Gospel of Judas’ – like the other false ‘gospels’ of the Gnostics – are not really gospels at all.  “Gospel” means “good news”, and the four New Testament gospels all recount eyewitness testimonies and historical events about the good news of Jesus.  Contrast this to the so-called Gospel of Judas, which was written by an unknown author (yes, not Judas – he was long since dead) and contains a jumbled collections of sayings, supposedly by Jesus and Judas..

Key points to note about this ‘secret’ lost gospel now brought to light:

  • Yes, it is ancient — but that does not mean it is an authentic early Christian writing.  Based on studies done, the document is a papyrus dating to the 3rd or 4th century.  It is a Coptic copy of an alleged earlier Greek document, which no longer exists.  This original document supposedly was written between 150-250 AD – long after the four New Testament gospels, which most experts date to before 90 AD (some as early as 60 AD or earlier, before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD). 
  • The document has all the markings of a heretical Gnostic writing of the 2nd-3rd century.  The Gnostics were not Christians, but were a break-away mystical movement of the 2nd-4th century. The Gnostics believed that salvation was accomplished by one knowing ‘secret hidden knowledge’ (gnosis) – that only those who acquired such knowledge could be saved.  They rejected the basic Christian notion that salvation was based on grace through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus dying for mankind’s sins and rising from the dead.

1.  For example, Jesus is purported to tell Judas at one point:  “you will exceed all of them.  For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”  This is indicative of the Gnostic belief that the flesh is wicked, and that mankind spirit while on earth is ‘trapped’ in an evil earthly body.  This is in contrast to the Christian belief that the body is not “evil”, but is to be raised along with the soul and spirit, and transformed into a glorious immortal body.  Note that Jesus after His resurrection, according to the New Testament gospels, ate and drank with His disciples – at one point telling them outright that He was not a ‘ghost’, for ‘ghosts do not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’.  Jesus displayed a powerful new resurrected body to His followers – not an un-embodied spirit.

2.  The gospel makes fantastical claims – for example, it states that Jesus often did not appear as himself to his followers, but at times as a child.  This is characteristic of 2nd-4th century legendary writings.  And definitely in contrast to the New Testament gospels, which are written in a matter of fact historical style.

3.  As with other Gnostic writings, the document is falsely attributed to an author - Judas (presumably Iscariot), however that it was written by Judas is most unlikely (since he was long dead). The author is unknown, but experts agree it was probably a scribe impressed with Gnostic teachings, probably written in the 2nd-3rd century.

4.  In contrast to New Testament writings, the Gospel of Judas makes reference to terms popular in other Gnostic writings  – of ‘secret’ knowledge that must be gained, that 12 heavenly places called Aeons exist, of Sophia, of ‘luminaries’, Nebro, Seth (who is called ‘Christ’), an an alternative creation account.

Current media reports also refer to the fact that one of the most famous of early Christian church “fathers’ – Irenaeus – condemned a so-called Gospel of Judas in his writings dated about 180 AD.  In his book Against Heresies, Irenaeus writes in section I.31.1:

“[Some] declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”

So, in sum: this is not “another Christian gospel”, but a heretical Gnostic writing from the 2nd-4th century, being carefully timed and heavily promoted in the media just before the launch of a major anti-Christian Hollywood movie “The Da Vinci Code” – all for the purpose of making as much money as possible for the promoters.

Links to Sources on the Web

The Biblical Archeology Review
Christian Century Magazine: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=1594
The Tertullian Project 
(contains actual English translation and photographs): http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/manuscripts/gospel_of_judas/

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