The Gospel of Judas

Written by Drew on May 3rd, 2006

The National Geographic Society has fueled a new controversy with the publication of a translation of the Gospel of Judas last month. To say the ancient document has just been “discovered” is a stretch. We’ve known about it for almost 2,000 years. In the year 180, Irenaeus denounced it as “fictional.” But shortly thereafter it disappeared from the scene, its contents forgotten until a translation of a translation of it was found in a cave in the Egyptian desert in the 1970s.

The long-lost work has created a furor over its claim that Judas was Jesus’ only true disciple and that he turned Jesus over to the Romans, not out of betrayal, but according to a plot schemed by the two of them.

Christians should not be overly concerned about the Gospel of Judas. First of all, the document is clearly pseudepigraphal (written under a false name). Written in third person, it describes events Judas would have never had time to record, having hanged himself immediately after giving Christ his notorious kiss (Mt. 27:3-5).

The reason the work was lost is because the early church stamped it as false and tried to cast it on the trash heap of religious heresy. Irenaeus’ views on it were,

[The authors] claim that the betrayer Judas was well informed of all these things, and that he, knowing the truth as none other, brought about the mystery of the betrayal. . . they produced a spurious account of this sort, which they call the Gospel of Judas (Adv. Haer. I.31.1).

The controversy is deceptive, really, for the ancient fragment reveals very little about anything. Here’s an excerpt: “‘[Truly] I say to you, […] angel […] power will be able to see that […] these to whom […] holy generations […]’ After Jesus said this, he departed.” Enlightening, isn’t it? In an interview with Newsweek scholar James M. Robinson said,

It tells us nothing about the historical Jesus, nothing about the historical Judas. It only tells what, 100 years later, Gnostics were doing with the story they found in the canonical Gospels. I think purchasers are going to throw the book down in disgust.

So why has this contested, disreputed document caught the public’s eye? Because it resonates with postmodern philosophy, which, whether we know it or not, drives conventional thinking. Gnostism rejected the authority of the apostles and claimed the experience of gnosis (knowledge) gave individuals their own authority. This matches a common attitude found in the present that values experience and feeling over truth, spirituality over religion and doctrine. The excitement over the Gospel of Judas is nothing but a symptom of our times.

Be watching for more of the same. Eastern mysticism, the rejection of reason, alternatives to traditional thought, and a distaste for religion are the challenges facing the church today.


5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Barton says:

    I agree with your conclusions. This “Gospel of Judas” is not a new attack on the truth but rather an addition to what has been stated in the past. I categorize this “news story” as being part of several other so-called religious breakthroughs like The DaVinci Code, What Heaven is Really Going to Be Like, etc. It’s frustrating to see the public interested in religious matters but not necessarily the truth. News specials like Dateline, 20/20, and Primetime have recently reported on religious stories, but only those things interest the world’s thinking. They’re distracted by things that we can’t know rather than convicted by the things we do know.

  2. Daniel says:

    It seems for some unless something religious appears as mystical, psuedoscience fiction, “look what we found among the fog of religious thought”, it has no appeal.

    Till the Lord returns, the skeptic will not be finished. Yet, the tower of truth prevails and truth will march on into eternity.

    Davinci and the Gospel of Judas, in time will be like water drops on the back of a duck.

    Reminds me of the Athenians and foreigners, “who spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing ” (Acts 17:21) To these individuals truth was babble (17:18), seemed foreign (17:18), appeared new (17:19), and appeared strange (17:20).

    I’ll keep following Him who is the way and the truth (John 14:6).


  3. Ike says:

    The “mainstream media” (if it does so exist) is trying to play catch-up in a topic that it is sorely unqualified to broach.

    The editors and decision-makers in the insulated bubbles of NY and DC are really out of touch with the rest of the country. All they know is that the focus group data shows that more people are claiming a religious affiliation, and there was a rise in church attendance going back to the millenium change.

    But they are lacking in the ability to cull the wheat from the chaff, and frankly don’t have the will to begin with.

    That’s why you see a special entitled “What is Heaven?”, when the more accurate description should have been “Eighteen eschatological endings from equally-eminent ecclesiastical emissaries.”

  4. J-Train says:

    I have to admit that there is a certain draw to the “mystical” and “fantastic”. I’m guilty of it myself…see the discussion on Melchizadek in October 05.


  5. Ike says:

    Joel, do not fear being “drawn” to those things. It is human.

    Frankly, anyone who dismisses those things entirely and prematurely runs the risk of living in a closed bubble. This kind of attitude would have destroyed the Dead Sea Scrolls before anyone bothered to translate them.

    Read, read, and read again with a critical ear. Listen out for what the author is trying to say, and see if you can glean clues to the structure of the argument from the way it is written, what is included, and what is excluded. (Just don’t go in without your armor secure.)

    Reasoned refutations of “DaVinci Code” always make a better impression than knee-jerk ones.

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