Should Christendom Consider the "Gospel of Judas"?



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  • Should Christendom Consider the "Gospel of Judas"?

    Published in the Christian Chronicle - By S. E. Ray - 10/22/06

    On April 7, 2006, the National Geographic Society announced the discovery of Codex Tchacos which includes what is called the "Gospel of Judas" The media has handled the news with much propaganda. Many articles, books and websites have dealt with this issue emphatically. Some have claim that the discovery of the Judas Gospel will have a radical effect on the Christian theology and the Gospel of Judas will be in competition with the four known canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The manuscript itself was unveiled at the National Geographic Society headquarters, accompanied by a television special entitled “The Gospel of Judas” on April 9, 2006, which was aired on the National Geographic Channel. Since then, people within and outside of the faith have questioned the documents authenticity as it relates to Christian beliefs. Is it a reliable text and should it be taken it seriously?

    [See National Geographic "The Gospel of Judas" DVD cover with nationally televised review below.]

    In “The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot,” Herbert Krosney explains how the codex was discovered and traces the events that led to its publication in English: "In the mid- to late 1970s, hidden for more than fifteen hundred years, an ancient text emerged from the sands of Egypt. Near the banks of the Nile River, some Egyptian peasants, fellahin, stumbled upon a cavern. In biblical times, such chambers had been used to bury the dead. The peasants entered the cave, seeking ancient gold or jewelry, anything of value that they could sell. Instead, among a pile of human bones, they discovered a crumbling limestone box. Inside it, they came upon an unexpected find, a mysterious leather-bound book, a codex."

    Archaeologically speaking, the recent recovery of the Gospel of Judas will rank among the greatest finds of religious antiquity and is without doubt the most important discovery since the Nag Hammadi in 1945. What will make this gospel controversial is that it portrays Judas quite differently from anything we previously knew. The Gospel of Judas does not color him as a corrupt follower of Jesus who betrayed him; he is instead Jesus' intimate confidant, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities as performed in obedience to the instructions of Jesus. This apocryphal (from Greek "the hidden things") gospel has a heterodoxical (not orthodox or sound teaching) understanding of the Creator, the world, Christ, salvation, and human existence that sharply departs from the written context of accepted scripture.

    The Gospel of Judas does not portray it to have been written of Judas Iscariot nor that the other disciples understood the secret teachings. On the contrary, it asserts that the disciples did not comprehend the true Gospel, which Jesus revealed only to Judas Iscariot, as exemplified in the following text: "Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him: Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve disciples may again come to completion with their God."

    Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202 CE) was a heresy hunter in the same caliber of Tertullian (155–230 CE) and Hippolytus (170-236 CE). He excoriated heresies in a work called Adversus Haereses (the full title of which is the "Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge falsely so-called"). He wrote "They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things (divine enlightenment), 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 (the Gnostic writers) produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas." (1.31.1) The "Gospel of Judas" was also referred to by Origen in the year 230 in his book Stromateis, which vehemently asserted distain upon Gnosticism. (Means “mystical teachings to escape from this world through the acquisition of hidden knowledge.”)

    [See photo painting protraying the betraying kiss of Judas Iscariot below.]

    The Apophatic (means “negative”) Theology mode of thinking about God is found throughout Gnosticism, Vendantic Hinduism, Platonic and Aristotelian theology. Irenaeus alleged that a large number of Gnostic groups, were semi-maltheists believing that the god of the Old Testament was evil, and a quite different and much lesser being to the deity that had created the universe, and who was responsible for sending Jesus. Many Gnostic groups worshipped as heroes all the Biblical figures which had sought to discover knowledge or challenge Yahweh's authority, while demonizing those who would have been seen as heroes in a more orthodox interpretation. Such is the reversal role that we see Mary Magdalene as harlot turned choice companion of Christ in the "Gospel of Mary." Gnostics notoriously flip the canvas of good and evil in keeping with the understanding of their theology. For example, in Gnostic stories of creation the world and humankind are created by a vile god. But the good serpent comes to reveal knowledge to people so they can escape the evil creation.

    After reading the "Gospel of Judas", one will be introduced to new titles and deities not commonly referenced today. However, they were known in that first century among the Syrian-Egyptic Gnostics such as the Sethians, Thomasines, Valentinians and Basilideans. An example passage reads "His name was Nebro, which means ‘rebel’; others call him Yaldabaoth. Another angel, Saklas (means "foolish one"), also came from the cloud." The Yaldabaoth, a 'serpent with a lion's head'. This figure is commonly known as the Demiurge, after the figure in Plato's "Timaeus". This imperfect divine is taught as the one who created the universe. The author claims that God, the Father of Jesus is Barbelo. “Barbelo”, in Gnostic writings is the first emanation from the divine essence and mother of all Aeons. These figures have largely to do with the origin of the universe, and they are commonly found in Gnostic treatises from Nag Hammadi.

    Where does all this come from, certainly not orthodox scripture? After much study, one will find this gospel closely reflects the teachings of the Sethians, although some claim it could be of the Cainites which sought to rehabilitate Cain. The Sethians were a group of ancient Gnostics, which date their existence before Christianity. Sethians venerated the biblical Seth, third son of Adam and Eve, who is depicted in their myths of creation as a divine incarnation; a superior elect within human society. The Sethians cosmogony myth provides an expanded prologue to the events of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, which by its presentation brings about a radical reinterpretation of the Jewish concept of creation. Many of their teachings are derived from a fusion of Platonic and Neo-Platonist concepts with the Old Testament. When Christ came on the scene, they proceeded to integrate him into their mythological concept. One will find the gospel reflects some Egyptian thinking. Gods and demi-gods that they call Archons, 'petty rulers' which are commonly depicted as theriomorphic, or having the heads of animals much like the Egyptian gods.

    [See photo Codex Tchacos which includes what is called the "Gospel of Judas" below.]

    The Gospel of Judas states that Jesus told Judas "You shall be cursed for generations." It then adds to this conversation that Jesus had told Judas "you will come to rule over them," and that "You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." The Gospel of Judas not only asserts that the actions of Judas were necessary, but that Judas was acting on the orders of Jesus himself. It is no longer a pride-driven rebellion against God's divine purpose, but Judas' actions are venerated as most profound in keeping with God's will. Gnostic writings will often exonerate orthodox villains as the hero or heroines to be revered. Jesus purportly said in another passage "Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star."

    The Gospel of Judas is typical of many Gnostic writings, with its notions that salvation comes through the knowledge of one's divine origin, that salvation is exclusive and offered only to the elite, that the majority of Christians are caught in error and serving the wrong God, that physical existence is a deities fouled mistake and needs to be transcended, and that Jesus was a teacher of esoteric truths that bear almost no resemblance to anything a first-century Jewish prophet would have taught. The Gnostics prized their secret knowledge, and taught a profound dualism between the material and spiritual worlds. They understood the material world, including the entire cosmos, to be a trap for the spiritual world. In essence, the Gnostics sought to escape the material world and to enter the spirit world.

    Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, condemned the credibility of the gospel during his 2006 Easter address, saying, "This is a demonstrably late text which simply parallels a large number of quite well-known works from the more eccentric fringes of the early century Church." He went on to suggest that the book's publicity derives from an insatiable desire for conspiracy theories. "We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts." The Pope responded on April 13, 2006 "The Vatican, by word of Pope Benedict XVI, grants the recently surfaced Judas' Gospel no credit with regards to its apocryphal claims that Judas betrayed Jesus in compliance with the latter's own requests.”

    In AD 367, the bishop of Alexandria urged Christians to “cleanse the church from every defilement” and to reject “the hidden books.” Paul sharply rebuked the early Christians for giving heed to seducing doctrines that could shake a person's faith. “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ ... If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:7-9, NIV). Peter said, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Peter 2:1-2, NIV).
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