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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Judas Agonistes?

The National Geographic Society has announced that it will be publishing The Gospel of Judas, a Coptic manuscript that has been lost for nearly 1700 years. According to the Society, the gospel recounts Judas's betrayal of Jesus in a manner quite different from the New Testament portrayals:
The text begins by announcing that it is the "secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus' closest friend, someone who understands Christ's true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus' disciples.

In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'"

In otherwords, The Gospel of Judas says that Jesus asked Judas to "betray" him, in order to free his spirit from his body.

The notion of spirit versus body, and the superiority of the spirit, is an essential belief of gnosticism, and puts this gospel squarely in line with the other Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi in 1945.

National Geographic claims that
The newfound account challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition.

Bart Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"This gospel," he said, "has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence—not to mention of Judas himself—than came to be embodied in the Christian creeds and canon."

While this is undoubtedly true, the same could be - and has been - said about the other Gnostic gospels. There's a reason the gnostics were considered heretics by the early church - actually, there are a whole bunch of reasons, starting with their tendency to be dualists, if not pantheists, and including the idea that the path to salvation was through "gnosis "- generally translated as knowledge, but actually closer to "insight" - rather than through any organized church. And then there's the tiny matter of the gnostics denying Christ's resurrection as it's preached by Christianity and generally considering Jesus to be not the son of God, but rather a great spiritual teacher. For the gnostics, Jesus wasn't resurrected, his spirit was liberated from his body, and those who possessed the same gnosis as Jesus could follow the same path.

Dont get me wrong: The Gospel of Judas sounds fascinating, and not just for those of us who for some reason have a bizarre historical interest in gnosticism. But it's not going to change anybody's understanding of anything. To the Catholic Church and mainstream Christianity it will be nothing but an interesting bit of historical fiction written by heretics. And this heresy was eradicated long ago by Church-sanctioned slaughter and Inquisition.

UPDATE: Whoops. I forgot to mention that the National Geographic channel will be airing a special on The Gospel of Judas on Sunday, April 9, at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT. Also, check out NG's webiste, linked to above, for more info about the gospel, including photos of the actual document and a look at how the gospel was authenticated. If that's your bag, baby.

Anonymous Pierre DuPont Copeland, IV said...

Ho hum, yet another revelatory Gnostic gospel. The only people who get excited by this stuff are the charismatic disciples of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who gamely hope each new discovery of contradictory heretical scripture will at last put the kibosh on religion, especially Christianity. Keep dreaming, poor unhappy wretches: the rest of us will pray for the repose of your souls.


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