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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Judas, Judas, Judas

Much debate and discussion about the Gospel of Judas (see my earlier post here) over at Professor Bainbridge and The Volokh Conspiracy. Some Christians are upset with the way this gospel is being marketed, and I can't say they're wrong, although viewing the marketing as evidence of some sort of anti-Christian conspiracy is a bit much. I addressed this briefly in my earlier post, but let me add this.

From a Christian perspective, the Gnostics were heretics. This cannot be argued with. Obviously the Gnostics didn't think they were heretics: rather, they believed that the early church had perverted the teachings of Jesus and that they, in fact, were his true followers.

These two positions cannot be reconciled. After all, the beliefs of the Gnostics and what we now call the early Christians were so dissimilar that they could not co-exist. It is not true, as one commenter at Professor Bainbridge said, that "the importance of [the Gospel of Judas] is to help understand the various stories, and the interplay between them, which created the theological underpinnings of the early Church." The truth is that this and all the other Gnostic gospels most likely were written after the theological underpinnings of the early church were already extant, and they were pretty much a direct contradiction of those tenets. That's why they were considered heresy, and that's why the church, led by Bishop Irenaeus, went to such great lengths to wipe out those who believed in them. Early church leaders weren't stupid: they knew that two opposed and competing visions of Jesus and spirituality had much less chance of surviving, let alone attaining any kind of power, than one strong, unified church - i.e., the church built around Peter.

2000 years later, the Gospel of Judas is not the threat to the Catholic Church that it could have been back then. It's absurd to think it is in any way going to be a world-changing document, and it shouldn't be marketed as such. Thanks to the 1945 discovery at Nag Hammadi, we already have many other Gnostic gospels, and I'm pretty sure there haven't been mass defections* from Catholicism or any other Christian faith. The gospel is, however, a fascinating historical document, and should be treated as such. Like the other Gnostic gospels, it gives us a glimpse into a religion that for the most part is long dead. And I, personally, think that's pretty cool.

But then again, I'm Jewish, so what do I know...

Unless otherwise noted, all puns are intended.

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