The Pokey Finger of God

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Gospel of Judas

March 3rd, 2006 · No Comments · christianity, history, media

Last night during the “Gnosticism to Christianity” discussion with the CUUPS group, one member asked me if I knew of any of the latests books to have been discovered. I said that there hadn’t been any major announced discoveries, but that we were still translating a lot of the materials we had already found.

Case in point is the Gospel of Judas. This was an Egyptian codex hidden for years in someone’s collection before scholars were able to purchase it for study. Given the revelations provided by the Gospels of Thomas and Mary, I feel confident that Judas will surprise us, as well.

Part of the reason this codex languished so long is because it was in the domain of the antiquities dealers. Few scholars are willing to invest much of their precious time or energies on an item that they did not personally discover or which lacks a clear history of ownership. Forgeries are a huge problem, the secret embarrassment of museums worldwide: more than a few display items are fake, but had been purchased as though they were real. No one wants to work on something only to discover that it was a lot younger than initially informed. “Did I say 5th Century? I meant it was made 5 centuries ago. Heh, heh.” We can expect that many years, maybe decades, of questions will follow this book, simply because its origin begs the question: “Did someone fake this to make money?”

“…he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money.”

One of the reasons I would anticipate something special in the Gospel of Judas is because of its age and its absence in the traditional canon. Quite a few books were rejected by Church fathers because they contained elements of heresy. Judas is certainly old enough (if it’s the one Irenaeus railed about in 180) to have been considered for the canon. While it’s possible that it was rejected for being too derivative, it’s difficult to understand why it would have been recopied in Egypt when more authoritative texts were certainly more available than they are today. Thus, I anticipate that several heretical positions are presented within the Gospel of Judas, and I’m very interested to see what comes of the translation.

My guess, based on the fact that only a Coptic version of the text exists and that Irenaeus hated it so much, is that it emphasizes the Egyptian heresy of elevating Christ to Godhead. So this Gospel may contain some stories that emphasize Jesus’ divinity over his humanity. Perhaps he does some really over-the-top miracle… although I don’t know what beats raising the dead. Perhaps this Gospel holds a particularly gnostic speech from Jesus devaluing priests over personal experience of divinity.

It may be something really big. One possibility keys from a suggestion that the entire “betrayal” scene was part of a larger confidence scheme that Judas was in on, so perhaps this Gospel spells out the arrangement. On the other hand, this could be something less important: we could discover that Judas was a close family member to Jesus, or that the number of apostles was really more like 14 or 75. Perhaps this gospel was simply less discrete about Jesus’ sexual proclivities, or emphasizes Jesus political activities. We’ll all find out together.

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