Judas Resurrected?

"You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me" Jesus speaking to Judas - The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas, along with other Gnostic texts, is important in understanding Christianity's genesis. It challenges some of the depictions of the canonical Gospels. When it was published by the National Geographic Society in April 2006, it received extraordinary media attention and was immediately heralded as a major biblical discovery that excited the world of scholars and laypeople alike.

In Reading Judas Elaine Pagels and Karen King describe its ramifications for telling the story of early Christianity. They illustrate how the document provides a window into understanding how Jesus' followers understood his death, why Judas betrayed Jesus, and why God allowed it. (Short video discussing the Gospel of Judas) Their book illuminates the intellectual assumptions behind Jesus' teaching to Judas and shows how conflict among the disciples was a tool frequently used by early Christian authors to explore matters of doubt and disagreement. (Audio interview with Pagels and King hosted by NPR's Terry Gross)

In The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed, Bart Ehrman, provides an overview of Judas in the traditional New Testament, but he also surveys the Gospel of Judas, from its discovery to its content. "Throughout the Christian tradition," writes Ehrman, "Judas has been portrayed as the rotten apple in the apostolic barrel." Yet the Gospel of Judas reveals a radical new understanding of Christ's mission and Judas's role in it. Judas, in fact, is the lone member of Christ's inner circle who understood Jesus's message. Furthermore, Judas did not really betray Christ. According to Ehrman, his action was a "kind deed performed for the sake of his Lord."

Ehrman, a featured commentator in the National Geographic special, describes how he first saw the Gospel of Judas--surprisingly, in a small room above a pizza parlor in a Swiss town near Lake Geneva--and how it came to be restored and translated. Ehrman gives the reader an account of what the book teaches and shows how it relates to other Gospel texts--both those inside the New Testament and those outside of it, most notably, the Gnostic texts of early Christianity. Finally, he describes what we now can say about the historical Judas himself as well as his relationship with Jesus, suggesting that one needs to read between the lines of the early Gospels to see exactly what Judas did and why he did it.

Biblical scholar N. T. Wright (bishop of Durham, Church of England) says that the Gospel of Judas contradicts his view that Judas did betray Jesus and was not his compatriot, as this noncanonical Gospel maintains. In Judas and the Gospel of Jesus Wright disputes that the Gospel of Judas reveals any new truth about Christianity. He recognizes that the Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic text and characterizes Gnosticism as opposed to the created world, open to secret wisdom, and in denial about the Resurrection of Jesus.

However, a review by Library Journal points out that a quick look at the canonical Gospel of Mark will reveal that the disciples were told to keep messianic secrets and that they should deny this world and Mark ends with no mention of the Resurrection. Wright is very critical of Pagels, King, and Ehrmann in spite of their expertise in analyzing Gnostic texts.

Is the Judas Gospel a spectacular archaeological find having little relevance to Christian theology?

Posted April 30, 2007

15 comments:

Avid Reader said...

Let me kick this off. As I mentioned before The Da Vinci Code got me going on looking at a lot of these “Gnostic Gospel” materials. It's fascinating stuff to get this look into what was going on with the early Christians.

I've read the first two books - I haven’t read N.T. Wright’s book yet but I will get to it this week. From what I can see in the reviews Wright thinks the Gospel of Judas is interesting as an historic document only.

The Gospel of Judas is in some ways similar to the Gospel of John in that it appears Judas was ‘in’ on what would happen to Jesus. The writer of the GofJ is basically saying that Judas was the key disciple. Obviously, the writer of this document was very angry with the esteem being given to the other disciples by the writers of his day and he was in some way trying to set the record straight as he saw it. He bitterly attacks the disciples as some kind of worthless bunch with only Judas sufficiently knowledgeable of Jesus and his intentions.

The Gospel of Mark leaves a similar impression though not as vitriolic as the GofJ writer. In the GofM the disciples come out as a bit of a dim witted lot in that they seem unable to figure what Jesus was about and keep asking him questions which shows that they don’t ‘get it’.

There are some good audio files with talks by Pagels and King which you might consider linking too.

Got to run, more later.

As Ever,
DM

Vinny Hall said...

DM

There was a lot of disagreement about many matters among the early Christians. The Ebionites (supposedly led by James the brother of Jesus) did not believe Jesus was anything other that a man (i.e. not divine) while the Marcionites thought he was not a man but was wholly divine and just appeared to have human attributes.

Also the early Christians quarreled over the same things as Christians do today – issues of sexuality as an example – and they were broken into as many branches as modern day Christianity.

Not much has changed!

Once the ‘orthodox’ position became established these other views were of course then declared to be ‘heretical’. The Book of Acts, accepted as orthodox, leaves one with the impression that the early Christian movement was united into a single belief system but this was not the case.

I’m still working through the Ehrman and Wright books!

Sincerely,
Vinny

Megan Zamprelli said...

From what I gather the person who wrote this gospel is very angry and this anger seems to be directed at those Christians who believe that one should martyr oneself for belief in Jesus. The Jews accepted sacrifice while the Christians did not. What I am getting from Pagels is that the Romans were demanding that the Christians offer sacrifices to the Roman ‘Gods’ and the Christians refused to do this and instead accepted martyrdom. The author of the Gospel appears to be railing at those Christians who believe it is OK for Christians to sacrifice themselves. The author is saying that this is a dreadful thing and that those who encouraged this were basically proposing murder.

Is the thesis then of the Judas Gospel that Jesus was not a sacrifice but that he was in fact following the Gnostic practice of having the spirit escape the earthly body and that Judas is the greatest disciple because Jesus asked him to assist him in this escape?

MAZ

Joan Ferguson said...

Can someone help me with who the Gnostics were.

What did they believe? I hear the term a lot associated with all of these new Gospel discoveries.

Are the Gnostics some sort of an early Christian sect?

Thanks,
Joan

Avid Reader said...

Time magazine had an interesting interview with Elaine Pagels about her book written with Karen King.

The link is:

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1596991,00.html

In the interview there is an interesting discussion about why the author of the Gospel of Judas was angry at the Christian church's developing cult of martyrdom. Pagels says that the "fathers of the church" glorified martyrdom. And that unless the Christians, who were undergoing persecution at the time had a willingness to "die for God" the movement would not survive. Apparently this was indeed a successful strategy. For example, when Justin saw Christians facing torture and execution, he became a convert and a martyr too.

The author of the Judas Gospel didn’t object to people dying for their faith but he was very opposed to leaders who were encouraging people to "die for God" with what he thought were false promises — huge rewards in heaven, and guaranteed resurrection. This is an interesting aspect of early Christianity because both Catholicism and Protestantism honor martyrdom. Today we have the same honor being paid to fundamentalist Muslims.

Pagels also has some interesting things to say in the interview about whether the writer of the Gospel of Judas was familiar with the idea the Jesus died for our sins. She points out that many insisted that Jesus had voluntarily died a sacrificial death. But others asked; what kind of God are you talking about? If God would not allow Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a human sacrifice, but told him to offer a ram instead, would God then sacrifice his son Jesus? Doesn't this suggest that God is some kind of monster, instead of the loving God of whom Jesus spoke? Would God refuse to forgive human sin apart from human sacrifice? Apparently the Judas writer doesn't address this question but is more concerned about leaders encouraging martyrdom whom he criticizes harshly.

Ever,
DM

Looking in the Distance said...

Joan:

The Gnostics were both Christian and non-Christian. I think the elements from the Christian perspective would be

1) They were ‘dualists’ believing that ‘matter’ was evil and ‘spirit’ was good. The world and people (all consisting of matter) were inherently bad. Indeed it was an evil God that created this world and trapped divine spirits in it encased in a material body.

2) Christian Gnosticism seems to view the God of the OT as the evil God and inferior to that of the ‘true’ God.

3) Since the world is inherently evil the only thing that can be done is to escape from it. So salvation to the Gnostics meant getting out of the material cosmos and getting to the pure higher spiritual existence.

4) The way to Gnostic salvation is through ‘gnosis’ (a kind of secret knowledge) which only comes from someone who reveals it. Jesus is to the Gnostic Christians the one who reveals this ‘gnosis’.

The reason the author of the Gospel of Judas is so disparaging of the disciples of Jesus is that he claims that they continued to worship the creator God of the Jews and hence got the whole thing wrong.

Wright gives a good overview of this in Chapter 2 of his book where you can get further detail.

Duncan Clemens said...

Megan, you asked if the thesis of the Judas Gospel is that Jesus was not a sacrifice but that he was in fact following the Gnostic practice of having the spirit escape the earthly body and that Judas is the greatest disciple because Jesus asked him to assist him in this escape.

I think that is basically correct. I don’t like the Wright book because he spends too little time on the actual Judas Gospel and too much time criticising gnosticism in general. However, on page 55 he does give a nice summary on the supposed quotation from Jesus to Judas “For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me”. This means and I quote from the book:

“Judas is instructed by Jesus to help him by sacrificing the fleshly body (the man) that clothes or bears the true spiritual self of Jesus. By making it possible for Jesus to die, Judas allows the divine spark within Jesus to escape the material trappings of his body to return to his heavenly home. Judas is the hero, not the villian”.

It’s quite amazing the diversity and contradictions in the beliefs that some of the early Christians held and were obviously squabbling over.

Duncan

Megan Zamprelli said...

DM

I just came across an interesting comment in the Pagels/King book regarding martyrdom.

One of the early church fathers, Tertullian, boasted that the killing of Christians by the Romans only increased their fervor and inspired other people to join them. He said "The more you mow us down, the more we multiply; the blood of the martyrs is seed for the church".

Reading this I was reminded of Al Quaeda suicide bombers in Iraq. The more opportunities they have to blow themselves up fighting Americans the more others seem to be inspired to join them.

If the lessons learned from Christianity nearly 2000 years ago are correct with respect to martyrdom then the world is going to see a rapid growth of fundamentalist islamism.

MAZ

Pianoman said...

Ehrman and Wright seem to think that the Judas Gospel is directly in the gnostic tradition but Pagels and King say it is in the tradition of mainstream Christianity.

So which is it? Who is right here?

Vinny Hall said...

Pianoman

The problem is that Gnosticism and Christianity basically overlap having a lot in common but also a lot of differences. The Gnostics (some of them Christians) who believed that the evil God created the world and the good God is the one that will rescue the ‘saved’ would not be considered to be in the mainstream monotheist Christian tradition. Pagels and King see the author of the Judas Gospel to be monotheist in his theology and so they place him as a Christian who is gnostic in his thought but pretty much in the mainstream. However, he is on the fringes of the mainstream by placing Judas as the main disciple following Jesus’s wishes.

Sincerely,
Vinny

Avid Reader said...

Vinny, I would agree that it is the mainstream but way out on an extreme edge. There are a lot of indications in the four canonical gospels as one progresses from the earliest gospel, Mark, through Matthew, Luke and finally to the latest, John, that Jesus is more and more in control of the Easter week events. The Gospel of Judas seems to be an extension of this trend i.e. this gospel takes the position that Jesus was completely in control of his own death, directing the events, and Judas was his prime assistant.

See what Pagels/King say about this trend on page 30/31 of their book:

“In the Gospel of Mark it was necessary for God’s messiah to die in order to usher in the kingdom of God. The Gospel of Matthew argues everything is part of God’s plan. The Gospel of Luke has Jesus utterly in control, even of Satan. The Gospel of John goes furthest in portraying Jesus as directing events even the betrayal.

There is a very interesting video link in the main section of this thread!

Ever
DM

Arthur McCorry said...

I’m surprised no one has brought up the irony here that the author of this gospel was opposed to martyrdom yet Judas in doing what he was supposedly asked to do got himself killed in the process.

Is he then the first and greatest martyr?

AMC

Helen Wright said...

I didn’t realize that the gospel was so short. I actually managed to read the whole thing in the King/Pagels book!

Helen

Arthur McCorry said...

What has surprised me about this thread is that I never heard of Gnosticism before and now I find that it seems to be alive in well in the modern world.

I found tracking through the link below quite enligtening (sorry if that is a bad pun)

http://www.gnosis.org

I wonder if this is just alive in the USA or does anyone know about European versions?

AMC

Looking in the Distance said...

Martha K. Baker is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Louis, Missouri. She wrote a review on Reading Judas which appears at:

http://www.episcopal-life.org/81827_85856_ENG_HTM.htm

She wrote:

”Reading Judas is a small book packed with revelations and information. Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University, and Karen King, a professor of ecclesiastical history at the Harvard Divinity School, have applied their considerable expertise in translating and analyzing the Gospel of Judas.

Their introduction traces the history of the Gospel of Judas, which was written in 2nd-century Greek then translated into Coptic. The National Geographic Society made the gospel's discovery in the 1970s public in 2006. King's English translation, with notes and commentary, fills the second half of Reading Judas; the first half is cogent exegesis.

As with the other gospels, Judas was not written by the disciple named Judas, and King and Pagels are careful always to refer to "the author of Judas," never (confusingly) just "Judas." This gospel's author proposes that Judas-the-disciple was not just loyal, but was, indeed, Jesus' favorite.

Also like the other gospels, Judas was written with an agenda. In "Judas and the Twelve," the scholars explain: "When Christians in later generations told stories of rivalry between disciples, and chose which stories to tell and which to leave out, often they were taking sides in disputes between different groups." Additionally, King and Pagels address the bloody issues of sacrifice and martyrdom in the persecutory time and place Judas was written; and they consider the "divine mysteries," which the author of this gospel claimed Jesus revealed to Judas and no other.

In accessible language, Pagels and King place this newly discovered gospel in context with the canonical gospels and with political and clerical history. In Reading Judas, they present their scholarship as an offering -- not a snowjob -- to help us understand that "the Gospel of Judas ... leads us right into the center of the debates about what Christianity would become."