9 Apr 2007

The "Gospel" of Judas: Reflections & Thoughts

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Discipleship, Exegesis, Gnosticism, Gospel of Judas, Jesus, Kingdom, Mission

The “Gospel” of Judas: Reflections and Thoughts

Christians throughout the world celebrated the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene yesterday (April 8). I have decided as a follow up there could be no better way to highlight the “Easter” message than by contrasting it with Gnosticism that has perpetually plagued the Church. What follows is part of a larger presentation that I did on May 13, 2006 on The “Gospel” of Judas at Southside Church of Christ for area ministers and other interested parties. There is a great gulf between historic Christianity and Gnosticism. I will follow this blog up with at least one more and possibly more depending on the interest. It should be known that I am not a disinterested person here–I have little sympathy (actually none) for Gnostic theology.

The New York Times headlines of April 6, 2006 read “Gospel of Judas’ Surfaces After 1,700 Years.” The Times article claims this is the “most significant ancient, none biblical

text to be found in the past 60 years.” Perhaps even more amazing than the Dead Sea Scrolls. The document is declared to be “authentic.” Elaine Pagels is quoted as saying “these discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse – and fascinating – the early Christian movement really was.” The Times further claims this find has “shaken up Biblical scholarship.”

 Codex Tchacos

According to Rudolphe Kasser, the document’s editor, Codex Tchacos was discovered accidentally around 1978 in upper Egypt about sixty miles north of Al Minya. The document went through an amazing odyssey between then and its coming into the hands of the Maecenas Foundation in 2001.

From a historical standpoint and from a cultural standpoint the discovery of Codex Tchacos is wonderful and amazing.Anytime a piece of the human story is recovered we learn more about ourselves.It is a priceless treasure.However, it is not a treasure in the sense that it is going to revolutionize our understanding of ancient history, Christian or otherwise. Indeed it does not even revolutionize our understanding of Gnosticism. There is actually nothing in the Gospel of Judas that we did not already know about the basic contours of Gnostic thought.

Codex Tchacos is actually an ancient anthology of sorts. The Codex has 66 folios (ancient pages) with four different works bound together by old tax receipts. Those works are:

 

1) The Letter of Peter to Philip. This document was previously known from the Nag Hammadi find.

2) A document being called “James” that closely parallels another previously known document
from Nag Hammadi.

3) The Gospel of Judas covers folios 33-58 of the codex and was previously unknown except through Irenaeus and Pseudo-Tertullian.

4) The last document is badly damaged is being called The Book of Allogenes, which seems to be unknown as well.

The other three documents have not been translated into English yet. The National Geographic Society was however in a hurry to get Judas out by Easter {of 2006}

Codex Tchacos as a manuscript dates to around A.D. 300 though the works within it are earlier than that.

 

The Gospel of Judas

The “Gospel” opens with these words, “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.”

Theology and Judas

 

(Contrary to some popular opinions Theology really does matter . . .)

Many Christians confess the Nicene Creed each Sunday. In a day when there were no pocket Bibles or NT’s the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed were important summaries of what Christians believe. The Nicene creed opens

We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

Immediately this creed has makes some radical claims. There is only one God. He is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is the Creator of all things seen and unseen. There is a reason why the early Christians felt the necessity of including this confession in the creed . . . because Gnosticism denies this basic point. That is they deny that “God” is the creator of this world nor is he the Father of Jesus Christ. These two themes are intimately connected btw.

The affirmation of Nicea stands is in radical contrast to the Gospel of Judas. Bart Erhman, hardly a conservative scholar, writes “At the outset of the gospel {of Judas} it is clear that the God of Jesus is not the creator god of the Jews” (The Gospel of Judas, p. 104).

In fact the disciples are in “pious observance” of the Passover and are praying to God.In the Gospel of Judas Jesus mocks the disciples . . . which of course offends the them.

Why are you laughing at our prayer of thanksgiving? We have done what is right?”

“I am not laughing at you. You are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that YOUR god will be praised . . .” (GofJ 34).

The Gospel of Judas provides a stunning example of the contrast of resurrection of the body faith vs Gnostic "spiritualism." In this small study (130pp) brings us face to face with the heart of NT Christianity and is competitors.  I recommend this book!

The Gospel of Judas provides a stunning example of the contrast of resurrection of the body faith vs Gnostic “spiritualism.” In this small study (130pp) brings us face to face with the heart of NT Christianity and is competitors. I recommend this book!

The Jesus of the Gospel of Judas continues:

Your god who is within you . . . have provoked you to anger within your souls. Let anyone of you who is strong enough among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face . . .” (35).

The disciples fail to have the strength except for Judas. Judas confesses that Jesus is from the realm of Barbelo and Jesus takes him aside to instruct him privately. In this private discussion Jesus offers a very complex mythology of the origin of the world.

Judas said to him, ‘I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”

Because Judas exhibits superior insight, the “Gospel,” says “Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him, ‘Step away from the others and I will tell you the mysteries of the kingdom.”

The disciples had confessed that Jesus was “the son of our God.” But as it turns out in the Gospel of Judas this is not the case. Jesus wants nothing to do with their god, much less be his son.

Their god is the rebel Waldabaoth or the fool Saklas.It is these two gods that are primarily responsible for the desecration of the pristine cosmos–that is one without flesh and materiality. Rather the real world is one of pure spirit.

Jesus comes to reveal a super secret god (though the Gospel of Judas suggests that the term “god” may not be appropriate for him). He is so transcendent that he has nothing whatsoever to do with this planet, or the material universe, in any fashion. He does not reach into this world to deliver humanity. The cross of Jesus is simply a means for him to shed, to be delivered from, the material body and free his pure spirit. However there are on this planet those, like Judas, that have a spark of divinity (gnosis) that lets them know the secret truth. That truth is: The God of the Jews is not the real God. That we are not meant, and never were meant, to live on this planet or have materiality. We were never intended to be here in the first place this place is a cosmic accident and evil itself. It is the work of the foolish and evil god of the Jews. That true knowledge is understanding these mysteries and such knowledge is the path to enlightened salvation , i.e. a return to the realm of Barbelo … the realm of pure spirit.

Thus even Jesus who is encased in flesh needs ultimate liberation from the body. “For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” Thus Judas plays the part of betrayer but only in order to save, that is deliver, Jesus from his fleshy body so he can return to Barbelo, free from materiality.

Their high priests murmured because he had gone into the guest room for his prayer. But some scribes were there watching carefully in order to arrest him during the prayer, for they were afraid of the people, since he was regarded by all as a prophet.

“They approached Judas and said to him, ‘What are you doing here? You are Jesus’ disciple.”

Judas answered them as they wished. And he received some money and handed him over to them.”

Evaluation

Ben Witherington III writes this about the Gospel of Judas (Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish historical Jesus scholar btw.  She is not trying to defend Christianity)

“I was on the phone yesterday with my close friend Dr. A.J. Levine who teaches at Vanderbilt Div. School. She was called in late in the game to give a bit more balance to the group of scholars unveiling the Gospel of Judas. I asked her point blank: ” Well A.J. is this document of any importance at all in helping us understand the historical Jesus or the historical Judas and their relationship?” She said unequivocally— “none whatsoever“. In other words, we need to all have our baloney detection meters set to ‘heightened alert’ as we watch the special on the Gospel of Judas tonight. While this document will tell us more about the split off movement called Gnosticism, and so is of considerable interest as we learn more about church history in the period from the late 2nd century through the fourth century, it tells us nothing about the origins of Christianity or the beginnings of the Jesus movement.” (Blog, April 9, 2006)

More to Come,
Bobby Valentine

23 Responses to “The "Gospel" of Judas: Reflections & Thoughts”

  1. Steve Says:

    April DeConnick performed her own translation of this gospel and claims that the National Geographic team got it wrong. She says that in her view the subject, Judas, is still the bad guy and that the previous translators did not understand parody that was in the text. She has a book coming out on this. Here’s a link to her March 30 entry on this topic.

    http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2007/03/thirteenth-apostle-what-gospel-of-judas.html

  2. Steve Says:

    Excuse me, her name is spelled “DeConick”. The main entrance to her blog is:

    http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Steve I will check it out. Thanks.

    Bobby V.

  4. Paul Straw Says:

    Bobby,

    I was there when you spoke about how close to having a gnostic point of view I might have.

    Jesus is truly fully concerned about all of me not just my spirit/soul He is also concerned about how and what I do with my body.

    So currently I am disciplining my body along with mind, spirit and soul.

    I don’t put more emphasis on the physical but I know that to try and separate or leave out taking care of all of me.

    I believe that God has used me in new ways because of my discipling in this way. If I don’t know how to be physically disciplined how well will i be able to discipline on the things unseen?

    Thanks,
    Paul

  5. John Dickson Says:

    The Bible states that there will be signs and sayings that will deceive the “very elect”. We are also told that this world belongs to Satan. I cannot ever think that with all the deceptions already poured out on this world and our modern society that I can believe something that those who are desperate to disprove the Bible are telling the truth. Greetings from Milwaukee! We still support you and pray for you Bobby!
    John and Elizabeth Dickson and children

  6. Messianic Gentile Says:

    I remember the day in Dr. Willis’s study of Paul class when I suddenly realized what gnosticism really was and how deep I was in it. “O God, I am a Gnostic!” I thought. Well, maybe not a pure gnostic, but definitely a descendent from gnosticism.

    I still meet gnosticism in Bible class at church all the time. I was not alone in my gnosticism. It is understandable that I ever struggled with it since shades of it pervade the church I grew up in.

    I struggle with dealing with holders of gnostic views all the time. I suppose posts like this that expose gnosticism in us are useful, especially to those who awake to it in themselves and repent. But for me, I would like to see a post on dealing with holders of gnostic beliefs in my local congregation, or in the Baptist church across the street that my congregation is reaching out to with a hand of fellowship.

    That is the trick for me.

    Thanks for the post, Bobby. Good stuff as always.

  7. John Roberts Says:

    Bobby, always something good (and on the bottom shelf where we can all get it!) If you’re taking votes on whether to continue, count mine on the “yes” column. Fascinating thoughts.

  8. Gardner Hall Says:

    There´s no doubt that basic Christian tenets are under a concerted attack, especially in “the media” – Gospel of Judas, “Tomb of Jesus,” “Banned from the Bible,” etc. Though the weakness of the attacks actually builds faith (Is that the best they can do?) they will shake the weak and uninformed.

    Thanks for this informative “counter attack.”

  9. Josh Says:

    I think it’s an interesting concept, but kinda like the end times, we’ll never know for sure.

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Josh what is it that we will not know for sure?

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  11. Marion & Michael Morrison Says:

    I believe that the information in the Gospel of Judas is as important as any we have outside of the Bible. It is insight into the mind of the interpretation passed on to us from the earliest part of Christianity. Why should we discount their understanding and accept others. It is not my place to discredit Christians.

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Paul it is so good to see you reading my blog. I pray all is well for you in Wisconsin. I sure miss our monthly get togethers. Don’t be shy about commenting, I love to hear from you.

    John,

    Man two folks from WI commenting in one day! This is a first. We sure miss you and Elizabeth too. We miss sheepshead and hot salsa from Linda. There is lots of salsa here in Tucson but amazingly most of it is NOT hot. I will be back in Milwaukee in June … about a month or so. I hope to get to preach at Southside. Give hugs and love to everyone.

    MMM,

    Welcome to the Stoned-Campbell blog. I am delighted you read and left a comment. I have no desire to “discredit Christians” either. Nor do I wish to poke fun or ridicule. But I can point out where I think these folks are wrong without doing that … at least I hope that is possible.

    If we believe in the concept of revelation then we can evaluate things in the Gospel of Judas. This is possible on historical grounds. First, we have records that speak of Jesus from the first century AD. Some of those records date to within 30 years of his life. These include the Pauline epistles and the Gospel of Mark. Other early documents include the other canonical Gospels all of which date in the first century and they are uncontestedly recognized as the the earliest of all Gospels. That includes the “Gospel” of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas. Judas is, at the earliest, a late second century document. It does not, even according to its editors, contain reliable historical information on either Jesus or Judas. It is a magnificient witness to Gnostic beliefs but not to a first century Jewish Messiah.

    Based upon the above considerations it is possible to see that what the canonical Gospels, especially John and the First and Second Epistle of John, we see there are radically different claims for who and what Jesus is. The Gospel of John and Judas are polar opposites. The first four verses of 1 John stand in sharp contrast to what Judas claims about the world and the Messiah who BECAME flesh.

    Now because I believe that, generally, the closer a source is to its subject the less time there is for altering the story. Thus I believe the canonical Gospels tell us who Jesus really was.

    I also believe this world is not evil. Do you? Gnosticism does. Gnosticism believes the greatest thing you and I can do is … DIE. to Escape from this world. Now “Escape” was good album by Journey but it is not the message of Christianity. Thanks again for dropping by and challenging us to rethink.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  13. Darin Says:

    Thanks Bobby. Much is going around these days. We need to understand our history.

  14. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby- Great stuff as usual. It is good to see a scholarly treatment of these sensationalized things put out by people who have an agenda of destruction of faith or at least faith in God. Even with your admitted biases you provide objective analysis that brings balance into the discussion

    God Bless
    Charlie

    p.s. Thanks for coming by the other day — I’ve been “home-bound” formostof the past month so this caused me tocome for an enriching visit.

  15. Marion & Michael Morrison Says:

    I meant no disrespect. I just didn’t know why the Gospel of Judas was not being accepted by Christianity. I know the Christians in my area all have different beliefs about Jesus and we accept each other no matter what we believe.

  16. Josh Says:

    About the End Times or Judas?

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Josh you said,

    “I think it’s an interesting concept, but kinda like the end times, we’ll never know for sure.”

    I do not know what you mean by “interesting concept” nor do I know what we will never know for sure?

    Do you mean that Gnosticism is an interesting concept? Do you mean that we do not know if Gnosticism is true or not? The desert heat is playing havoc with my brain so I am confused.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  18. Josh Says:

    Ahhh, Bobby. My apologies. I heard that this book talked about possibly Judas betraying Jesus, so that Jesus would be forced to set up His earthly kingdom sooner. It was Judas forcing Jesus’ hand so to speak.

    I was just saying that the concept that this could’ve been going on in Judas’ mind is interesting, but only God knows for sure. Kind of like the end times, you know?

  19. Micky Says:

    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You
    Micky

  20. Kushana Says:

    No scholar is interested in changing the Bible: the Gospel of Judas tells historians about later Christian history, about the Coptic language, and about how Biblical figures were talked about outside the Bible … but no historian thinks Judas Iscariot wrote the Gospel of Judas.

    The Gospel of Judas does tell us a great deal about Sethian Gnosticism, the branch of Gnosticism it seems to belong to: it is one of the earliest texts from that school of thought and its details will change how we thought Sethian Gnosticism (which revered Genesis’ Seth as especially blessed) developed.

    Gnosticism is far from being completely understood: there was a 30 year delay in publishing the most significant texts for studying it (the Nag Hammadi Library) and there is still a lack of scholars trained to read the language those texts are written in (Coptic).

    -Kushana

  21. Lee Freeman Says:

    Here’s how NT scholar NT Wright (who wrote the book *Judas and the Gospel of Jesus*) describes Neo-Gnosticism:

    “Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says “I’m really quite an exciting person deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly” – the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today’s world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing (‘finding out who I really am’) which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions. It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus. It appears to legitimate precisely that sort of religion which a large swathe of America and a fair chunk of Europe yearns for: a free-for-all, do it yourself spirituality, with a strong though ineffective agenda of social protest against the powers that be, and an I’m-OK-you’re-OK attitude on all matters religious and ethical. At least, with one exception: You can have any spirituality you like (Zen, labyrinths, Tai Chi) as long as it isn’t orthodox Christianity.”

    I think that sums it up pretty well.

  22. Lee Freeman Says:

    As Bobby said, the *Gospel of Judas* tells us what mid-2nd century heretics thought about Judas, but absolutely nothing about the real Jesus, the real Judas, or orthodox Christianity.

    The worldview pushed by *Judas* is Gnostic, which was essentially Platonism on steroids. Judaism and Christianity see the world and matter as essentially good, whereas Gnosticism (based upon Platonism) sees them as essentially bad, the flawed creation of a wicked impostor God. At creation, which was the original sin in Gnosticism, divine sparks became trapped in physical bodies; as Bobby says, Gnosticism could be considered a death cult, as the aim was to be free the divine spark from its bodily prison, and to do that one has to die.

    Scholars like Pagels apparently think the Gnostics were warm, inclusive, pluralistic, environmentally-friendly feminists who sat in a circle holding hands, singing “Kum-Ba-Ya,” when in fact, they tended to be exclusivist (mostly males), dogmatic, intolerant and judgmental.

    I can’t see any “good news” in ancient Gnosticism.

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