Gospel of Judas: The Beginning of a Sensible Response

Over at the Volkh Conspiracy, Dave Kopel has a piece up characterizing the media response to the presentation of the Coptic Gospel of Judas:

This Friday’s coverage of the so-called “Gospel of Judas” in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.

I must say I agree. What silliness. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with President Kimball’s speculation regarding Judas, either. I’d have been disappointed, except that I don’t expect much from the major media outlets to begin with.

To me, the most striking thing about the GJudas is Jesus’ laughing. Jesus does a fair amount of laughing in many Nag Hammadi texts, but this is something unusual. I tried to post this as a comment on LDS Science Review right after I got the Coptic from his link (Thanks!), but couldn’t get the comments dialogue to take my remarks.

Anyway, we’ll need to wait a bit for the serious work to come in. We’ve got some things happening at my school and I’m sure there’s serious stuff going on in many places. Until then, it’s gonna be best to ignore what you read in the press, unless it’s a specialist outlet.

In the meantime, here’s a link to some folks who practise a modern form of gnosticism. Remarkably sensible approach to the issue of GJudas if I do say so myself. I think this same link is on the Volkh Conspiracy now, as well.

14 Replies to “Gospel of Judas: The Beginning of a Sensible Response”

  1. Sorry the comments weren’t working for you. My very non-educated impression is that there were a variety of beliefs in early Christianity–some of which we like and others we don’t–and that this document simply reflects that diversity. My understanding is that in the G of Judas, Judas is portrayed as helping Jesus to escape his body. If there is no truth to the favorable portrayal of Judas, then perhaps the story was twisted to support views that our material bodies are something to be escaped.

    Am I anywhere near target?

  2. Yeah, one of my friends at work asked me if I’d heard about the new gospel that says that Jesus wanted Judas to kill him. It was all I could do not to laugh at him.

    It has long been known that there was a tradition of this kind which was circulating around before the 4th century take-over by what we now see as “orthodox” christianity. Bart Ehrman is largely right when he claims that the label “orthodoxy” is simply the prize awarded to (or better yet taken by) the winners of a controversy/struggle/war.

    Such a diversity of opinion makes one wonder how historical the 4 canonical gospels are. Of course this wonder is held in considerable check by the fact that they are the oldest records by a considerable amount.

  3. Zactly on target, to my mind.

    After an introduction and a section on cosmology and creation, Jesus has one final conversation with Judas, in which he predicts that Judas will exceed the other disciples because he will “sacrifice the man that clothes me.”

    One is left wondering why, if all Judas needed to do for Jesus was to kill him, he didn’t find a less intense path to death than crucifixion. I guess the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus was too well-entrenched for even the gnostics to alter. Goodness knows they got to just about everything else. I’m gonna ask the Coptic professor about this in the AM.

    Having said that, I guess it’s clear that I don’t characterize the gnostic gospels, or even the “normal” pseudapigraphal gospels all that neutrally. To my eye, there are some significant differences between the Gospels we accept as canonical, and those we do not.

    1) The canonical Gospels are, in general, less far-fetched, with fewer utterly bizarre events.

    2) So far, you are right that they seem to be older than any others, though this is disputed for some of the earlier redactional layers of GThomas, I think.

    3) In general, they betray more of a “holy land” flavor, reflecting sources that seem to be closer to the events recounted. For example, there don’t seem to be any Palestinian place names in GJudas.

    Although I like Ehrman’s work, I find that his comments in this instance paint with far too broad a brush. Each story in the Gospels as well as their extra-canonical counterparts can and should be examined individually for elements arising from and pertaining to historicity and then should be so reported. The choices reflected in canonicity are not just the endpoint of a naked power struggle.

    In this case, it is clear very early in the text that a great deal of time has passed before GJudas was written because when the disciples get angry at Jesus’ laughter, they are said to “blaspheme against him in their hearts.” I take this as evidence of a very high christology, which usually indicates a late date.

    Anyway, I look forward to more conversation on the topic on whichever site puts up good solid information. Please, no more mush.

  4. Reminds me of the Gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Thomas. Trends like this come and go …

    I agree. This one may help remind us that the “received Christianity” is the one that followed the paradigm in Acts 1:8, that is, Judea, Samaria, and then on to Rome. All the canonical works come from an arc running from Jerusalem to Rome.

    It is certain, however, that missionaries headed south as well as north, and that Egypt had a thriving christian culture very early. In fact, the Copts think that John Mark, esteemed as the author of the Second Gospel, was martyred in Alexandria on the 10th of May. That being the case, it is unfortunate that what we get from Egypt seems to be more like GJudas than otherwise.

  5. Finally, we have a gospel that the media can cover as though it were a serious historical document! Honestly, from the way that people talk about it, you’d think this was the first New Testament Pseudapigrapha they’d ever heard of.

    My favorite gospels are the Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas. They’re a riot. Then there’s the Egerton Gospel fragments, which contain such breathtaking snippets of truth as “Jesus, while he was [w]andering, [s]tood” (line 65) and “[te]acher with yo[ur mou]th, since you are” (line 53). I think I’ll publish a commentary.

  6. I think I’ll publish a commentary.

    LOL. Don’t forget the source criticism, either. And we’ll be looking forward to your comments on the redactional process.

  7. Reminds me of the Gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Thomas.

    I thought first of the 6th “Harry Potter” book and Snape and Dumbledore. : )

  8. Bart Ehrman

    Nooooooooo!!!!! Say it ain’t so!!!!! Lots of Mormons love this guy, which gives you a good indication at where his scholarship stands. That’s all I’ll say about that.

    Yeah, the gnostic thing with the extreme body-spirit dualism (or rather, opposition) always sits funny with me especially when retrojected back onto the resurrection. I’m not expert in gnosticism (except for its influence on The Matrix), but how do these folks reconcile their spirit/body opposition with resurrection? Do they take the J-Dub route and say it’s a façade?

    And as far as Judas being in on it, I like the idea, ala N.T. Wright, that Judas was a sicarii, that he was preparing the others for an insurrection, and that his idea of restoring the kingdom of David to Jesus was different from Jesus’ ways of doing it. But that’s just me.

  9. a good indication at where his scholarship stands

    Tell me a little more about what seems unsound in Ehrman’s work. I’m curious to know whether we’ve picked up on the same things.

    I’ll come back to gnostics and the resurrection later today or tomorrow when I get more time.

    On edit: On second thought, let’s not slide into Ehrman on this thread. I’ll post something in a couple of days and we’ll give it its own thread.

  10. I certainly agree with you, Mogget, on the media hyping of GJudas. I thought James Charlesworth’s reported comments in the press were a better indication of the proper place of this work. The notion that this is going to mean the downfall of Christianity is just plain silly. (Where have these people been? Haven’t they read the Nag Hammadi Codices?)

    On Sunday morning I was able to print out the Coptic text and a translation, and so I talked about this with my high school-age SS class. (We were having a “current events” day, which I do from time to time, because I wanted to make sure that they understood that it was Palm Sunday, and what other traditions would be doing in their services on that day.)

    My Coptic is really rusty, because I never use it, but I was able to read a little bit during testimony meeting. It was fun to have a reason to break out my Till again.

  11. I talked about this with my high school-age SS class

    Oh, excellent. I put off talking about it in SS until this coming week, but I did take copies to, and entertain questions from, my Institute class last night. All the questions were good, solid, thoughtful issues.

    Managing the hype, you know, managing the hype.

    6th “Harry Potter” book and Snape and Dumbledore

    Well, we’ll just have to wait for the 7th book, won’t we! I’m a Harry Potter reader, and an even bigger fan of LoTR, myself.

    And I will get to the gnostic-resurrection thing sometime today.

  12. how do these folks reconcile their spirit/body opposition with resurrection

    OK. In a nutshell, these are the “biggies” of classical gnosticism:

    –open hostility to the God of Israel and competition with Genesis

    –resurrection with certain caveats, so to speak

    –[un]reality of Jesus’ Incarnation and suffering

    –universality of Christian salvation

    In Greek thought there are two kinds of knowledge: propositional knowledge (eidenai) and knowledge of another person, that is, acquaintance (gnosis).

    The purpose of the heavenly savior was to :

    –awaken that part of humanity descended from Seth and called “gnostics.”

    –help them become acquainted with themselves and God.

    –free souls from “destiny,” which had been created by Ialdabaoth’s evil offspring.

    –free souls from their material body

    –help these souls escape the malevolent spiritual rulers of the world.

    So then…resurrection.

    First, according to Epiphanius, the gnostics did not have a resurrection.

    Irenaeus wrote concerning the gnostic belief in the resurrection of Jesus’ body after Christ had left him/it to die on the cross:

    The anointed (Christ) was not unmindful of its own, but sent down unto him a certain power, which raised him up in a (kind of) body that they call animate and spiritual, for he let the worldly parts return to the world. Now, when his disciples saw him after he had arisen, they were not acquainted with him–nor with the one by whose agency Jesus had arisen from the dead. And–they say–among his disciples there arose the great error of imagining that he had arisen in a worldly body, for they did not know that “flesh and blood do not lay hold of the king of god.” Moreover, they claim to confirm that the anointed (Christ) descended and reascended by the fact that according to Jesus disciples, Jesus did not do any great deed either before his baptism or after his resurrection from the dead; these (disciples) did not know that Jesus was united with the anointed (Christ) nor that the incorruptible realm was united with the septet. And they spoke of his animate body as if it were a worldly one.

    Now, after his resurrection, he remained (on earth) for eighteen months. And because perception had descended into him (from above), he taught the plain truth. he taught these things to a small number of his disciples, who, he know, were able to receive such great mysteries.

    But what did the Gnostics have to say for themselves?

    This next piece is about the resurrection of normal folks. It does not, however, come from classical gnosticism, but from the Valentinian branch. This particular group had a three-part understanding of the human being. First, the material body (dust), which is destined to perish; an enimate element (soul, which vivifies and is destined for distinct preservation and; the intellect (spiritual element) or true self, which is destined for reunion and repose with God.

    The title is Treatise on Resurrection: Epistle to Rheginus Rheginus appears to be an ordinary Christian who inquired about the Valentinian interpretation of the local creddal formula as it concerned resurrection. It’s a pretty wild ride…

    So do not be doubtful about resurrection, my child Rheginus. Now (you might wrongly suppose), granted you did not reexist in flesh–indeed you took on flesh when you entered thisworld–why will you not take yoru flesh with you when you return to the realm eternity? It is the element superior to the fles that imparts vitality to it. (furthermore, you might suppose) does not whatever comes into being for your seake (that is, the flesh) belong to you? So may we not conclude that whater is yours will coexist with you?

    Nay, rather while you are here, what is it that you are alienated from” Is this what you have endeavored to learn about: the bodily envelope–that is, old age? And are you (the real you) mere corruption? You can count absence–or (in another sense of the Greek word) shortage as your profit. For you will not pay back the superior element when you depart. The inferior element takes a loss; but what it owes is gratitute. Nothing then buys us back while we are here; yet the entirety, and we as members of it, are saved. We have had salvation from start to finish. Let us think in this way. Let us accept in this way.

    However, certain persons desire to know–in the investigation of their investigations–whether one who is saved will, upon taking off the body, be immediately saved: let no one doubt this.

    Surely, then (so might run the argument) the dead visible members will be preserved: for the living interior members are supposed to arise. But what is the meaning of resurrection? Its is the uncovering at any given time of the elements that have arisen.

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