CNN and a couple of publishers — HarperSanFrancisco and National Geographic — coordinated their efforts yesterday to inform us all of yet another newsworthy religious story: the true story of Judas. NG has published an official translation of The Gospel of Judas and I want to record some overall observations today, and Monday I’ll pick it up again.
The text was (apparently) discovered in the 1970s in Middle Egypt, and this text is the third book in a papyrus book (codex). The others are a version of the Letter of Peter to Philip, another book called James that we also have in the Nag Hammadi manuscrips, The Gospel of Judas, and a text now called the Book of Allogenes[Stranger]. This text was evidently originally written in Greek (about 150 AD) and then translated into Coptic, and the ms we now have is from about 400 AD (maybe 350 AD).
The text comes with the usual fanfare and sensational claim, which the media and publishers love to use in order to attract attention and garner sales, and behind some of it is of course the idea that the Church suppressed alternative voices and texts. The basic claim is that this text shows us what Judas was really like. And, of course, that he was a good guy after all — in fact the one Jesus favored the most. On top of this, Jesus asked Judas to betray him so that he [Jesus] could return to the divine. This is what the media outlets tell us about this text, but it is so much more than that.
How do we respond to these sorts of claims? Well, to begin with, we have to listen long enough to hear what is being said. And we have to read these texts if we can to see if what they say supports the claims. So, I want to do just this with The Gospel of Judas: let’s see what it says.
Now, I’d like to make a suggestion: apologetically speaking, we can only do two things — compare these texts to the canonical Gospels and say “they are really different” (no one denies this). And in saying that some will be done because “really different” means “really wrong.” If you’re honest, this proves nothing: we might be dead wrong in believing those canonical Gospels as the ones that tell the truth. Saying the two approaches differ does not tell us which is right or which is more authentic or which is more likely to be first century.
So, second, what do we do? I suggest this: the only substantial argument against the alternative Gospels is a confidence that God’s Spirit directed the Church (inspired the texts and preserved the texts and led the Church to recognize the texts) to the canonical Gospels. But, along with this we can say this: the text is late, the orthodox Christians said The Gospel of Judas was nonsense, and the theology (which is clearly gnostic) is not 1st Century Jewish/Galilean. No one can dispute any of these three points.
Monday: I’ll sum up Scene I in the text.