“The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot…” — this is how The Gospel of Judas [GJ] begins. Jesus, GJ tells us, did great wonders and spoke about mysteries and was sometimes “appeared” to them “as a child”. This is the language of docetism, for Jesus only looked like a human but the fleshy body was not like others’ bodies. Then comes Scene I:
The disciples were together at a meal and Jesus laughed at them; Jesus challenges them to have the courage to “stand before my face.” “But their spirits did not dare to stand before him except for Judas Iscariot.” Jesus laughed because they were thanking God for their food, but the real (ultimate) God didn’t make anything material like food. They need enlightenment.
Judas confesses to Jesus that he [Jesus] is “from the immortal realm of Barbelo”. Barbelo is the Divine Mother of all and is the forethought of the Infinite One. Judas’ confession is significant enough that Jesus and Judas have to step away from the others so Jesus can divulge the mysteries of the kingdom, which pertain to upper and outer realities that are at variance with the earthy-minded God and religion of the other disciples.
GJ is gnostic. What is gnosticism? (As I sometimes say to my students, “Good question, glad you asked, because that is what I prepared to talk about.”) It is a term we use for a wide variety of ancient folk who believed that knowledge was salvation, but it was a kind of knowledge available only to those to whom it was divulged. This kind of gnosticism was [sometimes, as in GJ] inherently elitist, and only those who had a “spark of the divine” could find salvation. GJ trades on gnosticism: salvation is available to those, like Judas, who are “in the know.” Salvation comes by knowledge, knowledge of privately-revealed secret wisdom.
The other side of gnosticism is that so elevated is knowledge of the mysteries that life in this world is devalued. Humans are trapped in their bodies, and the wise know this and long to be released from the material world. Christian gnosticism, so far as it is possible to combine these terms, believed those mysteries for salvation were reaveled in and by Christ. (I say “so far as it is possible” because there is an inherent denial of the goodness of creation and the incarnation, not to mention inclusiveness of the ordinary person, in gnosticism.)
Finally, because the real world is spirit, it was important to distance God from this world. This led to a view of God’s creating as a series of emanations and creators through which God is increasingly distant from this world. This makes clear why incarnation is such a difficult concept for gnostics. It makes clear why the disciples’ religion was so disgusting: it was far too earthy and earthly. It was the worship of one of the lesser gods. Jesus leads Judas into the real God.
Mark Roberts has an extensive post on this at his exceptional blogsite.
But no one has done quite as much as Mark Goodacre, the King of Biblical Bloggers.