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April 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas?

The latest brouhaha in the anti-religious press is about the so-called "Gospel of Judas" which paints Iscariot as Christ's favourite disciple and puts him in a position of "betrayer by request". An interesting proposition to say the very least, and perhaps the best example yet of an "assisted suicide". No doubt, in the absence of any political story to bump it off the front pages, it will run and run as the atheistic press try to use it to discredit the mainstream version of Christianity and it's founding fathers. Interestingly it was considered very seriously for inclusion in the canon of writings we now call the "New Testament" during the Councils of Nicea and others, but was rejected then because its provenance was suspect and it was also clearly Gnostic.

The book os Gnostic in its portrayal of Christ and in it's "Dualistic" understanding of creation - in other words it does not belong to either the Jewish or the Christian mainstream of thought on the nature of creation, the universe or of God Himself. It belongs to a collection of books known as the "Pseudepigraphica", books written at various times and attributed by their authors to people such as Nicodemus, Pontius Pilate (There is an "Acts of Pilate", which paints Pilate in a very good light!) and others both Jewish and Christian and all of them have very little provinence when studied closely. As one scholar who has studied the "Gospel of Judas" closely has said, it is a bit like finding something post Hiroshima purportedly written several centuries before the event which gives an eyewitness account of Hiroshima. The "Gospel of Judas" has several such passages which date it to much later than the first century and the early church. It may well draw upon several more authentic sources for some of its content, but the rest must be suspect, if for no other reason than that it stems from the Gnostic heresy.

The present document dates from 4th Century Egypt, and is Coptic in its origin. All it really shows is that the struggle between the mainstream understanding, founded on the Jewish and certainly adopted by the Islamic world, and Gnosticism, Docetism, Arianism and a number of other equally interesting "-isms" carried on from the early church into the late middle ages. Does this make these documents any more valid than the Biblical Canon we currently use? Certainly not, they have been rejected by scholars even in their own period - not least because the position they propose is untenable in any theology and owes more to pagan understandings than it does to the teaching of Christ Himself - or, if we want to get really controversial - Mohammed!

This new "discovery" may well shake the faith of a few waverers, but for the majority, I think it will be seen as "interesting but irrelevant". In the first place it isn't "new", scholars have been working on it for over twenty years, and in the second place the only reason it is now in the press is that the press is keen to attack Christianity and attempt to "disprove" religious belief. As I said at the beginning, nothing for the truly faithful to even get alarmed about, but, sadly, it will undoubtedly be used for malicious purposes by the many who wish to attack Christianity for whatever reason. The fact is that without Pilate, the Sanhedrin and Iscariot, there could be no cricifixion and with no crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. The rest is immaterial.

I suspect that the only reason we even know of the existence of this "new" Gospel is that the academics need to persuade a legislature to part with some money for conservation and or further research on this or a related topic. That, and the fact that with all the policticans once more on an extended all expenses paid break, there was nothing else to make a fuss about. Pity, it could otherwise have been studied with much more objectivity than will now be possible.

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 10, 2006 10:44 AM

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Like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi discoveries, this latest 'gospel' increases the amount of new scriptural material only available this century, making the concept of 'canonical scriptures' untenable and any claims of understanding founded upon them incomplete and even less credible.

What might 'Christianity' look like if all these resources were available from the beginning? Check this link: www.energon.uklinux.net

Posted by: Robert Landbeck at April 16, 2006 03:49 PM

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