Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

As Dwight mentioned yesterday, Edward Fudge does a good job of coherently capsulizing the circumstances and relevence of the recently "rediscovered" Gospel of Judas. Reprinted below are his gracemails addressing this issue. It is worth the effort to be familiar with current issues such as this and The DaVinci Code, because for many people in today's culture they represent the extent of their understanding about the authenticity of the Bible...see my earlier post on The DaVinci Code.

Edward Fudge
Apr 10, 2006

Since writing the previous gracEmail on the “Gospel of Judas,” I have viewed the two-hour television special aired on Sunday night, April 9, 2006 on the National Geographic Channel and have read the actual translation of this apocryphal Gospel at . (Thanks to my friend and gracEmail subscriber Dr. Hans Rollmann, Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, for the URL cite. I do not know how long the text will be available here.) Having now seen the program and having read the “Gospel of Judas” itself, both of which confirmed the previous gracEmail, I add the following observations in this quick update.

National Geographic certainly knows how to tantalize an audience even though its titillation is sometimes misleading. In discussing the “Gospel of Judas” found in an Egyptian cave in the late 1970’s, the TV special teasingly asked whether the manuscript was “real” or “fake,” fi nally assuring viewers that this “Gospel” had indeed been “authenticated.” Many viewers likely took these proclamations as assurances that the “Gospel of Judas” was written by the Apostle of that name, or even that the Gnostic doctrine this “Gospel” was written to promote was really true. In fact, the “authentication” talked about meant only that radiocarbon dating placed the manuscript’s origin at about A.D. 300, give or take 50 years. In other words, the “Gospel of Judas” is not a recently-forged fraud. But that is almost unimportant when we know that it was instead an ancient fraud, according to the church father Irenaeus, who wrote about A.D. 180. Unless I blinked and missed it, National Geographic’s television special never even mentioned the fact, also known from Irenaeus, that the “Gospel of Judas” was used by a group known as Cainites who claimed spiritual lineage from Cain, Esau, Korah and the inhabitants of Sodom.

At the surface level, the television special seemed to focus on this apocryphal Gospel’s potential to rehabilitate Judas’ reputation as a Satan-driven scoundrel – a characterization that has indeed been misused by some professing Christians as an excuse for anti-Semitism (which is always inexcusable). In fact, even the New Testament Gospels eschew a one-dimensional view of Judas since they report that he returned the betrayal money to those who had hired him and then committed suicide – two incidents which some Christians have seen as evidence of deep remorse and perhaps even of genuine repentance. Further, Judas inadvertently served the divine purpose according to the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts, even though he remained personally culpable for his actions.<>

Be that as it may, the presentation of Judas the man is only window-dressing in this newly-discovered “Gospel.” The manuscript’s real point – and the main reason orthodox Christians reject it (aside from the fact that it is a fraudulent work to begin with) – is its promotion of Gnosticism, a worldview contrary to the biblical understanding of reality on almost every fundamental point. This is apparently a minor detail to many postmodern scholars, for whom all ideas are equally valid and all groups claiming to be “Christian” are legitimate spokespersons of Jesus Christ.

Those of us who remain committed to Scripture as divinely-authoritative and who therefore oppose whatever essentially contradicts its core teachings need to realize that we are increasingly out of step with the spirit of the age. It is not unimaginable that the day may come even in America – as it did for the apostolic church of the first three centuries and as it has today in many other parts of the world – when we must choose between personal comfort and security on the one hand and faithfulness to Christ on the other. If that happens, may we – like Irenaeus and Polycarp and John – stand firm whatever the cost.
Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit.

Edward Fudge
Apr 9, 2006

As every savvy marketer knows, sensationalism sells books and attracts a television audience. The National Geographic Channel can therefore expect a host of viewers for its special program "The Gospel of Judas" set to show tonight (Sunday, April 9, 2006). "One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century," hypes the producer's website, "-- a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus." The TV special follows the translated publication three days earlier of the so-called Gospel of Judas, a codex (bound like a book rather than rolled like a scroll) written on papyrus sheets in the Coptic language and discovered by looters near El Minya, Egypt in the 1970's.

This manuscript, carbon-dated at about A.D. 300, is indeed "significant" -- but primarily for its contribution to our understanding of early Gnostic teaching, an influential heresy opposed by numerous early Christian writers and, in an even-earlier form, by both the apostles John and Paul in the canonical New Testament itself (Gospel of John, First John, Second John; Colossians). The Gnostics (from a Greek word for "knowledge") claimed special insight into mysteries of the cosmos, secret wisdom passed down through the centuries but hidden from ordinary mortals. (The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown certainly did not invent sensationalism!)

Gnostic teaching usually claimed that the material universe was evil, having been created by a lesser deity; denied that Jesus was both truly human and uniquely divine; and (like philosophies ranging from ancient Hinduism and Buddhism to today's New Age cults) enticed adherents with promises of exclusive spiritual fulfillment if not actual deification. The "Gospel of Judas" claims to report conversations between Judas Iscariot and Jesus during the Final Week, in which Jesus tells Judas "secrets no other person has ever seen." In the document's most sensational "revelation," Jesus asks Judas to help the spirit of Jesus escape its mortal flesh by betraying him to death ("You will sacrifice the man that clothes me"), although this will result in Judas being "cursed by the other generations."

As of now, scholars believe the newly-translated "Gospel of Judas" might be a Coptic translation of the earlier Greek-language "Gospel of Judas" mentioned about A.D. 180 by Irenaeus of Lyons, a pupil of Polycarp, who in turn was taught by the Apostle John. In his work titled "Against Heresies," Irenaeus described the "Gospel of Judas" as a fictional work manufactured by a group known as Cainites who claimed spiritual lineage from Cain, Esau, Korah and the Sodomites. According to Irenaeus, the "Gospel of Judas" said of Judas that "he alone, knowing the truth as no others [of the Apostles] did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal" (31:1). Irenaeus dismissed the "Gospel of Judas" as a fraud and its teaching as anti-Christian heresy. Those who know and believe the true gospel taught by John and the other Apostles should feel free to react the same way today.
Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. Visit our multimedia website at .

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