Apologetics Index

Gospel of Judas

Robinson said that early in November he learned that Kasser and several European, Canadian and U.S. scholars had signed agreements with the National Geographic Society to assist with a documentary film and a National Geographic article for an Easter 2006 release and a succession of three books.

Robinson was critical of the secrecy and inaccessibility surrounding the document–a recurring academic problem that delayed for decades the publishing of translations of some Dead Sea Scrolls and many Nag Hammadi codices. In his talk, Robinson called the practice “skullduggery”–with a glance at fellow panelist Marvin Meyer of Chapman University, a longtime colleague in the field and one of the contracted authors.

Meyer refused to describe the text’s content, but he essentially confirmed the basic publishing arrangements to Robinson and to the Century at the Philadelphia meeting.

In amended remarks to his speech, Robinson said Meyer told him that he was sworn to secrecy–not by the document’s owner but by the National Geographic Society, a procedure Meyer said was justified by the organization’s large financial investment.

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The Coptic texts, owned by the Maecenas Foundation, consist of 62 pages and also contain “The First Apocalypse of James” and “The Letter of Peter to Philip”–two texts also found at Nag Hammadi. How many of the 62 pages contain the Gospel of Judas has not been disclosed.

Hedrick said the last six pages of the Judas document describe a heavenly scene in which Allogenes is being tested and tried by Satan, followed by an earthly scene in which Jesus is being watched closely by scribes. At one point Judas is told, “Although you are evil at this place, you are a disciple of Jesus.” The last line of the text says, according to Hedrick: “And he [Judas] took money and delivered him [Jesus] over.”

So, Hedrick said, “it appears that Judas is working at the behest of God when he betrays Jesus as part of the divine plan.” When translations of the Gospel of Judas are released with accompanying analyses, Hedrick expects that “there will be a lot of sensationalism, but it will dribble out, leaving only the scholars interested.”

Yet, in academic and religious circles, the text may stir excitement for years, according to a scholar from the University of Ottawa. “It is a major discovery not only for Coptic, Gnostic or apocryphal studies, but also for ancient Judaism and early Christianity,” said Pierluigi Piovanelli in an e-mail to colleagues in 2004 when the first plans to publish were announced.

Some scholarly discussions will focus on whether the document was produced by a branch of the Sethian Gnostics called Cainites by church leaders. The Cainites were said to have glorified Cain and other disgraced figures in the Bible because, according to Gnostic viewpoints, they were doing God’s work.

Church discussions conceivably could revolve around the extent to which New Testament Gospels present events in Jesus’ life and passion as ordained from the start. Judas Iscariot, depicted minimally by the Gospel of Mark, receives elaboration in Matthew, Luke and John. The latter Gospel says Satan entered Judas at the Last Supper just before Jesus told the disciple, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

For Robinson, the significance of the Gospel of Judas has to do not with first-century history but with second-century mythology. Still, he offered these half-serious reflections in his closing remarks last month: “Where would Christianity be, if there had been no Judas, and Jesus–instead of dying for our sins on the cross–had died of old age?” he asked. “So: Thank God for Judas? Even the most broadminded among us would call that heresy!” […]
– Source: Long-lost Gospel of Judas to be published, The Christian Century, USA, Dec. 27, 2005

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First published (or major update) on Sunday, February 26, 2006.
Last updated on February 27, 2006.

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