April 13, 2006

Commentary: Gospel of Judas, Scene 1

The Gospel of Judas

Scence 1 | Scence 2 | Scence 3

Scence 1

While it seems that everyone and their mom are talking about the Gospel of Judas, I’d like to examine some of the text in a rather relaxed style. This isn’t meant to be any sort of in-depth textual analysis, just some passing thoughts as I read over the translation.

The translation provided by National Geographic can be downloaded here and is the translation I will be using. The translation is broken up unto Scenes and I will be addressing them each in a separate post. So let’s start right at the beginning.

The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.

One needs not read much further to realize the very Gnostic nature of this introduction --- and its very close similarity to the introduction of the Gospel of Thomas:

These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.

Gospel of Thomas

While it is possible that both of these introductions could have been added later (and therefore tell us little about the author) I think these lines alone provide some interesting insights.

While the two introductions sound similar there is a rather major difference, one claims to relate an account of events involving one particular disciple, while the other claims to record a number of sayings spoken to an unknown amount of disciples (presumably the twelve) over time. In essence one is relating very private and hidden events while the other relates secretive, but not wholly private sayings.

This is a rather useful device to include events and sayings that were not in the oral tradition or memory of witnesses, it is therefore somewhat suspect. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the events didn’t happen; John for example uses this device often --- however more for purposes of foreshadowing coming events ---- then to interweave previously unknown events.

Found Among Them as a Child

Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child.

This is an interesting statement, especially given that it seemly is stated without further description, almost as if the reader already understands this to be not only possible but probable. The canonical Gospels don’t attribute such qualities to Jesus until after his death and resurrection --- even then, Jesus seemly always appears as an adult.

When he [approached] his disciples, [34] gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, [he] laughed.

No where in the canonical Gospels, nor the other canonical writings do we ever hear of Jesus laughing, yet in the Gospel of Judas this lacking aspect of Jesus humanity is explored.

They said, “Master, you are […] the son of our god.”

The use of ‘our God’ is rather odd. Presumably the author has the disciples saying “the son of our god” instead of “the son of God” to heighten the idea that the god they are worshiping is different the God Jesus is talking about.

Still, there is a very high Christology here, with the caveat that according to this Gospel the disciples misunderstand Jesus to be the son of their god, but their god isn’t the higher God, as is later somewhat explained.

Angry and Infuriated

When his disciples heard this, they started getting angry and infuriated and began blaspheming against him in their hearts.

Instead of questioning him further or remaining in a dazed confusion at Jesus’ sayings, here we have the disciples getting very angry. This is an extremely different picture of the disciples then any of the four Gospels paint.

The Immortal Realm of Barbelo

While I’m not sure about the exact Coptic word, it would seem here again, a high Christology given that they would not be “blaspheming” against Jesus if he were not in fact on the level of a god.

Judas [said] to him, “I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”

Again and again in the canonical Gospels Jesus states that no one knows who he is, nor where he has come from or where he is going --- but here we have Judas stating he knows, even before Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus are not accounted in the Gospel of Judas, clearly they are not regarded as important as the other Gospel writers do.

Step Away From the Others

“Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. [36] For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve [disciples] may again come to completion with their god.”

This is rather odd passage if the author really is suppose to be Judas. Either we must except that Jesus prophetically tells Judas that he will be replaced, and that perhaps Judas did not really commit suicide or wrote down this account before his suicide. Or instead we must see a reliance on Acts (or the tradition Acts is based on) given that none of the four Gospels record Judas’ replacement.

If we are to assume ‘their god’ is not the God, then apparently the rest of the disciples are to be corrupted in the end, and Jesus knew this would happen. So, in essence Jesus came to earth not for the twelve, but for Judas.

Elsewhere, however it seems that the twelve might be in the ‘generation’ that is saved, so its it hard to tell what the author is trying to say here. From here the Gospel becomes increasing more Gnostic in flavor and I will examine that in upcoming posts.

Comments or thoughts are welcome.

Gospel Of Judas Links


At April 13, 2006 3:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Excellent work, Justin. You're doing what I thought about myself, but just didn't have the time. And no doubt yours will be better anyway.

But I've almost finished my prospectus...


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