April 15, 2006

Commentary: Gospel of Judas, Scene 2

The Gospel of Judas

Scence 1 | Scence 2 | Scence 3

Scence 2

In this portion of the Gospel of Judas the disciples have a disturbing vision, and the character of the Gospel becomes unmistakably more Gnostic. Again, a translation has been provided by National Geographic which can be downloaded here, it is the translation I am using.

The translation is broken up unto Scenes; this portion of the commentary will deal with events of Scene 2 of the Gospel of Judas.

Where Did You Go?

The story picks up the next day, and begins to get even stranger.
The next morning, after this happened, Jesus [appeared] to his disciples again. They said to him, “Master, where did you go and what did you do when you left us?”

Jesus said to them, “I went to another great and holy generation.”

According to the canonical Gospels Jesus traveled with his disciples and then often left to go away and pray. Jesus wasn’t however in the habit of leaving and then appearing in the context suggested here. While this might a translation issue, it almost seems like Jesus goes off to wonder the countryside or even heavenly realms then comes back every so often to enlighten his disciples; surely a far less ‘human’ depiction of Jesus.

Of Generations and Aeons

Jesus laughs at his disciples misunderstanding of where he has been then goes on to describe, rather confusingly this “holy generation.” This portion of the text is also quite fragmented; there really isn’t much I can take from it aside from the use of the word ‘aeon.’

Truly [I] say to you, no one born [of] this aeon will see that [generation]

Aeon is a Gnostic term for sure, but perhaps translating it as such unduly mystifies the conversation. Aeon is a Latin word similar to the English word eon, and the Greek word αίών (aion) is used often in different forms in the New Testament (91 times by my count) and in almost every book. It is variously translated, most often as age, world, or forever.

Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age (αἰῶνι) or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:32

Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age (αἰῶνος) marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age (αἰῶνος) and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage;

Luke 20:34-35

And do not be conformed to this world (αἰῶνι), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

[Christ] … who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age (αἰῶνος), according to the will of our God and Father

Galatians 1:4

I’m not sure if the Coptic word is directly equivalent to αίών or not, but assuming so the passage sounds a little less mystic.

Truly [I] say to you, no one born [of] this age will see that [generation]

However, the Epistle to the Hebrews uses this term quite often and has a verse which seemly contradicts Gnostic theology.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (αἰῶνας).

Hebrews 13:8

The Disciple’s Vision

Another day, the disciples relate a vision they have seen, apparently of a temple and twelve priests. This is quite interesting as the canonical Gospel’s don’t recount any visions by the apostles which were interpreted by Jesus. The vision entails priests which offer up sacrifices of their own children and wives, and all sorts of other sins.

And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name]

Early Christian’s worshiped as Jews in the temple and would have likely provided sacrifices, --- however it didn’t take very long for the Christians to be expelled from synagogues and the temple. Further with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D the sacrificial system ceased to exist, so this is unlikely to be the formal temple.

It is also odd that these sacrifices would be done in the name of Jesus. There was, as far as we know --- never any formal sacrificial system that was preformed in the name of Jesus. What then are we to make of this passage? It is possible that given the salacious aspects of the sacrifices (i.e. human sacrifice) that this is a form of hyperbole pointing out how far off base followers of Jesus (on the view of the author) would become.

This vision greatly troubles the disciples and they can’t say anything else after they explain this to Jesus. So he asks them why this troubled them. Jesus then goes on to somewhat explain the vision, confirming that these sinners are sacrificing in his name and it is a shameful thing. He then startles them by telling them these shameful people are actually the disciples themselves.

Jesus said to them, “Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar—that is who you are. That is the god you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray

It is hard to tell here if the author is trying to paint the disciples as corrupted (maybe soon to be) or if this vision is merely a warning. It is also not completely clear whom the disciples are worshiping here --- given prior statements however we can assume this the ‘lower god’ that created the material world and not the higher ‘true unknowable God.’

Jesus said to them, “Stop struggling with me. Each of you has his own star, and every[body—about 17 lines missing—]

It would be fascinating if we had this whole passage but unfortunately much of it is missing, the idea of each disciple having their own star is unique to the Gospel of Judas and it unclear what Jesus is to be saying here.

Judas Asks More Questions

Judas said to [him, “Rabb]i, what kind of fruit does this generation produce?” Jesus said, “The souls of every human generation will die. When these people, however, have completed the time of the kingdom and the spirit leaves them, their bodies will die but their souls will be alive, and they will be taken up.”

The Gospel of Judas has a much more interactive picture of the twelve, complete with their use of somewhat distinctive Jesus metaphor such as ‘fruit’ in their questions toward him. This is very different from the canonical accounts were figurative language is mostly reserved for Jesus with the disciples often not understanding what he is saying. This dialog also apparently shows a resurrection-less end times. Instead of the body being raised (which on the Gnostic view is a corrupted vessel) the souls are taken up, presumably to heavenly realms.

Judas said, “And what will the rest of the human generations do?”

Jesus said, “It is impossible [44] to sow seed on [rock] and harvest its fruit. [This] is also the way […] the [defiled] generation […] and corruptible Sophia […] the hand that has created mortal people, so that their souls go up to the eternal realms above.

Using a portion of the recognizable parable of the sower, the author draws a description of the ‘defiled generation.’ It is too bad this portion of the manuscript is fragmented since ‘and corruptible Sophia’ is very confusing without any real context.


Traditionally for Gnostics, Sophia (Wisdom) sent Christ and they may be at the same level of deity. Sophia birthed the Demiurge (Yahweh, creator god of the corrupted material world) ny mistake. If Sophia sent Jesus, it would be odd for him to call her corrupted --- yet it was her error that brought about Yahweh who created the material world, which is itself, evil. Therefore it is not clear if Jesus is saying Sophia is corrpted or somethig else. If there were any doubt about the Gnostic nature of the Gospel it is quelled here.

After he says of this the text simply tells us that Jesus “departed” which is very uncharacteristic --- while teaching to crowds Jesus came and went, but was almost always with his disciples or alone praying.

Gospel Of Judas Links


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