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ARCHIVE: The Da Vinci Code, Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas

1. The Da Vinci Code: A Christian Response
2. The Nag Hammadi Documents and Gnosticism
3. The Gospel of Judas
4. The Gospel of Judas - A Retake
5. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 1)
6. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 2)
7. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 3)
8. Canonicity and the Gospel of Judas



by Ong Kok Bin

It is most likely that the Coptic Gospel of Judas is a translation of the second-century (before 180 A.D.) Greek Gospel of Judas that Irenaeus had referred to in his Christian apology, Against Heresies; though the identification is by no means conclusive at this juncture. But assuming that the two are one and the same (albeit in different languages), then it is possible for us to decide that the Gospel of Judas was the work of the same group of Gnostics that Irenaeus had railed against in Against Heresies. This group of Gnostics belonged to the Cainite school believed to have begun with the Simon Magus mentioned in Acts 8.

Simon Magus was a practitioner of sorcery (hence, the epithet Magus). He had claimed himself to be some ‘divine power known as the Great Power’ and had amazed the whole city of Samaria with his magic. When Philip the Evangelist visited Samaria and preached there, Simon was one among many who ‘believed and was baptized’. Later, when the apostles Peter and John visited the city too, Simon offered money to the apostles to buy their ability to lay hands on people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John would have no part of this devious scheme and rebuked Simon for his audacity to want to ‘buy the gift of God with money’ (see Acts 8:9-25).

What we can gather from the brief sketch of Simon Magus in Acts 8 is that he was a magnetic figure; and most probably, he passed himself as divine, or, having divinity (‘the Great Power’), though to what degree, we do not know. From other sources we learn that he taught that ‘the Great Power’ through his Thought (Ennoia) had brought forth the existence of angelic beings and by them he created the world. The angels later used their own power to refuse Ennoia the right to return to heaven and she was thus forced to remain on earth in successive female forms (among them, Helen of Troy). Simon claimed that ‘the Great Power’ appeared in him to free her from her earthly imprisonment and that the way to freedom for everyone was through the free practice of magic and a complete disregard for morality.

This form of teaching percolated down through the followers of Simon, but not without alterations and additions. One Saturninus, at Antioch in Syria, taught that the world was created by seven angels, one of which was the Yahweh God of the Jews in the Old Testament. The world, however, possessed the spark of life from the Father (to be distinguished from Yahweh). The good, who had this spark, were in constant combat with the evil. The Saviour came down to assist the good; but he had no human birth or body.

The Ophites or Serpent-worshippers in Syria further transformed this teaching. According to them, the inferior God of the Jews, or the Demiurge as they called him, claimed for himself to be the greatest of all spirits. But when Adam, the first created man, gave thanks to the Father, the Demiurge was angered by this and sought to deceive Adam through Eve (the Gnostics believed that sexual intercourse, even in marriage, was the work of Satan and therefore, evil). To save Adam, the Serpent introduced Eve to the knowledge of good and evil. The Ophites identified this Serpent as the Saviour-spirit, who descended upon the human Jesus. In this, they were inspired by the words Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’. Thus, in one swift and bold stroke, the Serpent was transformed from the commonly held view of being Satanic to that of cultic Saviourhood.

This role reversal found happy reception among a sect within Gnosticism, and who came to be recognised as Cainites because they regarded Cain and a whole host of other unsavoury characters in the Old Testament as the best and worthy of being worshipped as heroes. On the other hand, they demonized those who were righteous in the eyes of more orthodox interpreters.

From the Gospel of Judas, we further gather that these Cainites were Sethian Cainites since they held to Seth, Adam’s son, as their spiritual leader. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus is identified with this Seth: ‘The first is Seth, who is called Christ’.

From the foregoing, it can be readily seen how the personhood and character of Judas can be so positively transformed by the author(s) of the Gospel of Judas. But this transformation and portrayal must not be regarded as an ‘alternative view’ because it sprang from a very ultra and extreme end of the spectrum. It cannot be brought side by side with that of the orthodox. (A modern equivalent is the ultras’ attempt to redeem the role of Hitler in WWII). Those who want to purvey the idea that the Gospel of Judas provides an ‘alternative view’ are barking up the wrong tree. They often argue that there are only four Gospels in the Bible because of Irenaeus, or, Constantine, or, a few influential bishops in a closed council. The truth is far from this. The Bible and the Gospels as we have them are a distillation of common accent over time and space. No single book in the Bible came to be where it is because someone alone determined it. Rather, every book gained canonical status and inspired recognition through universal acceptance from a wide fold anchored around the centre, the fringe ends notwithstanding. To argue that there was some form of conspiracy to exclude works like the Gospel of Judas is not being on all fours with historical reality.

If Paul were alive today, he would say this: The Gospel of Judas ‘is really no gospel at all’ (see Gal. 1:6-9); for the Jesus in the Judas Gospel did not die ‘for our sins according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:3). His death per the Gospel was an auto-salvation death, to free the Christ spirit from the troublesome and corrupt body that was the human Jesus. It was not the vicarious atoning death that died ‘once for all’ (e.g., see Heb. 10:10).

The Gospel of Judas ‘is really no gospel at all’ because the Jesus in it was not buried and ‘raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:4). There is no resurrection of Jesus in the Judas Gospel. There is only death. And where there is death but no resurrection, then by necessity, there is no hope - only futility.

‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead’ (1 Cor. 15:20) and that is why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are gospels; but not Judas.

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