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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

An English translation of the Gospel of Judas has been published and made available in the new book, The Gospel of Judas, edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst - with an additional commentary by Bart D. Ehrman, and is published by National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2006. The English translation is the combined effort of Kasser, Meyer, and Wurst in collaboration with François Gaudard. It is generously footnoted with comments, possible alternatives, admissions of tentativeness and helpful explanations of word phrases and names which may not be familiar to readers at large. As the manuscript is advanced in its deterioration, there are gaps in the text; and these are indicated by the use of square brackets. Square brackets are also employed to indicate the manuscript page numbers of the text. The translators have divided the Gospel into three scenes: Scene 1: Jesus dialogues with his disciples: The prayer of thanksgiving or the eucharist; Scene 2: Jesus appears to the disciples again; and Scene 3: Judas recounts a vision and Jesus responds. There are also sectional headings to aid in the reading of the Gospel.

The Gospel introduces itself as ‘The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot’ (The Gospel of Judas, 19) and concludes with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and a titular subscript, ‘THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS’ imprinted at the end. However, it is generally understood that Judas is not the author of the Gospel that bears his name.

The publication of this English translation of the Gospel of Judas affords a comparative study of its gnostic teachings with their counterparts in orthodox and biblical Christianity. We shall take advantage of this avenue and just do such a study (aided by Ehrman’s commentary essay, ‘Christianity Turned on Its Head: The Alternative Vision of the Gospel of Judas’ in Judas, 77-120). We shall begin with the ‘man of the hour’ himself, Judas Iscariot.

JUDAS ISCARIOT in The Gospel of Judas
The portrayal of Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of Judas is best typified by the theme, ‘contra the disciples’. He is unlike the other eleven. He stands apart from them in a number of aspects; most significant of which is that he alone understands the true nature and character of Jesus Christ’s person and mission.

As noted above, Judas is the privileged one to receive a secret revelation from Jesus; no other disciple is privy to this revelation. In scene 1, in which Jesus is engaged in dialogue with his disciples, Jesus says this to Judas: ‘Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom’ [35] - (number in square brackets indicates the manuscript page in accordance with the translation’s notation convention).

In the same dialogue scene, Jesus laughs at the disciples’ prayer of thanksgiving for the bread and remarks that none of them will know him. The disciples become agitated with this remark. Jesus perceives their agitation and anger at him and challenges them: ‘[Let] any one of you who is [strong enough] among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face’. Though they claim to have the strength, they dare not ‘stand before [him], except for Judas Iscariot’. But even Judas does not dare to look at Jesus in his eyes. It is then that Judas declares to Jesus: ‘I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo’ [34-35].

In scene 3, Judas rehearses to Jesus his vision of seeing himself being stoned by the twelve disciples and then seeing a house surrounded by ‘great people’. In the ensuing conversation, Jesus reveals to Judas that he (Judas) ‘will become the thirteenth’, that he ‘will be cursed by the other generations’, that he ‘will come to rule over them’, and that in ‘the last days they will curse (his) ascent to the holy [generation]’ [44-47]. Judas will be the thirteenth because ‘someone else will replace’ [36] him (after he has betrayed Jesus) to bring the number of the circle of disciples back to twelve. It is important to note that as the thirteenth, Judas stands outside and separate from the twelve for it is him alone who will enter the house, a ‘place reserved for the holy’ [45].

In a separate conversation which springs from Judas’ query about what will the baptized do [55], Jesus is reported to have said to Judas: ‘But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me’ [56]. The antecedent to this is rather fragmentary and incoherent and thus, we are not certain of who the ‘them’ are. But from the two statements quoted, we know that Jesus is positively prophesying for Judas to betray him. ‘Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star’ [57]. Judas is then reported to have lifted up his eyes, sees the ‘luminous cloud’ and enters it. The translators have footnoted that this is probably a description of ‘the transfiguration of Judas’ - ‘vindicated by being glorified in the luminous cloud’.

The Gospel closes with Judas receiving some money from the high priests and handing Jesus over to them [58]. As the Gospel will have us to believe, this is not to be seen negatively as a betrayal stemming from avarice, but as an accomplishment of a necessary task which stems from a heart of knowing loyalty.

In the Biblical Gospels
The Gospels in the Bible have a less flattering picture of Judas Iscariot. He is ‘a devil’, ‘a thief’, (John 6:70; 12:6) and a betrayer (Mt. 10:4; etc.). He sells his Master for thirty pieces of silver (Mt. 26:14-15; 27:3). The infamy of his kiss on Jesus’ cheek (Mt. 26:48-49) has given rise to the English idiom, ‘Judas kiss’, signifying ‘an act of betrayal’ and even his name, ‘Judas’ has come to mean ‘a betrayer’. However, the Gospel of Matthew does mitigate his action. There, it is said that he ‘was seized with remorse’ and tried to return the thirty silver coins, but was refused. He then threw the coins into the temple and ‘went away and hanged himself’ (Mt. 27:3-5).

Two very different portrayals - which should we believe? The Gospel of Judas is a gnostic document and if Irenaeus was right about the Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas as being Cainites, then it is not difficult for us to understand why Judas should be more sympathetically portrayed; and, thus, we can reject such a portrayal. However, neutrally speaking, there is a more burning question: Since it is the will of God that Christ should die on the cross, is there not any redemption at all in Judas’ act of betrayal?

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