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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

GOD(S) & CREATION in The Gospel of Judas
When Judas confesses his knowledge of Jesus: ‘I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm (or, aeon) of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you’ [Gospel of Judas, 35], he is expressing a Sethian gnostic belief in the order of the spiritual and cosmological realm. This Sethian belief is far more complicated than the Christian belief. If Christians believe in one supreme God (albeit Triune), the Sethians believe in a multiplicity of gods in which Barbelo is one constituent among the first (and, highest) line of gods. Per the translators’ footnote (number 22), ‘Barbelo is the divine Mother of all, who often is said to be the Forethought (pronoia) of the Father, the infinite One’ (Judas, 23).

Marvin Meyer, in his essay “Judas and the Gnostic Connection” in The Gospel of Judas (137-169), offers one possible explanation for the origin of the name Barbelo (at page 140):

      [I]t may come from the ineffable four-letter name of God, YHWH or Yahweh...used in the
      Jewish Scriptures and within Judaism. The Hebrew word for “four,” arba, may designate the holy
      name, and the name of Barbelo may derive from Hebrew for an expression like “God (compare El)
      in (b-) four (arb(a)),” that is God as known through the ineffable name.

From other gnostic sources, Barbelo is the divine Mother (which, is not evident in the Gospel of Judas), who together with the ‘Great One’ [53] or the ‘Invisible [47] Spirit [49]’ give rise to the divine Child, the ‘Self-Generated’ (Autogenes) [47]. Thus, when Judas confesses that Jesus is ‘from the immortal realm of Barbelo’, he is confessing too that Jesus is the divine Autogenes from the divine realm.

In short, Sethians believe in a hierarchy of divines with the ‘supreme triad of Father, Mother, Child’, that is, the Invisible Spirit, Barbelo, and the Autogenes, standing at the apex of this hierarchy.

A note of caution, though, is in store here. Christians should not equate the Sethian Father (the Great One or the Invisible Spirit) with God. To the Sethians, (and this is apparent in the Gospel of Judas [47]), the Great One transcends higher and above the God of the Jews and Christians:

      The One is a sovereign that has nothing over it. It is God and Parent, Father of All, the invisible one
      that is over All, that is incorruptible, that is pure light at which no eye can gaze. The One is the
      invisible Spirit. We should not think of it as a God or like a God. For it is greater than a God, because
      it has nothing over and no lord above it. It does not [exist] within anything inferior [to it, since
      everything] exists within it, [for it established] itself.
- (Secret Book of John, Nag Hammadi
      Codex II, cited in Judas, 144)

In the Gospel of Judas, there is a narrative which has Jesus teaching Judas about the cosmos. Per this narrative, the physical world (or, the cosmos) as we know it, constitutes the realm of perdition [50], in contradistinction with the divine realm of Barbelo [35], since it is subject to change and decay. El, Nebro (‘rebel’ or ‘apostate’) (or, Yaldabaoth (‘child of chaos’)) and Saklas (‘fool’ in Aramaic) [51] are the chief gods of this corrupt realm. Nebro or Yaldabaoth (the demiurge in Sethian texts) is a sort of a ‘fallen angel’ and is the creator of the cosmos. He is described in the narrative in the following terms: ‘whose face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood’ [51] to indicate that he is the evil one who rebelled against the Father or the Invisible Spirit. Saklas is portrayed as the creator of humanity. He is reported as saying to his angels: ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image’ and together with the angels, he ‘fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe’ [52].

Jesus’ teaching on the cosmos and humanity prompts Judas to inquire: ‘[What] is the long duration of time that the human being will live?’ and ‘Does the human spirit die?’ [53]. Jesus’ replies to the two queries indicate that there are two classes of human beings: one who is given the spirit of life ‘as a loan’ by God (El?) through Michael, and the other given the spirit and the soul, as a gift, by the Great One through Gabriel. It is apparently evident that in the Gospel, Judas belongs to the latter, while the other eleven disciples are of the former.

In the Biblical Records and Tradition
The biblical teaching on God is nutshelled in the Jewish shema: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD is one’ (Deut. 6:4). It is reiterated in the quintessential Pauline confession: ‘one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph. 4:4-6). It is this one God who ‘created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1); and who ‘created man in his own image’ (Gen. 1:27). The very same verse emphasizes that it is ‘in the image of God he created him’, and it is ‘male and female he created them’.

The biblical records, at various points, also indicate that there is a plurality of persons in this one God (e.g., Mt. 28:19; 1 John 5:8 (KJV, and late manuscripts)), which has led to the proposition of the doctrine of the Trinity encapsulated in the Nicene confession of faith:
      We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
      And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
      And in the Holy Spirit.

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