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‘Gospel of Judas’ cagematch

The discovery of the Gospel of Judas has created quite a stir at OUP. Bart Ehrman, whose book on Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene was just released, wrote significant sections for both of the best-selling books (1, 2) brought out by National Geographic on the subject. Now, Philip Jenkins has written an essay at Beliefnet that asks, “what’s the fuss about?”

Readers who scan the “Gospel of Judas” might wonder what the fuss is all about. The 24-page gospel consists mostly of a long conversation between Jesus and Judas. Like most Gnostic texts of the second-century C.E. (which is when the original of the Judas Gospel was probably written in Greek), Jesus talks about many different Gnostic deities and angels. It seems that Judas is the only one of the 12 disciples Jesus deems worthy of imparting this secret knowledge to. Jesus then asks Judas to betray him so that his mortal body will be killed and he can rejoin the spiritual world. Judas agrees and goes to the high priests to betray Jesus: That’s the end of the gospel.

The reason that many scholars and members of the press have characterized this ho-hum Gnostic document as a momentous leap in our understanding is that it fits in with their model of early Christian history as a battle between competing understandings of who Jesus was. The Christians who called themselves “orthodox” had the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that appear in today’s New Testament. Other Christians, including the Gnostics, had their own gospels, but neither the orthodox nor the Gnostics had truer insights into Jesus. The orthodox just happened to win the battle…

In short, the “Gospel of Judas” tells us nothing about the historical Jesus or Judas; it adds next to nothing to our knowledge of early Gnosticism or of sectarian Christianity; and it actually adds very little indeed that was not already known from texts published a century or more ago.

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