Yesterday (April 6, 2006), the discovery of the ancient Gospel of Judas was announced with much fanfare. It was a leading story on one of the TV news shows this morning and will be the subject of a National Geographic documentary this weekend.
Although the particular manuscript copy actually discovered was carbon dated to the 3rd/4th century AD, the original document was written as early as AD 140-180. Discovered in 1978, this ancient papyrus document may be the same Gospel of Judas referred to by Irenaeus.
In the 180's AD, Irenaeus wrote extensively on numerous ancient religious cults. One of these groups, known as the Cainites, thought they were descendants of “Esau, Korah, [and] the Sodomites.” Irenaeus wrote that “They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”
Writing fictitious gospels was the “in” thing in the second to fourth centuries AD. Numerous second to fourth century gospels and documents were discovered in 1945, including “The Gospel of Thomas.” These documents, not including the Gospel of Judas, have been translated in a book called, The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James Robinson.
Anyone who has actually ever read the Nag Hammadi documents knows that they are usually so absurdly bizarre that they have virtually no claim to historical reliability—unless, of course, you think that women must become men in order to be saved, or that being female is a "defect," an "illness," or “madness” or that Jesus never suffered in any way and, in fact, was laughing at everyone while on the cross. Or perhaps you believe that the androgynous god "Death" begot seven androgynous female offspring named "Wrath, Pain, Lust, Sighing, Curse, Bitterness, [and] Quarrelsomeness." Hmmm, I wonder why no early church leaders considered these Nag Hammadi documents as part of their New Testament?
Still, the media is having a great time with this, partly out of their lack of knowledge and partly, no doubt, for ratings.