Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gospel of Judas; Part 1

Over the next few days I’ll provide a very tentative commentary on selected parts of the Gospel of Judas based on my summary (yesterday’s post). To read the actual translation of the Gospel of Judas, see The Gospel of Judas, edited by Rodolphe Kasser et al., Washington DC : National Geographic, 2006). Phrases in quotes below are quotations from this translation.

The Gospel of Judas begins by saying this is a secret account that Jesus revealed to Judas just days before Jesus’ death.

This idea of secret knowledge communicated by Jesus to Judas is a recurring theme in the Gospel of Judas. In the second century AD, Irenaeus argued that we Christians could trace our core teaching about Jesus back to those taught by the apostles, to the apostles themselves and ultimately to Jesus. This succession of teaching was apparently so well known that, generally speaking, the Gnostics didn’t even try to dispute it. What they did was to simply side-step the issue by claiming that Jesus had privately revealed secret knowledge to a particular disciple or associate of Jesus--knowledge that the rest of the disciples (and, therfore, the church) didn’t have.

In other words, these Gnostic groups would argue that the church was teaching essentially what Jesus taught publicly to his disciples and to the people, but in private he taught something entirely different to one of his followers. The Gospel of Mary, or the Gospel of Judas, or the Gospel of Thomas, or the Gospel of Philip, etc. was supposedly that secret revelation. Of course, the content of the teaching in these Gnostic gospels was often very different not only from the biblical Gospels, but from each other. What many of the Gnostic writings did agree on was that we live in an essentially polytheistic universe and that the God of the Old Testament was an evil, ignorant, and malevolent god. This raises a couple of questions:

First, why do many of the more radical Jesus scholars insist on calling these Gnostic groups “Christian” when the entire worldview of most Gnostic writings was decidedly polytheistic, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish? (It would be like calling Muslims “Christians” just because Muhammad had good things to say about Jesus—come to think of it, Islam’s view of God is closer to Christianity than were these Gnostic groups. At least Islam is monotheistic and claims to worship the God of Abraham. The answer to my question is that many of these scholars apparently want to re-write Christian history in an attempt to make orthodox Christianity appear to have no more historical legitimacy than any of these second century Gnostic groups.

Second, since most of the Gnostic documents present an entirely different worldview from that Christianity or the Judaism from which Christianity grew, why should anyone be surprised that Christians never even considered these anti-Semitic, anti-Christian documents as part of their New Testament? And why do some scholars try to pretend this was all part of some conspiracy by supposedly powerful Christian bishops in the fourth century? The answer is that many modern academics want you to think that the collection of the New Testament was entirely about power and had nothing to do with the reliability of the tradition about Jesus.

Surely something other than honest, objective scholarship is going on in the recent attacks against Jesus and orthodox Christianity.