Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gospel of Judas; Part 6

One of the key passages in the Gospel of Judas comes when Jesus tells Judas that Judas will “sacrifice the man that clothes me.” After this, Judas sees a “luminous cloud” and enters it.

Many years ago, critics of the biblical Gospels came up with numerous criteria with which to separate information in the biblical Gospels that was historically reliable from that which supposedly was not. For example: It is widely accepted that 1) the closer the event or saying was recorded to the time of Jesus, the more likely it is to be historically reliable, 2) events or sayings that are attested in more than one independent document are more likely to be reliable, and 3) if the information is contextually credible, that is, it “fits” with the historical, cultural, and religious background of first century Palestine and Judaism in which Jesus lived, it is more likely to be reliable.

First, the idea that Jesus collaborated with Judas is attested (actually, only hinted) in only one document (strike one) written 110 to 150 years after the time of Jesus (strike two). When the radical Jesus Seminar scholar, John Dominic Crossan was evaluating evidence about Jesus, either one of these "stikes" would have been enough for him to dismiss the evidence completely!
It was amazing, therefore, to see critics on the National Geographic documentary hyping the Gospel of Judas as if it had any credibility.

For decades the critics have rejected the Gospel of John as being historically unreliable, in part because it was written up to 70 years after the time of Jesus and was more abstract in nature than the other Gospels. The notorious Jesus Seminar, for example, rejected almost the entire Gospel of John as historically unreliable. The Gospel of Judas, on the other hand, is far more "abstract" than the Gospel of John, and was written much later, yet some biblical critics hype it up as if it had credibility!

Second, the idea that Jesus was betrayed by Judas comes from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts—at least two of these, Mark and John, are independent and all of these were written long before the Gospel of Judas.

Third, the Gospel of Judas is not contextually credible at all because it completely removes Jesus from his Jewish context. So by the critic’s own criteria, the weight of historical probability comes down strongly against the Gospel of Judas presentation of Judas as the hero.

In the last part of the Gospel of Judas, Jesus goes into the upper room for prayer and the high priests murmur. The Scribes want to arrest Jesus but are afraid to do so because all the people regard him as a prophet. Then, without transition or explanation, they ask Judas what he was doing there, Judas told them what they wanted to know, received his money, and handed Jesus over to them. Thus ends the Gospel of Judas.

There really was a Jesus. He really had disciples, one of whom was Judas who handed Jesus over to the authorities. Otherwise, Irenaeus (AD 180) was right. The Gospel of Judas is pure fiction. But what can you say? There are actually people who take the Da Vinci Code seriously too.