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Uncovering the Gospel of Judas
In 2006 the National Geographic Society published a translation of the Gospel of Judas. It was discovered in an Egyptian desert cave in the 1970s and has been restored; it will eventually end up in a museum in Cairo, Egypt.
The writing has attracted attention among the press because it supposedly provides new information about Jesus. The Gospel of Judas describes Jesus and Judas as being good friends, of Jesus giving Judas secret knowledge, and Jesus even asking Judas for help in ending His life. The National Geographic website states that this document "offers an alternate portrayal from the first or second century of the relationship between Jesus and Judas." Similar claims have been on the radio and in magazines. They have all sounded the same theme: this Gospel means Christians need to change their understanding of Judas and the relationship of Judas and Jesus. But does it?
First, is this another Gospel? The answer is both yes and no. The word "Gospel" means "Good News," and so any biography of Jesus is a Gospel. So, yes it is a Gospel (in a sense) because it claims to tell the story of Jesus. And no, because it does not tell the same story found in the Four Gospels in the New Testament. It paints a picture of a different Jesus, one who was not the Son of God and who did not die to bring people into a relationship with God. As a matter of fact, in the Gospel of Judas, Jesusí main goal is to rejoin God and Judas helps him out by aiding in his death.
Second, what was discovered? The Gospel of Judas was discovered in codex (an early form of a book). Within this codex was discovered the Gospel of Judas and three other small writings: the complete First Apocalypse of James, the complete Letter of Peter to Philip, and a fragment of a writing known as the Book of Allogenes.
Out of these four writings, the Gospel of Judas is the only one of which there was no previous copy. Scholars had copies of the other three; they were discovered in 1945 in Egypt with about fifty different writings; these have become known as the Nag Hammadi Library (from where they were found). The source of this Library was a group of Gnostics who lived in late 100s to 300s in the desert of Egypt. But why are they not in the Bible? Simple, because they were made up. No, that is not the right way to put it. They were either made up or were altered views of events written about in the Bible. Also, they were not written by nor connected to any Apostle (regardless of the name on the title). Instead, these writings were written later (some much later) and had an Apostlesí name attached to them in order to add credibility.
So who were the Gnostics? Gnostics were not Christian in that they did not accept the idea that Jesus was the Son of God. Nor did they believe that the Christ died on the cross. They believed someone else died in place of the Christ (Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross once Jesus could no longer carry it), or that Christ left the body of the man Jesus and it was only Jesus the man who was crucified, not the Christ. In addition, the Gnostics believed in a main God and different levels of spirituality down to the level of a creator god (usually the 24th level) by whom the physical world was created.
So, the Gospel of Judas is not an alternative reading to the story of Jesus. It is a fictional writing by Gnostic Christians who wanted to prove their belief by changing the true story of Jesus (and Judas) to match their own Gnostic beliefs.
©2006 Mark Nickens
Questions/comments contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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