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On the Gnostic Gospel of Judas.
April 6, 2006 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Gnostic Gospel of Judas, they say! Hot on the heels of Christ On Ice and the, er, "newly discovered" Gospel fragment, the news outlets are currently drooling all over National Geographic's recent conclusive dating and translation of surviving fragments of the Apocryphal Gospel of Judas, now dated to about 300 CE. The text is classically Gnostic, emphasizing a duality splitting Christ's "spiritual" and "fleshly" natures, as opposed to Christian orthodoxy's belief in the Incarnation. Looking beyond the wide-eyed "OMG THIS WILL REVOLUTIONIZE CHRISTIANITY AS WE KNOW IT" sensationalism, Internet Monk asks if a 300 year-old apocryphal biography of George Washington would be regarded as authentic were it discovered in 1970. James F. Robinson, an expert on ancient Egyptian texts, regards the Judas Gospel as mostly a dud, produced by Cainite Gnostics who took it upon themselves to "rehabilitate" villians of Bible mythos. Even if you don't believe in the account of Judas, there's no denying his contributions to the Christian narrative. Truly a historical icon.
posted by brownpau (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
No matter how you cut it, it's a cool find. I think that a lof ot the 'strict literalist' Christian camps miss out on a richer faith for avoiding these kinds of documents like the plague. Even if one draws a line between 'the canon' and 'the literary rabble,' reading what other strains of the faith were writing about the Christ-figure is fascinating stuff.
posted by verb at 3:14 PM on April 6, 2006


The problem with Internet Monk's snarky argument (link above) is that all of our documents about Jesus are of similar (iffy) provenance. So, if we found a non-authoritative, questionably sourced biography of George Washington written after the fact, and all our other information about George Washington was also written after the fact and questionably sourced, then the discovery might well be significant.

More broadly, what each addition to the corpus of early but non-canonical Christian texts gives us is a strong reminder that the Bible our fundy friends think is literally true was actually the process of a political selection process whose results were more or less arbitrary with regard to truth, spiritual value, etc.
posted by grobstein at 3:26 PM on April 6, 2006


*err, product of a political selection process
posted by grobstein at 3:27 PM on April 6, 2006


Now we'll be able to decide if Judas Iscariot had God on his side.
posted by docgonzo at 3:31 PM on April 6, 2006


Just you wait, it's going to turn out they didn't even have that font in 300 AD.
posted by The Bellman at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2006


You'll always have the poor. But you won't always have me.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2006


Political selection process yes - but it's also important to note that the four gospels which survived the winnowing also tend to agree with one another - generally.

It's also important to note that many biblical literalists also content that the book, in its current form, has mystical properties, therefore, "The early church fathers did a good job of picking the right chapters."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:37 PM on April 6, 2006


Christ on Ice.

Good one. That's what they should have called it in the previous post. Goes well next to Disney on Ice.

Knowing the real world, however, they'd probably put it to ABBA music.
posted by mystyk at 3:41 PM on April 6, 2006


I’d like to see the notes of the apostle Thomas.

“J.C. did the thing with the ice this week walking on water with Peter. I don’t know how people buy this, what are they Philistines? Matt totally bought it, he is such a tool. This is worse than the trick he did at the wedding with the red food coloring. He keeps going like this he’s going to get into real trouble with the Romans. I don’t trust that Judas S.O.B. Meanwhile, John keeps saying he’s going to kick my ass if I don’t get in line. Send money mom. Love, Thomas”
posted by Smedleyman at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2006


The Bellman wins...
posted by twsf at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2006


I've always liked the interpretation that Judas acted in accordance with *at least* implicit approval from Christ. But this is hardly new in this document - it's easily interpreted from the story, and well-treated in Jesus Christ Superstar.

I do like the "Gnostic" texts though, and more and more of this stuff makes our understanding of the historical and literary story richer.
posted by freebird at 3:49 PM on April 6, 2006


JCS is cool and all, but The Last Temptation of Christ is where it's at for Iscariotically sympythetic perspectives. I really liked the Kazantzakis book, and the movie is one of only two movies ever made with both David Bowie and Willem Dafoe--what more do you need?
posted by Squid Voltaire at 4:04 PM on April 6, 2006


Not to be overly snarky, but to a non-christian -- or someone who isn't completely sold that the survivng church is the good church,
Internetmonk:
2. The Gnostics were really really really wrong, much like the people who told you that we’d all be riding Segways by now.
3. There were lots of fake, phony Gospels. They are to the real Gospels what the Weekly World News is to the Wall Street journal.
4. The early church wasn’t trying to suppress anything salacious about Jesus. They were trying to keep the truth about Jesus above the waters of a rising tide of nonsense and heresy.
these talking points are fairly hilarious, since, just to choose an example, to say "There were lots of fake, phony Gospels" immediately suggests... I don't know, the New Testament?
posted by illovich at 4:12 PM on April 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Shorter version: Nils Runeberg was right, bitches.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:14 PM on April 6, 2006


I have a soft spot for Gnosticism. The demiurge as a solution to the problem of evil just seems so satisfying and believable. I also enjoyed reading translations of their gospels.

As for the Internet Monk mocking and condemning the Gnostics, as well as dismissing apocryphal and noncanonical gospels, I have nothing but contempt. I would think that it would be perfectly Christian to have smypathy for those who's beliefs, texts and very lives were wiped out by the newly romanized and homogenized Constantinian state religion. Perhaps if Constantine had chosen Valentinianist Gnosticism as the new Roman state religion, this Monk would be condeming the newly discovered noncannonical "Gospel of Luke".
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:28 PM on April 6, 2006


Is it in Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock (which I read a long, long, long time ago) that Jesus--who wasn't really Jesus but a modern man somehow transported back in time--had Judas betray him so the Christ story would happen as he had learned it? I read that probably 30 years ago, so that's the best of my hazy recollection. I still have my paperback someplace. I think Marvel Comics did an adaptation of the book in one of their black-and-white publications, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. I still have my copies of those, too--somplace.
posted by Man-Thing at 4:30 PM on April 6, 2006


The National Geographic Forums make entertaining reading right now.
posted by Leon at 4:36 PM on April 6, 2006


Even if you don't believe in the account of Judas, there's no denying his contributions to the Christian narrative. Truly a historical icon.

This last bit in the FPP is a great hidden homage to the old "Stephen King found dead" troll on Slashdot. As such, I found it quite amusing.
posted by First Post at 4:40 PM on April 6, 2006


more
posted by Substrata at 5:04 PM on April 6, 2006


This isn't really a particularly interesting find from a theological standpoint. Most educated Christians know that there are a ton of apocryphal gospels out there. The early Christians were faced with a plethora of contradictory gospels, and although Constantine had a big role in many of the starting principles of the Catholic Church, by the time he legitimized Christianity the major works of the New Testament had already been pretty much standardized. Actually, the book of Judas seems to have been writen after the New Testament was compiled by early Christians, since while it was not until around 400 AD that a New Testament was formally agreed upon, the basic decision of which gospels to use had been made by the second century at the latest.

That said, this is a really great find from a historical standpoint, particularly considering that many of the Gnostic works were destroyed during the middle ages.
posted by unreason at 5:05 PM on April 6, 2006


That said, this is a really great find from a historical standpoint, particularly considering that many of the Gnostic works were destroyed during the middle ages.

Yea, like the Gospel of Red the Apostle.
posted by basicchannel at 5:16 PM on April 6, 2006


>this Monk would be condeming the newly discovered noncannonical "Gospel of Luke".

1. The early church fought hard to keep the truth of Jesus alive in their writings. Jesus cursing a fig tree? Who's buying this?

2. This version of the gospel shows us Jesus, a non-violent man, attacking merchants! Its laughable.

3. Luke even claims Jesus justfies murdering all who oppose him: (19:27) "But these enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them in my presence"

LOL. Sound more like Muhammed to me!

- Internet Monk, counter-earth.
posted by skallas at 6:04 PM on April 6, 2006


A major thrust of this gospel, apparently, is that Judas was not a betrayer, but the dearest and best of the gang.

I've never really understood the prevalent idea the he was the villain of the piece -- if it was by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection that humanity was to be redeemed, it always seemed to me that the guy who hastened that end would be the hero, or at least Christ:Judas::Batman:Robin.

Christians (or rather, their beliefs) confuse me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:37 PM on April 6, 2006


Why should we care what this Internet monk has to say again? That bit about the gnostics being wrong wrong wrong strikes me as particularly asinine.

Nicely crafted post, tho, interesting.
posted by undule at 6:39 PM on April 6, 2006


I've never really understood the prevalent idea the he was the villain of the piece -- if it was by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection that humanity was to be redeemed, it always seemed to me that the guy who hastened that end would be the hero

Christians (or rather, their beliefs) confuse me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:37 PM EST on April 6 [!]


Christianity places a large emphasize on intent. The general feeling is that although Jesus had to be crucified, Judas did not understand this, he merely betrayed Jesus for his own selfish reasons. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons isn't really any better than doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. The end result may be better, but the person is just as bad.
posted by unreason at 6:49 PM on April 6, 2006


Christianity places a large emphasis on intent.

Fair enough. Being partial if cornered to act utilitarianism from way back, it makes sense that I'd miss that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:03 PM on April 6, 2006


Good post, except for its utter lack of reference to Borges.
posted by signal at 8:07 PM on April 6, 2006


I don't care if it rains or freezes
long as I got my Gnostic Jesus
posted by grobstein at 8:18 PM on April 6, 2006


Good post, and good thread. As an outsider to Christianity, I find this stuff fascinating.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:21 PM on April 6, 2006


Hrm. Christ comes across as kind of a cock in the clip made available by the NYT. Laughing at the inferior knowledge of his disciples and lording his access over them. Big emphasis on kooky secrets; very little about the human condition. *shrug* Whuddya expect from gnostics.
posted by It ain't over yet at 8:39 PM on April 6, 2006


Hey, on the subject of Judas... is there any theory about him being written in as the "betrayer" because he was a stand in for the zealot movement?

Am I just half-remembering the Last Temptation of Christ? (Harvey Keitel = Best Judas ever).
posted by illovich at 8:55 PM on April 6, 2006


I love those gnostic gospels. So I rushed right over to read the translation National Geographic put out today. Did anybody else do a WTF over this passage?
"Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star."

Judas lifted his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it .... "
There seems to be a lot more here than "Is Judas redeemed?" Like, "Is Judas with the space monsters?"
posted by kenlayne at 9:29 PM on April 6, 2006


Hey, on the subject of Judas... is there any theory about him being written in as the "betrayer" because he was a stand in for the zealot movement?

Actually, there was a zealot among the disciples, but it was Simon (not Peter, the other one.) I've always thought it was fascinating that Jesus included someone in his closest circle of friends that we'd probably call a terrorist today.
posted by EarBucket at 4:14 AM on April 7, 2006


I’d like to see the notes of the apostle Thomas.

You're in luck
posted by IndigoJones at 5:52 AM on April 7, 2006


I've always thought it was fascinating that Jesus included someone in his closest circle of friends that we'd probably call a terrorist today.
posted by EarBucket at 7:14 AM EST on April 7 [!]


Not necessarily. There were a lot of zealots, but many of them didn't actually commit acts of violence, they just talked a lot about how much Rome sucked and should be gotten rid of. There were, of course, a lot of genuinely violent zealots, but we're never told if Simon was one of them.
posted by unreason at 6:11 AM on April 7, 2006


Is it in Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock (which I read a long, long, long time ago) that Jesus--who wasn't really Jesus but a modern man somehow transported back in time--had Judas betray him so the Christ story would happen as he had learned it?

Yes, although the most memorable part of this book for me is Moorcock's portrayal of Jesus as an extremely retarded child.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:51 AM on April 7, 2006


Yes, although the most memorable part of this book for me is Moorcock's portrayal of Jesus as an extremely retarded child.

PST--I had forgotten that. It explains why the main character had to take on the role of Christ. Thanks for the reminder. I should read the book again--or at least dig out my copy of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction with the adaptation.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2006


Best Judas = Murray Head.

But this is hardly new in this document - it's easily interpreted from the story, and well-treated in Jesus Christ Superstar.

You wanted me to do it!
What if I just stayed here
And ruined your ambition?
Christ you deserve it!

Fantastic post (as usual), brownpau.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:10 AM on April 7, 2006


Thanks IndigoJones.

Seems to me at least part of the whole Judas lesson is that he killed himself unrepentant.
Christ seems like he’d cut him some slack (no hangman pun intended), but Judas was attached to the crime as to himself. But I’m going mostly by what I remember as a child and from Dante.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2006


I'm with kenlayne. Gnostic gospels are usually a barrel full of monkeys, but I give this Gospel of Judas a one-half monkey rating. Lots of weird mysticism about different angels creating stuff, and lots of Jesus laughing at his idiot disciples. Maybe the Church was right to ban this one.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:22 AM on April 7, 2006


This post justifys the discovery. Good work!
posted by absalom at 12:02 PM on April 7, 2006


Just you wait, it's going to turn out they didn't even have that font in 300 AD.

Top five mefi comment of all time in my book.
posted by thisisdrew at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2006


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