Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Gospel” of Judas

There is so much misinformation about this new discovery that I want to set the record straight.

National Geographic says the Gospel of Judas is “one of the most significant biblical finds of the last century—a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus.”

An Australian newspaper has this headline: “
Gospel of Judas Has Church Worried.”

Chicago Tribune says:

National Geographic put $1 million on the table and reaped a golden return in the form of a text that is believed to have been a translation of the "Gospel of Judas." … This is fascinating stuff because it suggests the conventional biblical explanation of the fate of Judas in the Jesus story is a much more complicated story…. Expect a lot of argument and hand wringing about this.
Britain’s The Sun leads their story with:

Church leaders are bracing themselves for the release of the Gospel of Judas which will cast doubts on Christianity’s most deeply held beliefs…. The papyrus document is being hailed as the greatest archaeological discovery of all time…. It claims Judas was Jesus’s favoured disciple and that in betraying Christ, Judas was fulfilling a divine mission.
There is so much that is wrong or misleading that I can’t possibly address all of it in a single post. Let me start with the easy stuff first.

The Sun explains
the timing of its release:

[I]t was originally discovered in a tomb in Egypt in the late Seventies…. It had remained untranslated in a New York bank vault for years…. A Swiss arts foundation acquired the document in 2002 and struck a deal with National Geographic magazine to publish the translations…. The full manuscript will be published in Washington on April 6 — a month before the release of the film version of the Da Vinci Code.
Its existence has been known for more than 30 years. It was purchased in 2002 and some rights to it were sold to National Geographic for $1 million. Its release is coordinated with the release of the Da Vinci Code movie. Scholar John Dart explains, “The torn and tattered papyrus text had been hawked to potential buyers in North America and Europe for decades after it was found at Muhazafat Al Minya in Middle Egypt.”

Michel van Rijn, Dutch art dealer who specializes in exposing shady art deals, traces the history of this “discovery.”)

The claims of its significance are laughable. The Sun says it is “being hailed as the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.” I can find no reputable scholar who thinks this papyrus deserves even to be mentioned in the same breath as the
Rosetta Stone.

National Geographic’s claims are somewhat more modest: “One of the most significant biblical finds of the last century.” Whatever its value, it pales in comparison to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (This reminds me of the story Bill Wennington tells of the first game of Jordan’s 1995 comeback. “
Michael and I combined for 57 points.” Bill had two points.)

It is not a “lost gospel.”
Collin Hansen points out that the “Gospel of Judas

  • is not a gospel,
  • was not written by Judas,
  • is not Christian,
  • did not circulate until about 150 years after Jesus died,
  • “tells us nothing more about Jesus' relationship with Judas than does Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Gnosticism is not a “branch” of Christianity that lost out to a rival group that later became labeled “true Christianity.” It is a different religion altogether.

Douglas Groothuis explains:

Gnosticism as a philosophy refers to a related body of teachings that stress the acquisition of "gnosis," or inner knowledge…. This gnosis is the inner and esoteric mystical knowledge of ultimate reality. It discloses the spark of divinity within, thought to be obscured by ignorance…
Gnosticism believes that the physical world was created by mistake or mischief. Therefore, material substance is unimportant (or evil) and the spiritual is divine.

Collin Hansen elaborates:

According to many Gnostic teachers, Jesus either did not actually appear in the flesh, or he at least wanted to shed his skin as soon as possible. Jesus longed to return to the spirit world. Judas helped make that happen.
The “Gospel of Judas” is not unique. There are many Gnostic gospels and other texts. A few of them are

  • The Gospel of Thomas
  • The Gospel of Philip
  • The Gospel of Truth
  • The Gospel of the Egyptians
(For a more detailed account of the Gnostic texts and their significance read The Gnostic Gospels, by Douglas Groothuis.)

The “Gospel of Judas” doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus or Judas.
LiveScience reports a story by Richard Ostling, AP Religion Writer:

    James M. Robinson, America's leading expert on such ancient religious texts from Egypt, predicts in a new book that the text won't offer any insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. His reason: While it's old, it's not old enough.

    Robinson is an emeritus professor at Claremont (California) Graduate University, chief editor of religious documents found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and an international leader among scholars of Coptic manuscripts.

    Robinson writes that the journey of the text to Switzerland was “replete with smugglers, black-market antiquities dealers, religious scholars, backstabbing partners and greedy entrepreneurs.''
    ( has more information and some English translation of the document.)

    To sum up:

    • This is not a “new revelation.”
    • It tells us nothing about the real Jesus or Judas.
    • Its importance has been hyped to make the investors more money.
    • It has no impact on the truth claims of Christianity.
    Pastor Rod

    “Helping you become the person God created you to be”

    Additional links: Mark D. Roberts, Scot McKnight, Mark Daniels, Ben Witherington, Al Mohler, John Reynolds.


    Anonymous said...

    Wasn't the real bible not written until long after Jesus died? It was also passed down by word of mouth before it was even written down? How do we know that's true and the gospel of Judas isn't?

    Pastor Rod said...


    I'll respond to yur questions in a new post.


    Keith.Drury said...

    It always fascinates me how the secularists go haywire when they imagine there were "other gospels" written in the first few centuries. In fact Christians get the heeby jeebies too sometimes as if the whole faith will collapse if extra-canonical sources are found. Mostly is it because they do not realize that this is was “canon” is all about—separating the authoritative from the “other” writings. HA! Most worldlings (and Christians as well) need to read a few dozen works and make up their mind for themselves. ;-)