Keith Davis's Reviews > The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas by Rodolphe Kasser
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Jun 16, 2013

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Christian tradition depicts Judas as the ultimate betrayer, selling out the Son of God for 30 silver coins. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that Jesus was incarnated in order to sacrifice himself for the sins of mankind. If Jesus' whole reason for existing was to die by crucifixion then how was Judas' action that of a traitor? Was it instead a holy mission? The Gospel of Judas presents of version of the relationship of Judas and Christ that reads like Christian Opposite Day.

The Gospel of Judas is a very brief Coptic text believed to date from the second century. All that was know of it for centuries was that early church fathers denounced it as heretical. It was believed lost forever until a copy was discovered buried in a cavern in Egypt in the 1970's.

In the text Jesus laughs at his disciples' beliefs and tells them that no one of their generation will understand who he is. Judas steps up and states that Jesus comes from the immortal realms. Jesus takes Judas aside and teaches him secrets about the nature of the cosmos. This Gnostic cosmology sounds a lot like the Neoplatonic writings of Plotinus. Emanations and self-generated aeons send forth angels and luminaries in a series of generations until a fallen Archon creates the corrupt physical world as a mockery of the spiritual world. The gospel ends with Judas rescuing Jesus from the physical world by handing him over to be executed. By ending his life trapped in a physical body he has freed Jesus to return to the blessed immortal realms of the spirit.

The bulk of the book is taken up by commentaries on the short Gnostic text. Rodolphe Kasser provides a compelling account of how the document was discovered and restored. He sometimes loses his scientific detachment while describing his outrage over how the document was mishandled and almost destroyed by antiquities dealers who wanted to maximize their profits with no regard for history or science. The always controversial Bart Ehrman examines the theology of the gospel. Gregor Wurst examines the question of whether this document is the same Gospel of Judas that Irenaeus attached in Against Heresies. Finally Marvin Meyer puts the work in the larger Gnostic context by comparing it with documents from Nag Hammadi.

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