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What Would People Think?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The "Gospel" of Judas

Much of the media coverage of the ancient document known as The Gospel of Judas is pretty darn ignorant. It acts as if it exposes some sort of Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy, or at least as if it undermines the core tenants of Christianity.

Um, no....not really. David Kopel over at The Volokh Conspiracy explains why.

(Note also the interesting discussion in the footnotes.)


  • I don't know how much validity I'm going to place in a Volokh post over what is apparently the unified agreement of scholars on the authenticity of the document.

    In any event, I think the reporting so far is pretty clear that the Gospel's value lies in showing the diversity of early Christian thought, which is a thesis that's been proven many times, from Karen Armstrong to Joseph Campbell. I don't think anyone's saying that it dissolves Christianity or anything.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 4/09/2006 2:11 PM  

  • No one's disputing the authenticity of the document. That is, no one is saying it's a forgery or something like that. The guy at Volokh isn't saying that and I'm not saying that.

    Neither am I saying that all Christians were unified on all points of doctrine from the beginning. Inasmuch as the reporting says that early Christians disagreed about stuff, it is entirely correct. Inasmuch as the document is an insight into some of the disagreements of 2nd and 3rd century Christians, it is an interesting and important archaeological (sp?) find.

    What I am saying is that it was a document written hundreds of years after the life of Christ by people who never lived at the same time as Christ and held beliefs at odds with the rest of the New and Old Testaments. Most scholars - although, yes, there is inevitable disagreement when you're dealing with ancient documents - hold that the canonical Gospels were written by eyewitnesses to Christ or people who interviewed those eyewitnesses...sometime between the A.D. 60s and the A.D. 90s.

    Most of what I've read about the Judas Gospel says it was written in the 2nd or 3rd century and reflects the Gnostic belief that the physical world is evil and the spiritual self is good. As Kopel points out, this belief could not be squared with much of the rest of the Bible (i.e. Genesis saying God's creation was "good"), and so the Gnostics ended up dumping much of the Old Testament.

    What the Gospel of Judas does - like the other Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdelene (sp?) - is provide an insight into the theologial debates of the 2nd or 3rd century Church, much like Luther's 95 Theses provides a window into the debates of the 16th century. What it does not do is provide any reason for Christians to rethink the traditional understandings of Judas's actions and motivations or of the relationship between spirit and body.

    [And because I am a busy fellow, that is all I am going to post on the topic today. Maybe I'll post more tomorrow. Maybe not.]

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/09/2006 2:42 PM  

  • The media does it for the following reason: To most people, spiffy archaeological find that sheds light on the diversity of beliefs in early Christianity = boring. Meanwhile, blockbuster find that challenges the very foundations of our most major religion = interesting. A little misleading manipulation can definitely make the former seem like the latter.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4/09/2006 6:59 PM  

  • "Authentic"? Authentically what? To say that the "Judas Gospel" is authentic is like saying cubic zirconium is authentic; it's a real piece of paper, but that doesn't make it a historical diamond. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nobody is even trying to assert that the Gospel of Judas is written by Judas (or anyone who knew him for that matter). Shouldn't that matter when we throw around words like "authentic"?

    By Blogger Becca, at 4/09/2006 11:05 PM  

  • Well, that's why I tried to clarify that what I mean by "authentic" was that this is indeed an ancient document of some sort, not a recent forgery. It is, according to all the scholars I read, the so-called "Gospel of Judas" that a Christian bishop was condemning as false in the 2nd or 3rd century.

    But no I don't believe it was actually written by Judas. I believe it was written by Gnostics in the 2nd or 3rd century. I'm not quite sure if anyone is claiming otherwise.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/10/2006 6:43 AM  

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