Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is the Gospel of Judas "Troubling"?

All right. Here we go *sigh* with another Gnostic Gospel alert. Now the publication today of the Gospel of Judas is providing tons of grist for the junk-scholarship mill. Here's what the NYT has to say about this and other Gnostic Gospels:

As the findings [of Gnostic gospels] have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out.

For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers. The Gospel of Judas portrays Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus, but as his most favored disciple and willing collaborator.

The utter inability of the NYT to understand the import of this discovery is just amazing. Although elsewhere in the article, the authors seem to grasp that this "gospel" is a product of the second or third century AD/CE, they push the idea that somehow it provides information about the first century AD/CE and the historical Jesus.

And then the idea that some gospels were "edited out" of the canon — ! I run into this idea all the time among the uneducated, but to find the American newspaper of record buying into it is just annoying. Do they get all their information from Dan Brown?

I suppose it bears repeating: (1) none of the Gnostic gospels, which date from at least a century after the time of Christ, have any credible claim to provide evidence about the historical Jesus; (2) none of the early New Testament canons ever included any gnostic Gospels, therefore those Gospels could not have been "edited out"; (2) any theological perspective held by grown-ups on the formation of the canon should be able to accommodate both the governing hand of God and the presence of "historical and political forces."

Sigh.

24 comments:

Bandar said...

I am wondering!

If it was for the salvation of humanity, why didn't Jesus turn him self in proudly by himself?

why choose the worst guy out there to turn him in, and then call him the best?

any idea?

Justin Jenkins said...

Isn’t it funny that if a modern cult of Christianity writes some manifesto, or altered story of events or history it’s laughed at.

However, if the same sort of thing happened in 300 AD --- and everyone laughed at it --- and it was therefore “lost” --- when its “found” again it is looked upon as some amazing discovery and very relevant?

Ugh.

Nick Smith said...

Bandar,

It's clear that if Jesus were to have any credibility today, He had to fulfil prophecies about Himself. He did that to the letter and it wasn't by accident. Judas was by no means "the worst guy out there". Someone was bound by prophecy to turn Jesus in for thirty pieces of silver. If Judas had not done what he did, arguments against Christianity might have a valid leg to stand on, but he did and they don't.

Roger Pearse said...

The marketting ploy, "This book will shake the FOUNDATIONS, yes the FOUNDATIONS, of Christianity so buy it now, and if you don't then you aren't allowed to disagree with our PR in any way" is one that we have all seen and is now stale.

I must confess that when I read the following part of the NYT article, I laughed heartily!

As the findings [of Gnostic gospels] have trickled down to churches and universities, they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out.

Doesn't it sound just like the sort of thing that the now vanished Broad Churchmen thought it clever to write around 1900? Christians have always known that fake gospels were composed in imitation of the real ones, and misrepresenting Christian origins is a cottage industry that has lasted to our own times.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!

I'm not quite sure why we refer to Ps.Dionysius the Areopagite, but not to Ps.Gospel of Judas/Peter/etc.

The text is of great interest, of course. It is explicitly gnostic, and as the fathers tell us gnosticism starts with Basilides, and all other gnostic texts belong to that period, then we can reasonably confidently presume it was composed between 130-200 AD.

What I find worrying, however, is that there is so little mention of the other texts found with it. There were 3 other texts in the codex; and another codex. The latter seems to have gone to now-bankrupt antiquities dealer Bruce Ferrini, who, according to internet reports, is now selling pages of papyri (not from this codex) on eBay. Surely all these texts are also worth looking at?

All the best,

Roger Pearse

Anonymous said...

I guess I’m one of those uneducated unfortunates that Edward talks about! Help me to understand this. You say there were no gospels “edited out” of the canon. During the compilation of the canon were there more books / gospels / epistles, potential candidate documents than eventually ended up in the bible as we have it today. If so what word would you use to describe what happened to those documents that didn’t make it for what ever reason, God’s direction, political and historical forces etc.

Quentin

Anonymous said...

Gnostics were known for teaching that salvation was only possible through 'secret knowledge' and this "Gospel of Judas" was part of their secret knowledge 101 course for their special teachings... The Gnostics were nothing short of a cult that had an inner circle of people who were taught exclusive and heretical things so that they could lord it over others...
The great thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it doesn't require secret knowledge, Jesus gave everything you need on the cross! Gnostics were the Scientologists of the second and third centuries, the reasons their teachings weren't included in what we now consider the bible is two fold... firstly they wanted to keep their secret knowledge in their own club so they could talk about how everyone else had missed out on really knowing Jesus, and secondly everyone else knew that they were a bunch of crackpots!
The Gospel is quite simple, Jesus went to the cross, either designed or through a series of events to redeem God's creation! The creator sacrificed his own living son to sin for the creation! When you believe that and build your life around that, thats when you experience the grace of God, no secret knowledge needed!

Anonymous said...

Oh anonymous (Ian), You posted that same comment on another blog.

As a Catholic, I find all of these discoveries fantastic. I think it only increases my faith in the man that inspired so many. I have read the Gnostic Gospels and they in no way are heretical. There were so many sects of Christianity (which by the way were still Jewish until the real split in the 400s).

As for the Canon, even the most ancient of texts we have are dated to at least 100 years after Jesus' death. So who wrote those?

Anonymous said...

of course the Bible is a product of "historical and political forces"! It was written and compiled by men.

EMC said...

To Quentin: The earliest canon we know of, that of the Gnostic Marcion, includes no Gnostic gospels, and neither does the authoritative "proto-orthodox" Muratorian Canon, which dates to the end of the 2nd century. Further canons were drawn up by Eusebius and Jerome before official canonization took place. Often these ancient writers discuss books which are "borderline" cases (such as even the Gospel of John), some of which were later accepted as canonical (like John, or Hebrews), while others were rejected (like the Apocalypse of Peter, or the Shepherd of Hermas). In no case are the rejected books the ones of Gnostic character. Indeed, the Gospel of John, suspected because the Gnostics loved it so dearly, was accepted into the authoritative canon. There was apparently no serious effort by the Gnostics to get their "gospels" accepted by the Christian church as a whole. And there is no indication that any Gnostic gospel ever gained such a grass-roots following that would compel early church leaders to rule definitively against including them. Hence the idea that gospels previously "in" were later pushed "out" is altogether fallacious. They never were "in" ("in" being defined as having been achieved grass-roots acceptance over a broad geographic and ideological range of churches). The process of canonization was not a brutal process of repression, but an attempt to determine which books (a) had gained wide acceptance in all the churches, and (b) which had some reasonable traditional claim to a connection with the apostles.

Anonymous said...

Karen L King's What is Gnosticism is a good antidote to a lot of the misinformation about "Gnosticism" found in this thread and in every news article I've seen so far, including the NatGeo site. One of King's central points is that until recently, scholars have been replicating the early polemicists' primitive psychological frameworks -- typology, search for origins, etc.

"There was and is no such thing as gnosticism, if we mean by that some kind of ancient religious entity with a single origin and a distinct set of characteristics."

"The initial insight is quite simple: the problem of defining Gnosticism has been primarily concerned with the normative identity of Chrisitianity. Gnosticism has been constructed largely as the heretical other in relation to diverse and fluctuating understandings of orthodox Christianity."

And:

"Pitting Gnosticism against some pure essence of Christianity does not merely identify "heresy" or "Gnosticism" (both in the singular) ; it produces them as the "other" of Christianity ... But they did not exist as heretics or as examples of "Gnosticism" until those categories were invented by polemicists or modern scholars to serve their politics of religious identity."

The reaction of the commentators -- "just a late Gnostic work" -- is another replication of the polemicists' categories and strategies, and must increasingly be seen as defensive rear-guard action in the face of mounting evidence of a much more complex picture of early Christian identity formation.

Or as just the latest chapter of belief vs knowlege.

EMC said...

King's comments (and yours) are themselves polemical, not objective, and an example of importing modern categories into ancient contexts. Have you read the G. of J.? Are you saying that it is not Gnostic (as it surely is) or not late (also clear)? If you are, then your own "faith" may have obscured your judgment.

Andrew Criddle said...

Roger, according to Marvin Meyer's introduction to The Gospel of Judas plans are well in hand to publish the entire text of Codex Tchacos in a full critical edition.

Of the 3 unpublished text 2 are versions of previously known works one is previously entirely unknown.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Edward; helpful. In the end it really does come down to an issue of faith in a quasi democratic process then; or faith in man, not God really. Over a process of time the books and writings that were most “accepted” by a wide readership according to a select group of men made it in.
The socialist Eugene Debs wrote “When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.”
Here’s an interesting thought. What if the majority view in that day of who Jesus was and his mission was mostly or even partially wrong?
I’m watching with fascination how the Catholic church is dealing with some of it’s archaic canonical laws that were supposedly put into place via a similar procedure to what you describe. The law of child baptism for example. It would seem the majority …or God was wrong on that one.

Quentin

Anonymous said...

Lovely to see all you informed scholars pontificating on your view of Christianity, Gnostic or not.

Bottom line, it is possibly time to reinvent the religion - it has failed.

The Namby Pamby Jesus of the modern church, all forgiveness and getting in touch with his feminine side etc. is a different hombre in the Gnostic viewpoint.

He was a man of mystery and spoke of things outside our understanding.

As taught today, the Christian religion is really the "opiate of the people" the oppressed people that is..Both Jesus and Judas were revolutionary and as someone else suggested on another blog of (Judas). were like modern day terrorists - only one was like Che Guevarra/Fidel, the other like Mahatma Gandhi. Both strong, feisty and arrogant. Thank God for them both.

And stop thinking about what this means for modern christian thought..there is no christian thought existing in the world today..the world is gone to hell.

jm said...

I think Harold Bloom interestingly points out that no known documents containing the "words of jesus" have ever been found in the language he is believed to have spoken (aramaic). You would think that followers of jesus would have thought it prudent to record the words of "god" in the orginal language jesus spoke. Whassup wid dat all you religious scholars?????????

Anonymous said...

jesus came riding into jerasulem on the back of an ass, and now a bunch of asses are riding on the back of jesus.

Ralph Hitchens said...

jm, I'm persuaded by the view espoused by Donald Akenson, among others, that the destruction of Jerusalem in the great revolt (66-73 CE) wiped out the "headquarters" of the early Christian movement, and who knows what proto-gospels were lost. The thriving missionary churches scattered around the Mediterranean filled the archival gap as best they could, but they had a lot of trouble creating their "backstory."

jm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
EMC said...

jm, I removed your last post. Feel free to post it again without the profanity.

Anonymous said...

It's probably true there were people who put the bible together the way they thought it should be but this document contradicts lotsa stuff that we belive.This just screws up everything.It sounds like the work of a very bored daydreamer that started thinking,what if?...And so fiction was born!Haven't you noticed fictionous stories usually have some part that doesn't make sense?It makes Jesus sound like he doesn't love us and we are like dogs and we won't go to heaven cause were so lowly.In that case there's no reason for him to come, is there?So stay in your holy realm!Does that make sense to you?If it is true then the perfect God made a mistake and sent his son to the wrong era!!See?Lotsa contradiction!!You see it keeps saying,"your human generation will never see that house,then blady bla else that contradicts what it just said!!GONK*Sheesh!

Tiffany said...

First off, I would like to say that I have been interested in reading early christian writings, or Gnostic teachings, before they even discovered Gospel of Judas, and I will tell you right now that they had helped me tremendously on understanding how Jesus Christ lived. Did you know that the Gospel of Thomas, which is also considered a Gnostic gospel, was written BY THOMAS before the famous Four gospels were written and that most of the gospels in the Bible were NOT written in first-hand accounts? So before you start discrediting all Gnostic teaching just because you find one gosepel oh so "horrible" keep this in mind, the only reason why the Four Gospels in the Bible were chosen is because they basically portray the same image of Jesus, and not because they were more truthful than any of the other 27 gospels.

Tiffany said...

By the way, the Gospel of Thomas dates to around 50 years after Christ while the Gospel of John dates to 90 years after Christ.

W J E cinti said...

Tiffany there is no way to accurately date the Fourth Gospel. Morris (1969) provides a good review of the arguments and none are better by being newer. FG, while I say in my dissertation was written probably in 90 CE, could have been written before 70 as J A T Robinson demonstrated. Remember just because Jesus is reported to have predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and it happened, that does not make it a fact that the witnesses had to have been later even if it is a presupposition that man cannot know the future (that means no person has ever made a claim about the future and it came true?).
W J E cinti

CDS said...

In response to one of the very first posts, Jesus wouldn't have turned himself in. It's actually traditional to have your best friend turn you in to the authorities is you wanted to do it with honor. Then you can have them come to you at a designated time and place. It let whomever was being handed over keep thier dignity. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Jesus wanted to be turned in. His movement wouldn't have really gone anywhere if he had died of old age somewhere. He needed to rise from the dead. He needed to die for man's sin. Technically, Judas made Christianity possible...