Sunday, April 09, 2006

Expert doubts 'Gospel of Judas' revelation

Expert doubts 'Gospel of Judas' revelation, The Boston Globe/AP, Richard N. Ostling, March 2, 2006 [See also: ABC, BBC, Beliefnet, CBC, Chicago Tribune, Daily Telegraph, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, The Age, etc!] NEW YORK --An expert on ancient Egyptian texts is predicting that the "Gospel of Judas" -- a manuscript from early Christian times that's nearing release amid widespread interest from scholars -- will be a dud in terms of learning anything new about Judas. [This is just another Second Century Gnostic `gospel' (actually just a collection of sayings) which places in the mouths of Jesus and Judas bizarre Gnostic teachings about "aeons and luminaries", etc. Simply to read the small part online shows its gross inferiority to the four New Testament gospels. If anyone believes this over the First Century eyewitness New Testament accounts of Judas (see `tagline' quote at the end of this post), then they are unwittingly proving the Bible true in its prediction in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

"3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

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. "Does it go back to Judas? No," Robinson told The Associated Press on Thursday. [Robinson had previously (Livescience, MSNBC) poured cold water on this `gospel'.]

The text, in Egypt's Coptic language, dates from the third or fourth century and is a copy of an earlier document. The National Geographic Society, along with other groups, has been studying the "Judas" text. The society said Thursday it will release its report on the document "within the next few weeks" but didn't specify whether that would come via a book, magazine article or telecast. [See "NGC Premieres First Documentary on The Lost Gospel. April 9 at 8PM." No doubt National Geographic will try to make the maximum amount of money from this. See below about Robinson's (and my) assumption that "the timing of the release is aimed at capitalizing on interest in the film version of `The Da Vinci Code'"!]

Robinson has not seen the text that National Geographic is working on, but assumes it is the same work assailed by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons around A.D. 180. Irenaeus said the writings came from a "Cainite" Gnostic sect that jousted against orthodox Christianity. He also accused the Cainites of lauding the biblical murderer Cain, the Sodomites and Judas, whom they regarded as the keeper of secret mysteries. [Here is what Irenaeus (c. 130-202 AD) wrote in his "Against Heresies" about the Cainites "who sought to rehabilitate biblical villains such as Cain, Sodomites, Esau, and Korah", and produced "a fictitious history which they style the Gospel of Judas":

"Chapter XXXI.-Doctrines of the Cainites. 1. Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."

So Judas being defended by the Cainites was the opposite of a good character reference! ]

National Geographic's collaborators on the translation and interpretation of the text include its current owner -- Mario Roberti's Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland -- and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery in La Jolla, Calif. Rodolphe Kasser, formerly of the University of Geneva, is the editor. [They are to be commended for attempting to preserve and translate this ancient document. But that it is ancient, does not make it true.]

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." In the process, Robinson fears, the fragile text may have been mishandled and parts of it lost forever. [That is a pity. Mind you, given that Judas' problem was greed:

John 12:4-6 "4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5`Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.' 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. "

there is something poetic about his `gospel' being lost through "greedy entrepreneurs"!]

Robinson is an emeritus professor at Claremont ( Calif.) Graduate University, chief editor of religious documents found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and an international leader among scholars of Coptic manuscripts. [Which means he knows what he is talking about.]

He says the text is valuable to scholars of the second century but dismissed the notion that it'll reveal unknown biblical secrets. He speculated the timing of the release is aimed at capitalizing on interest in the film version of "The Da Vinci Code" -- a fictional tale that centers on a Christian conspiracy to cover up a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. [There is no doubt about it, betraying Christ is lucrative (as it was for Judas - Mat 26:15). But, since Christianity is true, in the long run the gain will be infinitely less than the loss!]

"There are a lot of second-, third- and fourth-century gospels attributed to various apostles," Robinson said. "We don't really assume they give us any first century information." [Why should anyone think that some unknown writer, a century or more later, would know better than Jesus' eye-witness followers? If they got it wrong, then Christianity would be false, and it would then be irrelevant what these later Gnostic gospels said about Jesus (as it is anyway).]

A National Geographic response said "it's ironic" for Robinson to raise such questions since for years "he tried unsuccessfully to acquire this codex himself, and is publishing his own book in April, despite having no direct access to the materials." [That is an irrelevant ad hominem. As a leading scholar of Gnostic literature, Robinson would have every good reason to try to acquire this ancient Gnostic manuscript.]

National Geographic said it practiced "due diligence" with scholars "to save the manuscript before it turns to dust and is lost forever" and that everyone involved is committed to returning the materials to Egypt. In "The Secrets of Judas," a HarperSanFrancisco book on sale April 1, Robinson will describe secretive maneuvers in the United States, Switzerland, Greece and elsewhere over two decades to sell the "Judas" manuscript. [Given the publicity, this should a hit. However, I don't agree with the subtitle, "The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple" if it too tries to make out that Judas was really good. Those who knew him personally, like the Apostle John, said that Judas "was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (Jn 12:4). Again see also `tagline' quote at end. No one ~20 centuries later can, by any legitimate, principled scholarly method (but only by 21st prejudice) second-guess 1st century eye-witnesses', let alone inspired ones' (2 Tim 3:16), assessment of Judas.]

He writes that he was approached about purchasing a group of manuscripts in 1983 and arranged for colleague Stephen Emmel, now at the University of Muenster, Germany, to meet in Geneva with go-betweens for the owner. Emmel got a glimpse of the text but didn't know it was the "Gospel of Judas" till years later. He was told the original asking price was $10 million but it could be obtained for $3 million, an impossibly high figure for the interested Americans. From there, Robinson traces a twisted sales trail through years and continents to this year's impending release. Emmel is now a member of the National Geographic team along with other former students of Robinson, who hopes his colleagues will be providing solid information about the text's history and location. ... [It seems strange that scholars like Robinson are being kept in the dark about this manuscript and its full text not being revealed. Maybe National Geographic knows that if the entire text is released, it will prove to be even more absurd and embarrassing (the Gnostics had some decidedly not politically correct views on the place of women, etc), and so spoil National Geographic's attempt to make money out of this for the Easter market (the translation was actually completed in January, if not earlier)?]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"JUDAS ISCARIOT. ... In the Synoptic lists of the Twelve whom Jesus called `to be with him' (Mk. 3:14) the name of Judas always appears last, and usually with some description which brands him with an infamous stigma (e.g. `who betrayed him', Mk. 3:19; Mt. 10:4; Lk. 6:16; cf. Jn. 18:2, 5). .... The term `Iscariot' is applied to his name, in the Synoptic texts and in Jn. 12:4; while in the other Johannine references the textual tradition shows considerable variation, with the name of Simon being given as Judas' father (Jn. 6:71; 13:2, 26), and Iscariot being further explained by the addition apo Karyotou (in certain readings of 6:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26; 14:22). These additional facts supplied by John would confirm the derivation of `Iscariot' from Heb 'is qeriyot, `a man of Kerioth'. ... In the apostolic band Judas was treasurer (Jr. 13:29), while another Johannine text speaks of him as a thief (12:6), mainly, we may suppose, on the ground that he `pilfered' the money which was entrusted to him. ... The closing scenes of the Gospel story are shadowed by the treachery of this `one of the twelve', as he is repeatedly called (Mk. 14:10, cf. 14:20; Jn. 6:71; 12:4). He raises the voice of criticism against the action of Mary, who anointed the Master's feet with the precious ointment (Jn. 12:3-5). The comment of the Evangelist is intended to stress the avarice of Judas, who saw in the price of the ointment nothing of the beautiful deed which Jesus praised (Mk. 14:6) but only a means by which the apostolic fund would be increased, and thereby his own pocket lined. And even this motive was cloaked under a specious plea that the money could be given away to relieve the poor. Thus to covetousness there is added the trait of deceit. Immediately following this incident at Bethany he goes to the chief priests to betray the Lord (Mt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10-11; Lk. 22:36). Mark records simply the fact of the treachery, adding that money was promised by the priests. Matthew supplies the detail of the amount, which may have been a part-payment of the agreed sum (with an implicit allusion to Zc. 11:12, and possibly Ex. 21:32; cf. Mt. 27:9). Luke gives the deep significance of the act when he records that Satan entered into the traitor and inspired his nefarious sin (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27). All Synoptists agree that Judas determined to await a favourable opportunity when he might deliver Jesus up to his enemies `privately', i.e. secretly, by craft (... Lk. 22:6; Mk. 14:1-2 ...). That opportunity came on the evening when Jesus gathered in the upper room for the last meal with the Twelve (Mk. 14:17ff. and parallels); and this fact is perpetuated in the church's eucharistic tradition which dates from the time of St Paul (1 Cor. 11:23: `on the night when he was betrayed'). The Lord, with prophetic insight, foresees the action of the traitor whose presence is known at the table. In the Marcan account Judas is not mentioned by name, and there seems to be a general air of bewilderment as to the traitor's identity. The conversation of Mt. 26:25 with the question-and-answer dialogue is best understood as spoken in whispered undertones, while the Johannine account preserves the first-hand tradition of the beloved disciple's question and Jesus' action with the Paschal sop, both of which may have been said and done in a secretive fashion. At all events, this is the Lord's final appeal to Judas-and the traitor's final refusal. ... Thereafter Satan takes control of one who has become his captive; and he goes out into the night (Jn. 13:27-30). The pre-arranged plan for Jesus' arrest was carried through. The secret which Judas betrayed was evidently the meeting-place in Gethsemane later that night; and to our Lord at prayer there came the band of soldiery, led by Judas (Mk. 14:43). The sign of identification was the last touch of irony. `The one I shall kiss is the man' ; and with that the traitor's work was completed. The last chapters of Judas' life are beset with much difficulty. Of his pathetic remorse the Scripture bears witness, yet the only Evangelist to record this is Matthew (27:3-10). To this account of his agony of remorse and suicide, the account of Acts 1:18-19 must be added ... Papias relates how Judas' body swelled (this may be a possible meaning of Acts 1:18 ... prenes) and dies on his own land. There have been various attempts at harmonization (e.g. Augustine's suggestion that the rope broke and Judas was killed by the fall, in the manner of Acts 1:18, thus conflating the Matthean and Acts accounts). But even more terrifying than the gruesome details of these accounts is the plain, stark verdict of Acts 1:25: `this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place'. The apostle had become an apostate; and had gone to the destiny reserved for such a man. ... This reference invites the question of the true character of Judas. If `his own place' is the place he chose for himself, what motives led him to his awful destiny and fate? How can we reconcile this statement with those scriptures which give the impression that he was predetermined to fulfil the role of traitor, that Jesus chose him, knowing that he would betray him, that he had stamped on him from the beginning the inexorable character of `the son of perdition' (Jn. 17:12)? Psychological studies are indecisive and not very profitable. Love of money; jealousy of the other disciples; fear of the inevitable outcome of the Master's ministry which made him turn state's evidence in order to save his own skin; an enthusiastic intention to force Christ's hand and make him declare himself as Messiah ...; a bitter, revengeful spirit which arose when his worldly hopes were crushed and this disappointment turned to spite and spite became hate-all these motives have been suggested. Three guiding principles ought perhaps to be stated as a preliminary to all such considerations. 1. We ought not to doubt the sincerity of the Lord's call. Jesus, at the beginning, viewed him as a potential follower and disciple. No other presupposition does justice to the Lord's character, and his repeated appeals to Judas. 2. The Lord's foreknowledge of him does not imply foreordination that Judas must inexorably become the traitor. 3. Judas was never really Christ's man. He fell from apostleship, but never (so far as we can tell) had a genuine relationship to the Lord Jesus. So he remained `the son of perdition' who was lost because he was never `saved'. His highest title for Christ was `Rabbi' (Mt. 26:25), never `Lord'. He lives on the stage of Scripture as an awful warning to the uncommitted follower of Jesus who is in his company but does not share his spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9b); he leaves the Gospel story `a doomed and damned man' because he chose it so, and God confirmed him in that dreadful choice." (Martin R.P., "Judas Iscariot," in Douglas J.D., et al., eds., "New Bible Dictionary," [1962], Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester UK, Second edition, 1982, Reprinted, 1988, pp.634-635)

1 comment:

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Like the Dead Sea Scrolls

They were pre-Christian.

and the Nag Hammadi discoveries,

They were post-Christian.

>this latest 'gospel'

As you indicate by your single quotes, this Gospel of Judas is not a *true* gospel. It is just the usual Gnostic tactic of placing bizarre Gnostic teachings into the mouth of Jesus, an Apostle, or some other well-known early Christian.

>increases the amount of new scriptural material only available in modern times,

That begs the question that this "new ... material" *is* "scriptural". The Christian definition of "scriptural" for New Testament writings is: produced by an Apostle or close associate of an Apostle. All of the Gnostic (and Dead Sea Scroll) writings fail that criterion.

>making the traditional concept of 'canonical scriptures' untenable

No. Just as counterfeits confirm the existence of the genuine original item, these bogus Gnostic `gospels' *confirm* the "traditional concept of 'canonical scriptures'"!

>and any claims of understanding founded upon them both incomplete and always questionable.

So what? The canonical Scriptures themselves say, our understanding *is* "incomplete", i.e. "we know in part" (1 Cor 13:9,12).

And *of course* it is "questionable" in the sense that both Christians and non-Christians can question them. The New Testament itself says that it contains "some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Pet 3:16)

>What might 'Christianity' look like if all these resources were available from the beginning?

There wouldn't *be* any Christianity today if early Christians had included the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic writings into its canon of Scripture.


Stephen E. Jones