Blogging the Age of Faith

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him
Stefan Lovgren for
National Geographic News
April 6, 2006

He is one of the most reviled men in history.
But was Judas only obeying his master's wishes when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss?

That's what a newly revealed ancient Christian text says.
After being lost for nearly 1,700 years, the Gospel of Judas was recently restored, authenticated, and translated.

The Coptic, or Egyptian Christian, manuscripts were unveiled today at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

What Does It Mean?

Some biblical scholars are calling the Gospel of Judas the most significant archaeological discovery in 60 years.

The only known surviving copy of the gospel was found in a codex, or ancient book, that dates back to the third or fourth century A.D.

The newly revealed gospel document, written in Coptic script, is believed to be a translation of the original, a Greek text written by an early Christian sect sometime before A.D. 180.
The Bible's New Testament Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—depict Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, as a traitor. In biblical accounts Judas gives up Jesus Christ to his opponents, who later crucify the founder of Christianity.

The Gospel of Judas, however, portrays him as acting at Jesus' request.

"This lost gospel, providing information on Judas Iscariot—considered for 20 centuries and by hundreds of millions of believers as an antichrist of the worst kind—bears witness to something completely different from what was said [about Judas] in the Bible," said Rodolphe Kasser, a clergyman and former professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

Kasser, who is regarded as one of the world's preeminent Coptic scholars, led the effort to piece together and translate the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery funded the project, and it will be profiled in the May 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Scholars say the text not only offers an alternative view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas but also illustrates the diversity of opinion in the early Christian church.

"I expect this gospel to be important mainly for the deeper insight it will give scholars into the thoughts and beliefs of certain Christians in the second century of the Christian era, namely the Gnostics," said Stephen Emmel, a Coptic studies professor at the University of Münster in Germany.

In 1983 Emmel was among the first three known scholars to view the Gospel of Judas, which had been discovered hidden in Egypt in the late 1970s.

Gnostics belonged to pre-Christian and early Christian sects that believed that elusive spiritual knowledge could help them rise above what they saw as the corrupt physical world.

Rehabilitating Judas
Biblical accounts suggest that Jesus foresaw and allowed Judas's betrayal.

As told in the New Testament Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus for "30 pieces of silver," identifying him with a kiss in front of Roman soldiers. Later the guilt-ridden Judas returns the bribe and commits suicide, according to the Bible.

The Gospel of Judas, however, gives a very different account.

The text begins by announcing that it is the "secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover."

It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus' closest friend, someone who understands Christ's true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus' disciples.

In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.'"

Kasser, the translation-project leader, offers an interpretation: "Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy.

"So he asks Judas, who is his friend, to sell him out, to betray him. It's treason to the general public, but between Jesus and Judas it's not treachery."

The newfound account challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition.
Bart Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"This gospel," he said, "has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence—not to mention of Judas himself—than came to be embodied in the Christian creeds and canon."

Early Turmoil
The author of the 26-page Gospel of Judas remains anonymous. But the text reflects themes that scholars regard as being consistent with Gnostic traditions.

Christian Gnostics believed that the way to salvation was through secret knowledge delivered by Jesus to his inner circle. This knowledge, they believed, revealed how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.
Gnostic sects looked to their gospels—among them the Gospel of Mary, newly famous for its role in the best-seller The Da Vinci Code—to authenticate their distinctive beliefs and practices.

Contradicting the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, these texts were later denounced by orthodox Christian leaders and refused entry into the Bible. Scholars believe that followers of the texts hid copies of them for preservation.

Scholars knew of the existence of the Gospel of Judas because of references to it in other ancient texts as early as A.D. 180.

To today's biblical scholars, the Gospel of Judas illustrates the multitude of opinions and beliefs in the early Christian church.

"This ancient text helps the modern world rediscover something that the early Christians knew firsthand," said Reverend Donald Senior, president of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.

"In the early centuries of the Christian era there were multiple sacred texts resulting from communities in various parts of the Mediterranean world trying to come to grips with the meaning of Jesus Christ for their lives."


  • At 7:35 PM, Blogger bcpcguy said…

    Very interesting!

    As to whether I want to believe everything that I have heard and read about the gospel of Judas, I am still a bet skeptical. However, some of the components do seem logical to me. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus did need to save us from our sins, after all, that was the purpose for him entering this world. So, it does make sense that Jesus would prefer to be handed over to his enemies by someone he held close to his heart and by someone that knew the details of his mission to bring salvation to the world.

    But I must note that there are parts that do concern me about the validity of the text. Could this lost gospel have been constructed merely to rattle the foundations of Christianity by people who sought to destroy the religion? Why does this gospel go against all the others: is it because of a cover up by some early church leaders or is it simply because of the different perspectives? Lastly, who is the author and why did they not assign their name to this text?

    Clearly I need to perform more research and reading in order to establish a fact-based opinion.

  • At 8:12 PM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    The Gospel of Judas makes me think that people are trying to turn the Bible into a series of books or movies. You know the mixed emotions you feel when you see a movie or read a book and you know they're going to be sequels to it. It creates excitement because this isn't the end, but dread because you have to wait so long before obtaining that end. We had to wait 1,700 years to receive the Gospel of Judas and depending upon the reactions from society, it could turn religious worlds upside down.

    In Dante's Hell Judas resides in the bottom layer because he committed the ultimate betrayal. Through the Kiss of Judas, Judas he gave up the voluntary love that he gave to Jesus. However, if Jesus had asked Judas to perform this task then Judas wouldn't reside in Hell. Instead of betraying this love he would have been obeying. Judas would have been performing an act for all of humanity by helping Jesus to accomplish what God wanted him to.

    I would definitely like to read the Gospel of Judas. Call me ignorant, but I don’t think it would change my belief that Judas betrayed Christ.

  • At 5:12 PM, Anonymous ARGpirate said…

    While watching "The Colbert Report" on comedy central, Stephan had the author, Elaine Pagels, who wrote the novel, "Reading Judas," come on the show to discuss what her book is all about. She pretty much discussed the same concepts that are evident in this article. For example, Bart Ehrman states, "This gospel has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence—not to mention of Judas himself—than came to be embodied in the Christian creeds and canon." I think that is why this gospel was buried with the other lost gospels (ex. Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, etc) by certain Christian leaders because if these gospels would have been included in the Bible then there would have been WAY to many contradictory themes (not that there already are but that's besides the point)and the idea of Christianity would be one of confusion. In the interview with Stephan Colbert, Elaine Pagels also mentions how there are 4 versions of the story of Jesus in the Bible all according to different authors. Her point in this statement is that there were many different interpretations of Jesus' life and Colbert referred to it as a "cottage industry" by how everyone was trying just to make a buck out of Jesus' story. However, Colbert says all kinds of crazy things during his interviews so statements like those occur very often. But the thing that really chaps my butt is the fact that they wouldn't allow certain gospels to be included into the final copy of the Bible. If God spoke through these men (and apparently women as well) then you would think that we, as Christians, would want to include ALL of God's word instead of picking and choosing what we think is right. This manipulation is wrong and should be fixed by including the lost gospels into the Bible.

    On another point, I think that the reason why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all portrayed Judas as a traitor was because they were jealous of his "special" relationship with Jesus. OR...because this secret was kept between Jesus and Judas, then it could have been possible that the rest of the apostles had no idea and just saw the surface of what was really happening. Whether or not my thoughts are true, I would like to believe that Judas didn't betray Jesus and that he did it in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled. However, there is currently no real way to decipher between the truth and fiction of this story and it is all left to interpretation and faith.

  • At 4:25 PM, Anonymous catface1 said…

    Again with the Judas? I’m beginning to believe that what I’ve been taught for the past 19 years may have been misconstrued. It’s looking like Judas wasn’t all bad and that it was possible that Jesus told him to betray him to fulfill the prophecy set many years before. In the most popular gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Judas is portrayed as a traitor to Jesus and thus a traitor to all of Christianity. But according to The Gospel of Judas that was recently found has been coined the greatest discovery in the past 60 year this may be a show of one-sidedness. It has been told that after Judas betrayed Jesus he committed suicide in his guilt. Yet it has been recently discovered that Jesus may have told Judas to kiss and betray him because it was all part of why he was sent here by the Father. This leads to a lot of confusion and misconceptions.
    After being in this class and reading the documents presented along with it I an inclined to question more of the things I have blindly accepted for many years. These writings have given me a lot to think about regarding overall religious teachings and my personal religious thoughts and beliefs. This has opened my eyes to the possibility of corruption by those writing the Bible as well as those who have edited out the less “kosher” parts over the years.

  • At 6:48 PM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    A question that has plagued my mind after reading about the Gospel of Judas is about the thought of Jesus asking for Judas to portray him. This really shows Jesus in a new light for me, and not in a good way either. It’s one thing to know something is going to happen and what ever you try to do won’t change it. So you would go along with it. But it is totally different to provoke something that probably would have never happened without you doing so. It is understandable as to why this gospel wouldn’t be in today’s Bible. It portrays Jesus in a negative aspect. Giving him more Man like qualities. This also brings about a question of predetermination vs. free will. The current Bible gives a more Predetermination-esque feel to Jesus’ crucifixion. As if there was nothing in his power that he could do, and that it was ultimately God’s will being carried out for all of human salvation. But with Judas’ Gospel, Jesus apparently brings his death upon himself. With this kind of attitude that Jesus shows, it makes it seem and ultimately makes me want to question Jesus and his motives for doing so. Also, another thing that I’m questioning is the truth of the matter conforming to the present teachings of Christianity. The one thing that I don’t see fitting is Jesus asking for betrayal, knowing that only death will result in the end. Suicide is defined as an act of intentionally taking one’s own life. Though Jesus didn’t physically take his life, through this one action he sealed his fate for death, which to me is no different than suicide. Christian belief states that suicides won’t enter into the kingdom of heaven. This being so, how did Jesus manage to get the key spot in heaven if he did commit this most atrocious of sins? Is there a hierarchy in heaven that would provide exceptions for one person to get yet completely condemn another? Was Judas the ultimate Dr. Kevorkian of all time? So many few answers.

  • At 9:40 AM, Anonymous lovelikewinter said…

    Hmm, this is what I love, but at the same time it drives me up the wall, about religion. We're given the works and the stories but thanks to our individual personalities and beliefs we all perceive these things a little different.

    Why did Judas betray Jesus? Was it because his betrayal was predetermined? Was it because Jesus asked him to do so? Or perhaps Judas did it of his own freewill? I do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus, nor do I think the reason is relevant. Judas betrayed Jesus, end of story. Maybe I am not being responsible with my belief but I also believe that if something happens, it happens for a reason and there is no real reason to fret about it. The same could be argued about Adam & Eve and their little incident in the Garden. Where their actions pre-determined or did they act out of ignorance or defiance?

    I think that reading Judas' story would be interesting though. Another perspective on what happened would kind of exciting. I do not necessarily want to read it to find out why Judas did what happened. Call me a controversy whore if you will, but this Book caused a stir and I'd like to know why.

  • At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wonderday have a whole mass of people worried now that they've been lied to, mislead, or are being lied to now. We're so caught up on the betrayel that we forget Jesus' true message. I don't think he died on the cross hoping that everyone would remember how he got there. That would kind of go against his whole message. Rather I would hope that he would have expected us to pay attention to the teachings that he tried to give us. I say TRY because we didn't have sound recorders then and so what we have is a written account recorded waaaay later. Not only that, but we have people who decided on what should be kept in a book and what shouldn't. I don't remember Jesus being a type of person to rank his Word. Granted, all we know are from what people tell us, but we shouldn't all go yelling and screaming because we find out that maybe the people who stand in front of a room and tell us how it is might have gotten something wrong. I mean, some of it has to do with faith.
    Besides that, whoever did what to who doesn't change the teachings that were brought. Think about it, if he was the son of God having to put up with Humans for as long as he did, trying to teach us all something, can you blame him for wanting to go? He ended his teaching with what is the ultimate sacrifice for OUR forgiveness. And all we want to care about is whodunnit?


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