Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I've had a number of people ask me about the recently unveiled document The Gospel of Judas. I'll offer some brief observations here, but I don't pretend to be an expert in this arena. There are others -- far more capable than I -- who are busily tearing the document to shreds. I refer you to them for anything in more detail than you find here.

First, it's important to remember that the document never claims to have been written by Judas or anyone else who lived in the first century. The document they found dates back to the fourth century A.D. and is supposed to be a translation from an earlier document -- though there is some speculation about that. If it is the same document, it probably dates back to the middle of the second century.

There was a fairly common practice among Gnostic heretics of the second and third centuries that I've talked about before. The Christian movement was generating momentum and many people wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Some even wanted to derail the whole project for their own philosophical, religious and political agendas. One easy way to do this was to write a fictitious story about Jesus and slap the name of one of the early disciples on it. There were dozens of these floating around by the middle of the fourth century (though there were never 80 of them as Dan Brown claims in THE DA VINCI CODE). The Gospel of Judas is old; it's just not old enough.

Second, the things Jesus says in this document don't match much that you'll find in the four canonical Gospels. There's a fair amount of anti-Semitism, and Jesus basically tells Judas, "You have to help me shed this outer shell of a body so I can become who I am truly supposed to be." That's a paraphrase, but that's the general idea. It's a far cry from the traditional Hebraic view that creation is inherently good and will ultimately be redeemed by God rather than done away with. It's typical of Gnostic texts to demean anything physical in favor of the spiritual. It's a shame that this thinking has crept into mainstream Christianity as much as it has. It sure ain't biblical.

Third, the timing of all this is interesting. I do not think National Geographic is part of some giant plot to overturn historic, orthodox Christianity, so I'm not accusing them of anything here. But I do think it's more than coincidence that all of this has happened during the days leading up to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. There is an enemy -- a person who commands the forces of darkness and is intent on prying people away from God. This enemy has used persecution, poverty and the seductive force of political power in the past. He is certainly not opposed to using this document to create more doubt in the minds of people who so desperately need to hear the life-changing message of the true gospel.