Saturday, April 08, 2006

More on the Gospel of Judas & Da Vinci Code

If you do a search on ”gospel of judas” you get about 3,550,000 hits.

News outlets are suddenly running stories about the Gospel of Judas, among the leading ones – CNN, New York Times, HarperSanFrancisco and National Geographic – just in time for the May 19 release of Da Vinci Code – based on novel of the same name, by Dan Brown.

NG has published an official translation of The Gospel of Judas. The text was (apparently) discovered in the 1970s in Middle Egypt, and this text is the third book in a papyrus book (codex). The others are a version of the Letter of Peter to Philip, another book called James that we also have in the Nag Hammadi manuscrips, The Gospel of Judas, and a text now called the Book of Allogenes [Stranger]. This text was evidently originally written in Greek (about 150 AD) and then translated into Coptic, and the ms we now have is from about 400 AD (maybe 350 AD).

For those interested here is a link to the english translation.

The text is published with much fanfare and sensational claim – which the media love to use in order to attract attention and generate sales. The basic claim is that this text shows us what Judas was really like. And he was a good guy after all, in fact the one Jesus favored the most. It was Jesus who asked Judas to betray him so that he [Jesus] could return to the divine. Or at least this is what the media tell us about this text.

How do we respond to these sorts of claims?
We have to listen long enough to hear what is being said. And we have to read these texts to see if what they say supports the claims.
So, what does The Gospel of Judas say:
If we compare The Gospel of Judas (or any of the so-called “alternative gospels”) with the canonical Gospels and discover “they are really different” (and no one denies that). In saying that, if we are being honest though, “really different” does not means “really wrong.” To be honest, it might be the canonical Gospels that are wrong (this is not a theological statement, but a logical statement). Saying the two approaches differ does not tell us which is right or which is more authentic or which is more likely to be first century.

That raises the next question: what do we do? I suggest this: the only substantial argument against the alternative Gospels is a confidence that God’s Spirit directed the Church (inspired the texts and preserved the texts and led the Church to recognize the texts) to the canonical Gospels. But, along with this, we can say: the text is late, the orthodox Christians said The Gospel of Judas was nonsense, and the theology (which is clearly gnostic) is not 1st Century Jewish/Galilean. No one can dispute any of these three points.

The leading biblical scholar and translator of the Dead Sea scrolls, Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford University, told The Guardian: “The document is of interest for the ideas of the gnostics but it almost certainly adds nothing to our understanding of what happened 150 years before it was written.

James M. Robinson, who was the General Editor of the Nag Hammadi in English and considered a foremost authority on such Coptic manuscripts, said earlier this month that
the text is valuable to scholars of the second century but dismissed the notion that it'll reveal unknown biblical secrets… There are a lot of second-, third- and fourth-century gospels attributed to various apostles. We don't really assume they give us any first century information.

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