Apr 21, 2006

Gospel of Judas

Well by now everyone has heard of the Gospel of Judas Codex (leather bound booklet). This document is part of a collection of three Gnostic works (part of the Nag Hammadi Codices) written in a dialect of Coptic and dating from about AD 300. What is not often mentioned is that scholars have been aware of this document since the time of Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. A.D. 180; 2nd century AD) who likely referring to this document in his massive work Against Heresies (Book 1, Chapter 31, Section 1). Irenaeus was a Christian apologist who was writing against a heretical sect in the early church called Gnostics in his chapter on “Doctrines of the Cainites.” Here is the section that Irenaeus mentions the document.

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 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.31.1 [Schaff]).

It appears that we now have this document that is mentioned by Irenaeus and others although this is the earliest mention. This would mean that it would date to before AD 180 perhaps as early as AD 130-170 and probably originally written in Greek. The text is available at http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/manuscripts/gospel_of_judas/. There are many related article here as well.

The Gospel of Judas opens as most Gnostic gospels to with “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot…” The Gnostics claimed that they had kept the secret information of early Christianity and that is why we have never heard it before. Sounds like an early conspiracy theory doesn’t it.

I was aware of this document 6 months before it was announced from conversations with a scholar working on the translation. From an archaeological perspective it is an impressive find even though it is false teaching in the early church. (like most things we need to be discerning and not believe everything we read as gospel truth, ancient or modern). It doesn't affect my faith at all but confirms that what Irenaeus said in the 2rd century was true. It is error circulating in the early church and is not to be believed. From a casual read of the Gospel of Judas and from what Gnostic scholars are saying we can be assured that what we have here is second-century Gnostic myth and not first-century history.

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