Volume. XX, No. 43
The Gospel of Judas – What do we make of it?
“We reveal the only known surviving copy of the lost gospel of Judas - One of the most important finds in biblical archaeology gives a new version of Jesus’ betrayal” – National Geographic Channel
The media spotlight is on the Gospel of Judas, an ancient manuscript which proposes that Judas Iscariot did not betray Jesus, but was merely carrying out orders and is a hero. It is currently being publicized on television, online, in print, and a documentary was recently aired on the National Geographic Channel. Does it have any weight against the four canonical Gospels? Is it truly “one of the most significant biblical finds of the last century — a lost gospel that could challenge what is believed about the story of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus”?
Instead of simply dismissing the Gospel of Judas, we must consider the fact that it really does exist. In 180 AD, Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France) referred to it in Adversus Haereses. After this, there is no mention of the Gospel of Judas until the 1950’s when a copy is unexpectedly unearthed. Since then, it has been sold, stolen and moved around the antiquities black market. It was finally bought by the Maecenas Foundation and is restored by the National Geographic Society (NGS). All research suggests, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Gospel of Judas found is authentic, dating back to between A.D. 220 and 340. An English translation of the Gospel of Judas has been made available online by NGS here:
Does the Gospel of Judas have any legitimacy against the canonical gospels?
In 180 AD, Irenaeus dismissed the Gospel of Judas as a fictitious account. “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.” – http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospeljudas.html
The Gospel of Judas was not written by Judas (Iscariot) as its title suggests. NGS contends that the author of the Gospel of Judas is anonymous, however, Irenaeus credits the writings to the Cainites. The Cainites were a Gnostic sect known to worship Cain and only existed in the Eastern Roman empire in the 2nd century AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cainites). That’s not old enough for the Gospel of Judas to be taken seriously against the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all attributed to the 1st century AD, within years or at least a few decades of Jesus’ death, while some of the Apostles were still alive. The authors of these four gospels contend that Judas committed suicide, which would make it impossible for him to have written this account. Despite this, it is presented as the “Gospel of Judas”, raising questions about the legitimacy of the document.
An important consideration is that nobody cared about the Gospel of Judas until recently. Irenaeus brushed it off as fiction fabricated by an obscure sect in the 2nd century. If the Gospel of Judas had any historical significance, we expect that it be preserved by its proponents, or at least have a number of references that suggest its veracity.
What is most interesting is that even the National Geographic documentary points out that the Gospel of Judas may not be authentic. Dr. Craig Evans from Acadia Divinity College says, “The Gospel of Judas makes an important contribution to our knowledge of 2nd century Gnosticism…but the Gospel of Judas, I don’t think, tells us anything about the historical Judas, or the historical Jesus, or about the factors that were at work in the early 1st century that led to Jesus’ death. I don’t think [the Gospel of] Judas contains authentic historical Jesus and Judas tradition.”
The Gospel of Judas was originally refuted in 180 AD as poppycock. In the 18 centuries since, this position has not changed. The Gospel of Judas is nothing more than a very old Gnostic document. It tells us what 2nd century Gnostics believed, but does not hold any legitimacy against the canonical Gospels. Unfortunately, the attention, sensationalistic claims and misrepresentation by the mass media will mislead many to believe that there is truth in this heresy.