We had a family night and after the playground, we ventured to Borders to use some of our Discover card payback. To the left of the entrance upon walking inside was the huge display of best-selling books. Not that the DaVinci Code needs hype, but the paperback version is out about the time the motion picture is opening. Crowded around the top ten are combinations of DaVinci copycats, spin-offs, critiques, segues, and explanations. I did consider this a moment, asking myself why. One answer and only one answer filled my mind immediately---people are looking for a reason to disregard Jesus. I read just this week that some schools are attempting to take BC and AD off the calendar and to give it a different, more innocuous designation.
About every time I have one of these nights, Bart Ehrman makes another appearance. If you read me regularly, you remember that last time it was his book, Misquoting Jesus. He comes back to us again with the Gospel of Judas. Two books about the Gospel of Judas sat in the most prominent bookstore display. For one of them, Bart Ehrman wrote the introduction. In the other, the one containing the English translation of the Gospel of Judas, Bart Ehrman writes a 30-40 page chapter, explaining his interpretation of its importance relative to the history of early Christianity. Bart Ehrman is the very liberal professor at UNC, Chapel Hill, Moody-Wheaton-Princeton graduate, apostate, and prize student of Bruce Metzger. While incarcerated an hour at Borders I read his intro of the one book and then his chapter of the actual Judas translation, while I drank a Grande Hazelnut Mocharoon Javakula Decaf. Yes, all those are one beverage. It was good; how good would require a separate blog. I didn't buy the Gospel of Judas, one Ehrman book should be anyone's lifetime quota. So what you will read here is off-the-top-of-my-head. It also might keep you from having to read anything else about this, which could possibly greatly benefit your life.
What is the Gospel of Judas? Iraeneus was an ante-Nicean patristic writing in the late 2nd century, among his writings are five anti-heresy books. He explained, negated, argued against, and warned about every heresy existent at that time. One heretical book he mentions is the Gospel of Judas. Iraeneus ridicules it in his writings. It's pretty much the only mention you find of it. No one had seen the book in over 1500 years. Only rumors had floated. One day in the last year or two Bart Ehrman gets a phone call from a female archaeologist friend. She asked him if he knew about this book. He vaguely remembered it. When she calls him back a short period of time later, she asks if he will be a part of a team to deal with this copy they found unearthed in Egypt. It's written in Coptic. Ehrman suggests getting someone expert in the field of ancient Coptic manuscripts. He must have forgotten about me. Well, no, I don't know Coptic. Ehrman, of course, loves the Gospel of Judas. He says its the top archaelogical find in the last 60 years, the best since the Nag Hammadi texts found in 1945. Um, how about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Well, Ehrman gets carried away on projects with his name attached.
The Gospel of Judas (GJ) is a gnostic gospel. Ehrman says there are hundreds of gospels, but the ones we have just happen to have passed through the grid of popularity for inclusion in the canon. In GJ, Judas is not a villain, but a hero. Judas was a hero to the gnostics. Why? Well, they believed that true salvation came from throwing off the evil, vile material body in which we inhabit to allow the spark of divinity which some of us possess to go back to the rest of god. GJ presents Judas as the only true enlightened one of the twelve. Gnosticism is about having secret knowledge, the knowledge spiritually that is exclusive and very secret.
What we find out from the gnostics is that the God of the OT was really not the most powerful, nor was he really that important as a deity. He was several emanations away from the very powerful deity, and the God of the OT, according to the other deities, did something very bad when He created the physical universe. The gnostic "christians" believed that Jesus was more divine than other human beings, had a much larger spark, perhaps a flame of divinity, and he also really understood the secret of salvation was throwing off the material flesh. Jesus himself was the fewest emanations removed from the most powerful spiritual deities. According to gnostics, people either have no or varying degrees of divinity. The ones with none, like ants and worms and birds and dogs, just turn back to dirt upon dying. The people with divinity release theirs into the ultimate deity in pure spiritual existence, unshackled by human flesh. The non-canonical gnostic gospels, pagan and secular writings, taught these doctrines in the first and second centuries.
Anyway, back to Judas. According to his gospel, Judas, a gnostic himself, unlike the other disciples, understood these secrets Jesus was telling. For this reason, Jesus worked the most closely with Judas, told Judas that he was going to be hated by the other disciples, but he was going to have to endure that in order to work with Christ in furthering this important gnostic agenda. His betrayal of Jesus was not actually a betrayal, but actually an elaborate plan to deliver Jesus from his bondage within human flesh, hence providing a model of salvation for others with a similar spark of divinity as He.
Men who interpret GJ like Ehrman say that gnosticism is just another branch of religion like Judaism, Christianity, and others. They say that if the gnostic ideas had won out in the first and second century competition, that gnosticism would have gone on as a legitimate version of Christianity. They say that gnosticism didn't gain a foothold among the most powerful Christian leaders, so these gospels, including GJ, were held back from legitimate propagation. This, of course is a bunch of garbage. Ehrman himself provides a modern portrait of Judas Iscariot, rejecting the truth of Christ and the Gospel because of his own faithlessness, he now extracts as much cash as possible from modern-day doubters and scoffers to compensate for the lost years he fooled himself into thinking he had the real thing. If he isn't going to have peace, he at least will get his thirty pieces. Doesn't that sound like Judas himself?