The Truth About the Gospel of Judas*
2 John 7-9
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Everyone has seen the headlines. It has been everywhere in the media. St. Louis and Hannibal papers carried the story. “A lost gospel has been found.” “Long-suppressed story of Jesus paints a different picture of Judas.” The sudden barrage of headlines was no accident. It was all part of very well orchestrated publicity campaign for a series of books and documentaries produced by the National Geographic Society. The TV special aired last Sunday (Palm Sunday 2006) on the National Geographic channel. The headlines hit a few days before the special, all intended to boost ratings, and advertising revenues.
Some of the announcements bordered on the sensational. Breathless reporters interviewed so-called experts to explain the earth-shaking consequences of the find. Some commentators predicted a complete reformulation of Christianity. We would be forced to rethink everything we know about Jesus, his last days, and especially Judas, the disciple the New Testament says betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The publicity spectacle has left many wondering, “what’s up.”
I’ve read many of the news stories. I’ve personally read the Gospel of Judas made available at the National Geographic web site. I’ve followed a lot of the discussion in the media and on the internet. Tonight I want to try to tell you the rest of the story.
First, let me give you a little taste of the media coverage. The Hannibal Courier-Post carried the typical Associated Press coverage. Under the headline “It is possible—Judas was a hero?” the piece went on to say, “For 2,000 years Judas has been reviled for betraying Jesus. Now a newly translated ancient document seeks to tell his side of the story. The “Gospel of Judas” tells a far different tale from the four gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas as a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus—and who turned him in at Jesus’ request.”
The April 6 USA TODAY article began this way, “Lost for centuries and bound for controversy, the so-called gospel of Judas was unveiled by scholars Thursday (4/6/06).
With a plot twist worthy of The Da Vinci Code, the gospel — 13 papyrus sheets bound in leather and found in a cave in Egypt — purports to relate the last days of Jesus’ life, from the viewpoint of Judas, one of Jesus’ first followers. Christians teach that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but in this gospel, he is the hero, Jesus’ most senior and trusted disciple and the only one who knows Jesus’ true identity as the son of God.
"We’re confident this is genuine ancient Christian literature," said religious scholar Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He and others on the translation team spoke at a National Geographic Society briefing, where they released a translation.
The manuscript claims that Jesus revealed "secret knowledge" to Judas and instructed him to turn Jesus over to Roman authorities, said Coptic studies scholar Stephen Emmel of Germany’s University of Munster, one of the restoration team members. In the gospel text, Judas is given private instruction by Jesus and is granted a vision of the divine that is denied to other disciples, who do not know that Jesus has requested his own betrayal. Rather than acting out of greed or malice, Judas is following orders when he leads soldiers to Jesus, the gospel says”.
The New York Times led with this, “Terry Garcia, an executive vice president of the geographic society, said the manuscript, or codex, is considered by scholars and scientists to be the most significant ancient, nonbiblical text to be found in the past 60 years.
"As the findings have trickled down to churches and universities," New York Times reporters John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein wrote, "they have produced a new generation of Christians who now regard the Bible not as the literal word of God, but as a product of historical and political forces that determined which texts should be included in the canon, and which edited out. For that reason, the discoveries have proved deeply troubling for many believers."
The Facts. Let’s step away from the sensationalism for a moment look at the facts.
First, some background about Judas. Judas is mentioned roughly thirty times in the New Testament. He was one of the twelve disciples, apparently the only one from Judah or southern Israel. The other eleven were all Galileans. Judas heard Jesus’ teachings, witnessed his miracles, and participated with the other disciples in preaching his message from village to village. Judas was the keeper of the purse for the disciples and apparently embezzled some of the funds from it, according to John 12. He betrayed Jesus for thirty-pieces of silver and then took his own life, possibly in regret. Scripture offers little explanation for his motives.
The Easton Bible Dictionary summarizes the information. “[Judas was the] Son of Simon (John 6:71; 13:2, 26), surnamed Iscariot, i.e., a man of Kerioth (Josh. 15:25). His name is uniformly the last in the list of the apostles, as given in the synoptic (i.e., the first three) Gospels. The evil of his nature probably gradually unfolded itself till “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27), and he betrayed our Lord (John 18:3). Afterwards he owned his sin with “an exceeding bitter cry,” and cast the money he had received as the wages of his iniquity down on the floor of the sanctuary, and “departed and went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5). He perished in his guilt, and “went unto his own place” (Acts 1:25). The statement in Acts 1:18 that he “fell headlong and burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out,” is in no way contrary to that in Matt. 27:5. The suicide first hanged himself, perhaps over the valley of Hinnom, “and the rope giving way, or the branch to which he hung breaking, he fell down headlong on his face, and was crushed and mangled on the rocky pavement below.”
Why such a man was chosen to be an apostle we know not, but it is written that “Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray him” (John 6:64). Nor can any answer be satisfactorily given to the question as to the motives that led Judas to betray his Master. (Easton BD)
Where does the Gospel of Judas come in?
No one claims the material was actually written by Judas. No one claims the material was penned by anyone even remotely associated with Judas, Jesus, or any of the first Christians. In fact the documents were penned by a unknown author a century or two after the time of Jesus in order to advance a Greek philosophy-inspired alternative to Christianity known as “gnosticism.” The author uses the identity of Judas to create a story in which to present his views. Many such fake gospel are referred to in early Christian writings. Propagandists often sought to advance their teachings by giving their works titles suggesting a connection that wasn’t really there. Very little was know about these early “Gnostic” teachings, aside from what others said in order to expose them, until the discover of library of ancient Gnostic books in the 1940’s. The Gospel of Judas is simply the most recent discovery.
What is the Gospel of Judas?
The Gospel of Judas is a collection of badly worn pages from an ancient book (codex) dated around 300-400 AD. The pages are copies of a document likely written much earlier, possibly in the second century. Irenaeus, an important early Christian writer (2nd Century) refers to a document called the Gospel of Judas. Irenaeus was born a century or so after the crucifixion/ resurrection of Jesus. According to the best information, Irenaeus was a personal student of Polycarp who was a personal student of the Apostle John. Irenaeus refers to the Gospel of Judas as an example of the writings of an heretical sect of his day.
Here is the Roberts-Donaldson translation of this section from Irenaeus: (Against Heresies, i, 31, 1)."
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.
Some two centuries after Irenaeus’ complaint, Epiphanius of Salamis, bishop of Cyprus, criticized the Gospel of Judas for treating as commendable the person whom he saw as the betrayer of Jesus, and as one who "performed a good work for our salvation." (Haeres., xxxviii).
The manuscripts of the Gospel of Judas were first uncovered in Egypt in the 1970’s. Then the 31 papyrus sheets disappeared into the shadowing world of the antiquities black market. In 2004 they again turned up in safe deposit box in Long Island. A Swiss art dealer eventually secured the documents.
The art dealer, Frieda Tchacos Nussberger, has a checkered history. She was detained several years ago in an unrelated Italian antiquities smuggling investigation. And after she failed to profit from the sale of the gospel in the private market, she struck a deal with a foundation run by her lawyer that would let her make about as much as she would have made on that sale, or more.
Later, the National Geographic Society paid the foundation to restore the manuscript and bought the rights to the text and the story about the discovery. As part of her arrangement with the foundation, Nussberger, stands to gain upwards of $2 million from those National Geographic projects, her lawyer said. There may even be more.
"We are dealing with a looted object," said Jane C. Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, a professional society. "The artifact was poorly handled for years because the people holding it were more concerned with making money than protecting it."
In National Geographic’s narratives, the manuscript takes a long journey through the antiquities trade. Those stories describe Ms. Nussberger efforts to sell the Gospel of Judas privately soon after buying it and her subsequent role in its restoration. She is portrayed as driven by religious conviction to save the document.
"I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him," Ms. Tchacos Nussberger, 65, is quoted as saying in one of the society’s books, "The Lost Gospel," by Herbert Krosney. Mr. Krosney is also an independent television producer who brought the gospel project to National Geographic.
The book never mentions Ms. Nussbergers previous legal troubles. Paolo Ferri, the Rome-based prosecutor in the case, said she was charged with several violations involving antiquities but was given a reduced sentence that was suspended because she had, among other things, previously agreed to return an artifact claimed by Italy.
For the next three and a half decades, the document remained hidden in the cloudy world of the antiquities market before being purchased in 2000 by Nussberger. She in turn sold it in 2001 to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, which sought to restore, preserve and publish the ancient document. The Maecenas Foundation worked with the National Geographic Society to this end.
The manuscript, a Coptic papyrus codex of 31 folios (62 pages), is written in Sahidic and has been dated paleographically to between the 4th and 5th century A.D. It is rather damaged and in poor and fragmentary conditions. It comes from Muhazafat Al Minya, in Middle Egypt, and is presently held by a Swiss Foundation. The codex contains three “treatises”: (1) the Epistle of Peter to Philip, (2) the First Apocalypse of James (both of them are also present among the NHC [Nag Hammadi codices] but in a different version), and (3) ca. 31 pages of the previously unknown Gospel of Judas. All would fall under the umbrella of Gnosticism, a particularly virulent heretical movement that infected the church in the 2nd-5th centuries.
What The Gospel of Judas Says. (Copy Attached at the end of this manuscript)
It says that Jesus appeared to the disciples as a child instead of a man. It describes “secret” conversations that Jesus only had with Judas which is why everyone else got it wrong. This secrecy was a common facet of fiction gospels of the second and third century. In order to give credibility to a new teaching pretending to be old, they would claim that it had been kept secret from the mainstream. This is a big clue that it is not a faithful witness to the events of Christ’s life and death. (In contrast, what gives the New Testament documents such a reliable claim is that they were public and could be reviewed by many who witnessed the events in question.)
The more one reads the more bizarre it becomes. In this text, Jesus describes a polytheistic pantheon of gods and demons and angels and aeons ruling different parts of creation. It talks about more Gnostic nonsense than is worth mentioning. Nowhere does it give a picture of a real Jewish man who was the Son of God fully in the flesh to save humanity. The Characters are Christian. The text is not. It is for this reason that this text (or perhaps another by the same name) was condemned by the theologian Ireneaus in his mammoth work “Against Heresies” in which he catalogued the many sects and their un-orthodox beliefs. In fact one of the real consequences of this newly rediscovered text is to confirm the accuracy of Ireneaus and his knowledge of the many diverse semi-Christian sects.
The Gnostic character of the text is immediately evident. In his supposed conversations with Judas, Jesus speaks in Gnostic categories such as "aeons" and an "eternal realm." Judas is identified as the "thirteenth spirit" who was appointed by God to be the agent of releasing Jesus from the physical body in which He was trapped in the incarnation.
When Judas speaks of a vision and asks for its interpretation, Jesus answers: "Judas, your star has led you astray." Jesus continues: "No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy. Neither the sun nor the moon will rule there, nor the day, but the holy will abide there always, in the eternal realm with the holy angels. Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and I have taught you about the error of the stars; and ... sent it ... on the twelve aeons."
The concept of secret and mysterious knowledge was central to Gnostic sects. The Gospel of Judas purports to reveal conversations between Jesus and Judas that had been kept secret from the rest of humanity. The Gnostics prized their secret knowledge, and taught a profound dualism between the material and spiritual worlds. They understood the material world, including the entire cosmos, to be a trap for the spiritual world. In essence, the Gnostics sought to escape the material world and to enter the world of spirit.
Accordingly, the most revealing statement in the entire text of The Gospel of Judas records Jesus saying to Judas, "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."
In other words, Judas would perform a service to Jesus by betraying Him to those who would then crucify Him, liberating Jesus from the physical body and freeing Him as spirit. As the editors of The Gospel of Judas indicate in a footnote, "The death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to be the liberation of the spiritual person within."
Referencing Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.), a disciple of Polycarp who sat at the feet of the Apostle John, Williams said, "Irenaeus was aware of, and described the contents of, the Gospel of Judas just as it is being described by the National Geographic Society today. Irenaeus said that it was a product of a cult known as the Cainites who deliberately honored every wicked figure in the Bible so as to promote their own immoral lifestyle. The Cainites considered the God who created the world as evil and Satan as good.
The principle way that public discussions of these kinds of texts deceive is by giving too little information. The text is quite short and the translation is readily available. Any one of these journalist could go and read it and tell about it. However by giving us only one detail they imply that other than this detail we would not be surprised by what we find. You may be thinking, “It probably reads a lot like Mark except it has ten extra verses that describe Jesus asking to be betrayed.” Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary it sounds like the many other second and third century Gnostics writings that mix the characters of Christianity with the theology and philosophy of Platonism, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism and other religions of the day.
The Real Issues
Do we have the right books in the New Testament? How were those books determined? How do we know the Gospel of Judas should not be a part of the New Testament? Those are valid questions. Some claim that the decision was made by later politically driven church councils. Nothing could be further the truth. These councils simply verified what was already the fact in the church. The early Christians recognized Scripture on this criteria: 1) connection with an apostle or eye witness of Jesus’ life and ministry, 2) the message and inner consistency of the book, 3) what was taught about Jesus, and 4) the quality of moral life advocated in the book.
There were lots of spurious books written during the early centuries. Some were the products of heretics. Others were good, helpful documents, never intended to be confused with scripture. The best way to be confident in the New Testament is to read the alternatives. There is a qualitative difference.
Some argue that the writers of the New Testament never thought that they were penning anything more than their private opinions. Such an argument has to evade the evidence of the writers themselves. One example: 2 Peter knew of Paul’s writings and considered on a par with scripture:
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:14-16
What were the factors that led to the recognition of a New Testament canon as we have it today? For almost twenty years after the ascension of Christ none of the books of the New Testament were even written and about sixty-five years elapsed before the last New Testament book was written. James was undoubtedly the first, being written between 45-50 A.D., and Revelation was most surely the last, being written about 90 A.D. But several things began to happen that promoted the formation of the New Testament canon. Enns summarizes these:
(1) Spurious writings as well as attacks on genuine writings were a factor. Marcion, for example, rejected the Old Testament and New Testament writings apart from the Pauline letters (he altered Luke’s gospel to suit his doctrine). (2) The content of the New Testament writings testified to their authenticity and they naturally were collected, being recognized as canonical. (3) Apostolic writings were used in public worship, hence, it was necessary to determine which of those writings were canonical. (4) Ultimately, the edict by Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303, demanding that all sacred books be burned, resulted in the New Testament collection. J. H. Keathley, Bible.org
Another issue is the reliability of the manuscripts of the New Testament. The truth is we have better historical evidence for the history of the New Testament than for any of the normally accepted history found in any standard high school or college history of western civilization text book. By far!
Just how reliable are the New Testament documents?
There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions (MSS) and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament. This means that no other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the Iliad by Homer is second with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the 13th century.74
This contrast is startling and tremendously significant.
Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman history of Livy (59 B.C-A.D 17), only 35 survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books III-VI, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of Histories of Tacitus (c. A.D. 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh.… The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C.) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 480-425 B.C.). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use are over 1,300 years later than the originals.75
The fact of the many documents plus the fact that many of the New Testament documents are very early (hundreds of parchment copies from the 4th and 5th centuries with some seventy-five papyri fragments dating from A.D. 135 to the 8th century) assures us we have a very accurate and reliable text in the New Testament. J. H. Keathley, Bible.org
Conclusions beyond the hype regarding the Gospel of Judas:
There is nothing new in the Gospel of Judas. The perspectives and teachings have been know about for centuries. What’s new is the attempt of some researchers and publishers to make a fast buck.
The Gospel of Judas is not Christian. No one seriously claims that it is. It is part of a huge body of Gnostic material from the third and fourth centuries.
The contents of the Gospel of Judas does add further confirmation to what has always been known about the teachings and practices of the Gnostic sects.
"Archeological finds of the last century have only confirmed that the early church fathers gave us accurate accounts of false teachers," Alan Branch, vice president for student development at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said. "The gospel of Judas is typical of other Gnostic gospels written during the second and third century. As [the early church father] Origen said, ’The church has four Gospels. Heretics have very many.’ The church has never denied or attempted to cover up the fact that other groups circulated fallacious gospels. The Gnostic gospels are second- and third-century forgeries. Pagan thought hijacked Christian terminology and used the name ’Jesus’ as a vehicle for a pagan worldview."
Until the release of the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic texts discovered decades ago near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, we learned about Gnosticism mostly through the polemics of Christian apologists. Now thanks to the Gospel of Judas, we can further verify two major Gnostic teachings. According to many Gnostic teachers, Jesus either did not actually appear in the flesh, or he at least wanted to shed his skin as soon as possible. Jesus longed to return to the spirit world. Judas helped make that happen. ("You will sacrifice the man that clothes me," the "spiritual" Jesus tells Judas in this document.) Also, Gnostics believed only a select few would truly apprehend the knowledge of heaven. The Gospel of Judas teaches that only Judas, Jesus’ favorite disciple, fully understood.
Christian belief contrasts sharply with Gnosticism. Fully God and fully man, Jesus endured birth in a manger and death on a Cross. He shared in our humanity, "so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death" (Heb. 2:14). This message is not restricted to a few who will ascertain gnosis (knowledge). The gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16).
Here’s David Kopel’s good way of explaining the significance of the Gospel of Judas: "Suppose that sometime around the year 3,800 A.D., someone wrote a newspaper [article] that began: "According to a recently-discovered document, which appears to have been written sometime before 1926, Benedict Arnold did not attempt to betray George Washington and the American cause, as is commonly believed. Rather, Benedict Arnold was acting at the request of George Washington, because Washington wanted Arnold to help him create a dictatorship of the proletariat and the abolition of private property."
A reader who knew her ancient history would recognize that the newly-discovered "Arnold document" was almost certainly not a historically accurate account of the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The reader would know that the terms "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "abolition of private property" come from a political philosophy, Marxism, which was created long after Washington and Arnold were dead. The reader would also know that the most reliable records from the 18th century provided no support for the theory that Washington or Arnold favored a dictatorship of the proletariat or the abolition of private property.
But many reporters are poorly educated. One useful press account, according to Kopel: "In the March 2 issue of USA Today, ancient Egyptian documents expert James Robinson correctly predicted that the owners of the Judas Gospel manuscript would attempt to release it to coincide with the publicity build-up for ’The DaVinci Code.’"(HT: WT). Worldblog.com, Olasky, 4/10/06
Conclusion: We are seeing played out before our eyes the reality written in 2 John.
“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (7-11)
a. False teachers exist and always have. We will see a resurgence of even more dangerous false teachers as the buildup for Christ’s return takes place.
b. They are deceptive. If they were obvious, they wouldn’t be dangerous.
c. The anchor/test is the nature and character of Christ. Jesus came in the flesh. He died on the cross and arose the grave. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The Doctrines and Philosophy of Gnosticism (Carm.org)
Gnosticism traces its roots back just after the beginning of the Christian Church. Some researchers state that evidence of its existence even predates Christianity. Whichever the case, the error of gnosticism had affected the culture and church of the time and possibly even earned a mention in 1 John 4.
The word "gnosticism" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" which means "knowledge." There were many groups that were Gnostic and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.
A more detailed Gnostic theology is as follows. The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. Therefore, God generated lesser divinities, or emenations. One of these emanations, Wisdom desired to know the unknowable God. Out of this erring desire the demiurge an evil god was formed and it was this evil god that created the universe. He along with archons kept the mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent the pure spirit souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies. Since, according to the Gnostics, matter is evil, deliverance from material form was attainable only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers. Christ was the divine redeemer who descended from the spiritual realm to reveal the knowledge necessary for this redemption. In conclusion, Gnosticism is dualistic. That is, it teaches there is a good and evil, spirit and matter, light and dark, etc. dualism in the universe.
What we know about Gnosticism is gained from the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, and some later manuscripts discovered in the eighteenth century such as the "Codex Askew, Codex Bruce, the Berlin Gnostic Codes and, most recently, the Nag Hammadi collection."1 Nag Hammadi is a town in Upper Egypt near ancient Chenoboskion and 13 codices discovered were discovered about 1945.
The danger of gnosticism is easily apparent. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind and we would still be lost in our sins.
There is debate whether or not this is a Christian heresy or simply an independent development. The evidence seems to point to the later. Nevertheless, the Gnostics laid claim to Jesus as a great teacher of theirs and as such requires some attention. It is possible that 1 John was written against some of the errors that Gnosticism promoted.
1. Achtemeier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985.
Dating of the Gospel of Judas:
Several pages of the Gospel of Judas as well as pages from the other three texts in the codex will be on exhibit at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., beginning Friday, April 7, 2006, for a limited engagement. After Kasser and his team complete conserving and translating the manuscript, the codex will be given to Egypt, where it will be housed in Cairo’s Coptic Museum.
Details of scientific examination — radio carbon dating the papyri, multi-spectral imaging, paleography and ink analysis are here, with images. Key-points:
* The National Geographic Society submitted five tiny samples of the Gospel of Judas for AMS testing at the University of Arizona’s radiocarbon dating lab in Tucson-the same lab that dated the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Judas fragments included four minute pieces of papyrus and a small bit of the book’s leather binding with a piece of attached papyrus page. No part of the ancient script was altered or damaged during this process. The results allowed lab experts to confidently date the papyruses to between A.D. 220 and 340. “The calibrated ages of the papyrus and leather samples are tightly clustered and place the age of the Codices within the third or fourth centuries A.D.,” reported Tim Jull, director of Arizona’s AMS facility, and research scientist Greg Hodgins.
* Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at Germany’s University of Munster, analyzed the Gospel of Judas … “The kind of writing reminds me very much of the Nag ‘Hammadi codices,” he wrote, referring to a famed collection of ancient manuscripts. “It’s not identical script with any of them. But it’s a similar type of script, and since we date the Nag ‘Hammadi codices to roughly the second half of the fourth century or the first part of the fifth century, my immediate inclination would be to say that the Gospel of Judas was written by a scribe in that same period, let’s say around the year 400.”
* McCrone Associates, a firm specializing in forensic ink analysis, conducted a transmission electron microscopy (TEM) test on samples of the document’s ink. The procedure uncovered the components used to create the ancient ink and found that they are consistent with ingredients in known inks from the third and fourth centuries A.D. The ink includes a carbon black constituent, in the form of soot, bound with a gum adhesive. An additional procedure, Raman spectroscopy analysis, established that the ink also included a metal-gallic component like those used in third-century iron-gall inks. McCrone Associates reports that the Gospel of Judas may have been penned with an early form of iron-gall ink that included a small amount of carbon black (soot). If so, it could be a previously unknown “missing link” between the ancient world’s carbon-based inks and the iron-gall alternatives that became popular in medieval times.
The Gospel of Judas Roadshow.
Reviewed by John Wilson
Let’s begin with a multiple-choice question: Which of the passages below is from the Gospel of Judas?
"No blame will be attached to elderly women who do not desire sex, if they take off their outer garments without flaunting their charms, but it is preferable for them not to do this: God is all hearing, all seeing."
"Jesus said, ’Truly I say to you, for all of them the stars bring matters to completion. When Saklas completes the span of time assigned for him, their first star will appear with the generations, and they will finish what they said they would do. Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children  and they will [… ] and [—about six and a half lines missing—] my name, and he will […] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.’"
Thomas said to them: "If I tell you one of the sayings he said to me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me, and fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."
If you guessed #2, you were right. (#1 is from the Qur’an; #3 is from the Gospel of Thomas.) And you are right, too, if you have inferred that this newly recovered gospel is a bit difficult to follow at times.
The story of the Gospel of Judas has two components. This Gnostic text is one of many apocryphal gospels that circulated in the centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection. The eminent scholar James Robinson suggests that it was written sometime between AD 130 and 170 (Irenaeus mentions it around 180 in a work against the heresies of the day). By the fourth century, it had been lost. In our time a fragmentary codex was rediscovered and—by a circuitous route—found its way to publication by the National Geographic Society.
This part of the story is the subject of Krosney’s book The Lost Gospel, which gives considerable space to the scholarly work of reconstructing the text, mixed with tales of academic infighting and intrigue. News stories following the publication of this book and its companion volume early in April have suggested that National Geographic has been less than candid in recounting their transactions with artifacts dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger, and Robinson’s account of the "peddling" of the lost gospel is quite critical, but such is the world of the high-stakes antiquities trade.
The second component of the story is the significance of the Gospel of Judas. Both Robinson’s account, in The Secrets of Judas, and the commentary by various hands in The Gospel of Judas, which includes the reconstructed text, are informed by a programmatic hostility to orthodox Christianity and an odd sympathy for heresy. On a number of occasions Robinson quotes Scripture in order to mock it, finding it both absurd and morally repugnant (a tactic that could backfire when readers get a look at the Gnostic counter-texts). But the two books differ in one important respect: whereas the commentators in The Gospel of Judas—including, of course, the egregious Bart Ehrman—make grandiose claims for the significance of this text, Robinson’s assessment is much more measured.
Last week, as we have done for many years, our small group met for a seder in Holy Week. One of my friends asked me about the Gospel of Judas, whether it is the sort of thing that is likely to challenge the faith of many people. The best response for anyone who wonders about it is to read The Gospel of Judas and Robinson’s book, too. (The stories about the Gospel of Judas don’t begin to capture its essential weirdness. You have to experience it firsthand.) Both books are quite short. Then read the familiar accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And if you are motivated, finish up with a book recently published by Eerdmans, Paul Barnett’s The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years.
What the Gospel of Judas people really need is a version by Eugene Peterson. The Message: Judas. But don’t hold your breath.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today.
*Much of the information and analysis printed above comes from a variety of sources, mostly on the internet. I have not attempted to separate or reference all of these sources.
THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS
Translated by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, in collaboration with François Gaudard From The Gospel of Judas Edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst Published in book form complete with commentary by The National Geographic Society. Copyright (c) 2006 by The National Geographic Society. (available at Nationalgeographic.com)
INTRODUCTION: INCIPIT—The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.
THE EARTHLY MINISTRY OF JESUS
When Jesus appeared on earth, he performed miracles and great wonders for the salvation of humanity. And since some [walked] in the way of righteousness while others walked in their transgressions, the twelve disciples were called. He began to speak with them about the mysteries beyond the world and what would take place at the end. Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child.
SCENE 1: Jesus dialogues with his disciples: The prayer of thanksgiving or the eucharist
One day he was with his disciples in Judea, and he found them gathered together and seated in pious observance. When he [approached] his disciples,  gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, [he] laughed.
The disciples said to [him], “Master, why are you laughing at [our] prayer of
thanksgiving? We have done what is right.”
He answered and said to them, “I am not laughing at you.
Jesus said to them, “How do you know me? Truly [I] say to you, no generation of thepeople that are among you will know me.”
THE DISCIPLES BECOME ANGRY
When his disciples heard this, they started getting angry and infuriated and began blaspheming against him in their hearts. When Jesus observed their lack of [understanding, he said] to them, “Why has this agitation led you to anger? Your god who is within you and […]  have provoked you to anger [within] your souls. [Let] any one of you who is [strong enough] among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face.” They all said, “We have the strength.”
But their spirits did not dare to stand before [him], except for Judas Iscariot. He was able to stand before him, but he could not look him in the eyes, and he turned his face away. Judas [said] to him, “I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”
JESUS SPEAKS TO JUDAS PRIVATELY
Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.  For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve [disciples] may again come to completion with their god.”
Judas said to him, “When will you tell me these things, and [when] will the great day of light dawn for the generation?” But when he said this, Jesus left him.
SCENE 2: Jesus appears to the disciples again
The next morning, after this happened, Jesus [appeared] to his disciples again. They said to him, “Master, where did you go and what did you do when you left us?” Jesus said to them, “I went to another great and holy generation.” His disciples said to him, “Lord, what is the great generation that is superior to us and holier than us, that is not now in these realms?”
When Jesus heard this, he laughed and said to them, “Why are you thinking in your hearts about the strong and holy generation?  Truly [I] say to you, no one born [of] this aeon will see that [generation], and no host of angels of the stars will rule over that generation, and no person of mortal birth can associate with it, because that generation does not come from […] which has become […]. The generation of people among [you] is from the generation of humanity […] power, which [… the] other powers […] by [which] you rule.”
When [his] disciples heard this, they each were troubled in spirit. They could not say a word.
Another day Jesus came up to [them]. They said to [him], “Master, we have seen you in a [vision], for we have had great [dreams …] night […].”
[He said], “Why have [you … when]
THE DISCIPLES SEE THE TEMPLE AND DISCUSS IT
They [said, “We have seen] a great [house with a large] altar [in it, and] twelve men—they are the priests, we would say—and a name; and a crowd of people is waiting at that altar, [until] the priests [… and receive] the offerings. [But] we kept waiting.”
[Jesus said], “What are [the priests] like?”
They [said, “Some …] two weeks; [some] sacrifice their own children, others their
wives, in praise [and] humility with each other; some sleep with men; some are involved in [slaughter]; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name],  and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion […].”
After they said this, they were quiet, for they were troubled.
JESUS OFFERS AN ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION OF THE TEMPLE
Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Truly I say to you, all the priests who stand before that altar invoke my name. Again I say to you, my name has been written on this […] of the generations of the stars through the human generations. [And they] have planted trees without fruit, in my name, in a shameful manner.”
Jesus said to them, “Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar—that is who you are. That is the god you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray  before that altar. […] will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to him. After hi another man will stand there from [the fornicators], and another [will] stand there from the slayers of children, and another from those who sleep with men, and those who abstain, and the rest of the people of pollution and lawlessness and error, and those who say, ‘We are like angels’; they are the stars that bring everything to its conclusion. For to the human generations it has been said, ‘Look, God has received your sacrifice from the hands of a priest’—that is, a minister of error. But it is the Lord, the Lord of the universe, who commands, ‘On the last day they will be put to shame.’” 
Jesus said [to them], “Stop sac[rificing …] which you have […] over the altar, since they are over your stars and your angels and have already come to their conclusion there. So let them be [ensnared] before you, and let them go [—about 15 lines missing—] generations […]. A baker cannot feed all creation  under [heaven]. And […] to them […] and […] to us and […].
Jesus said to them, “Stop struggling with me. Each of you has his own star, and every[body—about 17 lines missing—]  in […] who has come [… spring] for the tree […] of this aeon […] for a time […] but he has come to water God’s paradise, and the [generation] that will last, because [he] will not defile the [walk of life of] that generation, but […] for all eternity.”
JUDAS ASKS JESUS ABOUT THAT GENERATION AND HUMAN GENERATIONS
Judas said to [him, “Rabb]i, what kind of fruit does this generation produce?” Jesus said, “The souls of every human generation will die. When these people, however, have completed the time of the kingdom and the spirit leaves them, their bodies will die but their souls will be alive, and they will be taken up.” Judas said, “And what will the rest of the human generations do?”
Jesus said, “It is impossible  to sow seed on [rock] and harvest its fruit. [This] is also the way […] the [defiled] generation […] and corruptible Sophia […] the hand that has created mortal people, so that their souls go up to the eternal realms above. [Truly] I say to you, […] angel […] power will be able to see that […] these to whom […] holy generations […].”
After Jesus said this, he departed.
SCENE 3: Judas recounts a vision and Jesus responds
Judas said, “Master, as you have listened to all of them, now also listen to me. For I have seen a great vision.” When Jesus heard this, he laughed and said to him, “You thirteenth spirit, why do you try so hard? But speak up, and I shall bear with you.” Judas said to him, “In the vision I saw myself as the twelve disciples were stoning me and  persecuting [me severely]. And I also came to the place where […] after you. I saw [a house …], and my eyes could not [comprehend] its size. Great people were surrounding it, and that house
[Jesus] answered and said, “Judas, your star has led you astray.” He continued, “No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy. Neither the sun nor the moon will rule there, nor the day, but the holy will abide there always, in the eternal realm with the holy angels. Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom  and I have taught you about the error of the stars; and […] send it […] on the twelve aeons.”
JUDAS ASKS ABOUT HIS OWN FATE
Judas said, “Master, could it be that my seed is under the control of the rulers?”Jesus answered and said to him, “Come, that I [—two lines missing—], but that you will grieve much when you see the kingdom and all its generation.”
When he heard this, Judas said to him, “What good is it that I have received it? For you have set me apart for that generation.”
Jesus answered and said, “You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent  to the holy [generation].”
JESUS TEACHES JUDAS ABOUT COSMOLOGY: THE SPIRIT AND THE SELF-GENERATED
Jesus said, “[Come], that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.
“And a luminous cloud appeared there. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.’
“A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. The Self-Generated said,  ‘Let […] come into being […],’ and it came into being […]. And he [created] the first luminary to reign over him. He said, ‘Let angels come into being to serve [him],’ and myriads without number came into being. He said, ‘[Let] an enlightened aeon come into being,’ and he came into being. He created the second luminary [to] reign over him, together with myriads of angels without number, to offer service. That is how he created the rest of the enlightened aeons. He made them reign over them, and he created for them myriads of angels without number, to assist them.
ADAMAS AND THE LUMINARIES
“Adamas was in the first luminous cloud that no angel has ever seen among all those called ‘God.’ He  […] that […] the image […] and after the likeness of [this] angel. He made the incorruptible [generation] of Seth appear […] the twelve […] the twenty four […]. He made seventy-two luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit. The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each. “The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each  [of them five] firmaments, [for a total of] three hundred sixty [firmaments …]. They were given authority and a [great] host of angels [without number], for glory and
adoration, [and after that also] virgin spirits, for glory and [adoration] of all the aeons and the heavens and their firmaments.
THE COSMOS, CHAOS, AND THE UNDERWORLD
“The multitude of those immortals is called the cosmos— that is, perdition—by the Father and the seventy-two luminaries who are with the Self-Generated and his seventytwo aeons. In him the first human appeared with his incorruptible powers. And the aeon that appeared with his generation, the aeon in whom are the cloud of knowledge and the angel, is called  El. […] aeon […] after that […] said, ‘Let twelve angels come into being [to] rule over chaos and the [underworld].’ And look, from the cloud there appeared an [angel] whose face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood. His name was Nebro, which means ‘rebel’; others call him Yaldabaoth. Another angel, Saklas, also came from the cloud. So Nebro created six angels—as well as Saklas—to be assistants, and these produced twelve angels in the heavens, with each one
receiving a portion in the heavens.
THE RULERS AND ANGELS
“The twelve rulers spoke with the twelve angels: ‘Let each of you  […] and let them […] generation [—one line lost—] angels’: The first is [S]eth, who is called Christ. The [second] is Harmathoth, who is […]. The [third] is Galila. The fourth is Yobel. The fifth [is] Adonaios. These are the five who ruled over the underworld, and first of all over chaos.
THE CREATION OF HUMANITY
“Then Saklas said to his angels, ‘Let us create a human being after the likeness and after the image.’ They fashioned Adam and his wife Eve, who is called, in the cloud, Zoe. For by this name all the generations seek the man, and each of them calls the woman by these names. Now, Sakla did not  com[mand …] except […] the gene[rations …] this […]. And the [ruler] said to Adam, ‘You shall live long, with your children.’”
JUDAS ASKS ABOUT THE DESTINY OF ADAM AND HUMANITY
Judas said to Jesus, “[What] is the long duration of time that the human being will live?” Jesus said, “Why are you wondering about this, that Adam, with his generation, has lived his span of life in the place where he has received his kingdom, with longevity with his ruler?” Judas said to Jesus, “Does the human spirit die?” Jesus said, “This is why God ordered Michael to give the spirits of people to them as a loan, so that they might offer service, but the Great One ordered Gabriel to grant spirits to the great generation with no ruler over it—that is, the spirit and the soul. Therefore, the [rest] of the souls  [—one line missing—].
JESUS DISCUSSES THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WICKED WITH JUDAS AND OTHERS
“[…] light [—nearly two lines missing—] around […] let […] spirit [that is] within you dwell in this [flesh] among the generations of angels. But God caused knowledge to be [given] to Adam and those with him, so that the kings of chaos and the underworld might not lord it over them.” Judas said to Jesus, “So what will those generations do?” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, for all of them the stars bring matters to completion. When Saklas completes the span of time assigned for him, their first star will appear with the generations, and they will finish what they said they would do. Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children  and they will […] and [—about six and a half lines missing—] my name, and he will […] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.” After that Jesus [laughed]. [Judas said], “Master, [why are you laughing at us]?”
[Jesus] answered [and said], “I am not laughing [at you] but at the error of the stars, because these six stars wander about with these five combatants, and they all will be destroyed along with their creatures.”
JESUS SPEAKS OF THOSE WHO ARE BAPTIZED, AND JUDAS’S BETRAYAL
Judas said to Jesus, “Look, what will those who have been baptized in your name do?” Jesus said, “Truly I say [to you], this baptism  […] my name [—about nine lines missing—] to me. Truly [I] say to you, Judas, [those who] offer sacrifices to Saklas […] God [—three lines missing—] everything that is evil.
“But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me. Already your horn has been raised, your wrath has been kindled, your star has shown brightly, and your heart has […].  “Truly […] your last […] become [—about two and a half lines missing—], grieve [—about two lines missing—] the ruler, since he will be destroyed. And then the image of the great generation of Adam will be exalted, for prior to heaven, earth, and the angels, that generation, which is from the eternal realms, exists. Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.”
Judas lifted up his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it. Those standing on the ground heard a voice coming from the cloud, saying,  […] great generation […] … image […] [—about five lines missing—].
CONCLUSION: JUDAS BETRAYS JESUS
[…] Their high priests murmured because [he] had gone into the guest room for his prayer. But some scribes were there watching carefully in order to arrest him during the prayer, for they were afraid of the people, since he was regarded by all as a prophet.
They approached Judas and said to him, “What are you doing here? You are Jesus’ disciple.” Judas answered them as they wished. And he received some money and handed him over to them.
***Dr. Roger W. Thomas is the preaching minister at First Christian Church, 205 W. Park St., Vandalia, MO 63382 and an adjunct professor of Bible and Preaching at Central Christian College of the Bible, 911 E. Urbandale, Moberly, MO. He is a graduate of Lincoln Christian College (BA) and Lincoln Christian Seminary (MA, MDiv), and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).