Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Jesus of the Cults

An interesting article here by Philip Jenkins, titled "The Jesus of the Cults". It has some nice details about the polularization of Gnosticism in the nineteenth century, via Theosophy, plus the development of modern forged gospels, some of which I use in my Lost Sayings of Jesus, which incidentally is now in stock at Amazon.


I ought to mention that the author is rather prejudiced against the use of non-canonical material in the study of the historical Jesus, and this is the thrust of the article. He is explicitly connecting the interest in ancient Gnostic texts with the development of modern forged gospels, in order to discredit the historical usefulness of Gnostic texts. But it still contains a lot of interesting material.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Two Gospel of Judas Articles

Two interesting little articles on the reception of the Gospel of Judas. The first, from the LA Times, Gnostics find Affirmation in the Gospel of Judas. Stephan Hoeller, who wrote the foreword to my new Lost Sayings of Jesus is quoted in it. The second is an article by fellow Welshman Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He seems like an interesting man, so I was disappointed by the conventional nature of his comments. I was amused to see that he was getting into trouble a few years earlier through his membership of the Gorsedd, the Welsh cultural organization connected to the National Eisteddfod which has pseudo-Druidic trappings.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ekthesis and Other Gospel of Judas Blog Posts

Ekthesis is an excellent blog with several well-researched and sober posts on the Gospel of Judas.

There are an incredible number of blog references to the Gospel of Judas. Click here
to see the latest posts on the Gospel of Judas from Blogger alone.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Ben Witherington and Others on the Inauthenticity of the Gospel of Judas

Ben Witherington III, a very popular conservative Christian scholar, has a couple of posts on the Gospel of Judas in his blog,
Gospel of Judas Part One
Gospel of Judas Part Two
They're what you might expect. Witherington plays the usual trick of applying very stringent conditions of "authenticity" to texts that he doesn't like, and judges the texts that he does like (e.g., those in the Bible) by very loose standards. He comments,
"First let us deal with the facts: 1) we do not have a Greek text of this Gospel, we have a Coptic one from which the English translation has been made. To simply state this text was based on Greek text is to argue without hard evidence. The fact that Irenaeus mentions this document may suggest there was a Greek original, but we do not have it, and the translation done is not based on any Greek text. We need to be clear on this: 2) You will find a link above to the article in today's NY Times about this find. You will see me suggesting we all need to take a deep breath before consuming too much baloney; 3) this papyrus carbon dates to about 300 A.D. We only know some document called the Gospel of Judas existed around 180 because Irenaeus mentions it. One could also raise the question of whether Irenaeus is referring to the same document, but probably he is. 4) This document reflects the same sort of dualism that we find in many other Gnostic documents-- matter or flesh is evil or tainted, spirit is good. Thus at one juncture in the Gospel of Judas Jesus says to Judas that he will become the top disciple for "you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." In other words Judas is the good guy who helps Jesus get rid of his tainted flesh and become a true spiritual and free being."

Comment 4) is fair enough, though I might comment that christians who who place a lot of importance on the influence of Satan are rather dualistic themselves.
"1) we do not have a Greek text of this Gospel, we have a Coptic one from which the English translation has been made. To simply state this text was based on Greek text is to argue without hard evidence. The fact that Irenaeus mentions this document may suggest there was a Greek original, but we do not have it, and the translation done is not based on any Greek text. We need to be clear on this:"
I agree that scholars do make the assumption that many Coptic Gnostic texts are based on Greek originals, but he's not very clear on what the importance of this is. I presume that this is all part of the effort to place GJudas as far away from the first century as possible, on the mistaken principle that first century texts (i.e., the NT) are historically accurate, the others aren't. But he doesn't seem to take exception to us not having any Aramaic originals of Jesus' sayings. In the second part he comments, "It is entirely possible that the Gospel of Judas we now have is not the original document created by the Cainite Gnostics that Irenaeus knows and speaks of." Well, of course, it's entirely possible that it is too. More than that, the contents of the Gospel of Judas does seem a fair match to Irenaeus' description. He makes much of the Gospel of Judas being pseudonymous (which it surely is), but denies that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, "As for Traditionalist's question about 2 Peter, you are repeating the majority view about 2 Peter. I have argued that while this document is from the end of the first century knows of a collection of Paul's letters, it contains an eyewitness testimony from Peter himself about the Transfiguration in chapters 1-2. This material matches up nicely with the Greek of 1 Peter. Often in antiquity a compiled document like 2 Peter (which also includes stuff from Jude) was named after its most famous contributor--- in this case Peter. So this is not a pseudonymous document."

The scholars involved with the Gospel of Judas project do seem to be using deliberately vague language that might suggest to the uninformed reader that they accept that Judas might be an historical account. In his foreword to Krosney's book, Bart Ehrman, who in his interesting book Lost Christianities, used the term 'forgery' for non-canonical gospels such as Thomas or Peter, never once uses that term for the Gospel of Judas, or clearly suggests that it is not historically accurate.

There are many responses to the National Geographic's sensationalising of the possible historicity of the account of the Gospel of Judas. Most of them make much of GJudas's lateness as a second or third century text, but this seems to be way off the mark to me. There is no reason why a second or third century text could not contain historically valid information about the first century. I'm sure that someone like Witherington thinks that Eusebius, the third-century church historian, is full of accurate details on first-century Christianity. Mark Goodacre's blog collects comments like "One of the panelists [of the BBC's Any Questions], John Selwyn Gummer, [An English politician with prominent religious views] said that to treat it seriously as a source for the historical Judas would be like his writing now and claiming to be an eye-witness of the death of William of Orange." or Simon Gathercole' "Simon explained that the Gospel was written long after the living memory of the apostles, and that it featured anachronisms equivalent to our writing a document about Queen Victoria in which she comments on The Lord of the Rings and on her CD collection." These comments just strike me as silly. The canonical gospels also contain anachronisms, probably equivalent to Winston Churchill discussing The Da Vinci Code, and also his CD collection. If the NT contained only Mark, Matthew and John, and the Gospel of Luke had just resurfaced, I wonder how many conservative scholars would be willing to allow it a source of the historical Jesus. It would definitely be second century, the Theophilus introduction would be forged, the Prodigal Son has a bit of a Gnostic scent to it, somewhat similar to the hymn of the Pearl, etc.

So, it is entirely possible that the Gospel of Judas contains a genuine account of the relationship between Judas and Jesus. For instance, GJudas could have incorporated elements of an earlier text, since we know that Gnostic writings often adapted earlier material. Do I think that the Gospel of Judas is historical? No, I don't. There are plenty of reasons not to think so. But I've run out of time, so this will have to wait until my next post.

Books on the Gospel of Judas

I have a few small posts to publish on the Gospel of Judas. Here are the basic links again, and very brief comments on the new books on Judas.
I pre-ordered both books through Amazon, assuming that one was the scholarly edition, and
the other the popular edition. Not so.
The Lost Gospel: the Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot
This is the story of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, and subsequent dubious provenance and academic politics. It should probably be read in conjunction with James Robinson's book, since the story as given here (and it is a fascinating one) is definitely weighted towards the individuals and organisations who published the material through National Geographic. Shamefully, it doesn't even contain a translation of the Gospel of Judas. Instead, the final chapter contains a paraphrase, along the lines of "In the Gospel of Judas, Judas says such-and-such, then Jesus replied, etc."

The Secrets of Judas
This is James T. Robinson's book. I haven't yet read this, but it is said to provide a counterbalance to the story given in Krosney's book, above. Robinson organised the translation and publication of the complete Nag Hammadi texts, which astonishingly entered the Amazon top 100 this weekend. The Secrets of Judas is unlikely to contain much in the way of direct commentary on the Gospel of Judas since Robinson hadn't seen the codex when this went to press.

The Gospel of Judas
This one actually contains the English text of the Gospel of Judas, along with four essays by way of commentary. The critical edition of the Coptic text has apparently been delayed due to the discovery of additional fragments of the papyrus. According to Marvin Meyer's introduction, "The entire text of Codex Tchacos is to be published in a critical edition, with facsimile photographs, Coptic text, English, French and german translations, textual notes, introductions, indices, and an essay on Coptic dialectical features."

National Geographic Site:-

The Gospel of Judas in English PDF

Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas PDF

Roger Pearse's extensive collection of Gospel of Judas news and rumours

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Amongst other books, I'm reading Robert M.Grant's Gnosticism amd Early Christianity, Revised Edition (Harper & Row, 1966.) Since it was written in 1959, it focuses on evidence other than the Nag Hammadi texts. In attempting to define the Gnostic viewpoint, he quotes the following passage from Hippolytus, attributed to Monoimus,
"Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is who within you makes verything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body." Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, rests without willing, becomes angry without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself."
Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies VIII.15.1-2

This strikes me as a very profound passage. It reminds me how much Gnostic writing we have lost, and how important is is to study the heresiologists.