Jesus christ rejects the gospel of judas
found in Egypt in 1978.
RACHEL Do we have the link with the National Geographic people? … Keep them on the line…. Friends of Emisoras Latinas, we make contact with you again from Jerusalem on this Good Friday. … Excuse me, Jesus, today we’re going to talk with some people from a very serious magazine who have made a surprising discovery. Do you want to take the call?
JESUS Yes, Rachel, but what’s it about?
RACHEL Wait, just listen to them…
NATIONAL Perhaps, Jesus, since you have been away for almost two thousand years, you are not informed about the latest biblical discoveries. We are referring to the gospel of Judas.
JESUS Which Judas is that, my friend Judas?
NATIONAL Exactly. In this gospel Judas appears as your great friend.
JESUS He really was my friend. He was a great companion.
RACHEL He may have been your friend, but he betrayed you …
JESUS I prefer to think that Judas got confused and …
NATIONAL What we realize now is that Judas did you a great favor.
JESUS A great favor? What favor? I don’t understand.
NATIONAL According to the gospel of Judas, you asked him as your friend to free you from your body. Since you believed that the body was the prison of the soul, then by dying on the cross your divine soul would be free to ascend to God.
JESUS Judas the Zealot wrote something like that?
RACHEL Certainly it wasn’t Judas himself, because he committed suicide on Good Friday, but he must have told somebody before he died…
JESUS But what kind of nonsense are you people talking about?
NATIONAL Let’s take it step by step, Jesus. What did you ask Jesus to do?
JESUS Nothing. Or rather, the same as I asked of everybody else in the movement to keep themselves united together.
NATIONAL But you needed Jesus to hand you over … Remember the last supper, the kiss in the Garden of Olives … Everything was planned out.
JESUS Planned by whom?
NATIONAL By you, of course. By God. And Judas was an instrument to accomplish those divine plans. That is what is revealed in the text that we found in a cave in Egypt.
JESUS You people didn’t know my friend Judas, and whoever wrote that stuff in the cave didn’t know him either.
NATIONAL Who was Judas then?
JESUS He was a revolutionary, a Zealot. The Zealots fought to get the Romans out of our country.
RACHEL Zealot or not, he sold you out for thirty pieces of silver.
JESUS Listen, Rachel, and you also, from the magazine. The Zealots were very impatient. Judas took a false step. Maybe he thought that if I was arrested the people would rise up in rebellion and the day of liberation would arrive.
RACHEL But it didn’t arrive…
JESUS No, the Romans arrived. Yes, there were protests, but the Romans suppressed them.
NATIONAL So according to you, Jesus Christ, the gospel of Judas is false?
JESUS What seem to me even more false is that idea that the body is a prison. The body is the temple of God.
RACHEL Many thanks, colleagues from National Geographic. In any case, Jesus, you were distressed by what Judas did …
JESUS Judas was the one who was most distressed. When he saw that his plan had failed, he despaired and …
RACHEL He hanged himself and went to hell.
JESUS But why do you send him to hell, Rachel?
RACHEL Okay, not there, because in an earlier interview you said that there is no hell, but … but he was damned, I don’t know where, but he was damned.
JESUS Why do you say that?
RACHEL Because people who commit suicide, they taught us, commit the worst sin of all. Since it is the final conscious act they do, they die in that sin and are automatically damned.
JESUS Those who teach such things do not know the heart of God. Neither do they know anything about despair. Who can judge what was in the heart of my friend Judas that Friday when he took his own life?
RACHEL From what we’re hearing, the case of Judas still leaves much room for discussion… Was he friend, betrayer, evangelist? What should we call him?
JESUS Call him Judas, the man from Iscariot, the town where he grew up. Judas, that was his name. And I can assure you, his name is also written in the Book of Life.
RACHEL A short break and we’ll be right back. This is Rachel Perez, reporting for Emisoras Latinas in Jerusalem.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
A text lost and then found
In his work “Adversus haereses” [Against heretics], written around the year 180, Irenaeus of Lyon mentions the existence of the Gospel of Judas when he speaks of the Cainites, a Gnostic group that used it as a reference. Irenaeus rejected the text, which praised Judas, because by then the former apostle was already considered to be someone accursed. Irenaeus writes: And they say that Judas the betrayer knew these things and that, simply because he knew the truth before the others, he consummated the mystery of the betrayal, by which, they further say, all things, heavenly and earthly, were dissolved. And they cite a fiction of that sort, calling it the Gospel of Judas.
This Gnostic gospel was thought to be lost, but by chance it was found in a cave in Egypt in the 1970s. It is one more of the many Gnostic texts dating from the second century, similar to most of the “apocryphal gospels” found at Nag Hammadi in 1945.
The text that was found has some 250 lines about the width of a folio; it appears in a codex of 66 pages, more than a third of them illegible; and it contains three other Gnostic works: the First Apocalypse of James; the Epistle to Philip, attributed to Saint Peter; and a fragment provisionally titled the Book of Alogenes. The Gospel of Judas is written in Coptic, supposedly translated from a Greek original. Various scientific methods, include carbon-14 dating, showed that the codex had been copied between the years 220 and 340. After its recent discovery the document was passed from hand to hand and went from museum to museum, until the National Geographic Society had it restored and translated and made its contents public in the year 2006.
How Judas appears in “his” gospel
In contrast to the negative idea of Judas, which was quickly propagated in the early church, this text puts a positive evaluation on him. Judas appears as Jesus’ favorite disciple and therefore as the one to whom Jesus confided his secret plans. According to this gospel, Jesus asked Judas to hand him over to his death. According to its introduction, the text contains the revelations that Jesus made to Judas in a private conversation three days before the Passover.
Written in the third person, the gospel is a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, especially Judas, of whom Jesus had prophesied: You will be the thirteenth, and you will be accursed for generations, and you will come to reign over them. Jesus is grateful to Judas and praises him: You will surpass them all, because you will sacrifice the man who covers me. At the end of the account, a little after entering a luminous cloud, Judas receive “some money.” Jesus thanks him for what he has done: now that he is free of his body, he will be able to return to the great, unlimited kingdom whose immensity no generation of angels has ever seen.
Although this text rejects the negative image of Judas, it does not reject a fatalistic view of Jesus’ death, but rather reinforces it. Jesus wants to die; he desires to be free of his body, of “the man who covers” him; and he himself draws up the plan with his friend, whom he asks to carry it out.
Contempt for the body
The Gospel of Judas is one of the many Gnostic texts that circulated for centuries among the early Christian communities, especially in the church of Alexandria. The core experience of “gnosis” consisted of sentiments of solitude and existential exile, “knowledge” of the origins of evil in the world, and longings to overcome it by spiritual means. Some scholars claim that such views affected many Christian communities, who were disillusioned at the delay in long-expected the end of the world, and their frustration produced a determined, rigid posture of “resisting to the very end.”
All these sentiments favored the birth of various forms of monastic life, in which contempt for the body and renunciation of conjugal love found fertile ground. According to this Gnostic gospel, Jesus’ contempt for his own body, as a “prison of the soul”, is what motivated his scheming with Judas to bring about his death.
Judas, condemned and damned
Traditional doctrine has always contrasted Peter, who betrayed Jesus by denying he knew him and later repented, with Judas, who betrayed Jesus by handing him over and then despaired completely. Such a tradition, while it condemns Judas, manages to rescue Peter, and of course in rescuing Peter it also rescues the primacy of the Roman Pope, who was portrayed as Peter’s successor.
Judas in contrast is the reprobate, the accursed, the unsavable sinner. Saint Augustine speaks of him in this way: By hanging himself he made his criminal betrayal worse instead of expiating it, because by despairing of God’s mercy he closed off every possibility of a saving repentance.
The “perversity” that has traditionally been attributed to Judas has also contributed to the anti-Semitism that has prevailed in official Christianity. The name of Judas is etymologically linked with “Jew” (“Yehudi”, “Ioudaios”), so that Judas was linked to the Jewish people by antonomasia. Saint Augustine held that just as Peter represented the Church, Judas represented the Jews, who were enemies of the Church. This idea was exploited in literature and art, which always stressed Judas’s greed and portrayed him with exaggerated Semitic features. In this way the stereotype of the avaricious, usurious Jew was promoted.
The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber (1970) and brought to the screen by Norman Jewison (1975), tries to restore Judas’s integrity. It contradicts the traditional stereotype and shows him to have great affection for Jesus (for example, he sings, “I don’t know how to love him”); he is therefore torn by doubts about what he should do. However, the film falls into a racist stereotype by having Judas played by the only black actor. Recently a B-movie called “Judas”, directed by Charles Robert Corner (2005), creates a more credible biography of Judas. The film ends with a scene in which Peter and the others in the movement bury Judas as a companion, without condemning him; they pray an Our Father for him, showing the compassion they learned from Jesus. A novel interpretation.
“It would be better for him if he had never been born”
Judas has been so often portrayed as the most evil of all evil people that a certain Christian tradition claims that, if there is anybody that can be said to be certainly in hell, then it is Judas. This tradition bases its claim on Jesus’ saying at the last supper: It would be better for him if he had never been born (Matthew 26,24). However, while this phrase may have been attributed to Jesus by the gospel writer, it was not actually spoken by him. It was something added to the gospel as a dramatic warning to the first Christian communities against betraying their companions. Matthew and Mark put the saying in the mouth of Jesus to give it more authority, and they relate it to Judas to give it a historical setting.
The years in which the gospels took on their definitive form were for the Christians times of underground existence. They were persecuted by Roman power in all the provinces of the empire. Some Christians were at times betrayed by others, but even short of that, any carelessness could lead to death for members of the community. The saying that the evangelists put on Jesus’ lips should not be read as a sentence of condemnation of Judas to “hell”, but as a norm for the whole church: it would be better not to be “born” in the Christian community if in the end you betray the brethren; it would be better not to enter the community if you are going to cause harm to others.