Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I see that the media today seems to be quite excited about the "Gospel of Judas" that's been discovered, a translation of which was released today. Evidently, the news media has become a subsidiary of The National Geographic Channel, which has been heavily touting it's documentary on this manuscript for weeks now. It was found in 1970.

As the AP describes it:
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.
Wow, that's scandalous stuff. Except that it comes from a document that was written, at the earliest, more than 100 years after Christ's crucifixion. That means it was written, virtually all scholars agree, much later than the four gospels of the New Testament. While it may give us interesting insight into the people who wrote it in the second century A.D., it tells us nothing of historical value about the first century events themselves regarding Jesus and the apostles, coming far too late to be historically reliable. It's simply another fanciful addition to the many Gnostic Gospels.

The story goes on:
Christianity in the ancient world was much more diverse than it is now, with a number of gospels circulating in addition to the four that were finally collected into the New Testament, noted Bart Ehrman, chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

Eventually, one point of view prevailed and the others were declared heresy, he said, including the Gnostics who believed that salvation depended on secret knowledge that Jesus imparted, particularly to Judas.
Though Bart Ehrman is turning up a lot in the media lately since he has a new book to flog (as well as a vested interest in arguing for the value of these later Gnostic gospels), he is, once again, mostly incorrect.

As a historical matter, there are four--and only four--gospels circulating in the first century: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Virtually all reputable scholarship, conservative or liberal, has agreed on that. All of these supposedly competing gospels begin circulating in the second century, or in many cases even the third century (and indeed scholars are dating this copy of the Gospel of Judas to about 300 A.D., more than a quarter millenium after Christ and the times of the eyewitnesses).

But these novelties do sell books and TV programs, which is really what this is about anyway.

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