The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

The Gospel of Judas: Fragments of Foolishness

Here’s what you need to know about the Gospel of Judas. The only known copy of it was discovered in a cave in an Egyptian desert during the 1970s. It was a ratty papyrus document bound in leather. When we say ratty, we mean the thing is literally in more than 1,000 pieces due to corrosion and bad handling. So there are a lot of big holes in the paper, which means a lot of the words are missing, and this makes translating the thing a challenge. Plus it’s written in an outdated Coptic language—a version of the Egyptian language that was in use from the 2nd to 17th centuries. The Coptic alphabet is an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, but now we’re getting into details that aren’t all that important.

The important point for you is that someone found a ratty document that talks about Jesus. And of course anytime Jesus is being discussed, everyone gets up in arms. In 2006, the National Geographic Society took a stab at translating the document into English, then they made a big drama out of publicizing its contents, which of course put Christians on the defensive.

The document gets its title from the fact that the last words written on it are “the gospel of Judas.” Now what you need to realize is that anytime there’s a figure as famous as Jesus, people will come out of the woodwork to make up all kinds of guff about Him. Today there are many ancient documents in circulation which make up all kinds of ridiculous stories about not only Jesus, but also many other famous names from the Bible. Before you think Christians are being singled out, realize that this sort of thing happens in every culture. Gossip has always existed in verbal and written forms. Trying to rewrite history is nothing new. Trying to make heroes out of bad guys and trying to make bad guys out of good guys are things we’ve been doing since the beginning. When some individual or group of individuals makes a particularly strong impression on people, they become timeless. Just look at those poor World War 2 Nazis—will they ever stop being accused of ruling the world from secret underground bases and cutting deals with aliens? And how about the infamous Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant?  Certain material things also get endless rumors and stories written about them. So there’s no need to feel threatened about someone unearthing a ratty papyrus document that talks about Jesus. Many such documents have been unearthed—that’s why people argued so long and hard about which documents to include in our official “Bible.”

Now we could talk about carbon dating and theories of authorship, but such details are irrelevant. What matters is this: should you view the contents of The Gospel of Judas as wise or foolish? Let’s look at a few highlights.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

It’s always very convenient when a writer makes authoritative statements about who Christ is, because there’s no quicker way to identify a fraud than to catch him saying that Jesus is less than God. And of course in the GOJ, this is what we find. Christ isn’t God, He’s just some kind of ruling angel.

[The Rulers & Angels]

The first is Seth, 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.

Remember that this manuscript is in very bad shape, so the excerpts we quote from it are patchy at best with translators filling in a few words here and there to try and help the thing make logical sense. There are no chapter and verse numbers added to it, just section titles which we’ve included in brackets in case you ever want to look up these quotations for yourself.

Okay, so first we’ve got Christ being demoted to some kind of angelic ruler of the underworld. In another section, it is angelic beings who are credited with creating men and women.

[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.

Anytime we find angelic beings in the spotlight instead of our Creators, we know we’re dealing with yet another human who is obsessed with the supernatural realm.

[Judas Asks About the Destiny of Adam and Humanity]

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.

So according to this document, you have Michael and Gabriel to thank for the fact that you have a soul. Are you seeing why you shouldn’t be impressed with this thing?

[Jesus Discusses the Destruction of the Wicked with Judas and Others]

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 …

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.”

So now we’ve got stars who have creatures. The stars are probably a reference to angels, and apparently we humans are the creatures who the angels own. Jesus now points out Judas’ star to him:

[Jesus Speaks Of Those Who Are Baptized, And Judas’s Betrayal]

“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.

With so many missing fragments, trying to make sense out of this document is tough to do. But one thing that does become clear is that whoever wrote it had a Gnostic worldview. Just as Catholicism comes in many flavors, Gnosticism also had various branches to it, but there were certain common themes. Gnostics believed that there were greater gods and lesser gods. They blamed an evil demigod for the creation of this physical realm, and they taught that the demigod created this world for the purpose of imprisoning human spirits. Once Gnostics bought into the idea that all matter was evil, they longed to be set free, thus their idea of “salvation” was to have their souls released from their bodies.

Gnostics were big fans of “secret knowledge”. The author of the GOJ claims to be sharing some sacred secrets that Jesus told to Judas shortly before His last Passover. The secrets boil down to a bunch of guff about angels, but there are a lot of weird side notes thrown in such as this line from the introduction:

Jesus began to speak with His disciples 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.

By the time we’re done reading about how angels are creating us and being our ruling “stars” while God the Father sits in the background apparently ignoring the whole situation, and Jesus plays “now you see Me, now you don’t games,” we really can’t find any reason to respect this document. Whoever dreamed this tale up was clearly obsessed with both angelic beings and the man Judas and he was just jotting down a bunch of his own delusions. Of course with so many physical holes in the document, we’ll never have a clear picture of everything the writer tried to say. What a bummer.

FURTHER READING:
The Book of Enoch: Let’s All Obsess Over Angels
How We Got the Bible: A Reality Check for Christians
Imitating the Idolatry of NT Jews: All Scripture is God-Breathed

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