In the first week of April 2006, the press announced with great fanfare the discovery of the “lost Gospel of Judas.” The terminology was well crafted to scandalize. A “lost gospel” might mean that the Bible has been incomplete all this time. What information might it add to what we already know about Jesus? Will it agree or disagree? And then, it is the Gospel of Judas, the traitor. Surely this will tell us a different perspective, perhaps correct an unfair perception? For Christians this is all a bit disturbing and difficult to evaluate. Could there be historical evidence that contradicts the Bible? Were there other gospels, suppressed by the early Christians that tell the real story?
Ireneaus, the famous pastor and theologian of the second century, once said that when there is a beast terrorizing the forest, the best strategy is to go into that forest with a cane, not so much to fight it as to make a bunch of noise to frighten the monster out into the light of day. This way everyone will see the threat and arm themselves against its predations. But in the case of the much publicized Gospel of Judas, the creature that comes out of the forest into the light of day turns out to be neither beast nor threat. The monster that pretends to threaten us turns out to be nothing more than a little kitten crying for its mother.
Recent history of the manuscript
The existence of the manuscript has not been completely unknown. It appears to have been unearthed in Egypt late in the previous century and later passed through the hands of various antiquities dealers, who attempted to sell it. The news reports have claimed that the document has been “authenticated” by scholars, which at first glance seems to imply that scholars have given the content of the Gospel their seal of approval. But in fact it only means that scholars have determined that this really is an ancient document from the third century after Christ and not a forgery or a hoax. This determination of authenticity is especially important in cases like these where there is not an archeological site to provide the historical context of the document.
In the eighties an expert in Gnostic documents became interested in purchasing the manuscript and even had a chance to look at it briefly. However, with a price tag of three million the negotiations did not go far. The document was lost again until a few years ago when the Swiss Maecenas Foundation purchased it for 1.5 million. At a discount like that who wouldn’t? Maecenas later arrived at an agreement with the National Geographic Society to restore and publish the manuscript, and share the earnings that came from the venture. In the last few months historians, linguists and archeologists have been working away at this very task and although there has been an attempt at secrecy, the truth is that the project has been an open secret that anyone could have discovered with ten or fifteen minutes of research on the Internet.