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The Gospel of Judas: Monster or kitten?

If we accept the premise that the God of the Old Testament is the author of the cosmic mess we are in, the true heroes of the biblical story are those who resisted him. As Irenaus says of the Cainites:

Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury.

In the Gospel of Judas, then, Jesus comes, not from the God of the Old Testament (who would be the Maker), but from Barbelo, the highest female deity in the Gnostic pantheon, who has nothing whatever to do with the physical universe. Judas’ act of betrayal works to further Jesus’ cause because it liberates him from this physical existence. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus tells Judas that his betrayal will “sacrifice the man that clothes me.” In other words, when Jesus dies he leaves behind the physical world in which he is trapped, returning to the pure realm of immaterial existence.

Without a doubt, the Gospel of Judas is a polemic against the Christianity of the canonical Gospels. In it the other eleven disciples don’t understand anything and several times Jesus laughed at their antics. The disciples give thanks for their bread (echoing the Lord’s prayer) and Jesus, after laughing, tells them that this is something they do for their god (in other words, not the god of Jesus). The disciples declare that Jesus is “the son of our god” (echoing Peter’s confession of Christ). But Jesus responds, “How do you know me? Truly I say to you, no generation of the people that are among you will know me.” In other words, no one who follows the doctrines of the apostles will be able to understand the true nature of the universe or the provenance of Jesus. But Judas does understand and declares, “You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo”. For this reason Jesus gives him secret knowledge and gives him a special place in his plans.

Historical value

The Gospel of Judas has historical value like any other ancient document, but this is different than saying that its claims are true. It is obvious that this is not the same type of Gospel as those we find in the Bible. Nor is it a more accurate version of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. It does not pretend to be written by Judas and it does not pretend to be the result of some kind of historical investigation. Even the historical data that it advances is scarce: That these conversations took place several days before the crucifixion, that Judas and Jesus discussed the betrayal beforehand, and that Jesus was captured when he was praying in a room, not in the garden of Gethsemane as the canonical gospels claim.

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Category: Fall 2016, Living the Faith

About the Author: Rob Haskell grew up in Argentina as the son of missionaries. He has done college ministry and worked in missions in Latin America, training pastors. Rob has a ThM in New Testament from Regent College. He is author of a Spanish language book on hermeneutics (Interpretacion Eficaz Hoy) and co-editor of Local Theology for the Global Church, a book produced by the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission. Currently he makes websites at his company, Intuito Websites, and teaches regularly at his local church in Bellingham, Washington. He enjoys a busy life as a single parent and an avid hiker.

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