Judas and the Gospel of Jesus

lunamoth

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Judas and the Gospel of Jesus by NT Wright.

NT Wright is a NT scholar and Bishop of Durham in the CofE, Anglican Communion. He is something of an evangelical, although some of his work is criticized by the American evangelical community. He is a prolific writer and in addition to his scholarly work has written many popular works on the NT, as well as for Christian inspiration and apologetics.

This book falls under Apologetics. Wright acknowledges at the outset that the recently discovered Gospel of Judas appear authentic and is an exciting find for all scholars interested in ancient history. It is also clearly a gnostic writing, and has a high probablity of being written between 240 and 320.

I did not take notes as I read this book, but I'll try to remember some of the things I found most interesting for the different chapters of the book.

ch 1. Not Another New Gospel? The first chapter traces the discovery of the document and the tortuous route by which it finally reached an editor who could translate and publish about it. It appears to be the gnostic writing referred to by Irenaeus as the Gospel of Judas, 'a fictitious history.' At the end of the chapter, Wright suggests that the timing and fanfare associated with the publishing of the book about this document point not to its usefulness in understanding Christianity, nor even in understanding the world at the time it was written (although that is of course the case), but it has more to do with growing interest in alternatives to Christianity.

ch 2. Second-Century Gnosticism. The Gospel of Judas is a remarkably clear expression of what have been for many years considered the basic tenets of gnosticism: 1) dualism, especially with matter as the source of evil, 2) the creator god is not the true God, Father, but foolish and capricious at best, evil at worst, 3) the goal of humans, 'salvation,' is to escape the wicked world, and 4) the way to salvation is through special knowledge about the true God and the true, wicked origin of the world. This special knowledge can only be revealed through a special revealer to a chosen few. For some gnostics, Jesus was the revealer. A key feature of texts from such sects is hostility to main lines of ancient Judaism. Gnostics text take the Jewish view of God and history and turn it upside down, so that the villians become the heros, and the heros (those who worship YHWH) become the villians.

Some gnostic sects did consider themselves Christian, but it is unlikely that John or Paul were part of the gnostic sects (although this used to be a popular theory, it has lost credibility with scholarship showing that both John and Paul are deeply rooted in the OT). The teachings of the Gospel of Judas, like other gnostic texts in the Nag Hammadi, contrast sharply with the teachings of Jesus of the Gospels.

TBC
 
ch 3.The Judas of Faith and the Iscariot of History. Among known gnostics texts (as in the Gospels), Judas is portrayed as a traitor and in a negative light. Only this text, the Gospel of Judas, portrays Judas as the hero who acts on Jesus' request, and so is actually being obedient to Jesus. In this gnostic gospel, Jesus seeks his own death because it is release from the world, so Judas is the hero for making this happen.

This kind of salvation, release from the world, is distinctly different from the message of salvation found in the Gospels, which is redemption and restoration of the world. The story in the gospel of Judas divided the disciples into those 'in the know,' and those who continue to foolishly worship the creator god. It even has Jesus laughing at the disciples who worship the creator god.

The climax of the work is when Jesus asks Judas to hand him over to be killed:

"Jesus said, "Truely I say to you, Judas,......But you will exceed all of them (who offer sacrifices to Salkas (the fool)...God). For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

The text also contains a long, confused angeology which most proponents of gnosticism distance themselves from.

ch 4. When is a gospel not a gospel? In this chapter argues that the Jesus portrayed in the Gospel of Judas in no way is related to the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

It is, rather, an example of what gnostics two hundred or more years after Jesus were doing with the story they found in the canonical Gospels. (paraphrased from James Robinson, one of the interpretters of the text and author of the book about the Judas gospel).

As a gospel, Judas can only be considered 'good news,' if you believe that the world is evil and escape from it and the 'stupid god' who made it really is salvation. Clearly this is not what the Christians of the canonical Gospels believed, but is directly the opposite of it.

Wright gives many examples of the contrast between the message of the canonical Gospels and the story told in the Gospel of Judas.

ch 5. Lord of the World, or Escaper of the World? The canonical Gospels tell, among other things, the story of Jesus and Ceasar. If Jesus was announcing God's Kingdom, then he was talking about a transfer of power and authority which would be clearly understood by the Romans as well as Jews. This message was of course not well met, and many of the early Christians were martyred. In contrast, gnostics did not have the same committment to salvation of the world, as they believed Jesus' kingdom was a spiritual kingdom. Thus, in general gnostics did not come into the same degree of conflict with the authorites as Christians who claimed, in fact, a political reality to Jesus kingdom. At least some gnostics sects outright claimed that there was no value in martyrdom.
 
Never read the book, Luna. Thanks. Needless to say, I don't agree with that form of gnosticism-God created matter and called it "good.":) Though I do think the gnostic gospel of Thomas does display a different view-one of immanence of the Divine in matter. Kind of pananentheistic even if you ask me.:) earl
 
Never read the book, Luna. Thanks. Needless to say, I don't agree with that form of gnosticism-God created matter and called it "good.":) Though I do think the gnostic gospel of Thomas does display a different view-one of immanence of the Divine in matter. Kind of pananentheistic even if you ask me.:) earl

I've not read the gospel of Thomas, although I've read parts of it. It's a sayings gospel, I think. It's interesting that so many seem to miss it altogether that Christians view the world as created good, and that our bodies and lives here are 'good,' although sinful and falling short. And that the Christian hope is the redemption and reconcilation of our beautiful world.

Two more chapters if I have the stamina earl.
 
ch 6. Spinning Judas: The New Myth of Christian Origins.

Does the g o j rehabilitate judas? Judas is shown as the beloved disciple who does as Jesus requests. Judas was used to prop up anti-semitism during the middle ages. But the Gospel were not anti-jewish (everyone in them was Jewish). And the gnostics were actually more anti-jewish, turning YHWH into the evil demiurge and negating pretty much all mainline Judaism in their day. Uses Genesis, but in a way that subverts judaism.

More interestingly, Wright goes on to ask why the presenters of the Gospel of Judas wish to spin it as a refreshing new look on Christianity today? He calls this the New Myth of Christian Origins, the one we hear from Elaine Pagels and others. Aspects of the New Myth are:

1. Jesus was a teacher of a strange and subversive wisdom, did not think of himself as divine, and did not intend to die for the sins of the world.
2. There were a great many varieties of early Christianity and a great many gospels. Only as Constantine did the church settle on Matt, Mark, Luke and John. The church did this because it was interested in political power and control.
3. Jesus' true teaching was about seeking meaning inside oneself. It had nothing to do with atonement. Humans were not sinners who need forgiveness but sparks of light needing to discover who they are.

He points out that these are all in line with the attitudes of liberal religious studies scholars in the 60's and 70's, especially those coming out of a strict traditional Christian background. The gnostic version, they say, is kinder and gentler, and would have been the way thing would have gone if cruel and power-hungry church fathers had not forced it to what we have today. (Note, this is still Wright describing what he calls the New Myth about the Origins of Christianity).

In Sum, the gnostic texts and beliefs are not being promoted for what they may have been to the early gnostics so much as for what they can do for discontented Christians (or former Christians) today. Namely, provide a form of Christianity that is more paletable to our individualist tastes, without all that ecclisiastical authority etc. etc. bogging it down and creating the abuses we have seen across the ages. (note, these are more my words paraphrasing Wright's point).


Most provacatively, Wright then goes on to show that there are parallels between gnosticism and the modern American Protestant churches. He refers to a book by Philip J. Lee called Against the Protestant Gnostics. A quote by Wright about Lee's points:

Lee categorizes the typical American religion as elitist: it favors the self-knowing individual over the believing community. It has regularly opted for what he called 'selective syncretism' over against the paritcularity of actual religious traditions. It is both escapist, withdrawing from the world of politics and society, and narcissistic, seeking its own identity and fulfillment. In its rejection of the goodness of creation, it has invited Americans to think of the natural world simply as a place to exploit, opening up the imagination to embrace ecological carelessness and wanton vioence--which, as Lee points out in the preface to the paperback edition, has been an increasingly disturbing feature of American public life.

Hmmm...that'd make a good thread in itself!
 
Namaste Luna,

Great job, makes me want to read the book so I can put my two cents in!!

Never read the book, Luna. Thanks. Needless to say, I don't agree with that form of gnosticism-God created matter and called it "good.":) Though I do think the gnostic gospel of Thomas does display a different view-one of immanence of the Divine in matter. Kind of pananentheistic even if you ask me.:) earl
Sounds like a thread starter earl!
 
ch 7. The Challenge of "Judas" for Today.

OK, I'm getting lazy now so I'll just quote a couple of paragraphs from the last chapter that most closely get at Wright's last point. That is, when faced with the stark dualism of the Gospel of Judas, which of all the gnostic texts shows most clearly the gnostic worldview in which the creator god is foolish or evil, and the salvation is escape through death made possible by secret knowledge about this wicked world, will people really remain convinced that this is a better alternative to traditional Christianity?

The 'Gospel of Judas,' in fact, and the writings of those who have so enthusiastically commended it, outght to make us face upt to some hard and important questions. Has 'Judas' exposed the nonsense within the whole thing? Is it not clear that if we go with the new Myth and its version of neo-gnosticism we are ultimately saying something about the meaning of the word 'god' which ought to give us pause? Has the 'Gospel of Judas' betrayed the dark secret of Gnosticism ancient and modern, that it believes that the god who makde this world is a stupid, wicked sub-diety bent on mischief? And how many people, faced head on with that god on the one hand and the Father of Jesus Christ on the other -- the latter being, be definition, the God who created the world out of pure self-giving love and has redeemed it by the same pure self-giving love, the God who reveals his glory in taking the weight of the world's evils on his own shoulders in the person of his suffering son, the God who unveils his future plans for the created order in raising that son from the dead as the start of his new creation --how many people will seriously say that they don't much like the Christian God and prefer the gnostic one instead? If people really read and study the 'Gospel of Judas,' might we not predict that quite a number of them will conclude that Gnosticism is not, after all, for them?

Of course, Gnosticism ancient and modern holds out a baited hook. Accept its proposals, and you can find "divinity" within yourself. Your own deepest feeling and desires can be legitimized because, after all, if you have looked deeply within your own innermost being, what you have glimpsed is the self-authenticating spark of the divine. You don't, after all, need rescuing -- except from the wicked world around you, not least the widked world that has tried to squeeze you into its own shape, to make you just another duckling, and to mock you for your ugliness, whjen you knew all along that you were really a swan. Unlike the challenge of Jesus, this message doesn't tell you to deny yourself and take up your cross, but to discover yourself and follow your star. That is its great attraction. Unlike the promise of Jesus, however, this message doesn't offer you a world renewed and filled with the justice and joy of the God who made it, but a world rejected and scorned by those who have found a way of escaping it.
 
Hi Lunamoth —

... which of all the gnostic texts shows most clearly the gnostic worldview in which the creator god is foolish or evil, and the salvation is escape through death made possible by secret knowledge about this wicked world, will people really remain convinced that this is a better alternative to traditional Christianity?
I think the answer to that is many, if not most, do not really take on board what 2nd century dualism actually taught ... or rather, if they do, they just leave out the negative bits as being not applicable in this day and age ... and pick the bits they like.

Has the 'Gospel of Judas' betrayed the dark secret of Gnosticism ancient and modern, that it believes that the god who make this world is a stupid, wicked sub-diety bent on mischief?
Good point. Plato had already criticised the Greek pantheon for this, noting that if they were gods, how come they were subject to all the human vices, and seemed unable to curtail their mortal apetites?

Greek philosophy generally was very critical of these sects, because being syncretic, the underlying philosophy was often full of holes.

And for some schools the gnostic picture is worse than even NT Wright states — our creation is a miscarriage, if not the abortion, of a possibly mad god.

2nd century gnosticism is so fundamentally pessimistic.

... Of course, Gnosticism ancient and modern holds out a baited hook. Accept its proposals, and you can find "divinity" within yourself. Your own deepest feeling and desires can be legitimized because, after all, if you have looked deeply within your own innermost being, what you have glimpsed is the self-authenticating spark of the divine.
Oh, how true! And oh, how erroneous! Most 2nd century gnostic schools did teach that you could find the 'divinity within' ... on condition that you became the disciples of the founder of the school, who alone had the 'keys' of gnosis with which to open the locks, as it were.
(The gnostic hylic/psychic/pneumatic details how hopeless the case is for the vast majority of humanity, who are hylics and beyond salvation)

Modern gnostic fans discreetly overlook this point ... that orthodox Christianity is far more the religion of 'finding God within' than gnosticism!

Oh, and scholars usually argue that the Gospel of Thomas cannot really be called a 'gnostic' gospel, in the sense that it follows none of the usual gnostic cosmologies, so they treat it as something of a unique offering.

As a way of Christian gnosis, as you point out, it misses the point entirely. An interesting document, nonetheless ...

Thomas
 
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