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The Gospel of Judas is a document that was recovered from the antiquities black market in 1983. Only one badly fragmented ancient manuscript of the text is known to exist. It is written in Coptic (an ancient Egyptian language) and carbon-dated to about AD 280, plus or minus 60 years.
Based on textural analysis, the Coptic text could be a translation from an earlier Greek manuscript. Irenaeus of Lyons may have been referring to this document when he wrote in AD 180:
”They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no other did, accomplished the mystery of betrayal; by him all things were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”
The codex (ancient book) containing the document was discovered in the 1970s and it spent many years travelling through the hands of Egyptian antiquities dealers. A dealer named Hanna had possession of it for awhile. He showed it to several interested buyers, but none were willing to pay his asking price of three million U.S. dollars for an unauthenticated document. It was finally acquired by the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, based in Basel, Switzerland, who partnered with the National Geographic Society to authenticate, preserve the rapidly deteriorating fragments, read and translate the text that was still legible.
The National Geographic Society authenticated the document as an ancient manuscript circa AD 280, but they are unable to determine whether the text was copied and circulated by the early church. The present church is unwilling to declare the Gospel of Judas as an equal to the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.) They have classified it as a Gnostic gospel.
The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word “gnosis”, which means knowledge or enlightenment, and is usually used in the context of secret or hidden wisdom. The four New Testament gospels narrate the account of the life and ministry, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gnostic gospels instead reveal the secret dialogue between Christ and the supposed author. In the text of the Gospel of Judas, Jesus speaks privately to Judas and says, for example:
”Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom,” and “Look, you have been told everything. 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.”
One of the reasons that the Gnostic gospels have become popular is that they inspire conspiracy theories. Mario Roberty, the president of the Maecenas Foundation, has suggested that the Vatican probably had another copy locked away. He says:
“In those days the Church decided for political reasons to include the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. The other gospels were banned. It is highly logical that the Catholic Church would have kept a copy of the forbidden gospels. Sadly, the Vatican does not want to clarify further. Their policy has been the same for years – No further comment.’”
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury stated in 2006:
“We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts. We treat them as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story; and that real story waits for the intrepid investigator to uncover it and share it with the waiting world. Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect.”
Gnostic gospels tend to contradict what is written in the canonical gospels. While the other gospels portray Judas Iscariot as a villain (”The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:24 and Mark 14:21), the Gospel of Judas portrays Judas as a divinely appointed instrument of a grand and predetermined purpose, and the only disciple to whom Jesus taught the true Gospel.
In the Gospel of Judas, it is claimed that Jesus covertly planned the events that led up to his death, letting only Judas in on the plan. Judas only acted out of obedience to Jesus. When Judas asked about his future, Jesus answered:
“You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations-and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent  to the holy [generation].”
Jesus said, “[Come], that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen,
[in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit],
Truly [I] say to you, Judas, [those who] offer sacrifices to Saklas [...]
God [-three lines missing-] everything that is evil.
“But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.
The Gnostic gospels portray Jesus Christ doing and saying things that are out of character for the Jesus of the NT. In the Gospel of Judas, there are several instances where Jesus laughed at the other disciples. For example, when they pray a prayer of thanksgiving for their meal, Jesus laughed and told them that they were pleasing their god. At this they said:
”Master, you are [...] the son of our god.”
Jesus said to them, “How do you know me? Truly [I] say to you, no generation of the people that are among you will know me.”"
In the canonical gospels, the Jesus told his disciples:
The differences between the New Testament gospels and the gospel of Judas are foundational. The NT teaches that Jesus had to die in order to atone for the sins of humanity. His death and resurrection are fundamental for our salvation. The author of the Gospel of Judas claims that while this sort of substitutionary justice pleases the lower gods and angels, the true God is gracious and thus does not demand any sacrifice. Jesus’ death is simply a final way for him to leave the realm of the flesh and return to the “luminous cloud.”
In this series I have discuss only three of the Gnostic gospels: The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Judas. In each of these texts, the author claims to be the favored recipient of special knowledge from Jesus, and that the other disciples are all jealous. There are at least a dozen of these texts, written in the name of one of the disciples or others who were close followers of Christ: the gospel of Philip, the Apocryphon (secret book of) John, the Gospel of Truth . I often hear people say that the early church fathers conspired to cover up these documents and only allow the books that they liked into the Bible. I urge you to look up one of more of these Gnostic texts – they are not secret anymore, they are all on the internet. Then read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and compare.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series:
Irenaeus of Lyons , Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies , AD 180
Holy Bible, New International Version, Zondervan, 1978
Wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel of Judas