The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot
A New Look at Betrayal and Betrayed
By Bart D. Ehrman
Oxford University Press, 2006, 198 pages
The recently rediscovered lost Gospel of Judas is a significant find because the book changes, or should change, a personís understanding of early Christianity and the New Testament. Dr. Bart D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina tells the history and content of this ancient Gospel in an easy to understand manner and recounts the remarkable story of how the Gospel was discovered, stolen, found again and left to deteriorate.
There are few facts known about Judas Iscariot. The New Testament accounts vary in each of the four accepted Gospels, with different versions of what he actually did and how he died. The Gospels increasingly vilifies and demonize Judas. Mark, the first written currently accepted Gospel, says nothing bad about Judas. John, the latest Gospel portrays him the worst, as the evil man who betrayed Jesus and led to his death. As a result, Judas became the most detested man in history. In Germany, for example, it is illegal to call oneís son Judas.
The ancient Gospel of Judas was rediscovered around 1978 near the Nile River in Egypt. It contains a radically different picture of Judas. Rather than being evil, this disciple is portrayed as good, the only person who Jesus thought understood him. Jesus tells Judas: "You will be the greater than all others, Judas. You will sacrifice the man who cloths me." Jesus taught Judas "the mysteries of the kingdom," which he did not discuss with the other disciples who were incapable of understanding him, Jesus gave Judas the special mission to hand him over to the Romans so that he can rid himself of his earthly body. For Jesus wanted to die.
The version recently found in Egypt is a copy of an earlier composition. Scholars date the found version around 300 of the Common Era, although the original probably existed much earlier. Around 180, the Christian Bishop Irenaeus saw that Christianity had about thirty Gospels with different ideas than those he thought were correct. He decided that Christians should only have four Gospels in the New Testament and that the others, which he considered heretical, should be destroyed. He knew about the Gospel of Judas and discusses it.
There are several other books written about the Gospel of Judas. There is also a National Geographic TV program that is available on video. Elaine Pagels calls the Gospel of Judas an advanced lesson of religion in her Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. She says the book challenges people to ask questions and think.
Whether readers prefer the New Testament versions of Judasí life and mission or the one in the rediscovered Gospel, the new find could cause them to rethink their understanding of early Christianity, which had many diverse even radical teachings.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.