For centuries, Christians have followed the New Testament Gospels of the Apostles Mark, Mathew, Luke and John – but what about Judas?
Recently the discovery of what historians and theologians are calling the Gospel of Judas has caused a stir in the Christian community. The Gospel was found in Egypt in the early 1970s and was put on the antique market where it was sold and kept in a bank vault until the owner donated it to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, because he worried about the text’s rapid deterioration.
Despite its state, the text was a remarkable historical find because it was so complete.
“It’s always exciting to have a new piece of data,” said Hayim Lapin, an associate professor of Jewish and ancient studies at the University of Maryland. “Researchers always have to cobble scraps of documents together.”
The document has been characterized by many as a lost Gospel. However, theologians have known about the text for centuries and say it is not a threat to the Christian faith, Lapin said.
The Rev. Peter Antoci agrees.
“The Gospel [of Judas] belongs to a body of writings in Gnosticism,” Antoci said. “It was never accepted in Canonical text of the Bible.”
Gnosticism is a mixture of pre-Christian and early-Christian beliefs which believes in the ability of some to transcend the physical world through the acquisition of mysterious spiritual knowledge. It does not believe, like Christianity does, that the resurrection of Jesus permitted transcendence.
Canonical texts are characterized as “divinely inspired” and meant to be in the Canon, or New Testament of the Bible, according to Fr. Bill Byrne. They were written before the end of the first century, whereas Gnostic texts weren’t written until the second and third centuries.
“The text [of the Gospel of Judas] shows evidence of the knowledge of the four canonical texts,” Antoci said. “In fact, it is a response to them.”
This difference in time is important to the religious significance of the documents, according to Bryne.
“Catholics believe that public revelation, or the word of God, ended with the death of the last Apostle,” Byrne said. “The Gospel of Judas was written after that.”
“This text has significance in a historical context, but doesn’t shed light on the teachings of Jesus Christ,” he said.
According to Antoci, many scholars have evidence of the knowledge of the Gospel of Judas as early as the fifth century, in which theologians denounced the text, along with other Gnostic texts as religiously insignificant.
Both Antoci and Byrne agree that while the text has no religious significance, it’s a fantastic scholarly find and provides new insight into how Christianity was developing in its earliest stages.
When the finding of the Gospel of Judas was first announced it caused a sensation in the media, because it called into question the validity of the canonical text. However, people are always looking for a good reason not to believe in the teachings of the Church, Byrne said.
According to Antoci, this isn’t the first time.
“Everybody flipped out about the ‘DaVinci Code,'” Antoci said. “It happened with ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ too. It seems like every 10 to 15 years people write fiction and religion and get people excited. I just want to say, what part of ‘fiction’ don’t you understand?” he said.
“People think there’s some secret that still has to be discovered,” Byrne said.
“But there aren’t any more messages. We’ve got the message. Now, it’s the church’s job to explain and preserve the revelation for each age.”
This article appeared in the May 1, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.