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Possible Motives for His Betrayal

That the Church has long had answers to gnosticism, in all its varieties, does not mean that gnosticism was always doomed to heresy. Bart D. Ehrman has recently written, touchingly and convincingly, of his own migration away from a fundamentalist Christianity on the basis of an increasing understanding of how time-contingent and man-made the foundational Gospels really are. As Borges once suggested, had Alexandria, where gnosticism flourished, triumphed rather than Rome, we would have had a Dante making poetry out of the realm of Barbelo.


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And then the new Gospel casts a spell—for sympathetic freethinkers, especially—because it reminds us of the literary strength of the canonic Gospels, exactly for their marriage of the celestial and the commonplace. We want a bit of Hicksville and a bit of Heaven in our sacred texts, matter and man and magic together. Simply as editors, the early Church fathers did a fine job of leaving the strong stories in and the weird ones out.

The orthodox canon gives us a Christ who is convincing as a character in a way that this Gnostic one is not: angry and impatient and ethically engaged, easily exasperated at the limitations and nagging of his dim disciples and dimmer family relations, brilliantly concrete in his parables and human in his pain. Whether one agrees with Jefferson that this man lived, taught, and died, or with St.

Why Jesus Was Betrayed by Judas Iscariot

Paul that he lived and died and was born again, it is hard not to prefer him to the Jesus of the new Gospel, with his stage laughter and significant winks and coded messages. Making Judas more human makes Jesus oddly less so, less a man with a divine and horrible burden than one more know-it-all with a nimbus. Give us that old-time religion—but, to borrow a phrase from St. Augustine, maybe not quite yet. It was saying to their aggressive rivals that being a descendant of the apostles and claiming the sole authority to teach the "truth" about Christianity was not the only game in town.

And using Judas Iscariot as the supposed "author" of this "gospel," the community in which it was written was attracting attention to their belief that there was an alternative source of knowledge about God and about Jesus which they believed themselves to possess. The Gospel of Judas bears little resemblance to the four gospels that we know in the New Testament.

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It is not the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, but is instead a theological discussion cast in the form of a story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus - a story that reflects the beliefs of a particular community that "gnosis", or knowledge about God, operates within the framework of a particular cosmology.

Gnosticism, in addition to believing that an individual can "know" God directly, believed in a cosmology that held that the world as we know it was under the control of a "created" god who was lesser than God Himself, and that the purpose of obtaining "knowledge" of God was to free oneself from the control of this "god of this world" cf.

Paul in 1 Corinthians In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus is betrayed by Judas because that is what he was supposed to do in order to bring about the advent of the new age in which a more perfect knowledge of God would be known through Jesus. Judas is also portrayed in this "gospel" as being the apostle closest to Jesus - one that he entrusted with "secret" knowledge about him and his purpose which the other apostles didn't truly understand.

The writer has Jesus deriding the other apostles because of their "piety" - a piety which limited their ability to understand the bigger picture of Jesus' mission. To illustrate this derision, the writer has Jesus laughing at the apostles - a characteristic that is foreign to the canonical gospels. When he [approached] his disciples, gathered together and seated and offering a prayer of thanksgiving over the bread, [he] laughed.

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Judas Iscariot - Wikipedia

Or what did we do? You are not doing this because of your own will but because it is through this that your God [will receive] thanksgiving. It must be remembered that the purpose of the writer is to explain aspects of the struggle of his community with the increasingly powerful orthodox and catholic church, rather than recounting an actual historical occurrence. The writer is having Jesus deride the "piety" of orthodox and catholic Christians in his opinion who are more interested in celebrating the sacraments than in actually knowing God.

Readers in the second century would have easily identified the reference to a "prayer of thanksgiving over the bread" as the Eucharist. Some gnostic communities had sacraments, but many apparently did not - considering them to be "earthly" things which interfered with their more "spiritual" worship.


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  5. There is another reflection of this struggle in the Gospel of Judas - that of martyrdom. By the second century the Roman state had decided that Christianity was a dangerous and subversive movement which should be suppressed. The result of this persecution was that it was increasingly difficult to be a Christian without running afoul of the authorities and courting death - often death by degrading and painful methods.

    Some of the church fathers developed a belief that martyrdom was a means not only of demonstrating that faithfulness to God might require the ultimate personal sacrifice, but that those who experienced martyrdom were greater "heroes" in the sight of God than those who escaped it. And some of the church fathers actually encouraged martyrdom as a way of becoming a "hero of the faith".

    It was on this point that some of the gnostic communities disagreed strongly with the orthodox and catholic church. With their belief in a personal and mystical experience of God, many of them thought that martyrdom was foolish and unnecessary. While they did not have a problem with a Christian proclaiming his faith, and thus exposing himself to martyrdom, they took strong exception to the idea of seeking it out.

    Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King explain what the writer was saying:. The author of the Gospel of Judas point[s] out what he feels is a stunning contradiction: that while Christians refuse to practice sacrifice [to the Roman gods, as required by the authorities to avoid martyrdom], many of them bring sacrifice right back to the center of Christian[ity] - by ….. Pagels and King, page 59, see Selected References, below.

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    In other words, Christians refused to perform the required sacrifice to the "divine genius of the Emperor" the usual formula or to other gods, but the church was telling them that their deaths as martyrs were a "pleasing sacrifice to God". Scholars in Britain pointed out that the document appeared to have been written several decades after the last of the gospels in the New Testament - that of John - and at least a century after the death of Judas Iscariot. There has long been a theory that Judas wanted to flush Jesus out, to declare a rebellion and drive the Romans out and killed himself when he realised he had got it wrong, but we don't know that and neither did whoever wrote this document decades after the event.

    Judas 2004

    This is not something to put your faith on. By the time the Gospel of Judas was written the basic content of the New Testament was in place; the criteria for choosing the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as opposed to any of up to 30 alternatives, were their authenticity and direct authorial links to men who knew Jesus. Other texts, including presumably this one, were sifted out over succeeding centuries. According to the Gospel of Judas, Jesus tells him: "You will be cursed by the other generations - and you will come to rule over them.

    The first half of that prophecy has certainly come to pass. The second, even after yesterday's revelations, still seems a long way off. Topics Science. Religion comment. Reuse this content.