Sunday, April 09, 2006

Good News in the Gospel of Judas?

There has been a lot of media excitement about the 'Gospel of Judas' that was discovered about thirty years ago, but which has only just been translated into English and published. You can find details from National Geographic and from the BBC. Steve Tomkins has also written a very sensible article about it. The text of the Gospel of Judas can also be downloaded as a pdf file.

Judas is a Gnostic gospel, that is it originated at the hand of Christians who believed in gnosis, knowledge. Gnosticism is not one group, but a whole series with some common themes. First they believed that matter is evil, some going so far as to suggest that the world was created by a lesser or even an evil deity. The true God saves us from the world of matter. Second, they believed that the teaching of the saviour (Jesus for Christian gnostics) consists in secrets told to an elite.

The Gospel of Judas has both these two themes - Jesus tells Judas that 'it is impossible to sow seed on rock and to harvest its fruit' (44) meaning that it matter cannot produce good things. And the key teachings are given to Judas in private. Add to this a lot of metaphysical stuff about angels and luminaries, and a conspiracy theory about Jesus asking Judas to betray him and you get the media storm of our post-Dan Brown world.

But is it good news? Is a belief that thinks that the world we live in is disposable really good news in the face of environmental destruction? The orthodox belief is that the world is good and therefore we should act to preserve it, indeed that God loves it so much that he will re-create it. Surely that is better news.

And is it good news that secret teachings are what we need, rather than the public statement of a truth that is open to anyone, and indeed which Jesus took to the outcasts and the rejected. That is better news.

Less sexy, perhaps. Fewer derivative novels, certainly. But as we approach Good Friday and Easter, we remember that God loved the material world and us material people so much that he entered that world and became one of us. He died in pain and agony and then rose again, so that the new creation would begin.

The Gospel of Judas is bad news. Judas continues to betray Christ Jesus.

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