Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The lost Gospel: The Quest of Judas Iscariot


The existence of the Gospel of Judas —as well as the Gospels of Mary, Thomas, Peter and 30 or so other Gnostic (literally "special knowledge") texts—has always been known, mostly through the words of the very man who condemned them as heresies. Saint Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in Roman Gaul, who lived from A.D. 130 to 200, declared in his "Adversus Haereses" [Against Heresies]: "They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. . . . They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas."

Following Saint Irenaeus’s condemnation of all gospels save the four—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—that today compose the New Testament, nearly 2,000 years of ex-communications, bloody crusades and murderous inquisitions have all but erased nearly any traces of the 30 or so "heretical" gospels.

The scientists and scholars have verified the authenticity of the document and not the story it tells. Neither is the document the first lost gospel to be unearthed.

The Nag Hammadi Library, from which the Gospel of Thomas was part of, was discovered in Egypt in 1945. The Akhmim Codex, from which the Gospel of Mary was part of, was discovered also in Egypt in 1896. What these documents do shine light upon is the nature of the early Christians, before the gospels were codified as the New Testament and of how various groups in secret, fearing persecution, practiced Christianity in myriad ways.

Saint Irenaeus wrote the "Adversus Haerese" during the Age of Martyrs when Roman authorities tortured and murdered Christians for their faith. Experts explain that he reasoned: If people were dying for their faith, they had to clearly know what they were dying for.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are arguably the most narrative, most compelling and least contradictory. Experts agree they are also the four earliest to be written, from AD 65 to 95. Scholars agree that all the gospels were written anonymously; only later were these attributed to their alleged authors.

The other gospels labeled heretical and Gnostics were mostly written at a later period at around AD 100 to 200. They also tend to be much more philosophical and contain assertion contradictory to other gospels. The Gospel of Mary that portrays her as an apostle of equal stature challenges the patriarchal traditions of the church. The "Gospel of Judas" would have a traitor as the most enlightened apostle. In general, Gnostic beliefs—that enlightenment comes from in-depth knowledge, intimate catechisms and personal reflection—were troublesome to the orthodox church, which maintained the apostolic succession of bishops and the central authority of the church.

Even in the 21st century, most Christians still know little of church history—of the roots of the Reformation, of the atrocities during the Inquisitions or even of the recent debates on Vatican II reforms and laity empowerment through Basic Christian Communities. Adding to the confusion are such fictional novels as The Da Vindi Code and the reactionary tirades against them.

The "Gospel of Judas" may not rehabilitate the most hated man in history. But it may get us to know more about our faith. Watch it. Google it. Wikipedia it. Read it. That knowledge, despite all the sensationalism, may make one’s Holy Week the most meaningful and reflective yet. We have to know what we are living for.

No comments: