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Pagels on the Gospel of Judas

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  • Bob Schacht
    From the NYT ... ==================================================== Bob Schacht Hawaii
    Message 1 of 33 , Apr 8, 2006
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      From the NYT

      >April 8, 2006
      >Op-Ed Contributor
      >The Gospel Truth
      >The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with
      >Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover. ...
      >Jesus said to him, "Step away from the others and I shall tell you the
      >mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will
      >grieve a great deal."
      >­ The Gospel of Judas
      >THE Gospel of Judas, which remained virtually unknown to us from the time
      >it was written 1,700 years ago until its publication this week, says that
      >when Judas Iscariot handed Jesus over to the Romans, he was acting on
      >orders from Jesus to carry out a sacred mystery for the sake of human
      >salvation: "Jesus said to Judas, 'Look, you have been told everything. You
      >will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.' "
      >For nearly 2,000 years, most people assumed that the only sources of
      >tradition about Jesus and his disciples were the four gospels in the New
      >Testament. But the unexpected discovery at Nag Hammadi in 1945 of more
      >than 50 ancient Christian texts proved what church fathers said long ago:
      >that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are only a small selection of gospels
      >from among the dozens that circulated among early Christian groups. But
      >now the Gospel of Judas ­ like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary
      >Magdalene and many others ­ opens up new perspectives on familiar gospel
      >Many scholars who first read these gospels had been taught that they were
      >"heretical," which meant they were the wrong gospels. When I was
      >introduced to them as a student, we called them "Gnostic" gospels, the
      >name given to them nearly 2,000 years ago by Irenaeus, one of the fathers
      >of the church, who denounced them as false and "heretical."
      >Yet those early Christians who loved and revered such texts did not think
      >of themselves as heretics, but as Christians who had received not only
      >what Jesus preached publicly, but also what he taught his disciples when
      >they were talking privately. Many regarded these secret gospels not as
      >radical alternatives to the New Testament Gospels, but as advanced-level
      >teaching for those who had already received Jesus' basic message. Even the
      >Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus explained things to certain disciples
      >in private, entrusting to them alone "the mystery of the Kingdom of God."
      >If so, Jesus would have been doing what many other rabbis did then, and
      >most teachers do today. Many of the gospels not included in the New
      >Testament claim to offer secret teaching: Thus the Gospel of Thomas opens,
      >"These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and Didymus
      >Judas Thomas wrote them down." The Gospel of Mary Magdalene reveals what
      >Jesus showed Mary in a vision, and the Gospel of Judas claims to offer a
      >spiritual mystery entrusted to Judas alone.
      >Irenaeus, however, insisted that Jesus did not teach any of his disciples
      >secretly; such secret revelations, he said, were all illegitimate, and
      >those who revered them heretics. Knowing many such gospels circulated
      >among early Christian groups, Irenaeus wrote that "the heretics say that
      >they have more gospels than there actually are; but really, they have no
      >gospel that is not full of blasphemy."
      >Many of these secret writings, however, were still read and revered by
      >Christians 200 years later when Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, an
      >admirer of Irenaeus, wrote an Easter letter to Christians in Egypt. He
      >ordered them to reject what he called those "secret, illegitimate books"
      >and keep only 27 approved ones. The 27 he named constitute the earliest
      >known list of the New Testament canon, which Athanasius intended above all
      >to be a guideline for books to be read publicly in church. The New
      >Testament Gospels, which contain much that Jesus taught in public, were
      >the most obvious books to put on that list. The secret books, which
      >contained paradox and mystery akin to the mystical teachings of kabbalah,
      >were not considered suitable for beginners.
      >What in the Gospel of Judas, published this week by the National
      >Geographic Society (disclosure: I was a consultant on the project), goes
      >back to Jesus' actual teaching, and how would we know? And what else was
      >there in the early Christian movement that we had not known before? These
      >are some of the difficult questions that the discoveries raise for us ­
      >issues that historians are already debating. What is clear is that the
      >Gospel of Judas has joined the other spectacular discoveries that are
      >exploding the myth of a monolithic Christianity and showing how diverse
      >and fascinating the early Christian movement really was.
      >Startling as the Gospel of Judas sounds, it amplifies hints we have long
      >read in the Gospels of Mark and John that Jesus knew and even instigated
      >the events of his passion, seeing them as part of a divine plan. Those of
      >us who go to church may find our Easter reflections more mysterious than ever.
      >Elaine Pagels, the author of "The Gnostic Gospels" and "Beyond Belief: The
      >Secret Gospel of Thomas," is a professor of religion at Princeton.
      >2006 <http://www.nytco.com/>The New York Times Company

      Bob Schacht

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    • Daniel Grolin
      Dear Bob, ...
      Message 33 of 33 , Apr 11, 2006
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        Dear Bob,

        >. . . from one book review I have read of the book, Smith does not claim
        >that there is direct evidence between the origin of Gnosticism and the
        >Second Jewish War. Is there anything in particular about the cosmology
        >that places it in connection with the Second Jewish War?

        <Isn't Gnosticism the result of the influence of Middle Platonism on "early Christian" efforts to figure out the relationships among the "Father," the "Son," and the Holy Spirit?>

        Hm. I have yet to find I a theory that thoroughly convincing. I would agree that Gnosticism has Middle Platonism as a framework, but I am not sure that it accounts for the formation of Gnostics as a groups. I would look to an impulse to create a distinctive identity and persecution (per Carl Smith), or general social pressures have to figure into the creation of an "us" and a "them".

        >I don't know what to think except that if Gnosticism suddenly emerged in
        >132 and the Gospel of Judas was composed some time around mid-second
        >century (giving it time enough to be circulated and important enough for
        >Ireneaus to take note of it in book 1, shall we say 170-180 CE). Is it
        >conceivable that "defection" from Judaism to a form of Gnosticism was
        >earlier, say starting in 70 CE?

        <At least. There were plenty of puzzles for them to work on, and meanwhile
        Paul is talking about the "mystery", and about wanting to wean baby
        Christians from "Milk" to more solid stuff (I Cor 3:2), and then Mark talks
        about "secrets" and things the dumb disciples couldn't figure out (Mark
        4:11, etc)-- not yet Gnostic, but providing grist for the future gnostic

        I would say that it is not just that a formed Gnosticism could look back at them a draw on canonical text for support, but that there is a continuity of phenomenology between them. Differing views and the attitude that the "them" have those views because the lack knowledge or an insight.

        <My point is not that Paul was a gnostic, but rather that gnosticism did
        not emerge ex nihilo. As has been pointed out:

        > > But severe critique of the twelve is not limited to the second century.
        > We find it
        > > with Paul and the Gospel of Mark.
        Severe criticism about "not knowing" implies a kind of gnosticism (lower
        case "g"!)>

        Particularly if we tie gnosis to authority, authority to determine truth. Truth about Gentiles, truth about the Law, truth about the nature of the crucifixion, etc..



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