Friday, 29 March 2013

Judas' gospel: real or fake?

Was Judas Iscariot really such an evil villain, or did he just suffer from pre-Leveson bad press?

Conscience Judas by Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch
by Shaun Ingledew

Without exception nobody has gone down as badly as Judas Iscariot in history books. To my knowledge, there isn't any other person who has his name introduced in the dictionary as: "noun mirroring backstabber, betrayer, deceiver". However, new scrolls have come to light in recent years which apparently suggest Judas was massively misrepresented in the Bible and was Jesus’ most favoured disciple. Dubbed ‘The Gospel of Judas’ an ancient scroll surfaced at in the 1970s after being acquired in Egypt and, on first examination, scholars suggested it was a text that showed Judas in an entirely new light.

The gospel opens with the words: "The secret word of declaration by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot, during eight days, three days before he celebrated Passover". Later in the new gospel, Jesus laughs scornfully when his disciples display their lack of proper knowledge and Judas is the only one who shows an understanding of Jesus’ true nature. Naturally, Jesus privately shares 'the mysteries of the kingdom' with Judas alone. The gospel suggests Jesus trusted and favoured Judas more than the other apostles and handed him a mission in which he must ‘betray’ Jesus in order for Gods will to be done.

However, on being scrutinised more closely, the document was judged to have dated to the 3rd century - more than 200 years after Judas hanged himself - and was believed to have been written by a group of Gnostics who viewed Jesus’ message as having been grossly misinterpreted by the disciples who wrote the four canonical gospels. And, after closer inspection, scholars including April Deconick and Birger Pearson suggested, rather amusingly, that The Gospel According to Judas was a satirical parody written to mock the apostles. This argument gained support from the words of a contemporary of Gnostics by the name of Irenaeus who describes the group as follows: "They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as none of the 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 entitle the Gospel of Judas."

True or not, is it fair to view Judas as such a bad guy? After all, even according to the canonical Bible, the betrayal of Jesus was prophesised by both David and Jeremiah centuries before the event and Jesus told Judas along with the other disciples at the last supper that he would be betrayed. Is it unfair for this predestination to come upon Judas from God? That is a question to which I do not have the answer. What I do know is that whilst many children are christened Matthew, Andrew, Nathaniel etc after Jesus’ disciples, only the most bleak of parents opt for the name Judas. @shauningledew

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