AP: Today I begin a series that aims to provide my opinion and perspective to an issue that has certainly lost some of its bite but still generates questions. This issue still needs a bit of clarification and dialog.
For my series of posts, I'll be drawing from a variety of sources, but mainly from the book El Evangelio de Judas, which I coauthored with Torallas Sofia (the granddaughter of the famous philologist Antonio Tovar).
In 1978 an ancient manuscript appeared in Egypt. It contained four texts (or, treaties) of early Christianity. Three of them, by their titles, had claims to be considered sacred, but they had not been admitted into the canon of Scripture. The titles of the four treaties are: The Letter of Peter to Philip, First Apocalypse of James, and The Gospel of Judas, and Allogenes (or, The Foreigner).
The focus turned to the third treaty when they were found, simply because that document was new and partially unknown up to that point. The other three were found in 1945 in other manuscripts and had already been published, both in its "original" Coptic text (which, in fact, is a translation into the language of the Egyptians) and in its translation into modern languages.
The Gospel of Judas drew attention particularly because of how its central character, the traitor of Jesus, was completely different. Judas went from being a felon to a hero, since he was basically just doing what he was told to do.
Commotion ensued, all about this new picture of the "traitor." And all this commotion ensued before anyone really knew what the full text of the manuscript said. People were already saying that there needed to be a new evaluation of the events surrounding Jesus' last hours and the role in them played by Judas. Some time has passed, and we can look at the whole issue calmly and with greater clarity.
For those interested in reading what the Gospel of Judas says, I recommend you get a copy of a critical edition of said text. Don't use some of those "pirate" translations that are found in different places, including the Internet, riddled with beginner mistakes. The Gospel of Judas really complicated for non expert in the darkness of Gnosticism. So can the readers of this blog form a better opinion about the hypotheses about the origins of Christianity to which I alluded a moment ago.
The Gospel of Judas was written cryptically so that the reader does not understand what it is about, so that they have need of a teacher to explain to a disciple all of its obscurities and "mysteries." That's what made the teacher necessary. But for those of us living in the twenty-first century, we lack the "guide on the side" . . . the teacher needed long ago to decrypt the text. All we have to interpret the text is our own ingenuity, knowledge of the context, and similar works.
We have, however, a certain advantage over the ancients. We know similar works that help us understand this text, and we have the help of scholarly publications that follow tested interpreted methodologies. So, even though we cannot be absolutely sure of our translation/interpretation, which is sometimes conjectural, we can honestly think that what we have is, with high probability, correct. At the very least, it's safe.
Those familiar with my book Guía para entender el Nuevo Testamento know what I'm proposing–namely to practice a set of basic rules that serve as "Leitmotiv" ("leading motif") when there is in a discussion on one of these fuzzy themes of early Christianity. First, study the topic well and know it. Then offer your thoughts.