TWH: Antonio gave us a great account of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas. Reading his posts made me think of an Indiana Jones movie to be honest. The discovery of this text is quite historic. Many, if not most, Christians probably wish that it had never been uncovered. It does have major historical significance, though not in the way news stations and The History Channel suggest as they market programs and specials around the Easter holiday. Its discovery as a historical document should be appreciated, just tempered by a right understanding of what type of document it is (and is not).
The introduction to a book by Stanley Porter and Gordon Heath is really interesting, especially for putting some perspective around this manuscript. Part of what I write in the next paragraph will parallel or piggy back on what they say in The Lost Gospel of Judas: Separating Fact from Fiction. You should definitely check out their book. It's well worth the read, only 135 pages, and as of right now you can get a used copy for starting at one cent plus shipping.
Interest in the Gospel of Judas over the last ten years has skyrocketed for a few reasons. Though the codex containing the Gospel was discovered almost twenty-two years before the turn of the millennium, it was not made public until 2004. Even that showing was limited to the scholarly community, which makes sense. It took so long because of the crazy series of events, which Antonio described so well in the previous three posts. The discovery of the Gospel of Judas has been milked for everything anyone can get out of it. Porter and Heath write:
"The National Geographic Society's special documentary on the Gospel of Judas spared no efforts to draw in viewers. The trailer was filled with statements that alluded to the dramatic implications of the documents. It asked the provocative question 'will a dramatic discovery rewrite biblical history?' It went on to state that the newly discovered gospel would 'tell a different story' from the one in the Bible, and was a story that 'could challenge our deepest beliefs,' turn the 'story of Christ's betrayal on its head,' and show that the villain was actually a hero'" (2).It's no wonder people tuned in, and it's no wonder Christians were not thrilled to say the least. In fact, I can't even remember what the Easter season was like before the public release of this document. The only thing that compares to what's taken place with the Gospel of Judas and media is the "explosion" that took place following the publication of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. There's a big difference though! The historical value of Brown's work is nil. The main similarity is how media capitalized on its popularity. The narrative in the book gave different ideological groups the leverage (and the window of opportunity) they needed to tear down the historical significance of four primary sources on the life of Jesus.
People are interested in the life of Jesus. No person's life gains more attention–all over the world. Jesus' life is significant. In fact, I would argue that there is no life that is more significant, and not just because of popularity, interest in, or impact on society and culture. With that said, it is important for us to note that the Gospel of Judas is not a veracious representative of that most important life. In other words, if someone is looking for a trustworthy account of the life and ministry of Jesus, this is not the text they should check out. Like I said in the introduction, though, its historical value is not nil. Far from it. If this Gospel is the one referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies 31.1, it gives context to what he was talking about. Even if it is not, it helps us understand Gnosticism better. The Gnostics had a knack for taking the truth and turning it inside out. It should be no surprise that they took the "villain" of the Gospel narrative and turned him into the hero. Such a spin would definitely require some secret knowledge and a revealer who could make it known to those coming into their fold. Just getting another text on Jesus' life written on papyrus is enough to justify its historical significance. As I said earlier, though, that significance has to be rightly calculated. It's value is not in what it reveals about Jesus' life, but in what it can contribute to our understanding of Gnostic thinking.
I'm just about finished. But first let me share a little snippet more from Porter and Heath. Again, if you get a chance and you're interested, pick up their book. You'll enjoy it. It's really not a difficult read, and they help you think through the fog of certain assumptions you'll find in discussions on the Gospel of Judas.
"What does the Gospel of Judas have to do with the traditional understanding of the Christian faith? On the positive side, there were many cases of thoughtful balanced reporting on the discovery. However, the problem that many traditional or conservative Christians have with the media response to the Gospel of Judas is that the often sensationalized message is corrosive to their deeply held convictions about the Easter events, and the only published books on the matter assume many things that seem ultimately to undermine their cherished convictions." (12)The "sensationalized message" found in the TV shows and showcases in periodicals need not be corrosive to anyone's faith. It hasn't been in my own life. It's caused me to think about my convictions more seriously. And my own faith has only deepened. One of the things you'll notice on this blog is my posts constantly turn to the inspiration of biblical texts. I cannot stress how important inspiration is. Everything flows from how we understand what it means for God to communicate to his world through his Word.