More Judas

Adam Gopnik has a writer’s take on the Gospel of Judas story ("bad news Judas," in the words of the Inquirer). I especially like his title, "Laughing Jesus," which I would have wanted to use too, if I had worked up the gumption to write on the so-called lost gospel. I find Gopnik’s use of "canonic" to mean "canonical" odd, but otherwise his words have, at least for me, what Leonard Bernstein called the virtue of inevitability.

It certainly makes for odd bedside reading. “The Gospel of Judas” isn’t actually a gospel by Judas, or, really, a gospel at all in the sense that we might expect: an account of the life of Jesus, from birth to death and rebirth. It is, instead, a mystical riff on a life already assumed to be familiar. It begins just before Jesus’ last Passover in Jerusalem, as the disciples are offering a prayer to God over the dinner table. Watching them, Jesus laughs. “Why are you laughing at us?” the nettled disciples ask, and Jesus says that he is laughing not at them but at their strange idea of pleasing their God. (One of the unnerving things about the new Gospel is that Jesus, who never laughs in the canonic Gospels, is constantly laughing in this one, and it’s obviously one of those sardonic, significant, how-little-you-know laughs, like the laugh of the ruler of a dubious planet on “Star Trek.”)

Christianity Today has an extensive roundup of Judas-related stories. Two, in particular, impressed me. The (Anglican) Bishop of Jarrow says simply the timing (carbon-dated and all) is all wrong.

This document is an interesting piece of evidence about how one part of the Early Church, in all its diversity, tried to understand Judas’s treachery, but it isn’t going to tell us anything more about either Judas or Jesus. It is 100 years too late for that.

And Biblical expert Bruce Chilton finds the hype beneath National Geographic’s dignity (and this from a member of the hype-savvy Jesus Seminar!)

In its release, National Geographic repeatedly states that it has "authenticated" the document. Several press outlets have simply repeated those claims. But "authentic" turns out to be a slippery term as used by the National Geographic Society. No scholar associated with the find argues this is a first century document, or that it derives from Judas. The release says the document was "copied down in Coptic probably around A.D. 300," although later that is changed to "let’s say around the year 400." This amounts to saying that "The Gospel of Judas" is an authentic fabrication produced by a group of Gnostics in Egypt. Gnostics believed that their direct knowledge of heaven permitted them to understand what no one else knew, or could know by historical knowledge. For ancient Gnostics to believe in their own powers of divination is charming; for their flights of imagination to be passed off as historical knowledge in our time is dishonest or self-deceived.


1 Comment

Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Religion

One response to “More Judas

  1. Resty

    “Canonic” sounds obscene. That would make the Deuterocanonicals “deuterocanonics.” Then again, you’d have to make room too for “iconical.”

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