For almost 2000 years Judas Iscariot has been portrayed as the betrayer of Jesus. We are told that for 30 pieces of silver he sold out the man he thought was the Messiah.
The Gospel of Judas was discovered in the 1970s in Egypt but was not translated into English until 2006. Before its discovery the title was known from Irenaeus of Lyon, who denounced the Gospel of Judas in around 180 as a text read by people he called Gnostics.
Sadly the original Greek text which was part of codex V in the Nag Hammadi Library was lost – the version recovered was a Coptic (ancient Egypt) translation written several hundred years later.
Today the manuscript is in over a thousand pieces. Numerous sections are missing as a result of poor handling and storage. Only 13 of the original 31 leaves have survived.
The Gospel of Judas presents Judas as the disciple who understood Jesus better than all others, was his devoted friend and confidante, and did what he did at Jesus’ own request – part of a predetermined divine plan.
The text opens with:-
“The secret revelatory discourse that Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot in the course of a week, three days before his passion.”
Jesus comes across his disciples as they are celebrating a holy meal together, and he laughs. He laughs a great deal in this text, as he does in the Secret Book of John. Jesus maintains he is not laughing at the disciples, but at their overly scrupulous desire to do the will of their god. The disciples are baffled, professing Jesus as the son of their god, but Jesus insists their god is the demiurge, the creator of this world (Yaldabaoth in the Secret Book of John), not the “great invisible Spirit”. The disciples are angry but only Judas accepts Jesus’ invitation to stand before him. Judas averts his gaze as he says to Jesus,
“I know who you are and from what place you come. You have come from the immortal realm of Barbelo (divine mother) and I am not worthy to pronounce the name of the one who sent you.”
“Move away from the others, and I shall explain to you the mysteries of the kingdom, not so you can attain it, but you will go through a great deal of grief. For somebody else will take your place, so that the twelve disciples may be complete once again with their god.”
In the scenes that follow, Jesus appears several times to speak with the disciples and at times privately with Judas.
The disciples report a vision of the Jerusalem temple, where there is a great altar and twelve priests who are committing unlawful, immoral heinous acts in the name of Jesus.
The disciples are confused and upset by this. Jesus interprets their vision allegorically:-
“Why are you upset? You are the ones presenting the offerings at the altar.. That is the god you serve, and you are the twelve men you have seen. And the cattle brought in are offerings- they are the multitude you lead astray before that altar. The ruler of this world will stand and use my name in this manner, and generations of pious people will cling to him.. But it is the Lord who commands who is the Lord of the All. On the last day they will be put to shame.”
What the disciples have seen is a premonition of the emerging orthodox church; with its proclamation of the sacrificial death of Christ, commitment to the celebration of the eucharist and practice of martyrdom, with its leaders depicted in a most unflattering light.
Judas has his own vision and tells Jesus,
“I have seen myself in the vision as the twelve disciples were stoning me and treating me harshly. I saw a house.. my eyes could not grasp its dimensions. Within the house there was a crowd.. ‘Master , let me come in with these people.’”
“Your star has deceived you, Judas. No person of mortal birth is worthy to go into the house you have seen: that place is kept for the saints, where sun and moon will not rule, nor the day, but they will stand there always in the eternal realm with the holy angels.” Jesus goes onto say,
“You will be the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations, but eventually you will rule over them.”
Jesus takes Judas aside to teach him about the Divine and the Universe.
Mankind can be divided into two races or groups. Those who have the immortal soul, like Judas, can come to know the God within themselves and enter the imperishable realm when they die physically. Those who belong to the generation of the other eleven disciples cannot enter the realm of god and will die both spiritually and physically at the end of their lives. The New Testament gospels say that Jesus had to die in order to atone for the sins of humanity. The Gospel of Judas says the true God is gracious and does not demand any sacrifice.
Near the end of the Gospel of Judas, Jesus turns to Judas and says,
“But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man who bears me.”
Here Jesus is saying that his spiritual being will be liberated from the fleshy body after Judas turns Jesus into the authorities to be crucified. Jesus reminds Judas that he has now been fully informed of spiritual matters, and encourages Judas to look up to the heavenly cloud and the divine light and stars. Jesus tells Judas,
“The star that leads the way is your star*.”
(*This is from the Platonic tradition that everyone originates from their own star.)
Judas lifts up his eyes, gazes at a cloud of light and enters it; from within the light a voice speaks out and Judas is enlightened. (Unfortunately, what the voice actually says is largely lost due to the deterioration of the papyrus).
The last words of the gospel read,
“And Judas received some money and handed him over to them.”
This is the primary message of the gospel. Judas, the disciple closest to Jesus, does what Jesus declares he will do to the end.
In ‘Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas’ by religious scholars Elaine Pagels and Karen King, Pagels says Bible translators have mistranslated the Greek word for “handing over” to “betrayal”.
In The Gospel of Judas, Judas actually becomes the first martyr; he did not commit suicide but was stoned to death by “the twelve” (Judas 9:7-8).
#gnostic #naghammadi #judas