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The 'Gospel of Judas'

4/6/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Father Thomas Williams, Theology Dean

ROME, APRIL 6, 2006 (Zenit) - The National Geographic Society has announced its intentions to publish an English translation of an ancient text called "The Gospel of Judas" later this month.

The 31-page manuscript, written in Coptic, purportedly surfaced in Geneva in 1983 and has only been translated now.

We asked Legionary Father Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, to comment on the relevance of the discovery.

Q: What is the "Gospel of Judas"?

Father Williams: Though the manuscript still must be authenticated, it likely represents a fourth- or fifth-century text, and is a copy of an earlier document produced by a Gnostic sect called the Cainites.

The document paints Judas Iscariot in a positive light, and describes him as obeying a divine ordinance in handing over Jesus to the authorities for the salvation of the world.

It may well be a copy of the "Gospel of Judas" referred to by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his work "Against the Heresies," written around A.D. 180.

Q: If authentic, what challenge would this document pose to traditional Christian belief? Will it "shake Christianity to its foundations" as some press releases have suggested?

Father Williams: Certainly not. The Gnostic gospels, of which there are many besides this one, are not Christian documents per se, since they proceed from a syncretistic sect that incorporated elements from different religions, including Christianity.

From the moment of their appearance, the Christian community rejected these documents because of their incompatibility with the Christian faith.

The "Gospel of Judas" would be a document of this sort, which could have great historical value, since it contributes to our knowledge of the Gnostic movement, but it poses no direct challenge to Christianity.

Q: Is it true that the Church has tried to cover up this text and other apocryphal texts?

Father Williams: These are myths circulated by Dan Brown and other conspiracy theorists.

You can go to any Catholic bookstore and pick up a copy of the Gnostic gospels. Christians may not believe them to be true, but there is no attempt to hide them.

Q: But doesn't an early document of this sort rival orthodox Christian sources, such as the four canonical Gospels?

Father Williams: Remember that Gnosticism arose in the middle of the second century, and the "Gospel of Judas," if authentic, probably dates back to the mid- to late second century.

To put a historical perspective on things, that would be like you or me writing a text now on the American Civil War and having that text later used as a primary historical source on the war. The text could not have been written by eyewitnesses, the way at least two of the canonical Gospels were.

Q: Why would the leaders of the Gnostic movement have been interested in Judas?

Father Williams: One of the major differences between Gnostic belief and that of Christianity concerns the origins of evil in the universe.

Christians believe that a good God created a good world, and that through the abuse of free will, sin and corruption entered the world and produced disorder and suffering.

The Gnostics blamed God for the evil in the world and claimed that he created the world in a disordered and flawed way. Thus they champion the rehabilitation of Old Testament figures such as Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and Esau, the elder brother of Jacob, who sold his birthright for a plate of pottage.

Judas fits perfectly into the Gnostic agenda of showing that God intends evil for the world.

Q: But wasn't Judas' betrayal a necessary part of God's plan, as this text suggests?

Father Williams: Being omniscient, God knows full well what choices we will make and weaves even our bad decisions into his providential plan for the world.

In his last published book, Pope John Paul II eloquently reflected on how God continues to bring good out of even the worst evil that man can produce.

That doesn't mean, however, that God intends for us to do evil, or that he intended for Judas to betray Jesus. If it wasn't Judas, it would have been someone else. The authorities had already decided to put Jesus to death, and it was just a matter of time.

Q: What is the Church's position regarding Judas? Is it possible to "rehabilitate" him?

Father Williams: Though the Catholic Church has a canonization process by which it declares certain persons to be in heaven, as saints, it has no such process for declaring people to be condemned.

Historically, many have thought that Judas is probably in hell, because of Jesus' severe indictment of Judas: "It would be better for that ...

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1 - 8 of 8 Comments

  1. Robert Wahler
    1 month ago

    Anytime religion is involved, people circle the wagons. Just be open to what is in front of you. The Gospel of Judas is a gift from the ancient past, and will set everything right, given some time. The 'sacrifice' is JUDAS, not Jesus. Gnostics aspire to SELF-sacrifice. That is why substitutionary sacrifice is so soundly condemned here. And the character, 'Judas' is a stand-in for the successor Master, James the Just. Judas has a vision (44,25) that he is being stoned to death *by fellow disciples*. No other religious figure from this time and place was stoned *by fellow disciples* other than James the Just (brother, so-called, of Jesus). Christianity was originally GNOSTIC, but with Rome on the other side, they lost. James is in Gospel of Thomas, too, as Master (logion 12) and that was an early text. This one is pretty early, also. It was in Greek before Coptic.
    judaswasjames dot com

  2. Kathy
    1 year ago

    We are not smarter than the those that have built church. They were chosen by God. Yes, there may be some truth in historical documents other than the bible and we realize that. But, the bible is the main book. We do need to fast and participate in the sacrament of confession for ourselves; before trying to change the world.

  3. David Northam
    1 year ago

    I think since men have conquered and burned each others books upon doing so. we are left with so little of our rich struggle to be at peace with ourselves. I find that fact these real documents appear now awe inspiring. A history of us on the planet and the ways we can deal with each other. One man betrayed three times and sought forgiveness. One man betrayed him once and could not live himself. Who was more alive? Who knew themselves better as to what they could live for and with. Forgiveness is more than a word. Promoting forgetting is not resolving emotional injustice. I wondering now did Peter go out and readily admit for the rest of his life that he denied the lord three times and still was decidely the one to found the church upon. or did he live the rest of his life enjoying the intergrity of a devout follower who would willingly sacrifice his life for the cause as his leader or did he walk in the actual shoes of who he was. a man who denied christ three times and sought his forgiveness knowing his secret would be sealed with christs fate. I like literature which inspires thought, disscussion and improved navigation in my understanding of my mysterious life.

  4. Ray Johnson
    1 year ago

    What did Jesus the Christ say about Judas and People that do not follow him?
    The Holy Spirit does not bring about bad fruit. All things should be prayed about and fasting on these things are Greatly needed.

  5. Osvaldo Ortega
    2 years ago

    I'm a Mexican raised as Roman Catholic. I like to question everything, and I think that the Gospel of Judas is true; but that don't really matters. That happen 2000 years ago. And what really matters is that Jesus Christ died for one reason. Until we all keep that in mind it would be a different world. After we are just humans. And until we die and meet are maker will know the truth or it won't really matter no more.

  6. Santiago Caballero
    3 years ago

    The article was comforting and intelligent, I have read the article together with my mother Corina, with a feeling of gladness. Thank you. From Tarija, Bolivia, South America.

  7. Dennis Rivelli
    5 years ago

    I am just reading about the Judas Gospel for the first time and find it fascinating that the Catholic Church has no choice than to denounce it as some sort of witting by an unacceptable cult in the second and third century rejected by the clergy of the new Christian/Catholic Church to protect the notion that Christ had wished there to be an organized Church upon some sort of ROCK to be built so the Gospels tell us.
    Based on the experts of history, it is no wonder that Judas Iscariot found following within the Gnostic school during the early days of Christianity. Jesus' life and teachings inspired several lines of thought, of which the Gnostic line was one. 'Gnosis' means knowledge in Greek, and the followers of this sect felt that man can connect to divinity without a priestly community acting as middlemen. No wonder that the established priesthood of the day (up to this day) do not recognize Gnostics as part of Christianity, even if they revere the same God. Judas, who was admired among early Gnostics as a mystic who found the higher meaning of Christ's teaching and destiny, not surprisingly, never found favor with the organized church.

  8. Dennis Rivelli
    5 years ago

    Having just now read this article and the articles in the National Geographic and elsewhere in support of the Judas Gospel I must admit I and my confidence in the so called approved" Gospels Matthew, Mark Luke and John is severely tested.At a time of unique upheaval in belief, understanding of Christ's message and separation from Judaism, I find it hard to believe the translated thousands of times and influenced by millions of writers approved Gospels to be any more authentic today 2000 years later than the original document Gospel of Judas newly discovered and translated for the very first time. Have you ever told a story to someone at one end of a line of 100 people and listened to the resulting same story repeated back by the last person to hear it. I think I might put a lot more value in the Judas and other text newly discovered then the Catholic Church is giving credit. Do you think maybe many in control thousands of years ago manipulated a few words here and there to create basically the same thing Christ was against within Judaism over again located instead now in Rome and the Vatican. Do you Think?

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