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Gospel of Judas does not deserve name ‘gospel,’ Jesuit scholar says

By Cindy Wooden
April 7th, 2006
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

ROME – The Gospel of Judas was unimportant to most Christians when it was written hundreds of years ago and it is unimportant today, said a Jesuit scholar, who has convoked a series of ecumenical studies of the historical Jesus.

Jesuit Father Gerald O'Collins, a longtime professor of Christology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said the text, like the gospels of Mary Magdalene and Philip, "does not merit the name 'gospel.'"

The National Geographic Society unveiled the document April 6, posting a copy of it on the society's Web site (www.nationalgeographic.com) and releasing English translations of portions of the text.

"A 'Gospel' is a literary genre – established by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – focusing on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus," Father O'Collins said.

While including events supposedly related to the life of Jesus, the Gospel of Judas and the others really are texts "attempting to bolster the importance" of the personalities they are named after, not of Jesus, the priest said.

"They are not summaries of the good news," he said.

The texts come from the gnostic tradition, a religious-philosophical current popular in the second, third and fourth centuries. The gnostics claimed to have secret knowledge unavailable to the vast majority of people and focused so strongly on the spiritual and intellectual that they despised material creation, including the human body.

In the year 180, St. Irenaeus condemned the gnostics, mentioning particularly a Gospel of Judas.

Father O'Collins said the most important thing about the text released in early April is that "it shows just how right Irenaeus was in saying the gnostics were against mainstream Christianity and Judaism, they were against our God."

"To give Judas greater credit," the Jesuit said, the gnostics "portray Jesus giving him secret knowledge.”

“It was a nice try," he said, adding that there is no evidence to support the claim.

"It was junk then and it is junk now," he said.

Father O'Collins, who between 1996 and 2003 convoked a series of ecumenical, interdisciplinary summits for scholars on the historical Jesus, said it was "ridiculous" for anyone to claim publication of the Gospel of Judas will challenge mainstream Christianity.

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