"The Gospel of Judas records conversations among Jesus and his disciples during
Passion Week.... The bulk of the Gospel is given to esoteric—even
bizarre—teachings that Jesus imparts to Judas privately....
"All scholars agree
that the Gospel of Judas arose from within the Gnostic movement and shares the
Gnostic worldview. Gnosticism was a religious movement of the second-century
Mediterranean world. It is simplest to think of Gnostics as polytheists
with the proviso that they did believe in one ultimate Deity. All gods and
other divine beings derive their existence from the one, true Deity.
"The key to understanding Gnosticism is
its view of creation.... The true, ultimate God had virtually nothing to do
with creation, which was instead the unauthorized work of one or more lesser
beings, who managed to botch the job. This botchery explains why the created
world contains both evil and suffering.
"The crucial twist in the Gnostic creation story, however, comes when the
minor deities who make the human race accidentally fold bits of divine spirit
into it. Their mistake encases these “divine sparks” in nasty,
mundane flesh and cuts them off from their true home in the divine sphere with
their father, the ultimate, true God. Not all human beings possess divine
sparks; most are soulless flesh and blood, little better than animals.
Hidden among these mere earthlings, however, are individuals who, unbeknownst to
themselves, have a divine spirit trapped within. Their true home, as pure,
non-embodied spirits, is with God in the heavens.
"Gnosticism addresses the plight of these lost souls by supplying them with
the arcane knowledge they need to realize their true identity. After death,
armed with this knowledge, they can leave their bodies behind and make their way
back to their home with God. In Gnosticism, knowledge is all that is required
to be saved out of this world. Simply by learning the truth about
themselves, the lucky individuals who actually have souls (the “divine
spark”) are enabled at death to return to the divine being....
"...Gnostics wait for a messenger, not a savior. Gnostic hope focuses on an
emissary sent by the true God to bring saving knowledge to divine souls
trapped in the material world. Some Gnostics saw Jesus as that messenger. For
them, Jesus’ mission consisted of nothing more than simply to pass on secret
knowledge to those among his followers who possessed 'divine sparks' and
therefore stood to benefit from such knowledge. In the Gospel of Judas,
Jesus gives the secret knowledge to Judas.....
"The Gospel of Judas ends with the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. ...from a
Gnostic point of view, the 'betrayal' could be seen as an act of enlightened
obedience, since by bringing about his death it enabled the divine spark that is
the true Jesus to escape his useless and demeaning human body, and return to the
"So the Gospel of Judas turns out to
be something of a dud. Publicity, evidently driven in part by hopes of bigger
profits, disguised the truth for a time, but clearly the Gospel of Judas should
never have been controversial at all. The Gospel of Judas is neither a heretical
rehabilitation of Judas, nor the sad truth about a misunderstood hero. Rather,
the evaluation of Judas Iscariot in the Gospel of Judas is boringly consistent
with what Christians have generally believed about Judas all along....
"The Gospel of Judas made headlines
because of whispers that it subverted early Christian orthodoxy."