ROME, APRIL 6, (excerpt from 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.
The Gospel of Judas was rejected by early Christians, and in fact, isn’t even a Christian document, according to Dean of theology Father Thomas D. Williams.
Williams, head of the theology department at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome, says that it was most likely written by the Gnostics, which were a group that combined teachings of philosophy and of different religions, including Christianity.
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.
There are many Gnostic gospels besides this one, including Mary Magdalene and Phillip. In the year 180, St. Irenaeus condemned the Gnostics, mentioning particularly a Gospel of Judas.
Accusations by conspiracy theorists that the Church has tried to cover up these texts are untrue, says Williams. “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. ”
When asked if he thought the texts threatened to discredit scripture found in the Bible, he said “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.
One of the major differences between Gnostic belief and that of Christianity concerns the origins of evil in the universe, says Williams.
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. To give Judas greater credit, the Gnostics portray Jesus giving him secret knowledge. It was a nice try, but according to Williams and other theologians, there is no evidence to support the claim.