Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, April 07, 2006

We interrupt your reguarly scheduled nonsense... bring you exciting news from the world of Biblical Archeology.

The long-lost Gospel of Judas has been announced to the world!

Seriously, I am not kidding. The source is the National Geographic Society, who today announced that they have a manuscript of a text called The Gospel of Judas. Judas, of course, is one of the biggest bad guys in the history of Christianity, reviled as a traitor for handing Jesus over to the Romans. Dante ranks him as the #1 sinner in Hell, at the bottom of the ninth circle with Satan gnawing at his head. But maybe he wasn't so bad after all - the Gospel of Judas shows him in a completely different light.

The new Gospel comes from a papyrus codex (a type of book common in the early first millenium) found by looters in the Egyptian desert in the early 1970s. It passed back and forth between various shady businessmen and was shown in 1983 to a Yale graduate student at an arranged meeting in Geneva. It was shopped around to different academics, but no one could afford the $3 million asking price until a few years ago, when it was bought by the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland. Since then, the Maecenas Foundation and the National Geographic Society have been working with scholars to preserve and translate the codex. A more cynical person than I might wonder why they chose this particular moment to announce it to the general public, but announce it they did. On the other hand, this might be the best time to announce it because the movie brings attention to the whole field of Biblical archeology, so they should educate people about the real thing as much as they can. Quick, someone write a best-selling novel about sociology.

Most of the codex consisted of copies of known texts, but 13 sheets of papyrus were something completely new. The text was written in Coptic, a form of ancient Egyptian (many other early Christian theological texts are also written in Coptic). Radiocarbon dating shows that the codex probably dates from some time in the 300s, but the content is almost certainly a copy (entirely by hand!) of an older text. But, we know that the content has to come from before the year 180, because St. Irenaeus writes in his Adversus Haereses:

They believe that Judas the Betrayer was fully informed of these things and that only he (sic) understanding the truth like no one else fulfilled the secret of betrayal that confused all things, both in heaven and on earth. They invented their own history called the Gospel of Judas. (A.H. I.31.1)*

and we know reliably that that's when A.H. was written.

So here it is, the translated text of the Gospel of Judas, that sat under the Egyptian desert for more than 1,700 years**:

The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover...
[Jesus says:] Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal...
you will be cursed by the other generations - and you will come to rule over them...
For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me***...
Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star. Judas lifted his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it...

The passage you just read says that Jesus and Judas talked in secret the week before Jesus's crucifixion, and Jesus asked Judas to hand him over to the Romans. Jesus's crucifixion allowed him to shed his human body and return to his divine form. By doing this, Judas would be hated by future generations, but would receive God's reward in heaven, and that more secrets could be revealed through meditation.

As you may have guessed by reading all this, Biblical archeology, and theology in general, are hobbies of mine. So, in my hobbyist's opinion, what does this discovery mean for Christian theology? Not much. The philosophy is pretty much straight Gnosticism, which believes that salvation comes from secret knowledge given by Jesus after long meditation. The new Gospel's portrayal of Judas is a new twist on the subject, but we already knew those ideas were out there from other writings like Adversus Haereses. The Gospel will get a lot of study, but it isn't a major find like the Nag Hammadi Library find in 1945.

The effect on the ordinary religious person will be approximately zero. There really isn't anything new in the text, and besides, Gnosticism was declared a heresy many, many, many centuries ago.

I do expect to see some insaneist right-wingers to claim that the codex was put there by Satan to lead us astray, and/or by God to tell us the end times are coming (and indeed, it's already started in the blogosphere: scroll down to the March 3rd entry, and... oh wow, he says "preversion," just like in Dr. Strangelove!).

To my encouragement, however, there's been quite a bit of intelligent discussion about the meaning of these manuscripts, and in general about the role of faith in modern times. For example, take a look at USA Today's On Deadline blog. Set your spam filters to ignore anything that says "one true Bible" or "evolution is just a theory" or "Darwin awards," and you'll see lots of interesting discussion from theists and atheists about the text and faith. Here is one that resonated with me so much that I wanted to print it in its entirety:

Michael speaks correctly:

You have faith or you don't. Those who have faith don't need it to be proved or confirmed thats why it's called faith.

Posted by: Michael A IN Ga | Apr 6, 2006 3:01:38 PM

BUT faith should not be relied upon in the face of proof to the contrary. One may challange the validity of proof, but not with faith.

Posted by: Stewart Shane | Apr 6, 2006 4:07:31 PM

*Thanks for that quote, Wikipedia
**Brought to you by Total Drek courtesy of National Geographic's Gospel of Judas site. Their site only works in Internet Explorer, but ours works in Firefox. Nyah nyah.
***That is, Judas will help Jesus shed his mortal body by handing him over to the Romans.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My nonsense is rarely scheduled.

the somewhat mighty bookmobile

Friday, April 07, 2006 11:33:00 PM  

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