Friday, April 07, 2006

Gnostics don't gnow everything about the Gospel of Judas

The recent announcement of a lost "Gospel of Judas" has sparked interest and controversy. The manuscript discovered in the seventies has apparently been moldering in a safe deposit box since then. It reminds me of the George R.R. Martin short story from 1979, "The Way of Cross and Dragon", in which a Catholic inquisitor in the far future encounters a lost Gospel of Judas, "The Way of Cross and Dragon" of the short story title, and he is forced to stamp out this heresy. Unlike the recent announcement that the lost gospel purports to be the secret knowledge that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, Martin's story of Judas is that he was a great king of Babylon and that he laid waste to the world with his dragons when his friend Jesus was crucified and then was punished by Jesus for this and made to be the Wandering Jew to repent. The inquisitor eventually loses his faith when he finds that both the Way of Cross and Dragon and everything he believes may be a lie.

So it may be with this. It is exciting that someone has uncovered a 1700 year old manuscript, those are few and far between and should serve to illuminate that era. The extrapolation past that and the "new" information about divisions of Christianity in the early centuries is a subject for debate. Those who can be shaken by this not-so-new-news will be shook, and those that won't will go about their business as usual.

Anyone who actually understands the history of Christianity knows that it has never been a monolithic structure without internal divisions. Whole books (see for instance Early Christian Heresies by Joan O. Grady) have been written about how the early church often defined itself against the prevailing heresies of the time in an effort to keep their own tradition and message alive. During this time early church leaders were also putting together a canon of books that became our bible. They picked texts that the main body of the church were already reading in their churches and the left out ones that didn't sound right or didn't jibe with the traditions they had held through the ages. These books that were left out didn't become secret (or else we wouldn't have then today, see for instance the Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden, no conspiracy here) they just didn't make it into the Bible. So a gnostic text from 300AD which claimed that Jesus secretly told Judas to betray him would seem way out on the fringe and a break with the received traditions of century so it wasn't included.

Gnostics were around before Christianity and were syncretic with their beliefs, often combining new religions into their own. They laid claim to a secret knowledge or "gnosis" which you had to work up the levels to attain, similar to a Free Mason or a Scientologist. Gnostics are the elitist's elitist, "we are the only ones that know the truth, and we keep it a secret from everyone else, how smart you must be for us to want you in our club." Think of the arrogance of Morpheus in the Matrix "explaining" the matrix to Neo, and you probably have it right.

Of course some gnostic in the 4th century claimed to have the secret knowledge that Jesus told Judas to turn Him in. It's a catchy idea, and goes along with the idea that the gnostics didn't believe Jesus was a man anyway. For a gnostic, this flesh we wear is bad, only the spirit is good. Jesus asking to be betrayed was probably as stunning an assertion back then as it is now, and would have garnered good 4th (or 21st) century press.

tags: , , , ,

No comments: