Judas, the great villain of Christian religious history, wants an appeal hearing.
According to the Gospel of Judas – discovered in 1970, and now translated – the alleged betrayer was carrying out the wishes of Jesus, to fulfill the prophecies.
In the year 180, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon denounced the Judas gospel. We know that at least 30 diverse gospel accounts about Jesus existed in the second century. Some eighty factions of Jesus followers flourished. Over 200 documents prior to the fourth century, recount these competing versions of the Jesus story. The Judas gospel is one of these. The gospels of Mary, Thomas, Philip, the Ebionites, the Nazoreans, and many others contribute to an understanding of the authentic words and deeds of Jesus.
During these early centuries, most poor Jesus followers remained illiterate peasants, and these stories circulated as stories and legends. During these first decades, some scribes began to record anthologies of Jesus sayings; the Thomas gospel is an example. The voice of Jesus survived four decades of oral transmission before the first canon gospel narrative appeared. The earliest surviving fragments from any gospel about Jesus date from about 125 C.E., roughly a hundred years after his death. The earliest known complete Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, appears in the fourth century.
Anyone who has played the child’s game of “telephone,” knows how quickly a story can change from one teller to the next even in the same room. We have no way of knowing how these tales may have changed over decades of storytelling and centuries of revision.
One theory among scholars claims the entire “Judas” story is a second century invention intended solely to blame the death of Jesus on the Jews. Judas is placed in scenes – such as the anointing of Jesus in the John version – that conflict with earlier accounts.
The Gospel of Judas may be a response from Jewish followers of Jesus, defending the Jewish nation against these attacks.
Reverend Donald Senior at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, points out that the alleged betrayal of Jesus remains “a mysterious part of God’s plan.”
Was Judas in on the plot? Did Judas exist at all? We will probably never know. Renowned Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan reminds us that gospels were never intended to be history. They were written to provide “good news,” uplifting stories. If we expect gospels to deliver authentic history, we will be disappointed, and we will miss the mythological message of these accounts.
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