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Near East

The Lost Gospel of Judas

Channel 4, Debates & Controversies, December 2006



Judas Iscariot is one of the most reviled names in history, but an ancient papyrus manuscript has been discovered which throws new light on his role in the life and death of Jesus.

Judas Iscariot is the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans, resulting in the crucifixion. The name Judas, which means 'Jew', has become so closely associated with treachery that it has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism for almost 2,000 years.

In AD 180, an early church father denounced as heretical a book that he referred to as 'The Gospel of Judas'.

This claimed that Judas, far from betraying Jesus, was his closest collaborator. The document disappeared, apparently without trace, in the second century. But an ancient papyrus manuscript has been discovered in the Nile Valley. Traded on the antiquities black market for 25 years, it could be the lost Gospel of Judas.

Now a team of experts has set out to restore the disintegrating manuscript and determine whether it is real or fake.

Proving the past

This could be the most important discovery in Biblical archaeology in 60 years. Using Carbon14 dating techniques, the book is found to have been written at precisely the right time around AD 300.

The experts can decipher 85% of the text, which gives an unorthodox, mystical and joyful perspective on Jesus' relationship with Judas, who is his closest follower.

This Gospel belonged to a group of mystical early Christians called Gnostics, who believed that every human being contained the divine spark. In this version, Jesus says that the divine spark needs to be set free from the 'body which surrounds me'.

The kiss which identifies Jesus to the Romans, which the orthodox version of the Bible interprets as betrayal, is portrayed in this version as an act of sacrifice. There is no crucifixion scene.

The Gnostic Christians were marginalised and eventually disappeared, but the text contained in the Gospel of Judas shows that there is another interpretation of the role of Judas Iscariot.

And if the Gnostic version had survived, perhaps the world could have avoided the thread of anti-Semitism that has run through most incarnations of the Christian church since then.



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