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Near East

The Lost Gospel of Judas

Edited from Debates & Controversies, Channel 4, December 2006

Judas Iscariot is one of the most reviled names in history, but it was announced in 2006 that an ancient papyrus manuscript had been discovered which would be able to throw new light on his role in the life and death of Jesus.

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

In AD 180, an early church father denounced as heretical a book which 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 AD. But in recent years an ancient papyrus manuscript was discovered in the Nile Valley. Traded on the antiquities black market for twenty-five years, it was thought it could be the lost Gospel of Judas.

A team of experts set out to restore the disintegrating manuscript and determine whether it was real or fake.

Proving the past

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

Jesus of Nazareth
The teachings of Jesus (whatever his true nature) drew a large following amongst the occupied peoples of Judea and inspired the creation of a new church


The experts were able to decipher eighty-five percent of the text, which provided an unorthodox, mystical, and joyful perspective the relationship between Jesus and Judas, who was 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 which was contained in the Gospel of Judas shows that there was another interpretation of the role of Judas Iscariot.

If the Gnostic version had remained available from the point at which it had been written, perhaps the world could have avoided the thread of anti-Semitism which has run through most incarnations of the Christian church since then.

 

 

     
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