Coming up this Sunday at 9PM the National Geographic Channel will be airing a show on The Lost Gospel of Judas, which supposedly reveals a hidden aspect of Judas’ relationship to Jesus that seems to indicate that Judas wasn’t betraying Jesus at all, but doing exactly what he’d been asked to do:
As told in the New Testament Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus for “30 pieces of silver,” identifying him with a kiss in front of Roman soldiers. Later the guilt-ridden Judas returns the bribe and commits suicide, according to the Bible.
The Gospel of Judas, however, gives a very different account.
The text begins by announcing that it is the “secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover.”
It goes on to describe Judas as Jesus’ closest friend, someone who understands Christ’s true message and is singled out for special status among Jesus’ disciples.
In the key passage Jesus tells Judas, “‘you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.’”
Kasser, the translation-project leader, offers an interpretation: “Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy.
“So he asks Judas, who is his friend, to sell him out, to betray him. It’s treason to the general public, but between Jesus and Judas it’s not treachery.”
The newfound account challenges one of the most firmly rooted beliefs in Christian tradition.
Bart Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“This gospel,” he said, “has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence—not to mention of Judas himself—than came to be embodied in the Christian creeds and canon.”
That’s the great thing about works of fiction: You can have inconsistencies and contradictions galore and it doesn’t really matter that much until you try to push it off as being reality. Then you have to sit down and try to sort out which works of fiction are the least inconsistent with each other and discard the rest before you slap them into a book and sell it as the Revealed Word Of God™. Trouble is those other works don’t always fade into history like some folks wish they would.