Which gospel is really radical?

The newly published but ancient Gospel of Judas will not have taken many church historians by surprise. Although we have not had the text of it, we already knew its name and contents from the church father Irenaeus in his book Adversus Haereses. (Note that the Gnostic writings suppress the teachings of the canonical gospels, whereas the Christian writings of the period discuss the Gnostic writings openly if hostily. Gnostics, writing about their enemies, write another ‘gospel’ in which Jesus ‘prophetically’ warns of evil teachers to come. The Christians, writing about their enemies, tell you their names, the titles of their books and why they’re wrong.)People in the second and third century were becoming more and more interested in Christianity, but had trouble with its more radical teachings. In particular, the idea that salvation was conferred on the basis of gooey things like love and dying and faith must have seemed an unworthy set of beliefs for the powerful educated elite. They didn’t like all the business about becoming servants of others or self-sacrifice, so they played down Jesus as Redeemer and played up Jesus as Revealer. They tried to make out that what was important was not love and servanthood but insider knowledge and secret wisdom (perhaps even handshakes). They either denied the cross or made it all about freeing Jesus’ heavenly spiritual bits from the nasty dirty physical bits, in line with their pre-Christian philosophies totally unlike Hebrew thinking. And once you have that perspective on the death/release of Jesus’ soul, of course, it’s totally possible to recast Judas as his liberator.

To us, Gnosticism looks radical and mystical. Look again. They’re not Beards running Linux, they’re just Suits shoe-horning css into FrontPage. Gnostics are ancient intellectual elitists for whom the real gospel was too radical.

So what can we learn from The Gospel of Judas about the historical Judas and Jesus? I’ll tell you soon; tomorrow, though, I want to look at how it fits in with other gnostic books… more in a 3 part series at http://homepage.mac.com/conrad.gempf/blogwavestudio