One document that has recently come to public attention is the Gospel of Judas. This text was discovered near El Minya, Egypt, in the early 1970’s. Like other New Testament documents and the Nag Hammadi codices, this papyrus manuscript survived because of the dry conditions of Egypt. The text was moved from Egypt to Europe to the United States, where it was kept in a safety deposit box in Long Island, New York, for sixteen years.
Eventually, the manuscript was acquired by National Geographic, through a series of institutional contributions and private donations. Like many previous manuscript discoveries, several individuals attempted to use the manuscript for personal gain, which delayed the process of publication. The Gospel of Judas was discovered together with three other badly damaged texts, but at this stage only the gospel has been translated and made public.
Perhaps surprising to some is the fact that the Gospel of Judas, or perhaps a version of it, was in circulation at the beginning of the second century A.D. Already by A.D. 180, Irenaeus, a bishop in Lyons, denounced the Gospel of Judas as a Gnostic text that purported to pass on secrets from the last week of Jesus’ life as well as a revelation of the order of heaven. Until recently, scholars have been left to guess at the specific contents of the Gospel of Judas, but the recent publication of the text makes it obvious that Irenaeus was correct on at least one point.
The document is of Gnostic origin, a point made obvious when in it Jesus Christ teaches Judas about the evil creator god who opposed the true God of heaven. The apostles, who appear in the text to have mistakenly followed the evil creator god, do not realize that Judas understands the true nature of the God of heaven.
The text likely originates from Gnostic circles in Egypt at the turn of the century, and much like its cousin-the Gospel of Thomas-this text supports the Gnostic belief that secret teachings were transmitted to the disciples. In fact, the text begins similarly to the Gospel of Thomas when it reports, “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover” (New York Times translation, 2006).
What is Gnosticism?
Gnosticism by definition is a belief in hidden knowledge and mysteries (Greek Gn?sis) that were purportedly passed on to the disciples through private revelation. These mysteries often describe how the soul ascends in the afterlife. According to Gnostic thinking, angelic intermediaries, called archons, stand in the way of the soul’s progress, and therefore the believing Gnostic must discover how to pass by the intermediaries unscathed. Many Gnostic texts pass on the names of the angelic intermediaries.
Gnosticism was not a monolithic movement within the church; instead, there were many different beliefs and practices among Gnostics. Most discussions of Gnosticism refer to second-century forms of the religion such as Valentinian, Sethian, Barbelo, and other forms of Gnosticism. Therefore, it is difficult to speak of a single form or belief among Gnostics. Perhaps, however, the most pervading feature among Gnostic sects was the idea that Jesus Christ was a revealer of secret teachings-but not the savior of the world. He did not redeem mankind through a sacrificial death as the canonical Gospels teach us; rather, he redeems mankind through the transmission of secret teachings.
Gnosticism is referred to explicitly in the New Testament when Paul denounces the movement to Timothy saying, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science [gn?sis] falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Other sayings of the apostles may have been directed at Gnostic teachings.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.