Photo courtesy of National Geographic Musuem
(Washington, DC) A document known as the Gospel of Judas, attacked as heretical by early church leaders and lost to Christendom for the past 17 centuries, was displayed Thursday by scholars at the National Geographic Museum.
The document, written in Coptic, was originally written in Greek about 140 years after the death of Christ. Although references to the text survived, scholars have long assumed thought that all copies were destroyed.
The gospel contains conversations between Christ and Judas Iscariot in the Pascal , at which time week Jesus told Judas "secrets no other person has ever seen."
Christ asked Judas to help Him return to the kingdom of God, but to do so, Judas needed to help Him abandon His mortal flesh.
"You will sacrifice the man that clothes me," Jesus told Judas, and said that Judas "will be cursed by the other generations."
Scholars have long argued that the Greek word paradidomi in the original texts of the gospels, normally translated as "betray, could also be interpreted to mean "to hand over," implying that Judas was following the will of God by his actions.
Left: Bishop Irenaeus of Lugdunum
A "Gospel of Judas" was first mentioned around 180 CE by Bishop Irenaeus of Lugdunum, in modern-day Lyons, France. The bishop denounced the manuscript as heresy because it differed from mainstream Christianity.
The 26-page, leather-bound copy of the gospel was written on both sides of 13 sheets of papyrus. The text sat for the past 1,700 years hidden in a tomb in the Egyptian desert, according to the National Geographic Society.
The Judas text is considered to be a gnostic gospel. Gnosticism, broadly defined, was a mystical movement within Christianity in the first few centuries after the life of Christ.
The term is derived from the Greek word for knolwedge - "gnosis." Gnostics believed that the material realm was the province of evil forces, and that the spiritual realm was governed by God.
Gnostic traditions are briefly discussed, albeit poorly, in the wildly popular novel The Da Vinci Code.
Scholars are not in agreement as to the importance of the text. Princeton University professor Elaine Pagels said that the Judas gospel will alert contemporary believers to the presence of a wide variety of Christian beliefs in the earliest years of the faith.
"In the ancient world, Christianity was even more diverse than now," she said. "Some thought there were two Gods, a good and a bad one; some thought there were even more."
Left: Image of Nag Hammadi document
James Robinson, a retired professor of Coptic studies at Claremont Graduate University said the new manuscript did not contain anything likely to change or undermine traditional understanding of the Bible. Robinson was the general editor of the Nag Hammadi collection, a group of 52 Gnostic gospels discovered in a jar in 1945.
"Correctly understood, there's nothing undermining about the Gospel of Judas," Robinson said.