Gospel of Judas One More Time -- And Yet Again Dec 1

Darrell L. Bock's picture

On Nov 17, I posted my take on the proposal by April DeConick about the Gospel of Judas (the string of discussion started on Oct 27 and 28). Today (Dec 1) in the New York Times she posted an editorial laying out her view that Judas is seen negatively in the book. The debate rotates around how a few passages in the Coptic are read.Her point about how this text was made public is very correct. However her read of Judas appears to be unlikely given that Judas is the only figure to give correct answers in the book as well as Irenaeus's report about how this book takes Judas as a positive figure.Nonetheless, the editorial is worth checking out. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/opinion/01deconink.html?_r=2&th&emc=th...


Professor Bock,

I have to comment here because the idea that Irenaeus writes about a "positive" Judas is an assumption that is being passed around but is not based an actually reading Irenaeus (without Ps-Tertullian or Epiphanius). Go and look at his mention of the Gospel of Judas again. He only says that Judas knew more than all the others (which is the case with demons in the Gospel of Mark when read literally) and that his betrayal of Jesus was a cosmic event. Irenaeus says nothing about Judas being good or bad in the Gospel of Judas.

As for teaching Judas special things, Jesus does this to the twelve disciples too, who in the Gospel of Judas are very disliked figures. The Gospel of Judas actually tells us why Jesus teaches Judas. Jesus says in it, "I will teach you the mysteries of the kingdom, not so that you will go there but so that you will lament greatly." The teaching is by way of punishment of the demon, so that he is knowledgeable and therefore punishable for his actions. Always the text maintains this. Even after teaching Judas about the order of the universe (so that Judas will know that he is aligned with the thirteenth demon Ialdabaoth) Jesus tells him again that Judas will lament greatly. And Jesus laughs at this.

None of this is a positive characterization.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Professor DeConick:Here is the text from Irenaeus in question, I believe (cited in English so others can follow) Ag Heresies Book 1, chapter 31:"Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas." How should this be read? The context appears to be how all of those named derive their authority from the power above, and do not suffer injury. Judas appears to be added to their number and has knowledge no one else does in the Twelve. All your demon example shows is that one can have more knowledge and still be judged. However, when that knowledge is contrasted with those who are the "bad" guys in the gospel (the Twelve), then should we not think he is a good guy? So the question is: What point is Ireneaus making in grouping all of these figures together in this way and adding Judas to that list? So there is no assumption here, only a good question to raise.As for the portrait of the disciples in Judas, we agree on this. The question on Judas is whether Judas's star that leads the way near the end of the gospel is pointing to an ascent. There are the words about lamenting, looking at how things look for a long time, but it is not clear this is a permanent lament. There is laughing. but Jesus denies it is at Judas. I suspect ultimately the discussion rotates around these very difficult lines in the middle of the gospel:"When he heard this, Judas said to him, 'What good is it that I have received it? For you have set me apart for that generation.' (Meyer has: 'What advantage is there for me, since you have set me apart for that generation.')Jesus answered and said, 'You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent [47] to the holy [generation].' (Meyer: 'In the last days they will... to you, that you may not ascend up to the holy generation'){Unfortunately in commending your book on Judas to the man who teaches Coptic on our campus, I have loaned it to him and so could not check what you said about these passages, since he still has it. I do remember you read the thirteenth as referring to the thirteenth demon versus thirteenth spirit. But I do not recall how you take the rule of Judas} These last lines look to say that there will be an attempt to stop Judas but it will not succeed, depending on how one reads the later ascent passage. Thus, his estrangement, which will be painful, is not permanent.The key remaining questions are: (1) "If the bad guys curse Judas's ascent, then has not Judas ended up in a good place on his ascent? and (2) How does Judas rule if he is judged? dlb

Professor Bock,

There are many things that are mixed up here. The reason for this is that the original NGS translation was based on a flawed transcription. Most of this has been corrected now but the public isn't aware of it.

The text says nothing about Judas' ascent being cursed.
The text uses an emphatic negative future: you shall not go to the holy generation.

The text is saying that the Twelve are SO BAD that even the demon Judas (the Thirteenth Demon) understood more than they did.

Because he is the Thirteenth Demon, he is the Archon Ialdabaoth. This is a very transparent reference in Sethian Gnosticism. Whenever this text uses the word "rule" it is not a good thing. The only entities that rule are Archons. He is Ialdabaoth the demon ruling over the Twelve lesser archons who have been identified with the disciples. The Gnostics are the "kingless generation" over which no one rules.

This text cannot be properly understood by reading it as an orthodox Christian might. It is a Sethian Gnostic text and all of its references are to that mythology. So you have to read it from inside that perspective to get a handle on what is being said.

According to Irenaeus, the writers of Judas believed about Judas: “that he alone, knowing more about the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal.” Why did the writers believe so, I wonder? They must have had good reason to think that Judas was a real character with more knowledge than the other twelve disciples. They also believed in the existence of Jesus, seemingly as a spirit character when speaking to Judas. So they had to reconcile what they understood about these two characters.

Astonishingly, the portrait of Judas painted at the end of the Gospel seems to be what one might realistically expect from reading a Jewish text about a priest undertaking worship in the sanctuary. Thus the text: ‘Judas lifted up his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it’ is a picture of Judas in the sanctuary of the temple watching the smoke of incense rising and forming a cloud in which he became immersed. We have high priests unhappy because he went into the ‘guest room’ for his prayer. The ‘guest room’ one could take as the holy place for the presence of God where the altar of incense was. Some priests were watching him in order to arrest him during the prayer. They were afraid to do so because he was popular with many who regarded him as a prophet. Thus the watching priests regarded Judas as a false prophet who had no right to be in the sanctuary. They said, “What are you doing here? You are Jesus’ disciple.” Judas admitted that he was so. ‘He received some money and handed him over.’

There was no physical Jesus to hand over. To the writers of Judas, Jesus was a spirit character. Hence they saw the betrayal as a mystery to which only Judas had the answer.

Thus, if there was a reality, then it was that Judas handed himself over in the temple, and that as a Jewish false prophet he was executed. I suggest that some of the text in the Gospel of Judas came from a ‘normal’ Jewish source text about a real prophet Judas, and that this caused the writers of Judas to believe that Judas knew more about the betrayal than anyone else. As a prophet, Judas would have obeyed the Spirit of God as Lord.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Geoff: There are several elements of Judas that do not look like a "normal" Jewish text. The kind of protology present is very Gnostic in character-- and it is the bulk of the material. So I am not at all sure one should read this text and look for a "reality" behind it. Remember Irenaeus is critical of the view he describes, where Judas is said to have more knowledge. Judas could not go into the holy place to make an offering (even as a prophet). That area was reserved for priests.  dlb

The end of the Gospel of Judas is almost all based on the imagery of the sanctuary with gnostic overtones for the gnostic agenda, and it is in sharp contrast to much of the earlier gnostic material. The text didn't come out of thin air.

It is my view that Judas was a priest and a prophet who rejected obedience of the law as a means of cleansing, as did priests who continued and joined the early 'Christian' movement in Acts. These priests rejected the cleansing of animal sacrifices on the altar in front of the sanctuary, but did not reject the worship of the sanctuary with its altar of the Spirit or Presence. To me this is precisely the history that the Gospel of Judas incorporates.

Thus the Gospel incorporates material that is critical of priests who officiated at the altar for animal sacrifices, again modified for the gnostic agenda - "some sleep with men; some are involved in slaughter; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand before the altar invoke your name, and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion."

I suggest that the writers of the gospel of Judas did indeed know about (probably from a prophetic Jewish writing) a conflict between Jewish priests who followed the temple cult of animal sacrifices, and priests who were prophets and sought cleansing by the Spirit of God.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

First of all, please sign in (if this is not Geoff) rather than be anonymous, It makes the exchange more personal.As for your view, nothing about the text indicates Judas is either a prophet or a priest (even the Holy Place was not a "guest" room). The temple imagery is generic enough to fit anywhere in terms of the temple as a critique of what takes place there and we know the earliest Christians still went to the temple.The text does have an element of Jewishness in it as Sethian Gnosticism did in all likelihood emerge from such roots. Whether we can or should get so specific abotu Judas is another matter.dlb  

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Professor DeConick:Thanks for the response. I really appreciate it. They are helpful in seeing how you are reading the text. A few questions: 1) How is the citation that follows that Judas will exceed the others and the mention fo Jesus' sacrifice to be read. It looks on the surface as if it is about a bright star and a strong heart and is about Judas. So how should that be read?2) There also appears to be an ambiguous use of the word rule near the end of the discussion where Jesus announces that there is a generation over which no stars rule (early on in the gospel; granted the text is quite broken-- "powers, which...powers [through] which you riue").Is it possible that Judas is among the psychics versus the completely spiritual, since he is distinguished from the Twelve and is of a lower realm than the Gnostics? 3) Yaldabaoth looks to be named in the vision in the middle of the text as part of a series of those who rule over chaos. Now, if this is like the Apocryphon of john (another Sethian text), then he is not a "good" God--and yet he is not connected to Judas here. So why should one equate Judas with Yaldabaoth? 4) Seth who is Christ is noted later as one who appears to rule over the underworld. For Sethians, Seth-Christ is a hero, so is this an example of a positive use of rule in the gospel (thus making other uses more ambiguous)?

Professor Bock,

The translation you are reading and quoting is inaccurate.

1. "exceed" is not what the Coptic says. It says "more than" and the more than what is picked up from context. If you check this out, you will see that Jesus is speaking to Judas about sacrifices to Saklas, and how all this is evil. Then he tells Judas that he will do more (which contexts tells us should be translated in English "worse") than everyone else who sacrifices to Saklas, because he is going to sacrifice Jesus.

2. this cosmos is ruled by the stars=Archons. The Gnostic Aeon above this cosmos is kingless. Judas is told that his star belongs to the 13th realm (where Ialdabaoth lives and rules from) and that he will rule as the Thirteenth over the Twelve=Archons below him=disciples.

3. Ialdabaoth is Judas' heavenly counterpart or Judas is Ialdabaoth's earthly agent. Judas will go to the Thirteenth heaven where he will rule as Ialdabaoth after he carries out Ialdabaoth's plan to kill Jesus. This is part of the Sethian tradition about Jesus' crucifixion.

4. The construction "Seth" and "Christ" is WRONG. The text has a hole which the NG team filled in incorrectly. Seth and Christ are never archons over the hells or chaos. The text has [...]eth and then the Archon's abbreviation XC. Now what should this say? XC is not just a common abbreviation for Christ in our texts. It is also common for CRESTOS, the good one, which is the title in Gnostic texts for Atho/eth, a very well known name for one of the Sethian Archons. So it must be Atheth.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Professor DeConick: Thank you again for the replies. The translation I am using is from Marvin Meyer and his book on Judas, as my Coptic text copy is not here at home but at the office. As you know, he worked on these texts.So your take is that Judas is more evil than all (i.e., especially the twelve), but he will end up ruling over them?  dlb (Darrell is fine)

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