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Gospel of Judas One More Time Nov 17

I am now at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in San Diego. I get to see all the new publications here. One of the new books out is by Marvin Meyer who has given his career to translating extra-biblical texts. It is called Judas: The Definitive Collection of Gospels and Legends about the Infamous Apostle of Jesus. So, the discussion of Judas continues.

I am now at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in San Diego. I get to see all the new publications here. One of the new books out is by Marvin Meyer who has given his career to translating extra-biblical texts. It is called Judas: The Definitive Collection of Gospels and Legends about the Infamous Apostle of Jesus. So, the discussion of Judas continues. In addition he has collected the references to Judas across the second to thirteenth centuries. The list is not exhastive but representative.

This book is aware of the new interpretation of Judas put forward by April DeConick, which we blogged recently. In a section called "Judas Reconsidered" (p. 13) Meyer evaluates briefly the gospel of Judas. He notes that the finding of Judas displays, "From the beginning, the church has been characterized by diversity, and that rich heritage of diversity continues to the present day." Even though Meyer dates Judas to the mid-second century, he makes this statement about its importance. He even notes how Judas is just a few decades after the gospels were written (yet when discussing the gospels themselves the point is usually made by the same folks about how much time has taken place between the gospels and Jesus). In response, we can observe that Judas, however, tells us nothing about the earliest period of Christianity (i.e., read first century).

He goes on to argue that when Irenaeus speaks of orthodoxy and heresy, he CREATES those categories. This ignores much evidence we have in the Christian materials, as early as 1 John in the nineties and Galatians in the late forties or fifties, that the idea of true and false belief came earlier in the church.

Meyer goes on to analyze the argument by Klassen that Judas did what Jesus asked (to get him an audience before the Sanhedrin), but that they betrayed Judas in the effort. Meyer suggests that with other texts we just might need to rexamine the role of Judas in light of this gospel, one of the original claims made about it upon its release.

On p. 50 Meyer raises the DeConick, Louis Painchaud, and John Turner view that Judas is a negative figure in the gospel Meyer acknowledges the reading of "you will exceed all of them" (on Judas, p. 56) is difficult to be sure. He notes that such an alternate reading "is worthy of consideration" but that it "may be difficult to sustain without considerable qualification." (1) He suggests against the alternative reading is the incipit (or introduction) that says good news is present (not a tragic reading of Judas). (2) The alternate view ignores all the places where Judas interprets Jesus positively in Judas. (3) This alternative explanation imposes readings from other Sethian texts to makes its argument. (4) Finally, it requires fairly tendentious readings of passages in the gospel itself. In the midst of some uncertanty about Judas’s fate in the gospel, Meyer closes, "Yet what is clear from the text is the positive role of the disciple Judas, who, though opposed by the other disciples, understands who Jesus is, learns the mysteries of the kingdom from Jesus, and does what Jesus says he will do."

So the debate over Judas is on. The two key hurdles for DeConick’s view are Judas’s seemingly positive responses to and understanding of Jesus and the testimony of Irenaeus about such a gospel that reverses Judas’s role, something the church father is not likely to have made up (an argument Meyer does not make). Thus, the original view that Judas is a negative figure seems still to have slightly more going for it. However, even so, this gospel does not show as much as Meyer claims for it. Diversity in the use of Christian symbolism does exist in the second century, but it is not clear that diversity like that in Judas has an equal claim to the earliest period of the first century.

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