Gospel of Judas V
Bill Long 5/10/06
Summary So Far; The Temple Visions
It might be helpful to summarize what we have learned about the Gospel of Judas ("Judas") so far. We know that the text we have is written in Coptic and comes from the late 4th century, but a Greek original underlies the text, and probably was the text referred to by the late 2nd century Church Father Irenaeus. "Judas" is fascinating because it is the only attempt we have in a Gospel form to "rehabilitate" Judas' reputation. The Apostle Judas was the great betrayer of Jesus in the canonical Gospels; here he is the savior of Jesus, so to speak, because he uniquely perceives the truth about Jesus. He is the one who enables Jesus to get back to the true God. In the words of Jesus in "Judas," "you (Judas) will sacrifice the man that clothes me" (56).
In order to accomplish the task of making Judas the "hero" of the Gospel, the author picked up on a few strands from the canonical Gospel tradition and used them for his own purposes. First, he picked up on the Marcan theme of the obtuseness of the Twelve. They don't understand what Jesus is saying to them. Time after time they misconstrue his words and the meaning of his actions. "Judas" also portrays disciples who miss the point. "Judas," however makes better theological sense of the disciples' misunderstanding of Jesus, however, than do the canonical Gospels (but see my comments in the next essay on this theme, also). The meaning of the disciples' lack of understanding is not crystal clear in the latter, while in "Judas" the disciples misunderstand because they are from a lower realm, from this generation, and no person from this generation has insight into heavenly realities. In the canonical Gospels Jesus becomes upset and impatient with the lack of understanding of the Twelve. "How much longer do I have to be with you?" is his plaintive comment to them. In contrast, in "Judas" Jesus laughs at the disciples, and then they take umbrage at him.
Second, the author of "Judas" picks up on the literary form of Gospel, even though "Judas" is a truncated Gospel. The canonical Gospel most similar to "Judas" is the Gospel of John. In both of these Gospels Jesus is portrayed more as a speaker than a doer. In both of these Gospels Jesus says things that are not meant for the multitude but only for a select group. Though the twelve disciples are the favored ones in John (even though the beloved apostle nestles on Jesus' breast), only Judas is special in the Gospel of Judas.
The ideas of "Judas," however, are quite different from those in the canonical Gospels. Or, to use a metaphor from the building trade, one might say that the foundations look similar but the superstructure of the building is the difference between a house and a commercial structure. There are similarities to be sure, since both structures have windows and doors and halls and separate rooms, but the differences outweigh the similarities. Especially unique in "Judas" is the content of the revelation Jesus gives Judas about the origin of the universe. Emphasis is placed on original and mediate beings, which are given names that are unfamiliar to us (Sakla, Yobel, Galila, etc.). One might say that "Judas" gives us a "layered" heavenly reality while the canonical Gospels emphasize the reality and meaningfulness of life on earth. The "real" world for the canonical Gospels is here and now, in the healing and teaching and discourses of Jesus about the Father and the Son. The "real" world for "Judas" is in the heavens, where angels and archangels, rulers and luminaries, generations and powers duke it out with each other and eventually create humanity and the world that we know. The virtue of "Judas'" teaching, if that is the right word, is that human beings are not ultimately earthly creatures but have a heavenly destiny. Jesus had a heavenly origin, but only Judas correctly perceived that about him. The canonical Gospels do not deny this heavenly destiny for humans, but a sort of veil is drawn between our world and that world, so that we are not able to perceive it. "Judas" removes the mysteries left by the canonical Gospels about the nature of the heavenly worlds.
In this way, a person who felt that "Judas" was his or her Scripture might also read the canonical Gospels as consistent with "Judas." Such a person would argue that the canonical Gospels stress the healing or teaching ministry of Jesus in the here and now while "Judas" gives insight into the realms of reality beyond the hear and now. "Judas" is, to use a phrase coined by the Latter Day Saints, a "newer testament" or at least "a newer Gospel" of Jesus Christ. Thus, "Judas" can be seen as a "supplement" or even "complement" to the canonical Gospels.
The Temple Vision (pp. 38-46)
There is one more long passage which invites our consideration, however, and that is the dual temple visions in the heart of "Judas." After Jesus has laughed at the disciples for their lack of understanding (i.e., they don't "get" the fact that there is another generation superior to and holier than they are), they were "troubled in spirit" and recount a vision they had (37). The content of the vision is as follows: the disples saw a great house and in it were twelve men, who were priests, and a crowd of people was waiting at the altar for the priests to complete their priestly duties (the text is filled with gaps here).
Jesus asks the disciples what the priests were doing. They say that some were sacrificing children, some were involved in homosexual relations, some committed a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness (38). "The men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name], and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion" (39).
What does all this mean? Read on.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long