The Gospel of Judas
- Category: Alison Marshall's Column
- Created: Sunday, 07 May 2006 15:38
- Published: Sunday, 07 May 2006 00:00
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Modern scholars knew of the existence of a work called the “Gospel of Judas” from references made to it by Irenaeus of Lyons in his “Adversus Haereses”, an anti-gnostic work he wrote in about 180AD. However, the actual text of the gospel was not known until its discovery in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century. The gospel comprised one section of a manuscript called Codex Tchacos, which was found to date back to between 220 to 340AD.(1)
The authors of the Gospel of Judas belonged to a group of Christian mystics called Sethian Gnostics. They saw the role of Judas in a positive light, rather than the negative one found in the four gospels of the New Testament.Unlike the New Testament gospels, the Gospel of Judas is not a biography of Christ. Instead, it is made up entirely of dialogues between, primarily, Jesus and Judas. The text has it that Judas was Jesus’ favoured disciple and was given secret knowledge about the Kingdom not given to anyone else. As part of his role as the favourite, Judas was commanded by Jesus to betray him to the Jewish authorities. This task would be extremely difficult and would result in Judas being “cursed for generations”. Nevertheless, it was important because Jesus needed to be ‘betrayed’ and killed in order for his spirit to be freed from the prison of the body and for humankind to be redeemed.
In the tablet "Commentary on a Verse of Rumi" or "Tablet of Salman I", Baha’u’llah deals with an argument from some Islamic mystics that is similar to the one put forward in the Gospel of Judas. The underlying idea in both cases is that some people are destined by God to oppose the prophets in order that God’s preordained decrees might be fulfilled. Therefore, those who do these important evil deeds for God are equal to, or better than, the prophets and/or those who support them.
In his Commentary on a Verse of Rumi, Baha’u’llah discusses the following lines from the 13th-century Persian poet and mystic, Jalalu'din Rumi:
“Because the colourless has fallen captive to colour
Moses has gone to war with Moses.”
Baha’u’llah explains that some Islamic mystics, or Sufis, saw all things in creation as manifestations of the effulgence of God; for example, they saw God as the sea and all things as waves, or God as the ink and all things as words made up from the ink. Applying this idea to the last line of the poetry, they believed that Moses was the manifestation of the name of God “the Guide” and Pharaoh, who opposed Moses, was the manifestation of the name of God “the Misleading”, “the Abaser”. But although Moses and Pharaoh manifested different names of God and were opposed to each other in life, they both manifested God and had their origin in God. Therefore, when the ‘robes’ of manifestation were stripped away, both returned to God, just as the waves return to the sea. This explains why Rumi referred to Moses and Pharaoh as ‘Moses’, to allude to the fact that are both one in origin, although they manifested different names of God and appeared to be at war.
Baha’u’llah rejects this idea outright. He says that no one with any wisdom at all would believe that Moses and Pharaoh were equal. And he denies that this was Rumi's meaning.
Baha’u’llah denies that creation is a direct manifestation of the effulgence of God. He is emphatic that that there is “no relationship, no link, no direction, no allusion, and no indication” between the essence of God and creation. Instead, he explains, God manifests in creation the prophets or manifestations to act as God’s representatives. He says that “[God] equated the knowledge of these holy souls with the knowledge of himself.” Therefore, all are related to God by being related to these prophets or manifestations.
Baha’u’llah explains that we should look at all things as mirrors. Everything reflects the light of God that comes via these manifestations. All things, including people, reflect the light according to their own characteristics. For example, in objects, a red object will reflect red light and a crystal will reflect light differently to a stone. To illustrate this point for humans, Baha’u’llah uses the name of God “the Self-sufficient”. Like a ray of the sun, it begins as one light within the realm of God. But when it is manifested in the world, it is reflected in people according to the characteristics of each person’s soul. In a generous person, it will show up as generosity; in a miserly person it will show up as avarice and so on.
The point is that the various names and attributes of God are one in origin, but when they are manifested in creation and reflect in the realities of being, they show up in different ways according to the characteristics of those realities. Therefore, the differences we see between a person who supports a prophet and one that opposes that prophet do not originate with God. Those differences come from the characteristics of the person, or mirror, reflecting the attribute of God.
Baha’u’llah points out that Pharaoh would never have opposed Moses had he not been given the power and opportunity to do so. The principle is that the characteristics of a person are hidden so long as that person does not have the opportunity to display who they are. For example, we do not know if a person is generous or miserly unless they are given money. When God’s power and greatness were reflected on creation at the time of Moses, these attributes appeared in Pharaoh as opposition to God. Other people at that time displayed different characteristics and supported Moses. In any case, whatever a person did, the result was a raw display of themselves and who they chose to be.
Similarly, with Judas, he was given the opportunity to betray Jesus and he took it. This revealed who he was as a person. The other disciples did not take it and demonstrated who they were.
(1) This article owes all its information about the Gospel of Judas to the Wikipedia article “Gospel of Judas”.