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The Gospel of Judas: A Personal Assessment

By Victor Chendekemen Yakubu*

The recent discovery of a Gnostic gospel called the Gospel of Judas has caused some stir among
Christians. Apart from the fact that it contains some contradictory depositions to Christian
beliefs and practices, the gospel has raised more questions than answers about the personality
of Judas. In Christian belief Judas is the villain and the traitor who betrayed his master with a
kiss and was rewarded with thirty pieces of silver. But the discovery of this manuscript has
restored his dignity as the person whom Jesus chose to fulfill his mission. So instead of vilifying
him as traitor, he is portrayed as the apostle whom Jesus loved and revealed to him “the
mysteries of the kingdom.”

Although there have been various inconclusive theological debates on whether to blame Judas
Iscariot or not for his role in the death of Jesus, this manuscript has conclusively exonerated him
of any blame. Before Jesus was betrayed, he had predicted this to his disciples when he said, ”it
would have been better for that person if he hadn't been born.” This is an indication that Judas
chose to act according to his whims and caprices in defiance to his apostleship status. Jesus
knew that Judas was the betrayer and the “bad egg” amongst the apostles, but yet had to
undergo the cross for the redemption of mankind.

The action of Judas brought into the English lexicon the adage, “In every twelve, there must be a
Judas.” But can we wholly blame Judas for his actions since Jesus as some times saw his
suffering, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of Scriptures? Jesus told his apostles at several
times about his death, “The son of man will be crucified, but after three days he will rise again.”

The four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the commonly accepted gospels which
traditionally Christians have come to comprehend the life and times of Jesus. The first three are
commonly referred to in biblical studies as the synoptic gospels because of their similarities in
presentations of the accounts of Jesus. It is commonly believed that they drew from a source
referred to as the Q [Quelle] source. John on the other hand is unique in his presentation of a
deep theology about Jesus and his mission. Hence without the four gospels it would be difficult
to realize the mission and vision of Jesus whom the Old Testament prophesied about. But the
presence of the four gospels in what theologians have tagged the Canon of Scriptures, has
opened up a wealth of knowledge about the saving mystery of God in the salvation of the world.

John 3:16 summarized the whole mission of Jesus: “For God so love the world, that He sent his
only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”
But even as Jesus did his work amongst his people, it was not everybody that recognized his
messianic mandate. While others were seeking healing, miracles and word of life, others were
after his life for calling himself “the son of God.” The utterances of Jesus were misconceived as
pomposity against the Jewish beliefs and practices. The Roman occupiers saw Jesus as a
progenitor of violence against their continued occupation of Palestine and a possible loss of
taxation. To both Jews and Romans, Jesus was a nuisance causing disaffection with his teaching.
So they thought. Judas became a veritable tool in their hands when he played to the gallery and

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accepted to betray Jesus to them for thirty pieces of silver. He did it unsuspectingly with a kiss, a
deadly kiss. But Jesus knew his intention and asked him a question, “Judas, so you betray your
master with a kiss?” He said nothing in defense to his action. Christian writers of the gospels did
not spare him as a treacherous apostle and tagged him “Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.” This
tradition has been known and anything Judas is synonymous with betrayal.

All the facts about Judas provided by the four canonical gospels have been challenged by the
gospel of Judas. But the questions are: How come about the gospel of Judas? What are the
unfolding events after its discovery especially the media hype by Frieda Nussberger Tchacos as
assisted by the National Geographic Society? Is there any grand plan to use the manuscript to
cause disbelief amongst Christians at this turn of the century? Is Judas to be sincerely blamed or
exonerated for his role in the suffering, death and crucifixion of Jesus? Is it true that the
Catholic Church has tried to cover up the existence of the gospel and other apocryphal texts?

I have personally taken time to research on the secret motifs behind the gospel of Judas
manuscripts. Apart from purchasing the DVD released by the National Geographic at a high cost
and the mass reading of different church materials, I have realized that there is so much media
hype about this discovery probably for economic reasons.

The story of the discovery of the manuscript goes like this: A farmer in Egypt in 1979 wanted to
discover some items of value so he could sale in the antiquity market. He ended up discovering a
stone box which contained an ancient manuscript. The farmer did not know its value and so
handed it to another man Hanna who dealt on ancient antiquities. It was from the store of this
second person that the portions of manuscript were illegally taken out of Egypt and it found
itself in Geneva in the hands of Koutoulakis. Few pages of the manuscript were stolen by his
girlfriend named Mia. However, Koutoulakis the 'owner' showed it to some Greek merchant
named Frieda Tchacos who was based in Zurich in 1982. She became interested in the
manuscript and travelled to Cairo in November 1999 and negotiated a purchase of the
manuscript from Hanna. Already Hanna had deposited part of the manuscript in a safe with
Citibank Kickville New York. Since Tchacos was keen about getting this artifact, Hanna sold it to
her for an undisclosed amount.

Tchacos in possession of the materials approached religious scholars at Yale University for
assistance. The authorities of the institution expressed desire not in helping her translate them
but in purchasing the whole manuscript. But since the document was a smuggled one, the
university lawyers advised against buying it. Without a buyer Tchacos deposited them in a Swiss
vault under a foundation Frieda Tchacos Foundation. Although she tried to sell it severally, she
could not get a buyer for the price she was asking nearly US$3m. However, Tchacos had been
implicated in some case of antiquity smuggling in Italy and was arrested sometimes ago in Cyprus
and jailed for some months. But the interesting aspect is that Tchacos became determined in her
bid to discover what the manuscript contained.

The papyri were given to National Geographic who made some television programmes
highlighting the world about the discovery of this ancient manuscript. Next a group of
translators was assembled to decipher the Coptic language's Sahidic writings and the possible
date it was written.

According to the documentary made by the National Geographic, the manuscript is 1,800 years
old possibly from the 4th or 5th century AD. This began to shed light on the ancient manuscript and
all it contained. But in Christian writings, there is no clear account of any mention of the
existence of the gospel of Judas except the observation made by the fighting bishop Iraneaus of
Lyons France in 180 AD. In his remarks he likened the gospel to the Gnostic sect which was seen
as a heretical group within the developing church. According to his defense in Adversus
haereses [Against Heresies] written in c. 180 AD he mentions the gospel of Judas in section

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1.31.1 thus:

“Some 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 styled the
Gospel of Judas.”

This clearly showed that the said gospel of Judas was known by the early church but not
accepted into the canon of Scripture by the Church. It was rejected on many grounds based on
what the Church professed as the unchanged traditions, dogmas and beliefs from the apostles.
Perhaps this is the area that some critics criticize the Catholic Church or the Vatican of having
hidden this gospel of Judas from the knowledge of the Christian world until now that it was
discovered and publicized by Tchacos Foundation and the National Geographic.

But this kind of argument does not hold water owing to the fact that when the Canon of Scripture
was composed, many pseudo-gospels were rejected for lack of grounded historical facts,
doctrinal backing and distortion of theological facts. It was common knowledge in the early
church that Judas betrayed Jesus and even went ahead to commit suicide out of frustration for
his actions. The evidence of this lies in the Holyland where a piece of land was purchased with
the thirty silver pieces and it is presently used in burying foreigners. The campaign according to
the Gospel of Judas orchestrated by Tchacos and National Geographic is meant to de-villify Judas
and render him a great apostle who knew much about the mysteries of God's kingdom as
revealed to him by Jesus.

The Catholic Church published a list of books of the bible from which none could be added or
subtracted. More so, it went ahead to divide them into two categories. The first comprised of
proto-canonical books which had been unquestionably accepted right from the beginning, and
the second category which comprised of deutero-canonical books which won their place
gradually into the canon. However, the Church never doubted the authenticity of all books
found in the bible.

After the acceptance of this compilation which began at the early church, all other books which
had shaky origins were discarded as either heretical or unsuitable for publication based on the
fact they did not embody any importance in terms of boosting the faith of readers. This became
the fate of much later books like the gospel of Philip, gospel of Barnabas, gospel of Mary
Magdalene, gospel of Thomas and the gospel of Judas. These gospels were written by certain
sects within the early Christian Church which propagated heretical beliefs about the central
person of the Christian faith Jesus. No wander in 367 AD bishop Athanasius issued his Easter
message to his flock warning them of books that are 'Scripture' and those not scriptural. The
problem at that time was that so many books were paraded as part of the Holy Writ and an
authority was needed to inform the people of the authenticity of certain books. From all
indications, the gospel of Judas was one of those books circulated by the Gnostic sect claiming to
be part of the canon.

Why was a book like the gospel of Judas rejected from the canon of Scripture? Besides the
authentication of the papyri and the date of the gospel of Judas originating from the 4th or 5th
century, the gospel lacks the basic common trait found in the four authentic gospels Mark,

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Matthew, Luke and John. This is precisely the point of divergence between the four synoptic
gospels on one hand and the gospel of Judas on the other. There can be no convergence
between the two sides based on lack of correlation in issues tackled by the gospel of Judas
which are judiciously juxtaposed in the four gospels. The accepted gospels have uniformity and
centrality of purpose without diverting to sect teachings.

They undertook broad reportage of the events leading to the public ministry of Jesus until his
death, resurrection and ascension. On the other hand, the gospel of Judas truly belongs to
Judas because it betrayed the personality of Jesus according to the knowledge of the early

It crossed the border between faith and reason and went ahead to glorify Judas as the only
apostle that Jesus was always conversing with, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you
the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you, in order to reach it, but you will grieve a
great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve [disciples] may again
come to completion with their god.” The work clearly demonstrates the Gnostic tendencies that
operated at the early church. The Gnostics believed in exclusive knowledge of the world
revealed to them specifically by God.

For one to gain such knowledge, one needed to become a member before the receipt of this
special gnosis - knowledge. According to the gospel of Judas, Jesus used to appear before them
like a child. This belief came from another form of Gnosticism referred to as the Docetists who
denied that Jesus could not have been a real man. This smaller group believed that Jesus was a
phantom who did not leave any footprints in his ministry. Since matter was evil, Jesus could not
have been a real man because he will face corruption. The beginning of the Gospel of John was
written to dispel this kind of heresy by concretizing that Jesus existed from the beginning and
he became incarnate to actualize his mission.

What lessons can Christians learn from the gospel of Judas if at all there is any? The first caution
is this, while it is important to acknowledge the importance of the existence of the manuscript,
it is equally important to accept its limitations. Christians should concentrate on strengthening
their faith from the belief already established about Jesus the Son of God who came to serve and
not to be served and gave his life as ransom for many.

The death of Jesus is a fulfillment of the plan of God who designed that his only begotten son
would die on the cross for the redemption of the world. Many of the Old Testament prophets
foretold his coming and what his fate would be. Everything predicted about Jesus came to be
from his conception, birth, ministry and death up to the time he resurrected and ascended to
heaven. Any contrary belief to these Christian motifs run counter to the faith we inherited from
the early church.

There was no propaganda in orchestrating the resurrection of Jesus as even the Roman soldiers
knew that they could not explain how Jesus resurrected. Even as they offered them bribe to
spread the rumour that he did not rise, this never affected the belief of the early Christians
through the appearances of Jesus to his apostles for over forty days. The claims of the gospel of
Judas truly belong to Judas the betrayer.

*Fr.Yakubu, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Zaria, is Diocesan Secretary

and resides at Sacred Heart Parish Wusasa-Zaria, NIGERIA.
Mobile: +234-802-373-8660 [sms only]

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