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Gnosticism: Ancient and modern
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Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement which started in pre-Christian times. The name is derived from the Greek word "gnosis" which literally means "knowledge." However, the English words "Insight" and "enlightenment" capture more of the meaning of "gnosis." It is pronounced with a silent "G" (NO-sis). Gnosticism is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge, such as is involved in mathematics and physics; that would have been more accurately represented by the Greek world "episteme." Rather, Gnosticism involves the relational or experiential knowledge of God and of the divine or spiritual nature within us. A visitor to this web site wrote: "...we believe that gnosis-knowledge requires ultimate transcendence of the merely intellectual to be actualized." 1 Gnostics believe that they have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware. It became one of the three main belief systems within 1st century Christianity, and was noted for four factors by which differed from the two other branches of Christianity: Novel beliefs about Gods, the Bible and the world which differed from those of other Christian groups. Tolerance of different religious beliefs within and outside of Gnosticism. Lack of discrimination against women. Although Jesus treated women as equals, and Paul mostly did the same, the other Christian belief systems started to oppress women in later generations.

A belief that salvation is achieved through relational and experiential knowledge. In the words of The contemporary Gnostic Apostolic Church, humanity needs to be awakened and brought "to a realisation of his true nature. Mankind is moving towards the Omega Point, the Great day when all must graduate or fall. This day is also the Day of Judgment in that only those who have entered the Path of Transfiguration and are being reborn can return to the Treasury of Light." 2 The movement and its literature were essentially wiped out before the end of the 5th century CE by Catholic heresy hunters and the Roman Army. Its beliefs are currently experiencing a rebirth throughout the world, triggered in part by the discovery of an ancient Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in the 1940s, and the finding of the Gospel of Judas at El Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s.

MENU: The role of Judas and The Gospel of Judas
Was Judas a traitor or facilitator? All sides to the controversy
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[The finding] “ transforming our understanding of early Christianity. These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse and fascinating the early Christian movement really was.” Elaine Pagels, a major religious author and professor of religion at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ.


The Gospel of Judas was revered by some ancient Gnostic Christian groups. Gnostics were one of the three main movements within early Christianity. Gnostics believe that they have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population is unaware. Like the other two branches of the early Christian movement -- Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity -- they believed that they alone truly understood Christ's message, and that other streams of thought within Christianity had misinterpreted Jesus' mission and sayings. Gnostics were almost wiped out before the end of the 5th century CE by mainline Christianity heresy hunters and the Roman Empire. They have survived to the present day and are now experiencing a period of rapid growth in the west An anonymous follower of one of the Gnostic faith groups wrote the Gospel of Judas circa 150 CE. Its existence was mentioned in the writings of proto-orthodox Christian authors where it was condemned as heretical. However, a manus cript, translated from the original Greek into Coptic, was only discovered in recent years. It was found in the Egyptian desert near El Minya. The manuscript is now called the Codex Tchacos. It is 66 pages in length and contains: The Gospel of Judas, A text titled "James" also known as the "First Apocalypse of James," A Letter of Peter to Philip, and A fragment of a fourth text provisionally called the "Book of Allogenes." The Gospel of Judas is by far the most important component of the Codex. It contains an alternate explanation of the role that Judas played among Jesus' disciples. New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, said that the Gospel teaches that Judas is: "...the good guy. He's the only apostle who understands Jesus. In this gospel it turns out that Judas does turn Jesus over to the authorities, but according to this gospel, this is what Jesus wanted." Some of the early Gnostic faith groups taught that Judas was the most enlightened of all of Jesus' followers. This is in stark contrast to the message of the four Gospels that made it into the official canon of the New Testament. They assert that Judas was a traitor, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and that his mind was possessed and controlled by Satan. In a massive coordinated advertising campaign, news of the Gospel of Judas became widespread among the public in early 2006-April. At least three books on the Gospel were officially released on APR-06 or 07. A National Geographic Channel TV special was aired on APR-09 and APR-27. Evangelical Christians, and others who believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible will probably have little interest in this gospel. They may be aware that there were many dozens of gospels circulating within the early Christian movement of which only four were found to be legitimate, inspired by God and inerrant. These are the canonical gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. However, they might be faced with comments about this gospel when evangelizing. It might help them to be acquainted with its text. Liberal Christians will probably have a great deal of interest in the gospel. It demonstrates the wide diversity of beliefs held by the various groups within the very diverse early Christian movement.

Topics covered in this section:
What the four canonic gospels say about Judas Specific passages concerning Judas About Judas: his name; was he a traitor? The Gospel of Judas: origin, content, positive and negative reactions

Books about the Gospel of Judas:
We recommend three books:

Radolphe Kasser, et al., "The Gospel of Judas," National Geographic Soc., (2006) Read reviews or order this book

Herbert Krosney, The Lost Gospel : The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot," National Geographic Soc., (2006) Read reviews or order this book

James Robinson, "The Secrets of Judas : The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel," HarperSanFrancisco (2006). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. A search of the data base returns links for these three books and others. If you see a generic Amazon ad here, please click on your browser's refresh icon. Note: Simon Mawer's book "The Gospel of Judas" is a novel and is not directly related to the actual Gospel of Judas.


Many people assume that the Gospel of Judas states that it was written by Judas, one of Jesus' disciples. In fact, it makes no such claim. It was apparently written by a follower of Gnostic Christianity sometime during the second century CE. 7 A copy of the gospel which was recently found in Egypt is in the Coptic language and dates from the third or early fourth century CE. It was based on an earlier work, probably in Greek, written before 180 CE. It deals with the relationship between Jesus and Judas. The gospel teaches that Judas was not a traitor. He did not betray Jesus as described in the four gospels Mark, Matthew, Luke and John which were accepted into the official canon of the Bible. Rather, according to this Gospel, Judas was the most enlightened and knowledgeable of Jesus' disciples. Both Judas and Jesus realized that for Jesus to attain his purpose in life, his soul had to be liberated through the death of his body. Both worked out a plan by which Judas would hand over Jesus to the Jewish authorities in the expectation that he would be subsequently executed. The Gospel has raised some interesting debates about the role of Judas, the diversity of belief in early Christianity, and the relationship between passages in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) and anti-semitism. 1

Very early Christianity:

By the middle of the second century CE, more than a century after Jesus' execution, there were three main movements within early Christianity:
Jewish Christianity They rejected the virgin birth, and taught that Jesus was a man -- i.e. a prophet, not a God or a son of God. This was the original Christian group and was centered in Jerusalem and led by James, a brother of Jesus. Some members may have moved to Pella about 70 CE; others were wiped out by the Roman Army's attack on Jerusalem in 70 CE. The movement never recovered and eventually disappeared from history. Pauline Christianity, which was founded by Paul and later became what has been referred to as "proto-Christianity, " It eventually morphed into the Catholic Church. They taught that Jesus was a man-god. Gnostic Christianity, which was, and remains today, a diverse movement. Some Gnostic groups promoted Docetism, the belief that Christ was pure spirit and only had a phantom body. Jesus merely appeared to be human to his followers. Some Gnostic groups teach that Jesus had both male and female disciples. Gnostics were heavily oppressed by other Christians and were almost wiped out. A small group remains in the Middle East. Gnostics in the West are experiencing rapid growth.

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