Friday, May 31, 2019

Following Judas: The Judas of the Apocrypha

4. The Judas of the Apocrypha

Before delving in to the descriptions of Judas in the Apocrypha, it is important to establish what is meant by that term.  Apocrypha refers to works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin.  Generally, it concerns the works not selected for inclusion in the Bible by the particular governing body.

Confusingly, it can be a broad term in Biblical sense, referring to the deuterocanonical works (or second cannon works), the pseudepigrapha, or falsely attributed works, and other writings.  A portion of the total apocrypha, the Deuterocanonical works can be found in the Bibles of certain Christian denominations.  Catholic and Orthodox traditions in particular include a portion of the apocrypha. 

As with everything, there are levels to the value of apocryphal texts.  There are esoteric writings and objects, like those by the Gnostics, that are treated as heretical and of little value.  There are writings of questionable value or spurious writings, which have little value to the church.  Then there are writings, like the often collected "Apocrypha" which, while not viewed as a source of doctrine, are nonetheless viewed as beneficial.  Like modern Christian literature and scholarship, the are instructive but not controlling.

It's in this framework that we can approach the apocrypha surrounding Judas.  Some of it may have instructional value.  Others may have no probative value beyond curiosity.  Nonetheless, it will provide a context from writings closer to the time of Judas's life and death.

Judas is mentioned or discussed in only a handful of apocryphal texts.  The story of his early life is included in the Syraic Infancy Gospel.  His involvement in Jesus's ministry is more greatly expounded in the Gnostic Gospel of Judas.  And his death is a focus in the Gospels of Nicodemus and Barnabas, each adding their own variations.

A. The Syraic or Arabic Infancy Gospel

The Syraic Infancy Gospel is one of the texts among the New Testament apocryphal writings concerning the infancy of Jesus and seems to be partly based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelium of James.  There are only two surviving manuscripts of the text dating from 1299 AD and the 15/16th century in the Arabic language.  These surviving manuscripts show influence from the Qu'ran, as even the earliest manuscript post-dates the events of Islam by almost 700 years.  Given the connection, it raises questions as to how much the Gospels influenced the Qu'ran or the Qu'ran influenced this work.

Regarding Judas, this Infancy Gospel includes a story likely from local legend, revealing a very early connection between Jesus and Judas.  In the work, it is said that Judas as a boy was possessed by Satan, who caused him to bite himself or anyone else present.  In one of these attacks, Judas bit the young Jesus on the side that would eventually be pierced in the Crucifixion.  By touching Jesus, Satan was exorcised and Judas was freed from his influence.

"35. Another woman was living in the same place, whose son was tormented by Satan. He, Judas by name, as often as Satan seized him, used to bite all who came near him; and if he found no one near him, he used to bite his own hands and other limbs. The mother of this wretched creature, then, hearing the fame of the Lady Mary and her son Jesus, rose up and brought her son Judas with her to the Lady Mary. In the meantime, James and Joses had taken the child the Lord Jesus with them to play with the other children; and they had gone out of the house and sat down, and the Lord Jesus with them. And the demoniac Judas came up, and sat down at Jesus' right hand: then, being attacked by Satan in the same manner as usual, he wished to bite the Lord Jesus, but was not able; nevertheless he struck Jesus on the right side, whereupon He began to weep. And immediately Satan went forth out of that boy, fleeing like a mad dog. And this boy who struck Jesus, and out of whom Satan went forth in the shape of a dog, was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him to the Jews; and that same side on which Judas struck Him, the Jews transfixed with a lance."

While this does provide more background information, it provides little in the way of new motivation for the betrayal.  It further ties Judas into possession, with him being plagued from childhood.  It does provide motivation for Judas to join Jesus's ministry and follow him, as it would be appreciation for the healing Jesus provided.

B. The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel text, whose content consists of conversations between Jesus and his disciples, particularly Judas Iscariot.  The newly discovered text is very controversial for several reasons, including its Gnostic theology and Coptic language.  The main controversy of its text revolves around the theory that Jesus asked Judas to betray Him in order to fulfill His destiny and the scriptures.  If this is true, it would make Judas a saint and not the sinner and traitor believed by the mainline church.

The text is believed to have been composed in the second century by Gnostic Christians, exact author unknown, and is reflected in the late-2nd-century theology.  The only known copy in existence has been carbon dated between 220 and 340 AD.  In contrast, most scholars agree that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written between the date of Jesus' death (around AD 33) and AD 90.

We do, though, have other historical evidence of the Gospel of Judas.  There is a reference to a Gospel of Judas in the works of early Christian writer Irenaeus of Lyons, who called the text a "fictitious history," condemning it in his Adversus Haereses, written about 180 AD.  Twentieth Century writers like Rev. J. Tixeront, have cited St. Irenaeus's works as pointing to the text.   "Besides these Gospels, we know that there once existed a Gospel of Bartholomew, a Gospel of Thaddeus, mentioned in the decree of Pope Gelassius, and a Gospel of Judas Iscariot in use among the Cainites and spoken of by St. Irenaeus."

The codex itself has an interesting history.  It was written on papyrus and presumed composed in a Gnostic monastery in Egypt.  Although other copies may have been made, they were likely lost in St. Athanasius's fourth century campaign to destroy all heretical texts.  In order to protect this text from that campaign, it is believed a Gnostic monk or scribe buried copies of certain texts in an area of tombs in Egypt.  These texts were not discovered until the late 1970s, found bound together in a single codex with other .  This particular text was unearthed by a farmer in 1978.  He found a small container like a tomb box in a cave near Beni Masar, Egypt.  The codex was sold to an antiques dealer in Cairo, who then turned to sell it to a couple of scholars at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.  This deal deteriorated, leading to the text being stored in a safe in New York for 16 years.  In that time, the condition of the manuscript worsened, to the point where a Zurich based antiquities dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos acquired it, leading to the start of its first translation in 2000.  National Geographic was brought in to assist in the preservation and translation in 2004.

Over the next five years thousands of pieces of papyrus were placed back together, and attempts at translation into English.  The restored original is now housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.  Because of the age of the document and ill-treatment of the text, much of it is illegible.  There are gaps and holes in the codex, with entire lines missing.  Some parts of the translation were, at best, educated guesses, while others were filled in based on context.  Accordingly, there are still many outstanding questions about the manuscript and its contents, as well as many critiques of the translation itself.

To understand the Gospel of Judas and the peculiarities of its text, it is important to understand Gnosticism.  Gnosticism is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems, originating in Jewish-Christian environments in the first and second century AD.  These systems believed that the material world is created by an emanation or work of a lower god (demiurge), trapping the divine spark within a human body.  This spark, our divine nature, could be liberated through gnosis, spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience.

According to Gnosticism, the supreme God is a luminous being of light who exists on an imperishable realm.  This God is unknowable and is not the creator of the material universe.  At the beginning of time, God created a group of angels and lower gods, or archons, who were willed to come into being to rule over chaos and the underworld.  An inferior spirit from this group, the demiurge, is the creator of the material world.  All matter, all of the material world is evil; the non-material, the spiritual is good.  To achieve salvation and to break through to the spiritual, one only needs knowledge or gnosis, thus sin is irrelevant.  Only ignorance matters and Gnostic texts are designed to point away from ignorance to the true knowledge.

Jesus, under Gnosticism, was the son of the true God, not one of the lesser gods, and his mission was to show that salvation lies within man.  Through embracing the internal God, then man can return to the imperishable realm.  In the Gospel of Judas, eleven of the disciples Jesus chose to spread his message are presented as misunderstanding the central tenets of his teaching and were obsessed with the physical world of senses.  The author of this text references practices as animal sacrifice and the belief in a bodily resurrection as evidence of this misunderstanding.

Judas is presented as the exception, the one who can understand this higher purpose and knowledge.

"1. Jesus appeared on earth to perform miracles and wondrous acts in order to save humanity.  Because some conducted themselves in a righteous way and others continued in their sins, he decided to call the twelve disciples.

2. He began to talk to them about the mysteries that lay beyond this world and what would happen at this world's end (at the end).  He often changed his appearance and was not seen as himself but looked like a child (some translators have apparition or spirit) when he was with his disciples.

3. He came upon his disciples in Judea once when they were sitting together piously (training their piety - training in godliness).  As he got closer to the disciples he saw they were sitting together, giving thanks and saying a prayer over the bread (Eucharist/thanksgiving).  He laughed.

4. The disciples asked him, "Rabbi, why are you laughing at our prayer of thanks?  Have we not acted appropriately"  He said, 'I am not laughing at you. It is just that you are not doing this because you want to.  You are doing this because your god (has to be/will be) praised.'

5. They said, 'Rabbi, you are the (earthly/only) son of our god.'  Jesus answered, 'How do you know me?  (Do you think you know me?)  I say to you truly, no one among you in this generation (in this race) will understand me.'

6. His disciples heard this and became enraged and began mumbling profanities and mocking him in their hearts.  When Jesus saw their inability (to understand what he said to them (their stupidity), he said) 'Why did you get so upset that you became angry?  Your god, who is inside of you, (and your own lack of understanding guides you and) have instigated this anger in your (mind/soul).  (I challenge) any man among you to show me who is (understanding enough) to bring out the perfect man and stand and face me.'

7. They all said, 'We are strong enough.'  But in their (true being) spirits none dared to stand in front of him except for Judas Iscariot.  Judas was able to stand in front of him, but even he could not look Jesus in the eyes, and he turned his face away.

8. Judas said to Him, 'I know who you are and where you came from.  You are from the everlasting (eternal) aeon (realm or kingdom) of Barbelo (Barbelo's everlasting kingdom).  I am not worthy to speak the name of the one who sent you.'

9. Jesus knew that Judas was capable of understanding (showing forth/thinking about) something that was glorious, so Jesus said to him, 'Walk away (step a distance away) from the others and I will tell you about the mysteries of God (the reign of God/kingdom of God).

10.  It is possible for you to get there, but the path will cause you great grief because you will be replaced so that the twelve may be complete with their god again.'  Judas asked him, 'When will you tell me how the great day of light will dawn for this generation (race)?  When will you explain these things'  But as he asked these things, Jesus left him."

These are the first clear mentions of Judas being set apart.  As the one who can face the greater truth and ask the deeper questions.  Through Jesus's response, we get hints of the separation Judas will have from the other disciples and the ultimate fate that he will suffer.

There is also a clear indication here that Judas will be replaced in the twelve ("so that the twelve may be complete").  This will also be a theme in the book.  That Judas is the thirteenth.

"22.  Judas said, 'Rabbi, you have listened to all of those others, so now listen to me too.  I have seen a great vision.'

23.  When Jesus heard this he laughed and said to him, 'You (are the) thirteenth spirit (daemon), why are you trying so hard/why do you excite yourself like this?  However, speak up, and I will be patient with you.'  Judas said to him, 'In the vision I saw myself and the twelve disciples were stoning me and persecuting me very badly/severely/strongly.  And I (was following you  and I) arrived at a place where I saw (a large house in front of me), and my eyes could not (take in/comprehend) its size.  Many people were surrounding it, and the house had a roof of plants (grass /green vegetation), and in the middle of the house (there was a crowd) (and I was there with you), saying, 'Rabbi, take me in (the house) along with these people.'

24.  He responded and said, 'Judas, your star has misled you.  No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen.  It is a place reserved for the saints.  Not even the sun or the moon or the day (light) will rule there.  Only the saints will live there, in the eternal kingdom with the holy angels, always (some have the text as - 'will be firmly established with the holy angels forever').  Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and I have taught you about the error of the star; and (I have) sent it (on its path) on the twelve ages (aeons).'

25. Judas said, 'Rabbi, could it be that my (spiritual) seed will conquer the rulers of cosmic power (could also be rendered: 'is under the control of the archons or rulers of cosmic power'?)'

26. Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Come (with me so) that I (may show you the kingdom you will receive.  I will show you what is to come of you and this generation), but you will be grieved when you see the kingdom and all its race (of people).'  When Judas heard Him he said to him, 'What good is it if I have received it seeing that you have set me apart from that race?"  Jesus answered him and said, 'You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations, and you will come to rule over them.  In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy (race/kingdom).'"

Here again, there are mentions of Judas as the thirteenth.  In a clearer passage, Judas even reveals he had a vision of the twelve stoning and persecuting him.  The text is presented as if jealousy of this secret knowledge is what will lead the twelve disciples to this.  Jesus in his responses to Judas seems to both indicate that Judas can never enter the holy place, and that he will ascend to the holy place.

That leads to one of the greatest problems with the text.  The gaps in the text and the difficulty of the translations lead to the lines having multiple and often contradictory meanings.   This gives light to the greatest critiques of the translation.  Look for example, at Jesus's response in line 23, calling Judas either the thirteenth spirit or thirteenth daemon or thirteenth demon.  April DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, would focus on this difference in her op-ed in the New York Times regarding the National Geographic translation.  According to DeConick, "the universally accepted word for 'spirit' is 'pneuma'" which was not used here.  The text here used 'daimon' which in Gnostic literature "'daimon' is always taken to mean 'demon.'"  That puts a radically different spin on the interpretation.  Judas then is a demon set apart and kept from the holy generation.  Not a spirit that would be accepted as a part of it.

"42.  Judas said to Jesus, 'Look at what those who have been baptized in your name do?'  Jesus said, 'Truthfully I tell (you), this baptism done in my name (are done by those who do not know me.  They sacrifice in vain to the god of this world.  I baptized no one, for those baptized here have their hope here and those who follow me need no baptism for they will come) to me.  In truth (I) tell you, Judas, (those offering) sacrifices to Saklas (do not offer sacrifice to the Great) God (but instead worship) everything that is evil.  'But you will exceed all of them.  For you will sacrifice the man (the body that clothes/bares/contains me).  Already your horn has been raised, your anger has been ignited (your wrath has been kindled), your star has shown brightly, and your heart has (prevailed/been made strong/pure).


44.  Then Judas raised his eyes and saw the radiant cloud and entered it.  Those standing below him heard a voice come from the cloud, saying, (The return of the) great race (is at hand and the image of the Great One will be established in them because of Judas' sacrifice)."

Here we have a greater reference to the part that Judas will play.  That Judas will liberate Jesus from his earthly body and free the Christ spirit, through what we know of as his betrayal.  This will allow Jesus to fulfill His purpose.

The text then has Judas enter a cloud. It is this portion which is seen as Judas receiving the fullness of divine knowledge. Here, supposedly, Gnosis was imparted to him and he knew the mysteries.   From there, the text enters into an abrupt transition to one paragraph on the act of the betrayal.

"45.(But the scribes waited for Judas, hoping to place a price on the head of Jesus.)  Their high priests whispered that he had gone into the guest room for his prayer.  But some scribes were there watching closely in order to arrest Jesus during the prayer, for they were afraid of the people, since he was accepted by everyone as a prophet.  They approached Judas and said to him, 'Why are you hear?  You are Jesus' disciple.'  Judas answered them in the way they wished.  And he was given an amount of money and he handed Jesus over to them."

One paragraph devoted to the actual act, with none of the expected details.  This is in line with Gnosticism.  The actual act is not as interesting as the motivation, the knowledge behind the act.  What information is offered about the act does not contradict the accepted events of the betrayal.

While the Gospel of Judas purports to provide insight into the motivation and the reasoning behind Judas's betrayal, it is a frustrating read and of seeming little value.  The text is so incomplete and the translations are so contradictory that the entire meaning of the entire meaning of the passage is up for debate.  Scholars based on early translations believed the text portrayed Judas in a positive light, as a noble hero who sought great knowledge and sacrificed his legacy to play a pivotal role in helping Jesus fulfill his destiny.   Later scholarly work believes it portrays Judas in a negative light, almost an easily manipulated pawn.  Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia believes it shows Judas being duped into believing he was helping Jesus.  There is no consensus on this issue.

Perhaps the most symbolic problem with the text can be summed in the issues with the translation of the word apophasis in a key phrase in the text at 33:1.  The National Geographic society initially translated the word as "declaration," leading to "The secret word of declaration by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."  Scholars like Andre Gagne, Professor at Concordia University in Montreal believe the more appropriate translation of that Greco-Coptic term is "denial," rendering "the secret word of the denial by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."  This would render the story as the denial of the true salvation for Judas.

Declaration or denial.  That's a wide gap.

C. The Gospel of Nicodemus

The Gospel of Nicodemus, or the Acts of Pilate, is an apocryphal gospel claimed to have been derived from an original Hebrew work written by Nicodemus, an associate of Jesus.  Though the title "Gospel of Nicodemus" is medieval in origin, sections of the book date back farther.  The resulting work has been dated back to the middle of the fourth century AD.  The book contains two sections with an appendix.  The first contains the trial of Jesus; the second concerns the resurrection.  The appendix purports to be a written report made by Pontius Pilate to Claudius.  This Acta Pilati has reference back to the mid-first century.  Justin Martyr made reference to the Acts of Pontius Pilate in his apology letters, dating that reference back to between 138 and 161 AD.

The references to Judas are not included in all translations of the Gospel of Nicodemus.  Instead, certain translations include a story of a roast cock or chicken and how it played a role in the Judas's betrayal or death.

Some versions include a version in which Jesus Christ orders a the cooked bird to follow Judas to report how Judas betrayed him.

"It happened on the day of the Holy Supper that Lord Christ was served a roast cock, and when Judas left to sell the Lord, he ordered the cock to rise and follow Judas, and the cock did accordingly, then reported to Lord Christ how Judas betrayed him, and because of this it is said to be allowed to follow him to Paradise."

In other versions, the bird is cooked by Judas's wife and provides the impetus for Judas to go through with his suicide.

And so Judas went home to get a rope for the hanging, and he found his wife roasting a cock on embers. Instead of getting down to it [the cock], he told her: ‘Stand up, woman, and give me a rope because I want to hang myself’  His wife then told him: ‘Why do you say so?’ And Judas says: ‘I want you to know that I betrayed my master, Jesus, to the villains really unjustly so that Pilate will put him to death. But he [Jesus] will resurrect on the third day, and then woe betide us!’ Then the woman tells him: Don’t you say this or even think of it, because Jesus will resurrect as you say only if this cock roasted on embers is able to give sound’. As soon as she uttered these words, the cock spread its wings, and screams three times. Now Judas got even more astounded, and immediately tied a knot on the rope, hanged himself, and breathed his last." (Tischendorf 1876: 290)

Here, the miracle of the resurrected bird is what solidifies Jesus' return for Judas.  It is this fact that pushes Judas over the edge to hang himself.

From this version, we at least learn that Judas potentially had a wife, at least according to legend.  Variations of this legend are also included in the Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Batholomew the Apostle and other Coptic legend.

It is an interesting story, but only adds a bit of a miracle to the story that we already know.

D. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew)

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew) is a piece of Coptic apocrypha that exists in three partial manuscripts.  It exists in the Coptic language only and in fragments only.  The fragments reside in the British Museum.

Of particular interest here, is a section in which Christ, upon his death, descends into Hell or Amente.  In Amente, Christ found and confronted Judas.

"In Amente Christ found Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Him, and said to him, 'Tell me, Judas, in what way didst thou profit by betraying Me to the Jewish dogs?  Assuredly I only endured sufferings of all kinds in order to fulfill [the will] of My Father, and to redeem [add set free] My creatures whom I had fashioned.  As for thee, woe be unto thee with twofold woes.'

In one of the manuscripts, the passage above is followed by "rebukings innumerable and cursings most terrible", and it is said that the "lot of Judas is with his father the Devil."  According to this text, Christ did not forgive Judas fore betraying Him and instead the text has a whole page devoted to the description of the awful things that befell Judas after his death.  Angels in the train of the lord hurled him headlong, and his mouth was filled with thirty serpents, personifications of every vice and every kind of evil.  He was cast out into the outer darkness and utter oblivion will cover him forever.  This is further confirmed in the text when Jesus rises from the dead, removing all souls from Amente except Herod, Cain, and Judas.

Here we do see a confirmation of Judas's damned state.  A fulfillment of Jesus's warning that it would have been better for him to not have been born.  This kind of punishment seems to lend creedance to the idea that Judas's betrayal was something born within him.  A choice that Judas made deserving punishment.

All of the above apocryphal texts can be read in a kind of harmony, depending on the interpretation of the Gospel of Judas.  Other apocryphal texts, like the Gospel of Barnabas present an entirely different story.  As if of a different religion altogether.

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