Another Drama of Biblical Proportions

Where’s a ghostbuster when you really need one? Judas Iscariot has come back to haunt us—just in time for Passover. The man who added “the kiss of death” to our vernacular has returned…a hero.

That’s the story told in the recent release of the nearly 2,000-year-old Gospel of Judas—determined by every scientific method available today as an authentic document. By all accounts, this book had all the elements to be the third century’s DaVinci Code. It claims that Judas did not betray Jesus. In fact, it asserts that Jesus asked Judas to point him out to authorities—knowing that he was considered a heretic. In that day, anyone who held religious beliefs that did not conform to the mainstream was inhumanely persecuted.

Judas, according to this gospel, was Jesus’ closest friend; and he claimed that Jesus told him, “You will be cursed by the other generations…. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”What does it mean, exactly, to “sacrifice the man that clothes me”? Rodolphe Kasser, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of Coptic Christianity and a translator the document, explains that Jesus wanted someone to free him from his human body, and he preferred that person to be a friend rather than an enemy.

“Heresy!” screamed religious leaders 2,000 years ago, when they read The Gospel of Judas. They found it abominable to regard Judas as anything other than a traitor. And they refused to include his gospel in the New Testament.

“Heresy!” screamed religious leaders 2,000 years later, when they read The DaVinci Code, a fictional book that unveiled so much factual data about Christian history that it spawned an ill-fated lawsuit from historians who accused him of plagiarism. How dare Dan Brown or any novelist write fiction based on theological research!

One of the nuggets we discovered in Brown’s epic was the contentious process that brought us today’s New Testament. In 300 AD, after Christianity was no longer a Jewish sect, a committee of religious leaders decided which, among the numerous accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, would be read by future generations. The committee favored the often conflicting accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Centuries-old research reveals that none of these writers had a relationship with or even knew Jesus.

The writer of Matthew was not the reviled tax collector who walked with Jesus. Bible scholars aren’t sure exactly who the writer is, but contextual clues date the book of Matthew two or three generations after Jesus’ death.

Mark, the oldest New Testament text, although it appears second, was not written by one of the 12 disciples, either. Biblical scholars date the writing of this book 60 to 70 years after Jesus’ death.

Experts say that the book of Luke, as well as Acts (still believed by many to have been written by the Apostle Paul), were written by a Gentile physician, rather than a Jewish disciple of Jesus. Scholars date Luke’s accounts between 60 and 100 years after Jesus’ death. Both Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ life draw heavily on the Book of Mark, and dispute each other in varying details that do not appear in Mark at all.

The Gospel of John is dated between 90 and 120 years after Jesus’ death; and although scholars argue about the identity of the author, they agree that it was not the Apostle John, as many assume. So, despite no proven connection to Jesus of Nazareth, these men’s accounts of his life were declared the gospel truth. However, Judas’ account was tossed completely.

Fascinating stuff. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that Judas’ gospel claims that Jesus wanted to leave his body. There’s evidence elsewhere in the New Testament, John 6:63 most directly, where Jesus very clearly expresses little regard for the physical body. “The Spirit gives life,” he says, “The body is of no account.”

Oddly enough, those who formed our beliefs about Jesus, his life, and his death, believed that the physical body is everything. To them, the body is who we are; when the body dies, we cease to exist—views that depart sharply from Jesus’.

This might be a heretical thought; but, as one who taught by example, would it have been out of character for Jesus to seize an opportunity to teach us a dramatic lesson about what Life really is and who we really are? What if he publicly left his body, then reappeared to demonstrate that “The Spirit gives life. The body is of no account?”Wow. That would be the kiss of death to many of the beliefs that we hold dear.