Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst. Eds. The Gospel of Judas. (Washington DC: National Geographic Press, 2006), 185 pages.
Book Review By Ozodi Osuji
In the 1970s some Egyptians discovered ancient documents that later were seen as Gnostic writings dated to the fourth century AD (other Gnostic writings were discovered in Egypt in the 1940s, the Nag Hammadi Codex; the Dead Sea Scrolls were also discovered in the 1940s). The writings comprise of three books one of which is the Gospel of Judas. That would mean that the documents have been around for 1600 years.
The documents were written in Coptic, the Egyptian language of the time. However, the documents appear to have been a translation from documents earlier written in Greek.
In 180 AD, Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons made mention of the Gospel of Judas in his criticism of heresy (which included Jewish and or Christian Gnosticism). This suggests that the documents in the Greek were written before 180 AD. Some suggest that they were written around 140 AD. Carbon dating suggests that the papers on which the documents were written were produced in the third century of our common era.
The Gospel of Judas said that the other apostles did not understand what Jesus was teaching and that only Judas did. Judas was the most intimate friend of Jesus. Jesus told him about his mission, information that the other apostles were not privy to or could not understand if told, anyway.
The information is that Jesus came from the spiritual world, the abode of the eons. He came here to teach people the secret knowledge that in some of them is sparks of divinity.
This is basic Gnosticism, pagan or Jewish or Christian. Gnosticism teaches that there is one God. That God is pure spirit. He created other spirits, heretofore called eons. There are infinite eons created by God.
According to Gnostic gospels, at some point one of the eons created by God, out of pride and or jealousy rebelled against God and left the spiritual world (this is called the fall from grace, and descent into darkness) and came to the underworld, to our material universe to found his own domain.
That spirit that left God has been called many names, including Demiurge, the Old Testament God, Yahweh, Yaldabaoth, Saklas, and Sophia, Lucifer (in a recent Gnostic book, A course in miracles, Helen Schcuman called him the Son Of God).
Gnosticism says that the real God did not create our material world. As it sees it, our material world is created by an evil God, for only a malevolent god could create a world where people are born in body, live in pain and sickness and are besieged by natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, draughts, floods, plagues caused by bacteria, virus and fungi and eventually die and their bodies are eaten by worms. A loving God could not have created our world; only an evil god could create this place of suffering called our world.
Gnosticism says that a spirit created by God for some reasons rebelled against God and left to create our world. The God of the Old Testament in the Christian bible, Yahweh is said to be this rebellious God. The rebellious God wanted to be served hence the Old Testament god created people who would worship his pathological narcissism and banish them to hell fire if they did not stroke his vanity; he is quick to anger; a human being with the Old Testament God’s level of anger is considered insane. The Old Testament god is insane, Gnosticism says.
The real God is a loving father; he did not create people to live in bodies. He created people to live in spirit. God and his creations live in formless spirit.
According to the Gospel of Judas, Jesus told Judas that El (Jewish name for God) or Yaldabaoth was a creation of God that resented God and rebelled against God. This evil spirit then created Nabro and Saklas (the fool) and gave them dominion over the material world he created, our physical universe.
There are other universes created by other eons, some good and some bad but for our present interest we have our world of matter to grapple with.
Gnosticism says that to live in the human body, in matter is to live in darkness. It says that people came from a place of light (God is light and his heaven is a place of light).
The aim of Gnosticism is to teach people the secret knowledge of where they came from, why they are on earth, darkness, ignorance and how to escape from darkness, matter (their bodies) and return to the formless world of light that they came from.
The gospel of Judas said that the evil God created our world and attracted some persons with the spark of divinity into that world. These persons can be taught that they in truth contain divinity and can return to divinity.
Jesus came to teach such persons to return to spirit. However, not all human beings contain the spark of divinity in them. Many human beings, the Gospel of Judas says, are like animals and do not have divinity in them; such persons are incapable of moral thinking. The spirit of god, as it were, is used to make them as animals are made so that they would be used to do work on earth, pretty much as horses and mulls are used to do work; in modern language, they are mere machines and have no souls; they live and die and disappear from existence just as animals live and die and disappear from existence; they do not awaken to spirit.
It is the few that contain spark of divinity that are amenable to learning the secret knowledge of their true identity and when they die return to the place of light.
As it were, don’t even bother trying to teach the masses to have conscience, to love and respect each other; they cannot do so for they are mere animals; that which seems self-evident to spiritual persons, the need to love and forgive all people is incomprehensible to these animal persons!
(Although this review is not going to indulge in commentary, I must say that this is a very problematic teaching for it relegates much of mankind to oblivion; but then, again, in the Revelation section of the Christian bible we are told that only 44, 000 or so human beings would be saved and that the rest of humanity would be damned. Whereas many human beings seem like mere animals and lack spiritual insight, I would rather consider them as at the lowest steps in the ladder of spiritual awareness rather than dismiss them as mere work animals with no hope for salvation. The gospel taught by Judas could lead to enslaving the masses of humanity who obviously do not have much in their heads and seem like mere animals. I personally prefer Helen Schucman’s Gnosticism that sees most human beings as sleeping and dreaming that they are separated animals and only a few beginning to awaken to the knowledge that they are the sons of God; Helen’s Gnosticism holds out the hope that in the long run even those who today seem like animals would awaken to their real selves, sons of God.)
In the eons there is an image of human beings called Adamas. The evil god, now called Sophia used that image to create a corrupted version of man, Adam and Eve in our world.
In effect, Adam or man is the imperfect rendition of the perfect idea of man. This is probably taken from Plato’s notion that there is a world of ideas or spirit, and that in it is a perfect idea of human beings. In his book, Timeous, Plato says that our world contains imperfect representations of perfect ideas in spirit.
Platonism is an idealistic philosophy, for it accepts that there are ideals of everything that imperfect human beings ought to strive after. Human beings are imperfect and must strive to become perfect.
Alfred Adler’s psychoanalytic conception of neurosis as desire to become perfect, in this philosophy is rooted in our inherent striving to actualize our true nature, ideal and perfect selves. In body we are imperfect but in the realm of ideas, in light we are perfect.
In body we try to realize our perfect selves but always fail for matter corrupts the idea of perfection.
According to Gnosticism, light is of God, in fact, God is light. Light is perfection and contains ideals of everything in being.
The evil God used the light of God to miscreate matter. This idea is not as farfetched as it sounds; consider that according to science all of matter is from light. During the big bang something got hot and produced photons; photons transformed to electrons and to quarks; quarks transformed into protons and neutrons; electrons, protons and neutrons transformed into atoms and elements hence matter.
The evil god took the good light of God and used it to construct our evil and dark world of matter, that is the view of Gnosticism, secular, Jewish or Christian.
The Gospel of Judas said that Jesus came to teach the few who can understand the secret knowledge that they are light, the light of God, that they contain divine spark in them; that they are imprisoned in matter by the evil god and need to escape from his clutches. They are supposed to struggle to liberate themselves from identification with matter and the human body.
Jesus told Judas that he himself wants to liberate his self from the imprisonment of body. To do so, he had to die to body. He asked Judas to betray him so that human beings would destroy his body and liberate him to living as pure spirit.
In effect, Judas did for Jesus what he wanted to do, what he came to do. In betraying Jesus, Judas was not evil but instead helped him fulfill his mission of transcending matter, body.
Judas was the good apostle that understood what Jesus wanted to accomplish, he had the secret Gnostic knowledge. The other apostles did not have the spark of divinity in them and could not understand this secret knowledge. Because they are mere animals they saw Judas as evil and crucified him and replaced him with Matthias. Judas then returned to the eons where he and Jesus reside.
In dying to their bodies Jesus and Judas resurrected to their true selves, light beings, spirits, and parts of God.
As you can see, the Gospel of Judas and Gnosticism in general is contrary to what the four gospels in the Christian bible teach about Jesus. No wonder that the early Catholic Church declared war on Gnosticism and either destroyed it or drove its adherents underground.
Saint Augustine in his books, The City of God and Confessions talked about his acquaintance with Gnosticism; however, the Gnosticism he talked about appears to be Manichaean or Valentinian Gnosticism. The Gnosticism that the Gospel of Judas talked about is often referred to as Sethian Gnosticism or Caininism.
Sethian, especially Cainian Gnosticism saw whatever the Christian Old Testament God said is good as bad. Cain is seen as good, Abel is seen as bad; Sodom and Gomorrah is said to be good and their opposites is bad. The god of the Old Testament is seen as bad. Simply stated, this brand of Gnosticism stands for the opposite of what traditional Christians’ belief in.
According to the Gospel of Judas, Judas is the true Christian whereas those who crucified Jesus and call themselves Christians are false Christians; those worship the evil god not the true God that Judas and Jesus are part of.
Whether what the gospel of Judas teaches is true or not is another matter. I will not evaluate the teaching embodied in the gospel of Judas for that would take me away from doing mere book review to commentary.
Ozodi Osuji, PhD
October 31, 2013
Professor Osuji can be reached at (907) 440-4317