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“The Gospel of Judas” — Still a Media Item

The National Geographic Channel’s special on “The Gospel of Judas” represents the most extensive television coverage of this news item, but don’t assume that the story will go away any time soon. The barrage of news coverage has ranged from the responsible to the ridiculous, and it is the kind of story the media cannot resist around the time Christians celebrate the events of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Adam Gropnik of The New Yorker takes a few shots at “fundamentalists” and the concept of biblical authority in his review of the story, but he also makes some essential points in these two paragraphs:

Obviously, “The Gospel of Judas” appears at a time of a new fashion, not to say rage, for “alternate” Gospels and revisionist retellings of the Jesus story. These are not the egalitarian, feminist versions of the story that were among the first fruits of the Nag Hammadi discovery. Instead, the new obsession is to introduce, or reintroduce, into Christianity something hidden, strange, and cultic–to reveal a deliberately suppressed story. And yet an odd double rhythm is at work. By making the Gospel story more occult, one also drains it of its cosmic significance; making it more mysterious makes it less mystical. (If Dan Brown or the authors of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” are right–and they aren’t–then Jesus is reduced from the Cosmic Overlord to the founder of a minor line of Merovingian despots.) “The Gospel of Judas” turns Christianity into a mystery cult–Jesus at one point describes to Judas the highly bureaucratic organization of the immortal realm, enumerating hundreds of luminaries–but robs it of its ethical content. Jesus’ message in the new Gospel is entirely supernatural. You don’t have to love thy neighbor; just seek your star. The Gospel of Judas is, in this way, the dead opposite of the now much talked of Gospel of Jefferson, the edition prepared by the third President, in which all the miracles and magic stuff are deleted, and what is left is the ethical teaching.

Orthodox Christians will point out, correctly, that there is no new “challenge” to the Church in the Judas Gospel, much less a crisis of faith. This is an ancient heresy, dealt with firmly, not to say brutally, throughout Church history. The finding of the new Gospel, though obviously remarkable as a bit of textual history, no more challenges the basis of the Church’s faith than the discovery of a document from the nineteenth century written in Ohio and defending King George would be a challenge to the basis of American democracy. There are no new beliefs, no new arguments, and certainly no new evidence in the papyrus that would cause anyone to doubt who did not doubt before.

Thanks to readers for all your response to my article on the Gospel of Judas, published last Friday.