On the coattails of the Gnostic wave set in motion by The Da Vinci Code, and using the same media ploys of sensationalism, psychological impact and moral-emotional shock, the National Geographic Society has launched its new product: The Gospel of Judas.
The tone of its marketing is the same as Dan Brown’s novel. It promises to unveil a mystery, disclose something hidden (read, intentionally hidden by the Church) which can change the history of mankind.
The fraud in Dan Brown’s novel consists in employing a fictional work to spread the doctrine of Gnosis. He calls the Gnostic writings “the earliest Christian records” and the “unaltered gospels.”1
The new fraud now attributes to Judas a “Gospel” written by unknown persons at least one hundred years after his suicide.
While the message of The Da Vinci Code is that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false,”2 the National Geographic Society is spreading the word that “far from being a villain, the Judas that emerges in its pages [of The Gospel of Judas] is a hero.”3
“An Authentic Fabrication Produced by a Group of Gnostics”
Liberal scholar Bruce Chilton describes the fraud in the “Gospel” of Judas. He argues that during its release, National Geographic repeatedly stated that it has “authenticated” the document, a claim simply repeated by many press agencies.
However “authentic” can be a slippery turn. Mr. Chilton notes that no scholar associated with the find argues this is a first century document, or that it derives from Judas. He notes:
“The release says the document was ‘copied down in Coptic probably around AD 300,’ although later that is changed to ‘let’s say around the year 400.’ This amounts to saying that ‘The Gospel of Judas’ is an authentic fabrication produced by a group of Gnostics in Egypt. Gnostics believed that their direct knowledge of heaven permitted them to understand what no one else knew, or could know by historical knowledge. For ancient Gnostics to believe in their own powers of divination is charming; for their flights of imagination to be passed off as historical knowledge in our time is dishonest or self-deceived.”4
Old Hat Presented as Novelty
The present Gnostic offensive takes advantage of the fact that Gnostics misappropriated the name, “Gospel” in many of their writings to convey the impression that both canonical and apocryphal writings have equal value and that the whole problem is but an internal division in Christianity.5
J.P. Arendzen, a specialist in Gnosticism, describes this maneuver: “When Gnosticism came in touch with Christianity, which must have happened almost immediately on its appearance, Gnosticism threw herself with strange rapidity into Christian forms of thought, borrowed its nomenclature, acknowledged Jesus as Savior of the world, simulated its sacraments, pretended to be an esoteric revelation of Christ and His Apostles, flooded the world with apocryphal Gospels, and Acts, and Apocalypses, to substantiate its claim. … The Cainites possessed a “Gospel of Judas”, an “Ascension of Paul” (anabatikon Paulou) and some other book, of which we do not know the title, but which, according to Epiphanius, was full of wickedness.”6
The existence of the “Gospel” of Judas and its contents is nothing new; it was known to the Fathers of the Church and other authors such as Saint Ireneus, Saint Epiphanius and Tertulian in the beginnings of Christianity.7
Gnostic “Saints”: Cain and Judas
The apocryphal “Gospel” of Judas was written by Cainite Gnostics around the middle of the second century AD, long after the traitor’s suicide. It merely presents that sect’s fanciful doctrine. In short, the Cainites maintained that:The God of the Bible is a secondary and bad God, a Demiurge, who created the world and the moral law;
• In order to combat this God, men must reject the moral law and commit all kinds of sinful aberrations;
• The true God is called Sophia and is superior to the God of the Bible, who is also called Hystera;
• Eve conceived Cain from Sophia, while Abel was conceived from Hystera;8
• By killing Abel, Cain showed the superiority of Sophia upon Hystera;
• The Demiurge tried to take revenge upon Cam, Dathan, Kore, Abiron and the Sodomites, but they were protected by the good God who called them to himself and sent the Savior;
• The Demiurge (Hystera) tried to prevent the Savior from executing his work of Redemption; but Judas Iscariot, who was from the race of Sophia and possessed the early Gnosis communicated to Cain, frustrated the plans of the Demiurge by delivering Jesus to death.9
“The Cainites,” G. Bareille notes, “attacked the Bible and rejected the Gospel but replaced them with apocryphal writings such as The Gospel of Judas. … Such a doctrine served to unite unbalanced minds and perverted hearts, but they always remained a small group. Already in the beginnings of the 3rd century, the author of Philosophumena treats the Cainites as a group without importance.”10
Jesus: “In secret I have spoken nothing”
The tactic Gnostics employ to defend their irrational doctrines is that they are based on secret, initiatory knowledge. When they call themselves “Christians,” they claim to follow secret communication they say Jesus had with some apostle, Mary Magdalene, or in this case, Judas.
Thus, the Savior allegedly taught two doctrines: one that commanded disciples to observe chastity, love one’s neighbor and practice works of mercy. The other was a secret doctrine that contradicted these precepts. Thus, the way of salvation for common people, and even for happiness on this earth, would be the arduous way of the cross, mortification and humility, while a minority of ‘chosen ones’ would be allowed to indulge in the unbridled abuse of pride and the flesh.
Obviously, the men-symbols for these chosen ones are none other than Cain and Judas: the murderer of his own brother and the traitor of the Redeemer.
However, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself declares this aberrant and illogical concept of two doctrines to be false.
After Judas’ kiss of treason and Jesus’ arrest, answering the Jewish high priest, Jesus clearly said:
“I have spoken openly to the world: I have always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort; and in secret I have spoken nothing.”11
“And Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot”
It would be a blasphemy to suppose that Jesus Christ picked Judas to betray Him. He picked Judas as apostle because that was his vocation. At the time he was chosen, Judas was properly disposed to follow that vocation.
It is true that Our Lord, being God, knew all things and therefore was aware that Judas would not persevere in the good, but would fall away from virtue and finally would even betray Him.12 But while God knows what will happen, this knowledge is not what determines what happens, particularly in the case of a free and rational creature. Having created man free, God does not remove this freedom even when man uses it for evil.
That is what happened with Judas. Our Lord tried to do good to him until the end by washing his feet before the Last Supper and calling him my friend when receiving the kiss of treason. However, He did not prevent Judas from consummating his treason. The Evangelists report that Judas betrayed Our Lord instigated by the devil. “And Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, one of the twelve. And he went, and discoursed with the chief priests and the magistrates, how he might betray him to them.” “[T]he devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray him.”13
When Our Lord said to Judas “that which thou dost, do quickly,”14 it was not a command, but permission. At the same time, it was a final appeal to Judas’ conscience as if to say: Have you really resolved to betray Me?
However, given the hardness of the traitor’s heart, Our Lord said of him: “It were better for him, if that man had not been born.”15
This is the man they are now trying to make into a hero. When people flee from the truth, they accept any absurdity that seeks to replace it.
- The Da Vinci Code, pp. 245-248. For a refutation of Dan Brown’s fantasies, see: TFP Committee on American Issues, Rejecting the Da Vinci Code,
(The American Society for The Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – TFP: Spring Grove, Penn. 2005).
- The Da Vinci Code, p. 235.
- ‘Gospel of Judas’ Called An Authentic Fabrication, The New York Sun, April 7, 2006 (emphasis added), http://www.nysun.com/article/30588.
- Cf. Stefan Lovgren, “Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him,” National Geographic News, April 6, 2006, 3. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/04/0406_060406_judas.html
- Gnosticism, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, 1909, Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight, http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:w77KG6TEeucJ:www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm+Gnostic+Gospels&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=9.
- W.H. Kent, “Judas Iscariot,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII, http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:Ow_TBsX_IF4J:www.newadvent.org/cathen/08539a.htm+epiphanius+gospel+judas&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=6.
- For Gnostics, Sophia is an androgynous being, that is, both masculine and feminine.
- Cf. G. Bareille, Cainites, in A.Vacant-E. Mangenot-E. Amann, Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, (Paris:1932) Letouzey et Ané, t. II, cols. 1307-1309.
- G. Bareille, col. 1308.
- St. John 18:20.
- Speaking to the apostles, Jesus said: “one of you is a devil” (St. John 6:71).
- St. Luke, 22:3-6; St. John, 13:2.
- St. John 13:27.
- St. Mattew 26:24.