Sunday, July 1, 2007

BYU Studies on Gospel of Judas

I ordered BYU Studies 45.2 (2006) for my personal library on the Gospel of Judas and the Tchacos Codex. Thanks again to Grant for mentioning this to me. It came in the mail yesterday. It contains six articles presented at a Latter Day Saints Colloquium on the Gospel of Judas that took place on April 15, 2006.

S. Kent Brown's article "The Manuscript of the Gospel of Judas" was particularly interesting to me because he shared his own experience viewing the Tchacos manuscripts while it was on the market. He provides a witness independent of Stephen Emmel that the Tchacos Codex was found with three other manuscripts.
Brown writes:
I later traveled to New York City where, in the company of Mr. Bernard Rosenthal, a rare-books dealer from San Francisco, I examined briefly some other texts in a hotel room. The papyrus manuscripts, which included a few damaged leaves from a very early Greek copy of the book of Exodus, two letters of the Apostle Paul in Coptic translation, and a Greek mathematical treatise, were then in very bad shape, having been wrapped in an Arabic newspaper and placed in a small box. When the owner and his agent opened first the box and then the newspaper, Mr. Rosenthal and I gazed upon a mass of documents that were disintegrating before our eyes, with tiny fragments lining the bottom of the newspaper cradle (pp. 19-20).
The big question for me - why were these four books buried together in a fourth- or fifth-century family tomb?

This volume of articles contains some photographs that I have not seen before, taken by Kenneth Garrett and published with permission by National Geographic.

The articles also give an interesting perspective on the reception history of the Gospel of Judas within the Latter Day Saints tradition, since all the articles address the issue of this text (and other Gnostic texts) from the LDS interpretative trajectory. From this perspective, the Gospel of Judas holds no relevance. In and Q&A section, the editor writes:
A few oft-quoted NT scholars with radical views claim that it overturns the record of Jesus as we know it from the traditional Bible. But for the LD Saints, the Gospel of Judas fails as a "Gospel" because it fails to recognize the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the way to salvation. Early Christian scholars rejected it as apostate in AD 150-200, and LD Saint scholars agree (p. 6).
This complete rejection of the Gospel surprised me, given that so many LDS doctrines are similar to Gnostic ones. In one of the articles, Gaye Strathearn actually mentions this:
For LD Saints, a study of Gnosticism can be a valuable pursuit. For example, it is an important resource for understanding the complexity of the growth and development of the early Christian Church. In addition, it is possible that a text from the Nag Hammadi Library, the Gospel of Thomas, could contain some authentic sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the canonical Gospels, although it would be difficult to identify them with any sense of certainty. For LD Saints in particular, a study of Gnostic groups shows that they accepted some teachings that have certain parallels with LDS doctrines: a belief that we have a premortal existence as spirits, that a number of levels of salvation are possible, that the restoration of lost knowledge is essential for salvation, and that a type of marriage, associated with the Holy of Holies in the temple, is required to return to the highest level of salvation. These types of teachings are not prominent in modern traditional Christian theology. Thus the Gnostic texts indicate that, in antiquity, these were important issues for some Christians. LD Saints, however, must be cautious. They must guard against any endeavor to study Gnostic writings with the purpose of identifying proof-texts for their own doctrine" (pp. 32-33).
So there is a certain uneasiness about the Gospel of Judas found throughout these six articles, and an attempt by the LDS scholars to emphasize that this newly discovered text is not "orthodox" for their tradition, to send out cautions to their readers not to identify with it, and to distance themselves from it.


Leon said...

Hasn't uneasiness been the hallmark of all New Testament studies? I think the study of other voices from other documents such as the finds at Nag Hammadi are important, but mainstream scholarship still fails to hear other voices within the canonical texts. A certain tradition has been foisted upon the Gospels, for example. The uneasiness prevalent in most scholarship has to do, I think, with the fear of discovering that there are other voices in the Gospels which scholarship has silenced.

Judas is one example. A carerful, rational examination of the Gospels will reveal that the story of a traitor is mostly absent. Another example would be the entire Gospel of John. The anti-Jewish elements in John are well-known. But people do not pay attention to the favorable Jewish elements in the same Gospel. One of these is John's very rabbinic habit of pointing out dissenting views. Thus, at 12:28-29, John cannot mention the voice from heaven without also commenting that some people thought it was just a clap of thunder. We miss how often John loves to record dissenting opinions, a very rabbinic and Jewish thing to do. And at 13:29, John records that some thought Judas was up to something innocent, even though he previously put the devil in Judas. There are alternative voices in the canonical Gospels. We just never listen to them.

Geoff Hudson said...

John's habit of pointing out dissenting views was simply the Uriah Heep of a writer up to his tricks. The betrayal story is pure theatre.

April DeConick said...


When I wrote this blog entry, some of what you say in your first paragraph was on my mind. Thanks for voicing it here.

g. wesley said...

Professor DeConick,

i'm glad you found Brown's article useful and i strongly agree with your observation/criticism of the rejection with which the gospel of judas is met by many of the other authors.

at the same time i hope that you won't come away with the impression that these articles represent 'the' lds scholar's position on the gospel of judas and other non-canonical texts (admittedly and sadly, this seems to be how the articles are presented). rather, the scholars in question are just some of the most vocal in a group reacting (in my opinion wrongly and in some cases quite bitterly) against the longstanding and continuing tradition among another (equally large if not larger) group of lds scholars (as well as non-specialists) to make widespread use of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha (often for apologetic purposes).

(as a believing mormon, i think that such dogmatic rejection of the 'non-canonical' is unfortunate and incongruent with lds belief in the book of mormon, etc., which are, frankly, non-canonical texts.

as a graduate student, on the one hand i definitely don't think that the apologetic use (by a scholar from any or no denomination) of any source (non-canonical or otherwise) has a place in scholarship.

so personally, i stand somewhere between the these two groups. i simply enjoy history, especially the esoteric and obscure.)

Grant Adamson