The main point of my book The Thirteenth Apostle is that the first scholarly interpretations of the Gospel of Judas are inaccurate. This was partially the result of the fact that they were based on a Coptic transcription released on-line that was provisional and very flawed. This now has been corrected in the Critical Edition, but not before the errors became part of the academic discourse and our consciousness.
Unfortunately, they have affected and skewed our perception of the gospel's actual story and presentation of Judas. Doesn't the gospel say that Judas will ascend to the holy generation? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't the gospel say that it is possible for Judas to go to the kingdom? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't Jesus ask Judas to release his soul? Not in any transcription.
This confusion is compounded by the fact that I think the original English translation contains a few substantial errors that do not reflect what the Coptic says. For instance, Judas is separated from the holy generation, not set apart for it. This translation choice makes a big difference.
So who was Judas? The gospel actually is very clear about his identity. Jesus calls him the Thirteenth demon and says that his star belongs to the thirteenth realm. In Sethian demonology this means that he is being identified with Ialdabaoth "god of the thirteen realms." How and why this transparent reference to Ialdabaoth was missed in the beginning of the National Geographic project, I do not know. But until someone can offer a better explanation about who the thirteenth spirit is beyond an allusion to lucky numbers, I will maintain my interpretative starting point with what the Coptic says about Judas. He is the thirteenth demon Ialdabaoth, who is also called the Apostate.
With this as my starting point, the rest of the text makes complete sense. Judas knows and confesses Jesus because he is a demon. Jesus reveals the mysteries to him to punish him with remorse as deserves the terrible demon that he is. Judas will make a sacrifice worse than all those performed by the other disciples because he iwll kill Jesus and make the offering to Saklas. Because the offering is made by a demon to Saklas, the atonement and eucharist ceremonies are doing no more than worshiping Ialdabaoth, and leading people astray. Judas as Ialdabaoth the archon in the thirteenth realm will rule over the twelve lesser archons who are the apostles. When the gospel says that Judas the demon is more perfect than all the other apostles, it is decimating the doctrine of apostolic authority upon which rested the faith of the mainstream Christians. Judas a wicked demon understood even more than they.
The Gospel of Judas is not good news about Judas, just as the Gospel of Matthew is not good news about Matthew. It is good news about Jesus - that only his body was killed by Judas, that the Archon and his creations will be destroyed, while the baptized Gnostics, the holy generation are saved.
The most important issue that the Gospel of Judas has raised for me in terms of our future scholarship is procedural. I think the National Geographic Society's involvement has been very damaging for us. The fact that it selected a handful of scholars to work up the text and to legally bind them to silence has been detrimental to us all. It dictated to us how our scholarship was to be done. And we all know that this is not how the best scholarship is done. The best scholarship is done when facsimiles are published first, and scholars worldwide can begin working on the texts, talking to each other, sharing information, and arguing. In this way, the academic community double and triple checks itself before "the" critical edition is released. The release of a public translation based on a provisional transcription is not the way to go.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
My contribution to the Judas book panel
I really enjoyed listening to each of the panelists successively from the first publication on Judas to the most recent. It gave me a bigger picture of all the interpretations as well as what is at stake. If you missed the event, here is what I had to add to the panel: