Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parody and the Gospel of Judas

In the last week, I have had two people e-mail me and ask me to further explain my understanding of the Gospel of Judas as a parody. Given that there are two people interested, I thought maybe others might be interested to.

When I employ this term I am trying to describe a situation in which the Gnostic authors believed that they understood a hidden truth about something, and that this truth nullified the Apostolic position as ridiculous, and they found this humorous - what fools the Apostolic Christians were to believe such nonsense (or so they were trying to say)! I don't think this strategy was rhetorical. I think they were serious.

There are examples of the use of this type of strategy in other Gnostic texts. For example, Apocalypse of Peter, Second Treatise of Great Seth (which actually calls the apostolic position a "joke"), the Acts of John - all these texts laugh at the apostolic position because it is understood to be a foolish ill-informed position. Again, this does not appear to me to be rhetorical, but serious criticism that results in humor at their expense. Usually the topic centered around rewriting the passion story.

Parody is a word that literally means "beside/against a song." Hegemon of Thasos was one of the first parody writers. Aristotle refers to him. Apparently he changed some words in well-known traditional songs in order to make the songs and what they stood for appear ridiculous. Parody means "counter-song" - and that is exactly what these Gnostics were doing. They were presenting a counter-story to the apostolic one, to show it up as ridiculous. In so doing, they mocked the apostolic position. There are plenty of examples of parody in the Greco-Roman world, so it is a form that would have been familiar to the Gnostics.


Veritas said...

Would you elaborate on this some more? What were they making a parody of exactly? The belief in the death of Jesus for resurrection? Thanks :)

Jim Deardorff said...

I find it interesting that with the aid of redaction criticism, one can recognize parody within the ranks of apostolic Christians themselves, not just Gnostic writers. If one considers the external (and internal) evidence that Matthew preceded Mark, one finds the parody to be against the Jewish disciples, as set forth in the Gospel of Mark. The disciples are considered to be unworthy of Jesus' attention (Mk 6:48b, Mk 6:31a -- "Depart by yourselves to a lonely place" (the variant of uncial D)). They are treated as being extra dumb (Mk 4:13, 6:51-52, 8:17, 8:21, 9:10, 9:32, 14:40). They are such poor disciples as to be insolent towards their Lord (Mk 9:38-39, 10:35).

These are to be compared against their Matthean parallels, of course. By placing Mark ahead of Matthew, the NT scholars of a century or so ago could largely remove this undesired state of affairs. More on this is given here.

R.Eagle said...

"the apostolic position because it is understood to be a foolish ill-informed position"

Course, I seriously doubt they considered the Apostle Paul as being ill-informed, no?

John Noyce said...

to r.eagle:
1. Paul never met Jesus Christ
2. there was clearly a dispute between James as head of the Jerusalem group, and Paul with his intention to go to the non-Jewish peoples.
In that context can you automatically assume that the earliest Christians/Gnostics/Jewish mystics would regard Paul of Tarsus in the same way as you do?

R.Eagle said...

Appreciate the response, John.

1. Well, not physically, but spiritually, if your experience is consistent.
2. What...another renegade :-)?