By Bart D. Ehrman (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, pgs. 198)
This is probably destined to be the definitive book on the subject. Written by the very able scholar from Chapel Hill. One may disagree with his conclusions, but Dr. Ehrman is never to be ignored. I plan to review his book in a ‘serial’ fashion, this is the first installment.
Chapter One -Introduction
Here Dr. Ehrman reviews for us his initial involvement and evaluation of the Manuscript. Quite an interesting tale indeed. He includes basic facts about the ‘gospel’ and begins to ask pertinent questions about its place and importance. In the next few chapters, professor Ehrman summarizes the references to Judas in the earliest Christian writings, including the writing of Paul, the Gospels, and the Apostolic Fathers. This book is really an analysis of the portrayal and treatment of Judas in all early Christian literature, not just the ‘Gospel of Judas’.
Chapter two -Judas in Our Earliest Gospels
How Judas is treated in the ‘synoptic’ gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) is evaluated in this chapter. But first, he looks at the possible references to Judas in the letters of Paul.
The writings of Paul are the earliest Christian records we have. However, Paul was not one of the disciples of Jesus and did not experience the events of Jesus’ ministry and really knew only a few of the original disciples. In I Cor. 11:23-24, he mentions that Jesus was betrayed on the night of the ‘Last supper’, but does not reference Judas by name. Ehrman questions whether Paul even knew about the betrayal of Judas at all, putting forth the idea that the Greek in this passage could be merely stating that it was the night when Jesus was ‘handed over’.
Then he points out that Paul references ‘The Twelve’ in I Cor. 15:3-8, the resurrected Lord appearing first to Cephas and then to the Twelve. He makes a big deal out of Paul’s usage here maybe indicating that he didn’t know of the betrayal by one of them. I think that Ehrman is just simply wrong here, he is constantly looking for ways to discount the accuracy of the Biblical record. Paul mentions Peter first (Cephas) and he was also certainly one of the twelve, so by Erhman’s reasoning, would he have us believe that Paul did not know that Peter was one of the Twelve? Obviously not. This really does point to the fact that the term is just being used here in a general sense.
Dr. Erhman does make an interesting observation in this chapter. He laments the fact that most Christians combine all the gospels together to come to an understanding of the events in the life and ministry of Jesus, and Judas for that matter. He suggests that we allow each Gospel to speak to us individually. I believe that we need to know both, what each individual gospel teaches, but also have an overall understanding of all the gospels combined.
The three Synoptics seem to give us different reasons for the action of Judas. Mark really does not conclusively identify the motives of Judas for us. Matthew presents Judas as a greedy person who seemingly does it for the money. Luke identifies the influence of Satan as being a major factor. It is professor Erhman’s opinion that the gospels cannot be reconciled here. I believe that they can.
While Judas may have been a greedy person, as portrayed in Matthew, 30 pieces of silver is not very much compensation if that was the only motive of Judas. So we probably do not have a definitive answer to the motivation of Judas here, therefore I believe that Mark is also correct.
While Luke does not give us a motive, the influence of Satan probably best explains the actions of the fallen Apostle. All three of the Synoptics combined really do help us to better understand the actions of Judas.
In the next installment, we will look at all the other early Christian portrayals of Judas, including the Gospel of John, and some of the early Apostolic Fathers.