A continuing series reflecting on the book: “The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed”, By Bart D. Ehrman (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, pgs.198)
Chapter Six: The Gospel of Judas: An Overview
In chapter six, Dr. Ehrman explores in detail all of the conversations between Jesus and the disciples, particularly the talks with Judas. He gives a commentary on all the major teachings of the gospel. This is Ehrman at his best; he really does make the whole thing nearly understandable.
The following is an overview of the major events and tenets of the gospel:
The Gospel of Judas contains a number of conversations between Jesus and the Apostles, particularly Judas, during the few days before his arrest in Jerusalem. The gospel narrative ends at the betrayal and does not present the trial and crucifixion. It begins with the following introduction:
The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover. (33:1-6)
This is followed by a short summary of the ministry of Jesus- that when he “appeared on earth” that he performed many miracles “for the salvation of humanity”. While many walked in the way of righteousness others walked in their transgressions. He called the Twelve in order to teach them “about the mysteries beyond the world, and what would take place at the end.” According to this gospel, he appeared to his disciples many times in the form of a child.
Following this summary, the gospel records a number of encounters between Jesus and his disciples. In the first encounter, the disciples are giving thanks to God before a meal. Jesus laughs at their ritual and indicates that ‘their’ God is different than his. The scene is completed with Judas standing up and proclaiming that Jesus truly comes from another realm, from the Pleroma and realm of Barbelo–the mother of all creation, far and above the realm of the creator of this world.
The next day when Jesus appears to the disciples, they ask where he has been. He says that he has been in another realm. They want to know about it but Jesus explains that mortals can’t go there.
In the third encounter, the disciples ask Jesus to explain a vision that they have all had of priests sacrificing in the Temple. Jesus tells them that the priests represent the twelve and the sacrifices represent the way that they will mislead all of their followers. Then Judas asks about the different types of humans and who will be saved, but the text is too damaged here to understand Jesus’ reply.
Judas then tells Jesus that he too had a vision of all the other disciples stoning him. Then he saw a great house with many people that he wanted to enter in. Jesus tells Judas that he saw a vision of his fate, that all the other disciples would end up hating and persecuting him. Then he explained that no mortal could enter the great house: “for that place is reserved for the holy”. (45:18-20)
Then Jesus takes Judas alone and teaches him the mysterious truths of creation. This revelation takes up most of the remaining narrative of the gospel; however, it is a difficult teaching to fully understand.
It presents a version of the Gnostic myth explaining the divine realm of the Aeons (divine beings) that make up the Pleroma (the divine realm) and how they came into being, and also how the world and humanity came to be created. The gospel teaches that the world was created by inferior divine beings, not the one true great God. The goal of salvation according to this gospel is to transcend this creation and its inferior creators.
Judas asks Jesus if it is possible for humans to obtain the afterlife when this world ends. Jesus tells him that only some of humanity actually has the divine spark or spirit that is necessary to transcend this world and gain eternal life in the divine realm.
Jesus tells him that he will have a prominent place among those who are saved because he understands the mysteries of creation and will fulfill everything that is required of him to do.
This is the key text: You will exceed all of them (the disciples). For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me. (56:17-21)
This text confirms that Judas was being faithful to the will of Jesus by betraying him. According to Gnostic teaching, Jesus needed to die in order to escape his physical body and transcend this world and return to the divine realm of Pleroma.
Judas makes it happen; therefore he is actually a hero according to this gospel and the only disciple who really knows the truth.
Judas then has a vision of his own personal glorification. The gospel concludes with the narrative of Judas handing Jesus over to the religious leaders. The title is then given at the very end: The Gospel of Judas.