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This new book by the National Geographic Society is bound to be of interest. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the outline of the lost gospel being translated and highlighted here, it still presents an intriguing look into the early mind of Christians, who were a very diverse group.

There were originally more than four gospels, and literally hundreds of apostolic letters and manuscripts floating around the ancient world. These were of variable quality literarily and theologically, but it took hundreds of years for the Christian community to come to a consensus about what should be included and what should be excluded. Generally, Gnostic texts were excluded, and this lost gospel of Judas is most likely a Gnostic production, according to the authors. It was referenced by early church leaders such as Irenaeus, who argued strongly for the now-standard vision of four canonical gospels.

What is the issue with this gospel? The central idea that places this text as odds with the canonical gospels is that it paints Judas is a very different light - Judas is no longer the villain who betrays Jesus for his own personal gain, or because of his own spiritual confusion, but rather an obedient servant who, when turning Jesus in to the authorities, is simply following Jesus' own direction as a necessary step for God's plan to come to fulfillment. Judas is portrayed as the closest of the apostles to Jesus, a leader among the apostles, and thus perhaps the object of jealousy.

To be sure, these ideas are not new. Varying images of Judas and confusion about his role have been present throughout much of Christian history, with no single definitive vision of his personality nor his action superseding all others. (See the book on Judas by scholar Kim Paffenroth, published recently). The document highlighted in this text is a 31-page, fragile manuscript dated to approximately the year 300, as a copy of a story that may have originated 150 or more years earlier. The manuscript itself has a colourful history, having been bought, sold, and stolen multiple times. As this book is released, the manuscript is on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

This book promises to be of interest to historians, theologians, biblical scholars, and others who find the early days of Christianity fascinating. Even those (like me) who are not willing to lend canonical authority to this rediscovered gospel will find that it brings up ideas and questions that are worth considering.

This volume goes along with a companion book, 'The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot' by Herbert Krosney, also published by the National Geographic Society. That book details more of the story about the manuscript. This book features the manuscript itself, a new translation, and commentary by biblical scholars who can help to place it in context. Theological analyses and textual issues, as well as a discussion about the importance of the Gnostics for early Christian development are found here.
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on January 20, 2007
The New Testament portrays Judas as the corrupt disciple who betrayed Christ, and this negative portrait of him, with additional hateful characteristics, has prevailed for centuries. Only in recent times has the figure of Judas been seen in the context of very ancient Hellenic cults in which gods have to be killed by a `sacred executioner' to be reborn, after which this sacred executioner is disowned by and driven out of the community.

These ideas were then incorporated into the teachings of the Gnostics, where the god becomes a Saviour figure who would descend from the Realm of Light into the Realm of Darkness to redeem mankind and then to return to the Realm of Light. Such and similar Gnostic ideas had an influence on certain groups of pre-Christian Judaism and then on early Christianity also.

So far these influences have been deduced by comparing parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and parts of St John's Gospel with Gnostic works; but the rediscovery of the Gospel of Judas gives us a text that is so explicitly Gnostic that it actually wholly subverts the message of the Gospels in the New Testament. As a result it was of course declared heretical by Bishop Irenaeus in 180 and suppressed. Its text was lost until a manuscript of it in Coptic, dating to around 300 AD, was found in Egypt in around 1978; its fragments, making up 85% of the original, were painstakingly reassembled; and the work was finally published in 2006. The book under review gives us a translation of the reconstituted text, followed by four illuminating essays of explanation and commentary. That by Bart D. Ehrman gives a lucid account of the basic teachings shared by the various Gnostic schools; and a more difficult chapter by Martin Meyer links the teaching of the Judas Gospel with other Gnostic texts, notably the Secret Book of John, in which some of the ideas of the Judas Gospel are more fully developed.

The basic and most startling feature of the Judas Gospel is that Judas was the only disciple who really understood Jesus. Jesus chastizes in the most forthright terms the other disciples for worshipping a false God. This false God - the God of the Old Testament - is the Demiurge (this Gospel refers to his helpers Nebro, the `rebel' and Saklas, the `fool') who created this very imperfect world - an idea basic to Gnosticism. The true God is not a Creator God, but a (male) Spirit with a female emanation called Barbelo and a Self-Generated emanation who is Jesus. The Jesus emanation is pure Spirit but appears on earth in a human envelope, so that he only appears to be human (a doctrine known as docetism); but he needs to be free from this envelope, and he tells Judas that it is to be the latter's mission `to sacrifice the man that clothes me'. It is in obedience to this command that Judas hands over Jesus to his enemies.

Jesus has told Judas that humans are divided into those who also have a spark of the divine in them - and they, like Judas, will live on after death - and those, like the disciples and others who worship the false God, who lack the divine spark and will not live on after death.

All this is mixed up with a complex cosmology which owes something to Plato's linking of individual souls with individual stars.

Gnosticism is an interesting attempt to explain that the existence of imperfection in the created world by attributing this creation to an inferior deity. By proscribing Gnosticism (and, later, Manicheism), Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, was left with the problem of explaining how a Creator God could have created such a flawed world.
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on January 17, 2007
In the year 2000 the Swiss antiquities dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger acquired a sixty-six page papyrus codex (now called Codex Tchacos) that contained four books or treatises, one of which turned out to be the long known but long lost Gospel of Judas. The codex was in horrible condition, "a thousand fragments scattered like crumbs." When Rodolphe Kasser of Geneva, a renowned Coptologist, saw it for the first time on the evening of July 24, 2001, he described it as "partially pulverized, infinitely fragile, crumbling at the least contact." Nussberger gave the manuscript to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, which through collaborative efforts restored as much as 80 percent of the codex, which will eventually be given to the Coptic Museum in Cairo. This brief description, however, hardly does justice to the murky origins and history of Codex Tchacos before it came to Nussberger. A companion volume by the National Geographic Society entitled The Lost Gospel (2006) tries to reconstruct that mysterious past.

The original Gospel of Judas (which we do not have) was composed in Greek some time before 180, when Irenaeus mentions it in his work Against Heresies. The version we have in the Codex Tchacos is a later Coptic translation from the Greek that according to radiocarbon-dating was composed between 220-340, with a margin of error of +/- sixty years. The present volume is its first translation into English.

The Gospel of Judas is only one of several dozen apocryphal writings of the early Christian era, some of them now extant only as fragmented papyri, others known only in name (like Paul's letter to the Laodiceans per Colossians 4:16), that did not find their way into the canon or "rule" of Scripture that bear authentic witness to Christ. Scholars agree that the Judas gospel is a "gnostic" text (from the Greek word gnosis, knowledge), although this is such an elastic term for a broad variety of movements that "some scholars have insisted that we shouldn't even use the term any more" (Ehrman). The gospel, according to the very first sentence, contains "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover." Parts of it like its cosmology are so complex that they are almost impossible to understand. Other passages portray Judas as a hero who betrays Jesus at his own request, and not as the quintessential villain. Overall, the gospel "contains very little that could be considered specifically Christian" (Meyer; so too Ehrman, p. 102).

The Gospel of Judas itself is barely ten pages long, and significant parts of it are badly corrupted with long lacunae. Here is one example: "So let them be {ensnared}before you, and let them go {--about 15 lines missing--} generations {. . .}. A baker cannot feed all creation {42}under {heaven}. And {. . .}to them {. . .}and {. . .}to us and {. . .}." The 151 footnotes to the short text are full of interpretive choices, and significant caveats like "the meaning of the text is uncertain" or "the translation is tentative." The editors have inserted subtitles in the text to smooth the narrative flow. The brief Gospel is preceded by an introduction by Meyer, then followed by four commentaries by Kasser, Ehrman, Wurst, and Meyer. A brief bibliography (the literature on Judas is immense) concludes this archaeological treasure that will keep scholars of many disciplines hard at work for decades to come. In the mean time, the National Geographic Society has an informative website on the text at [...]
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on April 12, 2006
If you want to know all the details about the race to preserve this exciting discovery, the science, etc., this book is not the one you want. That is evidently the focus of the companion book to this one, The Lost Gospel by Bart D. Ehrman. If, however, you want the actual translation of the Gospel of Judas with copious explanatory footnotes and essays that put it into some context, I highly recommend this book. One reviewer referred those who are only interested in reading the gospel to the NY Times website; however, the National Geographic site has the whole thing available for download with no registration required. I personally found the footnotes (only available in this book) to be very helpful in disentangling some of the theology and terminology used.

The essays are also well-written and illuminating, especially if the reader is not familiar with gnosticism. (These readers may also find it helpful to read the essays first and then the contents of the manuscript.)

Hype notwithstanding, this discovery is not about to shake the foundations of Christianity, but I hope that it will stimulate interest by Christians in the origins of their faith and the exciting ferment of ideas that existed during the first couple of centuries until all debate was shut down by the new establishment, the official religion of the Roman Empire. For the most part the "secret revelations" given by Jesus to "Judas" are boilerplate gnosticism, although even a glimpse of that system of thought, alien as it now is to most of us, may stimulate readers to learn more. I highly recommend Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels as a readable introduction; although several years old it is still in print. Ehrman's Lost Christianities is a more recent exposition of the many "Christianities" that fought it out in the early centuries.
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I'm not well versed in the history of Christianity, especially its early history. And, I admit, I'm not much for history of most kinds. This title, as a reputable piece of scholarship, was just too tittilating to pass up, though.

I'm very glad I went for it. The Gospel itself is very brief, so the authors have added notes on how the codex was made available to the world and on the gospel's content. The former is positively nerve wracking for anyone with a trace of respect for antiquities; the latter helped put the codex into its proper historical and theological context.

But it's the content of the Gospel itself that really command attention. This gives a strikingly different interpretation of Judas Iscariot's handing over of Jesus to the political authorities. In fact, the only solid reference to this gospel, for many years, was Irenaeus's declaration in 180 AD that it gave heretical interpretation to the betrayal. It also opens the door on a tradition with many divinities and orders (or "generations") of divinity - hardly the strict monotheism we know today. The most surprising among these beings sound remarkably like boddhisattvas: enlightened beings who sacrifice their own divinity, for a while, to benefit humankind.

The presentation has a few flaws. For one, section numbers in the gospel are poorly marked, making it difficult to follow cross-references - perhaps the book's typographic designer was out sick that day. For another, the bibliography lacks the kind of commentary that would help me learn more about the gnostic tradition. Given the potential for academic infighting, a simple listing of sources is about all one can expect.

Despite these minor flaws, this is clear and readable presentation of an important document, nearly lost to history, and of an important phase in development of today's church.

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on December 9, 2006
The National Geographical Society, along with the Waitt Institute for Human Discovery and an unparalled collection of scholars on early Christianity, are to be commended hugely for their roles in bringing "The Gospel of Judas" to us. Be sure to read the Publisher's Note at the end of this book to appreciate fully their contribution.

I haven't found in one place so clear an introduction to Gnostic Christianity or as much evidence of an early Gnostic Christian response to Jesus. Whereas traditionally the disciples other than Judas have been presented as understanding Jesus well, in this gospel we find "Jesus said to them. 'How do you know me. Truly I say unto you, no generation of the people that are among you will me.' What are we to make of this?

As noted by the publisher, scholars seem certain this gospel is not a fake. That doesn't mean it speaks for all Christians but it does seem to represent an early teaching of Sethian Gnostic Christianity.

The commentaries tell about the recovery of the text and its message. Bart Ehrman writes: "For gnostics a person is not saved by faith in Christ or by doing good works, but by knowing the truth - the truth abotu the world we live in, about who the true God is, and especially about we ourselves are." Reading this gospel, however unsettling it may be in light of your current understanding of Christianity, can give you a good appreciation of what that knowledge is.

This is challenging material. In his commentary, Wurst notes: "Characters from the Jewish Scriptures such as Esau, Korah, and the Sodomites - regarded by orthodox tradition as immoral and as rebels against the will of God - are considered here to be the servants of the one true God, the 'superior higher power.' It is difficult not to feel that divisions in the understanding of God have persisted from the earliest times of Christianity and even before as Jewish intellectuals wrestled with the different presentation of Jehovah in their scriptures.

Due to the finding of this text, it seems more likely that Gnostics were active before 180 A.D. and also not unlikely they were active much earlier. Bauer's hypothesis that Gnosticism may have dated back to the earliest formative years of Christianity, seems better supported. Due to the questions raised by Jesus' life and teachings and our knowledge of human nature, it does not seem unreasonable to believe that during the very life of Jesus some people were understanding his life and teachings in a way consistent with "The Gospel of Judas" and the Nag Hammadi texts. Those responses seem most spiritually important and not which texts turn out to have been written first. Otherwise why not have stopped with the Old Testament?

The commentaries by Kasser on the recovery of the text, by Ehrman on the vision presented in this gospel, by Wurst on the reaction of Iraneus to the Gnostics, and by Meyer on Sethian Gnosticism seem excellent. Most of all I appreciate the painstaking and gifted effort of Florence Darbre to recover this text from the damaged document.

The "Gospel of Judas" may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to be so close to important religious discovery. With it and the Nag Hammadi texts it may now be possible for some to find a place in Christianity, as modern day Gnostic Christians, that they had thought previously did not exist. For others, this gospel may let you appreciate the diversity of authentic religous reponses.
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on May 8, 2006
... what I feel like doing when I see how the publication of the Gospel of Judas has instantly divided people onto teams. I wonder how many reviewed this book before they even opened the front cover...

The Gospel of Judas is here!! Trumpets! A nice John Williams score!!! Want to know a secret? The Gospel of Judas is just a piece of early Christian writing that provides persepctive into Judas Iscariot and, mainly, the construction of a religion's early spread.

People are condemning this discovery because it doesn't fit their concepts of Christianity; one of the below reviewers says it isn't consistent in itself..while he completely ignores the numerous inconsistencies of the OT, or of the numerous other books that were omitted from the Bible.

Other reviewers are praising this document because of its "controversial nature." But both groups are so busy plastering their opinions of the theological or secular implications that they ignore some very basic facts. The Judas Gospel hails from the earliest days of the Church, and whether an outright myth or pure truth (and for that matter, whether the other gospels are mythg or truth) they provide insight into the beginnings of the Christian movement. That, in and of itself, makes it worth reading if you're into this sort of thing.

As a finding, I was fascinated just because it's come to light now (or publication now.) It's intriguing. It's not going to convert anyone to a particular wayof thinking and isn't going to turn the Church of Rome onto its backside. To use my daughter's parlance, "It's kinda cool." That's all.
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on April 25, 2006
As a layperson, I am in no position to evaluate apostolic writings, dating of such works, or interpreting what the writings mean. I am, however, vastly interested in the history of Jesus, his disciples, his teachings, his impact on the world, and what the people of his time and historians, biblical and otherwise, have to say about his life and times. I have also long wondered if the prophecy of the death of Jesus existed from the beginning in order to establish the divinity of Jesus (which means someone had to betray him or the prophecy would go unfulfilled), or if the prophecy existed because God, knowing all, including the future, knew Jesus would be betrayed. These musings, of course, raise a host of other questions. With the severe damage to The Gospel of Judas, the answers are even less attainable, but let us be grateful for what has been saved.

The Gospel of Judas tells of Judas's role in the death (betrayal) of Jesus and his place in the heart and mind of the Christian Savior. There is much conversation between Jesus and Judas with the resulting reactions of the other disciples to the apparent special admiration Jesus held for Judas, at least according to this gospel. Jesus laughs a lot in this gospel...very different from others. There is much discussion of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, and his place in the Christian and Jewish view. On a personal level, I was intrigued by the statements of Jesus that each of us has a heavenly star (guess there's no need to buy one then). This book is intriguing, to say the least.

TGOJ is well put together with an Introduction by Marvin Meyer; the actual Gospel of Judas itself (though in tragically poor condition), meticulously footnoted; and followed by chapters of commentary by learned scholars Kasser, Ehrman, Wurst and Meyer. I was very impressed by the ubiquitous footnotes, which were very helpful. The endnotes are also substantial and very informative, and the two-and-a-half-page bibliography provides an abundance of related material to be studied by those who desire/need to do so. The publisher's note at the back of the book describes (also described in other parts of the book) the tragedy of the handling of the manuscript (codex) after it was first found buried in a bank of the Nile River in 1978, along with the heroic attempts in very recent years to save what's left of it.

The Gospel of Judas, edited by Professors Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst, was released on the same day (April 6, 2006) as The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot by Bart D. Ehrman (who wrote a commentary in TGOJ) and Herbert Krosney (who is quoted in TGOJ). The Secrets of Judas: the Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel by James H. Robinson came out the next day. These books add to the considerable body of literature dealing with Judas Iscariot, the hated disciple, and his place in Christian lore. The latter two titles would make fascinating additional reading.

Carolyn Rowe Hill
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on April 14, 2006
In this work published by the National Geographic Society who in my opinion has no proverbial ax to grind either way, we get a glimpse into a little known text. The editors and commentators all go to painstakingly great lengths to guide the reader in the manner in which the text was found, pieced together and translated. As you enter the gospel itself you find that the editors have taken steps to keep the literal translation of all understandable text in tact. However where there is a gap and they do not have the words they use symbols to explain that this is where the text is either lost forever as the papyrus is in such poor shape or they were able to glean certain aspects of the work but only fragmentary.

As I read through the gospel I liked the way the editors left the gaps in the document so as you read you come to sections were Jesus is talking to Judas or others and there can be large sections that are missing. The editors place a symbol and explain that there is a large section of text lost and then picks up in the document were the text reconnects. There is no attempt on the part of the editors or reviewers to sway opinion on the text they simply translate it. What comes out of their hard work is a gospel account that runs along the thinking line of the Gnostics and shows Judas in a very different light.

As a scholar I'm impressed with the book, I also like the fact that the writing brings out a very important point. No matter how Christians see Jesus and Judas one thing is certain. If Judas had not handed Jesus over to the Pharisees which started the events that would lead to Jesus' death there would be no Christianity today. As arguably, Jesus may not have been killed. If Jesus had not been killed then the events that lead to the theory of the "redemption" of man and the "resurrection" would never have taken place.

If you follow the mainstream Christian belief which is Jesus had to die for the sins of the world based on the interpretations of the scripture and the accepted gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You see that this gospel shows Judas as a hero and that he does exactly what Jesus asks of him. In the end if you believe in the redemption and follow the teaching that Jesus is God sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world someone had to be a "Judas" and this gospel sheds new light on the motives of both Jesus and Judas.

This work is a treasure to humanity in ways too numerous to count.
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on August 8, 2006
When I first looked to buy a book on the Gospel of Judas, I wasn't sure if I should buy this one, or the one entitled "The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot". In reading the reviews of the two books, both with the National Geographic Society's backing, it was hinted that these two are companion books, and that's exactly right: This smaller book--"The Gospel of Judas"--provides the translation of the gospel, and several essays on its meaning and role in early Christianity. "The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot" focuses on how the Gospel of Judas was brought "to light", so to speak, from its discovery in Egypt to the restoration and publication of an almost completely disintegrated manuscript a few decades later.

I gave "The Gospel of Judas" four stars because I wanted the translation, notes, and essays...essentially, all the technical stuff. If you're more interested in the fascinating story behind its discovery, and are really not into a nitty-gritty study of an early Christian document, I'd recommend you go with "The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot". I, personally, am glad I got both because they're the two sides of the subject.
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