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Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity Hardcover – March 6, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This accessible, engaging book has Princeton religion professor Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels; Beyond Belief) in a dream team pairing with King (The Gospel of Mary of Magdala), who teaches ecclesiastical history at Harvard Divinity School. Together they take on the controversial Gospel of Judas, published in April 2006 after some years of languishing in a safety deposit box after its initial discovery in the 1970s. In their hundred-page introductory essay, Pagels and King date the gospel to the middle of the second century and situate it amidst the deadly persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Such persecution, they say, drove the author of the Gospel of Judas, who "could not reconcile his belief in a deeply loving, good God with a particular idea other Christians held at the time: that God desired the bloody sacrificial death of Jesus and his followers." The key to understanding this gospel, they argue, is its relentless unmasking of the triumphant rhetoric of martyrdom. Though the gospel text appears angry and polarizing, Pagels and King have come to realize that they "cannot easily dismiss this author as either a madman or a lunatic." Instead, they delve deeply into his theological view that a pure, spiritual realm exists beyond the physical world that we see—a Gnostic chestnut that recurs in other second-century texts. Alive to irony and historical nuance, this remarkably concise primer opens readers to a plausible and often persuasive interpretation of the disquieting Gospel of Judas.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In fall 2006, the National Geographic Society made quite a splash, bringing to light the discovery of a new gospel in the Gnostic tradition told from Judas' point of view. There have already been several books on the subject, including one by Bart Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot (2006), which provided an overview and placed the book in its historical and religious contexts. Now come two premier names in the field of religious writing to take a more intimate look at the gospel. Pagels, author of the classic Gnostic Gospels (2004), teams with translator extraordinaire King for a compact reader's guide into the heart of the new gospel. The Gospel of Judas can be a convoluted, even bizarre, reading experience, but the combination of King's translation, which appears at the end of the book, and Pagels' text will help general readers get past the difficulties and into the fascinating message, which emphasizes spiritual rather than physical resurrection for both Jesus and his followers. Pagels also shows why this message was so noxious to church leaders and explains how the gospel fits into the body of noncanonical literature. By showing how Judas' vision of life after death should be understood, this elegantly written book makes clear the relevance of a centuries-old text for a contemporary audience. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In April 2006, the National Geographic Society published an ancient text, the "Gospel of Judas" that had been discovered in the mid-1970s in Egypt. The original Greek text dates from about 150 A.D., although the version recovered was a Coptic translation written several hundred years thereafter. The publication of the "Gospel of Judas" excited a great deal of scholarly and popular interest due, in part, to the light it might cast on the early development of Christianity.

In their recent book, "Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Early Christianity" (2007), Elaine Pagels and Karen King offer early thoughts on the Gospel of Judas and its significance. Pagels is Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of several books on Gnostic Christianity, including "The Gnostic Gospels". King is Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the Harvard Divinity School, and she has also written several books on Gnosticism.

This short but difficult book is in two parts. The first part, "Reading Judas" consists of four chapters jointly written by Pagels and King examining the Gospel of Judas in the context of the traditional New Testament canon, the history of early Christianity, and other Gnostic texts. The second part of the study consists of an English translation of the Gospel of Judas by King together with her detailed commentary on the translation. Interpretation of this newly published text is difficult. It is obscurely written with names and characters that are unfamiliar. Extensive and important passages of the text have been lost over the years. It should also be remembered that the text of the Gospel of Judas is itself a Coptic translation of an original Greek version that we do not possess.
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Format: Hardcover
Elaine Pagels and Karen King are two of the most prolific scholars on early Christianity and more specifically, the Gnostic movement. Separately they have penned nearly a dozen books. So what a gift it is when the two of them collaborate on a new book about the Gospel of Judas.

After last year's circus surrounding the release of the Gospel of Judas (GoJ), Pagels and King turn their attention not to the historical information about the major players, Jesus and Judas, about whom the Gospel tells us very little new, but rather to the purposes of the author of the Gospel. They identify the GoJ as another example of the "Jesus is in charge" theme which increases in emphasis as one moves from Mark to Matthew to Luke and then John. Indeed, they believe that Judas is the most extreme example of Jesus orchestrating his own death. Yet while the catholic Christians did this to keep their Godman all-knowing, Pagels and King submit that the author of Judas is devaluing the physical body and emphasizing the spiritual one, and hence Jesus dies so that he can live. It's a subtle difference but a very meaningful one, and Pagels and King make their point slowly, methodically, and firmly. This fundamental difference in outlook also lies behind what they describe as the "anger" in the GoJ, anger that the catholic Christians are acting against the interests of the true Christ by adopting the suits and trappings of the physical world.

The book is extremely short. It is divided into 2 parts. Part 1 (Pagels and King) barely covers 100 pages, and presents their thesis. Part 2 (King) is a new translation of GoJ with lots of comments on the translation. The comments are particularly useful.

The book is not without flaws. Here's a few:

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Format: Hardcover

This book presents us with a content analysis and the actual translated text of the Gospel of Judas, which was accidentally discovered by peasants in a burial cave in the 1970's in Middle Egypt near al Minya. The archaeological find was finally made public by the National Geographic Society in April 2006. Award-winning authors, Pagels and King, who study, translate and specialize in early Christian writings, estimate that the Gospel "was written sometime around 150 C.E., about a century after Judas would have lived, it is impossible that he wrote it; the real author remains anonymous."

In addition to its outside-the-box spiritual teaching, this Gospel is valued because it clearly shows that the early Christian movement was not characterized by the unified, simplistic and fixed message that we hear today. Rather, it's yet another piece of evidence that demonstrates there were many different and controversial messages, each competing for a position of supremacy, each claiming to be the divine truth, each messenger asserting to be the most special and favored one. While many people are comforted by the idea that the 12 apostles worked together and that they unanimously embraced and delivered the same doctrines, this homogenized and white-washed picture is a distortion of the historical facts, rivalries and power struggles that are now being revealed.


If God is Love and only Love, He cannot be violence. The Gospel of Judas renounces violence, sacrifice, martyrdom and even the cannibalistic practice of symbolically eating the body and blood of Christ as God's Will.
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