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An Excellent Introduction to the Art of Textual Criticism for Lay People
on December 13, 2014
First things first: there is nothing revolutionary or scandalous in the ancient text called "The Gospel of Judas." If the Vatican has a copy in their archives, they are not sitting on it out of fear of the response. This text is unique in its focus on Judas, but in other ways has a great deal in common with other Gnostic texts written in the first few centuries of the Common Era.
That being the case, Bart Ehrman -- one of the leaders in his field -- does an excellent job of using the text as an entry into the world of the scholarship of ancient scriptures.
I came to the book from a background of having studied such texts (in translation) in both a public graduate school and a seminary, so I ended up skipping over a lot of the background material Ehrman includes for the lay person. It's all very well written and accessible; it was just old news to me.
The best part of the book was not, I think, his study of the Gospel of Judas itself, but his use of historical-literary criticism to dig more deeply into what we can reasonably deduce about Judas from the canonical books of the New Testament. It's not a lot -- but Ehrman does a lovely job in taking the reader step-by-step through how a specialist approaches such a question.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in New Testament criticism or who has a romantic or suspicious interest in "lost gospels." This book is an excellent primer on what we do and do not know about early Christianity in its wide variety of forms and how we come it know it.
And for those who might wonder: it is not disrespectful of faith. Ehrman makes no theological claims one way or the other. He simply looks at the texts more closely than most people ever will, with the advantage of his decades spent studying the historical, cultural, theological, and literary nature of the era, and communicates his insights in a straightforward, very clear way.