In Christian theology, the character of Judas has long been reviled as the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans for money. But what if Christ asked Judas to perform this deed to achieve a greater good?
Should Judas still be seen as a traitor?
Easter is the Christian holiday commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But a recent archaeological find has put the story of Christ's Passion [Christ's suffering during the Crucifixion] in a different light.
The National Geographic Society has announced the discovery of a 1,700-year-old Egyptian Coptic codex [manuscript], which includes the Gospel according to Judas.
National Geographic's Vice President for Missions Programs is Terry Garcia. "You don't find a lost gospel very often."
How this document was acquired concerns some scholars and archaeologists, who consider it a looted object. According to National Geographic, in the 1970s the codex was discovered by Egyptian farmers. It passed through several antiquities dealers' hands in Europe and the United States before it finally was acquired by the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Switzerland. National Geographic provided financing to the foundation to authenticate, restore and translate the manuscript.
"They would take a photograph of each page, and each fragment. And then, they would painstakingly try to match pages with fragments," said Garcia.
The gospel was later translated, and the text revealed an unexpected retelling of events leading up to Christ's Passion.
Bart Ehrman is Chairman of the Religion Department at the University of North Carolina. He says, "The New Testament portrays Judas as engaging in a nefarious act in turning over Jesus to the authorities. This gospel [Gospel of Judas] portrays the act as far from nefarious, but the greatest thing Judas could do for Jesus."
This interpretation sparked strong reactions. While commemorating Jesus' washing of his apostles' feet before the Last Supper, Pope Benedict said, Judas was a liar and double-crosser for whom money was more important than communion with Jesus.
Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Founding Pastor of Crystal Cathedral, made his feelings clear. "I don't need anything more than I get out of Matthew, Mark, St. Luke and John. I mean, wow! Who needs anything more?"
These four apostles wrote accounts of Jesus Christ's life and death in the New Testament. They all agree Judas received thirty pieces of silver, after which he singled out Jesus Christ for the Romans with a kiss. Filled with remorse, he later committed suicide.
The Gospel According to Judas was written by the Gnostics, an early Christian group.
Rev. Timothy Friedrichsen of the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., explains why the Gnostics' writings were rejected by the Christian church. "How the books [of the New Testament] got in there, they had to be widely used by various groups. So, works that were used by small sects of Christianity, especially those on the fringe of understanding of Jesus and so forth, they would have a harder time getting into the New Testament."
Friedrichsen says the Gnostics believe everyone has "secret knowledge" locked within them. Therefore, it was necessary for Judas to turn Jesus over to the Romans in order for Jesus to shed the physical shell he was trapped in, and find that knowledge.
"Salvation comes from within. That, by knowing oneself, you're able to achieve, you can find that divine spark," explains Garcia.
The Gnostics' belief system diverges significantly from the Catholic Church, which says mankind can be saved only through communion with Jesus Christ, who died for our sins.
Both Friedrichsen and Garcia agree on the document's historical importance.
"It's an important find, for purposes of history," says Friedrichsen. "It allows us to see how people were thinking at a particularly important time in history," adds Garcia.
Three other documents also contained in the codex are currently being restored and translated.
Some footage Courtesy National Geographic Channel: Gospel of Judas