Portrayal of Judas

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If there is one thing that modern literature and films do well it is to expose the villain. In the New Testament, Judas is represented as the betrayer of Jesus Christ. He is one of the twelve Apostles, the one who sold Jesus Christ out for thirty pieces of silver, and identified him with solely a kiss on the cheek. Later, crazed with guilt, Judas was said to have hung himself (Gospel of Matthew). He is the ultimate symbol of treachery and betrayal. Christianity would never have been the same without its ‘traitor’. After nearly two-thousand years the most hated man in history has returned, and this time it is through the eyes on the National Geographic Societies documentary, The Gospel of Judas. His depiction is viewed in a different light other than what the entire world has known throughout the ages.

In The Gospel of Judas, Judas is not seen as a villain but instead a hero. The act of betrayal that is most commonly known though our teachings of the New Testament Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) is rather depicted as an act of obedience to the instructions of Jesus Christ. Unlike the eleven other disciples, Judas truly understood Christ’s message. Through the act of betrayal, he caused the pivotal point which interconnected the series of premeditated events that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus. In comparing The Gospel of Judas to scholarly text, the four canonical gospels of the New Testament, through providing evidence of the authenticity of The Gospel of Judas, and illustrating the contributions that have been made through the discovery of the Gospel of Judas offers an alternative view of the relationship between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot yet it illustrates the diversity of early Christianity. Judas fulfilled God’s plan by being a catalyst to the many events that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and filled the role as the cowardly disciple.

Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, was an early church father whose writings helped shape the development of early Christian theology. His best known book, Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies in A.D. 180 was a detailed attack on Gnosticism. As noted through lecture by Professor Gabriele Boccaccini of the University of Michigan, Gnosticism refers to a tradition based on knowledge. By other scholars, Gnosticism has been considered to be a branch of Christianity which in the time of Saint Irenaeus was seen as a serious threat to the early Christianity. Through Irenaeus’ writings in Against Heresies he emphasized the traditional elements of the church. In other words, the book criticized all whose views about Jesus Christ and his message differed from those of the mainstream church. According to the National Geographic Society, among those Irenaeus attacked was a group who revered Judas, “the traitor,” and had produced a “fictitious history,” which “they style the Gospel of Judas.”[1] Against Heresies, provides a confirmation of the existence and interpretation of The Gospel of Judas in early Christian scholarship.

The Gospel of Judas depicts the struggle between the hierarchical church and the Gnostics. A key passage in The Gospel of Judas, Jesus tells Judas: “You will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” In essence, Jesus is saying that with his instruction Judas will be getting rid of his material and physical flesh by betraying him. To Craig Evans, these passages mean nothing but fiction but to other scholars it is a new window into the minds of early Christians. Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University sees The Gospel of Judas as an important step into understanding the past. She states that “We don’t look to the gospels for historical information, but for the fundaments of the Christian faith.”[2]

The notion of “gospels” that contradict the canonical four in the New Testament have been seen to be unsettling to some, but in ancient times alternative versions of the story of Jesus Christ...
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