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When I Learned the Gospel of Judas Had Been Discovered

As I said in my last post, after receiving an out-of-the-blue query about the Gospel of Judas I looked it up to refresh my memory: it was allegedly a book used by a group of Gnostics named the Cainites, a book that told the story of Jesus from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, his betrayer – not in order to malign Judas but, evidently, to celebrate his deed, since it was (somehow) to Jesus’ advantage.

Soon after reading up on the Gospel (there was very little to read about it, since we didn’t have it; all we had were some comments in the writings of church fathers who opposed it, principally Irenaeus), I received a second phone call, this one from a person at National Geographic, asking what I knew about the Gospel of Judas.  I obviously realized that something was up.

So I told her what little we knew about the Gospel as probably a Gnostic text.  In my mind, I wasn’t sure – before this – that the text actually *ever* existed.  Some of the church fathers more or less made up some things, including books that their enemies allegedly used, in order to be able to attack them more persuasively (“You think the *Gnostics* are worth considering?  Ha!  They revere the Sodomites and their Gospel is about Judas Iscariot!!”).   So I was somewhat agnostic about whether any such thing really ever had seen the light of day.  But now National Geographic was calling me about it.

Once I told her what we knew about the Gospel, I asked her what the deal was.  And she responded by asking me a question:  “Do you think it would be significant if we found it?”

Ai yai yai.  Do I….

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Seeing the Gospel of Judas for the First Time
How I First Learned About the Gospel of Judas Iscariot



  1. Avatar
    bwithers55  July 22, 2020

    A cliffhanger!

  2. Avatar
    jim@jimfrazier.com  July 22, 2020

    Oh, now this is getting interesting. 😉

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  July 23, 2020

    I think of this as the “Hollywood effect” – in movies, when you’re a scientist or a scholar you’re an expert on *everything* the plot needs. People don’t understand just how specialized modern science and scholarship has become, for better and worse.
    I think it’s clear they wanted you for name recognition, which is nice, I suppose. Shows that you’ve made a splash.

  4. Avatar
    Jayredinger  July 23, 2020

    Hi Bart, forgive me for going off topic, which version of the scriptures did Jesus quote from. Was it the Septuagint? Google seems to be giving me conflicting stories.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2020

      Jesus almost certainly didn’t know Greek; he would have known the Scriptures in Hebrew.

      • Avatar
        Jayredinger  July 24, 2020

        Thanks for the reply. I am still puzzled. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic. I assume he could not read Hebrew, would he have been taught the scriptures by scribes in Hebrew and then quoted them from memory, which would mean he at least understood Hebrew? The writers of the NT seem to quote from the Septuagint. Was the masoretic text freely available during this time period? I assume the authors of NT books did not quote from the masoretic text but used the Septuagint because they were Greek speaking individuals?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 26, 2020

          It was the native language of Israel at the time, since the conquest by Persia centuries earlier.

  5. Avatar
    Matt2239  July 23, 2020

    You can tell how excited they were because they had discovered a manuscript that might upset conservatives and fundamentalists. It makes you wonder if they could act responsibly should they discover a document that affirms stuff they don’t like.

  6. Avatar
    jeffmd90  July 23, 2020

    This sounds like it would be a good idea for a Netflix series.

  7. Avatar
    JonW  July 23, 2020

    This is fantastic! I’m riveted for the next one.

  8. Avatar
    Christian David  July 23, 2020

    Bart, what would you say has been the most significant discovery within the last decade or so related to New Testament studies?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2020

      Ten years? Nothing earth shattering, though some new biblical manuscripts have turned up (small fragments, pretty much). Maybe the “discoveries” that the Gospel of Judas Wife and the First-Century Mark were not what they were claimed to be? The first a forgery and the second non-existent (well, it exists, but it’s not first-century)

  9. Avatar
    Lms728  July 24, 2020

    I just watched the lecture you gave on the Gospel of Judas at RSE. How did that invitation come about?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2020

      Out of the blue! I didn’t know about the group before, but it was a very interesting experience.

  10. Avatar
    JeffreyFavot  July 24, 2020

    Dr. Erhman,

    I listened to a presentation you gave on the KJV. It was pretty good. You mentioned the Comma Joh…, do you think Cyprien of Carthridge alluded to it in reference to his writing? I don’t think it was a part of the original but Cyprien may have mentioned it. Which would be important.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2020

      The passage in Cyprian is not clear one way or the other.

  11. Avatar
    Emmu  July 25, 2020

    Hi Sir,
    An off topic question.Sir does mark 8:34 are actually sayings of Jesus or it is later added by scribes.What’s your view on this.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2020

      It was almost certainly orignially part of Mark’s Gospel — not added by a later scribe. But no, I do not think it is something Jesus actually said.

      • Avatar
        Emmu  July 28, 2020

        Thanks for your reply Sir.But Sir in one of your previous post a member ask this type of question from matthew in which you said that it is the idea of later follwers of Jesus.Sir please clear my doubt.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 28, 2020

          I meant that it was not something Jesus said but something placed on his lips by later story tellers, prior to the writing of the Gospels.

          • Avatar
            Emmu  July 30, 2020

            Thanks for your reply Sir.

  12. Avatar
    jrhislb  July 25, 2020

    Did you need a professor in symbology to get involved at all?

  13. Avatar
    Eskil  July 25, 2020

    Irenaeus works were printed and become more widely available in mid 16th century. Has it been studied what kind of impact that had to the western religious and spiritual movements? Protestants were blaming papists on corrupting the original Christianity at that time. Did any group thought that Irenaeus was describing authentic Christian movements that they could try to revive?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 26, 2020

      Yes, all the early church fathers were plumbed for their assistance in debates between Protestants and Catholics; it was often pointed out, for example, that Irenaeus claimed that Rome was the most important church.

  14. Avatar
    clerrance2005  July 26, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    An off the topic please.
    1. Why was John the Baptist in doubt about Jesus’s Messiahship when he was in prison?
    2. Was John the Baptist’s caution of Herod and Herodias relationship because he felt they had transgressed the Jewish Law or he just felt it was morally wrong. I ask because in a recent series I watched on Netflix ‘Jesus Code’, they seem to allege that former (ie transgression of the Jewish Law) was the motivation. I was taken aback because I thought both Herod and Herodias are not Jews and therefore not obliged to go by the Jewish Law.

    I just got my copy of your textbook ‘The Bible’. Its great, intriguing and makes a very good read.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 27, 2020

      1. In the Gospels it is all part of the idea that no one could figure out who Jesus really was. *historically* I don’t think John ever imagined Jesus was the messiah. 2. Apparently because it was morally wrong; but Herod did consider himself a Jew, even though many Jews denied he was (his parents were converts to Judaism)

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