Over the past few weeks I’ve had a thread dealing with Judas Iscariot and another thread dealing with claims from the second century that Christians were highly immoral (sexual reprobates, murderers, and cannibals). Or at least that some Christian heretics were. As it turns out, these two threads are closely related in a way one would not expect – at least in a way I never expected until I got involved with the “Gospel of Judas” that was discovered in recent times. I posted on this many years ago but it would be interesting to do so again.
This will take several posts. I begin with how I first found out about the Gospel of Judas, back when experts in early Christianity knew virtually nothing at all about a Gospel of Judas.
In the Fall of 2004 I was in my study minding my own business (well, talking with a graduate student) when the phone rang. It was a woman named Sheila, whom I had known for years. Sheila had sponsored a number of archaeological digs in Israel, and I knew her because of my long-term involvement with the Biblical Archaeology Society, for whom I had given lectures periodically (even though I’m not an archaeologist–my lectures were generally on biblical manuscripts and topics related to biblical archaeology, with an emphasis on “biblical”). We talked for a bit – she had never called me before, so I wasn’t sure why she was calling to chat now – and then she asked me “What do you know about the Gospel of Judas”?
Well, the answer was short and sweet. I knew next to nothing about the Gospel of Judas. I told her that we didn’t have a Gospel of Judas, but that it had been mentioned by some of the early church fathers as a heretical book. But since we didn’t have it, we really didn’t know much about it. She seemed disappointed, thanked me for the information, and we hung up.
I thought that the question were strange, and so I decided I’d better look it up to see what I could find out. I remembered that the Gospel of Judas was mentioned in the writings of the church father Irenaeus. It turns out that this is our best ancient discussion of the text, even if it is almost certainly not particularly reliable. I did a search, found the passage, and refreshed my memory.
Irenaeus was …
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