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What is the Gospel of Judas About?

I have said some things about the Gospel of Judas in my previous posts, but not much, really, about what is actually in it.   You can find a translation, done by my colleague Zlatko Pleŝe, in the volume we co-edited and translated: The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament.  We also give the following Introduction to the text; I will give the rest of the Introduction and a bibliography, and a bit of the translation itself, in the next post.




The Gospel of Judas is the most recently discovered Gospel to be published, and is arguably the most important and intriguing Christian text to appear since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945.  Details of the discovery and the mishandling of the manuscript by antiquities dealers are provided in the exhaustive account of Herb Krosney.  The manuscript containing the Gospel preserves three other gnostic works as well: the “Letter of Peter to Philip,” known in a slightly different version from the findings at Nag Hammadi; the “(First) Apocalypse of James,” also known from Nag Hammadi; and a treatise entitled the “Book of Allogenes,” unrelated to the Nag Hammadi treatise also called “Allogenes” (= the Stranger).  All four texts are in Coptic, but they are clearly translations of Greek originals.  The manuscript was discovered by peasants rummaging through a burial cave in the Al Minya province of Egypt in 1978; but its existence was not known to the scholarly world at large until the Swiss Coptologist Rudolf Kasser announced its discovery and pending publication at the Eighth International Conference of Coptic Studies in Paris, in July 2004.

By this time Kasser and conservationist Florence Darbre had been at work for three years conserving the text, after it had been subject to abuse by the overly zealous and poorly informed antiquities dealers who had, over the years, torn the manuscript straight through, reaaranged its pages, frozen and then thawed it, and so on.  As a result of this mishandling, something like 5-10% of the contents of the Gospel of Judas has been permanently lost.  But ….

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The Opening Section of the Gospel of Judas
Sethian Gnostics and the Gospel of Judas



  1. Avatar
    Eskil  August 5, 2020

    In Luke and John, Satan enters into Judas before his betrayal. Hence, isn’t it a bit unfair to give all the blame and credit to Judas only? Maybe the other eleven were just more fortunate to get the Holy Spirit as a gift instead of Satan.

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  August 6, 2020

    What’s the difference between the foolishness of the Disciples here and in Mark? If I recall correctly, the disciples are basically clods in that gospel as well.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2020

      Here they will not obtain salvation. In Mark they’re just (very) slow to catch on.

  3. Avatar
    Stephen  August 6, 2020

    Obviously you think the term “Gnosticism” still has some utility. How do you respond to folks like Michael Williams who think we have to qualify the term so much when we use it that it becomes functionally meaningless? Why not just refer to Sethian Christians or Valentinian Christians, etc.?


    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2020

      I think it’s fine to do that, and I do. But there are a lot of groups with similar views that cannot be called Sethians or Valentinians. They have to be called something. It’s like saying why not call everyone either Baptists or Greek Orthodox? Well, what of all the others? Why not use a broader term, that we define — say, “Christian.”

  4. fefferdan
    fefferdan  August 6, 2020

    Would you agree with those who say Judas’ gospel also represents a doctrine opposed to martyrdom and/or its glorification?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2020

      I think it’s part of it, but in my view it is definitely not the main point, or even one of the major points.. I know that Karen King and Elaine Pagels argued that in their book, but I think they’re reading their own interests into their interpretation.

      • Avatar
        Smithfio  August 7, 2020

        I am interested in reading more about Gnosticism. Can you elaborate further or recommend material that is as non cryptic or unbiased as possible (although I imagine any interpretation contains some inherent bias).

        • Bart
          Bart  August 9, 2020

          I would suggest starting with Nicola Denzey Lewis Introduction to Gnosticism (it explains the various writings found in the Nag Hammadi Library) and David Brakke Gnosticism (which explains the Gnostic teachings themselves)

  5. Avatar
    Seeker1952  August 6, 2020

    3 questions and a thought about atonement: (1) Where in John’s Gospel does it talk about Jesus’s death as atonement? (2) In the NT, does atonement necessarily mean that Jesus somehow absorbed all the punishment humans deserve for their sins? Or, at perhaps the other extreme, could it be seen simply as a sacrifice that was necessary for reconciliation with God in accordance with Jewish practice? Extremely painful for Jesus of course. But maybe even more of a ritual of reconciliation than a cause of it? (3) Is there a school of thought about atonement that interprets it as showing that God would rather punish himself than punish us? Still a strange doctrine but one that gives a more benevolent portrait of God? (4) A less barbaric way of understanding Jesus’s crucifixion as being involved in forgiveness of sins: It “revealed” rather than “caused” God’s forgiveness. God forgives us simply because s/he loves us and loving people always includes sharing their suffering. .

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2020

      1. It depends on what you mean by atonement. In John 11, the “Good Shepherd” lays down his life “for his sheep” for example. 2. THere are numerous views in the NT of how Jesus’ death effects salvation; the term “atonement” is one of those views. It refers to a sacrifice that in some way deals with sins. 3. Not in antiquity, no; 4. Again, that’s not an ancient view (I’mnot saying its not right); but Luke’s Gospel *does* proclaim “foribeness based on repentance rather htan atonement — which is getting close.

      • Avatar
        Seeker1952  August 8, 2020

        Thanks very much. A related question: It seems to me that the Gospels-as compared to Paul-have only very sketchy references to the doctrine of atonement. Based on the Gospels alone, atonement does not seem to me like “the” or even “a” central doctrine of orthodox Christianity. For the Synoptics, God’s Kingdom or Jesus’s ethics seem much more important. Are there any particular reasons for this difference between Paul and the Gospels? Or did it just happen to work out that way? (Maybe the Gospel writers thought Paul had thoroughly covered that topic so they didn’t have to say a lot about it.)

        • Bart
          Bart  August 9, 2020

          I’d say it’s very important to Matthew and Luke, but since they are not doctrinal treatises but narratives, the idea has to be expressed by the narrative, rather than doctrinal statements. In both those Gospels I’d say there’s a very real and important view of atonement.

  6. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  August 7, 2020

    I’ve ordered “Reading Judas” by Elaine Pagels. I’m interested in her insights. Also her book on Revelations and the Gospel of Thomas. I stated ordering her books after a guest post here.

  7. Avatar
    michael_kelemen  August 7, 2020

    What is the point of the crucifixion in this version? If Jesus has to escape his body he can wait until his natural death or by some other less unpleasant way like Socrates.

    In standard Christianity it is a human sacrifice to the Jewish god. In earliest Christianity it was a proof that the general resurrection was on its way? If so, why was that necessary since Jesus had been resurrecting people already on his own?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2020

      The point is that it allows Jesus to escape his body. Why not a more pleasant way? Simply because the writer of the Gospel and all his readers knew that Jesus really was crucified, rather than, say, forced to drink hemlock. And same for your second question: Xns had to explain why Jesus was crucified, but they couldn’t very well claim that he wasn’t or didn’t need to be. They knew he was!

  8. Avatar
    mjordan20149  August 8, 2020

    In the light of recent events, it makes a kind of sardonic sense that we were created by a rebel and a fool-no wonder Jesus laughs so much in these writings

  9. Avatar
    clerrance2005  August 11, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    Human sacrifice is abhorred in some passages in the Bible. However, the below listed seems to indicate otherwise and seem to connote rare instances that made them ‘somehow acceptable’.

    1. Christ’s death as an atonement for sins
    2. Abraham’s test in the near sacrifice of Isaac
    3. Jephthah’s sacrifice of her daughter upon victory to the God of Israel.

    1. Please what’s your view on this and do you think it may have been acceptable in some circumstances in the Bible?

    2. Have you had any major discourse (radio/zoom/ Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable etc) with Christian Apologetics on your recent Heaven and Hell? If so can you kindly share the link (if any)?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2020

      1. Apparently only if it is to honor the God of Israel. And then in only unique cases. 2. Nope.

  10. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  August 12, 2020

    Factoid: The gospel of judas is mentioned (p. xi), and briefly commented upon in Victor Navasky’s 1980 book, “Naming Names.” Highly readable account and analysis of yet another disgraceful American epoch.

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