Excitement, seasonal celebrations, joy to the world, peace on earth, family gatherings from far and abroad, warm and fond memories, extra church visits. The whole non-consumerist aspects of Christmas (i.e., the best parts, in my mind) should really culminate during the Easter season, right? Wasn’t the Passover lamb crucifixion and resurrection (Jesus’ sacrificial death and re-life) the ultimate, the reason for the incarnation (God-becoming-flesh that we supposedly celebrate on Christmas)?
Sorry, had to get that off my chest. It’s not like I spend the whole year in anticipation of this season. But, to put in my little tribute, I’d like to semi-tackle an issue related to Jesus and the events of this week, a little meditation mixed with a little (hopefully, mercifully little) rant.
This Gospel of Judas is supposedly taking Christians by storm. I hope no one’s fooled by that. I seem to be the only Christian I come in contact with that is even aware of it. Much like the Da Vinci Code. Really, they’re very similar. Some fool believes he has the keys to unravel centuries of deception and malevolence and power-grubbing and releases a media blitz around some fascinating news that there were other, alternative Gospels (recordings of the life of Jesus) that some dark forces tried to bury.
The Gospel of Judas is one such. Is it authentic? Sure, someone wrote this version of the story in ancient times, before Christianity was recognized as the official religion of Rome, before Constantine, before the canon (the official registry of the New Testament books) was firmly established. But also written a full hundred years after most of the rest of the gospels (John, one of Jesus’ disciples and therefore an eye-witness, wrote his toward the end of his lengthy life while in exile on the Isle of Patmos, but it was still within the first century AD). Which means that he did not witness these events, nor was he in contact with those that did.
One thing about the text is clear: the writer was not Jewish, nor was his Jesus. (Neither is Dan Brown’s Jesus, of course.) They were both Gnostic – of Greek and, I believe, Egyptian influence and background. Gnosticism is a philosophy of a secret, hidden knowledge that only a distinct few could gain access to. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas was one such recipient. The other disciples, apparently, were left out of the big secrets of Jesus. In the accepted gospels Jesus demanded that his followers “yell from the rooftops what [they] hear in secret” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 12) and, as his defense in front of Caiaphas and the religious rulers testifies that: “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” (Gospel According to John chapter 18, verses 20-21 – NASB version.) In other words, Jesus’ teachings weren’t to be secret, they were to be open to all with “ears to hear.” Admittedly, some people will never open their ears nor their eyes, but that didn’t mean they weren’t to receive witness and warnings, it just means they won’t accept it.
Now, as to the secret: in keeping with the Gnostic tradition, spirit is good/flesh is bad. So Jesus, being a very spiritual person, couldn’t wait to unravel his mortal coil. And Judas was key to this. Jesus’ execution would free his spirit and finally do away with his pesky body. (Anybody remember Agent Smith’s soliloquy in the first Matrix about the stench of the human world? It’s kind of like that.)
But the Jesus that the canonical gospels illustrates is a person within the Godhead who did humble himself to become a man, complete with flesh and smells and poo and fat and muscle and fatigue and hunger and laughter and limited vision and follicles. And he lived with a group of men and at the mercy of a group of women. And then he died at the hand of people. One of whom was his friend. But for one to suggest that Jesus (or that we) live in sinful bodies that need to be eradicated is missing the point. Sure, the whole world is tainted and blemished and messed up royally. But it was created good, perfect. God becoming a man and entering his own creation as one of its subjects (and, despite his miracles and his command of wind and rain, was a subject of nature, if for only thirty-three years) and living an unblemished life was/is a sign to the rest of us – a sign of redemption. All things can and will come under his authority, that includes the flesh, the body.
When Jesus died, he died in both body and spirit. Hopefully later we can attack the idea of Jesus dying in spirit, but it is important to note that he fully died in his flesh. And that is the focus of the church’s most important ritual, the regenerative (recreating) consumption of Jesus’s flesh and blood (which, if I recall, represents death and life, respectively). [There’s your Holy Grail for you, Dan Brown.] And when Jesus was resurrected, his body was resurrected with him. Anyone who doubts that can seek Thomas’ account, where he physically put his hands into the open grooves of Jesus’s side and deeply into his hands. (I don’t mean The Gospel According to Thomas, of which I must admit, I’m quite ignorant.)
N. T. Wright, Decoding the Da Vinci Code.
National Geographic’s summary on The Gospel of Judas.
GetReligion on The Gospel of Judas and the response.
Christianity Today: “The Judas We Never Knew”.
Screwtape on DVC, a satire written in the spirit of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.
For those who have ears to hear…