Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel according to who?

The National Georgraphic Society has a new documentary coming out on the Gospel of Judas. The document in question goes back to at least 300 AD but is believed to be a copy of an earlier manuscript from around 150AD. Now the earliest clear example of a piece of anything from the New Testament is also from around this time, that is the St. John's fragment which is dated between 100 and 150 AD. But this early dating has been challenged. There is a disputed fragment from Qumran which would be slightly earlier but there is no widespread acceptance that it is actually part of what became the New Testament. Other than that the next earliest piece of "Gospel" is from the late Second Century but it contains material not found in any of the Gospels as they are now accepted by Christians though they are closes to the Gospel of John.

But of course when they say the Gospel of John they meant a gospel attributed to John since they don't know if John wrote it. In fact there is no clear evidence as to who wrote any one of the four Gospels appearing in the New Testament. Seven of the books of the New Testament were written by Paul and generally conceded as such. But of the Pauline books another seven are in dispute. There are a number of Epistles that appear in the New Testament and no one knows who wrote any of them. And then there are numerous other manuscripts that were considered part of Scripture by some Christians and dened by others.

Now it is believed that copies of some of these manuscripts existed prior to the those we now have. However, none of them date to the time of Christ. All were written years afterwards. All in all this Gospel of Judas has about as much claim to authenticity as any of the others. What it says is that Judas did not betray Christ but obeyed him.

The argument is this: Jesus supposedly had to be tortured to death to appease God and forgive sins. This was necessary and it was God's will for this act of torture to take place. Without it there could be no forgiveness. (Odd that, if God is omnipotent then he could have forgiven sin without murdering anyone.) So for the sins of the world to be paid for Jesus had to die. For Jesus to die he had to be betrayed. Judas was following the will of God and obeying orders and without his action there would be no forgiveness of sins.

Now James Catford of the Bible Society (British) says this manuscript was not written by Judas. No biggie. None of the Gospels that exist were actually written by Apostles either. He says: "there's nothing here to undermine what Christians have believed throughout the centuries." Well, technically it would be hard to undermine what Christians have believed through out the centuries since they have believed about everything one can imagine. If Catford means today's orthodox view then he is wrong. But he said this doesn't undermind Christian beliefs over the centuries. Well those beliefs varied. Some said Jesus was god in the flesh eternally. Some say he became god in the flesh at some point. Some said there was a trinity. Others said there was no trinty. About every major Christian doctine held by one group has been denied by another group of Christians. Good luck trying to sort them out.

And if you read Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind you will find that some of the doctrines that eventually won out in mainstream Christianity did so, not because they were the historical doctrines of Christians but because they had the backing of the Roman Emperor. The canonization of the New Testament and the forging of "orthodox" Christianity was heavily influenced by the political needs of the Roman Emperor after Rome recognized Christianity as the official religion. Many of the resolutions were not theologically determined at all. They were political. And unless a real miracle happened the chance of any government getting such a matter right is highly unlikely. Just based on a realistic view of government alone you can almost safely bet that the "correct" doctrines were the ones rejected and that "orthodox" Christianity is probably nothing like the Christianity of the early church.


Blogger gent said...

I personally believe that they are going to somehow make it that Judas betrays Chirst. I am a philosopher and I look forward to see how this turns out.


April 08, 2006


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