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ISSUE 119 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/21/2006

Misjudging Judas Iscariot

By Jared Wall
Staff Writer

Friday, April 21, 2006

We have long known that many gospels were written during the early centuries of the Christian Church. Sixty years ago, 50 such gospels were found in the Egyptian desert and forever changed many people's view of ancient Christian spirituality. These texts, which have come to be referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, have recently added a very famous, and very important, member to their ranks. The Gospel of Judas tells of the fate and destiny of one of history's most notorious villains, Judas Iscariot, and how he was serving God's will at the urging of Jesus himself.

Judas Iscariot is depicted as a conflicted character in the New Testament, and often as the archetypal Biblical bad guy. Matthew tells us that he hung himself out of shame. Acts, often attributed to Luke, gives a different version of his horrible death.

The newest Gospel presents yet another perspective: “Jesus said to him [Judas], ‘"'Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.'"’” Could it be that without Judas, the Easter miracle would not have happened?

In 180 C.E., Irenaeus denounced this gospel, and Epiphanius mentions a sect that believed "the salvation of the cross was effected for us through him."” Despite such allegations of heresy, modern historiographers will confirm that any stranglehold on ancient history is probably not the whole story.

Luckily, the opposite viewpoint has been discovered and is now available for interpretation. The great heroes of Christianity can be reconfigured politically as well as spiritually. The journey of ancient Christian thought can start to be retraced, but in a decidedly less-than-orthodox context.

The Gnostic philosophy is largely based on personal interpretation of one's life events, thus providing an individualistic method for explaining the world in spiritual terms. While the complicated philosophies of Gnosticism cannot be examined in such a short article, the central tenets behind the historiographical elements of the Gnostic Gospels may be understood.

The recent non-canonical gospels have led the way in discovering a forgotten spiritual legacy of Christian culture.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Codices have opened up the much broader world of Jewish and Christian texts," said James M. Robinson, the founding director emeritus of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity.

While we need not take the Gospel of Judas at its word, we must also be careful not to discount it. Understanding Judas Iscariot as the most intimate companion of Jesus gives a new, but not contradictory, understanding of the canonical gospels, and his Gospel does not detract from our perception of Jesus, but adds to our estimation of Judas. Perhaps now we can take the poor man out of Satan's mouth in Dante's seventh level of hell.

Staff Writer Jared Wall is a senior from Sioux Falls, S.D. He majors in English with a concentration in Middle East studies.

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