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TV Review: The Gospel of Judas

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There is something vaguely troubling about National Geographic presenting the Gospel of Judas as a viable alternative to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – on Palm Sunday no less. Is there really anyone who believes in Jesus, in all the forms that belief assumes, who would believe that Judas was the greatest and most trusted of the 12 apostles?

The suggestion that the newly found and authenticated document challenges the established story of Jesus undercuts the historical value of the find. Unfortunately, that “question” is repeated often in the special presentation of The Gospel of Judas.

Historically, early Christians shared the story of Jesus orally, usually in home churches around the breaking of the bread. The modern Catholic Mass follows this tradition. In the first half, the Liturgy of the Word, stories for the Bible are read, and officially, following along with the written missal is discouraged. The second half, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is the meal that follows the sharing of the stories.

The written versions of Jesus’ life followed later. Mark, the earliest, was not written until approximately 30 years later, AD 60. Far more than four versions of the Gospel were written. The Catholic Church compiled the New Testament about 200 years after that, declaring that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the accurate accounts.

In recent decades, we have become aware of some of the other gospels, most notably the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene. The “rejected” Gospels are generally from the Gnostic tradition, which preached that secret divine knowledge was the secret to heaven, rather than faith. That philosophy was rejected as heresy in the second century. The selection of faith was and is good news for the majority of Christians not in possession of any secret divine knowledge.

The Gospel of Judas is the most recently discovered ancient “gospel.” The National Geographic channel did a good job of presenting the fact of discovery and authentication. There is no reason to think the papyrus is a forgery. It almost certainly is a second century copy of a document entitled the Gospel of Judas. That’s a far cry from any indication that the words in it are, in fact, true.

In the document, Judas is the only apostle who understands the true greatness of Jesus and heaven. Jesus took him aside at the last supper and tells him the secret divine knowledge, which only Judas, of all the twelve, could understand. Jesus also promises Judas that he will attain the promised heaven.

That whole betrayal thing? Jesus made him do it.


Look, if you don’t believe in Christianity, or God, or religion, none of this matters. If you do believe, you’re not likely to suddenly realize that Judas is the greatest disciple who holds the secret to heaven. So it’s unclear why the National Geographic Channel presents it as if they have discovered a new religious truth. If we found some historically verifiable documents telling tales of Zeus, would it inspire new worship of the Gods of Olympus?

The stronger message, woefully misplayed, lies in the opinion of one of the experts who speaks at the end of the hour: The find tells us more about second century Gnosticism than it tells us about Jesus or Judas.

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About Justene Adamec

  • gonzo marx

    an Interesting take on the program , and the Information contained therein…

    the Poster begins by showing his editorial bias in the very first paragraph when he sez…
    *There is something vaguely troubling about National Geographic presenting the Gospel of Judas as a viable alternative to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – on Palm Sunday no less. Is there really anyone who believes in Jesus, in all the forms that belief assumes, who would believe that Judas was the greatest and most trusted of the 12 apostles?*

    well now…that is a good Question, part and parcel of the main thrust inherent in the historical as well as theological ramification surrounding the document…

    there is a major quibble in the presentation of information from the Poster ….he sez…
    *The Catholic Church compiled the New Testament about 200 years after that, declaring that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the accurate accounts.*

    now, as was well documented in the program…as well as historically accurate to the best of all records…it was during 180AD, after his writing “the Book of 5 Heresies” that Iraneus…the “bishop” of Lyon chose which scriptures were and were not contained in what was later ratified in Nicea hundreds of years later to become the “New Testament”

    this is crucial folks….ONE man decided…it was for the political purpose of creating a Unified(catholic) church

    and thus this person decided that writings such as those credited to Saul of Tarsus made thee cut…but not Judas(transcript on the National Geographic site, in PDF format),Thomas or Mary (www.gnosis.org)

    to give full Credit, the Poster does recognize the historical significance of the document, and the picture it shows of early Christianity

    the conclusions the Poster draws about the authenticity of the Content, or the Lessons held within are up for debate…

    i’ll ask only one Question here, and some Observation…if he were not “in on it” and felt great Pain for the loss of his friend….why the suicide from Grief?

    and if the 4 Gospels are a true witnessing of all the Events contained within….who was in the room with Judas and the Pharisees besides the guards to tell the very words in the 4 accepted Gospels?

    just curious…

    and how different might Christianity be if the Gospel of Mary had evaded the “blue pencil” of a single French cleric, rather than some of the misogynistic rants of “St. Paul” (Saul of Tarsus)

    thanks for the Review…


  • It is unlikely that one man decided. The church (which at that time was the only christian church) did not have the concept of a supreme papacy or any other unified papacy. For the 5 heresies to be accepted, it would have had to been widely accepted among diverse and scattered believers. Nicea declared the New Testament later because there had been general acceptance in between.

    As I noted in the article, it was to the benefit of most believers that gnosticism was rejected because most believers did not possess or have any way of getting the secret knowledge gnosticism suggested was necessary for salvation. A religion that condemns most of its followers does not generally retain its followers.

  • Nancy

    It wasn’t to benefit any believers; Nicaea was solely for the benefit of those already in power. They just needed to codify it with the emperor’s blessings.

  • gonzo marx

    Justene sez…
    *It is unlikely that one man decided.*

    well, what you consider unlikely is irellevant…the historical data states emphatically, who and when the editing occurred, as well as why…this was done to FORM the Unified(catholic) church…and predates it

    one does not consider there to be a Unified Church until after Nicea, well over 100 years after Iraneus

    Justene sez..
    *As I noted in the article, it was to the benefit of most believers that gnosticism was rejected because most believers did not possess or have any way of getting the secret knowledge gnosticism suggested was necessary for salvation.*

    well, you would have a decent point if you were factually accurate…

    in each of the Gospels..the so-called “secret” is right there for all to see, and ANY christian familiar with any variant of the Scriptures involved with Yeshua knows what the “secret” is…they may just not recognize it as such, either by not understanding the material fully…or dogmatic denial of the simplicity involved by authoritrian(church) figures…

    the big “secret”?

    “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”

    recognize the Quote?

    “those with two good ears had better listen”

    nuff said?


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    It might be time for you to rise up to your full height and do a rip roaring article on Gnosticism – something that you can be very passionate about. If I knew anything about it at all, I would, but I’m just an ignorant Jew who’d be making a total ass of himself in the effort.

    It strikes me that Gnosticism needs an eloquent spokesman, and a modest fellow like yourself strikes me as just the right type…

  • gonzo marx

    oh no Ruvy…

    folks get crucified for doing that kinda shit…

    try http://www.gnosis.org

    lots of stuff on the Nag Hammadi texts, some good audio lectures

    this is stuff anyone can read and ponder…

    there are NO “secrets”

    thanks for the Thought, Ruvy…but there are a plethopra of reasons why i remain “anonymous”

    nuff said?


  • JP

    Gonzo, they get crucified and their books are burned or buried. Ha!

    Sorry. OK, so I do have to agree with Gonzo that there’s a bit of bias in the article, although as I missed the program I’m glad this was written up. The “conventional wisdom” is that the Gnostic gospels were written after the 4 Gospels in the canon (though that’s disputed as well)–ultimately the 4 were selected at Nicea in 313.

    Justene, in your last comment you make an interesting observation: “A religion that condemns most of its followers does not generally retain its followers.” The Gnostic tradition teaches that one’s mission in life is to recognize that the physical plane is a sort-of illusion, and that we the goal is to be “reborn” into our true spiritual nature.

    Some have suggested that Jesus’ Passion and crucifixion is a parable intended to teach that lesson, and never really happened. In this context it would make sense that Jesus would want Judas to betray him, so that he could in fact be reborn. Some think that’s what “following Jesus” really means–not bowing and kneeling and calling him one’s Savior, but following his lead in recognizing his true self and being reborn.

    I didn’t see the show or read the book yet, so I can only ask–is Judas identified as the only one who “could understand” because he too has achieved gnosis? Or is it more of an earthly measure like IQ? Many Gnostic scholars refer to “Jesus THE Christ,” which some say is how he was known, in effect to emphasize that through gnosis every person can become a Christ. If that’s the case, I’m not sure it’s as exclusionary as you suggest.

    I have other suspicions as to why the Gnostics were eliminated. Their belief in the 9 emanations was too esoteric for the average person, as was the Demiurge/God duality concept. I agree with Gonzo in that the “Secret” was that “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Given that, couldn’t one accept the idea of man’s spiritual nature without the emanations and the duality? Ask a Buddhist…

  • troll

    human celibacy – there’s the ticket

    my problem with Gnostics is that they are still here…(unlike the Shakers who remained true unto death)

    seems to me – the introduction of ‘thelema’ set the whole program back a few thousand years

    get down to basics humans – FREE THE SPIRIT

    next time you’re drinking slam one back for ol’ Baphomet


  • JB

    A Few Words To Explain A Portion of the Gospel of Judas

    In the recently released Gospel of Judas, Jesus’ disciples see a vision of the future Christian religion.

    “They [said, “We have seen] a great [house with a large] altar [in it, and] twelve men—they are the priests, we would say—and a name; and a crowd of people is waiting at that altar, [until] the priests [… and receive] the offerings. [But] we kept waiting.”
    [Jesus said], “What are [the priests] like?”
    They [said, “Some …] two weeks; [some] sacrifice their own children, others their wives, in praise [and] humility with each other; some sleep with men; some are involved in [slaughter]; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name], [39] and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion […].”
    After they said this, they were quiet, for they were troubled”.

    Here in this portion of the Gospel of Judas, Jesus explained to his disciples that those who founded the religion of Christianity, in Jesus’ name, did not include the spiritual wisdom and techniques of Jesus. Thus, the planted trees did not produce fruit, or Enlightened individuals, among those who followed the spiritually empty shell of the Christian religion.

    “Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Truly I say to you, all the priests who stand before that altar invoke my name. Again I say to you, my name has been written on this […] of the generations of the stars through the human generations. [And they] have planted trees without fruit, in my name, in a shameful manner.”

    Then Jesus explained how the religion of Christianity will lead people down the wrong path.

    “Jesus said to them, “Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar—that is who you are. That is the god you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray [40] before that altar”.

    Afterwards Jesus tells the disciples that a time will come when those who are stars, (10D Solar and 11D Galactic Suns of God), will gather together, individuals who will have a wide variety of human experiences, those who will come from all walks of life and “bring everything to conclusion”.

    “After him another man will stand there from [the fornicators], and another [will] stand there from the slayers of children, and another from those who sleep with men, and those who abstain, and the rest of the people of pollution and lawlessness and error, and those who say, ‘We are like angels’; they are the stars that bring everything to its conclusion”.

    Unfortunately, human greed has destroyed many portions of the various messages contained in the Gospel of Judas. However, enough survived for almost 2,000 years, so that the information could be released at this point of time.

    In The Unceasing Light of God’s Unconditional Love

  • gonzo marx

    fro JP in comment #7…ummmm “christ” is greek for “the Annointed” …so yes it was a Title, not a name

    this is one of the things lost in “translations” over the centuries…such as referring to Yeshua as “Jesus of Nazareth” rather than “Jesus the Nazarene”

    there was no “Nazareth” yet…and some historical scholars are pointing out that a “Nazarene” coudl be the name of a sect….such as the Essene (John the Baptist)…or Pharisee, were…

    i’ll leave that stuff to the Jewish scholars and those well versed in reading the texts in the original greek…

    where the fuck is Shark when i need him!!!!????

    as troll sarcastically indicates in comment #8…there are SO many sect/ and “flavors” of gnostics over the course of HIstory…that it does no one any service to conflate or confuse or generalize about them other than to say they all shared the Idea that personal “knowledge” was greater than just being told by an authoritarian figure (dogma)

    since our topic is the Gospel of Judas…we shoudl concentrate on the folks whcih would be more easily identified as “christian gnostics”….or to translate “those who have Knowledge of the Annointed”

    which is why i point folks to http://www.gnosis.org…a site which holds much info on these texts and a great place to start for anyone interested….

    sooOOOOoOOOOoo much more to possibly get into here, but it is much better for folks to dig around themselves and ponder it

    i like to think i made my points above in that the only difference to what is commonly accepted today and what is not(scripturally as well as doctrinally) was the whim of Bishop Iraneus and his political ambitions to unify the “church” so a priest class could live by the Faith and not by the sweat of their brow…


  • Gonzo Marx,

    I need to be blunt: there is no way to support the idea that “ONE man decided” which writings would gain acceptance as scripture. The practice of the church fathers was to list those writings which were received generally by the church, not to decide themselves. Their personal conclusions were drawn from the consent of the larger body. There are, in fact, more than one list, and by more than one church father.

    How they arrived at these lists is never explicitly stated, apart from spiritual claims (e.g., the four winds=the four gospels, etc.), but it is not demonstrable that one man created the list himself. The record is largely incomplete concerning the process by which the Church selected the writings of the New Testament.

    Further, there is no writing from the council at Nicea that suggests it derived its list from one man.

  • gonzo marx

    Mark…you are factually incorrect

    the history clearly shows when and what Iraneus wrote in “the Book of 5 Heresies”

    the Vatican , as well as other libraries and historians, have the cited documents and letters between the Bishop of Lyon and the other self styled “bishops” (meaning they lived in the “house” where the scriptures were read) concurred on the basic dogma…

    the 180AD date, and Iraneus are pretty well indisputed as to the source of the first compilation of the NT as we know it

    history also shows that it was after the ratification at Nicea, and the acceptance by Constantine of the “Church” as being the official religion of Rome…that you finally have the Unified (catholic) church

    so, i must respectfully disagree with your assertations…and point you towards the actual History of the matter

    which both the reviewed program and the original Poster accurately cite

    how you choose to interpert this into your self is, of course, up to you

    this does not change the Facts

    and thus i remain…apostate and heretic


  • Gonzo Marx,

    I’ve read Iraneus and I’m struggling to find where he, on his own authority and by the consent of the church, decided which books represented orthodoxy. (Anyone wanting a quick reference to his works can check out http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml.)

    Read his comments on the four gospels. There are four, he states, no fewer, no more. His argument is largely ecclesiastical–he does not record how the texts were handed down. And, he was not the first to state that there are four gospels. Christian churches in the 2nd century already adopted harmonies of the four gospels (e.g., Taitian’s Diatesseron), and church fathers almost exclusively quote from the four canonical gospels.

    Let me be clear about what I’m arguing:

    While you claim “ONE man decided” which gospels were to be included, I’m argue that the church only RECEIVED what had been handed down by the apostles. They did not sit in some room, going over a collection of books and voting them in or out. The “list” of the NT was already decided. This is what happened within the Christian Church. What happened outside the church, among the Gnostics, is another story altogether. I do not see those two as one church, but two distinct movements.

    One last thing: Which books did Irenaeus list? I’d like to see that list. Can you post it here?

  • gonzo marx

    Mark…his list is what is in your NT

    the date i cited was 180AD…

    if the 4 Gospels of the NT are all that was “handed down” how then do you account for the Pauline works? much less the rest of the NT?

    my thesis argument here is that what you refer to as “the Church” BEGAN with Iraneus convincing some other bishops that his assertations in “the 5 Heresies” was doctrinally correct…and getting their agreement on the dogma of his collection now known as the “New Testament”

    as for which books he listed, it is right in the “5 Heresies”….Thomas, Mary and Judas among them, which clearly shows that those Gospels were existant and widespread among early christians as early as 150AD…so much so that Iraneus felt the need to not only denounce them, but to admonish in his letters to his collegues “it is permissible, even neccesary to lie when combatting these Heresies, even about the Truth”

    nuff said?


    Thomas and Mary, along with other christian gnostic texts from the Nag Hammadi find are at http://www.gnosis.org

  • “nuff said?”


    I really would like to see this list from Iraneus. I do not recall that he mentions all of the books of the New Testament. If you were to show me this list, that would help me better understand your argument. At present, I believe you are mistaken about his list. Only showing me the list can resolve this difficulty.

    Second, in canonical studies, the gospels have a separate, more developed history, which is why I address them specifically. As for Paul’s letters, it is known that Paul himself encouraged churches to copy and disseminate them. Eventually, these were bound in a codex, etc., etc. and handed down. I can account for all the books of the New Testament, but that is not my purpose. My purpose was to refute your claim that one man decided which writings were acceptable. I believe it was a decision of a much larger body of believers over a much greater period of time. I believe the council of Nicea only accepted/confirmed what was handed down to them, regardless of their personal or political motivations.

    Third, the Catholic Church and canon are separate, though intensely related, issues. What the church became is distinct from what it was in the first century, just as today’s church is different from the church of the fourth century. As for orthodox Christianity, that remains unchanged. The canon of the NT has not changed in 2,000 years.

    Lastly, I acknowledge that there was a Gnostic church with its own set of writings. As the Christian church rejected Gnostic writings, Gnostics rejected Christian writings. The two functioned as separate movements.

  • gonzo marx

    well Mark..it seems we will just have to disagree as to what constitutes the Entity you refer to as “the Church”

    as for Iraneus…you appear to be a bright individual…any Questions you have on the matter are best found on your own…

    after all, you won’t believe me either way

    nor should you


  • Nicholas

    The same as the books that you except, the message of the Gospel of Judas is not written in black and white, but between the lines.

    Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
    -Mathew 13:11

    And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.
    -Luke 8:10

    “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
    -John 6:45