UPDATE: Scot McKnight is doing a series on the Gospel of Judas. This emerging church scholar is as sane and on top of the game as they come. Read his work.
Also: Christianity Today interviews Darrell Bock, who says the “Cainite” Gnostics responsible for the Gospel of Judas were obsessed with rehabilitating the “bad guys” of the Bible. Now there’s a ministry.
To get some perspective on the recent much-trumpeted discovery of the Gnostic “Gospel of Judas”, let’s imagine the following announcement….and trust me, it will take some imagination.
Dateline: Arlington Virginia.
Scientists and historians announced today the discovery of a Biography of George Washington, purportedly written by Washington’s mistress, Mrs. Wallace Vanderweaver. The text was discovered in the Library of Washington and Lee University, where researchers were going through recent scholarly articles about Washington.
The text, written in 1970, almost two hundred years from the time of Washington, tells us the story of Washington from the notes of a long-time mistress, Lavenia Vanderweaver, known to be a local widow and friend of the Washingtons. Washington died in 1799, and the Vanderweaver Biography claims to be based on notes made during Washington’s lifetime and passed down through Mrs. Vanderweaver’s relatives.
Scholars anticipate this discovery will completely turn Washington studies upside down, as the text supposedly shows Washington to be a collaborator with the British, and in the employ of agents in the British government. The idea that Washington deceived his wife and his country for his entire life is a controversial one, but scholars who accept the Vanderweaver document believe the unusual nature of this text suggests it has been suppressed and is likely quite authentic.
Uh…wait….did he say written in 1970? Yeah…that’s still not the 300 years from Jesus that we have with the discovered text or the 200 years from Jesus to a mention of a Gospel of Judas in an earlier source, but it gives you the distance between a text like the Gospel of Judas and Jesus: centuries.
We’ve reached a point with DaVinci madness where nothing is too comic for the mainstream media to report with a straight face. Ideas about New Testament studies that wouldn’t appear on a freshman pop quiz are now tossed about the main stream media as if they are established facts. The palpable need for a “breakthrough” discovery that rattles our image of Jesus, destroys the Roman Catholic Church and upends the Bible is getting obnoxious.
Part of the problem here is the fault of the church. By not being honest about the literary milieux that produced the New Testament, all kinds of mundane facts are now exciting CNN reporters desperate for copy. With several cable channels hungry for religious oriented copy, we shouldn’t be surprised that the trash bin of New Testament ideas and interpretations is being raided for the latest discovery to sell books and drive up ratings.
“Did you know they discovered the Gospel of Judas?” You’ll hear it, and you’ll say “It’s three hundred years from the time of Christ, and was produced by a cult that totally and intentionally misrepresented everything about Jesus.” Your friends will say, “But on the Discovery Channel they said….”
There aren’t enough clones of Ben Witherington III to go around and straighten out this mess, so we all have to get involved. What can you do? Tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers, teenagers and fellow church-goers a few useful facts about New Testament studies. They will look stunned, but you’ll hold their hand and get them through it.
1. Two or three centuries is a long time to wait to write something important about a person. It’s like saying the real truth about Lincoln will be written in the year 2060.
2. The Gnostics were really really really wrong, much like the people who told you that we’d all be riding Segways by now.
3. There were lots of fake, phony Gospels. They are to the real Gospels what the Weekly World News is to the Wall Street journal.
4. The early church wasn’t trying to suppress anything salacious about Jesus. They were trying to keep the truth about Jesus above the waters of a rising tide of nonsense and heresy. Salacious stories about Jesus are actually quite popular in the magazines you find in those UFOs that kidnap you at night.
5. The four Gospels we have were chosen as reliable for good reasons by people who were in a position to know that the 200+ rejected gnostic gospels were better used to wrap fish or start a fire.
6. Ideas like Jesus being married or Jesus endorsing Oprah for Pope or the Catholic Church being a front for Microsoft are conspiracy theories. They aren’t true because the facts prove them wrong. They are great for parlor games, but talking about them seriously is a sign you may soon be talking to an actual Hobbitt.
7. A theory is not more likely the more outlandish and bizarre it is. If that were the case, I’d be putting money on the Reds to win the series in four right now.
8. Scholars who trumpet old documents found in garbage dumps as the reason to overturn all Christian faith are the kind of people who hear their baby say, “President Bush is the Anti-Christ” and make you keep listening till you hear it too.
9. Bart Ehrman, Dominac Crossan, Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar crowd are selling a lot of books to the general public because they are good marketers and know what the audience is craving. Scholars, on the other hand, consider these people to be like the third semester freshman guys in the chem lab who just announced they made a fusion time travel device out of plastic pipe, cold cuts, a dead rat and six gallons of Corona.
10. Any major announcement in New Testament studies that is announced by a reporter at CNN, complete with breathless tones and the word “breakthrough”, is quite likely to be about as significant to real New Testament studies as the invention of a cell phone for pets.