Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gospel Of Judas Version 2?

Okay, so I guess the title of this post is vague and a little misleading. However, I'll try to explain:

Today I found out there was to be a topic about the Gospel of Judas on the main chat show here tonight called "The Late Late Show" (which has been running for around half a century), so I decided to watch the show. When it came to it, however, I found out rather quickly that they were not referring to the recently revealed Gnostic text of the same name (dating from before 180 CE, if I remember my dates correctly), but a newly written gospel (a paraphrase of what a gospel is, according to one of the guests [and authors of this new work], Fr. Francis J. Maloney, is: the story of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, told as "good news" [from the Old English "god-spell"]), written by Jeffrey Archer with the scholarly backing of the aforementioned priest (who is, supposedly, one of the most respected biblical scholars of this time).

So, a new Gospel of Judas. Since many people have the inaccurate assessment of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as being the "word of god" (like the rest of the Bible), rather than that of us mere mortals, this new text probably won't be received as much more than an interesting novel or scholarly work (depending on whether you're concentrating on Archer's storytelling or Maloney's biblical scholarship). That said, however, it is interesting to note that since it takes the story of Jesus from Judas' point of view (without any reference to the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, which is obviously because of the Catholic Church's disapproval of it), it portrays him in a much more positive light than we are used to (bar the Gnostic text which totally inverted our common-held beliefs about this "betrayer"), removing elements like his suicide and also what the two guests described as the "nature miracles" of Jesus (walking on water, parting of the waves, turning water to wine, etc.), which they found they be untrue, and merely elements of storytelling that were used to "drive home" the point that Jesus is the continuation of the Divine from the Old Testament, "proving" this by giving these miraculous signs that the God of Israel also gave (same goes for the story of Lazarus).

So, for the average Christian, that's quite a blow to them. Many of these epic moments didn't happen? For the average Gnostic, it's old news, and doesn't go nearly as far as what the Gnostic Gospel of Judas suggests (I'm a little annoyed that they called it the same name, as this can lead to a lot of confusion, and, let's face it, the Gnostic one deserves to keep its title, being older by nearly two thousand years). In some ways, I feel this might be an attempt to "meet halfway", as it were, with the Gnostic portrayal, in order to discredit what might be seen as a more "fanciful" view with a much more toned-down version that allows Judas to be exonerated enough to pacify anyone who might want to "look deeper" into the alternate views to the Canon. Indeed, while the Pope has not formally approved of the text, Archbishop Tutu described it as "riveting and plausible", which is quite high words from a high and powerful man in the church, which lends to the view that it has received a certain amount of "Church backing", as it were.

Speaking of the show itself, at one stage a journalist in the audience (who was invited on to give an alternate view to that of Archer and Maloney) dismissed it as the "Gospel of Jeffrey, not the Gospel of Judas", that it is as a "gimmick" with no sound "biblical erudition", saying the authors were trying to suggest it had Church approval, and said something along the lines of "we all know who is to benefit from this". Maloney explained that the initial funds raised from the sale of the book would go towards building a secondary school in a poor country (the name of which currently evades me), and anything earned after that is free to go to Archer if he so wishes (if, indeed, anything more is raised, though I would hazard a guess it will earn more than the required amount for the school). However, the journalist then went on to dismiss the work as "boring" and gave a personal attack to Archer himself, saying he is a "second-rate author" (which ruined his argument for me, as personal attacks tend to do), which may or may not be true (I have not read Archer's work). What is interesting, however, is Archer's response to this. He quickly got fired up, raising his voice and assuming aggressive posture (and it looked as though Maloney did not approve of Archer's angry response), culminating with him coming back (on several occasions) to the dismissal of him as a second-rate author (even though he initially said he does not respond to personal attacks), to say something along the lines of: tell that to the two point something million people who have bought my books. This defensive attitude ruined his own position in the show tonight, I feel, just as the personal attack did for the position of the journalist (I mean, come on, journalists are paid for this sort of thing - surely he had to expect some amount of criticism about his work, especially work of this nature). Another element which irritated me about Archer was his behaviour at the end of the discussion, where he whispered something to Maloney while Pat Kenny (the host) was giving the final words about the piece, culminating in him shaking hands with Maloney rather than, as I felt it should have been, Pat Kenny himself (afterall, Archer and Maloney came on the show together).

I haven't read the text in question yet myself, though I am intrigued by it (particularly in context of comparing it to the Gnostic Gospel of Judas [see how I've been forced to "rename" it, as if it were a heretical byproduct of this "orthodox" Gospel of Judas?]). You can find it here:

Gospel According To Judas

P.S. I just noted that this book does indeed have a different (albeit slightly) name than the "Gospel of Judas" (the Gnostic one), but it was constantly referred to as the "Gospel of Judas" throughout the show, and will undoubtedly lead to a certain amount of confusion regarding these two texts.

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