Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gnostic Gospels and Conspiracy Theory

The National Geographic Society had the Gospel of Judas translated. The story has received much attention from the corporate media.

The Gospel of Judas tells us that Judas didn't really betray Jesus. Rather, Judas fulfilled the task he was given by Jesus: "sacrifice the man that clothes me." By doing so, Judas would "exceed" all other disciples, says Jesus. That is the "secret knowledge" that Jesus made Judas bear and that the Gospel of Judas purports to reveal.

But if Judas didn't betray Jesus, there would be no real conflict and no human drama!

What makes the Synoptic Gospels in the New Testament more interesting than Gnostic Gospels, to me, is that the four Gospels tell an insightful story about the politics of a community. Judas betrays Jesus for money. Peter betrays Jesus by denying him three times, and he does so, unlike Judas, out of weakness, not wanting to be associated with his teacher when the powerful really come after the teacher. Jesus expected both kinds of betrayal, not because he was the Son of God, but because he had a pretty good insight into human nature, as all good political leaders do. The empire gets Jesus, a rebel leader, executed by having the pillars of a community from which he comes demand his execution. On the day of execution, it is the marginalized and oppressed -- a condemned criminal, a former prostitute, and so on -- who stand by the man who gets martyred. Happens all the time, in the history of the left.

The structure of Gnostic Gospels, in contrast, resembles that of conspiracy theory, or rather conspiracy theory may have taken its undemocratic narrative structure from Gnostic Gospels: events are determined by the power that orchestrates both sides of a seeming opposition; and knowledge is accessible to only a chosen few, rather than all who strive to acquire it.

Moreover, the four Gospels of the New Testament are free from statements that could lend themselves to homophobia, whereas the newly translated Gospel of Judas includes them and even attributes one to Jesus:
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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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. […] will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to him. After hi 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. For to the human generations it has been said, ‘Look, God has received your sacrifice from the hands of a priest’ -- that is, a minister of error. But it is the Lord, the Lord of the universe, who commands, ‘On the last day they will be put to shame.’” [41]
All in all, the Gospel of Judas brings no good news politically.

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