Et Tu, Judas?

One of the famous lines in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is: “Et tu, Brute?”  The translation is “And you too, Brutus?” spoken by Caesar during his assassination when he was surprised to find his friend Marcus Brutus in the group.

Jesus might have said the same to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  However, Jesus may have modified the statement to be:  “And you too, Judas, like the other apostles, you do not understand what my purpose is on earth.”  Christ had to be frustrated with all of the apostles since they never fully understood His teachings and what His ultimate goal was in life. 

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot may offer a different perspective… one that may rehabilitate the villain described in Matthew who sold out Jesus for 30 silver pieces simply because he wanted the money.  Perhaps, there was more to the story.  The Gospel of Judas may depict Judas as the only disciple who did understand what Jesus was doing on earth. 

We also may discover a different perspective if we apply what we know the most about and that was the teachings of Jesus.  One of the problems with the stories in the Bible is that they are not always factually based.  Many are oral stories that were handed down to scribes who reduced it to writing 60 to 80 years after the incidents occurred.  But oral history is not as reliable as written history. 

The letters of Paul are the oldest writings and may be the most reliable because they were transcribed immediately.  Paul was authentic, but the other authors may or may not have been the Apostle announced in the book’s title.  It was common practice to prepare writings using a famous person’s name. 

It was also common practice to tell stories to fit the times, circumstances, and agenda of the author.  The practice of obtaining accurate facts was not as important with oral accounts.  Back in the first century, only about 10% of the citizens were literate, so oral histories were passed from generation to generation.  Many stories of the Bible were passed along by word of mouth and were finally written as much as 80 years after Jesus died.

I remember I started whispering a message around one of my college classes with ten students.  By the time the message was announced aloud to the group by the tenth person, the message was distorted to such an extent that it wasn’t even similar to the original statement.  Oral histories are usually suspect.

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot probably was not even written by Judas, and the facts provided in that story may be less than reliable.  But that should not stop us from analyzing it.  Many of these stories gave us insight into what society was like back in those days.  And in the case of the Gospel of Judas, we can discover more about the Gnostic approach to Christianity and another interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and Judas.

It is interesting that Christians adopt Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and consolidate all the stories into a mega-Gospel as if they were all correct, even when they are in conflict with each other.  Perhaps a better approach would be to analyze them separately as four different accounts of Christ with none receiving any more credibility than the others, but all being treated equally as four oral histories of the same events.

Mark tells the story about Judas betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with a kiss, but does not offer a reason why he turned his teacher over to the servants of the chief priest who wanted to do harm to him.  Matthew indicated that Judas sold out Jesus for the money and then he hanged himself after Jesus was crucified.  Luke does not provide a reason why Judas betrayed his close friend.

We are left to ponder why Judas would have betrayed Jesus.  We may argue that there are at least six logical reasons.

1.       1.  Judas, like all the other apostles, did not understand Jesus and his mission.  Many considered the Messiah as a military leader, who would lead the Jewish nation in battle to defeat their enemies.  Judas may have wanted to compel Jesus and the crowds that followed him into taking action by turning him over to the authorities.  In other words, Jesus might be forced into leading His people if He were placed in a confrontational environment.  But this reasoning has flaws since Judas did not follow up this action by agitating the crowd to support Jesus and to attack the guards who held Jesus.  It is possible that Judas was stunned into silence when Jesus did not fight back, simply allowing the guards to take Him away.  This reason has some merit and should not be summarily dismissed.

2.      2.  Judas may have given in to the temptation of a material world.  Matthew mentions that Judas received thirty pieces of silver in exchange for betraying Jesus and then indicates that Judas threw the money down in the Temple after Judas realized the consequences of his act.  Matthew was very interested in matching the story of Jesus with the Old Testament prophesies, so he may have been working hard to include facts from Zecharia 11:12-13, which referenced a shepherd being paid thirty shekels of silver, who threw the silver into the treasury of the house of the Lord.  Zecharia is very confusing, so it is difficult finding a nexus to Judas and the time of Christ.  This is an interesting idea because it shows that the apostles were human, but it is less likely that greed would have been an issue with Judas or any of the apostles.  They had given up their lives, family, and earthly possessions to follow Jesus.  Returning to their former lives would have been more enticing than thirty pieces of silver.  Also, if you examine the laws of Moses, you will find that thirty shekels of silver was not that valuable.  It was the price paid if a neighbor’s ox gored your slave, Exodus 21:32.  It is more likely that Matthew wanted to include the references to silver in the story to correspond with some facts in Zecharia, which unfortunately only muddied the water.  Whether this amount of money would have tempted Judas to give us his teacher, nobody knows for certain.        

3.      3.  Jesus may have asked Judas to take this action to intentionally put him in harm’s way.  Even though the high priests wanted Jesus dead, there was no legal basis for crucifying him so the crowds of people may have protested if the priests had taken Jesus during the daytime.  Jesus may have told Judas to bring the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane at night so there would be no rebellion by the people.  The argument is that Jesus wanted the prophecy from the Old Testament to come true.  But trying to think like Jesus, He would have been more interested in protecting the crowds from any harm, than ensuring that a prophecy came to fruition.  It was the high priests who orchestrated the events that led up to his crucifixion anyway, so Jesus was already in harm’s way.  Also, it is not likely that Jesus would have intentionally placed this burden on Judas.  Jesus knew the future of Judas and would not have caused him this grief and affliction.  It probably was a decision made by Judas, rather than Judas following the instructions of Jesus to turn Him in to the high priests.  See reasons 4 and 5.  

4.      4.  The author of Acts (also the same author of Luke) thought that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was part of the divine plan, Acts 1:16.  It was God and Jesus who made Judas do it.  We see this message carried throughout both Luke and Acts.  The facts and reasoning behind the stories about Judas in these two Books may be prejudiced by the agenda of the author.  Quite frankly, all things are created and designed by God.  And even though God and Jesus may know the future, we are still given freedom of choice.  The fact that God and Jesus knew in advance which choice Judas was going to make does not excuse his choice.  Judas made a decision to betray Jesus.  We may never know why he made that choice.  Jesus may have ensured that the betrayal was at night to protect the crowds from injury, but the decision to betray Jesus was owned by Judas.    

5.      5.  Judas may have been angry that Jesus was not going to stand up to their enemies and, rather instead, was talking about being crucified.  This probably would have been a tremendous disappointment to the followers of Jesus, who never truly understood what He was doing.  Judas may have viewed this as going from a king, who Judas was willing to follow to the death, to becoming no better than a criminal sentenced to die nailed to the cross.  Judas may have abandoned the cause at that point and may have considered Jesus a traitor to their cause.  This appears to be a potentially good possibility.  The prophets experienced a range of emotions as they traveled with Jesus, certainly including anger.

6.      6.  Jesus may have gone to His most trusted disciple, Judas, asking him to go to the high priests to set the stage for the final act.  Judas was different from the other prophets who worshiped the God of this world, who was not the God of Jesus.  Judas’ betrayal allowed the spirit of Jesus to escape the trappings of His material body.  This last reason is actually the one found in the Lost Gospel of Judas, representing a Gnostic approach to Christianity.   

Which interpretation is correct?  Nobody knows.  Judas may have betrayed Jesus without truly understanding the consequences.  Even though, we have offered six potential reasons why Judas betrayed Jesus, the motivation of Judas may never be clear.  Judas had seen miracles performed by Jesus and might have thought that Jesus could easily rescue Himself from this peril.  Perhaps, Judas believed that the followers of Jesus would fight the guards.  There aren’t enough facts to hazard a guess as to what Judas was thinking and perhaps there is too much focus on Judas.  All we really know is that Judas was a human just like us, who made bad decisions.  One of them might have been the betrayal of Jesus.  The reason behind that decision really is not that important other than to realize that we all betray Jesus when we make bad choices. 

Let’s focus on Jesus, rather than Judas.  We know that Jesus would have worked hard to protect innocent people.  Jesus was aware that He was to be sacrificed, but He would not have wanted the crowds to suffer for this event.  Jesus would have ensured that nobody was hurt, as He did when he restrained Peter from using his sword to strike one of the abductors and then subsequently in healing the injured ear.  Jesus may have wanted Judas to bring the guards to him at night so that His followers would not be hurt, as a fight would be more likely during the daylight hours.  This seems to match more closely how Jesus might have viewed His approaching death.  He would have been more interested in protecting others than in protecting himself.   

The stories in the New Testament are all very important, but they should be read against the backdrop of the teachings of Jesus.  If you apply the heart and soul of Jesus and His teachings to the stories about Him, you may have a different perspective revealing a different story… a story that does not force fit the facts to old prophecies, but is a natural progression toward a new world that awaits believers of the gift of Jesus and what He gave us during His life on earth.

The Lost Gospel of Judas, an ancient Coptic text written on 62-pages of papyrus in codex or book form originally bound in leather, was discovered in a limestone box in a cave located in the Al Minya province of Middle Egypt in1978.  The ownership of the document after its discovery still is something of a mystery.  

The documents started deteriorating after leaving the protection of the dry environment of an Egyptian desert.  There were many handlers and owners of these documents, who knew nothing about preserving and protecting them.  After the documents soaked up humidity for sixteen years inside a damp bank vault in a strip mall on Long Island, an owner decided to freeze the document, thinking it would preserve it.  Of course, it did just the opposite.  Freezing caused a partial destruction of sap holding the papyrus fibers together.  This caused the document to become more fragile and break into pieces with any pressure.  It also caused the writing to darken, making it more difficult to read.    

In 2001, the Maecenas Foundation, whose purpose was to restore ancient documents and return them to their nations of origin, acquired the Gospel of Judas.  The Foundation started the process of reassembling the documents.  The document had been initially roughly handled, so it had many fragments that had to be pieced together like a jig-saw puzzle without the final picture to view for assistance. 

Carbon-dating is a process that can identify when the papyrus was first cut with a 60-year margin of error.  Organic compounds absorb a radioactive isotope, carbon-14, from the atmosphere during their lives.  When the organisms die, the carbon-14 starts to decay at a constant half-life of 5,700 years.  By measuring the amount of carbon-14 that remains within the papyrus, scientists can determine about when the papyrus was prepared for use.

The scientists took five small pieces of the document from different pages and performed a carbon-14 analysis.  The result was 280 CE with a margin of 60 years on either side.  This would make it one of the earliest known documents from early Christianity.  However, Coptic experts examined the style of writing and believe that the writing may have occurred in the fourth century.

The documents turned out to be one of the earliest surviving non-canonical Gospels.  It had seven sections:  (1) a mathematical treatise written in Greek, (2) a fragmentary copy of Exodus in Greek, (3) letters from Paul in Coptic, (4) letter from Peter to Philip in Coptic, (5) the First Apocalypse of James in Coptic, and (6) the Gnostic treatise on Allogenes in Coptic, and (6) the Gospel of Judas in Coptic.  

The Gospel of Judas and the other documents were published in 2006.  The Gospel of Judas, which had never been published before, was a Gnostic writing which carried a Gnostic message, but it also contained new information about the relationship between Judas and Jesus that is not found in the New Testament.

The text of this Gospel centers on Jesus and Judas about eight days before His crucifixion.  Jesus spends time explaining to Judas the mysterious truths that nobody else understands.  Jesus told him that the divine realm where the true God lives came into being prior to the creation of humans and their world.  This world was created by less than divine Gods.  The goal of salvation is to transcend this earthly world and enter the divine realm.

In this Gospel, Jesus told Judas, “You will exceed all of them (the other disciples).  For you will sacrifice the man who clothes me.”  (56:17-21). Thus, the story indicates that Judas followed the instruction of Jesus to betray Him so that Jesus could escape the material trapping of His body and return to the divine realm.  This follows many of the Gnostic beliefs.

Again, we have to examine the Lost Gospel of Judas with some skepticism because it was written by Gnostics to promote their beliefs, which differed from other Christians and certainly from those Christians who religiously follow Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

But that being said, this Gnostic interpretation is not completely out of bounds because the Holy Spirit and unification of our soul with God and Jesus is mentioned in the traditional Bible.  In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul talks about their being three heavens.  The Gnostics may have two in mind when they talk about the God of the earthly world and the God of the divine realm.  But the Gnostics seem to be saying that getting your ticket punched to the heaven of the earthly world is the wrong destination.  You want the ticket to the heaven in the divine world.

Interestingly enough, science may support the Gnostic predictions.  Matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed in our closed universe.  In effect, after we die, we remain in our universe being recycled for infinity.  However, beyond the Big Bang, there is another universe which might be referred to as the divine realm where the true God and Jesus reside for eternity.  The false God of our universe cannot truly create.  He can only transform matter and energy in a recycling bin.  The true God, the father of Jesus, is in the divine universe where creativity exists for eternity.