Book Review: Reading Judas

Reading Judas: The Gospel Of Judas And The Shaping Of Christianity, by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King

The authors of this book have a lot of mistaken ideas, and a great deal of those problems relate to the problem of authority. The authors are of the mistaken opinion that they and other self-professed biblical scholars have authority to weigh in on the Bible as judges and authorities as to what is reasonable and authoritative, rather than being disabused of these notions and recognizing that they are subject to the authority of God and of His scriptures. The Bible is not in the dock, God is not in the dock, but we are in the dock. From this fundamental misapprehension the general problems of this work (and many other similar works of biblical criticism) extend. The quality of people and of their worldviews can be determined by the quality of their authorities, and those who would prefer the Gospel of Judas with its attempts to make villains into heroes and to attack the bodily resurrection as well as the basic equality of mankind by claiming that some people are spiritual and intellectual elites (certainly appealing to those whose falsely profess themselves to be wise) tend to praise works like the Gospel of Judas and the bogus reasoning of the gnostics.

This book is a short one and is divided into two parts that are a bit more than 150 pages long. The book begins with an introduction that sets up the authors’ point of view. After that comes four chapters that look at how the authors read Judas in his pseudonymous gospel as well as in the actual Gospels, where the authors violate the hermeneutic of charity that governs wise readings of the Bible. These include a question of whether Judas was a betrayer or a favored disciple (1), the troubled relationship between Judas and the rest of the twelve (2), the question of sacrifice as well as the life of the Spirit (3), and the authors’ views of the mysteries of the kingdom (4). The second part of the book is then contains the Gospel of Judas with an English translation as well as some commentary on the gospel by one of the authors and an index of cross-references. The book then ends with notes, acknowledgements and an index. These notes, of course, are heavily based on opinion, as is most of the book, to a degree quite high for this sort of work.

Even if I have few nice things to say about the Gospel of Judas or the authors or others who tend to support this sort of book, it is not as if the book is entirely without value. If the book is certainly not Christian and not biblical, it does demonstrate the way that those who wish to be considered as Christians without in fact following Christ and who are highly resentful of the redemption of the flesh and of the sacrifice for sin and of the suffering that is involved in following God demonstrate their frustration with the way that the world works. Sometimes there can be value in reading what people have to say not because they have any authority, but because of how what they say and believe speaks about the quality of their worldview and belief system. And again, the Gospel of Judas is not particularly impressive. It demonstrates a failed attempt at revisionism and also demonstrates that the ancient mutual hostility between Christianity and its fraudulent imitators is certainly a problem in the present-day. The fact that the author sees such layers of meaning in such a modest achievement as this book and cannot see the layers of multiple meaning in the Gospels and their different perspectives is not surprising but is demonstrative of a particular lack of insight.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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