Christians around the world know the story of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Christ with a kiss and sold him out for 30 pieces of silver. For centuries, calling someone "a Judas" has meant they're a traitor, and Dante even condemned Judas to the worst punishment in Hell for his actions. But what if Judas wasn't a villain at all? What if he was actually helping Jesus? The secret Gospel of Judas reveals an entirely different side of the vilified apostle. According to the text, Jesus asked Judas to betray him.
The Gospel of Judas, one of the Gnostic gospels, was found in the 1970s, but not translated until 2006. National Geographic determined the authenticity of the papyrus codex found hidden in the Egyptian desert, and the revelations in the Gospel of Judas contradict nearly 2,000 years of Christians condemning Judas. The Gospel reveals a secret meeting between Jesus and Judas - just days before the Last Supper - where Jesus revealed his true nature to Judas and asked his closest disciple to help him ascend to Heaven.
Some scholars dismiss the Gospel of Judas because it comes from the Gnostic gospels, which contradict the Bible in shocking ways. Others point out that human error can shape divine texts, like the terrible typo in the King James Bible that told people to commit adultery. Either way, don't expect to see the Gospel of Judas in the Bible any time soon.
The Gospel of Judas completely changes the traditional view of Judas as a betrayer. Instead, Judas appears as the favorite disciple of Christ. The text describes Judas as the closest friend of Jesus and the vital person who allows Jesus to complete his mission on Earth. Because Judas turns over Christ to the authorities - at Jesus's request - Jesus can let go of his earthly body and ascend to the spiritual level.
Unlike the official New Testament account, which claims Judas sold out Jesus for 30 silver pieces, the Gospel of Judas claims the reviled apostle held a unique and honored place in Jesus's circle.
For centuries, Christians have pointed to Judas as the ultimate betrayer. But what if Christ asked Judas to turn him in? According to the Gospel of Judas, Jesus and Judas met days before the Last Supper. The opening lines of the Gospel of Judas proclaim it describes a "secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover." During that meeting, Jesus asked Judas to turn him over to the authorities.
When Judas and Jesus met, Jesus told his disciple, "You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." Rodolphe Kasser, one of the most prominent Coptic scholars, believes this part of the passage has significant meaning, saying, "Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body, and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than by an enemy."
The Gospel of Judas thus contradicts the New Testament and offers rehabilitation of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas describes a meeting between Judas and Jesus. According to the text, Judas did not betray Jesus. Instead, he turned Christ over to the Romans at Jesus's request. The Gospel of Judas declares that Judas made the ultimate sacrifice: he helped Jesus shed his earthly body so that he could ascend to Heaven.
If the text is accurate, then Judas also made another sacrifice - that of his reputation. He destroyed any positive standing he had with his immediate peers, and he sullied his name with Christians for centuries to come, all of whom consider Judas to be the ultimate traitor.
Translating a nearly 2,000-year-old text poses a considerable challenge. According to April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, potential errors in the translation of the Gospel of Judas completely change its meaning.
For example, the 2006 translation uses the word "daimon" to mean "spirit." DeConick disagrees, pointing out that in other Gnostic texts, "daimon" means "demon." DeConick argues that the Gospel of Judas describes Judas as a demon known as the "Thirteenth." Judas was not a human at all, but a king of demons masquerading as an apostle to betray Jesus. Changing a few words in the text, DeConick claims, completely changes the meaning of the gospel.