THRISSUR: Clerics and scholars in Kerala aver that the recent discovery of the only known text of the Gospel of Judas will not change the traditional Christian view that Judas Iscariot is a betrayer.
The announcement by the National Geographic Society in Washington on April 6 that it had gained access to a 1,700-year-old copy of the Gospel of Judas, made in Coptic language in AD 300, had triggered media stories across the world on the 26-page non-canonical text.
The Gospel of Judas, originally composed in Greek in AD 200, portrays Judas not as a betrayer, but as Christ’s "close friend, favoured disciple and willing collaborator."
In this document, Jesus himself asks Judas to betray him to the Roman authorities, much in line with Gnostic thinking.
"This is the most significant ancient, non-Biblical text to be found since the 1940s," Terry Garcia, an executive vice-president of the National Geographic Society, was quoted as saying.
Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Chaldean Syrian Church, says that the discovery of the text is unlikely to have any impact on theology.
"The Church has already declared such non-canonical texts heretical. They contribute little to our understanding of Christ’s life. Had the Gospel of Judas been relevant, early Church would have approved it. The non-canonical gospels were banned by the Church on the basis of logical thinking," Mar Aprem says.
Paul Pulikkan, director, Chair for Christian Studies and Research, Calicut University, agrees.
"I don’t think the discovery of the Gospel would change the way Christians view Judas Iscariot. As far as the Church is concerned, the Gospel of Judas falls under apocryphal literature. The Church maintains that Judas’ tragic flaw is his lack of faith in divine compassion, which forced him to commit suicide. Compare him with Peter. Peter had also sinned, but he repented and was forgiven," Fr. Pulikkan says. Many associated with the Church say it is difficult to stomach portrayal of Judas as a `good man.’
"Heretical literature can harm faith and positive thinking. Hence, the Church has taken a stand against it," says Francis Alapatt, director of the Jubilee Mission Medical College Hospital and Research Institute.
Mar Aprem says the discovery of the text is not important to Christianity, despite its historical authenticity, reportedly proved by radiocarbon dating, ink analysis, multi-spectral imaging and studies of the linguistic style.
Fr. Pulikkan says the discovery may not bring about any change on the theological front, but it has academic relevance. "Any new study on Christianity is welcome. Among the first to refer to the Gospel of Judas was Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, in AD 180. The newly discovered text will trigger further discussion on the Gospels. Such debates show the diversity of the Christian movement," Fr. Pulikkan says.