The Judas Paradox

'The Kiss of Judas' depicted in a fresco by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1306.

hide captionThe Kiss of Judas depicted in a fresco by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1306.

Starting from my early days in Sunday school, I have always been fascinated by Judas. The classic Christian take is easy: Judas betrays his friend and savior, Jesus Christ, for 30 pieces of silver, hangs himself in shame and now plays shortstop for the softball team in Hell.

But the more I thought about it in my teenage years, the more complicated it became for me. Wasn't Judas, I asked, required for the crucifixion to take place? If you are a Christian, Judas is the man who sets in action God's plan for salvation. Was Judas doing God's work?

We might know a little more today. The National Geographic Society is releasing a previously unseen Gnostic document from the second century, the Gospel of Judas. Reportedly, it shows Judas in a more positive light, obeying a divine ordinance in handing over Jesus to the authorities. Now, since it was written in Coptic well after Jesus' death, don't expect it to shake the foundations of Christianity. But, like all of the Gnostic gospels, it will spark quite the debate. Unlike the traditional view that evil is a corruption of God's plan, the Gnostics believed that God created a disordered and flawed world. And they didn't even know about Iraq.

So it seems like a perfect time to hear from Judas. In the age of the wronged-celebrity and the tell-all book, Judas is stepping up for his Larry King interview and spot on Oprah's couch. Let the historical rewriting begin.

Update: National Geographic's press conference on the Gospel of Judas is being streamed live this morning (Video — Requires Windows Media Player).

Update: NPR's all over this today. Alex Chadwick talks to Herb Krosney, a scholar who chronicles the story of the Gospel of Judas in a new book called The Lost Gospel. And Greg Allen has a piece tonight about the ancient text.

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