Saturday, April 08, 2006

Donald Sensing on the "Judas Gospel"

I haven't paid much attention, but there is a resurgence of interest in what are being presented as "early Christian" writings (as though there were not already enough confusion about the Faith). Mostly they strike me as yet another attempt to push an oversized foot into a too-small glass slipper, but thanks to a pop revival stoked by the likes of the Left Behind series, The DaVinci Code and, yes, Gibson's snuff film, such efforts are getting a lot of serious play. Too bad, since the Gospels we have are fragile enough without a lot of careless handling by latter-day Philistines. Don't get me started. I have a hard time even allowing for good intentions.

Anyway, Dondald Sensing, an authority who stands high on my list, has produced an excellent essay looking at one of these fadish texts, putting it into a historical context that every thinking Christian should read. He also links to another authority underscoring many of the same points. If you think today's revisionist thinking and writing offers any new enlightenment, this reading is not optional.

Oral tradition had begun to deteriorate in post-apostolic times, partly because many or most of the eyewitnesses to the earliest events of Jesus’ life and death and the beginning of the church had died. Because the early church perceived its risen Lord as a living Lord, even his words could be adjusted or adapted to fit specific church needs. By the end of the first century, local gospel production was a booming business. Some gospels purported to be words of the risen Lord that did not reflect apostolic traditions and even claimed superiority over them. Such claims helped to push the early church toward canonization. Faced with such confusion and claims to late revelations, the church came to acknowledge it had to retain the historical dimension of its faith, the “once for all” revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

In addition, there were “para-Christian” movements flourishing that combined elements of pagan religion, Greek philosophy and Christian tradition. Gnosticism sounded Christian on its face, but it denied that Jesus and God were the same and also denied that Jesus was truly physical. Hence, Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but only appeared to. Gnosticism’s root was Greek philosophy, which made a sharp distinction between the physical world and the spiritual one.

David Kopel at Volokh Conspiracy agrees. I really like the clarity of this paragraph.

This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.

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