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As Ehrman notes, it's hardly necessary to introduce Judas Iscariot to readers. The many allusions to betrayal or deception: the kiss, the "thirty pieces of silver", the "one among you" reference are scattered throughout our literature, politics and daily circumstances. Even the fratricide of Cain receives less attention. However, a long-lost text providing an alternate view of this man, known to scholars but never seen in its original form, is likely to change all that. Ehrman, who was among the first to study the remants of it after it was found in Eygpt over thirty years ago, here provides an analysis of its contents. In a well-written account, he traces the document's history as known, and what it might mean for Christianity.

Judas, Ehrman notes, is portrayed in various ways in the "Synoptic Gospels", the accounts of Jesus that are the standard fare of Christian teachings. They range from a man driven by greed to an instrument of Satan. "The Gospel of Judas", originally written at about the same time as those stock accounts, depicts somebody else altogether. Not written by Judas, the writer tells the story of a man specially favoured by the teacher. According to the text, Judas was the one among "the Twelve" who actually "got" the message. Instead of "betraying" the teacher, Judas is actually given the task of freeing him from the "man who clothes me". Jesus, then, is but a spirit occupying a human body. Judas thus becomes the first Christian.

The foundation of this shift of role lies in a religious philosophy known as "Gnosticism". Although much debate has raged around the term as well as its tenets, its underlying thesis is that the material world is inherently evil, created by corrupt gods. The god revered by the Jews and transferred to Christianity is a false deity. Ehrman launches into a discussion of Gnostic Christianity, beginning with its complex creation myth with a pantheon of gods. There are ranks and hierarchies of them, some good and some bad, but all residing under a superior Great Invisible Spirit. The point of his presentation is to indicate that a minority of humans enjoy the potential to join with the greatest of these gods. Those are the "knowing" [Greek "gnosis"] of which Jesus is one and who "recruits" Judas to be another. Judas' assignment to "betray" Jesus to the authorities in order to restore him to the spirit realm, sets Judas apart from the other Apostles. They naturally resent this situation, but aren't "knowing" enough to change it. Ehrman reminds us that all the Apostles but Judas abandoned Jesus at the arrival of the arresting officers.

Gnosticism isn't for those seeking simple answers. It required the "knowing" to take a stance in direct contradiction to those accepting the Jewish god as paramount. Jesus does not make demands of his followers. Indeed, it's fundamental to Gnosticism that each individual find the route into the realm of the divine on their own. Over time, that would lead to clashes with those who sought a more hierarchical church system - the "proto-orthodox" who were later vindicated by Constantine. The early "Church Fathers" railed against Gnostic ideas - in fact, it is their writings that preserved the thoughts of the Gnostics in ranting against their ideas. Once in ascendency, the "orthodox" saw to it that Gnostic texts were destroyed. The Gospel of Judas, Ehrman reminds us, was known chiefly by a reference to it in the works of Irenaeus in his polemics against "heresies".

To Ehrman, The Gospel of Judas' importance lies in what it can contribute to our understanding of the early forms of Christianity - "Christianities". He leaves unaddressed the inevitable comparison with the doctrine of the Trinity, an issue that has split the faith numerous times. In fact, beyond describing how the Gnostics viewed their spirit realm, he avoids theological discussion. His aim here is to describe the history and words given in the newly found Gospel and put them in perspective. He does a fine job of that in language that must keep his students enthralled. It is a engrossing account at many levels, and deserves your close attention. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 13 September 2010
A really good read. It's a standalone book in that you don't need to have read Bart Ehrmans other books (or the books of other academics) to understand the context and content of the gospel of Judas in relation to early Christian writings. This book will not only talk you through its discovery and journey to publication (which is quite interesting) and a summary of what the gospel contains, but it will also summarise early Christian writings and Ehrman owns views on what the gospel means in the context of other early Christian writings/theology schools. So no need to worry about reading this book from the point of view that you have no knowledge. I think however that this is where the book fails some readers. If you have read other books on the subject (particularly Bart's) allot of the book is re-covering the same ground. In addition it's not a serious academic analysis as it does not actually provide an analysis of the complete work (Just Bart's `quotations of the bits he finds relevant or interesting). However these aren't really criticisms, because Bart has clearly targeted an audience on the assumption of no prior knowledge. This then is an enjoyable, well written, very informative look at the gospel in the context of other early Christian writings that could be read quite easily by a 12 year old. It is not a detailed academic analysis of the gospel. I would recommend it.
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on 15 October 2007
After reading "The Gospel of Judas", I was drawn to this book to help me make sense out of what I had read. I trusted that Ehrman could do that given the breadth and depth of his knowledge as I had found in previous books I had read by him including "Misquoting Jesus", "The Lost Christianities" and "The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures". He seemed, when he wanted to, to address a lay audience well.

I haven't been disappointed with this book. In fact, there is a bonus book hidden inside of this one. In the course of considering Judas in light of this new gospel, Ehrman presents his speculations on Jesus as an apocalyptic Jew. This view of Jesus had made more sense to me of the life and death of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity than any other book I have read. It also makes me want to read soon Ehrman's 2001 book "Jesus: Apocalytic Prophet of the New Millenium" in which he apparently presents in more detail a view of Jesus associated with Albert Schweitzer.

But if you, like I, are less concerned with the historical Jesus and more with Gnostic Christianity than this book may be somewhat disappointing. I expect too much, perhaps, from Ehrman. The breadth of this book does indeed put "The Gospel of Judas" into good general context within early Christianity. But Ehrman's interest does not seem to be primarily in Christian Gnosticism and so, for all his knowledge, he doesn't quite seem to want to inspire us about the value of the Christian Gnostic myths. Even with the "Gospel of Judas" essentlally in his hands, Ehrman is not a Hans Jonas. He'd rather use the opportunity to remind us of his understanding of Jesus as an apocalyptic Jew and of Gnostic Christianity as evidence of the diversity of early Christianity. Ehrman is not the Gnostic proponent that some accuse him of being ... and that I wish he were.

My own preference would have been that he had spent more time on considering the Gnostic themes and implications and less on using this gospel to update our general understandig of Jesus, Judas and early Christian history. But if you want a balanced presentation, I believe this is what you will find here. If there is any grieving to be done for Ehrman, it may not be, as Daniel Wallace opined in a review of "Misquoting Jesus", I find it not that he has left behind his Fundamentalism as a youth but that he hasn't embraced Christian Gnosticsm as he has become increasing aware of its early texts. Unlike Pagels and King, who, while not Gnostic, appear to have found elements of early Christian Gnositicism that personally appeal to them, Ehrman's interest seeem to have remained largely scholarly. He seemed to have acknowledge, as more explicity in "Lost Christianities" that something was lost but he doesn't seem, yet, to be moved personally by the power I find in the Gnostic myths. He may explain them well (certainly substantially better than I could) but his history as a Fundamentalist and the nature of his role as a scholar appear to, at least not yet, prevent him from going deeper into the implications of this and the other Gnostic texts for our personal lives. And, given his strengths, I think that is a loss.
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on 25 August 2016
This is terrific. Not unfamiliar ground for those who have read, for example, Robert Eisenman, but well-researched, well-written, and a welcome addition to the canon.
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on 24 October 2015
Tells you nothing about the Gospel of Judas. Doubting the veracity of the author. Reads like a rehab of his previous works.
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on 2 September 2016
Great. condition as described
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on 12 April 2015
A thought provoking read. Well worth the effort.
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on 9 May 2016
Good book
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on 8 May 2015
Everything as expected, Excellent choice, great purchase.
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on 6 June 2010
Why is there so much enthusiasm every time another 'lost' Gospel is found? Why are they considered to hold truths equal to or surpassing those of the canonical Gospels? Because those who accept them fail to see the reason that such 'apocraphyl' Gospels didn't make the canon is that they do not share the same underlying theme of Jesus as devoted servant to God, suffering and dying for his servitude and being raised to new life in God. Instead of constantly being side-tracked by such flash in the pan trivialities as this book, those seeking the truth about God and Jesus should instead concentrate on gaining a deeper understanding of the New Testament and a growing relationship with the risen Christ.
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