the gospel of judas: suicide by pilate?

If one of the Bible scholars in the audience has a free minute or two, I’d appreciate their thoughts on this newly-translated document which appears to be the lost “Gospel of Judas,” or at least part of it. As I understand it, according to this account, Judas was not the betrayer of Jesus, the man who we learned about in Sunday school that sold Christ out for 30 pieces of silver, but a loyal follower of Jesus, who was only following orders when he turned him over to the authorities… Here’s a clip from the National Geographic feature:

The “secret account” gives us a very different Judas. In this version, he is a hero. Unlike the other disciples, he truly understands Christ’s message. In handing Jesus over to the authorities, he is doing his leader’s bidding, knowing full well the fate he will bring on himself. Jesus warns him: “You will be cursed.”

OK, here’s my question… If this is true, and if Jesus really did put Judas up to it, does it mean that Jesus essentially committed suicide? Because that’s what it sounds like to me. It sounds like Jesus, at least according to this account, knew that he needed to be murdered/martyred in order to really sell his vision, and that he orchestrated events so as to lead to that ultimate outcome. Granted, I’m just inferring this from the few lines I’ve seen translated, but that’s what it sounds like to me. It’s kind of like a Biblical precursor to the modern phenomenon of “Suicide by cop.” One wonders how Christians will respond.

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  1. ol' e cross
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I don’t think we need the Gospel of Judas to hold the view Jesus wanted to die, that’s the accepted premise of Christian orthodoxy.

    The question is on the difference between suicide and martyrdom or heroism. Consider an air show pilot who crashes his plane in a field rather than bailing out and having it destroy onlookers or the soldier who tosses himself on a grenade in order to protect the folks around him. Neither action is generally viewed as suicide. And, whether it

  2. It's Skinner Again
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The Gospel of Judas seems to be a Gnostic piece written after the canonical gospels. The ideas in it are already familiar to scholars (there’s a description of it from the 2nd century), but the actual text was lost until now. is a good source for placing it in the context and chronology of early Christianity.

    Is it still considered suicide if you resurrect? Probably not successful suicide, anyway.

  3. Shanster
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree with OEC, certain martyrdom and suicide are separate issues. Here’s a paradox, though: without Judas’ betrayal, scripture would not be fulfilled. So he was just playing his essential role; why is he so vilified, shouldn’t he be honored?

  4. DM
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    What makes it even stranger and more convoluted is the documenting of it after the event as fulfillment. I’d like to know if there is any indication in MML or J that Jesus felt he was “fulfilling the scriptures” or if it was just editorializing on the part of gospel authors. If Jesus did, then asking Judas to betray him was part of a construction. If he did not, then the betrayal and subsequent crucifixion were correlated by the gospel authors to previous scriptures.

    What are the specific scripture passages that were supposedly fulfilled? And related to that, what scripture passages do Christians believe are being fulfilled currently? Do they believe that Divine Providence determines the course of events or that the premeditated actions of men do? Is there even a difference between the two for that matter? ( this is almost a cross post to your post on Iran, Mark. Hersch used the word “Messianic” in an interview as an adjective for Bush.)

    Another question I have ( Doug? ) is about the meaning of the word prophecy. I think Thomas Paine wrote about the word prophecy and believed that it meant poetry, not a prediction of the future. Is there any debate among bible scholars about this term? If the meaning changed, how does that impact the understanding of the fulfillment?

  5. DM
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Also, the first quick read of the post title conjured the image of someone doing crunches until they asphyxiated.

  6. mark
    Posted April 10, 2006 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your thoughts… They’re appreciated, even if not fully understood.

    And, Dave, I think you might have something there. I can’t imagine a better way for our next messiah to martyr himself than in a gym, working on his

  7. It's Skinner Again
    Posted April 11, 2006 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Dave — I think the original Greek meaning of prophecy was anything said under divine influence, whether predictive or not, but that they didn’t separate the two ideas much.

    Some texts we think of as mostly predictive (like Nostradamus or Revelation) can probably also be interpreted in other ways. I read somewhere a good case some scholar made for Nostradamus being at least partially a veiled commentary on current events.

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted April 11, 2006 at 8:52 am | Permalink


    I agree with Skinner about the def. of prophecy, it

  9. DM
    Posted April 11, 2006 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks guys.

    Here is the text by Thomas Paine that talks about the meaning of the words “prophet” and “prophecy”.

    It is from the Age of Reason. If you do a keyword search on the word prophet, it will save some time finding the passages. Paine argues that the sections of the Bible that are considered to be predictions are actually just poetry- image rich text that is too ambiguous and symbol heavy to correlate to future events without Jack Van Impe style interpretation.

    After commenting last night, I did a google search on fulfillment of scriptures. There were quite a few. The 30 pieces of silver prophecy related to the betrayal, so I compared the passage in Zechariah to the passage in Matthew. I’m not seeing the connection. Chapter 11 of Zechariah is in the first person ( not the voice of God ) and talks about destruction, separation and dismemberment. The only connection between the two is the mention of 30 peices of silver and a potters field.

    There were also a number of passages from Psalms listed as prophecies. I chose Psalm 22. It starts with “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, a passage that always seemed odd to me – Jesus having a moment of weakness. Again, I am not sure what to make of it. It sounds more like a person describing his feelings of loneliness that resulted from following his convictions. This would be a similar scene to Matthew 27, but I don’t understand why Jesus quoting what was likely a well known verse constitutes a fulfillment of a prediction. Am I missing something?

    The unfolding of actions into an event can be predicted to some degree of certainty based on an understanding of causes and effects, but to correlate ambiguous statements in the past to later specific events seems Jack Van Impe Sloppy. Another possibility would be that the imagery was symbolic, but that again leaves us stabbing around in the dark Jack Van Impe style without knowing with certainty what the symbols specifically mean.

    I like Elaine Pagel’s take on the Gnostics versus the early church – that the early church looked at christianity as the key to continuing the authority of the Roman Empire by placing divinity outside of us and accessible only through the church, whereas the gnostics believed that divinity was within each of us. The gnostic belief seems more in line with incorporeal ideas and intuitions, the existence of a world without parts that is accessible through the intellect.

    The similarity of Plotinus’ Trinity of The One, nous, and the soul seems more gnostic than the current conception of the Trinity. However, I am rambling off course now and should get back to work…

  10. Shanster
    Posted April 12, 2006 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    DM – When I look at the Psalm 22 reference, I don’t see it as a moment of weakness, because the Psalm in general is a positive one about eventual deliverance. During the crucifixion, Jesus probably didn’t have enough energy or air in his lungs to sing the whole psalm…Jesus’ invoking that Psalm makes the link to him as a righteous sufferer like David. This is a prophetic word which may be fulfilled over and over again when injustice is seen, but we have confident hope for a better future.

  11. DM
    Posted April 12, 2006 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Shanster- I can accept that Jesus would have found the words fitting for the occasion, but it doesn’t appear to be a fulfillment of a prophecy in this instance. The Psalms were songs, not predictions. Are you saying that those who take a position of righteousness, become increaasingly isolated, and ask God why he foresake them will be “fulfilling” the “prophecy” in Psalms 22? I understand the idea of themes in history and the repeating of them, but to claim that the description of a past event constitutes a prophecy of future events seems to be opening up the door for historians to be prophets too. Am I misunderstanding you?

    It seems that the Jews have worked harder than any other race/nation/culture at self preservation. Maintaining an accepted history that was mandatory study for all members gave them much more information about the cause and effects of human behavior, and it seems logical that a deep knowledge of past events would encourage the prediction of future human influenced events – not unlike the egyptians and the babylonians (who were both captors of the Jews ) keeping astronomical records and predicting natural phenomenal (seasons, tides, weather patterns, etc. ) based on positions of stars.

    The texts that become more clouded with symbolism may have had a meaning, but I suspect it is similar to what Doug mentions above with Nostradomus – descriptions of current events in a coded language. If what you have to say may put your life in danger and you still feel compelled to say it, then the safest way to say it would be in a secret language, symbols or otherwise.

    I apologize if I am coming off as confrontational on this issue. I find it very disturbing that people in postions of power in our country and others either silently or overtly feel that they are fulfilling prophecies. It is a very, very dangerous game. If they believed in the repetition of history as prophecy in a cause and effect sense, then they should be students of historians rather than (pseudo)theologians. If they believe in the fulfillment of amiguously worded and arbitrarily interpreted passages in religious texts, then I don’t believe that even God can help us.

    I am curious, Shanster, about your thoughts on this. You appear ( either as yourself or a convincing alter ego ) to have a strong and well researched opinion about these matters. And directly related to this topic ( because the march of history appears to me to be the relentless pursuit of the Kingdom of God in one form or another ): Do you believe that the Kingdom of God is temporal or incorporeal? It is a very important question, because NO religion can have it both ways without constructing a lie, in my opinion.

  12. DM
    Posted April 12, 2006 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    oops. unwanted “L”.

    phenomena ( da da da dada…)

  13. ol' e cross
    Posted April 13, 2006 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Sorry to return late to the discussion, just a couple quick thoughts…

    Much of the OT is written in poetic language, a staple of oral traditions. I think Paine errs in applying 18th century standards to B.C. stories. If something is in poetry or song, the ancient reader/listener is supposed to pay extra close attention.

    I agree, that prophecy is oft abused, risky business, as is claiming divine right for any action.

    And, there is a lot of circular reasoning in how xtians view the messianic prophecies, but Judaism has long predicted a messiah would come, based on prophecies in the Torah. (See for a brief overview.) Many of these prophesies are the same one

  14. Shanster
    Posted April 13, 2006 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, DM. I don’t think you came off as confrontational (You have to throw in more profanity, just ask Chris). I don’t have a lot of time to get into it today, but I think the “Kingdom of God” is clearly not “of this world”, but does have implications in it. I had to look up ‘incorporeal’, so that tells you how much I’ve reasearched it. If you mean ‘spiritual’, I’ll go with that. If I am truly ‘born of the Spirit’, my new nature should be shown in my love and mercy (shown even to illegal aliens).

  15. DM
    Posted April 13, 2006 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks OEC.

    I like the last line from your first link – “It is precisely when the belief in the Messiah’s coming starts to shape political decisions that the messianic idea ceases to be inspiring and becomes dangerous.” ( It follows the mention of a Jewish group talking about blowing up the Dome on the Rock to clear the way for the rebuilding of the temple and to spark a Jihad with the intent of hastening the return of the Messiah…)

    I’ll defer to you and Doug on the term “prophecy”. Paine’s interpretation seemed worth sharing though.

    I personally prefer Tolstoy’s interpretation of Jesus’ message – that the Kingdom of God is within. It seems to be the basic message of the Gnostics, but the Gnostics believe that the material world is evil. I believe it is a neutral carrier, so I would probably be barred from entry on those grounds and saved from having to decide whether to eat a baby or not.

    The idea of the Kingdom of God being incorporeal seems to carry on the Pythagorean/ Platonic/ Neoplatonic tradition – that the physical world is an imperfect recreation of another world that is understandable through the intellect. I think most mathematicians would agree with this.

    The idea of the Kingdom of God being temporal and the belief of a first or second coming of a messiah to bring us this perfect Kingdom seems dangerously stupid to me.

    Back to the post topic- Scooter Libby is making a good Judas figure. I wonder if anyone has done a last supper painting of Bush and his administration? I’m willing to wager that it is out there already.

  16. Posted November 2, 2016 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    It is obvious that Jesus facilitated his own death. Like Kurt Cobain, he knew that he would sell far more records after dying than before.

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