Monday, April 10, 2006

Judas is big business

I encouraged the church to watch "The Gospel of Judas" last night on National Geographic Channel. This was the semi-documentary about a historical document which presents Christ and Judas in a different perspective.

Let me begin by saying that National Geographic presented the information in their typical format. They took the "dull" facts of their research and presented it in a glossy, picturesque style. I love National Geographic and have read it for years and watch their presentations occasionally. But as far as serious research, I leave it behind for deeper sources. That is my personal bias.

Now regarding the material. I watched the program to see where the document originated. NG presented the best sounding story of how the document came into the modern spotlight. If you watched you heard about the "treasure hunting" farmer who discovered a cave with bones. In this makeshift crypt was a box. That box held an ancient appearing, leather-bound book. The farmer took the box and contents hoping to sell them. The farmer sold the book to a dealer/collector. The history of the document becomes one of extreme excitement and extreme boredom. When the document finds its way into scientific hands, they were able to autheticate that it was truly an ancient document from 280-330 A.D.

If you want to get to the message, disregard the dramatic portrayal of the second half of the NG special. Read the material for yourself. National Geographic has the document located on their website for you download and read.

To understand the message of this gospel, there are two subjects you should know something about. The first is Coptic Christianity. This is a branch of orthodox faith that developed mostly in Egypt. They are more closely related to modern Orthodox churches than Catholic or Protestant. While there may be some differences of practice and "minor" theological differences, Coptics are considered to be in the vein of traditional Christianity.

The other subject is Gnostic theology. In Gnostic theology, the most important issue is the existence and pursuit of hidden knowledge. There is also a secondary issue of the duality or struggle against flesh and spirit. In much Gnostic theology the flesh is weak and restraining while the spirit is the true essence of life. When the flesh no longer contains the spirit, then true understanding of deeper, secret knowledge is possible. There is some provision for "special" knowledge while in the flesh.

The Gospel of Judas was written in Coptic and would seem to have all of the traits of a Coptic manuscript from 3rd - 4th century. I can't argue with the evidence that was provided. It seems to be authentic. It would also appear to be a classic representation of Gnostic thought. Since I am not an expert in this area, I would bend to those who are.

Here is what is important for me (and you if you find this profitable). Gnosticism is not a traditional Christian perspective. One commentator on this issue compares it to Latter Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses over against traditional Christian faith. I believe that is an appropriate comparison. While I believe there are roots of Christian doctrine involved, it is not a viable Christian alternative. There is too much that is different and contrary to classical traditional faith. It rejects many creedal statements that we have held for many centuries.

A secondary important issue is the weight of importance placed on this single document. This one piece of literature is being promoted as genuine and accurate. It represents a body of belief that existed during the formation of early Christian development. These same "scholars" reject or downplay the importance of the entire collections of documentary evidence we have that testifies to the canonical scriptures. Oh, I know their argument is that time removed the traces of any manuscripts that were not destroyed by zealous "mainline" Christians. So they can argue the development of an entire sect of Christianity based on very little evidence while blaming it on the "winners".

The last issue is simple fact that I stand with the early Church fathers and mothers who worked hard to provide a body of beliefs that would stand the tests of time and persecution. I trust that God inspired early believers to transmit a reliable faith. The early believers pushed through all of this 1500-1900 years ago. Today's faith may not be the exact same as it was then. But we have remained very consistent to the ideals and statements of faith that were formed in the blood, sweat, and tears of dedicated followers of Christ.

If National Geographic wants to sell DVDs, books, and magazines on something that was dismissed in the 1900 years ago, that is their business. I know they will sell millions to today's fickle audience. For me, though, I will stand by the faith of old.
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