“Reading Judas”

I am reading the book with this title about the recently discovered Gospel of Judas. The authors are Elaine Pagels and Karen King, both good scholars and reliable. This Gospel appears to have been written to oppose the martyrdom theology of the ealrly Church. It severely and angrily condemns those who advocate accepting martyrdom for their faith. It describes them as advocating and doing human sacrifice of adults and children. The Gospel of Judas, and some other early writings as well, advocate a view in which the body is lost and the God within survives and rises. There is no resurrection of the body.

Pagels describes these works as showing the conflicts and quarrels in the early Church. This reminds me that the history of the church is a history of conflicts and quarrels. The present conflicts in the Anglican Communion are nothing new and nothing different. As then, so now.

I also can see that the longings and hopes expressed and the questions raised by the “heretics” are nothing new. They are longings and questions we are still dealling with. We call them “new age” religions these days. The language about the god with in and the inner search for god are much the same. Again, as then, so now.

Pagels also says the the views of the “orthodox” were chosen to support episcopal hegemony. I would like to take a somewhat gentler view, given that what we have is that episcopal hegemony.

Pagels says:

Leaders like Irenaeus devoted decades of their lives to extablishing the structures of reed, canon, clergy, beleiving that the movement’s survival depended on them–and in some ways they may have been right, for there are limits to how many different views any group can accomodate, perhaps especially in times of trouble. But the recently discovered texts show us what was lsot when they consolidated these institutions and silenced so many early christian voices.

The question of “how many different views any group can accomodate” is precisely the question that lies before us in the Anglican Communion in these days.

All in all, worthwhile reading. I may need to go find some of the other writings from Nag Hammadi to read.

Leave a Reply