Gospel of Judas
Dear Member of Blavatsky Net,
Since April 6 the news has been abuzz with the official announcement of the discovery of and translation of another gnostic gospel in Egypt. It is entitled "The Gospel of Judas". The discovery is first of all interesting in itself. The last reference to this Gospel of Judas the field of scholarship knew of was a document by the church father, Irenaeus, who, in 180 AD, condemned it in his book "Against Heresies". Since that reference It has been assumed lost forever.
In 2001 a team led by the National Geographic Magazine acquired the manuscript and began physically piecing together the crumbling document and producing us a translation. This specific manuscript in Egyptian Coptic has been well certified to have been copied somewhere from 220 to 340. Presumably a monk from the nearby monastery in middle Egypt hid it for safekeeping some 1700 years ago. Now, 1700 years later we discover it!
To give some idea of the oddity of this preservation, if the same document had been hidden in Greece it would now have rotted away into oblivion due to moisture in the air. The dry climate of Egypt preserved it.
And as I presume many of you will know, the document itself contains a "bombshell." It portrays the role of Judas, the disciple of Jesus, sympathetically. Indeed Judas is portrayed in it as only doing the bidding of Jesus in identifying him with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane. Further, this gospel portrays Judas as the only disciple that understood Jesus.
All of this totally overturns the customary view of Judas. Over time he had become the archetype of the traitor. His name is a convenient literary synonym for traitorous acts. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "Judas" as "One who betrays another under the guise of friendship". It fails to even mention that the usage comes from the disciple who kissed his master to identify him to the authorities and took the 30 fabled pieces of silver.
Bart Ehrman, chair of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina, has said:
Often they think of him [Judas] as somebody who was greedy,
avaricious, who was more interested in making money than in
being faithful to his master. And Judas over the centuries also
became a symbol of anti-Semitism. Traditionally in Christian circles,
Judas in fact has been associated with Jews, of being traitors,
avaricious, who in fact, betray Jesus, who are Christ-killers. And
this portrayal of Judas of course also leads then to horrendous
acts of anti-Semitism through the centuries.
Clearly this document means the views of Judas as arch-traitor of all time must be revisted and corrected.
This newsletter will bring to light some quite unusual comments of Blavatsky that apply specifically to this discovery in the desert. Then it looks at the details of information that we have concerning Judas. And finally it examines some exact quotes from the larger gnostic literature that relate to Theosophic ideas.
Many students of Theosophists are aware of this next prediction by Blavatsky and take it to be fulfilled by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and the Nag Hammadi texts in 1945. I quote a more lengthy version of it for its general interest.
The moment is more opportune than ever for the review of
old philosophies. Archæologists, philologists, astronomers,
chemists and physicists are getting nearer and nearer to the point
where they will be forced to consider them. Physical science has
already reached its limits of exploration; dogmatic theology sees
the springs of its inspiration dry.
Unless we mistake the signs, the day is approaching when the
world will receive the proofs that only ancient religions were in
harmony with nature, and ancient science embraced all that can
be known .
Secrets long kept may be revealed; books long forgotten and arts
long time lost may be brought out to light again; papyri and
parchments of inestimable importance will turn up in the hands of
men who pretend to have unrolled them from mummies, or
stumbled upon them in buried crypts; tablets and pillars, whose
sculptured revelations will stagger theologians and confound
scientists, may yet be excavated and interpreted.
Who knows the possibilities of the future? An era of disenchantment
and rebuilding will soon begin — nay, has already begun. The
cycle has almost run its course; a new one is about to begin, and
the future pages of history may contain full evidence, and convey
full proof that
"If ancestry can be in aught believed,
Descending spirits have conversed with man,
And told him secrets of the world unknown."
(Isis Unveiled I 38, published 1877)
Indeed, her phrase "Secrets long kept may be revealed; books long forgotten ... may be brought out to light again; papyri and parchments of inestimable importance will turn up" seems just as well to apply to the Gospel of Judas. Scholars are saying the Gospel of Judas is the most significant find in this area in the last 60 years - a distinct comparison to the other two earlier discoveries at the Dead Sea and at Nag Hammadi.
Perhaps less well known is an article she penned in 1885 and which was not published until October 1896, five years after her death in The Theosophist, Vol. XVIII, pp. 9-12 (and reprinted in BCW XIII p 266-7) In it she reiterated her above prediction and added at least one way it had already been fulfilled.
Once more the prophecy already made in Isis Unveiled twenty-two
years ago is reiterated. “Secrets long kept may be revealed; books
long forgotten and arts long time lost may be brought out to light
again; papyri and parchments of inestimable importance will turn up
... Who knows the possibilities of the future? An era of disenchantment
and rebuilding will soon begin—nay, has already begun. The cycle has
almost run its course; a new one is about to begin, and the future
pages of history may contain full evidence, and convey full proof of the
Since the day that this was written much of it has come to pass, the
discovery of the Assyrian clay tiles and their records alone having
forced the interpreters of the cuneiform inscriptions—both Christians
and Free thinkers—to alter the very age of the world.
She rarely repeats a prediction so we may legitimately take this as extra emphasis. If so then we live in exciting times and who knows what other long lost documents may turn up.
There is one more quote from Blavatsky that specifically refers to Judas and it is extraordinary. She references the "treacherous" apostle, putting that word in italics for some kind of mysterious meaning, and asserts that his true character has never been correctly presented before the tribunal of Humanity.
…the philosophy and the rationale of certain early Christian sects—called
heretical and viewed as the abomination of the times—will become more
comprehensible. We may understand how it was that the sect of SATANIANS
came to be degraded, and were anathematized without any hope of vindication
in a future day, since they kept their tenets secret. How, on the same principle,
the CAINITES came to be degraded, and even the (Judas) ISCARIOTES ; the
true character of the treacherous apostle having never been correctly presented
before the tribunal of Humanity. (SD II, 389)
These words of Blavatsky are quite remarkable:
the true character of the treacherous apostle having never been correctly
presented before the tribunal of Humanity.
Now we find her words being supported by the words of this new gospel. This gospel has Jesus saying to Judas:
But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice
the man that clothes me.
This passage is being interpreted to mean that Jesus is asking or commanding that Judas be the cause of Jesus losing his physical body. In other words that famous betrayal is something that Jesus was asking from a friend. Earlier in the Gospel, Judas is portrayed as the only disciple that truly understood Jesus. So the fuller meaning is that Jesus is turning to the only disciple that understands him to perform this deed.
Of course, if the following statement were true (as I assume it is) then she could have simply have been told about the Gospel of Judas:
The members of several esoteric schools - the seat of which
is beyond the himalayas, and whose ramifications may be
found in China, Japan, India, Tibet, and even in Syria, besides
South America - claim to have in their possession the
*sum total* of sacred and philosophical works in MSS.
[manuscripts] and type: all the works, in fact, that have ever
been written, in whatever language or characters, since the art
of writing began; from the ideographic hieroglyphs down to the
alphabet of Cadmus and the Devanagari. (Secret Doctrine
Vol I intro page xxiii).
WE SHOULD HAVE SUSPECTED IT
Now that we know about the Gospel of Judas it is tempting to revisit the passages about that disciple in the New Testament and evaluate them with hindsight. Some scholars have been doing just that even before this Gospel was found. A typical view is:
If Jesus had to die on the cross for the salvation of the world,
then wasn't Judas doing a good deed in handing him over?
Without the betrayal there would be no arrest, without the arrest
there would be no trial, without the trial there would be no
crucifixion, without the crucifixion there would be no
resurrection - and in short, we still wouldn't be saved from our
sins. So why were Judas's actions such a bad thing?
Our gospel writers never address that speculative question.
(The Gospel of Judas by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer
and Gregor Wurst p 93)
One of the most extensive recent studies of Judas is Judas: Betrayer of
Friend of Jesus? by William Klassen (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1996).
His bibliography on pages 209-225 provides an extensive list of books
and journal articles about Judas and the betrayal. Klassen concludes
that Judas has been slandered and wrongly maligned down through
Besides these general philosophic issues, there are the specific words of Jesus. In the book of Mathew Jesus says to Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane "Friend, do what you are here to do." As the biblical and Gnostic scholar James Robinson puts it:
"This is almost an exoneration of Judas for the identifying kiss!
The irony of the scene is that Jesus addresses him as "friend," an
extremely rare term on Jesus's lips!" ( The Secrets of Judas, by
James Robinson p 19)
The Gospel of Mark in chapter 14 says
"For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him but woe to the
one by who the Son of Man is given over! It would have been
better for that one not to have been born."
And Robinson similarly asks:
Why pronounce a woe in Judas, who is only doing what he was
born to do? - what God, and therefore Jesus, want him to do? ( ibid p 14)
Even the Greek word that has been translated as "betray" has been mistranslated.
The thesis of Klassen's book is that Judas did not "betray" Jesus,
but only "gave" him "over" to the appropriate Jewish authorities to
evaluate his claims, a quite appropriate and understandable transaction
within the Judaism of that day. Hence we are wrong to understand
Judas as a "traitor," as if what the Gospels present him doing is a
"betrayal". Klassen points out:
Not one ancient classical Greek text ... has the connotation of
treachery. Any lexicon that suggests otherwise is guilty of theologizing
rather than assisting us to find th meaning of Greek words through usage.
Hence, the Greek word in the Gospels that is translated as "betray"
(paradidomi) does not actually have that basically negative meaning
that we associate with betrayal in English.
TEACHINGS IN THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS
There are a number of places in which Blavatsky explains that all the religions of the world are connected. Here are a few:
Esoteric philosophy reconciles all religions, strips every one
of its outward, human garments, and shows the root of each
to be identical with that of every other great religion. (Secret
Doctrine Vol I. intro page xx)
But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the
teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained
in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the
Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to
Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The
Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it
in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made
to merge back into their original element, out of which every
mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become
materialised. (Secret Doctrine Vol I preface page viii)
The "Wisdom Religion" is the inheritance of all the nations,
the world over. (Secret Doctrine Vol I. Intro page xviii)
So now an interesting question arises. Does the Gospel of Judas, brief though it is, also contain traces of the universal wisdom religion? Below a few instances are traced out demonstrating that in this instance she was correct again.
We start with Irenaeus, the church father, who, according to Blavatsky, has twisted the words and ideas of many of those with opposing views. In "Against Heresies" written in 180 AD he said:
In this respect God differs from humanity; God makes, but
humanity is made. (AH 4.11.2)
He was emphasizing that Christianity (his version) holds that humanity is something entirely different and distinct from God. In contrast, Theosophy, much of Gnosticism, and mysticism in general, assert a spark of divinity in each human. This defines a fundamentally different relationship between "Man and God."
The Gospel of Judas does happen to mention this theme incidentally when it refers to:
Your God who is within you.
(Of course this is not far from the passage in Luke where Jesus says explicitly "The kingdom of God is within you" - a bit gnostic of that traditional Gospel.)
Numerous references to this idea can be found elsewhere in the gnostic literature. In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, Jesus ridicules the idea that the kingdom of God is an external place. He says:
Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.
When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known,
and you will realize that you are the sons of the living Father.
But if you will not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty,
and it is you who are that poverty.
There is a passage in the Gospel of Judas that appears to introduce the concept of the Absolute as described by Theosophy. It relates:
Jesus said, "[Come], that I may teach you about [secrets]
no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and
boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels
has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which
no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has
ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.
If one traces this a little further one lands upon a superb elaboration of the Absolute in Gnostic terms.
Early in the Gospel Jesus challenges the disciples on his identity. Only Judas succeeds and says:
I know who you are and where you have come from. You
are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy
to utter the name of the one who has sent you.
Barbelo appears to me to be used in the sense in which we think of the 2nd logos. This reference to Barbelo, another reference to Seth in the text, and other cosmological content, together serve to classify the Gospel as of type "Sethian Gnostic". We can follow the lead to Sethian Gnosticism by reading:
The Secret Book of John is a classic work of Sethian gnostic
mythology. ... Irenaeus of Lyon, in his tract Against Heresies,
attempts to debunk certain "heretics," also called
Barbelognostics or Barbeloites, whose system of thought
resembles that of the Secret Book of John (The Gnostic
Bible Edited by Barnstone and Meyer p135)
In that Secret Book of John we then encounter a very wonderful description of what Theosophists will recognize as the Gnostic version of the Absolute. This is an extended passage that is a marvel and a beautiful, classic statement in the world's sacred literature.
The one [ "monas in Coptic from "monad" in Greek ] is a
sovereign that has nothing over it. It is god and father of all,
the invisible one that is over all, that is incorruptible, that is
pure light at which no eye can gaze.
The One is the invisible spirit. We should not think of it as
a god or like a god. For it is greater than a god, because it
has nothing over it and no lord above it. It does not exist
within anything inferior to it, since everything exists within it
alone. It is eternal, since it does not need anything. For it is
absolutely complete. It has never lacked anything in order to
be prompted by it. Rather, it is always absolutely complete
in light. The One is illimitable, since there is nothing before
it to limit it, unfathomable, since there is nothing before it to
immeasurable, since there was nothing before it to measure it,
invisible, since nothing has seen it,
eternal, since it exists eternally,
unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it,
unnamable, since there is nothing before it to give it a name.
The One is the immeasurable light, pure, holy, immaculate.
The One is unutterable and is perfect in incorruptibility. Not
that it is part of perfection or blessedness or divinity: it is
The One is not corporeal and is not incorporeal.
The One is not large and is not small.
It is impossible to say,
"How much is it?
What kind is it?
For no one can understand it. [A footnote adds "The One is
beyond finite categories."]
The One is not among the things that exist, but it is much
greater. Not that it is greater. [A footnote adds "The text
suggests that since no finite categories are appropriate to
describe the infinite One, not even the term "greater" is
appropriate, since it implies a comparison among finite
entities."] Rather, as it is in itself, it is not a part of the
eternal realms or of time. For whatever is part of a realm
was once prepared by another. Time was not allotted to
it, since it receives nothing from anyone: what would be
received would be on loan. The one who is first does not
need to receive anything from another. Such a one
beholds itself in its light.;
The One is majestic and has an immeasurable purity.
The One is a realm that gives a realm, life that gives life,
a blessed one that gives blessedness, knowledge that gives
knowledge, a good one that gives goodness, mercy that
gives mercy and redemption, grace that gives grace.
Not as if the One possesses all this. Rather, it is that the
One gives immeasurable and incomprehensible light.
What shall I tell you about it? Its eternal realm is
incorruptible, at peace, dwelling in silence, at rest, before
everything. [ A footnote adds "The One, finally, is known
in ineffable silence. The divine silence is a common
theme in mystical traditions."]
It is the head of all realms, and it sustains them through its
We would not know what is ineffable, we would not
understand what is immeasurable, were it not for what has
come from the father. This is the one who has told these
things to us alone.
There is one more passage from the Gospel of Judas that reaches a level of inspiration and poetry. It is suitable for concluding this newsletter. One may also wish to compare what Jesus says below about "your star" to what William Q Judge says about the ribs of the Allegorical Umbrella at www.blavatsky.net/theosophy/judge/articles/allegorical-umbrella.htm - unlikely though such a comparison of metaphors might seem at first.
The ribs [ of the umbrella ] are the Rishees, or Adepts, or Mahatmas; the
Elder Brothers of the race. The handle is in every man's hand. And
although each man is, or is to be, connected with some particular one of
those Adepts, he can also receive the influence from the true centre
coming down through the handle.
Jesus says to Judas:
Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and
the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.
TWO THEOSOPHICAL CONFERENCES
August 11-13, 2006 Annual Theosophical conference in Harrison Park California.
Friday Theosophy and the Internet.
Why Theosophy is Needed In the World Today - Myrra Lee
Saturday Patanjali Yoga Aphorisms - Gene Jennings M.D.
ID of the Gods: The Missing Link Between Creation & Evolution - David Roef Ph.D.
Sunday Modern Science Meets the Secret Doctrine - Science Editor of Blavatsky Net
Blavatsky's Key to The Da Vini Code - Garrett Riegg Attorney at Law
more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
October 13-15, 2006 Taking the Quantum Leap: Connecting Science & Spirituality in Scottsdale, Arizona
Ravi Ravindra, Patricia Monaghan, Amit Goswami, Harold Moses and more.
Early Bird registration by August 10 is less expensive.
more info: www.theosophical.org/conference/southwest/
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