Judas: The Definitive Collection of Gospels and Legends about the Infamous Apostle of Jesus


Judas Iscariot has been demonized as the quintessential traitor, the disciple who betrayed his master for the infamous thirty pieces of silver. But the recent sensational discovery and publication of the long lost Gospel of Judas, with its remarkable portrayal of Judas Iscariot as the disciple closest to Jesus, raises serious new questions. Was Judas the only member of the Twelve who truly understood Jesus? Did Jesus secretly collaborate with Judas to set in motion the series of events that would redeem all of ...

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Judas Iscariot has been demonized as the quintessential traitor, the disciple who betrayed his master for the infamous thirty pieces of silver. But the recent sensational discovery and publication of the long lost Gospel of Judas, with its remarkable portrayal of Judas Iscariot as the disciple closest to Jesus, raises serious new questions. Was Judas the only member of the Twelve who truly understood Jesus? Did Jesus secretly collaborate with Judas to set in motion the series of events that would redeem all of humankind? In search of answers, Marvin Meyer, one of the world's leading experts on the Gospel of Judas presents a collection of the earliest accounts of Judas, which together paint a fuller portrait of this most enigmatic disciple.

This book presents the essential texts that deal with the figure of Judas, including New Testament writings, Gnostic documents, and other early and later Christian literature. These are the earliest known testimonies about Judas and include selections from the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, and relevant passages from Paul. The centerpiece of the book is the Gospel of Judas, followed by excerpts from three other Gnostic texts—the Dialogue of the Savior, the Concept of Our Great Power, and the "Round Dance of the Cross"—which may shed new light on the figure of Judas. A series of additional writings on Judas produced over the centuries provide glimpses of the vilification of Judas and the emergence of anti-Semitic themes.

Meyer offers evidence of traitors before Judas—the Genesis story of Joseph's brothers who sold him into slavery, the duplicitous friend of the poet in Psalm 41, and Melanthius the goatherd in Homer's Odyssey—all of which raise the question of whether the story of Judas Iscariot could be simply a piece of religious fiction derived from earlier stories.

Judas provides a rich collection of original sources that tell the story of Christianity's most infamous figure, offering the fullest understanding of Judas Iscariot's undeniable importance in the climax of Jesus's life.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Interest in the Gospel of Judas was sparked in early 2006 with the National Geographic Society's preliminary translation of the newly discovered text, which appeared to show that Judas was Jesus's hero and friend, not his betrayer. Meyer (Chapman Univ.), a highly respected scholar of Gnosticism, presents yet another book on Judas. The advantages of this one include a fresh (if tentative) translation of the gospel, a comparison among conflicting references to Judas in the New Testament, references to traitors and the betrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures and other ancient texts, a long list of Gnostic texts mentioning Judas, and translations of other relevant documents. The bounty of material Meyer here excerpts-chiefly and in addition to the gospel, the Gnostic texts Dialogue of the Savior, The Concept of Our Great Power, and Round Dance of the Cross-shows readers that, indeed, early Christianity engaged a wide variety of ideas and stories. Recommended for all libraries.
—James A. Overbeck

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061348303
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/20/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,010,277
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Marvin Meyer is one of the foremost scholars on early Christianity and texts about Jesus outside the New Testament. He is Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. Among his recent books are The Gospel of Judas, The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus, The Gospels of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

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The Definitive Collection of Gospels and Legends About the Infamous Apostle of Jesus

Chapter One

Judas in the New Testament

That Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to be crucified toward the end of his short but eventful life is proclaimed by Paul and the authors of all the New Testament gospels, but with a variety of emphases. They also offer differing assessments of who actually handed Jesus over, and, if Judas Iscariot is thought to have done so, what the precise role of Judas might have been. Paul of Tarsus is the earliest author represented in the New Testament; he penned his letters to churches around the middle of the first CEntury CE. The New Testament gospels were written some time thereafter: Mark was composed around the year 70 CE and the gospels of Matthew and Luke a decade or two after Mark. It is generally assumed that the gospels of Matthew and Luke made use of a version of the Gospel of Mark as one of their literary sourCEs along with the Sayings Gospel Q, a text that contained a series of sayings of Jesus with limited narrative. The Gospel of John was written about 90 CE, and although it differs considerably from the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, all four gospels share a CEntral interest in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and its significanCE, and all four gospels plaCE the figure of Judas Iscariot in the middle of that story.

Paul proclaims in his letters that Jesus was handed over or delivered over to hisdeath by crucifixion, but he never mentions Judas Iscariot in connection with the handing over of Jesus. In fact, he never mentions Judas Iscariot at all. The Greek term used by Paul to describe the act of handing Jesus over to be crucified is paradidonai, the same verb employed in the New Testament gospels for the act of Judas. Traditionally that Greek verb has been translated as the English verb "betray" when used in connection with the act of Judas, but the Greek verb typically has a much more neutral—or even positive—meaning than the word "betray" connotes. Paul uses that very verb, paradidonai, in the context of the preaching of the gospel to the people of Corinth when he writes, "I reCEived from the Lord what I also handed over (paredôka) to you" (1 Corinthians 11:23; cf. also 15:3). In the same verse in 1 Corinthians 11, when Paul discusses the content of his proclamation, he declares that Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples "on the night when he was handed over," and he makes use of the same Greek verb (paredideto). In this passage Paul observes that Jesus was handed over, but he does not indicate who did the handing over or what the act of handing over entailed. Elsewhere in his letters, Paul clarifies who, in his opinion, was responsible for handing Jesus over to be crucified: either Jesus handed himself over (Galatians 2:19-20) or God handed Jesus over (Romans 8:31-32).

In any case, there is no explicit thought in the letters of Paul that Judas Iscariot handed over or betrayed Jesus. When Paul refers to the Twelve in 1 Corinthians 15:5, he does so with no qualification and with no suggestion that one of the Twelve, Judas, may have been out of the circle of the Twelve or replaCEd by another (-Matthias) to restore the number of the Twelve. If the risen Christ, according to Paul, appeared to the Twelve after the resurrection, does that mean that Paul presumes that none of the Twelve—not even Judas—was missing at the time of the appearanCE?

In the New Testament gospels, however, the authors are convinCEd that Judas Iscariot (the son of Simon Iscariot, according to the Gospel of John) was one of the Twelve, the inner circle of followers around Jesus, and that Judas himself was involved in handing Jesus over to the authorities. The specification of twelve men who constitute a special cadre of disciples or apostles is based on the belief that the church is a new Israel, with twelve apostolic founders comparable to the twelve sons of Jacob and twelve tribes of Israel. In my opinion, it is unlikely that this conCEpt goes back to the historical Jesus and the men and women gathered around the historical Jesus. I believe it is much more likely that there were both men and women in the inner circle of supporters with Jesus, and whether there were ten, twelve, fourteen, or twenty such disciples at a given time remains unCErtain. The New Testament gospel authors and other early Christian writers after them are convinCEd that there were twelve and that they were all male—though they are not as CErtain about exactly which men constitute the Twelve. Nonetheless, the New Testament gospel authors all include Judas Iscariot in the list, but the mention of Judas the son of James in the list in Luke (6:16) and Acts (1:13) and the omission of Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus) leaves two disciples named Judas among the Twelve.

As noted above, the authors who composed the New Testament gospel accounts are unanimous in their claims that Judas Iscariot is the one who handed Jesus over or, as becomes more emphatic with the passage of time and the increase in hostility against Judas and Jewish people, the one who betrayed Jesus. Still, a careful reading of the New Testament accounts makes it clear, in spite of the beginning of the demonization of Judas already apparent in the New Testament gospels—especially the later gospels—that there seem to be subtle suggestions that Judas may have been a good Jew and a valued disciple of Jesus who was devoted to his master and close to him. If he handed Jesus over to the authorities, what was the intent? William Klassen's perspective may be instructive in this regard. In the conclusion to Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? he writes:

The early sourCEs do tell us that Judas "handed Jesus over" to the high priest, but that act came as no surprise to Jesus. Indeed, it is never described by him in any of the sourCEs as a betrayal. When words like treason, intrigue, deCEit, greed, avariCE, disillusionment, villainy, failure, and iniquity are used to describe the actions or person of Judas, we look in vain for New Testament texts for support. Above all, the relations between Judas and Jesus seem to have been warm and friendly.1

The Definitive Collection of Gospels and Legends About the Infamous Apostle of Jesus
. Copyright © by Marvin Meyer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Vilification and Redemption of a Disciple of Jesus     1
Judas in the New Testament     27
The Gospel of Judas     45
Judas in the Dialogue of the Savior     67
The Follower Without a Name in the Concept of Our Great Power     87
The Traitor in the "Round Dance of the Cross"     101
Judas the Diabolical in Other Christian Texts     109
Traitors Before Judas     135
Notes     149
Selected Bibliography     173
Acknowledgments     181
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