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Why isn't the Gospel of Judas in my Bible?

The National Geographic Society's April release of the Gospel of Judas was covered on the evening news, in magazine reports and TV specials, and even on websites totally devoted to the 1,600-year-old manuscript. Part of the interest in this obscure "lost gospel" surely has its origin in the success of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's fictional thriller that revolves around "lost" religious texts and traditions allegedly covered up by a church conspiracy going back centuries.

Some people might be tempted to dismiss the Gospel of Judas and other unofficial or "non-canonical" gospels altogether precisely because they are not found in the Bible; others might be attracted to them, believing they indeed contain some long-suppressed secrets, as suggested by The Da Vinci Code. While from a Catholic perspective these texts are not considered divinely inspired, they are still of great interest to biblical scholars and believers alike.

Known for centuries, these "gospels" are the works of unknown authors, mostly from Syria and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) writing in the first two centuries after Christ. Attributing their gospels to authoritative figures such as Mary, Peter, James, Philip, Bartholomew, and Nicodemus, these ancient authors attempted to develop and spread their own understanding of a still young and developing Christian faith.

Many of these works were greatly influenced by what is today called Gnosticism, a term encompassing complex and varied theological and philosophical systems that involved secret or special knowledge (gnosis in Greek). Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, and the Secret Gospel of Mark purported to give their readers unique information that would free the "spark of God" trapped in their essentially evil human bodies. For the ancient Gnostic Christians Jesus didn't so much save us from our sins as give us the knowledge that frees the divine within us. Many went so far as to deny the true humanity of Jesus.

It is not difficult to see why these ideas found opposition from those who promoted what would later become the official or "orthodox" theology of Christianity. The ferocious attacks of early Christian leaders against the Gnostics, as well as the limited appeal and questionable authorship of their writings, were some of the factors that led the ancient church to exclude their "gospels" from the Bible as early as the fourth century.

Despite being cut from the official list of scripture, some of the stories found in these texts about the pre-ministry life of Jesus, even about the lives of Mary and Joseph, eventually became part of Catholic tradition. The names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, and the miraculous blooming of Joseph's staff into lilies at his betrothal to Mary, for example, are both found in the non-canonical Gospel of James.

So while reading these ancient works might not be as captivating and intriguing as The Da Vinci Code, they can still be important sources that tell us about the origins of Christianity, the world in which it was born, and the development of Christian theology and doctrine.

Got a question? gya@uscatholic.org

By SANTIAGO CORTES-SJOBERG, bilingual associate editor of Claretian Publications' Hispanic Ministry Resource Center.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Claretian Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:glad you asked
Author:Cortes-Sjoberg, Santiago
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:524
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