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"Gospel of Judas" is "a thing of the past," cardinal says

Apr. 11, 2006 (CWNews.com) - The "Gospel of Judas," released last week by the National Geographic Society, may be of interest to historians, but not to theologians, according to Cardinal Albert Vanhoye.

The Jesuit Scripture scholar, who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) in March, discussed the newly published document in an interview with the I Media news agency. He remarked that although the document recently released in the US is new, other texts of a similar kind have been discovered in the past.

The text of the "Gospel of Judas," which can be reliably traced back at least to the 4th century, is a product of the Gnostic sect, the French cardinal noted. The Gnostic movement arose at the end of the 1st century, and became widespread by the end of the 2nd century, he said. What is new about the "Gospel of Judas," the cardinal said, is the effort to rehabilitate the reputation of the apostle who betrayed Jesus. That rehabilitation, "based on the dualistic doctrines of Gnosticism," was in effect an argument that other Gospel accounts were mistaken. Gnostics rejected the idea that God could become incarnate, since their teachings argued that the body is an impediment or obstacle for the soul. According to this way of thinking, Judas helped Jesus to escape from his body by betraying Him, since through death Christ escaped from the confines of his body.

Cardinal Vanhoye said that the newly published document is interesting insofar as it testifies to the spread of Gnostic theories. But those theories, he noted, were "purely intellectual speculations, with no relationship to concrete life." The cardinal added that the Gnostic heresy was thoroughly condemned by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century. Gnostic beliefs, he said, are "completely foreign to the faith." Today, however, the "Gospel of Judas" should clearly be recognized as "a thing of the past," said the former secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. While the discovery of an ancient document is interesting to historical purposes, "it is not of any real interest for our lives." Cardinal Vanhoye conceded that some readers will probably be excited by the "Gospel of Judas," just as many have been caught up in the excitement of The DaVinci Code. Elaborate new theories that dispute the teachings of the Church always exercise a special fascination on some readers, he said; in some circles those theories-- no matter how labored-- are "always preferred to the traditional doctrine of the Church."

The "Gospel of Judas" is a manuscript on papyrus, discovered in cave in remote Egypt in the 1970s. The manuscript dates from the early 4th or late 3rd century. The text is in Coptic, apparently a translation of an original Greek text which was composed between 130 and 180. That Greek text has been lost, but it was mentioned by St. Irenaeus in his condemnation of Gnostic heresies.

 

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