Where the Gospel of Judas bottles out
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
I WAS a virgin until now, but in the end you have to succumb. I have just
bought a copy of National Geographic.
I last saw it when I was aged about 11. I remember covers featuring thin
black children by straw huts or tall dignified tribesmen in desert lands. Good
photos. But for a small, fat white boy whose heroes were George Best, Benny
Hill, and a cartoon character in The Beano named Walter Hottle-Bottle,
they were less than compelling.
(For those too young to remember, Walter Hottle-Bottle was a hot-water
bottle who had top adventures — which, on reflection, was no mean achievement
by the writers.)
But being younger now, and therefore more curious about the world, I bought
a copy this month, and read all about the recently revealed Gospel of Judas —
in which, as you will know, Judas turns out the hero. As Jesus says to him:
“You will exceed them all. For you will sacrifice the man who clothes me.”
And here is the heart of the historical twist proposed in this Coptic
document, known by Irenaeus in the second century, but reaching its present
form in fourth-century Egypt: Judas is the only one who understands Jesus. As a
sign of this status, he is given the task of betraying him so that Jesus will
be freed from his body — a truly Gnostic passion.
Jesus warned Judas that he would be cursed by all. But the loyalty of Judas
knew no bounds.
By the time the manuscript was bought by its present owner in 2000, it had
been on grubby and surreptitious sale for 20 years, deteriorating daily, amid
adventures that even Walter Hottle-Bottle might lose sleep over. At one point,
it lay in a thousand pieces “scattered like crumbs”. Now, 80 per cent of the
Gospel has been restored, and it will soon be published in full.
There will be frustrations for the reader. Towards the end of the story,
Judas has a revelation in which he enters a luminous cloud. Wow! And then the
people on the ground hear a voice from the cloud. Wow, again! What does the
voice say? Unfortunately, there’s a rip in the page at this point.
George Best would have finished with a goal. Benny Hill would end with
fast-mo footage of him being chased across a field by 20 scantily-clad nurses.
While Walter Hottle-Bottle could be found snug-down in dreamland after making
all manner of things well.
The Gospel of Judas ends abruptly as our hero receives some money, and hands
Jesus over to the arresting party.
Betrayal? Dear me, no. In this version, the scapegoat turns out the faithful