Gospel of Judas TV Documentary Sells Gnosticism to the Public
National Geographic aired its long-awaited documentary Sunday night about the discovery, restoration, and translation of a Gnostic manuscript found in 1970, the Gospel of Judas (see next entry). The trailers had titillated audiences that this was an explosive document that would call our deepest beliefs into question. The content of the documentary clearly gave better press to Gnostic beliefs over those of traditional Christian theology.
What a travesty. Sweep away the acting, religious rituals, special effects, haunting music, breathy narrator, cloak-and-dagger detective story about how the manuscript was found and restored, the suspenseful build-up to the reading of the text, and all the other irrelevant Hollywood tricks, and what is left? Only the opinions of a few apostate professors. There was virtually no serious investigation of whether the Gospel of Judas is authentic or trustworthy. Yet that is the most important point, the only point that matters. They call it “an authentic ancient text” (a classic half truth, since, in terms of the papyrus it is written on, dating from the 3rd or 4th century, it is), but fail to establish that the content has anything whatsoever to do with the real Judas, or with real historical events.
If the Gospel of Judas is a work of a second-century Gnostic sect falsely attributed to Judas, then that is all that needs to be said about it. It would be of interest to historians, but not enough to cause any stir Sunday morning at church. But no– they have to repeatedly imply that the Gospel of Judas is on par with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Rather than consider the possibility that it might be completely fictional and unreliable, they imply that this “lost gospel” written by “early Christians” that can “shed new light” and provide another viewpoint on the events of the passion of Christ that is equally plausible. They put heretical sects on the same level as the faith preached by Peter and Paul. They make the illogical claim that it is possible to believe the four canonical gospels and the Gospel of Judas simultaneously, even when there are gross contradictions. At best, they imply that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about this document; at worst, they promote, in effect, starting a new First Church of Judas-Adoring Gnostics.
The only redeeming feature of the hour-long farce are reenactments of the martyrs. Christians should stiffen with both revulsion for the brutality of the Romans, and pride for the steadfast confidence and hope in Christ of those who were beaten, burned and crucified for the faith. But to suggest that one man, Irenaeus, under a desire to make Christianity more palatable to the Romans, was responsible for arbitrarily deciding which of the “gospels” were in or out, is both illogical and historically inaccurate. Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and a host of other apostolic fathers in the theological line of descent from Peter and Paul and John held essentially the same positions. Note what Dr. Clinton E. Arnold of Biola University says:
Neither Irenaeus nor any church leader arbitrarily selected which books would become part of the New Testament. From the moment that the gospels were first written, they were circulated throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond and used in the churches for teaching, worship, and devotion. Lists of New Testament writings were later drawn up by some church fathers and early church councils to recognize and formalize what Christians were using in churches throughout the world. The formal recognition became essential because some groups were wanting to add to the New Testament and other people (like Marcion) were wanting to subtract from what was widely used and recognized as authoritative.
National Geographic’s mockumentary also completely ignores the statements of the first Christians recorded by Luke (a careful historian) in the book of Acts about Judas, and the well-authenticated 1st-century epistles of the Apostle Paul, that so clearly define Christology and soteriology, that any Gnostic position or any “other gospel” (i.e., inconsistent with that doctrine) is to be utterly and completely repudiated (see Galatians 1, for example).
The whole NG production is geared to make the historic position look vulnerable, and the radical position brave and enticing. Conservative scholars are quoted for just a few seconds only to dismiss them, so that the spotlight can be given to liberals like Elaine Pagels eager to substitute imagination for fact (the whole show is basically a decorated pulpit for Pagels and her anti-traditional views). Imagination – speculation – the power of suggestion – iconoclasm – these are the highest values of this perverted documentary. Did they take lessons from Art Bell and the face-on-Mars cults?
It gets worse. Not only is balanced scholarship utterly lacking, the program turns into a glorification of Gnosticism – “the people who know,” the people of insight, intuition and “the spark of the divine inside.” Such beliefs, of course, are pole-opposite from both Judaism and Christianity. Repudiating the history revealed in the oldest and best sources—the New Testament canon—the message of this anti-Christian polemic relies on a translation of a text from an unknown date by an unknown author from a weird cult, and on selective, agenda-driven, between-the-lines readings of New Testament passages that conservative scholars would find bizarre. It makes Judas into a saint. It suggests that Jesus Christ was a manipulator. It suggests his followers, many of whom endured torture and died martyrs’ deaths, were power-hungry book-burners holding sway over the minds of the common people. It questions the authenticity of the real gospels, without providing conservative scholars any chance to refute the claims of the liberals with archaeological, historical and textual evidence. The discoverer of the lost document is allowed to say, without scorn, she believes Judas is speaking to her, inspiring her to rehabilitate his image. It even went so far as to suggest that the New Testament is inherently anti-Semitic and contributed to the Nazi holocaust! What a slap in the face to millions of Christians, and on Palm Sunday even! How can such folly be tolerated? What has become of National Geographic?
It must be from too much hanging around the Darwin Party storytelling lounges (12/22/2003).
These are times of both danger and opportunity for Christians. Danger, because the Darwin Party, liberal theologians, the media and political liberals are all attacking conservative Christianity with an intensity unparalleled in American history. If it were scholarly debate about facts and history, it would be worthwhile; but they are attacking with big lies, half-truths, suggestion, selective authority, and other irrational methods of propaganda. In another month, the phony history of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code will send the next salvo. It is a time of opportunity for Christians, because more and more people will have questions about these things. Better engagement than apathy. Christians who know their history and theology can rise to the occasion and become stronger in the process. The fields are white unto harvest, and Christ will be glorified – if the church is not caught asleep. The martyrs did not sacrifice for our lethargy.