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Judas was no traitor, says new Gospel

By Joseph Isa
April 07, 2006 13:36 IST
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The dictionary describes 'Judas' as a betrayer. For 2000 years and more, Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus Christ's 12 apostles who sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, has been condemned to infamy for this terrible act of betrayal.

The Gospels of the Bible's New Testament -- Matthew, Luke, Mark and John -- denounce Judas as a traitor. But through history, the question lingered: was there a Gospel of Judas too?

New evidence says, yes, there was, and according to it Judas was not the villain he has been made out to be.

According to the Gospel of Judas that was unveiled on Thursday at the National Georgraphic Society headquarters in Washington, DC, after being restored, authenticated and translated from the original ancient Coptic language, Judas was the chosen one among the 12 apostles, and that Jesus requested Judas to 'betray' him to the authorities for execution -- an act that pained the apostle immensely.

From early Christian times it had been rumoured that the Gospel of Judas did exist and, a new National Geographic Channel documentary says the mystery started to unravel almost 30 years ago.

According to the documentary, it began with a farmer in Egypt finding a codex in a cave. Written in ancient Coptic, the farmer who had no clue about his finding sold it to an antiques dealer and thus the text went about its way for five long years before scholars stumbled on to it.

The codex remained in a safe-deposit vault in New York till 2000 AD, when former antiquities dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos acquired it. After that, with funding from the National Geographic Society and two foundations, a team of scientists and scholars came together to determine the document's authenticity.

It was no easy task. For one, the 13 pages of papyrus was almost crumbling, and it was up to Swiss restorer Florence Darbre and her partner to fit the tiny pieces together.

Restoration done, next came the more difficult task, of proving its authenticity. For this, Stephen Emmel, Coptic studies professor at the University of Münster in Germany, and expert Rodolphe Kasser were roped in.

Emmel estimated that worldwide there were just four or five people who could create such a document, and that included himself and Kasser. 'Someone would have to know Coptic better than we do, and there isn't anybody who does,' he was quoted as saying.

With the experts giving the green signal, came the final step, carbon dating the document for which tiny pieces needed to be destroyed.

This done, the Gospel of Judas, written between the third and fourth centuries, was authenticated to be a copy of a document in Greek from the second century.

The question continues to be asked: can it be a fake? But experts on the Gnostic or secret gospels -- the Gospel of Mary, subject of Dan Brown's racy Da Vinci Code, is one of them -- are unanimous that such a codex cannot be faked, it is not worth anyone's while to do so, and way too difficult to do it.

Now that the Gospel of Judas is out, what is in it?

According to the documents, the betrayal of Jesus Christ is a secret mystery between him and Judas. A National Geographic statement says the key passage in the text comes when Jesus tells Judas '... you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me,' indicating that Judas, by helping Jesus get rid of his physical flesh, will help liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within.

Those looking for historical proof of what transpired 2000 years ago will find none in the Gospel of Judas -- but, then, it is not found in any of the other Gospels either, say experts. The question that remains unsaid is, does anything change for Christian theology in the light of the latest revelations?

The Gospel of Judas -- contrary to the title its authorship remains unknowns -- will eventually return to Egypt to be housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.

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Joseph Isa