About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Did Jesus commit assisted suicide?
This is a big deal, folks. It’s one of the most important archaeological findings related to the early history of Christianity, and one that will (or rather, should) change views about Jesus and his thought. The new gospel was actually unearthed in Egypt back in the 1970’s, but was turned over for study only recently. Let’s get one thing straight immediately: the experts that have examined the manuscript have absolutely no doubts about its authenticity. It is in Coptic, probably written around the year 300, but it is a translation of an original Greek that goes back to the early second century (the gospel is referred to by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, in 180). That makes it only slightly older than some of the “canonical” gospels (none of which was probably written by an actual apostle).
The Gospel of Judas is also not the only manuscript emerged recently that challenges standard views of Jesus and his disciples. Just think of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene found also in Egypt in 1945, and you have plenty of material for sequels to The da Vinci Code.
What’s interesting – though it had been hypothesized by scholars before – is the new character that Judas takes on in the gospel by his name. In a radical departure from the role of the quintessential traitor, the gospel claims that Jesus asked Judas to betray him to the Romans, to “sacrifice the man that clothes me [Jesus],” thereby helping to unfold God’s plan (indeed, plenty of scholars had already considered the so-called “theory of the good Judas,” since God surely must have known what would have happened to Jesus and planned accordingly).
What the comments I have read so far have missed, though, it seems to me, is that if Jesus actually asked Judas to betray him in order to be crucified, escape his physical body, and liberate his spiritual self, doesn’t that mean that – in effect – Jesus committed assisted suicide? Wow, the theological consequences are staggering...