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Lost Gospel shows Judas innocent of treachery

IS JUDAS Iscariot no longer to be cursed as the world's most reviled traitor? A new gospel, made public on Thursday in Washington by the National Geographic Society, says no.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2006 11:54 IST

IS JUDAS Iscariot no longer to be cursed as the world's most reviled traitor? A new gospel, made public on Thursday in Washington by the National Geographic Society, says no.

The sensational finding oversets the tale told by the four books of the New Testament: the Gospels of four of Jesus's chosen 12 disciples, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Going by their story, Jesus posed a threat to the established Jewish clergy, which convinced the Roman rulers of the Semitic regions that his growing following was a political and law-and-order threat.

Roman soldiers were sent to find and arrest Jesus. The man who identified Jesus to them, with the prearranged signal of a kiss, was one of his own disciples, Judas of Kerioth or Judas Iscariot (Mark 14.10, 43; John.18.2). For this collaboration, he was paid 30 pieces of silver. After Jesus was tortured and crucified like a common thief, Judas committed suicide (Matthew 27.3-5).

But the 20th century, which saw more changes than any other period, openly explored the phenomenon of Judas. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions said bluntly of Judas's betrayal in its 1997 edition, "His motive is obscure."

Now, in a fascinating piece of documentary detection, comes the Gospel of Judas that says it was all a set-up - by Jesus! That Jesus asked Judas to identify him to the Romans, to liberate his spirit from his physical body (and complete his earthly mission of sacrificing himself for humanity, as the Son of God, which is the basis of Christian belief).

The Gospel of Judas, author unknown, is a 26-page manuscript called a codex, written on both sides of 13 sheets of papyrus. Its existence was first mentioned at around 180 BCE in a treatise by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (now in France, then a town in Roman Gaul), in which he denounces it as heresy.

The Gospel of Judas is supposed to have been copied in ancient Coptic (an Egyptian language, associated with the sect called Coptic Christians) from an original Greek text, at around 300 BCE. The codex was discovered at around 1970 in the
Egyptian desert at El Minya.

It was passed along by antiquities' traders to Europe and then to the US, where it lay in a safe-deposit box in a Long Island bank for 16 years. A Zurich-based antiquities dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos, bought it in 2000 and unable to sell it, handed it over for preservation and translation to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, Basel.

A team of nine experts, led by Coptic scholar Rodolphe Kasser, worked on the tattered papyrus. The National Geographic Society and the California-based Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery funded the project in exchange for publication rights.

The leading biblical scholar and translator of the Dead Sea scrolls, Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford University, told The Guardian: "The document is of interest for the ideas of the gnostics but it almost certainly adds nothing to our understanding of what happened 150 years before it was written." The discovery comes a week before Easter, in the wake of the enormous success of The Da Vinci Code, and is bound to lead to intense discussion in the Christian church.

After 1,700 years, the world gets to hear more words by Jesus, and that too, telling Judas, "…you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me", (meaning, rid Christ's spirit of its material cage).

First Published: Apr 08, 2006 11:54 IST