04/13/2006, 00.00
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Gospel of Judas interesting for history, not theology

by Qaiser Felix
Pakistani prelates describe the apocryphal text as just another stunt by Western, secular media interested only in making money with sensationalism. Card Albert Vanhoye explains that the document was elaborated by a Gnostic sect.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Gospel of Judas "is considered apocryphal by the Church, which neither recognises nor is inspired by documents of this kind. The finding may be of historical interest; it certainly does not have any theological value," Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, told AsiaNews in commenting the recent release of a document some historians dubbed 'The Gospel of Judas'.

"There is no need to respond to this text. We are capable of educating our people through our own media," he added.

"The problem is that almost on a regular basis 'discoveries' of this type are made which Western media tend to exaggerate," said Mgr Evaristo Pinto, archbishop of Karachi."

According to the National Geographic programme aired on April 9, the 'Gospel of Judas' is a papyrus manuscript that was uncovered in Egypt in the early seventies. It is written in Coptic and is apparently a translation of a Greek text written between 130 and 180 A.D. The original text was lost but is mentioned by St Irenaeus in his condemnation of Gnostic heresies. The manuscript was radiocarbon dated to between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

"This text gives Western historians no right to discredit the canonical Gospels, which are the inspiration of the Church. The programme broadcast was very confusing and misleading for listeners, especially in using words such as 'research', 'authentic', 'true' and so on. How will the people of other religions take such statements?" said Archbishop Pinto. "Western scholars who do not believe make statements freely; but was the Gospel of Judas ever read in the liturgy of the Church or has it ever been quoted by any of the Fathers of the Church?"

"The only thing that should interest us in this kind of research is that the ancient documents give us a picture of the religious situation of the times, be it Gnosticism or some other current of thought," Archbishop Pinto added. "But Western secular media and writers are without any sensitivity to the sentiments of Catholics. Their only aim is to make tonnes of money by sensationalism."

The document may be of interest to historians, but not to theologians, Card Albert Vanhoye told Catholic World News. The Jesuit Scripture scholar, who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in his first consistory, said that although the document recently released in the US is new, other texts of a similar kind have been discovered in the past.

"The text of the 'Gospel of Judas' [. . .] is a product of the Gnostic sect, [which] arose at the end of the 1st century, and became widespread by the end of the 2nd century," the cardinal noted. "What is new about the 'Gospel of Judas' is the effort to rehabilitate the reputation of the apostle who betrayed Jesus."

That rehabilitation, "based on the dualistic doctrines of Gnosticism" [which] rejected the idea that God could become incarnate, since their teachings argued that "the body is an impediment or obstacle for the soul. According to this way of thinking, Judas helped Jesus to escape from his body by betraying Him, since through death Christ escaped from the confines of his body. But "those theories", he noted, were "purely intellectual speculations, with no relationship to concrete life. The Gnostic heresy was thoroughly condemned by St Irenaeus in the 2nd century. Gnostic beliefs," he said, are "completely foreign to the [Catholic] faith."

While the discovery of an ancient document is interesting to historical purposes, "it is not of any real interest for our lives." Still, he conceded that some readers will probably be excited by this kind of document, "just as many have been caught up in the excitement of The DaVinci Code" because they elaborate fanciful theories that dispute the teachings of the Church.

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