Judas & the Da Vinci Code

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A Gospel in the Gospel of Judas?

Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Th.D.


 
Casting Judas not as a culpable betrayer, but as an intimate friend and collaborator of Jesus, the recently announced Gospel of Judas has understandably generated a stir. However, what the ancient document says about Jesus is even more controversial. According to this “Gospel,” Jesus was a bearer of a deep secret that apparently he revealed to no other disciple except Judas; and then got his help to die that his spirit may be released to some heavenly realm. Recruited for this purpose, Judas then “betrays” the Master as an act of intimate friendship. This is heady stuff. Does the Gospel of Judas cast doubts on the accounts of the four traditional Gospels and, implicitly, on all early Christianity?

The fact that the Gospel of Judas has been authenticated as belonging to the third century, the original written about a century earlier, does not of course mean what it says is true. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180 AD) knew about it and denounced it as heresy. Many other Church Fathers and theologians have, before and after Irenaeus, refuted the same kind of thinking found in dozens of similar documents which distorted the apostolic faith. Scholars have called that religious ideology Gnosticism, a phenomenon that flourished mainly in the second century and created serious problems for the Church. Since the late 1940’s, when a slew of them were found buried in the dry sands of Egypt, scholars have been able to study these document first hand. In the National Geographic documentary featuring the Gospel of Judas, biblical scholar Craig Evans, near the end of the film, bluntly stated that nothing new and nothing historically authentic is to be found in the document. Although the documentary leaned to the opposite view, most scholars will probably agree with Evans. The Gospel of Judas is but another small window to Gnosticism, a hodgepodge of religious speculations that exploded on the scene during the second century. At that time, individual intellectuals or small and elitist groups around them, bothered by the basic story of the Bible, especially the “violent” God of the Old Testament and the “scandalous” death and resurrection of Jesus, generated their own religious philosophy. They combined Jewish, Christian and pagan elements to construct literally fantastic systems of speculation including astrology and magic. The core theme, found in the Gospel of Judas, is secret knowledge (gnosis) that leads to salvation.

What was that secret knowledge about? It was essentially about the Gnostic system itself that roughly runs as follows: A higher god, infinitely superior to the God of the Old Testament, sends periodic illuminators to earth with a secret message to draw back to heaven the inner divine sparks of receptive human beings hopelessly caught in utter darkness. According to this worldview, the Old Testament God is an inferior and ignorant God, responsible for creating the lowest sphere of existence, the earth, where all the evil of the cosmos had dredged. Material things, including human bodies, if not evil, are the seat of evil, and to be escaped from. So in Gnostic thinking the eternal Christ, who was the son of the higher god and not the Son of the God of the Old Testament, could not truly have taken human flesh. Instead, he temporarily entered into Jesus at his baptism and later, at some point during his arrest and suffering, left the material body and returned to the sphere of light.

In the Gnostic system, the saving death and resurrection of Christ play no role and they are usually entirely omitted. The one killed is not the Son of God, but only the human Jesus, whose body presumably decayed to dust. What is decisive for the Gnostic view is not the person of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen, but the Gnostic “gospel” itself, that is, the message of the secret Gnostic system. This system was thought to provide the key to a kind of self-salvation through self-knowledge and self-realization in the discovery of the inner divine self.

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Embracing the Mystery Behind the Cross and Scrapping the Da Vinci Code
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
 
There is a book that has captured the world’s attention called, The Da Vinci Code. This book is a work of fiction, but many are arguing that it is based on certain secrets that have been suppressed for centuries by the Catholic Church. Two of the most provocative claims this book makes is that Jesus was clandestinely married to Mary Magdalene and that they had children. Of course, for anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Holy Tradition, these and other similar claims and assumptions are utterly baseless, and are quickly rendered fictitious when compared to what Holy Tradition teaches. Yet, the fact remains that these fabrications have captured the curiosity of countless people, as is witnessed by the 45 million copies of this book - and counting – that have been sold world wide in numerous languages.

As a pastor, therapist and marriage and family specialist, I find the interest this book has generated lamentable. A major reason is because I know that if people were to take the time and energy they invest in understanding the details behind The Da Vinci Code, and put half the amount of time and effort into understanding Christ’s story, their lives, and the lives of their families would reap positive rewards. 

Marriage and Family Life is Suffering

The fact is family life is reeling with serious challenges today. The divorce rate remains frighteningly high – somewhere around 40%. Birth rates among teens continue to hover around the one million mark annually. Teen violence continues to grow, and suicide among teens claims far too many young lives. In addition, the “one flesh” definition of marriage that has undergirded the institution of marriage from our country’s inception is now being called into question. Then again, fatherhood is also seriously undervalued, as are a child’s links to his or her biological parents. These trends are only the tip of the iceberg. So, here is my question. Given these and other similar trends, why is it that The Da Vinci Code is a best seller, and valued information that can make a difference in people’s lives is often ignored, discredited, misunderstood or challenged? I really do not have the space to address myself to this question in this short article, but what I can say is that controversy related to Christ sells, especially in a society that is increasingly secular and antagonistic toward anything related to Christianity. And while none of us would quibble with the fact that the free exchange of ideas has value, the fact remains that we can be easily distracted in this market place of ideas from certain information that might otherwise be useful. One good example is related to how many Christians this Paschal season have been distracted by details related to The Da Vinci Code to the detriment of their efforts to embrace the message behind the Holy Cross.

What is Missed?

I suspect that people who have been distracted by The Da Vinci Code have lost sight of the blessed, good news that Christ died and resurrected some two thousand years ago. Good news that has transformative value for us; good news that provides us with purpose and meaning and significance; good news that can lift us out of the quagmire of spiritual darkness and guide us into God’s light and life; good news that helps us cultivate a relationship with God our Father; good news that comforts us “with peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).  For as St. John Chrysostom states in one of his catechetical homilies read at the Resurrection Service, “Christ is risen and life is liberated. Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead; for Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of those who fall asleep.”

Some Questions to Ponder

If these observations resonate with you personally, I would like to ask you to consider the following few questions. Which story has impacted your life this Paschal season? Which of these two stories captured your attention? Which story do you know better? When compared to the time you spent considering The Da Vinci Code, how much time did you spend contemplating the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior?

Your Priorities

I have asked you to consider these questions because the story that has come down to us through Holy Tradition surrounding the Holy Cross and our Lord’s three day burial and Resurrection, is transformative in nature and can make a difference in your life. Conversely, the story behind The Da Vinci Code, however masterfully crafted, may have entertainment value, but has little lasting, redeeming value. Through an understanding of the story behind Christ’s Holy Cross, as protected through Holy Tradition, God comes into our lives, and we develop a personal relationship with God which changes the way we see the world around us. Moreover, the blessed message behind this story not only has a direct, positive, transformative impact on us; it also has a blessed impact on our marriages, families and our efforts to parent our children. Mind you now, I am not suggesting that you abstain from reading fiction. What I am suggesting is that you use this recent craze which is sweeping our nation as an opportunity to assess your priorities. So, if The Da Vinci Code distracted you this Paschal season, and if you failed to spend ample time in prayer this Easter contemplating the real meaning of the Cross, do not despair. Christ accepts us at any time. Even now as you are completing this article, He is knocking at the door of your heart seeking entrance. If you let Him in, as Holy Scripture teaches, He will come into your heart, into your marriage and into your family and make a positive difference.

For the bottom line is this, what I have been alluding to in this article has something to do with priorities. What are yours?

Copyright:  Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT