The Gospel Of Judas And The Qarara Codices -- By: Peter M. Head

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:1 (NA 2007)
Article: The Gospel Of Judas And The Qarara Codices
Author: Peter M. Head

The Gospel Of Judas And The Qarara Codices

Some Preliminary Observations

Peter M. Head


The recent publication of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas has raised a number of questions about the nature, history, date and importance of this ancient gospel. By paying close attention to the context of the find, the other literature within the same codex, and the question of the date, both for the Coptic codex and the original composition, this article helps locate the Gospel of Judas into its proper historical and theological context of the mid-to-late second century.

1. Introduction

The Gospel of Judas, although probably originally composed in Greek, is extant only in a Coptic translation, discovered in the 1970s and recently published to considerable fanfare and publicity in April 2006.1

The publicity was, predictably enough, of the ‘controversial Gospel suppressed by the early church challenges traditional teachings’ type, with equally predictable responses from representatives of those ‘traditional teachings’.2 The point of the publicity was equally predictable: money. In a strange quirk of history the publication of the text mirrored in various ways the history of the manuscript itself: the codex in question was physically damaged in a marketing quest for substantial sums of money; now, in the marketing of the published form of the text, our understanding of the document has been damaged due to the deliberate sensationalising of the marketable product.3

In view of the publicity this manuscript has generated, and the potential importance of the find for our understanding of early Christianity, it is all the more important to take our time to investigate the manuscript closely to see what can be learned from it – even though this can only be in a preliminary manner since the promised scholarly publication has not yet been forthcoming and the information available is quite incomplete (we do not have access to the manuscript itself or even to complete photographs).4 I am not going to bother disputing with every outlandish opinion I have ever heard about the Gospel of Judas. I am, however, going to make several points that I have not heard being made about this manuscript. My guiding principle, in this as in other explorations, will be F. J. A. Hort’s observation in a related discipline, that ‘knowledge of documents should precede final

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