Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Snap: Stanley Porter and Gordon Heath's "The Lost Gospel of Judas"

Reprinted from Vol. 1, #1 E-Block

The Gospel of Judas (GoJ) isn't quite the news item it used to be, but for those still in the need to know, Stanley Porter and Gordon Heath have done a good job of collating the relevant information. This work is exceptionally readable, though it does have that tendency of "issues" books these days to pad itself with extraneous information that you may have seen before in other books. Still, don't let that hold you off getting it if the GoJ is of interest to you.

  • In the Introduction, Porter and Heath explain why they consider this book necessary, they say, because of the many sensationalist claims being made about GoJ in the media. Their concern is warranted, since far too many people take the media's report as the last word on a subject. Sadly, such people probably won't read this book either; but at least we can be ready to answer them when they "spread the word" that GoJ is the latest and greatest document that will destroy Christianity. They also briefly review prior books on GoJ.
  • Chapter 1 reviews the data offered about Judas in the NT and in early church history.
  • Chapter 2 is a brief introduction to Gnosticism, the system which begat GoJ. It discusses why Gnosticism was viewed as a threat by the early church, and how widespread the movement was.
  • Chapter 3 discusses mentions of GoJ by church writers (there are just two, by Irenaeus [c. 185 AD] and Epiphanius [c. 375 AD], both negative) and of the people who probably wrote it (a Gnostic group called the Cainites). There's also a section on why GoJ disappeared (basically, not because we burned all the copies, but because no one was interested in making new copies).
  • Chapter 4 is what seems to be a superfluous chapter on other finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
  • Chapter 5 is an overview of the contents of GoJ. It is mostly narrative description; one wishes that Porter and Heath had included a few more direct quotes, which are helpful in reflecting to modern readers the comparably alien nature (compared to orthodoxy) of GoJ.
  • Chapter 6 discusses whether or not GoJ is a modern forgery (it isn't).
  • Chapter 7 is about the production of "rehabilitation literature" by Gnostics, who sometimes chose obscure NT figures as putative authors, especially those like Thomas who had done something not particularly bright!
  • Chapter 8 is a very helpful catalog of 13 places where GoJ is dependent on the canonical Gospels, which in turn shows it to be a later source than the Gospels.
  • Chapter 9 addresses the idea that "history was written by winners" with particular focus on Ehrman's Lost Christianities. Though good, this chapter probably was unnecessary; the reader would be better served by Jenkins' Hidden Gospels.

Despite a couple of chapters of padding, this effort by Porter and Heath is a commendable one, and if you need information of GoJ, this is a good one to pick up.

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