The Lost Gospel
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Gospel of Judas Written

Prior to A.D. 180

The canonical Gospels contend that Judas betrayed Jesus to the soldiers in the Garden of Gesthamine.
The canonical Gospels contend that Judas betrayed Jesus to the soldiers in the Garden of Gesthamine.
Photograph of painting by Fra Angelico copyright Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico/Bridgeman Art Library

The Gospel of Judas predates the A.D. 180 publication of St. Irenaeus' Against Heresies. The Bishop of Lyon's influential volume sought to unify the Christian church by savaging alternative views and interpretations, referred to as "fictitious histor(ies)."

Irenaeus' targets included the Gospel of Judas and anyone who, because of this text, looked favorably on Jesus' betrayer. The Gospel is one of redemption for Christianity's greatest villain. It relates that Judas was the chosen disciple and a tragic hero selected by Jesus to betray him.

In this Gospel Judas is the only disciple to recognize Jesus' true nature as a divine being. The text describes how, as Jesus' final days unfold, he requests that Judas betray him, warning him, "You will become the accursed one."

The betrayal enabled Jesus to transcend what Gnostics viewed as the flawed physical world and return to his rightful place in the spiritual realm. In this interpretation the Crucifixion, enabled by the betrayal, is necessary not so much for the forgiveness of human sins, but to free Christ's divine self from its mortal cloak.

The Gospel of Judas was inscribed on papyrus, most likely at a Gnostic monastery in Egypt. Its existence has long been known, primarily because of surviving anti-heretical works that denounce its tenets. But no copy was discovered until the late 1970s and none has been available to scholars or the public until now. The one surviving copy was likely hidden in a tomb in Middle Egypt, perhaps during St. Athanasius's fourth-century campaign to destroy "heretical" texts.