He is one of the most reviled men in history.
But was Judas only obeying his master's wishes when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss?
That's what a newly revealed ancient Christian text says.
After being lost for nearly 1,700 years, the Gospel of Judas was recently restored, authenticated, and translated. The Coptic, or Egyptian Christian, manuscripts were unveiled today at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.
What Does It Mean?
Some biblical scholars are calling the Gospel of Judas the most significant archaeological discovery in 60 years.
The only known surviving copy of the gospel was found in a codex, or ancient book, that dates back to the third or fourth century A.D.
The newly revealed gospel document, written in Coptic script, is believed to be a translation of the original, a Greek text written by an early Christian sect sometime before A.D. 180.
The Bible's New Testament Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—depict Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, as a traitor. In biblical accounts Judas gives up Jesus Christ to his opponents, who later crucify the founder of Christianity. (Here's what we know from historical evidence about the Twelve Apostles.)
The Gospel of Judas, however, portrays him as acting at Jesus' request.
"This lost gospel, providing information on Judas Iscariot—considered for 20 centuries and by hundreds of millions of believers as an antichrist of the worst kind—bears witness to something completely different from what was said [about Judas] in the Bible," said Rodolphe Kasser, a clergyman and former professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
Kasser, who is regarded as one of the world's preeminent Coptic scholars, led the effort to piece together and translate the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery funded the project, and it will be profiled in the May 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Scholars say the text not only offers an alternative view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas but also illustrates the diversity of opinion in the early Christian church.
"I expect this gospel to be important mainly for the deeper insight it will give scholars into the thoughts and beliefs of certain Christians in the second century of the Christian era, namely the Gnostics," said Stephen Emmel, a Coptic studies professor at the University of Münster in Germany.
In 1983 Emmel was among the first three known scholars to view the Gospel of Judas, which had been discovered hidden in Egypt in the late 1970s.
Gnostics belonged to pre-Christian and early Christian sects that believed that elusive spiritual knowledge could help them rise above what they saw as the corrupt physical world.
Biblical accounts suggest that Jesus foresaw and allowed Judas's betrayal.
As told in the New Testament Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus for "30 pieces of silver," identifying him with a kiss in front of Roman soldiers. Later the guilt-ridden Judas returns the bribe and commits suicide, according to the Bible.
The Gospel of Judas, however, gives a very different account.
The text begins by announcing that it is the "secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conv
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