Posted April 19, 2006
John Allen Reporting from Rome on
The Gospel of Judas and Benedict on Scripture
Our gratitude to The National Catholic Reporter for making this possible!
Hearing about rival gospels such as "The Gospel of Judas," the average
person may think, 'My Gosh, the Bible had it wrong.'
That's simply not true. That's the short answer. Other Gnostic gospels
haven't really changed our view of things, and one more isn't going to do
that either. This is literature that came from a particular sect, a
particular group, which followed this Gnostic philosophy.
One of the things that's important to see, I think, is that we're in the
second century. This is really a very short time after the death and
resurrection of Jesus. In this period of the early church, Christian
theology as we know it today was in its infancy. We shouldn't have the idea
that already in the second century we had something developed like the
Catechism of the Catholic church. That's the result of 2,000 years of
theological reflection. If we try to put ourselves back into the mentality
of the second century, the early believers didn't really know yet what to
believe, what context to put their belief in, and I think there were a lot
of attempts to express the faith and to find a philosophy that fit in with
the resurrection faith. Some of these attempts bore fruit and became part of
mainstream Christian theology, and some were dead ends. This is one that was
a dead end.
The proof of that is that you have Irenaeus writing around the year 180, and
already then he is condemning this very approach to Christian theology. If
it was condemned and seen as deviant already in the second century, I don't
think it's something that is going to come back and be seen as relevant
The church's traditional teaching that Judas' betrayal was a sinful act is
not going to be challenged by this discovery?
I don't think so.
One interesting question, though, is whether Judas had full knowledge of
what he was doing when he betrayed Jesus. From what we can gather from the
gospel accounts, he had full knowledge that he was betraying Jesus. But did
he have full knowledge that he was betraying the Son of God?
That's more difficult to say. … Whether he saw Jesus basically as a
political leader, a subversive leader who was going to lead the Jewish
people against the Roman yoke, and then realized that wasn't Jesus'
intention, is hard to say. We don't really know what he thought about
But we do know he betrayed somebody for money, so that at least on the basis
of the canonical gospels, it's hard to make him a hero.
That's right, yes, indeed.
Let me ask you briefly about Benedict XVI. Have you been struck by how rich
his homilies and other texts have been so far in Scriptural imagery?
I have, very much so. I hope that his constant use of Scripture will help
stimulate a renewed interest. In a meeting with young people last week, a
young man asked him how to read the Bible, and Benedict encouraged him to
pray while he reads the Bible, and also to make use of recent books written
along these lines. He referred specifically to the many books by Cardinal
[Carlo Maria] Martini.
Do you anticipate any particular impulse from Benedict in scripture studies?
It could well be the whole question of the proper use of the
historical-critical method in Biblical studies. When you read the Biblical
texts in terms of looking for historical and philological accuracy, some
people say this is the wrong approach, because you're not reading the Bible
as a book of faith but simply as a book containing historical accounts. … My
view is that nothing that can help us understand the Biblical text should be
excluded, just as long as we keep clear what the purpose of the different
approaches are, and what their limits are as well.