Book Review: The Secrets of Judas

The Secrets of Judas CD: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel
by James M. Robinson

Yes, Virginia, the Church will survive the Gospel of Judas

James Robinson is not the run of the mill sensationalist you would expect to write a book with "The Gospel of" or "The Secerts of" in the title. Bulletin! Yet another breathless volume that "threatens to rock Christinaity to its foundations." (Aren't we sick of these yet?) As a scholar and member of The Jesus Seminar -- which may strike some as a contradiction in terms -- he has been prominent in the study of the Nag Hammadi documents and the elusive gospel source, Q. In "The Secrets of Judas," he introduced us to the takes on the latest entry into the trove of ancient codices -- a presumably gnostic text that claims to have been written by the betayer of Jesus Christ.

Robinson takes us on an all-you-can-learn tour of the gospel charcater we Christians have come to hate. He raises provactive questions, Jesus Seminar style, about the propriety of seeing Judas as a bad character. If, as the gospels indicated, Jesus was destined to die for our sins, and if it was prohesied that be be handed over by one of his own, how would this happenn without a Judas? Robinson goes onto somewhwat shaky ground with his analysis of the context of the writing of the canonical gospels. He (not inapporopriately) sees a growing gulf between the first witnesses to Jesus (the mostly-Jewish Jerusalem Church) and the growing body of gentile Christians. Interestingly, he sees Luke and Matthew as writing contemporaenous gospels to each of these communities -- Matthew's from the Jewish Christian perspective and Luke's from the gentile perspective. This is new to me, though (except for the deliberate nature of the co-release that Robinson posits) not impossible. Robinson's point is to show that each gospel showed Judas in a slightly different light, from which he makes rather large conclusions.

Robinson then turns his attention to the text itself. He shoots down claims that the GoJ is part of the Nag Hammadi cache. He describes his efforts to secure the text from its Egyptian owner and details the comical James Bond stories that grew up around the discovery and sale of the documents. It's fun to see so many people -- smugglers, writers, acamedics, wealthy collectors and universities -- each with their own agenda, all trying to get their hands on the same document. Robinson then describes the process of conserving the text and its eventual exploitation by the National Geographic Society. He is expecially peeved by the fact that NatGeo set an Easter Week deadline for the release of a partial translation of the document (lacking the original Coptic. as scholars would desire) and a TV show about the codex. The maneuverings and compromises made by all involved are lovingly (if not altogether engagingly) tracked and catalogued, just as Robison the scholar would treat fragment of an ancient codex.

What you won't get from "The Secrets of Judas" is a look at the gospel itself -- a major disappointment. Robinson's book was published prior to the Easter 2006 NatGeo treatment and seems aimed mainly at demystifying the gospel, knocking the wind out the the sails of those trying to profit from it and get even with people whose values he despises. He is very clear that the text of the GoJ, though it may shed light on the makeup of the Christian communities flourishing in the 2nd century, will not shake up modern Christianity or bring down the Vatican. Yet as a behind-the-scenes look at the way various groups bring antiquities to light, his book is often fascinating. And as a way to observe the workings and the values of an eminent biblical scholar, it is wonderful.

I was quite impressed, by the way at the skill of audio book reader Conger Eric -- especially his ability to read names in French, Swiss, German and Dutch with appropriate accents."