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The councils of the early Christian Church were not always agreeable occasions. The bishops quarrelled terribly, at times getting so angry with one another as to clash in frenzied battles of ripped clothes, flying fists, blood and broken noses on the council chamber floor. Of all the issues that most inflamed these holy men none was more contentious than the question of which books should be chosen to constitute the official canon of the New Testament. The bishop who finally won his way was one of the most violent and intimidating of them all, Athanasius of Alexandria, but it was not until 405 AD (some 40 years after his death) that Pope Innocent I eventually ratified Athanasius’s list.
As we all know the Gospel of Judas never made it into the New Testament. In truth it stood little chance at the time as it was ferociously attacked by the powerful Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius (c. 310-403), who denounced it as a heretical diatribe written by Gnostics ‘boasting descent from the Sodomites’. Epiphanius’s critique on the Gospel of Judas has survived in full and so too has a similar, shorter, dismissal of it by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, dating from the second half of the second century, but from then onwards the text of the gospel itself disappeared — until, that is, some Egyptian peasants chanced upon an ancient copy in a casket hidden in a cave somewhere in Middle Egypt, some time around 1978. The exact details as to how, where, when and by whom this great treasure was unearthed remain obscure. What we do know is that the gospel (bound in a book with several other less valuable ancient manuscripts) somehow found its way to Cairo where it was sold to a dealer (whose name we are not allowed to know) for $2,000. That dealer, unable to decipher ancient Coptic scripts and therefore unaware that the lost Gospel of Judas was among them, clung to his bundle hoping for a trading miracle, only to discover, shortly after acquiring it, that his Cairo flat had been burgled, the Gospel stolen and secretly shipped out of Egypt.
Published simultaneously with Krosney’s investigation is the complete translated text with footnotes and four related scholarly essays. The gospel itself runs to fewer than 20 pages and, as Irenaeus and Epiphanius pointed out long ago, the text praises Judas as the most knowledgeable and inspired of the apostles who is the closest to Jesus and who, with Jesus’s connivance, hands his master over to the authorities in order that some true gnosis may be fulfilled. Jesus says to Judas with reference to the other disciples, ‘You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me’, while the secret bond between Jesus and Judas is further amplified in Judas’s line to him: ‘I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.’