Sunday, January 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW - The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot

The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot
Bart D. Ehrman
Oxford University Press, 2006
188 pgs.

Since Bookstop did not have Emperor: The Gods of War I decided to console myself with a couple of other books on The List. In this case they were Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell, which is the third in his Saxon Stories series and the book we are about to tackle. I have previously read, and reviewed, Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and thoroughly enjoyed it, therefore several of his other books ended up on Christmas list. (This was done with a small sense of irony but more in the hope that my mom, who feels the need to give me something with a Christian every year, might select a book or two from this list. It didn’t work.) This is the one I was most interested in as I had read the National Geographic article about the recovery of the Gospel of Judas and I wondered what this gospel would reveal about Judas.

Rather than restrict himself to a discussion of the text of this new gospel, which I imagine would quickly become boring for the average person, Ehrman makes this book about how the gospel changes our perceptions of Judas, Jesus, and the origins of Christianity itself. Of course, presuming his audience has only a Da Vinci Code inspired knowledge of some of the early non-orthodox Christian beliefs, he has to begin by putting down a foundation of basic knowledge on which he can then build. Through the second, third, and forth chapters he does just this, exploring what we knew about Judas from the early gospel traditions, then the later gospel traditions, and then what we knew about the Gospel of Judas before the document was found. In the next chapter he discusses the circumstance of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas and how it came to be restored, which is an interesting story in and of itself (at least to a history/archaeology geek like myself). Ehrman then starts to deal with the contents of the Gospel of Judas itself. He does this with a very high-level discussion of what is in the Gospel and then digs a little deeper into his discussion of how this Gospel relates to Gnosticism and how it relates to our current knowledge and thoughts about Jesus, Judas, and the other apostles. Finally Erhman wraps up the book with three chapters titled “Who Was Judas Iscariot,” “What Did Judas Betray and Why Did He Betray It?”, and “The Gospel of Judas in Perspective.” Here he flings the gates of the discussion as wide as he can while walking the reader through the steps he takes to boil down what we “know” about these subjects to the most probable facts about the subjects.

Once again Ehrman has provided an illuminating look at Christianity. While reading this book I really felt like I was listening to a lecture by Ehrman rather than delving into some musty academic text and found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience despite the subject being, lets be honest, not very exciting. Like with Misquoting Jesus, I cannot recommend this book enough if you happen to be interested in an intellectual discussion of historical Christianity.

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