Sample from the Summer 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
Shedding Light on the Gospel of Judas
An Interview with Marvin Meyer, Ph.D.
After 1,700 years, the Gospel of Judas, an early Christian papyrus manuscript discovered in the Egyptian desert more than thirty years ago, has surfaced. Dr. Marvin Meyer, was one of three scholars selected to work on the translation and publication of this Coptic codex. Here, he sheds light on the revelations of this text (which includes three more texts to be released this fall titled “James,” “The Letter of Peter to Philip” and “The Book of the Stranger”) and their implications for interfaith dialogue.
Integral Yoga Magazine: Were there missing parts of the Gospel of Judas?
Marvin Meyer: Praise be to the dry sands of Egypt! Not very much was missing from Judas, but there are missing sections from other parts of the codex that may be in the hands of others. We have found half pages and fragments here and there. We hope as time passes, people who may have these pages will make them available. Very likely there will be other texts that will be found, buried in caves, tombs or the sands of Egypt. In February 2005, a Polish archeological team announced that they had found an ancient monastery and collection of ancient manuscripts in southern Egypt, across the river from Luxor. They have not said what is in the collection. I looked at one page and it’s a Coptic page from the Acts of Peter.
IYM: What is the significance of Gospel of Judas discovery?
MM: It gives us a rare opportunity to recover something that is a precious part of our religious heritage. Also, if we learn to appreciate the diversity in early Christianity, it may give us a deeper tolerance and appreciation for diversity in our world today. Early Christianity existed in a period of time rich with a wide variety of forms of spirituality. The Gospel of Judas represents a particular form of Christianity, a perspective on Christianity that is mystical and often referred to as Gnostic; and the publication of this text allows a mystical gospel that has been lost since the days of the early Church to be made available once again. This gospel underscores the fact that the early Church was a movement of great diversity. There were all kinds of expressions of the “Good News” in the early Church; there wasn’t one true way but there were many ways. This rich diversity can’t be ignored.
IYM: How did Christianity lose that diversity?
MM: It was there apparently from the time of Jesus to the middle of the second century when the heresy hunters and theologians created orthodoxy and named their opponents as heretics. The brilliant quality of a monotheistic tradition is that it allows its followers to profess there is one way, one God, one plan for the whole world, and this helps people put everything in its place. The occupational hazard of monotheism, however, is that it easily falls into intolerance. If there is one truth, then anything that diverts from that diverts from God. This developed, in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, the concept of the wrath of God as a righteous wrath, because God hates falsehood. There is a ferocious logic in this that may produce intolerance, violent intolerance. So, there may be dangers inherent in a monotheistic system. It’s not inevitable, but there are too many of these painful expressions of religious intolerance in human history.
Also, in the early days of the Church, even at the time of Jesus, there was religious ferment. There were different points of view. Jesus seems to have been deliberately ambiguous in his teaching; he was more poetic, and he employed narrative and storytelling in his teaching. There was misunderstanding with his followers from the beginning, even though in the Acts of the Apostles it is maintained that they were all together with one heart, one spirit, in full cooperation. That’s a beautiful thought and I wish history supported it. From what we can see from the letters Paul wrote, he had quite a temper, and he often disagreed with fellow Christians…
IYM: Would you talk more about the Gnostics and the mystical tradition in early Christianity? Why did it seem to disappear?