March 13, 2013

#Judas kisses a shape-shifting #Jesus

No, really!

A newly-deciphered Coptic gospel-type text tells us exactly like that, and should reignite discussions about whose interpretation of the recently translated and interpreted Gospel of Judas is correct.

Here's the nut graf:
(T)he ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus' crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text.
Note TWO bizarro things there.

One is a shape-shifting Jesus, which is actually the less bizarre of the two.

The more notable one is Pilate offering his own son in place of Jesus.

First, why is the shape-shifting less bizarre?

In canonical gospels, in post-resurrection appearances, Jesus appears to have powers at least vaguely similar. In Luke, the Emmaus disciples don't recognize Jesus until he seemingly allows it. And in John 20, in the "upper room appearance," he pops in out of nowhere. And in the apocryphal, but early, Gospel of Peter, Jesus becomes mega-giant sized.

Here's the specifics of the shape changing here:
"Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat coloured, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man ..."  
That said, the story notes that this idea goes back at least to the Egyptian Christian Origen, who died in 254. So, even if the text is "newer," the tradition is not THAT new. That said, as the story notes, the text is written pseudepigraphally in the name of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril  lived during the fourth century, so this text is surely at least 100 years later than Origin's death. That said, it may have a "history," beyond the Judas kiss, that goes back earlier.

More on this, and the Pilate offer, after I mention it.

As for Pilate?
"Without further ado, Pilate prepared a table and he ate with Jesus on the fifth day of the week. And Jesus blessed Pilate and his whole house," reads part of the text in translation. Pilate later tells Jesus, "well then, behold, the night has come, rise and withdraw, and when the morning comes and they accuse me because of you, I shall give them the only son I have so that they can kill him in your place."
That said, in the story about this text, a scholar notes Pilate had higher, even much higher, standing in early Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian Christianity than elsewhere, even being regarded as a saint.

Still, there's been nothing like this in any Coptic text that I know of. The level of ridiculousness of this part of the story indicates that while part of it could have older roots, the current version of this text has undergone plenty of history.

As for the tie-ins with the Gospel of Judas and its interpretation? It may bear some light as to whether that Gospel should be interpreted as Judas being Jesus' enemy rather than a being, a person, specially enlightened by Jesus. The fact that at least one quasi-semi-Gnosticizing text, the one at hand, points to Judas as an enemy means that this interpretation of the Gospel of Judas, contra a Bart Ehrman, is more likely.

As for the reality of the existence of Judas (operating on the assumption of the existence of Jesus) and Jesus' betrayal by Judas?

That's below the fold.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives us the first extant written account of the Lord’s Supper.

He starts with the well-known phrase, “On the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed…”

But, “betrayed” may well not be the right translation. In fact, it very likely is not the best translatoin.

Many Greek verbs have three voices — the active and passive ones we know in English, and a “middle” voice, a sort of reflexive voice.

Now, the Greek verb αποδιδωμι looks the same in middle and passive voice. But, it has different meanings.

In the passive, it does mean “betray.” But, in the middle, it normally means “hand over,” as in hand over someone to authorities. A similar meaning is “hand up.”

Critical New Testament scholarship believe this is what Paul means. He never, in the epistles he clearly wrote, talks about a Passion Plot, a Roman arrest, or the melodramatic literary angle of a turncoat named Judas.

That gets us to the first “pseudo-Paul.” In addition to it being quite certain that Paul never wrote the “Pastoral Epistles” of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, which weren’t written until the end of the first century CE, or even early in the second, an earlier pseudo-Paul (or two) is believed to have written Colossians and Ephesians. Relations between these two books are unclear, but both likely were written no later than 30 years after Paul’s genuine books, by someone closer to the Pauline mileau than the Pastoralist of another 20-40 years later.

Well, both Colossians and Ephesians discuss what can certainly be called “esoterica,” whether they are talking about issues that can clearly be labeled Gnostic or not.

In Colossians 2:20, “Paul” tells his readers, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world….” The word in Greek, στοιχειον, is a word with plenty of use in Gnosticism, although it has plenty of pre-Gnostic use as well. As an “elemental principle,” it can be understood as a stage to be overcome by the Gnostic initiate’s battle to return to the All.

So, tying Colossians and 1 Corinthans, did Paul mean that Jesus was actually “handed up” to the “elemental powers”? In other words rather than the soteriology of the Pastoral Epistles, themselves connected with similar soteriology stances of dying-and-rising eastern Mediterranean savior gods, was Paul instead talking about Jesus as a sacrifice to Gnostic powers?

It seems likely. Mystery religions, after all, we know had their own mystery-fellowship dinners, from which it is believed Paul borrowed ideas that he fused into Passover concepts to produce his “Last Supper.”

If that’s the case, the genuine Paul was more a proto-Gnostic than later followers, let alone conservative Christians today, might want to accept.

Also, if that’s the case, pseudo-Paul of Colossians either didn’t understand the genuine article that well, or else thought that others’ interpretation of him had gone too far, or else did understand him well and deliberately reinterpreted him.

How, then, did we get to Mark, the first gospeller, creating the "betrayal" story?

A combination of misreading Paul plus creative reading of the Old Testament, namely something like Psalm 69:22-28, and Psalm 109:6-12 is likely.

Peter allegedly took these verses that way in Acts 1.

In Gnostic and semi-Gnostic Christianity, the idea of Judas as Jesus' twin, as in Judas Thomas (Aramaic for "twin") certainly added to Gnosticizing takes on the idea of Jesus' betrayal.

But didn't Mark (and Matthew, Luke and John) all get written earlier?

Fundamentalists who know their Bible know that's not true, even though they cling to idea of direct transmission from Jesus for an actual Matthew and John, for direct transmission from Peter for Mark, and from Paul for Luke.

None of these is true. All four of the "canonical" gospels have unknown authors. And, the claim of "Luke's" connection to Paul? The "we" passages in Acts are nothing other than a Greco-Roman conventional literary device of the era for passages about shipboard journeys.

Reality? Mark was written as much as 25 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Matthew, who borrowed from Mark, wrote 15-25 years after him; Luke was at least 25 years after Mark.

Mark apparently misunderstood Paul's use of αποδιδωμι and then did some plundering of the Old Testament similar to what Luke did more explicitly in Acts 1 to create a background story.

The idea that Judas was Jesus' twin, especially a moral flip-side doppelganger, arose separately from the canonical gospels in Syrian Gnostic areas.

And, while all of this doesn't disprove Jesus' existence, it all raises the bar for trying to prove it, among critical scholars no less than fundamentalist ones.

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