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In the Christian world, Easter Sunday marks the day Jesus Christ returned from the dead and, according to the apostles, proved he was the living son of God. According to the New Testament, Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities for claiming to be the son of God. Yet before his arrest, the four canonical gospels also claim that Judas betrayed Jesus by kissing him and addressing him as “rabbi”, so as to reveal his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him.
Jesus was subsequently tried by the Sanhedrin, and then by Pontius Pilate, who sentenced him to be scourged and crucified.
He was stripped of his clothing and hung between two convicted thieves on a cross, dying by the ninth hour of the day according to the Gospel of Mark.
For his part in Jesus’ suffering, Judas has become one of the most reviled men in history, however in 2006, an uncovered ancient Christain text, entitled the ‘Gospel of Judas’, paints a different picture to the accepted canonical works.
The text, which had been lost for nearly 1,700 years, claims that Judas was merely obeying his master’s orders when he kissed Jesus.
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Radolphe Kasser, a clergyman and former professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Geneva told National Geographic: “The lost gospel, providing information on Judas Iscariot ‒ considered for 20 centuries and by hundreds of millions of believers as an antichrist of the worst kind ‒ bears witness to something completely different from what was said in the Bible.”
Written from the perspective of Judas himself, the document only came to light in the Seventies when it was discovered in the village of Beni Masar in Egypt.
The text, which dates back to the third or fourth century, was translated from the Coptic script to English in 2006 by the National Geographic magazine.
The US publication’s introduction opened with the incendiary words: “An ancient text lost for 1,700 years says that Christ’s betrayer was his truest disciple.”
The Gospel of Judas begins by announcing that it is the “secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated passover.”
The text goes on to describe Judas as Jesus’ closest friend and someone who understood Christ’s true message above all the other disciples.
In a key passage Jesus tells Judas: “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me”.
Mr Kasser, who helped translate the book into English, said: “Jesus says it is necessary for someone to free him finally from his human body and he prefers that this liberation be done by a friend rather than an enemy.
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“So he asks Judas, who is a friend, to sell him out, to betray him.
“It’s treason to the general public, but between Jesus and Judas it’s not treachery.”
Scholars claimed the text not only offers an alternative view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas but also illustrated the diversity of opinion in the early Christain world.
Stephen Emmel, a Coptic studies professor at the University of Münster said: “I expect this gospel to be important mainly for the deeper insight it will give scholars into the thoughts and beliefs of certain Christians in the second century of the Christian era, namely the Gnostics.”
The Gnostics were an early Christian sect that believed that spiritual knowledge would help them rise above what they considered to be a corrupt physical world.
They believed that the way to salvation was through secret knowledge delivered by Jesus to his inner circle.
Biblical scholars have been divided on the veracity of the text since its release.
Terry Garcia, an executive director for the Mission Program of the National Geographic, asserted that the codex is considered by scholars and scientists as the most significant, non biblical text to be found since the Forties.
Elsewhere Craig Evans, another scholar of the National Geographic project, stated that the document showed that Judas was “fooled” into believing he was helping Jesus.
Meanwhile, upon its release the then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said: “This is a demonstrably late text which simply parallels a large number of quite well known works from the church.”
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