Review: Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity

Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity by Elaine Pagels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As anyone with any knowledge of me is aware, I love Judas lore and anything that casts doubt on the image of happy-shiny-always-friendly religion, so my opinion on this particular book may be a bit biased, but I’ll try my best to keep my fanboyism in check.

So, what is it? Well, the core of it is a (reasonably, given what’s available, at least) complete translation of the Gospel of Judas, that lovely bit of apocrypha that has been called Gnostic, heretical, insane, stupid or redemptive at assorted points in its life. The text itself is interesting, if only because it at least makes a token attempt at addressing the issue of Judas’ predestination to betray Jesus and whether that flags him as evil incarnate or the leading member of the Snape is Loyal club. Worthwhile, but not exactly new.

What is unique to this iteration is King and Pagels’ discussion on the fractured nature of early Christianity, the focus that the faith had on martyrdom – and the dissenting opinion that maybe dying like Jesus wasn’t such a hot ticket after all – and how apocryphal texts like the Gospel of Judas present alternative meaning to the death of Christ and the ever present question of “what does it all mean!?”

Thankfully the work does so without drowning you in the writers’ particular religious beliefs; things are presented logically – even somewhat coldly – and with suitable references that never fall back on “because God said so,” which is always a bonus.

Overall, I’d recommend it to anyone who has a desire to hear a bit more about religion, especially from a point of view outside of the party line, or who is into the apocryphal material but somehow doesn’t already have a copy of the Gospel itself. Or for crazy people such as myself who insist on attempting to write fiction with Judas as the hero.

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