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
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?
|read the rest of this article in the Summer 2006 issue of IY Magazine