Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dangerous Old Teachings

All I Ever Needed to Know About Christianity I learned from Broadway....
Growing up an American Jew, I had limited exposure to Christianity as a doctrine (as opposed to Christianity as a culture, which was everywhere), but our family did have, and I listed to quite a bit, the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar (Broadway, not Hollywood version, of course), and whatever positive sense I had of the Christian faith before college (I've grown up some since then; just like Judaism isn't simply defined by the Old Testament....) pretty much came from those sources. Not the worst introductions, really.

But that probably explains my reaction to the forthcoming publication of the Gospel of Judas:
The second century text, which was believed lost for over a thousand years, reportedly argues that Judas Iscariot was an essential part of God's design and, as such, almost a hero. Without his betrayal, Jesus would not have been crucified and so, the argument goes, God's plan to save mankind from its sins would not have been fulfilled.

This unorthodox account of Christ's life was written by an ancient Gnostic sect called the Cainites, which made a habit of giving a positive value to all the negative figures in Christian scriptures.
If you believe in a God with a "plan" or in "destiny" (I don't, really) then I don't see how you avoid the conclusion that Judas is a necessary part of the sacrifice of Christ.

Confusion of Ultimates
A similarly old Buddhist teaching, the Nirvana Sutra, is being called "one of the most dangerous Sutras in all of Buddhism". The basic teachings strike me as being only subtly different from most other Mahayana Buddhist traditions, with perhaps a greater emphasis on the importance of being responsible for one's own enlightenment and de-emphasis on the "vows of the Boddhistava" as a route to salvation. I suppose it could be seen as a sort of backsliding towards Theravada-esque tradition, in which the focus is on attaining enlightenment rather than on salvation through faith, and the central figure is the Buddha, here described as being a sort of Brahman-like monism with avatar manifestations in the world.

In both cases I think the practitioners of these religions who feel threatened are grossly overestimating the degree to which people change their faith based on evidence, even semi-scriptural evidence....


JoshSN said...

Is there any chance the Cainites were really saying that Judas was in on it?

That Jesus knew he had to sacrifice himself in this way, and that he arranged with Judas to have him turned in?

Probably silly, but the idea that Thomas the (appearance-wise) twin of Jesus _had_ to appear at the ressurection, combined with Judas dying so quickly after, makes me think only the three of them knew of the plot.

No, seriously.

Ahistoricality said...

It wouldn't surprise me if Jesus knew about it (didn't he prophesy it at one point?) but the idea of Judas being a knowing participant strikes me as unlikely. We'll have to wait and see what the text says, but I doubt it.