I’ve finished and mostly digested The Thirteenth Apostle. I was very pleased to find that the bits that weren’t mentioned in the publicity and blurbs–analysis of the GoJ in relation to proto-orthodox Christianity and, especially the Gospel of Mark–were at least as interesting as the bits that were.
A very quick recap. In Professor DeConick’s translation and interpretation, Judas is as evil as ever. More so, perhaps: Jesus calls him “you thirteenth demon,” an appellation of Ialdabaoth, the false god who created the earth; not “thirteenth spirit.” Jesus reveals the mysteries of the cosmos to him not because he is one of the elect, but to tell him how badly he will suffer. Note that in both this reading and in the original “good Judas” one of the National Geographic team the disciples (and by extension proto-orthodox/apostolic Christianity) come off very poorly; the real difference is the nature of Judas, who in either case is clearly intended to serves as a literary device, not as any reflection of an historical Judas.
Prof. DeC. writes–speculatively but convincingly, I think–that the GoJ is closely tied to the Gospel of Mark. In each the disciples are, well, stupid, even willfully so. The author of Mark was likely a follower of Paul attacking the Jerusalem church by attacking its founders and leaders. A few generations later the author of the GoJ used the same tactic–remaining faithful to the scripture itself–to attack the proto-orthodox apostolic Christians.
In Mark the disciples never do seem to understand who Jesus really is; the closest any of them comes is Peter, in Mark 8:27-29:
…and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
But even Peter misunderstands Jesus’s true nature, in the very next verses:
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
The disciples never call Jesus “the Son of God.” The only “people” who do are the centurion at his crucifixion–and the demons Jesus exorcises(!)
Which brings us to Judas himself. In the GoJ the only disciple who recognizes Jesus’ true nature is Judas, himself a demon, or at least possessed or somehow connected with one–and not just any demon, but the archdemon, the false god Ialdabaoth. The disciples, meanwhile are so hopeless that they are worshiping the wrong God.
What exactly Judas is isn’t clear to me. Certainly he is closely connected with Ialdabaoth–Prof. DeC. cites lots of evidence in the language and imagery of the gospel for that, much more than “thirteenth demon.” The phrase “Lift up your eyes and see the cloud and the light in it, and the stars around it,” most clearly: stars are fixtures of our material world, ruled by the Archons (evil angels, basically), not the immortal world of the Aeons (aspects of the true God, more or less).
But Judas himself doesn’t seem to know who he is, and very much wants to avoid his demonic nature and destiny. Jesus tells him he has no choice: “Already your horn has been raised, and your wrath kindled, and your star ascended…” All the lessons Jesus has taught Judas will help him not a bit; Jesus just wanted Judas to know how much he will suffer. Jesus is a bit of a jerk here, really.
Besides Judas’ demonic nature, the Bad Judas translation/interpretation is more consistent than the NG’s Good Judas interpretation in a few other ways. The really glaring one is sacrifice: the author of the GoJ clearly finds sacrifice appalling, especially human sacrifice. How then could sacrificing Jesus himself be a good thing? The author of the GoJ finds the orthodox interpretation of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice abhorrent.
Another problem with the NG interpretation is the concept of authority and “ruling.” The GoJ’s position, as makes sense in anything Gnostic (*), is that Authority is Bad. Why then would Jesus promise Judas that he “will come to rule over them,” unless Judas is cursed never to enter the immortal world of the Aeons?
(*) Whatever “Gnostic” means, but that’s another topic.