The author of the Gospel of Judas wasn’t against martyrdom, and he didn’t ever insult the martyrs. He said it’s one thing to die for God if you have to do that. But it’s another thing to say that’s what God wants, that this is a glorification of God.
The Gospel of Judas really has been a surprise in many ways. For one thing, there’s no other text that suggests that Judas Iscariot was an intimate, trusted disciple, one to whom Jesus revealed the secrets of the kingdom, and that conversely, the other disciples were misunderstanding what he meant by the gospel.
I got to thinking about the Book of Revelation that was written by a Jewish prophet who was also a follower of Jesus who hated the Roman Empire. I realized that the Book of Revelation could be a way to reflect on the issue of religion’s relationship to politics.
I study religion because I find it fascinating and problematic. But I struggle with the idea of what religion is, what being religious means. A lot of people assume that if you write about early Christianity, you must be some kind of Sunday-school teacher.
There are some kinds of Christianity that insist you have to believe literally in doctrine. The Gnostic gospels open out the complexity and multiplicity of approaches to this. If you think the story of the virgin birth is mistranslated, for instance, it doesn’t mean you have to throw out the whole thing.
I realize that I cannot live without a spiritual dimension in my life.
The Secret Revelation of John opens, again, in crisis. The disciple John, grieving Jesus’ death, is walking toward the temple when he meets a Pharisee who mocks him for having been deceived by a false messiah. These taunts echoed John’s own fear and doubt.
There is no evidence that the author of the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos, read anything that we think of as a New Testament book. I don’t see any evidence that he knew what was in the Gospels, or the letters of Paul, which I don’t think he would have liked at all.
People who study the way religions develop have shown that if you have a charismatic teacher, and you don’t have an institution develop around that teacher within about a generation to transmit succession within the group, the movement just dies.
I just have a sense that, you know, I’m curious about what is religion about, you know? Why do some of us still engage it? It’s not because it’s a set of old beliefs or old ideas. Or even, particularly, the view that this is the only true religion. Many of us no longer accept...
The sense of a spiritual dimension in life is absolutely important, and the religious communities are also important. The question of believing in a set of creedal statements is a lot less important, because I realize the Christian movement thrived then and can now on other elements of the tradition.
We use the word ‘synoptic’ to talk about Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and it really means ‘seeing together,’ because they all have a similar perspective. Matthew and Luke – whoever wrote those Gospels – used Mark as a focus and as a basic story. So all of them have a lot in common.
The Gospel of Thomas claims to be the secret sayings of Jesus. There are 114 of them, so it says many things, but the central message is that Jesus is the one who reveals the divine light that brought the universe into being, and that you and I also reveal that light.
These ancient stories in religion speak to our desire. But they move us toward hope.
Orthodox theologians insisted that the rest of humankind were only transitory creatures, lost in sin – a view that would support what would become their dominant teaching about salvation, offered only through Christ, and, in particular, through the church they claimed to represent.
Throughout the ages, Christians have adapted John of Patmos’s visions to changing times, reading their own social, political and religious conflicts into the cosmic war he so powerfully evokes. Yet his Book of Revelation appeals not only to fear and desires for vengeance but also to hope.