Classic Gnostic writings were gripped by the apocalypse fervor that was the rage (against the machine) in the Judeo-Christian matrix during the Roman imperial period. Long gone were the days when the divine broadcast exclusively through the priest or prophet; the right person at the right time could gain a vision of the transcendent worlds that included data on the final fate of the world.
Many Gnostics embraced the apocalypse genre even after they had renounced Christianity (and that drove philosophers like Plotinus batty in the fourth century). However, their eschatologies were brief – almost tacked on as if to appease fanboys – and, unlike what many detractors claim, were very positive in their final judgment, almost rated G.
Except for the Gospel of Judas, perhaps the darkest of Apocalypse out there, in my view.
Overview of the Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Judas is a Sethian text that was composed around the second century. Some scholars contend it’s from a breakaway group, radical even for the standards of the subversive Sethians whose works are found in the Nag Hammadi library. Sethian texts are grim and gritty, for sure, but they contain an underlying positive message that Sophia is in charge and that the cosmic play will deem the forces of light as victorious.
Not the Gospel of Judas. In my Other Voices of Gnosticism, Nicola Denzey Lewis says that the work is “is cynical in a way I haven’t seen in any other texts from the same period.”
Like many Sethian texts, though, the Gospel of Judas has Jesus presenting a view of the multiverse that includes:
- The emanation of the Divine Mind into self-awareness that includes the great mother, Barbelo. (Sophia is mentioned but has no real role)
- The mismanagement of the nascent universe by haughty gods/angels known as Archons, the lowest of the aspects of the Divine Mind.
- The creation of Adam, the Primal Man, who forgets his supernal heritage and then brings forth humanity, nothing more than chattel to the Archons.
- Jesus admitting he is an Aeon (a personification of the Divine Mind) manifested as a human being and tasked with awakening humanity to their material prison.
Jesus teaches this and more in lectures and visions in the Gospel of Judas, but we find that the apostles misrepresent his Gnosis. In one scene, Jesus laughs mockingly and tells them they’ve been fooled even after all he’s imparted to them. They embrace the bloodthirsty sensibility of the Demiurge (referred as Yaldabaoth, Saklas, or Nubruel), the chief ruler of the material universe.
Put simply: the apostles are the advocates for human sacrifice, false atonement death theology, and literalistic religion. As April says in my Voices of Gnosticism: “Sacrifice in the text is not a good thing. It’s a horrific act and it’s always done to the archons.” The apostles even relate to Jesus that they’ve had a vision where 12 priests are sacrificing and eating babies at the altar of a temple. Jesus reveals that they are the priests, the chief servants of Yaldabaoth. And they have no Gnosis.
During that grim scene described by the apostles, Judas Iscariot steps forward and claims he does “get it,” that he is from Barbelo, the great mother. Next, Jesus explains to Judas that he will reveal the final mysteries to him and only him, but that he will regret this. By then, Judas has already plotted to turn over his master to the authorities.
This is where it gets bad
In the next scene, Judas shares a vision with Jesus – where he ran away from the twelve apostles who were attempting to stone him, ultimately finding a house for safety. Judas claims that this means he’s superior to the twelve, that he belongs in the Eternal Realm.
Jesus tells Judas how wrong he is. He also relates two horrible truths:
First, the star (astral fate) of Judas is tied to the 13th starry realm or heaven; and he will rule over the apostles since their stars are associated with the twelve lower stars that lord over the earth. As April states:
The star reference is really important because in Jewish tradition, and also in Christian and Gnostic tradition, stars are connected to angels. The stars in the heavens are the angels and the heavens and the planets are angels, or in the case of Gnostic tradition they are demons.
Second, Judas will betray Jesus and commit an even worse sacrifice than the apostles since it will ruin his mission. Jesus states, “You shall be cursed for generations” for “you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”
The Gospel of Judas soon ends, with either Jesus or Judas absorbed in a numinous cloud to take their true form.
Do you get that? Their true form.
Judas discovers that he is the material incarnation of Yaldabaoth himself (the 13th starry realm or heaven was always the domain of the diabolic Demiurge in Gnostic and ancient Egyptian texts). Like Jesus, Judas Iscariot is the son of God, but the god of darkness.
Furthermore, the apostles are truly the earthly representation of the Archons that rule the universe. It’s all been a setup. And like some sleeper cell being awakened, Judas sacrifices the material form of the Aeon Jesus, thereby aborting any hope for humanity’s awakening. Westworld remains open.
It gets worse. Not only does Judas find out he’s the Demiurge, but he is also now the Demiurge with Gnosis! He has taken the information of Jesus and used it against him, and probably will use it against humanity.
Where did this tradition come from?
Before we get into why this Apocalypse is so terrible, it should be noted that the Gospel of Judas draws from the Gospel of Mark in two ways:
First, the apostles are ignorant meat sacks. They keep dropping the ball and are often scorned by Jesus.
Second, only demons fully recognize and understand Jesus (Mark 1:34), even if Jesus scorns them. Jesus refers to Simon Peter as Satan, during another scorning (Mark 8:33). Also, Mark is known to fancy numerology in his gospel; in earlier versions, Jesus says the word “demon” twelve times, perhaps hinting that the apostles are demons appearing as meat sacks or that they represent the twelve starry realms or heavens.
Adding to the vibe that demons are enlightened but can’t do anything about it, in a Valentinian myth, Satan and not the Demiurge can perceive the Eternal Realm. As the church father Epiphanius writes:
They [the Valentinians] teach that wicked spiritual beings have come from the grief. This is the origin of the Devil, whom they also call Ruler of the World, and of demons, angels, and anything spiritual that is wicked. But they say the Demiurge is a soulish son of their Mother, while the Ruler of the World is a creature of the Demiurge. And the Ruler of the World knows what is above him, for he is a wicked spirit; but the Demiurge, being soulish, does not. (Panarion 31.19, 4-5)
It’s pretty metal, but the point is that there were early Christian traditions that presented the dark forces manifesting as humans close and in understanding of the the Savior, perceiving the light but unable to benefit from it.
But why is this such a grim apocalypse?
There may be no Michael Bay bloodbaths or Tim Lahey fantasies in the Gospel of Judas, but this apocalypse is tragic because nothing changes. The Aeon Jesus is unable to save the world. The human Judas is unable to save his master. Even the Demiurge is unable to alter the mechanism of a predatory universe after he has learned the secrets of the Eternal Realm. Nothing is going to change. Babies will die. Men will kill and devour. All the Divine Mind can do is laugh harshly during his brief visit, soon before the nails and spears tear his human form into worm food.
For some reason, I’m thinking of Freewill by Rush:
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You can’t pray for a place
In Heaven’s unearthly estate
Let me summarize about this tale in a more poetic matter:
Once upon a time a good man named Judas dreamt he was a good god who belonged in higher realms; at the same time, a supreme god dreamt he was a good man named Judas who would help free humanity. Both woke up to a nightmarish reality they were the same demonic being, never to be in heaven’s unearthly estate.
I admit there is a lot left in translating the Gospel of Judas. I admit I’m interpreting an interpretation that not all scholars agree with. But you gotta admit this is dark; that astral determinism might be the worst fate, pardon the pun. If this gospel is anything close to true, is there anything that can be done?
Dream better than Yaldabaoth and Judas – and their roads to Groundhog Day hell paved with their good intentions. Write better myths than these sectarian Sethians. Turn the other cheek when you’re kicked in the face by fate, and never, never accept the visions of earthly representatives have for you.
Then you just might be ok.
Thanks to the FB Bible Geek Listeners for valuable input! Interested in discovering more about the Gospel of Judas and it’s various interpretations? Check out my books that contains the insights of the greatest living scholars of Gnostic studies (click images):