Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on the Laughing Gospel

[I wrote this, as the previous post, on Monday on the train to DC]

In honor of Holy week, and to try to keep up with my brother who is going to be posting daily on the Stations of the Cross, I wanted to write some more on this new Gospel of Judas. Yeah, yeah, I know, but it’s not as boring as another post on abortion or (shudder) ports deals.

In my earlier post I mentioned Jesus’ frequent outbreaks of laughter in the Gospel (at least five times in seven pages of translation, by my count.) I also talked briefly about the only point that has been raised about the Gospel in the media, that of Jesus asking Judas to betray him, along the lines of a more contemporary portrayal of Judas in ‘the Last Temptation of Christ’ and other works. It actually all seems so obvious when one thinks about it, which has also been commented on. Clearly if Christ’s Passion is a requirement of God’s Plan, then Judas’ betrayal of Him is crucial. It’s been pretty much addressed in Sunday School already. What is new and interesting in this Gospel is the recognition that Judas is going to get boned by History for doing this. This implies that by the point in time that this was written (say, around 150 AD or even earlier, although this fragment is from a later edition of the text, apparently), Judas was already getting slammed for his betrayal, and clearly some spin was in order.

What hasn’t been talked about that much, or at least I haven’t seen much on it, is the seemingly drug-fueled Gnostic visions that fill the Gospel, specifically the crazed creation myth that Jesus goes on at length about to Judas towards the end of the book. It’s a little long, but I’ll excerpt some of it here:

Jesus said, “[Come] that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.

A typically gnostic tract about accessing the divine through the revelation of secrets. So far so beautiful. ‘And in the beginning there was zilch.’ It’s actually lovely and poetic writing.

Jesus continues:

“And a luminous cloud appeared there. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.”

“A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. The Self-Generated said, ‘Let […] come into being […],’ and it came into being […]. And he [created] the first luminary to reign over him. He said, ‘Let angels come into being to serve [him],’ and myriads without number came into being. He said, ‘[Let] an enlightened aeon come into being,’ and he came into being. He created the second luminary [to] reign over him, together with myriads of angels without number to offer service. That is how he created the rest of the enlightened aeons. He made them to reign over them, and he created for them myriads of angels without number, to assist them.

So basically the ‘Self Generated’ is making a lot of entities to Lord over. This is essentially a creation myth, similar to others, including some of those already in the Bible. But then Jesus goes off the rails:

“Adamas was in the first luminous cloud that no angel has ever seen among all those called ‘God.’ He […] that […] the image […] and after the likeness of [this] angel. He made the incorruptible [generation] of Seth appear […] the twelve […] the twenty-four […]. He made seventy-two luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit. The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each.

“The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each [of them five] firmaments, [for a total of] three hundred sixty [firmaments…].

I’ll stop there. It goes on like this for another page or so, with the crazed numerology reading like some codex of a Mayan cult. This is some seriously funky stuff, and it makes L Ron Hubbard seem sane and dull by comparison. The obvious joke is that clearly there are some terrific hallucinogens in Palestine, and where the hell can I get me some.

But it’s Holy week and perhaps one should be more charitable.

While I’m certain that there is ultimately a logic to all the crazed nutterings here, and that (hopefully) with time scholars can piece together what all of this means (Much of it has to do with a gnostic idea that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God as that of the New Testament) to do so would eliminate the magic of this section. There is an undoubted evolution here of a creation story, that has changed over time absorbing different beliefs and with added flourishes by generations of storytellers. But I prefer to think of it as the result of a single vision, rather than the aggregations of bronze age holy men over generations of time. My preference would be wrong, of course, but I think one can learn more looking at it my way.

Aside from this section reminding people of attendees at a Phish concert, this also reminds me of how a child would speak after having seen the circus for the first time. [And then Daddy said this, and then Mommy said that, and then there were fifteen elephants and a bazillion giraffes and then there was this BIG noise…] This reads not just like some drug induced rambling but also like the description of something by someone with no vocabulary for it. Sort of like describing a dream. Or a child describing something big, loud and colorful. From the first section of the Judas Gospel:

“He began to speak with them about the mysteries beyond the world and what would take place at the end. Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child.”

That actually makes it work better. Perhaps a more charitable view is one of the old chestnut of madness resulting from coming into contact with divinity. It’s a common thread from Moses to Joseph Smith. Of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, my eyes and my brain can only process the narrow band of the colors of the rainbow. If my pitifully limited brain suddenly saw the divine, and then I was asked to describe it, I also would sound like I had ingested too many happy plants. Which is exactly why people who take mushrooms sound like that. Their visions can be described (and are by many people and cultures) as fleeting glimpses of the divine. And they sound a few fries short of a happy meal when they describe them.

The idea of Jesus as a madman is hardly original (and not necessarily useful in trying to inspire divinity in one’s own life), but it’s actually quite a miracle that Jesus makes any sense at all, considering he spends his life balancing in some fashion his mortal coil with his inherent divinity. It’s one of the reasons I like this Gospel – Christ is constantly cracking up with laughter. Psilocybin gives one fleeting contact with divinity. Christ would have had to put up with it 24/7.

Bwah. Ha. Ha.