Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A critique of BYU Studies' critique of the Gospel of Judas

A BYU Studies issue focusing on the Gospel of Judas caught the attention of April DeConick, professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University. At The Forbidden Gospels Blog she comments about Mormon scholars & the Gospel of Judas:

The articles also give an interesting perspective on the reception history of the Gospel of Judas within the Latter Day Saints tradition, since all the articles address the issue of this text (and other Gnostic texts) from the LDS interpretative trajectory. From this perspective, the Gospel of Judas holds no relevance. In and Q&A section, the editor writes:
A few oft-quoted NT scholars with radical views claim that it overturns the record of Jesus as we know it from the traditional Bible. But for the LD Saints, the Gospel of Judas fails as a "Gospel" because it fails to recognize the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the way to salvation. Early Christian scholars rejected it as apostate in AD 150-200, and LD Saint scholars agree (p. 6).
This complete rejection of the Gospel surprised me, given that so many LDS doctrines are similar to Gnostic ones. In one of the articles, Gaye Strathearn actually mentions this:
For LD Saints, a study of Gnosticism can be a valuable pursuit. For example, it is an important resource for understanding the complexity of the growth and development of the early Christian Church. In addition, it is possible that a text from the Nag Hammadi Library, the Gospel of Thomas, could contain some authentic sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the canonical Gospels, although it would be difficult to identify them with any sense of certainty. For LD Saints in particular, a study of Gnostic groups shows that they accepted some teachings that have certain parallels with LDS doctrines: a belief that we have a premortal existence as spirits, that a number of levels of salvation are possible, that the restoration of lost knowledge is essential for salvation, and that a type of marriage, associated with the Holy of Holies in the temple, is required to return to the highest level of salvation. These types of teachings are not prominent in modern traditional Christian theology. Thus the Gnostic texts indicate that, in antiquity, these were important issues for some Christians. LD Saints, however, must be cautious. They must guard against any endeavor to study Gnostic writings with the purpose of identifying proof-texts for their own doctrine" (pp. 32-33).
So there is a certain uneasiness about the Gospel of Judas found throughout these six articles, and an attempt by the LDS scholars to emphasize that this newly discovered text is not "orthodox" for their tradition, to send out cautions to their readers not to identify with it, and to distance themselves from it.

The Book of Mormon predicts additional scripture coming forth and presumably being added to the canon. A vast number of extra-biblical texts ( here or here for example) have been uncovered since the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet there is no indication that leaders of the church have perused the idea of their canonization, nor of Mormon scholars recommending texts for canonization. Joseph Smith vigorously explored a number of ancient texts including Egyptian papyri (some of his translation was canonized, some was not), the Kinderhook Plates a parchment (canonized), & parts of the bible (some parts canonized). But it appears that persuit of extra-biblical additions is suspended for the time being.

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