ABC News: Did Jesus Ask Judas to Betray Him?
So what is in the Gospel of Judas? It is a dialogue that claims to be a conversation between Jesus and Judas in which Jesus asks Judas to betray him.
"Judas has the terrible task of taking it upon himself to turn him over to the authorities for this reason," Pagels said. "Now, the Gospel of Judas also has Judas say to Jesus in fear and terror that he has a dream that the other disciples will hate him and will stone him to death, will attack him.
"And Jesus says, 'Yes, in fact, they will think that you are a terrible person because of what you did. This is part of the burden that you bear. But they will be wrong about that.' So it is an extraordinary transformation of the ordinary understanding of Judas Iscariot."
Pagels said the text shows that Christ, in fact, asked Judas to betray him for an undisclosed reason. "The Gospel of Judas does suggest that the betrayal of Jesus is not a reprehensible act, not the act of a traitor, you know, the worst villain in the history of the world, but that it's a secret mystery between him and Jesus," she said.
Herbert Krosney, author of "The Lost Gospel: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot," one of two new books and a National Geographic Channel documentary about the Gospel of Judas, said the finding is significant.
"Judas is not the betrayer," Krosney said. "Judas is, rather, the favored disciple of Jesus. He is the one whose star shines in the heavens and in the skies, and Judas, therefore, becomes unique. He is Jesus' best friend rather than his betrayer."
A New Perspective
Today the Gospel of Judas got its first public outing at a news conference, and it is on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. It will eventually return to Egypt to be housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum. It is also available online, in Coptic and English, and is the cover story of the new National Geographic magazine.
But while the document is a real one, is what it claims also true? Did the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John get it wrong? Did Jesus askJudas to betray him?
"I don't think that we have in this Gospel what I would call historical proof," Pagels said. "We also don't have that in the other Gospels."
She said there may never be an answer. "I don't see how we would, although you see we could always find next week or in 50 years other evidence that we don't have now."
In the end, science may have its answers, but questions of spirit and soul cannot be analyzed like a piece of papyrus. If Judas did not betray Jesus and was part of a grand plan, does that change anything for Christian theology?
The discovery does not alter the belief of evangelical scholar Ben Witherington that Judas did indeed betray Jesus. "Well, it would mean among other things that Jesus had some kind of death wish, for a start," Witherington said. "And it would raise some questions about his character.
"I would think there are some questions of integrity that would be raised about that, for him to sort of script it in such a way that he's using his disciples to go and set this up would suggest a sort of level of hands-on intention to it, where he's not just submitting to the will of God in his life," Witherington said. "He's actually got his hands on the wheel, and he's driving the wheel of history in a particular direction. And some would find that troubling."
The scholars interviewed by "Primetime" agreed that the real importance of the Gospel of Judas is the window it provides into what some early Christians were thinking. But they acknowledged that some in the organized church will not like the discovery of this Gospel.
"Absolutely, they won't," Pagels said. "Some will be very offended, and they'll say this proves that all of those texts are rubbish, because it's an utterly preposterous idea that Judas could have been involved in a secret mystery with Jesus."
But that would miss the point, she added. "The Christian message is a message about faith and hope and, you know, the relationship between God and human beings. It's not a matter of historical fact."
Pagels said she hoped the find will have a big impact.
"I would hope that people appreciate the excitement of this discovery and recognize that it's all right to ask the kinds of questions that sometimes they're afraid to ask, and say, 'What else didn't we know about the early Christian movement? Could, for example, Judas be forgiven?'" she said.
"And when people start asking that question, they'll realize that it doesn't destroy faith, it actually can strengthen it. But it's a different kind of faith; it's informed by what we understand about our past."