Gospel of Judas: Question of authorship (Detering) and Ireneaus on the Cainites

This is a post to follow up the past two posts on the discovery and publication (by Easter 2006) of the Coptic Gnostic writing The Gospel of Judas.

As I mentioned earlier, the question of the authorship is far from conclusive. Ireneaus identified the primary scripture used by the Cainites to be “The Gospel of Judas”, therefore the scholars might feel it is to be expected that the new gospel will reveal more about the Cainites than what Ireneaus told us in his Adversus Haereses.

In the already introduced summary, courtesy of Klaus Schilling at RadikalKritik, a site dedicated to the radical scholarship of among others, Herman A. Detering – Detering makes these observations viz. the actual authorship of the newly discovered text:

“The Gospel according to Jude explains the term itself: Satan is rebuked because the believer is not of the generation of Satan (i.e. the real world), but from a different race. The scene reminds of the temptation in the desert in the synoptics. Satan is also called Saclas (idiot), a term often found in gnostic literature for the demiurge, the god of the Tanakh : NHC II:1, III:2, XII:3, all deemed generally as Sethian writings. While this hints towards Sethianic authorship, it must be understood that the names of the sects and the distinction from others has usually been mentioned only, and even created by, later polemicists. They were hardly self-denomminations. Further progress in the publication of the manuscript is still to be awaited.”

Thus we find themes and specific names already discovered to be generic within the literature discovered at the Nag Hammadi find and identified by a joint scholarship (see Birger A.Pearson(ed):The Rediscovery of Gnosticism, Bd.1 The Sethian Gnostics, and John D.Turner:Gnosticism and Platonism, or even Alaistar B.Logan:Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy.) as Sethian Gnostic. The role of Jesus in Sethian Gnosticism is of a specific, often considered to be the last – manifestation of the Saviour whose prototype is a heavenly being or Aeon who are generically called Geradamas, Pigeradamas, Adamas or even Seth. What is also typical of the Sethian Gnostic presentation of the Christian Christ (rather than Messiah) or Platonic Logos is that it, unlike most Judeo-Christian groups of the late antiquity, take explicit exception to all Jewish or Hebrew prefigurations of the Messiah itself. Therefore the “Cainite” doctrine associated by Henri-Charles Puech as familiar or similar to the Marcionite doctrine of the descent of Jesus in order to restore, redeem or save the fallen figures of the Old Testament. Akin also is a negative evaluation of a great part of the “Judeo-Christian” pantheon of angelic hierachies – to wit, an unknown angelic host corresponds to or is directly and intimately linked to a hitherto esoteric, unknown and unrevealed (underground, incognito) human family, whose close filiation is explained, in the Sethian myths – as the result of a union of the interior, hidden Adam with the interior,hidden Eve, in a Sanctuary (evocative of the Bridal Chamber) elevated above and outside of the Cosmic Order. As such, all morals and commandments are only accorded to be accessible to these elect individuals, the members of the Sethian or perhaps Cainite gnostic group – in an indirect and to the worldly, secular order of people, including the religious – way, directly through their filiation and sharing of consciousness with the higher and “invisible” hierarchy of celestial beings. That particular heresy may well sound like the Corinthian one that Paul writes against, at the very least on the surface.

Judas Iscarioth is not even mentioned in the Nag Hammadi gnostic materials. It is quite clear that the only Jude or Judas we hear about in the Nag Hammadi library scriptures is Didymos Judas Thomas, known to the world at large as Thomas the Apostle or even Thomas the doubter.It may well be that quite early in the developement of the different initatory schools of the Egyptian Gnostics a dissension over values and emphasis caused some of those most resilient from persecution among fellow Christians, caused the “Judas” symphatisers to be isolated from the rest of the movement.

Charles W. Hedrick wrote earlier in the Bible Review (“The 34 Gospels: Diversity and Division Among the Earliest Christians”):

In sum, in addition to the four canonical gospels, we have four complete noncanonicals, seven fragmentary, four known from quotations and two hypothetically recovered for a total of 21 gospels from the first two centuries, and we know that others existed in the early period. I am confident more of them will be found. For example, I have seen photos of several pages from a Coptic text entitled “The Gospel of Judas” that recently surfaced on the antiquities market.

Ireneaus on the Cainites and the Gospel of Judas(the Roberts-Donaldson translation)Book1, Chapter31:

“1. Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”

“2. I have also made a collection of their writings in which they advocate the abolition of the doings of Hystera.Moreover, they call this Hystera the creator of heaven and earth. They also hold, like Carpocrates, that men cannot be saved until they have gone through all kinds of experience. An angel, they maintain, attends them in every one of their sinful and abominable actions, and urges them to venture on audacity and incur pollution. Whatever may be the nature of the action, they declare that they do it in the name of the angel, saying, “O thou angel, I use thy work; O thou power, I accomplish thy operation !” And they maintain that this is “perfect knowledge,” without shrinking to rush into such actions as it is not lawful even to name.”

This sounds like, to this Gnostic, really tedious work, repeating every action mechanically along the spectrum, just to rule out the possibility, perhaps, that one omits to do an action in a certain lifespan only to be forced to perform it in another. But it might well be that Ireneaus got it exactly wrong – to take an example, Ireneaus could not understand the Sabbatarian mysticism of Sabbatai Zevi or his disciple Yakhov Leib Frank with its transgressing against the commandments in order to fulfill the Law, revealing the true and most valuable tablet of all, of all laws – the human heart whereupon is written the fateful commandment, in a single sentence, by the hand of God itself. Tricking the mechanical hierarchies of cultural conditioning, while an art developed painstakingly throughout several centuries, were only known to a few real geniuses, and I do intend to say in addition that it was not accesible to all initiated into any system, myth or direction of the Christian Gnoses either, at that time – and could not then be explicated or discussed in a language known to Ireneaus. I mean – look at the impending mess of the myriad popular writers on Gnosticism, they know not the head or tail of it, nor that it even has any. I maintain that all this business with wombs, with idiot-fool-godlings, angels and so forth – while left for obvious reasons in the hands of philologian experts, historians and archeological technician geniuses, are not that very accessible to any mainstream, neither secular nor religious. I also maintain this: that it will end being what it is, and end up also, in addition, not being observed or registered in our minds as an actual phenomenon of thought and idea – if we for some reason elect to not bother with anything problematic, or incomprehensible, to our sensibilities.

Therefore, of course, I am among those who will sit up and listen and make notes from the discovery of a possible only exstant relic of the Cainite heretics.. or Sethians for that matter.

One thought on “Gospel of Judas: Question of authorship (Detering) and Ireneaus on the Cainites

  1. hi, interest started 20 years ago and proceeded very quickly to nag hammadi and independent studies at u lof a in az. very nice and helps shed some more Light on my studies:::::::::::while the powers and authorties arelooking down on all that is theirs;,,_— i will be looking up to what is mine. bill k

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