Gospel Of Judas: His Side Of The Story

This image provided by the National Geographic Society shows the final words on the last page of the codex reading: Gospel of Judas. on display at the Society in Washington. The ancient manuscript rediscovered after 1,700 years may shed new light on the relationship between Jesus and Judas, the disciple who betrayed him.
AP/National Geographic Society
For 2,000 years, Judas has been reviled for betraying Jesus. Now a newly translated ancient document seeks to tell his side of the story.

The "Gospel of Judas" tells a far different tale from the four gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas as a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus — and who turned him in at Jesus' request.

"You will be cursed by the other generations — and you will come to rule over them," Jesus tells Judas in the document made public Thursday.

The text, one of several ancient documents found in the Egyptian desert in 1970, was preserved and translated by a team of scholars. It was made public in an English translation by the National Geographic Society.

CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports religious and lay readers alike will debate the meaning and truth of the manuscript. The vast majority of biblical scholars are only getting their first look at it.

While it's not in question that the document dates back to the third or fourth century, the accuracy of the content is, since it was written by Gnostics, one of several ancient Christian groups considered heretics by early church authorities. Assuras reports that is why what they wrote never made it into the Bible.

But it does show the diversity of beliefs in early Christianity, said Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible studies at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

The text, in the Coptic language, was dated to about the year 300 and is a copy of an earlier Greek version.

A "Gospel of Judas" was first mentioned around A.D. 180 by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, in what is now France. The bishop denounced the manuscript as heresy because it differed from mainstream Christianity. The actual text had been thought lost until this discovery.

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University, said, "The people who loved, circulated and wrote down these gospels did not think they were heretics."

Added Rev. Donald Senior, president of the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago: "Let a vigorous debate on the significance of this fascinating ancient text begin."

Senior expressed doubt that the new gospel will rival the New Testament, but he allowed that opinions are likely to vary.

Craig Evans, a professor at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada, said New Testament explanations for Judas' betrayal range from money to the influence of Satan.

"Perhaps more now can be said," he commented. The document "implies that Judas only did what Jesus wanted him to do."