Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reading the Gospel of Judas XII: The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

One of the first scenes in the Gospel of Judas has Jesus “when he visited his disciples when they were gathered seat giving thanks over the bread. He mocked his disciples.”[1] What were his disciples doing that was worthy of ridicule? The same phrase is used in the Mesokemic version of Matthew 26:27 when Jesus, administering the Last Supper, gives thanks over the cup of wine (the Bohairic version uses a different expression). It is also used in the Lycopolitan version of John 6:23 where they remember the place of the feeding the five thousand when Jesus gave thanks over the bread. For the early Christian readers of the Gospel of Judas, this seems to have been designed to refer to the Eucharist, or the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This reading is confirmed in the next sentence:

They said to him: Master, why are you laughing at our Eucharist, What have we done that merits that? He answered and said to them: I was not laughing at you; you are not doing this because you want to but because your god will be blessed through this.[2]

When Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he said that it was his new covenant and gave remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). (Its covenant aspect is why it is called a sacramentum “an oath.”) This was one of the most prominent practices of the early Church, one even mentioned by Pliny[3] making it the earliest Christian practice mentioned by non-Christians. Its importance to the earliest Christians can hardly be overstated. The writer of the Gospel of Judas rejects the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

This is of a piece with making the betrayer of Jesus as his most devoted follower. The Gospel of Judas signals within the first two pages that it is rejecting those things that Christians held most sacred.

[1] Gospel of Judas 33.26-34.3.
[2] Gospel of Judas 34.3-11.
[3] Pliny, Epistles 10.96.