Pagels and King do an excellent job explaining why, according to the author of this renegade gospel, mainstream Christianity has gotten it so wrong for so long. Along the way they introduce us to, among other things, a goddess named Barbelo (for some Gnostics, a divine mother figure who often symbolized heaven) and try to make sense of teachings that to most readers today will seem like nutty musings on numerology, cosmology, astrology and eschatology. On the perennial question of death and the afterlife, Pagels and King explain that whereas other early Christians affimed the doctrine of bodily resurrection, the Christians to whom this gospel is addressed believed in the immortal spirit. Here the body is suspect. Jesus is not reborn in the flesh but simply appears. The eternal life he offers is lived in the spirit alone, and it is won more through Jesus’ teachings than through his sacrifice on the cross.
Thomas Jefferson, in his own cut-and-paste version of the Gospels made in the White House in 1804, depicted Jesus not as a savior who died to pay for our sins but as a great moral teacher who lived to show us how to live ourselves. The Jefferson Bible, as this anti-supernatural Scripture is called, concludes abruptly, as Jesus is being laid in the tomb, without a hint of the Resurrection. The Gospel of Judas ends even more abruptly — before Jesus begins his trek to Calvary. Like Jefferson’s Bible, it scoffs at the notion that God would sacrifice his son to atone for the world’s sins. It too depicts Jesus as a teacher rather than a savior, though its esoteric theology, laced with numerological musings on the “72 luminaries” and the “five firmaments,” would have revolted Jefferson, who preferred to take his morality neat.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.