Jesus lived in Judaea which was then a province of the Roman Empire. Although
the Bible relates how as a teenager Jesus astonished Holy Men with his knowledge
he only embarked on his career as a teacher and prophet when in his thirties.
It was at this time that Judas was one of his disciples.
Jesus actual career as an itinerant teacher was rather brief one of a very few years only that came to an end after Jesus was identified by Judas such that he could be taken captive. This capture of Jesus, which took place near Jerusalem, was followed by his execution after the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities lobbied Pontius Pilate, the Roman administrator, preferring that Jesus should die in the place of a notorious robber named Barabbas. From the point of view of the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities Jesus of Nazareth was a highly, even outrageously, unorthodox preacher.
Pontius Pilate, himself made a demonstration of "washing his hands of innocent blood" but nonetheless acceeded to the execution. The death penalty in that culture being imposed through "crucifiction" where condemned persons were nailed to a upright cross structure of heavy timbers to die slowly of their wounds and exposure.
Jesus' life and actions had, however, made a deep impression on many persons and a new faith based upon his teachings was was gradually accepted by individuals and families. In its early days the new faith was little understood by wider society and its adherents came to be widely, and disparagingly, referred to as "Christians."
Faiths have need of scriptures and the early Christians adopted pre-existing Jewish scriptures for their own use as an "Old Testament" of faith. The new faith also recognized newer "Gospels" attibuted to some of Jesus' disciples as well as a number of Letters, or Epistles, written by the disciple Paul to faith communities he was nurturing in many cities of the Roman Empire. These newer additions form a New Testament of faith.
Early Christianity increasingly took on a diversity of forms none of which enjoyed widespread acceptance in the Roman Empire. The sponsoring of a limited "Canon" of accepted "New Testament" teachings by a Roman businessman named Marcion circa 140 AD gave rise to the emerging "Christian" mainstream endorsing four Gospels and also the letters of St Paul as being Canonical, authoritative, works.
The term - The Lost Gospel of Judas - refers to a "Gospel" originally written in Greek circa 130-170 AD by a member, or members, of the Cainites sect. The Cainites took their name from Cain who is condemned in the Bible as a murderer and have something of a reputation for attempting to glorify Cain and other disgraced figures in the Bible because, according to certain viewpoints, they were doing God's work.
A would-be heresy hunter named Irenaeus of Lyons unfavorably mentions a Gospel of Judas in his work "Against the Heresies" written around 180 AD. Some scholars consider that Irenaeus himself had recourse for his information about the Gospel of Judas to an earlier critic of heresy named Justin Martyr.
By 315 AD with the declaration of an Edict of Milan an imperially supported Christian Church came into being and the Emperor Constantine authorized the convening of a great Council of Nicea to better define the officially accepted theology and dogma of the Church. Later in this century a Gospel of Judas was critically mentioned in writing by a Bishop Epiphanius of Cyprus. At this time this Gospel was being suppressed by the Church.
In the late 1970s some very old documents were discovered by farmers near El
Minya, on the banks of the Nile in Egypt. These documents, writings on papyrus
folded and enclosed in leather bindings - a form of presentation known as a
Codex, were contained in a stone box that was itself housed in an ancient tomb
that may have belonged to a rich family.
By 1983 the Codex had been clandestinely exported out of Egypt and was on offer on the antiquities market at an asking price of $3,000,000. This original offer for sale, in Geneva, did secure a buyer and the documents subsequently spent some years, deteriorating, in a safe deposit box in a bank vault on Long Island, New York.
Their sale was again under active negotiation circa 1991 but this was frustrated by considerations arising out of the Gulf War of that year.
In 2000 a library associated Yale University believed them to be authentic ancient texts of scholarly importance dating from the third or fourth century AD but, doubting their provenance as probably illicitly smuggled documents, declined an opportunity to purchase them. A buyer was eventually found for an as yet undisclosed sum believed to be considerably lower than the original asking price. This buyer was a Zurich, Switzerland based dealer in antiquities. The ancient texts later came into the possession of the Basle, Switzerland, based Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art.
By 2002 the Maecenas Foundation had financed preservation work on the thirty plus fragile sheets of decaying papyrus it had bought and had begun to make their content available for translation by scholars. These scholars dated the Codex to 220 and 240 A.D. and discovered that it was a Coptic language translation of an original Greek text dating from nearly a century earlier. Coptic was the language spoken in Egypt at the time. Coptic script derives from the Hieroglyphs used by earlier Egyptian civilizations.
As well as bearing brushed script in Coptic (Sahidic dialect) of the Gospel of Judas these thirty plus sheets, that is sixty plus pages, also featured other "christian inspired" inscriptions that had first come to light at an earlier important find of Coptic (Sahidic dialect) ancient texts in 1945 at Nag Hammadi.
Rodolphe Kasser, an internationally recognized Coptic language expert associated with the University of Geneva, became deeply involved in editing the translation and said of the original papyrus "it was so brittle, it would crumble at the slightest touch."
In 2005 the the Maecenas Foundation entered into a $1,000,000 deal with the
National Geographic Society which itself intended to become involved in making
the translation available to a wider audience.
Given the controversial provenance of these ancient texts a National Geographic Society official has reportedly defended the Society's involvement with the international team of experts researching them as being justified by the necessity of save their content before the old and tattered manuscripts turn to dust. Furthermore the documents themselves should be returned to Egypt after this painstaking translation.
A date of April 9 2006 was set by the National Geographic Channel as a much publicized world wide transmission date for a special two-hour television broadcast on the Lost Gospel of Judas.
Judas is traditionally seen as "The Judas" who for "thirty pieces of silver,"
(the price at which slaves were bought and sold), betrayed Jesus to capture by
the authorities "with a kiss" of identification.
The Gospel of Judas presents a rather different take on events. It begins:-
"The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot three days before he celebrated Passover..."
Judas is depicted as having been Jesus' favorite disciple who was singled out to receive special knowledge.
One passage has Jesus telling Judas "step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal."
According to the Lost Gospel Judas' act was only apparently one of betrayal. The deeper truth of the matter being that Jesus encouraged that Judas should "betray" in order to allow a fulfillment of a voluntarily accepted theological destiny - "You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." Thus Judas' act becomes one of extreme obedience as a disciple.
The Lost Gospel of Judas closes with the scene of "betrayal" in the Garden of Gethsemane :- "...he answered them as they wanted him to. And Judas received the money. And he surrendered him. This is the end of the Gospel of Judas."
Thus the gospel of Judas does not mention the Crucification. Other "Canonical" Christian Gospels do give details of how events subsequently unfolded. In these accounts Judas himself is represented as committing suicide in remorse for what he had done.
The Cainite viewpoint on the matter of "betrayal," however, seems to have been that without the sacrifice of Jesus' life as a momentously significant Act of Redemption God's larger plans for for Mankind would not be progressed.