4 out of 4 stars
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Rating: 4 out of 4
I selected this book because I am always intrigued by historical events that are related by two diametrically opposed sides. Typically we see a conflict between traditional interpretation vs. an interpretation based upon evidence that would turn the established interpretation on its head. All too often the conflict crystallizes as set-in-stone self-interest aimed at perpetuating established views vs. those who are on the fringe who are looking in from the outside with little chance of being taken seriously. Many times those on the fringe are justly shunted aside as their “proofs” are totally bogus and are usually fronts for more insidious objectives: the Holocaust deniers come to mind.
As I started Robert Wahler’s MISREADING JUDAS, I was hoping that his treatise would not degenerate into a blindly biased total rejection of one side, replacing a trashed history and its evidence with an equally tunnel-visioned presentation of Gnostic mysticism buttressed by long lost Gospel of Judas. Wahler does write with emotion and is understandably resentful that his ideas and the ideas of other scholars of Gnostic teachings are given scant regard. However, as passionate as Wahler is, I think he has done an effective job in presenting his points. At one point he states “one of the reasons for this book is to instigate further research on some of these critical questions and to promote further debate on the correct interpretation of the text.” Unlike many ax-grinders, Wahler does not extinguish his opponents by closing the door on continued investigation; rather, he invites it. He is dismayed by the common and often insurmountable obstacle faced by all those who oppose convention: “there is little curiosity among academic professionals for new sources of information that are not normative—that is, from within academia.” and he is fully aware of the attendant motivations of any established group in rejecting challenges. In this case a group that is bolstered by nearly 2000 years of acceptance, and acceptance that runs the gamut from the casual acceptance of those who have known no other viewpoint to the those whose rejection of opposing views lies in preserving, undisturbed and unthreatened, a lifetime of convenience and career building orthodoxy.
I struggled a bit with Wahler’s text; his arguments are presented clearly enough, but I am not a biblical scholar, so I forced myself to tread carefully. His theses do indeed turn the New Testament on its head, so to do justice to his presentation, I had to reread some sections to ensure that his arguments were holding together. At times, his expressed frustrations with the proponents and preservers of orthodoxy were a little heavy-handed and distracting; these feelings are easy to understand for anyone who has ever bucked the smug majority, but I would have preferred a more clinical approach.
That said, Wahler provides some very convincing arguments questioning not only the historical accuracy of the New Testament gospels, but the motivations of both those who originally wrote them and those who have, through history, skewed translations of the original texts to advance their own agendas. At one point Wahler states “Gnosticism is informative, orthodoxy is disinformative.” Most importantly however, beyond the accuracy of texts, is Wahler’s premise that Gnosticism would be more readily understood and accepted if scholars (or anyone) studied mysticism. Such an understanding would lay the groundwork for the rejection of the “officially” manipulated orthodoxy so overwhelmingly dominant in traditional Christian thought and allow the acceptance of a belief system that denies the concept of salvation through the sacrifice of another (Jesus), but instead posits that salvation is the result of personal knowing, self-sacrifice and a true spiritual union with God. We are responsible for our own personal salvation (redemption and deliverance), and should not be foisting this burden on a figure head or His self-appointed spokesmen. Here of course, lay the crux of the problem for early (and current) Christian (organized religion) power-brokers: if salvation is personal and not a promised benefit of submitting to a belief system designed mainly to support a central authority and its puppet masters, where go the puppet masters when the puppets cut the strings?
Most intriguing is Wahler’s exploration of the “historical” figures of Jesus and Judas. Their evolution (and later promotion) through New Testament gospel text is juxtaposed with the historically verifiable figure of James the Just, who Wahler contends is the true Master and the actual central figure in the divine plan of salvation. Key of course is the explication of texts related both to Gnostic gospels and the orthodox New Testament gospels. Wahler painstakingly explores translations and mis-translations to score several important points. As he himself states, Wahler would welcome debate on any and all of these points from the Christian establishment.
In sum a thought-provoking read and I never got the feeling that I was exploring a crackpot alternate universe.
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