4 out of 4 stars
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What if someone provided proof that our long-held beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth were incorrect? Author Robert Wahler is attempting to do just that with his 2016 non-fiction book, Misreading Judas: How Biblical Scholars Missed the Biggest Story of All Time. The author’s thesis offers a new interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Wahler asserts the story of Judas was not a betrayal and sacrifice of Jesus at all but rather a self-sacrifice by Judas as part of the Gnostic tradition called mastership succession. The author’s research holds both Jesus and Judas in a very different light from that of orthodox religious teachings. Could Jesus really have been merely one in a succession of many spiritual Masters?
The Gnostic Gospel of Judas was likely composed by second-century Gnostic Christians. The surprisingly intact papyrus containing the text first surfaced publicly in 1970. It reveals conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. Wahler claims no one has correctly translated the Gospel of Judas until his research emerged. He faults the Christian scholars who initially interpreted the text, saying they were ignorant to the Gnostic orientation necessary to adequately understand the ancient writings. In Eastern spiritual traditions, mysticism is the practice of spiritual knowing (gnosis) through meditation and other vehicles for merging with Spirit. A longtime student of Eastern mysticism, Wahler insists the story of Judas and all of the Gnostic Gospels must be interpreted through the lens of mysticism.
In addition to Gnostic texts and the New Testament, Wahler’s comparative analysis draws from the work of Eastern spiritual teacher Maharaj Charan Singh. From this viewpoint, Wahler contends when Jesus tells Judas to “sacrifice the man who bears me,” he is referring to a mystical sacrifice, not the physical sacrifice of Jesus. In the mystical interpretation, Jesus is telling Judas that he (Judas) will sacrifice his individual self to become one with his spiritual Master. This form of self-sacrifice is a traditional practice by the Gnostics of that time. In addition, the author asserts that Judas is the same person as the lesser-known apostle, James the Just. If they are one in the same, according to Wahler, then the Judas-as-betrayer story was a cover for what really happened: James (Judas) succeeded Jesus as Master.
Robert Wahler maintains that the mystical self-sacrifice by Judas, and his subsequent mastership, was misinterpreted and “inverted” by biblical scholars to hide the uncomfortable truth that other great Masters preceded and succeeded Jesus. The simple existence of a succession of Masters through self-sacrifice challenges the conventional knowledge of Jesus’ role in history. Wahler is not saying that Jesus wasn’t a prophet and great spiritual Master. He is saying Jesus wasn’t the only one and that he didn’t die for anyone’s sins. Wahler challenges, “There is no reason to think that the New Testament canon is the original text of the story of the first-century Master, Jesus Christ.”
For a relatively short book, 102 pages, Misreading Judas delivers volumes worth of sound comparative analysis. It is packed with quotations and line-by-line examination. I thought I might tire of the density but found I was fascinated by Wahler’s methods and conclusions. Misreading Judas is not an easy read but is worth the effort. Some of the logic is complicated but at the same time convincing.
Wahler’s writing is clear and easy to follow. The book’s organization facilitates the reader’s understanding of the material. Divided into four sections, the book traverses The Gospel of Judas, The Nag Hammadi Library, The New Testament, and resources on mystic readings of scriptures. Considering the complex punctuation required for the dense quotations, parenthetical and bracketed insertions, I was surprised that there were so few errors. The editor gave impeccable attention to precision in grammar and punctuation. A summary at the end of the book reviews the passages of text that directly support the thesis. Both the summary and Wahler’s concluding remarks help to connect the dots. Note: In deference to Eastern mysticism, Robert Wahler capitalizes the word “Master” in his book. I have done the same for consistency.
Wahler is not entirely alone in his progressive positions. Some cursory research on my part revealed that there is growing consensus among religious scholars for Wahler’s view of Judas as beloved and obedient disciple, rather than betrayer. The author’s belief in the succession of Masters is, however, another story. This is where he is out on a limb. Save non-Christians and very progressive theologians, support for this conclusion is less enthusiastic, to be sure.
I rate Misreading Judas: How Biblical Scholars Missed the Biggest Story of All Time 4 out of 4 stars. If you are open-minded and are interested in biblical history or Eastern mysticism, I think you will be fast captivated by this book. If you are outraged by Wahler’s conclusions, you might enjoy being engaged in what can only be described as the debate of the millennia.
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