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How the Prophetic Borges Prefigured the ‘Gospel of Judas’

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The other night I was reading a yellowed copy of Labyrinths, a (once-trendy) book of stories by Jorge Luis Borges (who died in ’86), when I came on the story "Three Versions of Judas" and was stunned to see that, writing in the 1940s, the Argentinian had anticipated the "Gospel of Judas" that has in the last year been trumpeted by Christian scholars.

The Judas gospel, a sensation last year, was a papyrus that was created in the 2d or 3rd Century A.D.  by gnostics reinterpreting the New Testament, and rediscovered in the ’70s.  It holds that Judas did not in fact betray Jesus. That Jesus confided his gospel to Judas above the other apostles. And that Judas’s betrayal of Jesus to the Roman authorities of Jerusalem was actually a service to the son of god. (That much I picked up in the Times coverage, and NY Review of Books.)

The Borges story, which you can find online, is a short piece of false scholarship, typical of Borges, purporting to describe the work of a theologian named Nils Runeberg who has come to understand that Judas was the hero of the gospels, for just the reason the gnostics came to think so. He had to play a selfless and crucial role in the passion, he had to betray Jesus in order for Jesus to be crucified.

Judas, alone among the apostles, sensed the secret divinity and terrible intent of Jesus. The Word had been lowered to mortal condition; Judas, a disciple of the Word, could lower himself to become an informer (the worst crime in all infamy) and reside amidst the perpetual fires of Hell…. He renounced honor, morality, peace and the kingdom of heaven, just as others, less heroically, renounce pleasure… He acted with enormous humility.

I’m hardly the first to notice this. Borges’s revelation is around on the blogosphere. For instance, on Lew Rockwell’s site, a Christian writer trumpeted the Borges piece nearly a year ago.

My comment. Revelation is revelation, whether in apostles or fiction-makers. What the gnostics were capable of understanding 1800 years ago a great writer was capable of understanding 60 years ago. Does this prove that Jesus was the son of god? Hardly. It is another interpretation of the Jesus story, in religious terms. For Borges was a religious writer; he studied Kabala and Koran, and mystical ideas appealed to his playful imagination. His stories have a moral component; he sought out the spiritual laws of life, and consulted teachers from Maimonides to Jesus.

Prophecy takes place around us all the time. You have to keep your ears open.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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