The great Da Vinci Code distractionHe concludes:
Jesus married Mary Magdalene and admitted he wasn’t God, Judas was only obeying orders — after Dan Brown the litany of biblical “revelations” seems unending. Geza Vermes asks why
It is no surprise then that, since the 19th century each new archaeological discovery — real, or more recently, thanks to the media, fictional — has been greeted by the public as a long-awaited key to the mystery. The Mesopotamian clay tablets about the dying and rising god, the mystery of the redeeming Persian god Mithra, the Oriental and Hellenistic salvation mysticism of the Roman Empire in New Testament times, and in the mid-20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were acclaimed as the longed-for clue to the truth.That's a good point, although I'm less optimistic about our being able to recover Jesus' original message from even our best sources. But as Vermes explains clearly, the Gospel of Judas is entirely irrelevant for that aim, even though it's of great interest for other historical questions.
The archaeological finds have all taught us something new, but the best source for reconstructing the portrait of the historical Jesus has been available all the time. It lies in the New Testament — provided it is interpreted with a view to discovering what the original writers meant to convey to the original readers.
This genuine message about a Galilean faith-healer and preacher of the coming Kingdom of God was progressively concealed under the successive garbs of the mystical vision of St Paul and the Fourth Gospel, and the Greek philosophical imagery of the early church fathers and centuries of accretion inspired by the doctrinal and practical — often political — needs of later Christianity.
Today, theologians and secular historians of religion, working hand in hand and using the latest linguistic, archaeological and cultural tools, should be able to retrieve the authentic Gospel of Jesus, his first-hand message to his original followers. The high dignitaries of the churches would do better to encourage and applaud them than to focus their ire on trivia.
The main good that has come from Brown's fiction and Baigent's highly dubious claims is that the real story of responsible historical study of first-century Christianity has gotten a much wider airing than it would have otherwise.