A new gospel?
The manuscript discovered in a cave in Egypt that bears the title "Gospel of Judas" definitely has no connection with the historical person Judas Iscariot, or Jesus and the other apostles for that matter. It's text is in Coptic, an ancient language of Egypt, and dated to about 300 C.E. If it is a translation of a Greek original, which has not been proven, the original probably comes from the second century, around 100 years after Jesus Christ was crucified and arose from the dead. You can read the English translation for yourself at the National Geographic website.
Just another Gnostic wannabe
The content of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" bears all the telltale signs of being a Gnostic text such as those common in Egypt during that period. A whole library of similar documents were uncovered at Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt in 1945. They share with the "Gospel of Judas" typical Gnostic features: emphasis on finding salvation through attaining knowledge, a hidden knowledge available only to a select few; a strong dualism between the physical and the spiritual realms; a series of intermediaries between the transcendent God and lowly humans, including the god that created us.
The contrast is stark
Of course, all of this is alien to biblical Christianity, which bases salvation on our trusting obedience to the only redeemer, the Word who became flesh and died, really died, for our sins on the cross of Golgotha and was raised never to die again (Romans 1:5, 16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1b). The physical and spiritual realms God intends to be integrated, so that we can use our fleshly bodies to offer to God spiritual sacrifices (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 12:1-2). We look forward to a time when our flesh will be transformed into bodies like His: incorruptible, immortal, and glorious, yet still tangible, human bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53-57; Philippians 3:20-21). The New Testament teaches that God is transcendent, yes, but also immanent enough to stoop to create, to redeem, and to have fellowship with us (1 Timothy 1:17; 2:3-6; 6:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Misaligned portrait of Judas
The "Gospel of Judas" presents a portrait of Judas that is misaligned with the portrait we find in the New Testament. The biblical picture of Iscariot speaks of a thief (John 12:6) whose greed apparently prompted him to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:14-16). A best-case explanation would be that he believed strongly in Jesus as the Messiah, but in his misapprehension that Jesus would be a political ruler rather than a spiritual one, he tried to force Jesus' hand by getting him arrested. Perhaps Judas believed that confronted with the choice of dying or initiating his rule miraculously, Jesus would choose the latter. The text does say, "When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse...", tried to return the blood money, and then committed suicide (Matthew 27:1-5).
In the "Gospel of Judas," Judas has a dream that the other apostles were stoning him and persecuting him severely. Jesus reassures him that though the other apostles will hate him, he has greater esoteric knowledge and his holiness far exceeds theirs. There is no biblical evidence that the other apostles stoned Judas, persecuted him severely or mildly, for that matter, or that they even hated him. As to Judas's esoteric knowledge, if our best-case scenario is true, he was just as deluded as the other apostles about the political nature of Jesus' kingdom. As to his holiness, I need only mention that Jesus calls him "lost" and "the son of destruction" (John 17:12), an Aramaic idiom meaning that he is characterized by destruction (compare "sons of thunder" and "son of encouragement" in Mark 3:17 and Acts 4:36).
Definitely a different gospel
The "Gospel of Judas" is not a reliable source for historical information about the traitor-apostle. Like many other Gnostic documents, it presumes to usurp a biblical narrative and then twist, distort, and abuse it for promoting its own agenda. Gnosticism, after all is only one more human-centered religio-philosophy that seeks a salvation by works, one that ends in human boasting, in a secret society that seeks to separate from the ignorant sinners who live in hopeless darkness. It offers no redemption and no forgiveness. It has no salvific mission to lift the world up and make it better for everyone.
Why go there for spiritual food?
Compared to genuine, biblical Christianity, the Gnosticism of the "Gospel of Judas" is bankrupt, impotent, and ugly. Why anyone would find here spiritual bread is a mystery to me, when the true Bread of Life makes Himself available to all without cost. He offers us His unsearchable riches, his illimitable power, and his winsome and awesome beauty. "Judas" or Christ--which will you choose?
Want to "go deeper"?
In his litany of heresies, the second-century Church Father Irenaeus mentions a Gospel of Judas, and the Coptic "Judas" seems to reflect what Irenaeus describes, though we cannot be certain that the two are identical. Read what Irenaeus says in Against Heresies 1.31.1. If you want to read more Gnostic texts, you can consult the standard edition, The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson, et. al, 3d ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), or study the on-line collection of the Gnostic Society. One of the most extensive recent studies of Judas is Judas: Betrayer of Friend of Jesus? by William Klassen (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1996). His bibliography on pages 209-225 provides an extensive list of books and journal articles about Judas and the betrayal. Klassen concludes that Judas has been slandered and wrongly maligned down through the centuries. While granting that Christendom has excoriated Judas much more than the New Testament authors, I cannot go as far as he does in rehabilitating Judas Iscariot. His mind was on earthly things. His treasure was Mammon (Money), and where his treasure was, there his heart was also. If you want more extensive discussion of the "Gospel of Judas," see the two articles on the blog of Ben Witherington, a conservative biblical scholar: "Gospel of Judas, et al.--Part One," and "Gospel of Judas--Part Two." I also recommend his dialogues with his readers.
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com