The Laughing Jesus in the Gospel of Judas

On Jim Davila's JUDAS WATCH, he has tracked two recent reviews of Pagels-King, Reading Judas. On June 24, Stephen Prothero's review appeared in the New York Times here. On June 27, Bruce Chilton reviewed their book in the New York Sun here. Neither reviewer appears very convinced that this new take on Judas - the good Judas - is going to take us anywhere or go anywhere. And Stephen Prothero's review is particularly insightful, when he questions how meaningful Judas' Jesus is when he laughs so much at the disciples.
Although Pagels and King attend with care to the ironies of a text that both attacks Christian martyrdom and sets Judas up as the first Christian martyr, they are less effective in dealing with the most disturbing feature of this gospel: Jesus’ sarcastic laughter. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus laughs no fewer than four times. He laughs not with his disciples but at them — for worshiping incorrectly and for misunderstanding his teachings. “Teacher, why are you laughing at us?” Judas asks. Good question. Pagels and King devote scant attention to it, responding simply that this laughter is intended to spur Jesus’ disciples on to “higher spiritual vision.” To me, however, it just sounds mean-spirited, turning Jesus into the sort of person you wouldn’t like, much less worship.
My response to Prothero's concern is that Jesus' laugh is mean-spirited, directed at the disciples, including Judas, who are trapped in a fate they can't escape. They all worship Ialdabaoth, including Judas, who is as evil as ever. We must keep in mind that this gospel is not a historical representation of what happened between Jesus and his disciples, but is a historical representation of the opinion of the Sethian Gnostics about the apostolic Christians whom they associated with the twelve disciples and a demonic cursed Judas. The Sethian Gnostics are laughing at the apostolic Christians whom they think are ignorant. Why is it shocking to us, so disturbing? Because we are used to hearing only the mean-spirited voices of the apostolic Christians like Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius who say equally nasty things about the Gnostics. What this text does for us is engage the other side from the perspective of the other side. This is invaluable as we try to sort out how the normative traditions emerged as they did!

At any rate, these issues I take up in much detail in The Thirteenth Apostle which will be released in Europe in October and the States at SBL in November.

The specific issue of Jesus' laughter is one that I am discussing in a presentation that I will be delivering at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego. Here is a synopsis of my talk.
The Subversive Gospel of Judas and Sethian Humor
to be presented by April DeConick
Society of Biblical Literature
Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Session
San Diego 2007
This paper will explore the subversive textures of the Gospel of Judas, particularly in terms of its employment of reverse exegesis to critique mainstream Christianity. Traditional genres and stories are subverted in order to expose their hidden meanings, meanings that support Sethian perspectives while berating the mainstream Christian, in particular the confession of the Church, its tradition of apostolic authority, and its coveted atonement theology. The result is Sethian humor that mocks the "ignorance" of mainstream Christianity in, what I think, are frighteningly profound ways. In the end, I will attempt to expose a Sethian reading of this gospel, whose “hero” Judas is really an “anti-hero,” an evil man associated with the demon Ialdabaoth. His tragedy is used to comment on the ignorance of mainstream Christians, who do nothing more than worship Ialdabaoth and curse the very man who made possible their atonement. The Sethian author(s) argues very logically and profoundly given his premises, if Judas was a demon working for the demons that rule this world, than the evil sacrifice he made of Jesus’ body was to the archons who rule this world, not the supreme God. This means that the eucharist is ineffective in terms of redemption, because it serves only to worship and give power to the god of this world who has entrapped us, not the supreme God who liberates us. Everything in this gospel, from the traditional confession story to the traditional betrayal story, is turned upside down and inside out to poke fun at those who do not share Gnosis.