THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, by
Herbert Krosney. Foreword by Bart
D. Ehrman. National Geographic.
309 pp. $27.
THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS, edited by
Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer and
George Wurst, with additional commentary
by Bart D. Ehrman. National
Geographic. 185 pp. $22.
Reviewed by HILARION KISTNER, O.F.M.,
who studied Scripture at The Catholic University
of America in Washington, D.C.,
and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in
Rome. He edits Sunday Homily Helps for St. Anthony Messenger Press.
HERBERT KROSNEY’S ACCOUNT of
the finding of an ancient codex, and
the adventures surrounding
the discovery, comprises
The Lost Gospel. The codex
contains four documents:
James (also known as First
Apocalypse of James), a Letter
of Peter to Philip, the
Gospel of Judas and a fragment
Book of Allogenes.
The codex was found in
a cave in Middle Egypt by
some peasants in the latter
part of the 1970s. The story
of its being taken to Cairo, Switzerland,
New York, Ohio and back to
Switzerland is complicated. At various
times the codex was exposed to hot,
humid weather, to a bank vault and
even to a freezer. The various humans
in these adventures were peasants,
antiquities dealers, scholars and other
assorted characters. Some were deceptive,
dishonest and greedy.
It was not until the year 2000 that
scholars and other experts and interested
parties were able to do serious
work on the documents. By then it was
extremely difficult to restore the material.
By 2005, however, painstaking
labor was able to provide us with at
least a glimpse of what called itself the
Gospel of Judas.
The book entitled The Gospel of Judas has an introduction by Marvin Meyer,
and translation of the document and
commentaries by Rudolphe Kasser,
George Wurst and Meyer, with additional
commentary by Bart D. Ehrman.
There is no reason to doubt their
scholarship. They have done the best
possible job of restoring the text. They
know their field. They worked extremely
hard and handled the document
with great delicacy.
The document helps fill in some of
the knowledge that historians such as
Ehrman have been seeking in order to
get a clearer idea of the religious currents
swirling around the early centuries
For people dedicating
their lives to the study of
gnosticism and the Coptic
language, this document
may seem astonishing and
provocative. From the
perspective of authentic
Christianity, however, this
so-called Gospel of Judas
is, in the words of theologian
Gerald O’Collins, S.J.,
“junk.” O’Collins tells us
that it does not merit the
name “Gospel.” He even says: “It was
junk then and it is junk now.”
Just because it calls itself a Gospel
does not make it one. Our authentic
Gospels tell us the Good News about
Jesus. We hear about his teaching and
miracles. Above all, we learn that he
suffered, died and rose again for our salvation.
The Gospel of Judas does not
Some of the promoters of this “Gospel” claim that it provides an alternative
way of understanding the role of
Judas. It claims to be the story of Jesus
from the perspective of Judas. This is
ridiculous. It would be like someone
writing an alternative version of Hitler’s
career and calling him the great champion
of peace and justice in the 20th
The promoters of this “Gospel” also
like to put down St. Irenaeus (martyred
in 220). The fact is that Irenaeus was a
great theologian and knew a heresy
when he saw one. He realized that
gnosticism could ruin Christianity. It is
difficult to describe gnosticism in a few
words, especially since there were so
many forms. Most versions hold that
salvation comes from knowledge (gnosis)
and it is a secret knowledge only the
elite can grasp.
Also, gnosticism contends that the
God of the Old Testament is evil. This
God is responsible for material creation.
Material creation is, therefore, bad. It is
important to escape material creation.
The elite acquire the secret knowledge
to make their escape and attain salvation.
Perhaps the most telling statement in
this “Gospel” is found in the words
Jesus speaks to Judas toward the end of
the document. After indicating that
ordinary Christians are evil, Jesus tells
Judas: “But you will exceed all of them.
For you will sacrifice the man that
In other words, by handing Jesus
over to his enemies for execution, Judas
is helping Jesus realize his greatest
desire. Jesus will be freed from his body
(“the man that clothes me”) and be
enabled to reach his destiny with the
This reviewer wonders, given such an
understanding, why Jesus would not
just kill himself. This “Gospel” ends
with Judas handing Jesus over to the
high priests for money. There is no
account of crucifixion or resurrection.
This reviewer is astonished that the
National Geographic Society would get
mixed up in this affair. Though a somewhat
different case, it is a reminder of The Da Vinci Code. The latter, of course,
is only a novel, but it reflects some of
the gnostic literature. Amazingly, some
people accepted it as factual history.
They may do the same with The Gospel
A final note may be worthwhile. The
New Testament reports two different
traditions about the death of Judas.
While it is clear that Judas perpetrated
the ultimate betrayal, we also believe
that Jesus died to save him. Dante put
Judas in the lowest circle of hell, but the
Church has never taught that Judas
You can order THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot and THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS from St.
THE ST. LOUIS JESUITS: Thirty Years, edited by Mike Gale. Oregon Catholic
Press. 189 pp. $30. Songbook, Morning
Light, $13; CD, $17.
Reviewed by CHUCK BLANKENSHIP, a
pastoral musician at Immaculate Heart
of Mary Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and
director of institutional sales for St.
Anthony Messenger Press.
I REMEMBER the first time I heard the
music of the St. Louis Jesuits. It was
1972, and I was helping play for a campus “guitar Mass” at the University of
Kansas. A guy in my dorm named Giff
Booth, from St. Louis, brought me a
well-worn folder that contained what
appeared to be the same kind of
mimeographed folk music that my fellow
“folk Mass” musicians had been
passing around for the previous few
years. He sang a couple of the songs,
and we found ourselves saying, “Wow!
Where can we get more of this?”
A couple of years later, the whole
country was discovering this prayerful,
scriptural music, now published
(for real) in a weighty collection of
music, Neither Silver Nor Gold: Liturgical
Music from St. Louis Jesuits. With songs
like “Sing a New Song,” “For You Are
My God” and “You Are Near,” liturgical
music in Catholic parishes would
never be the same.
It’s hard to believe that it has
been more than 30 years since the St.
Louis Jesuits burst on the liturgical
music scene. John Foley, Bob Dufford,
Dan Schutte, Roc O’Connor and Tim
Mannion quickly became familiar
names and sources of quality, dependable
liturgical and prayer music for folk
groups, ensembles, choirs and congregations
from coast to coast—and
The St. Louis Jesuits: Thirty Years is, as
the title page proclaims, a celebration
of “the work of five gifted composers
and the contribution they’ve made to
the prayer and worship of Christians.”
But it’s more than that. It’s a window
into the creative process of these generous
and gifted liturgical musicians
who gave the post-Vatican II Church
such songs as “Be Not Afraid” and
“Here I Am, Lord,” and have continued
to have such a positive impact on the
development of our prayer and worship
over the last generation.
Rather than simply enumerate the
accomplishments and list the works of
these musicians, this book takes us to
a very special place: inside the creative
processes that brought us this prayerful
music. In a series of personal interviews,
each of the members of the St.
Louis Jesuits shares his personal story of
the creativity and collaboration that
gave birth to their music—stories of
discovery, growth, gift and celebration.
It’s gratifying to discover that these
hymns and songs we’ve been singing
for so many years were born of a deeply
prayerful and highly collaborative ministry.
Theirs is a fascinating story,
exceeded only by the enduring quality
of the music they have given us over
these 30 years. Take your time lingering over their story, the story of five men
who “had neither silver nor gold,” but
who have given us all so much.
You can order THE ST. LOUIS JESUITS: Thirty Years from St.
101 WAYS TO HAPPINESS: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul, by Mitch
Finley. Liguori Press. 144 pp. $14.95.
RECLAIMING THE BODY: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine, by Joel Shuman, Ph.D., and
Brian Volck, M.D. Brazos Press. 176
Reviewed by MARK WILKINS, a religion
teacher whose courses at St. Xavier High
School in Cincinnati, Ohio, include bioethics,
morality and justice.
CONVERSION is our constant challenge
as Christians. The two books
reviewed here offer ideas to
help us renew our bodies
and our souls—a combination
that we tend to overlook
while we fixate on one
or the other.
Both books are slender,
but that is where the comparison
would end. Mitch
Finley has written a book of
prompts—ideas to get us to
revisit ways that we can
improve our bodies, minds
and souls. Finley doesn’t
overanalyze or oversell any of his suggestions
since they are only a page or
so in length. They can be read in any
order and worked on individually. The
book is written in a breezy way that
belies the wisdom contained within.
Finley presents activities such as baking
bread, getting a massage, laughing,
exercising, praying, volunteering and
listening to music as ways to nourish
the embodied spirits (or inspirited bodies)
that we are. As Finley states, “Whatever
is bodily is also spiritual, and what
is spiritual is also bodily.”
Joel Shuman and Brian Volck have
written a much more challenging work
that looks at the same body-spirit issue
in a specific context. Essentially, the
doctors (the former in philosophy and
the latter in medicine) are challenging
Christians to harness the power of medicine
in the service of a witnessing community
rather than having medicine
add religion and spirituality to its list of
In the early chapters, the authors
show that how we look at our physical
being, at the communal nature of
liturgy and at the Incarnation shapes
the way that we engage the power of
medicine. The premises of the Gospels
should affect how we look at medicine,
rather than the other way around. Our
faith should guide what we expect from
medicine, rather than medicine shape
the way that we perceive life, health
Medicine is not a good independent
of God’s goodness, but a reminder that
we need healing for our souls and our
The chapters on childbearing and
parenting, health care for whole populations
(not just for individuals),
perfection and attractiveness,
and the frailty and
grief at the end of life are
intellectually profound and
personally moving. Each
one makes the point that
we Christians have a different
of the Incarnation of Jesus
and the metaphor of the
Body of Christ. Our physicality
is the starting point
for how we live, but also the means by
which we are connected to (rather than
separated from) others.
Each chapter shows what could happen
if we turn the focus from the
promises of modern medicine to the
premises of our faith. Key to all of the
doctors’ assumptions is that as Christians
we live out the vision community
that we acknowledge and embody
in liturgy. If God matters, then so do
God’s gathered people—without concern
for the boundaries of nations or
Having spent a significant amount of
time in the last several months in hospitals
and assisted-care facilities with
family members, I have seen how these
events tend to isolate individuals and
families in many ways.
Our tendency is to be private with
our grief, even in our own families. People
tend to turn inward rather than
gathering strength from the community.
Ministers might bring Holy Communion
to the sick, but there is little
sense of bringing the community along
as well. The sick might not need visitors,
but they need to be reminded that they
are still connected to the Body of Christ.
Two books, one view: Our body is
the starting point for theology and contemplation.
That’s the “get-fit” message
Christians ought to hear.
You can order 101 WAYS TO HAPPINESS: Nourishing Body, Mind and Soul and RECLAIMING THE BODY: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine from St. Francis Bookshop.
CHRIST THE LORD: Out of Egypt, by
Anne Rice. Alfred A. Knopf. 322 pp.
Reviewed by DIANE M. HOUDEK, editor
of Weekday Homily Helps and Bringing
Home the Word (both published by St.
Anthony Messenger Press).
PEOPLE HAVE LONG been fascinated
by the “hidden life” of Jesus, the time
between his getting lost in the Temple
at the age of 12 and the beginning of
his public ministry. From the second
century, people have written accounts
of these years. The Infancy Gospel of
Thomas and the Protoevangelion of
James both offer details about Jesus’
life as a child, his parents and other
members of his extended family. A variety
of inspirational authors have
offered their imaginative ideas of what
the boy Jesus might have been like.
What sets Christ the Lord apart from
other recent works is the high profile,
even notoriety of its author. Best
known for her Vampire Chronicles, Anne
Rice has long been held up as the queen
of dark gothic literature. After the death
of her husband, she returned to the
Catholic Church of her childhood and
combined her research about first-century
Rome with a rediscovery of
Rice set about imagining the thoughts
and impressions of a seven-year-old boy
returning to Galilee from Alexandria,
Egypt, knowing that there was something
unusual, even mysterious about
his birth but not yet understanding
what that was. He knows that he can
think something or wish for something and it happens, but he doesn’t
The novel gets off to a slow
start. I found it difficult to
suspend disbelief, to get
beyond the fact that this
is fiction, that this isn’t really
Jesus at seven. But the
strength of the novel lies in
the way it taps into what we
know about Jesus as an adult.
We get tantalizing glimpses
of people, places and events
that appear in the Gospel accounts of
Jesus’ adult life and ministry: James bar
Joseph, the other Marys who accompany
his mother, a young man named
Caiaphas who has aspirations to being
high priest one day, the philosopher
Philo of Alexandria.
We witness the Romans putting down
a violent rebellion and crucifying the
insurgents. A line in Luke’s Gospel about
Pilate mixing the blood of Galilean pilgrims
to Jerusalem with their sacrifices
becomes a full-scale event witnessed by
the family. Such horrific events seem a bit
overdone, especially at the beginning of
the book, although they provide a backdrop
to the boy’s wondering through
most of the novel about the mysterious
event that led to the family’s leaving
Bethlehem for Egypt in the first place.
Through it all we’re inside the young
boy’s head as he gets flashes of intuition
and insight about the “something
more” that he knows. And in a fevered
dream he has the first encounter with
the great tempter, who raises tantalizing
questions about who he is, who he
might be, who he could be.
The writing is impressionistic, atmospheric,
yet rooted in solid research into
religious and secular customs of first-century
Israel. Rice lets her readers smell
the cooking fires and the freshly pressed
olive oil, feel the grittiness of the dusty
roads and the horror of countless crosses
along the roadside, hear the prayers and
psalms of a family rooted in a religious
tradition. And she offers a possible
answer to the question of whether and
when Jesus knew that he was God.
Scripture students might be inclined
to quibble about such things as the
blending of Matthew and Luke’s infancy
narratives and a good bit of
reliance on the apocryphal
Gospel of Thomas, but it is,
after all, a work of fiction
and Rice certainly isn’t the
first or last person to blend
the Gospels into a single
The Author’s Note on her
spiritual journey through
the writing of this novel
raises the work itself above a
mere intellectual and unobjective
You can order CHRIST THE LORD: Out of Egypt from St. Francis Bookshop.
HEAT, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications
(7710 56th Avenue NE, Olympia,
WA 98516, email@example.com).
217 pp. $15.
SOLSTICE, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications.
186 pp. $15.
CONNECTIONS, by Jack
Frerker. Pax Publications. 261
Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE
M. VENTLINE, D.Min., a priest of
Detroit for 30 years and a practicing
FATHER JACK FRERKER has set
his first novel, Heat, in the middle
of the steamy summer town
of Algoma, a fictional place in Southern
Illinois. There, “summer’s usually plodding
pace overlays the heat and complexities
of the human heart,” the
Gradually revealed are the inextricably
connected secrets that occupy
and obsess a local pastor. Death and
redemption play out with legal implications,
and protagonist Father John
Wintermann comes up with pastoral
solutions to save the day and solve
each clandestine mystery.
Because he found so little ink dedicated
to the beauty of Southern Illinois,
Father Frerker turned to novel
writing. Formerly in pastoral ministry,
high school and campus ministry, and
on staff of the National Federation of
Priest Councils in Chicago, Father
Frerker is now retired and lives in the
Heat is the first of his three novels
in print. Solstice also features Father
Wintermann and is set at the darkest
time of the year. In this mystery he
drives to Chicago for a funeral and is
trapped by an unexpected ice storm.
Discovering a corpse on the icy church
steps leads the priest into an encounter
with grace where light overcomes the
darkness enveloping those closest to
the victim. “Darkness is more significant
than the cold in this mystery
novel,” Father Frerker says.
Connections introduces a different set
of characters and explores the evolving
relationship between a priest and his
bishop over 30 years. A human glimpse
of the Church, this insider’s view of the
priesthood and priestly ministry also
looks at central relationships of love
and life. This was actually the first book
Father Frerker wrote,
but advisers felt it best
to publish the lighter
Another mystery due
out by fall, Conspiracy,
returns to the Father
who unravels a complicated
claims some people’s
lives before the priest
provides pastoral and
The author admits that none of the
novels have characters lifted from real-life
situations, although there are bits
and pieces “I’ve lifted from my own
life and that of others,” he confesses. All
of these novels theologize heavily and
slyly teach lessons that may otherwise
go unlearned by the reader.
Be ready for a Church ride untold
You can order HEAT, SOLSTICE and CONNECTIONS from St. Francis Bookshop.