National Geographic is getting a lot of publicity for its research on the Gospel of Judas, a heresy just in time for Holy Week. It’s actually quite interesting. But, in this age of the Da Vinci Code, I’m sure someone will soon be writing a bestselling novel about how modern-day descendants of Judas extract some rare, truth revealing, document from the Vatican library, or perhaps they will just sue the Vatican for defamation of character. Dan Brown or John Grisham, take your pick.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote two stories revolving around the tale of Judas, long before this new gospel was discovered. Both stories take the typical route in which Borges writes fiction about supposedly (and sometimes) real scholarly works. (If Borges were alive today, he probably would be up to all sorts of mischief inserting believable falsehoods into Wikipedia).

The first published in 1944 is Tres versiones de Judas, Three Versions of Judas about a gnostic scholar Nils Runeberg who published a study titled “Kristus och Judas”, which follows the premise that the “betrayal” by Judas was actually a sacrifice of Judas, one equivalent to the sacrifice of Jesus. Borges wrote “Judas refleja de algún modo a Jesús”, “Judas is somehow a reflection of Jesus”.

Thirty years later, in 1975, Borges published another story on the Judas theme, La Secta de los Treinta, The Sect of Thirty about a fourth century AD Latin manuscript in the library of the University of Leyden. Borges adds that Gibbon mentions the manuscript in a footnote to the 15th chapter of The Decline and Fall. (I don’t have a copy of Gibbon handy but I assume that it’s a false reference). The first paragraph of the story sets the context and the rest purports to be a translation of the ancient text, except for the final sentence which is one of Borges’ usual twists.

The manuscript is about a cult that worships both Jesus and Judas equally. The betrayal by Judas, thereby condemning himself to hell, was a premeditated act by Judas so that the divinity of Jesus could be demonstrated by the resurrection.

Find and read both stories this Holy Week, then ponder the actions of Judas.