In Western societies there is an astonishing ignorance about the nature of Christianity – even among those increasingly few who resort to the Church. Such interpretation as there is exhibits a preference for ethicism, and is virtually indistinguishable from the prevalent secular humanism. What does exist, however, is a widespread fascination with ‘spirituality’ (generally understood as a characteristic of human emotional satisfaction), and with cults and secret codes and any religious novelty susceptible to television presentation. The age in which the Christian Church was founded was not, in fact, dissimilar. St Paul warned his readers about being seduced by the many religious claims being promoted by seemingly convincing advocates. Modern people in Western liberal society appear equally liable to succumb, the more so when they think they are thinking for themselves. Evidently anything which undermines orthodox understandings of Christianity now finds ready acceptance, liberal theologians having themselves pointed the way. Secularisation once derived largely from lost religious habit: now the Church is at the start of what may turn out to be a sustained intellectual assault. Religion, all religion, is being blamed for social division and human conflict. Criticism of the Church’s traditional teaching about its own origins, and about the manner in which orthodoxy successfully overcame its adversaries, is a crucial dimension in the undermining of its authority.
These two studies of a mid-second-century text are by Christian scholars of distinction, and they are rigorous and informed. They also, for those with eyes to see, disclose a large indebtedness to modern ideological passions. Pagels and King, at the very start of their examination of the Gospel of Judas,