Well, the portion I've read (about the first 50 pages) is less about the newfound Gospel of Judas and more about Judas in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Ehrman starts with Mark, then moves to Matthew, then Luke/Acts, then John. He notes each gospel's use and reference of Judas in an effort to begin considering the "historical Judas".
While reading, though, I've finally been able to discover what it is that I don't like about Ehrman's writing. Sure he's engaging, and he does a good job of accounting for the reader who is unfamiliar with recently scholarly/academic trends in Biblical Studies — though sometimes he can seem a bit patronizing in his descent to explain to the uninformed reader. But (and I'm willing to chalk this up to hyper-sensitivity on my part) Erhman always seems to focus on differences between accounts, going as far as calling the differences in the accounts of Judas' death in Matthew and Acts irreconciliable:
The book of Acts has a different account [than Matthew] of Judas' death and its relationship to this field. It is probably impossible to reconcile the details of these two accounts. (Ehrman, 36)
It wouldn't be so bad (to me, anyway) if Erhman actually built his argument. But he hasn't really, at least not yet. He's focused on noting differences in the Gospel accounts of Judas. But he's said very little regarding similarities between accounts outside of the flat-out obvious. He's willing to contrast differences between Gospels but he's relying on the reader to track what is similar between the accounts. So the reader is left to conclude similarities like (the list is not exhaustive, and is off the top of my head, where two or more canonical sources [Gospels/Acts] concur on some aspect of Judas' life):
- Judas Iscariot is listed as one of the twelve
- He was named or clearly implied to be the betrayer
- He was paid a price for the betrayal
- He was with the party that apprehended Jesus
- He died an untimely, un-natural death (suicide or horrible circumstance) after his betrayal
- His payment was associated with the purchase of the "field of blood"
Several times (at least three, I think) when he verges on getting down to brass tacks, he adds thoughts like "those are the questions we will ask at the end of the book". Like this whole paragraph (pp. 33-34), which occurs after noting that complete synthesis of gospel accounts is bad. I agree it's bad (duh!) but that doesn't mean that we throw out the vectors that do meet between accounts. Erhman (at least at present, up to and around page 50) seems to distrust all of it:
The historical conclusion is that we have different accounts from different authors writing at different times to different audiences for different reasons. Given the differences of the accounts, we will eventually want to reexamine them to see if it is possible to draw some kind of historical conclusions about what really happened. In some cases, the differences between the accounts turn out to be irreconcilable. ... [brief hint of Matthew/Acts item mentioned above] ... Accounts that contain discrepancies cannot both be historically accurate. Is one more accurate than the other? How would we know? What can we say for certain about the life of Judas — what he did and why he did it — based on our few surviving sources? Those are the questions we will ask at the end of the book, after looking at other ways Judas was portrayed, first from other surviving Christian sources such as the book of Acts, the Gospel of John, and several apocryphal works (in the next chapter), and then in the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, a book with its own agenda and distinctive portrayal of this one who betrayed Jesus. (Ehrman, 33-34).
Note the focus on differences? Why is nothing said about similarities of accounts? Why not compile and check similarties along with differences as the literature is cumulatively examined through the course of the book? Perhaps he will do this as the book progresses; I've just read about the canonical gospels. But — showing my bias here — I'd say that's our best shot at getting to the "historical Judas". Why not lay both sides of the foundation? Why save (I hope) part of it for later? Well ... focusing on differences (much like focusing on textual variants) really is the more sensational thing. And I've blogged before on what I think regarding Ehrman's sensationalistic tendencies.
So, basically, the first fifty pages of the book is less about the Gospel of Judas and more about examining Judas himself, throwing on the newly-found Gospel of Judas for good measure since we can. Let me be clear, though, that this aspect of the book (brief intro/analysis of the canonical gospels and then examining Judas' role in them) is, apart from focusing primarily on differences between accounts, quite good. There's good information here. It's the undertow of the sensationalism (again, I may be hypersensitive ... I'll easily admit that) that sticks in my craw.
Given this, the book title does seem a bit misleading (along the same lines of the the "Misquoting Jesus" title, where textual variants outside of the words attributed to Christ were, as I understand it, where most of the discussion was centered). [paragraph nixed, this isn't fair to say based on the balance of the book. RWB 2006-10-11]
I'll blog more as I get further into the book.