I admit I’m a fan of syfy. One of the more beguiling super powers is that of a shape shifter. This is someone who can change their shape completely. Think of Mystique in X-Men. In the latest issue of “Biblical Archaeological Review” Hershel Shanks has an article called “Why Did Judas Identify Jesus with a Kiss?” (p. 6) One reason suggested for the kiss is that Jesus could change his shape and only with a kiss could the guards tell who was the right person to arrest. This was prompted to his attention while reading a new book by Roelof van den Broek titled Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem ‘On the Life and the Passion of Christ’. The book is a new translation of an eighth-century Gnostic gospel in Coptic. Here’s a quote from the gospel:
“‘How shall we arrest him,’ the Jews ask, ‘for he does not have a single shape, but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat-colored, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man, sometimes his hair is straight and black, sometimes it is curled, sometimes he is tall, sometimes he is short,’ They ‘have never seen him in one and the same appearance.'”
The question I had was if Jesus was so good at changing his shape how would Judas know who to kiss. Maybe his super power was identifying shape shifters.
But wait, there’s another little gem this gospel contains. Jesus had his last supper with Pilate. Yea, Pontus Pilate. During the course of the meal Pilate, being a good guy, offered his own son to be crucified in Jesus’ place. Jesus declined his offer. “Pilate, then, looked at Jesus and, behold, he became incorporeal: He did not see him for a long time,” according to the gospel. Shanks notes that van den Broek does not believe that Jesus was a shape shifter “but only that some people in early Christian times may have thought he was.” The idea of Jesus being a shape shifter goes back to the third century. “According to Origen, Jesus would appear differently to people who saw him at the same time” writes Shanks. The theory, he says, is widely known among the scholarly community. I wonder if Dan Brown has any ideas for his next novel?
Roelof van den Broek is emeritus professor of the History of Christianity at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.