Harry Potter and the Gospel of Judas

I recently watched the eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter films. For those who never read the books, I'm sure the film should have been a great experience and satisfying end to the story. For those like me, however, who quickly devoured the installments of J. K. Rowling's epic series in short time after each was published, watching the last film was little more than an obligation; we already knew the ending, but we needed to finish seeing it acted out for us.

Indeed, reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was an amazingly detailed and epic experience in and of itself, given the book's great length. Even split into two movies, the Hollywood version couldn't cover even a fraction of its richness and depth. I was particularly disappointed by the brief time given to Severus Snape's death and redemption in the story. Snape had been my favorite character throughout the series, and though Rowling kept everyone guessing until the end, I always knew he would ultimately be shown as having fought for good.

I doubt this is really necessary, but be warned there are spoilers, starting in the next sentence.

We know that in the end, Albus Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him. Dumbledore had already been cursed in his quest to find Voldemort's horcruxes, and they knew he wouldn't live much longer. Dumbledore reasoned that Snape could gain Voldemort's absolute trust by killing him, and Draco Malfoy would also be spared from having to commit the murder. In a way, Dumbledore acts as a Christ figure here, accepting his coming death and using it to save others. (He later talks with Harry in the afterlife as well.)

But with Dumbledore a Christ figure, who is Snape? In May 2006, National Geographic published an extraordinary article on the Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic text from the 3rd or 4th century that purports to be the account of the apostle Judas Iscariot. In the parts of the text recovered, it appears that Judas was in fact Jesus' most trusted disciple, and Jesus had asked Judas to betray him, in order to fulfill his mission of self-sacrifice. Some scholars contest this translation and interpretation of the text, but the story is incredibly striking nonetheless. If accurate, it seems the Harry Potter tale not only shares certain themes with the Bible, but also with a non-canonical gospel.

Back when I read the National Geographic article and then read the Deathly Hallows, I thought this was an amazing connection. It deepened my appreciation both of Snape as a character in contemporary fiction and of Judas as a mysterious historical or literary figure. Although this same sort of act must also be found in many other stories, I find it highly powerful to think of having to do something vile to one's trusted friend and mentor, doing so by their wish and in their trust with no one else able to know or understand. In the case of Snape, his legacy was only saved by Harry's arrival as he died, when he was able to give Harry a tear-like stream of his memories. For Judas, if he really was meant to betray Jesus, his legacy has only been saved by a text that had almost crumbled into oblivion before anyone could save it.

Please note that although the idea of this connection between Harry Potter and the Gospel of Judas came to me on its own, I'm certainly not the only one to have thought of it. In fact, this article from 2006 anticipated the possible parallel even before Deathly Hallows came out and the nature of Snape's loyalty was revealed. Also see my other blogposts about Harry Potter, here where I criticize the books for skewed values, and here where I express my love for them nonetheless. Please leave a comment with your thoughts!