Early Christianity was very modular. For some sects, the most high God was Yahweh. Other sects plugged in different Gods – a plethora, it would seem, based on the views of the Marcionites, Valentinians, Sethians, and Manicheans. The matter of who the beloved apostle was a modular replacement in the Gospels of Mark and John – Mark had the “last disciple”, Simon of Cyrene, being the recipient of the (proto) Paraclete, where John seems to have Lazarus as the “beloved disciple” (Jn 11:5). Various modules within the mystery seem custom-made to support component replacement.
Part of these divergences is explained by evolution of the religion and cultural influences, but others, I think, were political gamesmanship.
Like the Basilidean case of the Spirit hopping to Simon of Cyrene, a Judas Iscariot tradition invoked a similar mechanism: the crucifixion of the unintended person would trick the rulers of this earth, thus causing division in this material hellhole via a cascade of dissonance – killing an innocent man, killing the incorrect man, thus forcing Satan to divide himself.
Jesus alludes to this requisite confusion in Mark 3:23-24
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand
The Christ Spirit compelled Jesus-man to say this because it foreshadowed the Spirit’s true intention: to divide Satan (the ruler of this earth) and bring his rule to the end. Jesus finishes this soliloquy with an allusion to the centerpiece of the mystery
…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin
Mark gave the Spirit the utmost priority; my speculation is that this Spirit, which was the communication mechanism that Wisdom used to communicate to Jesus and other Paraclete encapsulators on Earth (also see Rev 17:19), was an early version of the Logos (Word). It seems to me, in light of John 1, and the passage “through him all things were created”, that the Logos and the Spirit must have been interchangeable (or at least in the same evolutionary line) at times. Mark’s defense of the spirit also suggests that it was the only way to return to the father. Compare that to the later Gospel of John, which has Jesus (the Logos) being the only way to the father (Jn 14:6).
In Against Heresies i.31, Irenaeus describes a curious group of Christians called the Cainites. It is difficult to know whether this was the term the group would have called itself; rather, I suspect that Irenaeus was claiming they revered Cain, as opposed to Seth or Abel, which would imply they revered the line of humanity which advocated and invented murder.
Irenaeus alludes to a Gospel the Cainites used
They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.
Interestingly, and exactly corresponding to the sort of data I would expect under my current theory (which has the deeper layer of the Christian mysteries reverent to the divine feminine), the Cainites resembled Carpocrates (and by extension, the Marcionites), with their presumption that this material world will not be exited without paying “the very last farthing”; by extension, those members “must render unto Caesar” his material demands. The Cainites believed the creator of the Earth was a figure named Hystera, which is a reference to the female uterus – clearly (IMHO) an allusion to the divine feminine.
It is not clear whether the Gospel of Judas Irenaeus referenced was the same one discovered in Egypt in the 1970s – I’m personally agnostic about whether it is. My point though is that Irenaeus was aware of a group (or groups) who kept a positive view of Judas, despite his villainy in the Gospel story. If Judas was a means to the desired end, then it is not a stretch to presume that some groups would have seen him as necessary (*of course, Judas must have been necessary according to modern Christians as well, although there does not seem to be such compulsion to keep Judas’s necessity in mind).
As with the Islamic tradition about Simon of Cyrene, which is clearly derivative of the Basilidean tradition, the Gospel of Barnabas, which is a text remembered by Muslims, and has been for centuries. In Barnabas, Judas assumes Simon of Cyrene’s role as Jesus’s facilitator:
And the disciples were sleeping. Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus… And John, who was wrapped in a linen cloth, awoke and fled, and when a soldier seized him by the linen cloth he left the linen cloth and fled naked…The soldiers took Judas ;and bound him, not without derision. For he truthfully denied that he was Jesus…Those disciples who did not fear God went by night [and] stole the body of Judas and hid it, spreading a report that Jesus was risen again; whence great confusion arose…And Jesus lifted up his mother and the others from the ground, saying: ‘Fear not, for I am Jesus; and weep not, for I am alive and not dead.’
In Barnabas, Jesus’s trickery results in Judas’s death. This trickery also saves Jesus from the cross so he can perform final cleanup prior to ascending with angels to heaven.
In this sense, the similarity between Simon of Cyrene and Judas is in their support of Jesus’s trick, although Barnabas seems to have lost the roaming Paraclete notion. A closing passage in Barnabas reminds us of tension among sects:
Others preached, and yet preach, that Jesus is the Son of God, among whom is Paul deceived.
Simon of Cyrene is treated well by pro-Paul factions. Matthew (which was used by Ebionites – a group hostile to Paul) undercuts Mark’s kindness to Simon of Cyrene, by cutting Jesus’s pleasantry about “whomever is not against us is with us” (Mk 9:40, Mthw 12:30), as well as the associated kindness to the unnamed demon-caster, which I presume to be a foreshadowing of Simon of Cyrene (Mk 9:38, Mthw 7:22). In other words, Barnabas, a text with clear Muslim affiliation, remembers traditions and sentiments of the Ebionites, that group which hated Paul (Ir. AH i.26.2)
The feature the Paulinists and the Ebionites shared is that Jesus’s death was surrounded by confusion and trickery, and this trickery served to undercut Satan. The divergence centered around who the facilitator was – Simon of Cyrene or Judas Iscariot.