Were other gospels written at the time the canonical ones were?

The Claim: Other Gospels were written when the Canonical Gospels were.

The rediscovery of the gospel of Judas was one of the most surprising document finds of the twentieth century.
[…]
It’s mostly a set of conversations between Judas and Jesus. It tells the story of the betrayal, but from Judas’s point of view, and it removes much of the blame from him. It suggests that Judas was the only one of the twelve disciples who really understood Jesus’s mission.

You can see why the Council of Nicaea might not want to include the gospel of Judas in the canon.

Dawkins, Richard. Outgrowing God (p. 35-6). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Also,

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the only gospels in the official canon but, as we’ll see, plenty of other gospels of Jesus had been written around the same time.

Dawkins, Richard. Outgrowing God (p. 26). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Response:

The short answer to this question is no, there were not other Gospels written at the time that the canonical gospels were.

There were no other gospels that we know of written around the time the New Testament Gospels were being written. There is good evidence that there were other writings about the events found in the Gospels, but these have been lost in time. All of the non-canonical gospels Dawkins mentions are dated well into the second century, long after any eyewitnesses had died.

The Gospel of Thomas

The only gospel which comes close is the gospel of Thomas. This gospel, as we have it, consists of 114 sayings. It is incredibly difficult to date as there is no narrative that mentions people or places. In fact, in his book Can we Trust the Gospels?, Peter Williams states that the only place mentioned at all is Judaea, and it is only mentioned once (63). As a result, the Gospel has been dated anywhere in the large time frame of 100 AD and 250 AD. In addition, scholars some scholars suggest that the gospel was added to over the course of time since it is a collection of sayings, which further complicates the question of its date.

It is likely that the Gospel was written by Gnostics, a sect of Christians and Jews who believed that God had given secret knowledge to a few and that salvation rested on attaining such knowledge. This doctrine was a stark departure from the message of Christ and all the other accounts of the apostles. Gnostic authorship is suggested by the opening phrase, “These are the hidden words [of] the living Jesus…” The use of the word hidden is characteristic of the Gnostics, reflecting their belief in secret knowledge.

Thus, it is generally accepted that the Gospel of Thomas was not written by an eye-witness, was written long after the time of the apostles, and does not give enough information to authenticate the material it contains. Therefore, it is not considered a gospel account on par with the other gospels.

The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas, which Dawkins also mentions, is worse off in terms of reliability than the Gospel of Thomas*is.

This Gospel of Judas is a late second-century Gnostic gospel. Similarly to the Gospel of Thomas, this gospel claims to tell the “true gospel” which was taught only to Judas. It was a secret he only told one person. No bible scholar believes that the gospel was told to one person only.

Additionally, no bible scholar believes the Gospel of Judas to be the work of the disciple Judas or any other disciple, for that matter. Peter Williams notes that it lists no places, which suggests that the writer had no first-hand knowledge of the geography of Palestine. In addition, it includes only two Palestinian names: Judas and Jesus (69). It also contains several names that are not at all from the region. These appear to be a joining of the Greek and late second-century mysticism. Names such as Adam, Adamas, Adonaios, Barbelo, and Eve, which we would anticipate in an authentic account, do not appear. However, Zoe, Gabriel, Galila, Harmathoth, Michael, Nebro, Saklas, Seth, Sophia, Yaldabaoth, and Yobel, names that we would not expect, are. These are not names people would have had in the time and place in which the gospels were written, casting the Gospel of Judas in further doubt.

So, in a sense, I agree with Dawkins in that I can see why any council would reject the Gospel of Judas. An eyewitness didn’t write it, it is from 100 years after the time period about which it is writing, it provides no authenticating information, and it contradicts reliable historical accounts.

In conclusion, other gospels were not written at the time the canonical Gospels were, and the only two that come remotely close to the timeframe in which the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote are not included in the canon because they are clearly not authoritative accounts of the true events based on eyewitness testimonies.

Bibliography

Williams, Peter J. 2018. Can we Trust the Gospels?. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.