Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gospel of Judas Revelation

Last year there was a great brouhaha raised with the National Geographic Society’s publication of the Gospel of Judas. According to the scholars who translated it, it was a critical look into the belief system of Christianity (Judas was a good guy, and so on), and according to the buzz on the street and among the blogs, it was a kind of blow to the credibility of Christianity.

The blog buzz has been answered over and over (granting that the scholarship of the translation was right). Now, it turns out, the scholarship has been called into serious question. April D. DeCondick, a professor of Biblical Studies at Rice has published a new look into the translation of the Gospel of Judas and written a piece for the NYT detailing some of the serious problems with the original NGS’s publication.

Among other things she notes:

Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”


Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.

At the end of her article, she notes that the NGS broke a handful of academic protocols when handling an ancient text. Instead of making it available to the appropriate community, the NGS carefully controlled their release. Instead of blowing up copies of the text to make them easier for others to read, they reduced them by 56%.

It is a short piece, so I will leave the rest of the details to you.

HT: Is This Thing On?

1 comment:

Robert said...

I read DeConick's excellent article on the Judas fiasco yesterday in the New York Times. I was particularly interested in what she said about the Dead Sea Scrolls:

"The situation reminds me of the deadlock that held scholarship back on the Dead Sea Scrolls decades ago. When manuscripts are hoarded by a few, it results in errors and monopoly interpretations that are very hard to overturn even after they are proved wrong."

From what I understand, the consequences of the Scrolls monopoly are indeed still continuing today, in a misleading exhibit taking place in a "natural history" museum in San Diego. See this article for details:

Thus, I would suggest that the real question confronting us today is whether liberal Christian scholars -- by which I mean scholars of Christian faith who, like April DeConick, proceed in accordance with fundamental scientific principles rather than any religious agenda -- will part company with their Evangelical-minded colleagues and frankly condemn what is going on with the Dead Sea Scrolls in one museum exhibit after another.