You’ll recall that two years ago National Geographic unveiled The Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal Christian text that portrayed Judas as the hero who betrayed Jesus in accordance with Jesus’ desire to be free from his physical body. The scholarly proponents of “alternative Christianities” came out in full force, with books from Karen King, Elaine Pagels, and Bart Ehrman on the subject.
When the National Geographic Society released a documentary on the text, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports , April DeConick took a look at the original and began to suspect the translation:
As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus’ best interests in mind which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: “Oh no. Something is really wrong.” . . .
These discoveries filled her with dread. “I was like, this is bad, and these are my friends,” she says. It’s worth noting that it didn’t take DeConick months of painstaking research to reach her conclusions. Within minutes, she thought something was wrong. Within a day, she was convinced that significant mistakes had been made. Why, if it was so obvious to her, had these other scholars missed it? Why had they seen a good Judas where, according to DeConick, none exists?
Maybe because they were looking for him. The first reference to the Gospel of Judas was made by St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, in Against Heresies, written around 180. Irenaeus was not a fan of the Gospel of Judas, which he deemed a heretical text (though it’s not known whether he actually read the gospel or had only heard rumors about it). Until the Coptic manuscript surfaced in the 1970s, Irenaeus’ mention of the gospel was the only known reference. Irenaeus wrote that the gospel portrayed Judas as “knowing the truth as no others did.” It was an intriguing statement and suggestive of a more positive Judas.
DeConick thinks the translators were overly influenced by Irenaeus and read the gospel with his interpretation in mind. If you come to the gospel free of preconceptions, she argues, then it’s clear that Judas is evil and cursed, not holy and chosen. DeConick lays out this argument at length in The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (Continuum, 2007). The book was written for a general audience, but it has driven the conversation among biblical scholars in recent months.
The scholarly backtracking has commenced and who knows where it will lead, but once again the opponents of orthodox Christianity are not as free of preconceptions as some think.
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