Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DeConick wants to know what is going on with National Geographic and the Judas Codex

Today I decided that I am not going to be the patient nice scholar anymore. I am tired of working in the dark, first on the Gospel of Judas, and now on the rest of the Tchacos Codex.

This Codex has been so mishandled by the National Geographic Society in terms of the academic process and the release of information to the community of scholars who are experts on these texts, that I have decided that I cannot keep silent any longer. This is turning out to be a repeat of the fiasco that held back our knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls for at least thirty years.

What's the problem? First, National Geographic created a secret society of a few scholars to work on the codex which contains the Gospel of Judas. These scholars had to sign non-disclosure statements in order to work on the secret team. This means that they were legally silenced. They had to work in isolation from the rest of the scholarly community. When they were finished with their analysis, they published it as "the" interpretation of the gospel. But the truth is that they were rushed to finish because National Geographic wanted a particular release date which the scholars weren't ready to make. Because of this, the scholars had to publish only a provisional Coptic transcription and translation. But it was framed as finished to the public.

Now it turns out, after further reflection, that the original transcription and translation were riddled with problems which the team tried to correct in The Critical Edition. But too late. Other scholars who had been denied access to the manuscripts jumped at the chance to publish their own translations and interpretations based on the original faulty transcription. And so the errors are perpetuated, along with an interpretation that now cannot be supported by the corrected transcription and translation! So National Geographic's ploy to keep everything secret to exploit the release of the text for profit has put good scholars' reputations on the line, and has completely misled the public about what the Gospel of Judas actually says.

Second, National Geographic still has not released the facsimile photographs that it promised to do. Scholars have to have full-size real-life photographs of manuscripts in order to access what they actually read, particularly in damaged areas of the manuscript. What did National Geographic do this summer? It released photos in The Critical Edition that were reduced by 56%. This makes them absolutely useless for any of us who are working on these texts. I know that the Society has been made aware of this because I posted earlier about this and it was forwarded to National Geographic. But as far as I know, they have made no moves to do anything about it. The pages of the Tchacos Codex are not only photographed by National Geographic, but they are digital. It would cost them nothing to put those photos onto a CD and distribute them to scholars, who are even willing to pay for this information. But no, almost two years later we are still working blindly because we continue to be denied access to the facsimiles. Not every scholar can get a year-long sabbatical to fly to Switzerland to work on these manuscripts!

One has to ask "why"? Why won't National Geographic release the facsimiles? There are only two possibilities that I can think of. Either National Geographic is hiding something that they don't want us to see in the manuscript. Or the Society could care less about the academic community and the search for knowledge - all they want to do is milk these old gospels for all the revenue they can get. In other words, exploitation. And so they are going to release things in bits and pieces, and never enough for the scholarly community to actually work on the texts.

Third, it turns out that The Critical Edition of the Tchacos Codex that they released does not contain all the leaves the Society knows about. From what I understand there are 50 more pages of this book that National Geographic Society has photos of, and I assume therefore knows the contents of, and this information is under lock and key. The additional manuscript leaves are somewhere in Ohio. Who knows if we will ever see them. But at least we could have access to the photographs of the additional pages so that we could all start working on them. I want to know what the heck is in the rest of the Tchacos Codex.

The way that National Geographic has handled and continues to handle this Codex is appalling. It has crippled the academic community and the search for knowledge. I will not stop until something is done to rectify this situation.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

When is the codex to be transferred back to Egypt? And will there be more openness when that happens?

g. wesley said...

Professor DeConick,

Thanks for the recap. The story of the codex is truly shameful, including the fiasco of publication.

A CD would be great and as you say inexpensive. Hopefully something like that will happen.

In the critical edition, Wurst's discussion of the "set of photographs of about 50 fragments, clearly belonging to Codex Tchacos," is intriguing and frustrating. If the codex did originally extend to a page 108, it would be great to find out what it said after page 66. What do you make of the hints in the critical edition? Do you think that the fragments identified as coming from Corpus Hermeticum XIII represent a full translation of CH XIII, as Wurst suggests in his preliminary codicilogical analysis (p.30)? Or do you think that they were citations incorporated into A Book of Allogenes, as Meyer seems to posit in his introduction to Allogenes (p.257)?

Another uncertainty, at least for those not in the loop, is why the 50 fragments are, as Wurst puts it, "currently inaccessible." Their location is apparently known, or at least was in 2006. And it seems that National Geographic has digital photos, taken by Kenneth Garret, of all the fragments. So the fragments themselves were formerly accessible, to National Geographic at least. And even if they are "currently inaccessible" for whatever reason, why can't the digital images be released?

The numbering system used by National Geographic for the images of the fragments also makes one wonder: e.g., Ohio 4609. Why so high? Are there over six hundred images? Are there over four thousand? And are they all of the 50 fragments?

Grant Adamson

Unknown said...

Prof. DeCOnick:

I completely agree with your assesment of the situation. It is a complete shamelful situation that scholars and those interested find themselves with NGS and other big companies or entities that choose profit over truth and reality.

Manipulation of information is as bad a plain lies.

The experienced scholars should be able to access these documents and many other more codexes and artifcats that are held by private individuals, museums, institutions or governments in order to be able to bring forth the reality of what is in them or what can be revealed to us.

Thanks for your attempts to resolve this issue and bring it out to the public's eye.

April DeConick said...


Everything you say, I agree with wholeheartedly. In all honesty, none of us except NG knows how much is still outstanding and where it is and what its contents are. If Marvin is alluding to some of the fragments as belonging to Allogenes, then they probably do, since he has access to the facsimile photos while the rest of us don't. Yes I do think that the entire CH 13 is in the Codex, since this is the impression that suggested by Gregor and Marvin.

My guess is that the manuscript parts in Ohio contain more than the photos of 50 fragments.

I hope that you will send in a proposal for a poster for the CJC.