Thursday, October 25, 2007

Equal access to the Tchacos Codex is needed!

Stephen asked me in my last post when the Tchacos Codex will be sent back to Egypt and maybe the situation will get better once that happens.

I have heard shifting dates on this. The last date I heard was 2012. If someone knows something different, please correct me.

My point is this. I have no idea what will happen once the Codex goes back to its home in Egypt at the Coptic Museum.

What I do know is this. For those of us who work on these materials, we can't do any real scholarship until we have the facsimile photographs and can all come to an agreement on how the transcription of these texts should read. The Critical Edition that was put out by National Geographic is based on the opinions of only a few scholars. The rest of the scholarly community has not seen the manuscripts yet. The Critical Edition has to be evaluated. This can't be done until the rest of us see the manuscript itself in Switzerland or have access to facsimile photos. Since most of us have academic positions that require us to be at home to teach, the facsimiles are the only way to distribute the information that we all need to work on this cache.

The process of writing a critical edition has all been backwards. Usually critical editions come after the scholarly community has had a chance to discuss the text and figure out what is going on. It is very dangerous to release a critical edition that only a few eyes have seen, because even one small error can perpetuate a hundred more errors in the scholarly literature.

So I repeat. What is the problem with National Geographic? This is a relatively simple request from the scholarly community. Until we have facsimiles, the academic process is not only held up, but damaged, because scholars are going ahead and working on these materials without having seen the photos or manuscripts. So any mistakes that have been made in The Critical Edition are going to be perpetuated and end up causing problems for decades.

We already saw this happen with the Dead Sea Scrolls. And also with the Gospel of Judas. All the literature that has been produced on the Gospel of Judas thus far has been based on a faulty transcription that the NG team released in April 2006 on its website. The original transcription is erroneous, and the errors in it are being perpetuated. And the public, let alone the scholarly community, has been misled.

I thought that the National Geographic Society was all about the quest for truth and knowledge for the sake of humankind. I no longer feel this way. Until it releases the facsimiles and gives all of us equal access to the materials, the National Geographic Society is keeping us all in the dark. Because of this, errors that shouldn't have been made, have been made, and are continuing to be made.

Is there something that National Geographic is trying to cover up? Was the original transcription even more faulty than we have discovered with the information that we have been given? Or is National Geographic just exploiting these ancient texts to sell its books?

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