Monday, April 21, 2008

Is Judas' gospel that ambiguous?

JMS Providence asked me in one of the comments:
Dr. D, this isn't necessarily related to your post but last night, I was up rather late, and at 1AM the National Geographic Channel was airing their work on the Gospel of Judas. I'll tell ya, I haven't really studied any of this much, but I was quite shocked when I first saw it year or two ago. So does this mean that they still hold to their position and have not edited their program to show such opposing work as yours? Just wondering. And if so, is Judas' gospel that ambiguous?
What you are asking is important. So important that I am making a post about it, and I hope that some of you pass this around on list serves and so forth.

No the Gospel of Judas is not that ambiguous in my opinion. It is actually very straightforward once you transcribe and translate it correctly. Certainly there is always room for interpretation of details. But Judas is clearly identified not just as a demon, but as the thirteenth, and this is the numerical identification of the demiurge archon who lives in the realm just above his twelve archon assistants. Moreover, the thirteenth realm is described as having Judas' star in it, which means that it is IN this cosmos, not some realm in the divine world beyond or between this cosmos and the supreme God. Stars are only fixtures in this cosmos. And they are negative beings according to the ancients because they were associated with fate.

There is so much misinformation about the Gospel of Judas it makes me want to cry, not because I am in love with the Gospel of Judas, but because I am in love with truth. I want nothing more than to provide sound information to people who want to know about early Christianity. I do not have an agenda beyond this. Nothing I have done has anything to do with liberal or conservation religious positions. I am a historian and I say what I see from that position whether it confirm or deny contemporary religious beliefs.

The work that I have done on the Gospel of Judas, in the academic sphere, and in the general publication The Thirteenth Apostle, is making tremendous impact on our understanding of this gospel. I want to add, that my voice is not alone. There are a number of us who from the first release of the Gospel of Judas by National Geographic in 2006 saw the troubles with the transcription, translation, and interpretation that was offered to all of us. We have all been working as hard and fast as we can to correct these problems.

National Geographic has not gone on blindly. The Society in the last two months has had the team retranslate and reinterpret the Gospel of Judas in a second edition of its book. It is slated to come out in June. The team has corrected the transcription errors. These are the errors that were made when the Coptic manuscript was examined and then scribed down in Coptic letters - in other words a hand written copy was made of the manuscript. When this is done, scholars will sometimes "emend" the text - that is change what the manuscript says in their transcription of it. This is done when scholars think there was a mistake in the manuscript. It can happen with misspellings, dropped letters, and so forth. As I wrote in my book, the team had originally emended the text on p. 46.24-25. When they did this, the emendation made the text read that Judas would ascend to the holy generation. Without the emendation, the text says he won't. The team corrected this in The Critical Edition of the Gospel of Judas which was released last June, and now they have done so too in the revised second edition of the popular translation that will be released this June.

There was another transcription error on p. 35.25 which had read that Judas would learn the mysteries of the kingdom. It would be possible for him to go there, but he would grieve. Now the NGS team has corrected this reading: Judas will learn the mysteries of the kingdom, not so that he will go there, but so that he would grieve.

The new version of their book gets rid of "spirit" and allows "daimon" to stand in the text. They have also gone with "set apart from that generation" (46.17) instead of the incorrect "set apart for."

So these are all major major changes in terms of our interpretation of the text, and they are changes that were brought about because the team continued to work on the text, reassessing it, and listening to us their critics.

So all of this is well and good, but as far as I know there are no plans to change their movie, which is one of their most widely viewed movies. And I doubt that any fanfare will attend the release of their second edition and I doubt much will be done in terms of publicity to let the public know about it. If anyone knows otherwise, I will be glad to hear it and correct my impression.

1 comment:

Memra said...

Keep up the good work, it will grow in appreciation.

In a sense, 'I feel your pain.' I still get flack because I think, historically speaking, that the Johannine Prologue in the Sahidic Coptic version should be translated similar to the way the Greek text is translated into English in Dr. James Moffatt's version in 1935, rather than according to tradition.

Your contributions are invaluable, and I think that time will continue to vindicate your work.