Thursday, June 5, 2008

Marvin Meyer speaks out about the Gospel of Judas

Marv contacted me this morning and asked me to post a comment on my blog on his behalf. I am happy to do so.
"How I regret this firestorm of hostility that is surrounding the Gospel of Judas! I refuse to add any fuel to the fire. This should be a time when we celebrate the appearance of a fascinating text and apply our collective wisdom to study it. As I told Tom Bartlett of The Chronicle, whatever else we might wish to say about the National Geographic Society, we should note that without the work of National Geographic and the Maecenas Foundation, Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas might today be little more than a pile of papyrus dust in a box. My friend and colleague April DeConick invited Gregor Wurst and myself to give a public presentation at Rice University on the occasion of the recent Judas conference, and we did so. I attempted to indicate, in a clear and candid manner, the issues that arise when we scholars deal with the media and with other organizations. These issues are real issues, and they go far beyond the particular policies of the National Geographic Society. I said this in Houston, and I say it again: we need to move on in order to apply our scholarly energy to the Gospel of Judas and the rest of Codex Tchacos. And we need to discuss together how we may cooperate with organizations which have resources that may be applied to the examination and preservation of our cultural heritage, and how we may communicate our insights appropriately to our fellow scholars as well as to the interested public."

Marvin Meyer
Chapman University
I want to support Marv's statement with my own observations. I have watched Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst work hard the last few months in response to the criticism of scholars, including me, to revise their original publication of the Gospel of Judas. I have been impressed with their response to the criticism and their dedication to make corrections. I have come to understand what extraordinary pressure they were under when they "resurrected" this gospel.

This could have turned into a scholarly war zone, with none of us talking to each other, and everyone marking turf. But this is NOT what has happened, because it is not what any of us involved wanted to happen. This is one of the reasons we held the Codex Judas Congress as a working group or think tank. At the Codex Judas Congress, there wasn't anyone in the room that wasn't working together and listening to each other in order for us to make progress on the Gospel of Judas in terms of translation issues and interpretation issues. I asked Tom Bartlett to emphasize the fact that the Codex Judas Congress was a terrific example of how good scholarship is done, that it was a time of healing, and that the scholars involved were ready to move forward. Tom did mention this in his article, and I am grateful to him for doing so. But this seems to have gotten lost in the fray of on-line discussions, so I want to highlight this here.

I have been working on revising and updating The Thirteenth Apostle. I have written a second preface in which I discuss what has happened this year, and have included a new chapter which covers the material I presented at the Codex Judas Congress. I believe that the revised edition of my book will be published in the fall.

Marv and Gregor's revised popular edition of the Gospel of Judas should be released any day, and it is a much more "neutral" translation. Marv and Gregor asked each of us at the Codex Judas Congress to take a look at it and give input. Of course, they made the final decisions on what was changed and what was not, and there is not unanimous agreement. But their willingness to ask other scholars to be involved is exactly how the best scholarship is accomplished. It is too bad that the NGS policy did not allow for this the first time around, but that is water under the bridge now. Marv is right that we have to figure out as a collective group how to work with the media and organizations that fund projects in order to preserve these antiquities, while at the same time being able to work in the academic model or environment where things like non-disclosure statements and exclusive publication are more of a hindrance than a help. If any of you has suggestions for how this might be done in the future when another codex pops up on the market, please leave a comment.


Ganieda said...

Nice. But we still seem to be casting this as them making "corrections." These are INTERPRETATIONS, not "corrections." How can there be "errors" in the first place when all of this is up to how it's interpreted by various scholars? None of it can be proved, so it's all educated theory. I think I'd be more comfortable with all this if any sensationalist allegations of "errors," "mistakes" and "corrections" were off the board and these were instead cast as various ways of interpreting the text.

April DeConick said...


I don't know how many times I have to tell you, but yes they are errors. And yes the editors of the NGS team have corrected them.

There were two major transcription errors that complicated immensely the interpretation. I have written about these many times. What this means is that the transcription of the Coptic was wrong in two places, both of which had Judas ascending or going to ascend or possibly ascending. This has been corrected so that now the transcription and translation correctly read that he does not.

Although translation is an interpretative process, there are wrong translations as anyone who has taken a foreign language test knows. Every word has a range of acceptable meanings based on ancient usage of the word, and outside of that are translations that cannot be supported from the ancient literature which are just wrong. These have been corrected to. The big one here is "set apart for" which is not the meaning of the Coptic phrase and cannot be supported from the Coptic literature. It means "separate from" or "divide into pieces."

I could go on and on. But I already have discussed these items on many occasions and feel like a broken record.

There is nothing sensationalistic going on here. This is a matter of scholarly review that happens to be taking place in a public arena instead of behind the scenes anonymously before publication which is how it usually works.