Sunday, June 1, 2008

National Geographic comes after Tom Bartlett now

I am totally shocked that the National Geographic Society has written and posted on their website a long critical response to Tom Bartlett's article on the Gospel of Judas in the Chronicle for Higher Education this month. HERE<<< is NGS's response.

If the Society wishes to criticize me and the other scholars who are raising issues about the handling of the Gospel of Judas, that is one thing, but to strike out against a journalist who was covering a story appears to me to be another thing altogether. What is going on here?

The entire NGS response is strange to me since in a couple of weeks, a second revised edition of their book is going to be released in which the mistakes are acknowledged in the foreword, and the translation is corrected, and the commentary is rewritten to reflect the scholarly progress that we have made on this text, a progress that has happened due to the criticism that myself and others have raised in the last year and a half. So I am at odds frankly to understand the Society's continued defense of its initial publication.


Serge Cazelais said...

It is true that this whole story is sad. It would have been so much simpler without the confidentiality rule imposed on the editorial team. Because of this rule, it is quite normal that the assumption that the primary motivation of National Geographic has been the money is raised and remains in the minds of some people. To be clear, I do not believe that their motivations has really been such, I simply note that many believe it now. Moreover, by doing so, National Geographic has now opened a wide door to rumours of conspiracy that the scientific community (and especially biblical scholars) is distorting the truth, if not hiding it to the public. Here, in Canada, we are now beginning to hear such comments from people concerning the Gospel of Judas. It's almost a shame.

The solution is however to produce scholarly works, to publish them and to give public lectures and show to people the entire text of the Gospel of Judas, not only those small parts that are reproduced (outside of their contexts) again and again in newspapers.

I have prepared a nice Powerpoint presentation which shows in synoptic columns the differences between the first translation (destined to a large audience) and the translation included in the critical edition (destined to scholars). This simple operation gives people the chance to make their own views and is in most case convincing to most people. This don't includes my own translation that improves in some other passages the actual published translations.

David Creech said...

And what's with the ad hominem swipe at you? That's so unprofessional!

paulf said...

Wow. If this shocks you, you'd better get used to being shocked. You call someone a fraud in the New York Times and continue to attack them, well, they're going to fight back.

The key to all this, April, is not that you challenged the NG team's interpretation but the accusations of bad faith. You hit at just about the only thing of value to someone in your field -- his or her credibility.

I say all this not having the slightest idea who is right about the issue of the translation or the motivation. But I do know media and business and as such would myself be shocked if people who have their own press relations staff and financial backers would sit still when being attacked. That means not only rebutting the accusations but hitting the credibility of the accuser.

I don't know the NG team but I suspect that this is not over, not by a long shot.

And I don't know Tom Bartlett, but I suspect he is a big boy and isn't going to lose any sleep. Criticism comes with the territory of a journalist.

Ganieda said...

I'm troubled by all the accusations that the NGS scholars somehow knowingly pulled the wool over everyone's eyes and made clever amendations to the text itself. Isn't that a HUGE charge to make against fellow academics? And of course it can't be proved, so it's really easy to keep making the same charges in venues like the Chronicle and New York Times. I can understand disagreeing with someone's interpretation of a text, which is completely kosher, but charging fellow scholars with, basically, academic fraud -- and in very public forums -- is treading on ominous ground. I don't think it's shocking that NGS has responded forcefully to this. It's really the kind of charge you'd better be able to prove if you're going to keep saying it -- and of course, conveniently, none of this CAN be proved. It's all academic opinion. This Gospel of Judas dust-up is so obviously a simple disagreement about interpretation, which is NORMAL and should be welcomed. But to load on outright charges of fraudulent academic behaviour seems completely out of bounds. Isn't that absolutely the worst thing you can say about a fellow member of the academy? That's what has really annoyed me about this whole thing after reading the NY Times article. And now the Chronicle too -- and the very same charges. I may disagree with what some of the National Geographic says -- for instance, in their doc this past week about Stonehenge, I don't quite buy the notion that the ancient Britons thought of metallurgy as magic. I rolled my eyes at that one; I have an entirely different opinion based on my knowledge of ancient Britons -- but hey, it's an academic opinion and they have a right to say it. There's evidence on both sides. Can it be absolutely proved? No, and neither can my opinion. But I would never hop up and down and call their findings a fraud or say they knowingly skewed them. It's an academic discussion, for heaven's sake. So is the one about the Gospel of Judas.