Monday, June 2, 2008

Was the National Geographic's Gospel of Judas footnoted so that it should not be criticized?

The National Geographic Society keeps trying to defend itself by insisting that the translation choices the team made were addressed in their extensive footnotes and therefore I cannot, or should not, be critical of them.
From NGS HERE<<< "Virtually all issues your article raises about translation choices are addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions of the gospel. Unfortunately, Thomas Bartlett chose to ignore that fact and instead gives much prominence to criticisms advanced by April DeConick." From NGS HERE<<< "Virtually all issues Professor DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions. As is the case in any translation, there can be differences of interpretation, word selection and nuance, and the Gospel of Judas is no exception."
Is this true? Let's have a look. Keep in mind that my work was written BEFORE the critical edition was released in June 2007. It was reacting to the initial publication of the Gospel of Judas by the NGS in April 2006 and the extensive media hype that went along with it.

1. p. 44.21: "O Thirteenth Demon" : I am critical of their choice "thirteenth spirit"
p. 31 NGS's Gospel of Judas, n. 74 "Or, 'thirteenth demon' (Coptic, from Greek, daimon). Judas is thirteenth because he is the disciple excluded from the circle of the twelve, and he is a demon (or daemon) because his true identity is spiritual. Compare tales of Socrates and his daimon or daimonion, in Plato Symposium 202e-203a."

Okay, here is a footnote. But does it help the reader understand that "daimon" in Gnostic texts means "demon", a negative entity? Is there any reference here to the fact that the Sethians used the number 13 to indicate the demiurge, Ialdabaoth-Saklas-Samael-Nebruel, who is the highest demon and archon living in the 13th realm of the cosmos (where the decan stars were)? This has been my criticism, and remains it. I see nothing in this footnote that is indicative of this discussion.

Note: in NGS's critical edition, and in the second edition of this popular book slated to be released this month, "spirit" has vanished and been replaced by "daimon."
2. p. 46.17. "separate from" : I am critical of NGS's choice "set apart for"
p. 32 NGS's Gospel of Judas, no note at all.

This is very serious because "set apart for" is not a meaning found in Coptic lexical aids, nor have I been able to find the Coptic expression used to mean this in any Coptic text I have examined yet.

Note: in NGS's critical edition, they added a note that "separate from" can be an alternative. Now in their second edition, this reads: "set apart from."
3. p. 46.5-46.7. "Teacher, enough! At no time may my seed control the Archons!" : I am critical of NGS's choice of phrasing it as a question instead of an emphatic, "could it be that my seed is under the control of the rulers?"
p. 32 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote indicating that this is an emphatic construction. There is no footnote about this in the critical edition either.
4. p. 46.24-47.1. "you will not ascent to the holy [generation]." : I am critical of their emendation which alters the meaning of the sentence so that the negative is changed to "they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]."
p. 33 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote or textual mark in the translation indicating that the editors had emended the Coptic in their translation. This is very serious because it is standard practice that emendations are marked clearly even in the translation so readers will know that the editors have altered the original text. The editors did mark the emendation in the on-line Coptic transcription, which was how I figured it out, because the photos still hadn't been released at that time.

Note: in NGS's critical edition and in the second revised edition of the popular book, this emendation has been removed, and the translation reads similarly to what I have argued it should read.
5. p. 56.18. "you will do worse than all of them" : I am critical of their translation, "you will exceed all of them", since it doesn't take into account the negative context which demands that the comparative be translated "worse than".
p. 43 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote to indicate the problems with the context, or that "exceed" should be understood in a negative sense. There is a footnote, n. 137, and it reads: "Literally, 'that bears me' (Coptic, from Greek, etrphorei emmoei). Judas is instructed by Jesus to help him by sacrificing the fleshly body ("the man") that clothes or bears the true spiritual self of Jesus. The death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to be the liberation of the spiritual person within."

NOTE: the NGS critical edition still does not have a footnote about this.
6. p. 56.23. "your star has ascended" : I am critical of their translation, "shone brightly" which I still cannot determine how they came up with.
The only footnote here, p. 43 NGS's Gospel of Judas, note 138, reads: "On the poetic lines depicting how Judas is prepared for his act of salvific betrayal, cf. passages from the Psalms. The last line may be restored to read, "[become strong]," or the like." So again, there is no footnote indicating that the Coptic means "to pass by" or "to reach" or that it denotes ascendancy.

NOTE: the NGS critical edition now reads "your star has passed by".
The evidence is very clear for anyone who cares to actually look at it. NGS is open to criticism. They cannot hide behind "a footnote strategy" to deflect the criticism, because the footnotes just are not there, at least in terms of my criticisms.

What I find so strange about all of this, is that the scholars on the NGS team have been very responsive to the criticisms of other scholars, and have improved their translation in the NGS critical edition and now in the second edition of the popular book. And the NGS has been responsive in that it finally released high resolution photos on their website (mid Jan 2008). So why the NGS puts out these press releases defending the faults of its initial publication is confusing to me.

The fact remains that the NGS DVD on the Gospel of Judas is still around, and will be for decades. I doubt any revisions to it are in the works. And the impression that their first faulty translation left in the media and among the public - that Judas is a hero - is still around, and will be for decades. The faults in that initial translation are not minor interpretative differences, but major translational errors that, when fixed, present us with a Judas who is a gnostic demon, not a historical hero.

11 comments:

Ganieda said...

If they footnoted all the points you are criticizing them for not addressing, why in the world shouldn't that count? Poor little footnotes...so neglected. And is it absolutely true that "daimon" ONLY can mean "demon" in Gnostic texts? I was under the impression that the word had a wide range of meanings in ancient cultures, including spirits or entities that are not necessarily good or bad. As you say here, that is true of Platonic texts -- and isn't it generally well known that the Gnostics were highly influenced by Platonic literature? (If I'm wrong let me know -- I'm a medieval gal but I'm interested in the Gnostics.) I would have thought the NG scholars believed the reader was aware enough of what most people believe a "demon" is that they didn't need to go into a whole footnoted dog-and-pony show on "evil demons." That's how I interpreted it when I first read it -- I saw the footnote and knew what they meant.

JMS Providence said...

Perhaps an ulterior intention was to boost sales by initiating the controversy and if anyone called them on it, as Dr. D and others have done, admit half-heartedly to some supposedly ambiguous renderings, possibly, so as to continue milking this whole thing for what it's worth.

Another thought I had was...did the Gnostic crew (Sethians?) who put this gospel together intended to merely support and expound upon what the gospels of Mark (Matt, Luke) and John were saying about Judas?

Or was it their intention to secretly spark such controversy (in the realm of possibility) about Judas which the NGC has run buck wild with?

As a novice on this subject, this is what I'm thinkin'.

David Creech said...

Ganieda,
As to the meaning of daimon in Gnostic texts, I am not aware of a single positive/neutral usage in the Nag Hammadi corpus. In other words, daimon is universally a "demon," not a god or spirit.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely held a "negative connotation", just as "demon" does in modern-day English usage. To pretend otherwise is just "wishful thinking" and an unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.

hexalpa said...

Daimon most definitely had a "negative connotation", just as "demon" has in modern-day English.
Pretending otherwise is just wishful thinking and unwillingness to face facts.