Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My contribution to the Judas book panel

I really enjoyed listening to each of the panelists successively from the first publication on Judas to the most recent. It gave me a bigger picture of all the interpretations as well as what is at stake. If you missed the event, here is what I had to add to the panel:
The main point of my book The Thirteenth Apostle is that the first scholarly interpretations of the Gospel of Judas are inaccurate. This was partially the result of the fact that they were based on a Coptic transcription released on-line that was provisional and very flawed. This now has been corrected in the Critical Edition, but not before the errors became part of the academic discourse and our consciousness.

Unfortunately, they have affected and skewed our perception of the gospel's actual story and presentation of Judas. Doesn't the gospel say that Judas will ascend to the holy generation? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't the gospel say that it is possible for Judas to go to the kingdom? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't Jesus ask Judas to release his soul? Not in any transcription.

This confusion is compounded by the fact that I think the original English translation contains a few substantial errors that do not reflect what the Coptic says. For instance, Judas is separated from the holy generation, not set apart for it. This translation choice makes a big difference.

So who was Judas? The gospel actually is very clear about his identity. Jesus calls him the Thirteenth demon and says that his star belongs to the thirteenth realm. In Sethian demonology this means that he is being identified with Ialdabaoth "god of the thirteen realms." How and why this transparent reference to Ialdabaoth was missed in the beginning of the National Geographic project, I do not know. But until someone can offer a better explanation about who the thirteenth spirit is beyond an allusion to lucky numbers, I will maintain my interpretative starting point with what the Coptic says about Judas. He is the thirteenth demon Ialdabaoth, who is also called the Apostate.

With this as my starting point, the rest of the text makes complete sense. Judas knows and confesses Jesus because he is a demon. Jesus reveals the mysteries to him to punish him with remorse as deserves the terrible demon that he is. Judas will make a sacrifice worse than all those performed by the other disciples because he iwll kill Jesus and make the offering to Saklas. Because the offering is made by a demon to Saklas, the atonement and eucharist ceremonies are doing no more than worshiping Ialdabaoth, and leading people astray. Judas as Ialdabaoth the archon in the thirteenth realm will rule over the twelve lesser archons who are the apostles. When the gospel says that Judas the demon is more perfect than all the other apostles, it is decimating the doctrine of apostolic authority upon which rested the faith of the mainstream Christians. Judas a wicked demon understood even more than they.

The Gospel of Judas is not good news about Judas, just as the Gospel of Matthew is not good news about Matthew. It is good news about Jesus - that only his body was killed by Judas, that the Archon and his creations will be destroyed, while the baptized Gnostics, the holy generation are saved.

The most important issue that the Gospel of Judas has raised for me in terms of our future scholarship is procedural. I think the National Geographic Society's involvement has been very damaging for us. The fact that it selected a handful of scholars to work up the text and to legally bind them to silence has been detrimental to us all. It dictated to us how our scholarship was to be done. And we all know that this is not how the best scholarship is done. The best scholarship is done when facsimiles are published first, and scholars worldwide can begin working on the texts, talking to each other, sharing information, and arguing. In this way, the academic community double and triple checks itself before "the" critical edition is released. The release of a public translation based on a provisional transcription is not the way to go.


Chris Weimer said...


I missed out on the panel - I had obligations toward the receptions, but I do regret not being able to see your contribution and the reactions to it. A friend told me that he raised the question to Ehrman on his reaction to your paper, and Ehrman waffled and equivocated throughout. It's tough, I imagine, to change one's position after gaining so much media attention based on that position. Hopefully we'll see more turn-arounds as your book becomes more authoritative. And sorry I didn't get to meet you in San Diego this year - perhaps you can join the Bibliobloggers next year, tho!

All the best,

Chris Weimer said...

If Judas was a thirteenth demon and the other twelve demons were the twelve disciples, why did the writer have Judas see in a vision the twelve 'stoning me and persecuting me severely'? This does not add up.

The NT gospels have Judas committing suicide. So, was the writer of the Gospel of Judas incorporating a different memory of Judas passed down?

Again there is no record of Judas being persecuted in the NT gospels. So, was that a real memory passed down too? said...

The more I look at this Gospel, the more it makes me think it was derived from a completely Jewish cabbalistic type of writing that had nothing to do with Jesus. It could therefore have had original remembrances about the prophet Judas. And the Sethians could have re-written the original document to suit their purposes. The extant document contains many unnatural, illogical and inconsistent words or expressions.

José Solano said...

Prof. DeConick,

I have recently purchased your book The Thirteenth Apostle and I’m am enjoying it very much. I read the NG translation when it first came out and I even wrote a parody play entitled The Gospel of Judas meets The DaVinci Code in the Family Tomb of Jesus. I’ll have to update my play based on your work.

I read the first English publication of the Nag Hammadi Library and I’m somewhat steeped in Gnostic and early Christianity studies.

I have a little question related to the Gospel of Judas that perhaps you might offer your understanding on. It’s about logia 38. 20: “Some were sleeping with men.”

Has anyone by way of “contribution” addressed this little statement? For those trying to understand both the Gnostic and the early Christian position on homosexuality this statement has something to say. Was there universal agreement among early Christians, Gnostics and mainline, on this issue? One can almost hear an echo of Romans 1:27.

Thank you for your insights.

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