Friday, December 7, 2007

Contending about Judas

Marvin Meyer told me a couple of days ago to expect letters in the NY Times in response to my op. ed. Here they are, one from Meyer and one from the National Geographic Society. You have to scroll down to see the NGS letter.

Update 12-11-08: Press releases posted on NGS's website, one by Marvin Meyer and the other by National Geographic.


Unknown said...

Wow. I'm not familiar with all the issues here, and letters are usually edited, but given that there is no response to your claims about the delayed publication of usable facsimiles, you seem to have won the argument pretty efficiently. One wonders why they responded at all, if they weren't willing to respond to that.

Also, ought Dr Meyer not know that Thomas, not Judas, was the Contender? ;~)

gdelassu said...

Dr Meyer's response seems rather to beg the question, to my mind. What are "all the positive things said about Judas in the text" to which he refers? It seems to me that once one sets aside all of the points where Dr DeConick disputes the NG team's translation, there are not many (any?) unambiguously positive things said about Judas. In other words, Dr Meyer's argument, if I understand it, seems to run "if we translate this particular word here in this unusual fashion, it gives a positive enough impression to justify translating this next word in another unusual fashion, etc". The unusual translations depend on the overall positive depiction of Judas, but the overall positive depiction depends in turn on the unusual translations. For what little my opinion is worth, Dr DeConick seems to have the better of the argument here.

g. wesley said...

I agree with what's been said. But I doubt that the average reader will see it that way. Sophistry often works on the masses.

I think it's especially cute when NGS invites "Professor DeConick and other scholars to join us . . . to continue the public discussion." Using what? Minimized images of (some of) the material?

Grant Adamson

Talon said...

Wait just a second. I know absolutely nothing in depth about any of this, but Meyer's letter did raise a point that I had been wondering.

I read Bart Ehrman's book about the Gospel of Judas, and based on the totality of what the book says, it is a bit weird that the whole meaning can be changed by the re-interpretation of a couple of words. Even if DeConick is right about the meaning of those words, there is a whole book that seemingly does not treat Judas as a demon. Again, I haven't yet read her book and even when I do, my opinion doesn't mean much.

But to say that one person or another has "won" an argument on a complex topic based on an op-ed piece and a brief rebuttal is silly.

g. wesley said...


Erhman himself says that he's "not a Coptoligist. Coptic is one of those languages that I taught myself in my spare time over the years . . . . I can hack my way through a Coptic text with a dictionary and enough time." Well so could any number of college undergads and non-specialists. In other words, Erhman's not the person to ask about how Coptic texts should be translated and interpreted, let alone how a highly fragmentary Coptic text should be restored. Agruably, NGS only included him on their team because he's about as close as you're going to get to a household name, given the success of his popular (and in my opinion at least partly) sensational best- sellers like Misquoting Jesus. It was a way for NGS to sell more copies of their book. Erhman's main field is New Testament textual criticism, where he seems to be well respected. In Nag Hammadi and related studies, however, I'd say that on the whole people think that his treatments of 'Gnosticism' do more harm than good (see, e.g., Pagels' and King's critisms of his book on the Gospel of Judas in the notes to theirs).

You're right that the arguement is far from resolved. But Erhman is not, as Meyer puts it, 'a contenda' in this dispute.

Grant Adamson

Talon said...

grant, I'm not disputing what you are saying. I have no expertise in this matter and I have no reason to disbelieve Dr. DeConick is better at translating Coptic than the National Geographic team.

My point is that there seems to be a lot of premature celebrating here and on other blogs. I remember when Qumran was universally seen as an Essene settlement, then others proposed it was a fortress, or a villa or a trade post and so on. Maybe someone got it right, maybe nobody. I have no doubt the NG team got some of its translation wrong, but that doesn't make anybody else's view right.

"Judas" was written in a language few know, by a person or persons with a mindset that no longer exists, with an unknown audience, during a vague timetable, to me it would almost be impossible for anyone to really get the whole thing right.

I'm sure this is not Dr. DeConick's doing, but she has become (on many sites if you google it) the defender of the orthodox faith by putting down the evil Scriptual doubters on the NG team.

Jim said...

April, you win the smack down. And why oh why do people use screen names of animal body parts?

g. wesley said...

thanks fot the further thoughts, talon. your perspective on the reception of thirteenth apostle is interesting. it reminds me that what's at stake here for many people is the relation between the historical judas and jesus (and the reliability of the canonical gospels). i keep forgetting that.

one clarification: of course, erhman does not equal the ngs team, which was also comprised of expert coptoligists. said...

One thing is for sure, there has never been a shortage of folk who would like to keep Judas bad. But remember Hitler was good to many.

May be Nero was good before the Flavian historians got hold of him. May be he didn't kill his mother after all, and may be he went to war in Judea instead of going on a Greek holiday. And may be those same historians put paid to Judas' reputation as a good guy.
Certainly, I dont believe that the memories (that April is so keen on) of Judas as portrayed in the Gospel of Judas were bad. That this document is nothing to do with the history of Judas is evidently wrong. That memory is like a wave that has travelled a long way across an ocean to rise a 50-footer in the Gospel of Judas.

Anonymous said...

Well Jim, screen names of animal body parts aren't the worst thing in the world.

In one Kmoo's opinion. said...

The Gospel of Judas undoubtedly incorporates old Jewish sentiments that were anti-sacrifice, anti-priest, pro prophet and pro sanctuary. Despite Bock's comments, it remains difficult not to see this Gospel as incorporating a memory of Judas in the sanctuary. The language of the sanctuary with regard to Judas is obvious. Judas was a prophet descended from priests.

g. wesley said...

Thanks for update, Professor DeConick.

It was interesting to read the responses in full.

paulf said...

What I find interesting about Meyer's extended response is: A) the list of positives about Judas in the gospel, and B) the idea that there is no precedent for "parody" gospels in antiquity.

Taken as a whole, there is a legitimate debate as to whether the gospel presents Judas as an unredeemed demon. Meyer: "This text is, after all, entitled the Gospel--the Good News--of Judas, and the opening of the text features the role of Judas in conversation with Jesus. In the text, Judas has the correct confession of who Jesus is, from a Sethian perspective, and Judas is the main recipient of revelation from Jesus. It is Judas who receives the central cosmological teaching from Jesus in the Gospel of Judas--which is, after all, the main point of the entire text--and elsewhere in the text he is said to have heard the mysteries of the kingdom from Jesus."

Also, the fake-gospel-written-as-parody theory has to be questioned. Maybe this is covered in the book, but does anyone know of other examples of similar gospel parodies in antiquity?

April DeConick said...


I have never said that the Gospel of Judas represents a genre of parody. What I have said is that it uses parody, mocking humor, to ridicule the Apostolic Christians in an attempt to correct their theology. Yes, this happens in other Gnostic texts. Jesus laughs at the ignorance of unknowing Christians quite frequently.

gdelassu said...

Just how certain are we that this text was originally titled "the gospel of Judas"? That is to say, do we have good reason to suppose that this is what the original document was titled, or is it just as likely that this is the name that a particular Coptic translator gave it?

Robert said...

There's an interesting article about this and some other related topics here: