Friday, January 16, 2009

Translation problem in opening line of the Gospel of Judas

Sorry that I haven't posted in a few days, but the days and all their activities have gotten away with me. I appreciate all your comments on my last post about theology and history. This is perpetually going to be a struggle for us because there is so much at stake in terms of faith.

Yesterday the revised proofs for The Thirteenth Apostle arrived. So I will now have the pleasure of reviewing those and being reminded of what I wrote. The book is greatly expanded. It has grown from 198 pages to 258 with the addition of my two new chapters, one on astrology and the Gospel of Judas, and the other on the Judas Gem and magic. I also have added a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on second-century types of Christianity.

I am still struggling with one translation choice and whether to change the proof on this. Perhaps you have some thoughts for me. The opening line of the Gospel of Judas reads either:

"The secret revelatory (apophêmi) discourse in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."


"The secret speech of indictment (apophainô) in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."

The difficulty is that the word "apophasis" which occurs in the Coptic, can mean either "to refuse" or "deny" through an open revealed speech (such as apophatic theology in which God is revealed by stating what he is NOT) if it comes from apophêmi, OR if it comes from apophainô it can mean a sentence of judgment in court, as in an indictment.

I initially choose to translate it "secret revelatory discourse" in order to keep it broad and to allow for the ambiguity that is there. But this doesn't convey the fact that "apocalypse" is not the chosen word. Rather the word that is chosen has a negative implication - that Jesus is going to openly deny Judas something and/or he is going to openly indict him - both of which Jesus does in the following narrative. He denies Judas access to the holy generation, and he indicts him, telling him that he will become the thirteenth demon, the ruler of the world, who is identified by the Gnostics with Ialdabaoth.

Any recommendations on how to get this idea across in a plain English translation? I have been racking my brain for a long time with no good answer yet.

UPDATE: André Gagné has sent me a message to post that he still translates the line: "The secret word of the denial which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot." For more discussion on this and his fine article, go HERE to an earlier post on the subject.

The question for me is how to best translate this into English for a general readership. What is a "secret word of denial"? What the author is trying to say is that Jesus is going to deny Judas' requests in this secret conversation that took place between them. I just can't seem to settle on how to translate this concept in one word.


Jim Deardorff said...

Your first option looks best to me, since the discourse or speech contained a lot more than just an indictment against Judas.

Jared Calaway said...

"Expose" (with accent on "e") means revelation with a negative tinge. But that may not work either.

April DeConick said...


You might be on to something here. Exposé is an exposure of something disreputable. Hum. Thanks for the idea.