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Universalis

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The strange misrepresentation of the Judas Gospel

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has a scathing article by Thomas Bartlett about the lack of intellectual rigor in examining and interpreting the "Gospel of Judas" that was released with fanfare last year by the National Geographic.

It is a withering review of how a questionable translation of a few words was deliberately hyped by third parties to create controversy to make money to recoup their investment.

It wasn't a deliberate fraud: The questionable words had several translations but the most benign word was chosen to describe Judas. Similarly, symbols that implied Judas was evil were overlooked or ignored because no expert was aware of the symbolism.

But the strict secrecy of the translation (in order to maximize the "scoop") was a major reason that the translations were wrong.

But then others chose to hype the most controversial interpretation to sell books or get viewers to watch the TV show.

And the really bad news? This wasn't a Hollywood nincompoop, but the esteemed National Geographic Society.

They still have the hype on their website.


Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News

April 6, 2006

He is one of the most reviled men in history.

But was Judas only obeying his master's wishes when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss?

That's what a newly revealed ancient Christian text says.

Ummm...except that it doesn't...

But this brings up a more serious question for those of us with a scientific background:

Why does the National Geographic still has the webpages with the positive spin on Judas Gospel on line at their website, when a Coptic scholar wrote a NYTimes editorial questioning the translation last December, and other Coptic scholars have agreed with her?


Usually, scientific websites would have a sidebar with the correction, or at least link to a website that mentions the mistranslation controversy, but never mind. If you google, you can find that the National Geographic did answer DeConick's criticism in a press release saying that the controversial parts were clarified in footnotes of their scholarly books.

But that in itself is a problem, since even though the criticism of the translation was printed in the NYTimes, it didn't receive as much publicity as the original articles/TV special/talk show hype. And few reporters or laypeople read the books, let alone the footnotes.

There was even more confusion among lay people, since many of the reports seemed to suggest Judas wrote the manuscript, rather than it was the equivalent to a romance novel written 100-200 years later, using the philosophical ideas of the second century gnostics.

Ideas and philosophical trends change from century to century, and in this case, it would be like rewriting a biography of Abraham Lincoln where he is spouting twentieth century political correctness.

Of course, I know next to nothing about gnosticism except that it is quite esoteric. Even the "popular" books are too complicated for my little brain.

And that is the problem.

In the accepted Gospels of the Bible, there are all sorts of little details that suggest the person writing them down lived in the society. This includes mentioning sites since found in archeology to little details of the culture. And the Jesus of the Gospels is a down to earth person with a lot of common sense.

I'm a hardheaded doc, who has spent most of my work among simple people. And you know what? Jesus and those around him remind me of my patients.

The mumblejumble of the gnostic gospels is like a jigsaw puzzle, quite mystical and above my head...I never can get through them myself...too highfalutin.

In contrast, when I read the gospels in the Bible, I see life around me. I know people who act like those in the Gospels. The miracles are no different than what happens today by doctors or faith healers. But the stories, the parables of Jesus, are what really ring true. No mumble jumble here, but the wheat growing in the field, the woman who lost her stash of coins, the birds of the air, caring for the sick and stranger as if we are caring for God himself, and the simple sharing of bread and wine turned into God as sharing God's life.

No secrets, no holier than thou ascending to a higher power, just the humble holiness of everyday life.

Nah, wouldn't make a good hype for sophisticated people. -------------------------

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