October 30, 2007
Judas Iscariot still news 20 centuries later
Scholar's new Gospel of Judas translation places National Geographic project in doubt.
Like a lot of Christians, I watched the "Gospel of Judas" program on the National Geographic channel in 2006. It was a well-done program. But at the time, the entire endeavor was under a cloud. The manuscript's history has always been a problem. Then, the producers of the program, the codex owners, and several of the program's commentators all seemed to have agendas that conflicted with good scholarship.
Now, come to find out, another scholar has a fresh transliteration of the text that reflects a fundamentally different perspective than the one that NG provided.
You can get up to speed with this piece in the current US News & World report (Yahoo version). Journalist Jay Tolson notes:
Remember all the hoopla about the Gospel of Judas, the long-lost Gnostic text that depicted Judas not as wicked villain but as the Messiah's favorite, who was given the nasty job of betraying him because he understood Jesus's special mission better than anybody else did?
Well, now it turns out that that might not be what the Gospel of Judas was saying at all. If April De Conick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, is right, the English translation that was sponsored by the National Geographic was so flawed in crucial places that it reversed what the text was actually saying: that Judas was just as nasty as all the traditional orthodox Christian accounts said he was.
The problem, De Conick says, is that the translation was based on very incomplete reconstructions of the original Coptic text. In the October 15 entry of her Forbidden Gospels Blog, she explains that the mistakes were so bad that she was inspired to write a book, the newly published Thirteenth Apostle, to rectify them:
I haven't see a copy of the book yet. But if De Conick's work holds up under further scrutiny it will weaken further the attempts by lefty scholars to undermine Christian orthodoxy through the elevation of gnostic writings.
Wikipedia will give you a good summary overview of this ongoing controversy.
To me, the other amazing realization is how
Judas has staying power as a pop culture icon.
See this review of the new production, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot."
The reviewer writes:
The play centers on Judas’ trial in purgatory, and a liberal, young, female lawyer’s attempt to have him cleared of all charges and let in to heaven. Many famous witnesses are called on his behalf and against him including Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, and Lucifer himself. What makes these characters so unique is their portrayal. They use clichés skillfully by upholding them and debunking them at the same time. Typical religious figures such as Peter, Matthew, and Judas himself are modernized in a way that makes them accessible without diminishing the root of their characters.
Here's more on the play in the Dallas Morning News.
Why do we find Judas such a fascinating figure?