History

"I don't believe you. You're a liar!"

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Remember all the hubbub when the Gospel of Judas Iscariot was published last year? April DeConick of Rice University has examined the original text, and she says she's found some gross errors in the translation. Here's the quick version of the story, as laid out in Saturday's New York Times:

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn't betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas's reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society's transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic's translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

The details are here. Political angle: According to DeConick, the distortions could have been prevented with more transparency.

I think the big problem is that National Geographic wanted an exclusive. So it required its scholars to sign nondisclosure statements, to not discuss the text with other experts before publication. The best scholarship is done when life-sized photos of each page of a new manuscript are published before a translation, allowing experts worldwide to share information as they independently work through the text.

Another difficulty is that when National Geographic published its transcription, the facsimiles of the original manuscript it made public were reduced by 56 percent, making them fairly useless for academic work. Without life-size copies, we are the blind leading the blind. The situation reminds me of the deadlock that held scholarship back on the Dead Sea Scrolls decades ago. When manuscripts are hoarded by a few, it results in errors and monopoly interpretations that are very hard to overturn even after they are proved wrong.

Given enough eyeballs…

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  1. Cool, Jesse! Thanks for posting this!

  2. Damn you, VM. I figured with only one comment it would be Cara Lutetia or whatever his name is now. Instead it’s a backslap from you. Boo.
    Boo boo boo.

  3. Betrayal is teh bestest – kwwp up the great work, guys!

  4. keep, even

  5. I had heard this stuff about Judas long before this text came out.

    I have a pretty good feeling that if Judas was told to betray Jesus, the only people that knew it were Jesus and Judas. Anyone looking in from the outside would perceive Judas’s actions as a betrayal.

    Frankly, I thought the Judas=good thing the whole time. Following along with my “Jesus was a non-supernatural revolutionary” belief, he would need to have a good friend betray him to fulfill the prophesies he intended to fulfill.

  6. Cool, Highnumber! Thanks for posting!!!

  7. I love the Dylan reference.

  8. I’ve always found it an odd bit of cognitive dissonance that Jesus redeemed humanity because he died for our sins, but Judas and the Jews are horrible murderers for following God’s plan for that redemption by putting him to death.

  9. I am certain that the gospel of Judas Iscariot is as historically accurate and real world relevant as those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Fitzugh.

  10. J sub D,

    The Gospel of Thomas rulz! 😉

  11. Play fucking loud

  12. NotthatDavid,

    That’s the part you found dissonant?

  13. Could you please frame this in the context of libertarianism? That’s the only way I can understand things.

  14. I love the Dylan reference.

    I didn’t catch that, I did like the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice reference, though.

  15. Could you please frame this in the context of libertarianism? That’s the only way I can understand things.

    Read this and have the darkness lifted from your eyes, my son.

  16. Though I believe in neither Jesus nor Judas, I still enjoy calling restaurants and making reservations for 13 under the name “Iscariot”

    ok. Not really

  17. What? Judas wasn’t really helping Jesus. Let me guess, next we are going to find out that Mary gave lousy head.

  18. Assertion time: I haven’t actually read the New Testament, so I’m working on limited knowledge here.

  19. I’ve always found it an odd bit of cognitive dissonance that Jesus redeemed humanity because he died for our sins, but Judas and the Jews are horrible murderers for following God’s plan for that redemption by putting him to death.

    I saw this explained on the History Channel as follows:

    At the time, it was Jews writing about Jews, and there was very strong language condemning the High Priests/Jewish Aristocracy.

    When reread and translated later, by people with very little education in regard to history and the context of the passages, the strong language was interpreted as language against all Jews, not just the Jews in power.

    Henceforth, all Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus by mistranslation, and well, we’ve seen what has been caused by that little snafu…

  20. You guys are missing out on the most SIGNIFICANT biblical discovery of the last 50 years = the long lost Gospel of Marshall

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCwcPnseyuM

    AWSUMNESS

    “If you act now = Fish AND the loaf, for only 6 drachmas… and we’ll throw in this new LEAVENATOR!

    Lazarus = what if I told you only *losers* die, and the only thing stopping your ressurrection is YOU.

  21. Dylan reference: Someone in the crowd yelled “Judas!” when Dylan plugged in. Bob responded, “I don’t believe you. Yer a liar!”

  22. I love the Dylan reference.

    OT: Anyone seen the new Dylan film I’m Not There?

  23. “At the time, it was Jews writing about Jews, and there was very strong language condemning the High Priests/Jewish Aristocracy.”

    i think even the (so called among some) so called anti-semitic movie “the passion of the christ” supports this point.

    what the high priests/jewish aristocracy did (or didn’t do) has very little relevance to what the “average jew on the street” felt or did.

    i think that’s true of many, if not most hierarchies – whether corporate or religious or whatever.

    assume for the sake of argument, that all this jesus stuff happened (iow, he existed, he did various stuff, etc.). it would be very surprising if the jewish church aristocracy DIDN’T want to get rid of him – as a rabblerousin’ d00d and all that.

    assuming the church hierarchy did play a part, no reasonable person (imo) could blame “the jews” for that.

    but collective responsibility ninnies are generally idiots anyway, regardless of political or religious persuasion.

  24. Dylan reference: Someone in the crowd yelled “Judas!” when Dylan plugged in. Bob responded, “I don’t believe you. Yer a liar!”

    Thank you very much.

  25. From the article:

    “Judas is not set apart ‘for’ the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated ‘from’ it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because ‘it is possible for him to go there.’ He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.

    “Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will ‘not ascend to the holy generation.'”

    Oh, picky, picky, picky!

    “How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.”

    Yeah, that’s a real head-scratcher. We better get Sherlock Holmes on the case, to investigate this perplexing mystery.

    DeConick says that the problem is that National Geographic didn’t make the manuscript more widely available to other researchers before publishing their translation. I’m sure that didn’t help, but I don’t think that gets to the heart of the matter. It’s like saying that the problem with Mike Nifong was that he didn’t hire a panel of outside experts to examine Crystal Mangum’s credibility. The question is, why did National Geographic and Mike Nifong believe these false stories in the first place?

    I would suggest that National Geographic chose to believe that interpretation of the evidence which would tend to produce the result they wanted, just as Mike Nifong chose to believe that interpretation of the evidence which tended to produce the result *he* wanted. In Mike Nifong’s case, he wanted the rape charges to be true so that he could ride to election as the champion of oppressed black people everywhere. In National Geographic’s case, they wanted a translation which would sell the most copies. There was deception involved, although it could have been inadverdent *self*-deception, the tendency (often imputed to mainstream Christians – have you noticed? to believe that the truth is what *ought* to be true.

    If you’re publishing a translation of an old Gnostic manuscript, which headline would be more likely to inspire lots of readers to buy copies?

    HEADLINE #1: “Newly-translated Gnostic text says Judas betrayed Jesus.” B-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring! You can’t sell many books can you sell with a headline like that, except to a few libraries.

    HEADLINE #2: “Newly-translated Gnostic text say Jesus ‘was asking for it,’ told Judas to betray him; Judas now partying in Heaven with Benedict Arnold, Ted Bundy.”

    Now *there’s* a headline!

  26. NotThatDavid | December 4, 2007, 4:46pm | #

    I’ve always found it an odd bit of cognitive dissonance that Jesus redeemed humanity because he died for our sins, but Judas and the Jews are horrible murderers for following God’s plan for that redemption by putting him to death.

    That’s the great cosmic joke, NotDavid. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  27. Play fucking loud

    I was hoping that would be the first comment, but I’m glad it showed up eventually.

  28. Judas is an interesting study. More speculation than you’d think has gone on regarding him. One article I read suggested that his name could have been translated as “the knife”. The connotation was supposed to be with a surgeon’s knife, but I doubt much surgery was going on in 30-something A.D.

    Anyway, the gnostic stuff is interesting to read, but jumping to the conclusion that it’s canonical in any way is just as fantastical as believing in the invisible sky-daddy. Which is to say that a lot more atheists believe this stuff to be utterly true–without evidence–than anybody else.

  29. Play fucking loud

    I was hoping that would be the first comment, but I’m glad it showed up eventually.

    I’ve always heard it as “Get Fucking Loud” but I guess I’m in the minority on that one.

  30. yay for my school!

  31. Tactix and Notthatdavid, check out “Three Versions of Judas” by J.L. Borges for a fascinating meditations on the meaning of Judas’ betrayal.

    wikipedia entry

  32. English translation here or just google for “three versions of judas”

  33. Taktix,

    At the time, it was Jews writing about Jews, and there was very strong language condemning the High Priests/Jewish Aristocracy.

    The early Christians had every reason to try to differentiate themselves from the Jewish population which many of them had come from. Portraying Jews negatively was one way to do so.

    Then there is the question of whether the portrayal of Pharisees, etc. is an accurate one.

  34. > Dylan reference: Someone in the crowd yelled “Judas!” when Dylan plugged in. Bob responded, “I don’t believe you. Yer a liar!”

    Gotta love that Royal Albert Hall bootleg. They also used to call Dylan Messiah back in those days.

  35. kcjerith | December 4, 2007, 5:32pm | #

    What? Judas wasn’t really helping Jesus. Let me guess, next we are going to find out that Mary gave lousy head.

    No such thing. All head is good, just that some is better.

  36. I’ve always found it an odd bit of cognitive dissonance that Jesus redeemed humanity because he died for our sins, but Judas and the Jews are horrible murderers for following God’s plan for that redemption by putting him to death.

    Look at the Old Testament – it’s full of bad guys, like the raiders to destroyed Job’s home and fields – whose destruction is shown to be God’s will. Or the Babylonions who defeated the Israelites and sent them into exile; they were definintely not good guys, but their actions furthered God’s plan.

    You can see this same thought process in the title given to Attilla the Hun a few centuries later – “The Scourge of God.”

  37. “….breaking the law, breaking the law….”

    Judas Priest

  38. Anyone who read George R. R. Martin’s The Way of Cross and Dragon would know that a conspiracy of liars is responsible for any new info on Judas.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_Cross_and_Dragon

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