Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gospel of Judas Update

Scholarship takes time and the effort of many people. Making money on scholarship frequently undermines those necessities.

That's the lesson of today's NY Times op-ed by Rice University professor April DeConick, author of the new book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. DeConick, one of the few people who reads Coptic, the language of the Gospel of Judas, has noted several ways in which the National Geographic's team of scholars obviously misread the manuscript.

The differences in content that she notes amount to this:

So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals. Because Judas is a demon working for Ialdabaoth, the author believed, when Judas sacrifices Jesus he does so to the demons, not to the supreme God. This mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.

Not being among that small group of scholars who reads Coptic, we depend on DeConick's expertise, noting that the offering of a revisionist reading that ratchets down the public interest requires pretty solid evidence to be successful and so assuming that any rational scholar would have as much before going forward. If she proves right--and it will take time and collective effort to make that clear to us non-Coptic readers, another big story has gone bust.

The Easter-season historical blockbusters of the last two years, the Gospel of Judas and the so-called Jesus tomb, have now collapsed completely. Let's hope that publishers, and the scholars who work for them, think twice before trying to profit from the flash of religious interest that blooms and disappears like crocuses. And let's hope that the public decides it won't be fooled again.


Jake said...

Interesting - thanks for drawing attention to that story. One minor correction - I believe her name is April DeConick.

farris said...

I wasn't sure as I read this yesterday morning at my local IHOP if I should be hissing or smiling.


rustypants said...

SWNID said: And let's hope that the public decides it won't be fooled again.

Scott says: we live to be fooled. we love to be fooled. apparently we think life isn't interesting enough as it is.

View from Here said...

I was particularly interested in what DeConick said (see the full New York Times piece) about the Dead Sea Scrolls:

"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."

From what I understand, the consequences of the Scrolls monopoly are indeed still continuing today, in a misleading exhibit taking place in a "natural history" museum in San Diego. See this article for details:

So I would suggest that an important question is whether so-called liberal Christian scholars -- by which I mean scholars of Christian faith who, like April DeConick, seek to do their research in accordance with fundamental scientific principles rather than any religious agenda -- will part company with their Evangelical-minded colleagues and frankly condemn what is going on with the Dead Sea Scrolls in one museum exhibit after another.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Jake: Corrected the spelling. Knew the name had some foreign preformative, didn't care to check it. Thanks!

Farris: Neither hiss nor smile. Chew. And next time, pick a better restaurant.

Pants: True that. Hence the success of this blog.

View from Here: It takes a special kind of conspiracy theorist to conclude that evangelicals are suppressing alternative interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you're going to all the trouble to do blog searches to post comments about your idiosyncratic theories, at least provide a proper hyperlink.

Anonymous said...

So much for GOPers solidifying on a candidate early and sticking with him/(obligatory)her.

It's an all out fight now between at least 3 candidates.