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.