Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gospel of Judas megapost

TV Documentary airs:

USA: National Geographic Channel, 8 pm Eastern Time.
UK: National Geographic Channel, 9 pm.

Thanks, of course, to the bloggers who have announced the many and various elements in the story of the publishing of the Gospel of Judas over the last couple of days. As ever, Jim West has tended to be the first with the latest news; Stephen Carlson has on Hypotyposeis the all important announcement of publication, Jim Davila has lots of useful links on Paleojudaica, Ed Cook comments on the text in Ralph the Sacred River, Michael Pahl on The Stuff of Earth and Lesa Bellevie on The Magdalene Review. On Sansblogue , Tim Bulkeley is as impressed as I am with the BBC coverage. On Novum Testamentum blog Brandon Wason notes that "Everywhere I go I hear something about the Gospel of Judas", and he links to a pretty useful Wikipedia article featuring the headline that it contains a current event. On RogueClassicism, David Meadows offers several links and promises more on Explorator this weekend. About Ancient / Classical History also has a post. On Jesus Creed Scot McKnight has a post with a remarkable 44 comments since yesterday (and counting). But the prize for the most extensive comment so far goes to Ben Witherington who has two posts, Gospel of Judas et al Part One (with 44 comments) and The Gospel of Judas Part Two. And thanks to Jeremy Pierce in comments (below) for mentioning Mark Roberts's lengthy post.

Pride of place in ongoing internet coverage of the Gospel of Judas goes to Roger Pearse's site, and he has kept it up to date with the latest -- and keep watching for further updates:

The Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot)

Tonight is the big night for The Gospel of Judas -- the TV documentary airs on National Geographic tonight in the USA, at 8 pm Eastern Time (and there is no Desperate Housewives on ABC tonight, so no need to worry about setting the video). See the page on it here:

Gospel of Judas

You can watch a three-four minute preview of it here:

Gospel of Judas Preview

You can catch Bart Ehrman's face on there, and there are a couple of others whose faces I don't know, one of whom says that the Gospel tells us nothing about the historical Jesus. There is some nice looking drama, of a James Caviezel-style Jesus, presumably filmed specially for the programme. The Gallery includes a rather modern-looking Irenaeus writing at a desk, unfortunately. Not surprisingly, the essential publicity for the TV programme focuses on the historical Jesus / historical Judas angle, but my guess is that most will be able to distinguish the hook from the substance.

But the great news is that National Geographic Channel have put together a superb website on the Gospel:

The Lost Gospel of Judas -- Photos, Time Line, Maps

Included on the site is a thirteen minute video of the press announcement:

Webcast: Press Announcement

And there are bags of other useful pieces, including some fabulous pictures and most importantly -- and remarkably -- they have made available the entire text in Coptic and an English translation:

Explore the Document
English Translation (PDF)

Coptic Text (PDF)
I will not hide for the reader my own delight that they have done this on the web, with free access to all. Warm commendations to National Geographic! Just in case this is only temporary, make sure you download your own copies now -- you don't want to regret missing the opportunity later. Also on the Explore the Document page are some excellent manuscript facsimiles with zoom in facility.

The National Geographic Magazine site also has extensive materials:

The Judas Gospel @ National Geographic Magazine

See here in particular this section:

Experts on the Gospel of Judas

This features six nice quality video clips each (i.e. 24 in total) of Marvin Meyer, Craig Evans, Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels.

So what about the press? On occasions like this, I like to turn to The Guardian first (who doesn't?):

Judas: this is what really happened
Julian Borger and Stephen Bates
Friday April 7, 2006
After being reviled for almost 2,000 years as the embodiment of treachery, Judas Iscariot's side of the story was finally published yesterday. Thanks to a newly discovered gospel in Judas's name, we now know what his excuse was: Jesus made me do it.

The Gospel of Judas, a fragile clutch of a leather-bound papyrus thought to have been inscribed in about AD300, was unveiled yesterday in Washington by the National Geographic Society, and it represents a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history . . . .

. . . . It is unlikely, however, that the documents are about to trigger a total rehabilitation for the Iscariot name, with shrines in his name and readings from his gospel at church services, let alone a film treatment by Mel Gibson.

The initial reaction from Christian scholars was wary. Even if the gospel is authentic, they said, it appears to be the work of a particular 2nd-century sect, the gnostics, who had different beliefs from the mainstream church and who were long ago declared heretical.

The leading biblical scholar and translator of the dead sea scrolls, Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford University, said: "The document is of interest for the ideas of the gnostics but it almost certainly adds nothing to our understanding of what happened 150 years before it was written."
Speaking of Vermes, he had an article in yesterday's Times:

Iscariot and the dark path to the Field of Blood
By Geza Vermes
Our correspondent takes issue with recent attempts to portray Judas in a sympathetic light

It's a useful article on the evidence from the canonical Gospels about Judas' role in Jesus' arrest.

Here's the Daily Telegraph's angle:

Is it really the Gospel truth?
By Damian Thompson
Prof Bart Ehrman, the scholar employed by National Geographic Society for the publication of the Gospel, believes that the document could be the product of an obscure sect called the Cainites.

He writes: "These people believed that the world had been created not by the One, True God, but by a lesser, ignorant deity - the God of the Old Testament, who was not to be trusted or followed …According to the Cainites, what Judas had done was not evil. He alone understood the mysteries of Jesus and did Jesus's will. All the other disciples, who worshipped the false Jewish God, failed to understand the truth of Jesus." . . . .

. . . . Meanwhile, vitriolic messages are shooting across the internet, as participants in the discovery process accuse each other of conspiracy and carelessness. The Gospel fragments are papyri of such fragility that they should be handled only with tweezers in temperature-controlled laboratories. Yet at one stage, according to reports, a girlfriend of one of the dodgy art dealers stuffed pages of them into her handbag.
That's an interesting tidbit, rather like the story of Muhammad Ali's mother throwing some of the pages of the Nag Hammadi codices on the fire. But the key quotation in the Telegraph article is this one:
The unearthing of the Gospel of Judas is indeed remarkable, but not, perhaps, as remarkable as National Geographic is making out. For the truth is that many heretical Christian sects wrote their own Gospels. Many of these have survived, but were consigned to library annexes by the Trinitarian variety of Christianity that, by winning the ideological battles of the first millennium, established itself as orthodox.
This is where I think one has to distinguish between the hook that National Geographic are using to get everyone's attention and the substance that is reported once the attention has been grasped. And to be fair to National Geographic, their website is exemplary in what it provides (see above).

What about the American papers? This article appeared in the New York Times:

In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal
Though some theologians have hypothesized the "good Judas" before, scholars who have translated and studied the text said this was the first time an ancient document lent specific support to a revised image of the man whose name in history has been synonymous with treachery.

Scholars say the release of the document will set off years of study and debate. The debate is not over whether the manuscript is genuine — on this the scholars agree. Instead, the controversy is over its relevance . . . .

. . . . "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was," said Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton who specializes in studies of the Gnostics.

Mr. Garcia said, "The codex has been authenticated as a genuine work of ancient Christian apocryphal literature," citing extensive tests of radiocarbon dating, ink analysis and multispectral imaging and studies of the script and linguistic style. The ink, for example, was consistent with ink of that era, and there was no evidence of multiple rewriting.

"This is absolutely typical of ancient Coptic manuscripts," said Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at the University of M√ľnster in Germany. "I am completely convinced."
Elaine Pagels, who features in the National Geographic documentary and also features in many of the news reports has an op-ed piece in the New York Times (you will need to register, but it is free):

The Gospel Truth
Published: April 8, 2006

There has been a good thread of discussion over the last day or so, since it appeared, on the Crosstalk email list. Begin with the message here:

Pagels on the Gospel of Judas

and then work through the replies at the bottom of that post, where you will find the continuing discussion. There are other threads on Xtalk on the same topic, and they will be worth exploring too.

Time Magazine has a brief article today:

Judas: Foe or Friend?

And this is one you really can't miss, from The Spoof:

Gospel of Judas: Selections
Vatican spokesman Archbishop Heiko Vitali wasted no time in dismissing the discovery as yet another example of how scholars are willing to believe "proven heresies."

"What do we know about Judas? That he was a liar. So even if this gospel came from his hand--as I'm sure it did not--it would be just another big lie," said Vitali.
Beliefnet also has its fair share of information available:

Will the Real Judas Please Stand Up?
The 'Gospel of Judas' makes the case that Judas wasn't so bad. Is the text reliable? The devil is in the details.
By Darrell Bock

And they have some audio available, with Karen King:

Was Judas Doing God's Will?
The 'Gospel of Judas' helps us understand early Christian arguments about whether God willed the crucifixion.
Interview with Karen King

And for beginners:

FAQs: Judas Iscariot
What the four canonical gospels say about the notorious apostle.
Compiled by Sherry Huang

Update (20 April, 10.23): thanks to lingamish for giving this post an "honorable mention" as a "Baloney Buster", with the top award going to Ben Witherington (Part One, Part Two, NPR discussion, Sad Truth about Judas).


Justin J. Buol said...

So far I've seen reference to the names of the other documents contained in the codex, but that is where it ends concerning them. I am curious if any of those were "new" as well, and if so, if they have been published as well?

Jeremy Pierce said...

In case you haven't seen them yet, here's one from Mark Roberts and two from Ben Witheringon here and here.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Jeremy. I had already added BWIII, but I'll also add now Mark Roberts.

Matt Page said...

There also a post on this at the new Ekthesis Blog.


Matt Page said...

It's brief - but the text from Rowan Williams's Easter Sermon which mentions GofJ is online at the BBC

Anonymous said...


I wanted to mention about - a site about Judas and Gospels and Gnosticism.