The Gospel of Judas

I eagerly await my copy of April DeConick‘s The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. I could wait until I’ve actually read it to write about it, but that would be cheating.

Professor DeConick’s main claims, publicized most prominently in the NY Times, are that the National Geographic’s Judas-fest was deeply flawed, that their procedures (limiting access to their own group of translators, basically) are antithetical to good scholarship, and that a better translation casts Judas not as a hero but as a demon (literally). I find her pretty convincing, even without seeing all the details.

Even in National Geographic’s original translation (the “critical edition” is apparently a little closer to DeConick’s) it’s really not clear to ignorant amateurs like me WTF the thing is about. Much of the text itself is missing, and even if it were complete (or filled in by not-necessarily-trustworthy guesswork) only an expert could possibly understand the loopy (to me!) cosmology that fills most of it, and which is deeply couched in the language of Sethian gnostics or whoever wrote it.

Going back and looking at the text itself, trying to ignore the commentary, I was surprised how little there was, even in the NG translation, that really unambiguously lauds Judas as a hero. Some of DeConick’s interpretive points make sense even without assuming her translation. Most obviously, the NG team interpreted “But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me” as Jesus’s assurance that Judas would be superior to the other disciples.  But in context (such context as remains, anyway), “exceeds” would better be interpreted as “exceeds in wickedness,” as Jesus has just been saying how dreadful the disciples are.  And it’s difficult for me to see how “sacrificing” in this text could possibly be interpreted in any positive way.

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