My copy of April DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle has arrived! I’m something like two-thirds of the way through it.
The book contains the clearest exposition I’ve seen (not that I’ve seen them all) of Gnostic cosmology, at least Sethian Gnostic cosmology. It’s a difficult subject for us outsiders, filled as it is with numerology and multiple heavens and oddly-named Archons and Aeons and other beings. But Professor DeConick explains it very well; a must for understanding the Gospel of Judas and related texts. From what I’d seen before, from the likes of of the National Geographic team, Bart Ehrman, and Elaine Pagels and Karen King (much as I respect all of them), the big lecture in the middle section of the GoJ was still a complete mysterious muddle to me; now it seems clear. Or at least not completely opaque. That without making any judgments as to who is correct about the translation and interpretation.
She also begins with a crisp little exposition of some of the other early non-orthodox/apostolic Christian groups. Fun factoid: the Montanists were like proto-Seventh-Day-Adventists/Jehovah’s Witnesses—they were formed with the expectation of an imminent millennium (like this!), and were known for itenerent door-to-door preachers.
On to the judgmental part! ADC lays out her main thesis—that the original NG translation is deeply flawed, and that a correct translation is deeply deeply anti-Judas (not to mention anti-apostolic-Christian)—concisely and thoroughly. Her best arguments are based on simple Coptic grammar—on the relationships of verbs and prepositions and things. I of course can’t evaluate those arguments at all, but I could at least understand if someone argued back.
Professor DeConick’s other, non-grammatical, arguments against the NG translation are based on Sethian cosmology, hence the necessity of the afore-mentioned introduction. Those seem very convincing to me too, but again I have difficulty evaluating them myself. I can certainly see that she has built a consistent case in which all the the surviving text of the GoJ fits nicely, something I can’t say for the NG interpretation or Pagels and King’s variant. But certainly one who knew more than I do might be able to argue that she’s wrong, starting with the assumption that the author was in fact Sethian.
I’ve seen no substantive argument against DeConick’s position. Certainly the responses by Marvin Meyer and the NG team (let alone this screed) don’t count as substantive. I would very much like to see a real debate on this, and I hope there will be one. But until then I’m with Bad Judas.
I’ll write more on what Professor DeC has to say about the detailed interpretation of the GoJ, which is quite fascinating, after I finish her book.