After complaining about the lack of real responses to April DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle, I’m very pleased to see that Marvin Meyer has at last written one, to which Professor DeConick responds in turn at her blog. Quick summary: he has a new and interesting argument or two, but I’m still with ADC.
Issue number one (after the first paragraph, in which he makes clear his annoyance at his “colleague and friend”) is the issue of whether it makes sense to consider the Gospel of Judas a “parody.” His claim is that there are no other examples of “parody” in other Gnostic literature; DeConick’s response is essentially “are too.” I myself have no idea; but I do get a strong sense that the issue is confused by the choice of the word “parody.” I’m pretty sure that Professor DeConick didn’t mean it in quite the sense that, say, Young Frankenstein or Cold Comfort Farm are parodies (one reason I’m pretty sure is that she says so); would “satire” would have been a better word? But even if there are no exact parallels, that’s not a conclusive argument. After all, if Meyer is correct, then the GoJ is unique in its treatment of Judas; is that any easier to believe than its being unique in its use of parody?
Meyer argues some of DeConick’s grammatical points; “separated from” versus “separated for” in particular. Not knowing Coptic I certainly can’t evaluated that argument on the merits; it sort of boils down to he-said/she-said (literally, come to think of it). Meyer does write as if he knows he’s fighting a losing battle on that one, though; he now admits that either translation is a possibility.
A big point through is the meaning of the term daimon; Meyer and the NG team, along with Karen King and Elaine Pagels, translate it positively as “spirit” or even “God,” on the basis of its meaning in Greek philosophical texts and in hermetic literature. DeConick et al. say that in Christian texts of the 2nd century it always means “demon.” Here again the like of me really can’t judge based on real evidence. But DeConick’s argument certainly seems reasonable–I would certainly not assume that Plato’s usage of the term has anything to do with the Sethians’. The relevant comparables would be other early Christian writings (“heretical” or not).
The one example Meyer does cite does not make a particularly strong case for his translation. It’s from the Pistis Sophia, in which Sophia repents her sin and laments her exile from the Pleroma (quoted from here, Book 1, chapter 39:
3. For my time has vanished like a breath, and I have become matter.
4. My light has been taken from me, and my power has dried up. I have forgotten my mystery which I performed at first.
5. Through the voice of fear and the power of the Authades, my power has diminished within me.
6. I have become like a peculiar demon, which dwells in matter, in whom is no light. And I have become like a spirit counterpart which is in a material body, in which there is no light-power.
7. And I have become like a decan, which is upon the air alone.
If I understand this correctly–and I may not–Sophia compares herself to a demon (and the related “decan”) to show just how low she has fallen. And clearly she’s not saying she is a demon; it’s just a simile, a particularly stark one. “Demons” aren’t good things in the Pistis Sophia.
But really Meyer’s point in quoting the Pistis Sophia is to make a more interesting argument: that Judas in the GoJ is in fact the type of Sophia and of the Gnostic, trapped in the world of matter. In this he echoes Iranaeus–not the most trustworthy of sources for Gnostic beliefs, but certainly an interesting one. That’s a thesis that needs more development, which I’d like to see. It’s not something that I remember being discussed at all in the original NG presentation.
I note Professor DeConick says that the mythology of the Pistis Sophia differs from that of the GoJ, as does whatever Iranaeus was attacking. Again, something I’m not capable of judging.
In general I’m thoroughly unswayed (albeit interested) in Meyer’s response. The “bad-Judas” interpretation, as presented in The Thirteenth Apostle, has a nice internal consistency. I can read it and it all makes sense to me (at least insofar as any of these things do). If I try to read it sticking to the NG “good-Judas” interpretation, it’s pretty much unintelligible. But I could certainly be convinced to change my mind! I look forward to more of the debate.