AMID much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didnt betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judass reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.
It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the societys transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographics translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.
Several of the translation choices made by the societys scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a daimon, which the societys experts have translated as spirit. Actually, the universally accepted word for spirit is pneuma in Gnostic literature daimon is always taken to mean demon.
Likewise, Judas is not set apart for the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated from it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because it is possible for him to go there. He receives them because Jesus tells him that he cant go there, and Jesus doesnt want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.
Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judass ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But its clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation. To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.
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.
April D. DeConick the writer of the op-ed goes on to not that their is no satisfactory answer about how these mistakes were made. Though I think it is telling that the translation mistakes were all in one direction. She also notes how the National Geographic rush for an exclusive made real scholarship and peer review almost impossible.
Like clockwork sometime around Christmas or Easter we get some new discovery or scholarship that once again attacks Christianity and then shortly thereafter we find out that it doesn’t even make it up to the level of bunk. You just got to bless those hearts at the Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic, etc for giving it the old try again.
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