Gospel of Judas: NG Blew It

April D. DeConick says that National Geographic got it all wrong in their interpretation of the Gospel of Judas.  And, what do you know, but their strange choices created the story.  DeConick goes further than explaining the translation errors, but she also shows why scholarship should not be done this way – in a closet by a few scholars who sign non-disclosure agreements before a major press conference designed to generate boatloads of money.

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 didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.
It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s 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 society’s 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 society’s 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 can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t 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, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s 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.

The rest is here and it is worth reading.

UPDATE (12/8): One of the NG translators responds in a letter to the NYT.

HT: Joe Lauer


4 thoughts on “Gospel of Judas: NG Blew It

  1. I hope that they don’t apologize with just a whisper or a whimper. They should splash newspapers, and also their channels with apologies.

    Plus make a documentary again correcting the previous one.

    Its horrible.

  2. I was particularly interested in what DeConick said about the Dead Sea Scrolls:

    “The situation reminds me of the deadlock that held scholarship back on the Dead Sea Scrolls decades ago. When manuscripts are hoarded by a few, it results in errors and monopoly interpretations that are very hard to overturn even after they are proved wrong.”

    From what I understand, the consequences of the Scrolls monopoly are indeed still continuing today, in an exhibit taking place in a “natural history” museum in San Diego. See this article for details:


    So I would suggest that an important question is whether Christian scholars who, like April DeConick, seek to do their research in accordance with fundamental scientific principles rather than any religious agenda, will frankly condemn what is going on with the Dead Sea Scrolls in one museum exhibit after another.

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