Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More tales from life in academia. Fascinating piece in Chronicle about the farcical handling of the vaunted Judas Gospel, and National Geographic's sloppy handling of the whole project.

One of the seven million people who watched the National Geographic documentary was April D. DeConick. Admittedly, DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, was not your average viewer. As a Coptologist, she had long been aware of the existence of the Gospel of Judas and was friends with several of those who had worked on the so-called dream team. It's fair to say she watched the documentary with special interest.

As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus' best interests in mind — which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: "Oh no. Something is really wrong."

She started the next day on her own translation of the Coptic transcription, also posted on the National Geographic Web site. That's when she came across what she considered a major, almost unbelievable error. It had to do with the translation of the word "daimon," which Jesus uses to address Judas. The National Geographic team translates this as "spirit," an unusual choice and inconsistent with translations of other early Christian texts, where it is usually rendered as "demon." In this passage, however, Jesus' calling Judas a demon would completely alter the meaning. "O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?" becomes "O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?" A gentle inquiry turns into a vicious rebuke.

3 comments:

Darwin said...

Huh. Fascinating.

Though what else could one expect with characters like Pagels and Ehrman involved? Both of them have essentially become writers of speculative fiction and pop-scholarship.

DeConick sounds like a fun character.

John Farrell said...

Yeah. You know when all this nonsense started a couple of years back, I remember thinking it would be fun to write a parody: "This just in: recently discovered scroll, the Lost Gospel According to Zacheus"... in which the Beatitudes and all the rest of the Gospel are re-worked in terms of midgets: 'Blessed are the Short, for they will see further than anyone else..." "Notice thou the lice in thy brother's scalp and not the maggots in thine own..." etc, etc.

Darwin said...

Blessed are the cheese makers?