Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Gospel According to National Geographic

Recently a new Gospel was discovered - the Gospel of Judas - which received much fanfare because it apparently overturned the traditional understanding of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, making Judas into a hero instead of a betrayer. Turns out the translation had a few errors. This New York Times article gives a bit more detail. The following is an excerpt from the article ...

It was a great story [i.e. the story describing that 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.]

Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University 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 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.

So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals and mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.

How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.

That said, I think the big problem is that National Geographic wanted an exclusive. So it required its scholars to sign nondisclosure statements, to not discuss the text with other experts before publication. The best scholarship is done when life-sized photos of each page of a new manuscript are published before a translation, allowing experts worldwide to share information as they independently work through the text.


bk said...


I would hope that most people who have read the New Testament will recognize that there is not even a single verse that could be cited to justify teaching the idea that Judas was Jesus’ “most trusted and beloved disciple”. Sadly however many never bother to heed the Biblical admonition to "prove all things" so this idea will no doubt gain followers since there are numerous instances where instead of searching the scriptures people a baseless claim that they have heard.

In fact we see this very thing done with regard to Mary Magdalene and John. For even though there is not a single verse in scripture that would justify teaching the idea that either of these persons was the unnamed one whom "Jesus loved" both of these ideas have plenty of people willing to promote these ideas as if they were Biblical. Of course once one has bought into a false tradition then, since they assume that man-made tradition cannot be wrong, they will reinterpret scripture to fit their tradition.

But those who know Ps. 118:8 will know better than to trust in the NON-BIBLE sources on which these traditions are based need and will instead look to the facts stated in scripture which prove that whoever the beloved disciple was he could not have been the apostle John or Mary Magdalene. Surely one should not be presenting an idea AS IF it were Biblical if they cannot cite even a single verse that would justify teaching that idea. Yet those who promote these unbiblical traditions do just that. has a free Bible-only based study that compares what the Bible says about John with what it says about "the disciple whom Jesus loved" - and the Biblical evidence proves that whoever this person was he was not John because the Bible cannot contradict itself. In addition , this site Biblical evidence why the claim that she was the one who “Jesus loved” is false and just as unbiblical as the John tradition.

hillschurch said...

Thanks for your comments. The biblical illiteracy of our culture is not surprising. However, the revisionist tendencies are very disturbing. Fortunately most of Scripture is very well attested and we have a great deal more evidence for the canon of Scripture than those various other "gospels" floating around claiming strange things like Judas' or Mary Magdelene's different roles.

The evidence you link to supporting the possibility of Lazarus being the author of the fourth Gospel is interesting - but not conclusive. And although tradition suggests the disciple John wrote the 4th Gospel, many commentators today question it. Leon Morris asks if it is even important - as long as we affirm that it was written by an eyewitness. This would disallow the more liberal view that it was written sometime in the middle of the second century - which is increasingly becoming discredited.

bk said...

Unfortunately you have chosen to turn a blind eye to the facts that God has preserved for us in the Biblical record. REGARDLESS of who the unnamed "other disciple whom Jesus loved" was he CANNOT have been John. And your decision to pretend that the opinions of men get to determine truth on this issue (or any issue) is a sad indication indeed.

Rather than peeking at the back of the book why don't you try reading it. Or better yet -- read the fourth gospel from the beginning with the honest question, "Who would I conclude the author was based on just the facts stated in his own gospel?" Those who do so will never come to the conclusion that this "other disciple" was John because NONE of the evidence points toward John.

bk said...

PS You affirm the gospel as eyewitness testimony but you also turn a blind eye to the fact that EVERY event where John is singled out as participating in the other three gospels is OMITTED from the gospel – the book which man-made tradition wants to claim is John's eyewitness testimony. The author of the fourth gospel was NOT John, that is why these events are not included is the eyewitness testimony of the unnamed “other disciple”.

hillschurch said...

Perhaps you didn't fully read my comment. I don't think I expressed an opinion on the authorship of John. I said that most commentators (which includes you) doubt the authorship of John. Your conclusions - just like mine - are also the "opinion of man."

The clear Word of God gives us hints and evidences but no clear conclusion about the authorship of John. We examine the evidence and come up with an "opinion." The author wrote it anonymously, probably intentionally so - even though there may be persuasive clues about who it was. Nowhere does it say "! John" or "I, Lazarus, write to you ..." (unlike Revelation or Paul's epistles).

My only comment was that the Gospel was written by an eyewitness who experienced the reality of the touch of Jesus on his life.

The authorship of John becomes a very interesting investigation and discussion because the result is not about core beliefs or obedience to the clear teaching of Scripture. Because I think that we are both agreed that the Gospel that bears John's name is the Word of God.