Friday, January 11, 2008

Judas and Textual Criticism

Interesting things have been transpiring in the world of the Gospel of Judas. Some of them are relevant to our discipline as they involve textual criticism and a new reading. This new reading is especially interesting given the initial hype concerning Judas. National Geographic's site still tells us that this Gospel "portrays Judas as acting at Jesus' request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities." Shocking -- Judas is the good guy! The disciples are the baddies!

Two new critical editions have now been published. One by Kasser, Wurst, etal. and one by Brankaer and Gebhard-Bethge. Below I have placed the first National Geographic translation/transcription on the top and the new National Geographic transcription/translation below (both by Kasser, Wurst, etal.). Coptic font available, here.

Judas 46:24-47:1 (images)
"In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]."
ⲛϩⲁⲉⲟⲩ ⲛⲛⲉϩⲟⲟⲩ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲕ'ⲁⲩⲱ <ⲛ>ⲛⲉⲕⲕ̣ⲧ̣ⲏ̣ ⲉⲡϣⲱⲓ̈ ⲉⲧⲅⲉ̣[ⲛⲉⲁ ⲉⲧ]ⲟ̣ⲩ̣ⲁⲁⲃ:
ⲛϩⲁⲉⲟⲩ ⲛⲛⲉϩⲟⲟⲩ ⲥⲉ<ⲛⲁ- > ⲛⲁⲕ' ⲁⲩⲱ ⲛⲉⲕⲃ̣ⲱ̣ⲕ̣ ⲉⲡϣⲱⲓ̈ ⲉⲧⲅⲉ̣[ⲛⲉⲁ ⲉⲧ]ⲟ̣ⲩ̣ⲁⲁⲃ:
"In the last days they [will ???] to you, and you will not ascend on high to the holy [generation]."

With our new reading, Judas no longer makes it to the holy generation. He is not a good guy, after all. In fact, Jesus is explicit in saying that Judas will not go to the eternal generation. I am not an expert here, but I will point out a few issues concerning the original transcription. First, the word which is translated "curse", ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲕ'ⲁⲩⲱ, does not resemble the typical word 'curse,' ⲥⲁϩⲟⲩ. In fact, the scribe has inserted a stroke after the kappa which usually indicates that a high frequency word has just been completed (here, ⲛⲁⲕ, "to you"). This is not the only stretch. The word <ⲛ︦>ⲛⲉⲕⲕ̣ⲧ̣ⲏ̣ is based (1) upon a series of reconstructed letters and (2) the editorial addition of the direct object marker. According to the new critical edition (p. 211), the reading ⲃ̣ⲱ̣ⲕ̣, "go," is certain when looked at under infrared light. From this comes the reading above.

This is not the only place where the translation of Judas has come under renewed discussion. When Judas was told that he would be the 13th, was this good or bad (GJudas 44:21, 46:20)? Was this an anti-apostolic number or was this a number related to the evil entity Saklas? The former was good if you were a Sethian Gnostic, the latter was bad. Was Judas a god (Ehrman) or a demon (Coptic: ⲇⲁⲓⲙⲱⲛ, GJudas 44:21)? Even in Gnostic cosmologies, demons are not appreciated. April DeConick, of Rice University (blog), has been the chief challenger of the old consensus, and has nearly produced a new consensus on Judas. In doing so she has challenged the integrity of the scholars who produced the original transcriptions, translations, and the hype which surrounded them under a shroud of secrecy. You can read her New York times piece, here. She also has a new book out titled, The Thirteenth Apostle. Among other things, she rejects the label proto-Orthodox to refer to the early Christians who would later win out, write history and start an ETC blog -- DeConick prefers the term Apostolic. The new consensus now rejects the idea that Judas is a witness to the historical Jesus.

I think that there is still work to be done here; the new reading still does not make sense without editorial emendation. It may be that there was parablepsis, but I would guess that there may be other answers to this quandary. I expect to see more reconstructions of this verse as scholarship struggles to understand better GJudas.


  1. Christian, I love the quote: "she rejects the label proto-Orthodox to refer to the early Christians who would later win out, write history and start an ETC blog". Sadly, there are many scholars out there who probaby say that is true!

  2. I also think "apostolic" is preferable to "proto-orthodox", but not because I see it as merely one brand of Christianity among others that happens to have won the later doctrinal battles, but because it really is apostolic and thus the ultimate trunk from which all brands of Christianity later derived. Orthodox Christians can take comfort in their faith and their New Testament, not because they have the creeds and "orthodoxy" on their side, but because they have the apostles on their side. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that DeConick even favors the title "apostolic" given that it lends itself to this way of seeing things.

  3. Christian, the Coptic doesn't come out on all browsers. For me, the only letter that comes out clearly is hori!

  4. Pete,

    Sorry, I spent a great deal of time trying to make it as viewable as possible. I even tried uploading it as an image. You probably do not have a unicode font which has all the characters. If you are only getting hori, then you are probably viewing in the earliest Coptic unicode which only had the Demotic characters (e.g. Arial Unicode MS). I have put this unicode text in the second stage which has the whole alphabet and and basic strokes (e.g. New Athena, see the link). Those interested in typing Coptic will want to look out for the newest stage of encoding which has come out and will be included in the IACS font, Keft, which is still being beta-tested.

    The use of 'Apostolic' has to do with the low view of the Apostles held by the 'Gnostics.' As such, it is a term helpful to understand the two groups ('Gnostic' and 'Proto-Orthodox') as they related to one another.

  5. DeConick has done some valuable work here.

    I think that we must not be too hard on the original translators until we know more about the curious, conspiratorial environment in which they were forced to work, overshadowed by big bucks and forceful and powerful people. This may well have contributed to the choices that they were allowed to make.

    What they did do was make the Coptic and the English freely available online, and all credit to them.