Remember all the hoopla about the Gospel of Judas, the long-lost Gnostic text that depicted Judas not as wicked villain but as the Messiah's favorite, who was given the nasty job of betraying him because he understood Jesus's special mission better than anybody else did?
Well, now it turns out that that might not be what the Gospel of Judas was saying at all. If April De Conick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, is right, the English translation that was sponsored by the National Geographic was so flawed in crucial places that it reversed what the text was actually saying: that Judas was just as nasty as all the traditional orthodox Christian accounts said he was.
The problem, De Conick says, is that the translation was based on very incomplete reconstructions of the original Coptic text. In the October 15 entry of her Forbidden Gospels Blog, she explains that the mistakes were so bad that she was inspired to write a book, the newly published Thirteenth Apostle, to rectify them:
...As I worked through the Coptic and then sat and studied the text as a whole, I quickly came to see that Judas is not a good guy in this gospel. He is not Jesus' friend or the greatest disciple. I began to wonder why the NG team translated in reference to Judas "daimon" as "spirit" when its most accepted translation is "demon." I wondered why the team chose to say that Judas is "set apart for" the holy generation, when the Coptic actually reads that he is "separated from" the holy generation. And so forth.
What does the Coptic really say? The Coptic says that Judas is a demon, that he will be instrumental in bringing about Jesus' sacrifice, that this was the worst thing he could do. Jesus tells Judas that he will not go to the Kingdom, that he is working for the demiurge Ialdabaoth-Nebruel, that he will lament and grieve his terrible fate. Furthermore, the text says that Jesus will tell him the mysteries of the Kingdom not so that he will go there, but so that Judas will lament greatly his actions within the cosmic drama. Judas is separated from the holy generation. He is the thirteenth demon, which means he is to be associated with Ialdabaoth, the "thirteenth" archon or ruler in Sethian Gnosis. Why is my translation different from National Geographic's? What is troubling to me is that the provisional Coptic transliteration which NG put out in April 2006 was not finished, but scholars published translations and interpretations based on it. It contained reconstructions of the Coptic that were erroneous, including the statement that Judas will ascend to the holy generation and that he would be taught the mysteries of the Kingdom because it was possible for him to go there. The Coptic text does NOT say this. It says the opposite, and this has been corrected (thank goodness!) in The Critical Edition that NG put out this last summer. The problem is that now the world thinks that Judas is a Gnostic hero when in fact the Gospel of Judas says nothing of this. In fact, it says the opposite. My translation is of the actual Gospel of Judas. What De Conick's translation of the Gospel of Judas might say about the Gnostic Christians more generally is hard to say. But on the question of Judas, it seems that these so-called heretics were closer to the orthodox position than many Christian scholars would like to think. And perhaps closer than many latter-day Gnostics would like to think, as well.