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Religion scholars of Judas "feel, in a word, betrayed."
June 30, 2008 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Did a 'dream team' of biblical scholars mislead millions? [Chronicle of Higher Education] You may recall the curfuffle over the gnostic "Gospel of Judas" (previously). The National Geographic's documentary premiere "attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel's history, behind only a documentary on September 11. . . . However, it's a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research. What's more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed."
posted by spock (142 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kerfuffle!
posted by dobbs at 8:00 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not according to the OED.
: )
posted by spock at 8:01 AM on June 30, 2008


According to Dictionary.com's Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, the word is actually kafuffle:

Main Entry: kafuffle
Part of Speech: n
Definition: disorder, commotion; also written curfuffle, kerfuffle, gefuffle
Etymology: Gaelic cur 'twist, bend' + fuffle

posted by lumensimus at 8:14 AM on June 30, 2008


A new revisionist text is trying to replace the established truth about Judas' death
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:17 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gefuffle is a commotion or disorder involving pickled herring.
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


So "the established truth" is based on a book authored by a biased anonymous author 200-300 years after the events described in the text were alleged to have taken place? That is a type of evidence legal experts classify as "dogshit."
posted by Pastabagel at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


In an online video clip, Meyer calls the text's Judas the "most insightful and the most loyal of all the disciples."

I've always felt this way anyway - who else of Jesus' disciples had the balls to do what needed to be done? The rest ran away, hid, denied him after his arrest. Judas was the one who had the courage to know what needed to be done and to be willing to go down in history as the worst possible traitor. He sacrificed himself for the cause. Without Judas there would be no crucifixion, no resurrection, no easter...no christianity.
posted by spicynuts at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


The Gospel of Judas is a definite upgrade over the original characterization.

Sorta like Hellboy 2.
posted by basicchannel at 8:32 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


A new revisionist text is trying to replace the established truth about Judas' death

Oh, noes! Can Bibel has inturnal kawntrydickshuns? Godd can be dedz?
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:33 AM on June 30, 2008


a garfluffle is what happens when you needle a fish.
posted by stubby phillips at 8:34 AM on June 30, 2008


However, it's a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research.

Look out Discovery Channel! National Geographic has made a move on your turf.
posted by Tehanu at 8:36 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Despite what others have determined, I think unicorn farts smell like cotton candy.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:37 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


How is bibbl formed?
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:39 AM on June 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


Without Judas there would be no crucifixion, no resurrection, no easter...no christianity.

Without Judas there would have been someone else. Once the Feds have it out for you, it's just a matter of time.
posted by three blind mice at 8:39 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Next: Astrological Engineers Make Mathematical Error; All Virgos Not Meticulous and Reliable.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:42 AM on June 30, 2008 [30 favorites]


If Judas was so kick-ass how come he turned into Dracula?
posted by lumpenprole at 8:47 AM on June 30, 2008


Ah, Judas turned into Count Dracula BECAUSE he was so kick ass.
posted by spicynuts at 8:51 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


...what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod..

To be fair, that's also been the fate of most of Christianity itself in the last 2000 years.
posted by DU at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


The truth is, "curfuffle" is not a normal rendering of the word in the text, and "imbroglio" is way over the top and has been disowned. A more normal translation would be "symposium" - virtually the opposite meaning.
posted by Phanx at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


More like a 'wymposium' - amirite? lolrzzzzzzzzzzzz
posted by spicynuts at 8:57 AM on June 30, 2008


No biblical scholar (at least, of the ones in the article) believes that the text is actually written by the disciple Judas. The debate is over how representative the text is of the beliefs of early Christians; a 'good Judas' text written by early Christians would suggest that our understanding of Judas could be wrong, but it's by no means a primary historical account.
posted by anifinder at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2008


As usual, my boy Jorge Luís Borges has the actual truth about Judas.
God did not wish His terrible secret propagated in the world.
posted by signal at 9:03 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


If National Geographic wants to make money, they should broadcast these scholars getting into a slap-fight...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:04 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link, spock. I was annoyed by all the sloppy work on this project, and by the misinformation that was present in so many popular accounts. DeConick's webpage is worth a look for more info and links.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2008


PAK CHOOIE UNF

I AM NOT A ROBOT OF THAT TYPE TO EXAMINE

DATA: TO PROTECT FROM THE TERRIBLE SECRET OF SPACE

DATA: SHOVE

PAK CHOOIE UNF
posted by designbot at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


How many branches does this bible have?

What's the current version number?
posted by Bonzai at 9:19 AM on June 30, 2008


@anifinder
While I appreciate your attempt to inject an intelligent thought to the thread, I'm afraid it is a lost cause. Since people apparently can't discern that he subject matter (strictly speaking HISTORY and SCHOLARSHIP) is related to the Greek Scriptures which are in turn related to many world religions claiming to be "Christian", this thread is mostly seen as an opportunity for the usual LOL.
posted by spock at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


@Pater Aletheias
Thanks for that link!
posted by spock at 9:29 AM on June 30, 2008


I read this thread before logging in. Did anyone else get a Judas Priest ring-tones ad?

For realsies.
posted by bardic at 9:31 AM on June 30, 2008


Despite what others have determined, I think unicorn farts smell like cotton candy.

Unicorn farts smell like ham and pineapple pizza.
posted by aiq at 9:35 AM on June 30, 2008


Interesting article. The underlying criticism is quite pointed. National Geographic paid top dollar for the Judas text and did all they could to produce the story they wanted, including publishing an outright flawed translation of that text. There's a reason academics take a virtual vow of poverty. Truth is more important than money.

PS: what's with all the inane commentary in this thread? Article had too many big words for you?
posted by Nelson at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


HAHAHA! WHY I LAFF?
posted by jonmc at 9:47 AM on June 30, 2008


The irony that the National Geographic produced an intentionally flawed translation of the Gospel of Judas for the sake of a few bucks is just too delicious.
posted by The Straightener at 9:47 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


...this thread is mostly seen as an opportunity for the usual LOL.

The temptation to hop on the LOLICOPTER is just too strong, spock.

(Sorry. I'll show myself out.)
posted by cog_nate at 10:01 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I guess at the end of the day, National Geographic, Discovery, History Channel et al are corporate entities who's primary concern is profitability and not integrety. While not at all surprising, it still dissapoints me. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that it is still more intelegent than FX! or Fox News.

Whoever wrote that manuscript had a way of painting Jesus' accusations, at least under DeConick's translation. It was very Japanese RPG.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:01 AM on June 30, 2008


Judas' betrayal of Jesus is the New Testament version of the Fortunate Fall.

And like the Felix Culpa, it puts the problem of the origin of evil in the sharpest possible terms: evil most vile is not only inevitable, it is absolutely necessary for the fulfillment of God's great design.
posted by jamjam at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2008


I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether National Geographic
Had God on its side.

posted by wemayfreeze at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


PS: what's with all the inane commentary in this thread? Article had too many big words for you?

This is mostly the sign of a good, interesting post, since people are not taking it as an opportunity to go with the FUCK RELIGION AND CHRISTIANS SPAGHETTI MONSTER shit.
posted by spicynuts at 10:18 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


the origin of evil

I don't buy it. I'm saying that Judas' act was not evil, it was courageous. That people choose to interpret it as evil is confounding. Where is the evil in the ultimate sacrifice - going down in history as vile out of love for one's rabbi?
posted by spicynuts at 10:20 AM on June 30, 2008


Ham and pineapple pizza! Mmmmm!

I get about ten paragraphs into this thing and can't read anymore. This is laughable. They don't even know who wrote it. They haven't a clue, do they?

Judas was no hero.

Judas was the cheapest disciple. The pharisees bought him out. He did it for a few pieces of silver, and then after the deed was done, he went and he hung himself in shame. Judas didn't do what he did cuz he thought it would jump start a worldwide religion that would kill millions in the form of crusades and wars. Although with twenty twenty hindsight he's probably thinking he deserves ALL the Kudos. Truth is he did it for the price of a cheap hooker and some beer.

If this 'gospel of Judas' paints Judy in a good light, well duh. It's his side of the story. Naturally he's gonna err on the side of "i'm not an asshole"ness. However, it obviously wasn't him. He hung himself from a tree. He didn't stop and write out his own gospel before doing so. The only thing the Gospel of Judas should read like is a suicide note.

These are scholars and journalists eating all this shit up? Really?

I'm not sure if any of the gospels were written immediately after J.C.'s death. The Pauline letters were mostly written while Paul was in jail. The Romans threw Paul in jail and he wasn't even a disciple. He wasn't even there. Paul hopped on the Christian bandwagon after the fact. We're supposed to accept two thirds of the New Testament as gospel when Paul himself admits to being an ex-roman guard. He used to be one of the bad guys himself, converted. Ooh. Ahh.

We have no idea when or how the original disciples wrote down their stories. Luke was a doctor. Matthew was a tax collector. Chances are they knew how to dip a feather into an inkwell. Frankly, considering how the disciples behave half the time in the gospels, it's a wonder any of them could bang two rocks together. All this "eyewitness testimony" is just hearsay anyway, and probably wouldn't hold up in court, even if these same courts' judges claim to be Christians themselves.

That is, if you believe in the gospels at all. If you don't, this isn't even academic. It's more sophomoric.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:23 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


He did it for a few pieces of silver, and then after the deed was done, he went and he hung himself in shame.

That's your interpretation. My interpretation is that someone had to fulfill the requirements for messiah. He loved Jesus and believed. I don't have the time to find the passages, but Judas was Jesus' closest friend. There is no way he did not know what he was doing. No way he sold him out just for money.

You entire post shows nothing but cynicism, anyway. As if someone's faith is somehow tarnished because they converted after the fact.
posted by spicynuts at 10:31 AM on June 30, 2008


The real troubling question is of course how good could he really have been? I mean even if you buy the part about how the guy he seemingly betrayed was going to die anyway, he was still a spiteful jerk most of the time. He was the most evil Potions teacher anyone could ever have had.
posted by Tehanu at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


PS: what's with all the inane commentary in this thread? Article had too many big words for you?

I hear you too, Nelson.

It's very odd - I thought the (main) article was a very lucid primer to a pretty fascinating tale. It's been a curious thread.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2008


And the unbelievers stand back, point, and laugh.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:58 AM on June 30, 2008


I don't have a horse in this race, but the claim that the dream team mistranslated "daimon" by using "spirit" rather than "demon" is ridiculous. In direct speech from Homer until late Roman times, the primary meaning of Greek "daimon" was always "spirit" or "one enthused with strangeness by supernatural, emotional, or unexplained causes." "Demon" in a demonic sense is really a stretch rather than the norm in the net covered by that term. I'm not saying there might not have been some strange dealings in this matter overall, but that supposed mistranslation doesn't hold up as incorrect at all. A lot of this sounds like sour grapes from those who weren't asked to participate.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 11:03 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this 'gospel of Judas' paints Judy in a good light, well duh. It's his side of the story. Naturally he's gonna err on the side of "i'm not an asshole"ness. However, it obviously wasn't him. He hung himself from a tree. He didn't stop and write out his own gospel before doing so. The only thing the Gospel of Judas should read like is a suicide note.

ZM: The problem with tl;dr is that it leads to comments that like yours that miss the point of the article. The article states quite clearly that there is no scholarly debate about the question of whether Judas wrote this: he didn't -- it's only 1,700 years old. It says: "The manuscript is real in the sense that it's not a fake. And it does appear to be the Gospel of Judas referred to in the writings of one early church father. But it is not a journalistic account of conversations between Jesus and his disciples, nor could it have been written by the historical Judas." It is, however, a very interesting look at how one early Christian sect viewed the story of Judas, and it is therefore of great scholarly interest and worth getting right. "Gospel of Judas" is probably a misleading name, which is just one of many problems noted in the very interesting article.

And I agree, if we could stop with the LOLXTIANS crap, funny as Unicorn farts may be, it would help.
posted by The Bellman at 11:03 AM on June 30, 2008 [11 favorites]


As someone who used to translate Coptic texts (I was working on a hagiography of Mark's entrance into Egypt), I would like defend these scholars on both sides who are working with a confusing text.

When written, Coptic DOES NOT have spaces between letters or any punctuation (except for lines written over some vowels...there is some dispute about the signification of these lines although I personally think they have to do with tonality) and it is very easy to have disputes in translation over things like parsing as well as word meaning. For example in English:

wordspacingissue

This could be parsed "Words pacing issue" (iffy but I'm trying to illustrate a point) or "Word spacing issue".

Now, imagine you are working with a text where all of the words in a text are highly, highly charged with metaphysical meaning and much of Western thought has been built on certain "accepted" translations of the narrative or piece of the narrative that you are reading. So you are looking at one of these ancient texts, and the text you are reading does not look like the Jesus/Mark/Judas/Mary you grew up with. Then you wrestle with it. You try to figure out what it might mean in the context of everything else you know about a) the author b) the time c) the historical record d) the political climate at the time (was this from a group of jewish-jesus followers or gentile jesus-followers? what century was this written? what was going on in the culture at the time? any big events? what motivations does the author have? why write this now? why prohibit this practice now? why characterize this person [insert Judas/Jesus/Mary/Peter/anyone] this way?), etc. For example, Matthew is writing for a group of Jewish Jesus-followers and so the Gospel of Matthew takes pains to indicate Jesus follows Jewish law and is the fulfillment of Jewish Prophecy. The Gospel of John, however, is much more interested in characterizing Jesus as having supernatural powers and having a relationship to the gnostic principles of light.

The kind of disputes in this article are bound to happen more and more. Coptic was only recently understood (recently as compared to greek/latin) and there are literally THOUSANDS of coptic texts waiting to be translated, much of which have to do with the early Christian church. Dismissing a text like this because it is "hearsay" is ludicrous because the criteria for that "hearsay" judgment would pretty much dismiss much of Christainity's sacred texts, and especially the Gospel of John (another gnostic gospel written way after the fact of Jesus walking around and doing his thing).

Any statement of Judas did X because the Bible says so ignores that the only reason you know that Judas did X is because someone painstakingly did the exact same thing that these scholars were doing (translating), and often with much less knowledge about competing religious narratives than modern religious scholars have.

My point is that for historical reasons, aside from whatever implications it has on someone's faith, digging into Early Christian texts is an essential part of understanding Late Antiquity and how Early Christians lived (in disparate groups all over the place, usually following the copy of the Gospel they had...if that was the Gospel of Mary, so be it. If that was the Gospel of Matthew, so be it). These "discovered" texts have just as much validity as an indicator Early Christian faith as the ones that made it into the Bible and should be taken seriously.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:07 AM on June 30, 2008 [121 favorites]


I get about ten paragraphs into this thing and can't read anymore.

@ZachsMind
Everything in the remainder of your post was a redundant expression of your first 12 words.
posted by spock at 11:09 AM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I read the bible far too closely than a small catholic child should.

Even in my apostasy I am fascinated by early church writings. Elaine Pagels and Dominic Crosson, the whole historical Jesus seminar is interesting, if only to see the clash of philosophies under Roman rule.

To read the "gospels" without the framework of christianity is an entirely different experience. There was no organized religion in the early days, just people writing either letters or whatever they thought needed to be passed on to posterity. Divinity is not at the forefront, the Zorastrians see the prophet Jesus with an eastern bent, the Greeks with a more Socratic view, and so on. Then someone organizes a religion and decides 4 gospels are the word of god and then scribes impose an easy to understand narrative to make the story more palatable to the masses.

and that's how you get the Spanish Inquistion.

And it is made clear in the article, no one thinks Judas wrote this himself. It's written a hundred years or so after Judas would have died - Judas as a central figure, along with other gods and demons.
posted by readery at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2008


We're supposed to accept two thirds of the New Testament as gospel when Paul himself admits to being an ex-roman guard.

ZachsMind - curious to know what you're basing that on. Could you provide a reference?
posted by dubold at 11:13 AM on June 30, 2008


@whimsicalnymph
Great comment and thanks for sharing it.

I highly recommend the book "Truth in Translation" by Jason BeDuhn for those interested in a very intelligent, yet accessible, read into the subject of bias creeping into a work of translation (which is different from interpretation).

Also complicating translation is the use of euphamisms and idioms, some of which may not be as clear today as when they were written. An example might be of when King David had the opportunity to harm King Saul when he went into a cave to "ease nature". The Hebrew expression used there is literally "cover his feet" (as in "drop his drawers", I suppose). A translator must first understand the expression and then convey the thought in a way that will be in harmony with both the original and the sensibilities of the reader.

Whether one be a believer or disbeliever, the insights into life and beliefs (as they existed when the original document was penned and read) should be of great interest. Of perhaps no lesser interest is whether the insights gained bolster or contradict currently held views (on either side of the belief equation).
posted by spock at 11:24 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


When NatGeo released their translation, the majority of commentators were sure this would blow over quickly:

Gospel of Judas: Survey of Early Reactions and Commentary (self-link)

April De Conick and several other Coptic scholars have raised objections, largely based on the translation of "Daimon" and the Sethian use of the the number thirteen (De Conick's book is titled The Thirteenth Disciple) to mean evil.

If you have read either the NatGeo or De Conick's translation you may be aware that there is more context to be considered than these two objections. In any case, the "curfuffle" won't be ending soon.

National Geographic Society Press Room: Press Release Detail (reply to Bartlett)
Judas Was Really a Bad Guy
Comments on 'Judas Was Really a Bad Guy'

Self-link to Jesus/Judas links.
posted by psyche7 at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, whimsicalnymph, thanks for pointing out the difficulties in translation and the importance of social context. To get meta, I think it's worth using your questions to examine the current response to "The Gospel of Judas." I mean, does it capture interest just because it's a new spin on an ancient, culturally central story? Or is there something about what's happening in the world right now that would make people hungry to see a noble Judas? The linked article hints at this interpretation, at a couple of points, like this one:

Why had they seen a good Judas where, according to DeConick, none exists?

Maybe because they were looking for him.


Was the "dream team" swayed by wanting to sell books? Or because of murkier, more psychological motivations? There's also the matter of media coverage of all this--

Some of the news reports read as if the gospel came straight from Judas' pen.

Of course, to be fair, we should also ask these questions about those saying, no, no, Judas is still totally evil.
posted by overglow at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


strictly speaking HISTORY and SCHOLARSHIP) is related to the Greek Scriptures which are in turn related to many world religions claiming to be "Christian", this thread is mostly seen as an opportunity for the usual LOL.

I like my HISTORY, SCHOLARSHIP, and yes, RELIGION with a nice side of LOL. Sort of makes me feel like I'm getting a balanced meal.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:39 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Everyone agrees that it's fiction
Why?
posted by Flunkie at 11:41 AM on June 30, 2008


ZachsMind:
We have no idea when or how the original disciples wrote down their stories. Luke was a doctor.
Luke was not an "original disciple".

At least not of Jesus. He never met Jesus. Luke was a disciple of Paul.

That is, a disciple of Paul, who also never met Jesus.

And we do, in fact, have some idea when the various books of the Bible were written down.
posted by Flunkie at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2008


I think everyone in this thread should step back and ask themselves:

What Would Judas Do?
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:16 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


zeugitai_guy:
I don't have a horse in this race, but the claim that the dream team mistranslated "daimon" by using "spirit" rather than "demon" is ridiculous. In direct speech from Homer until late Roman times, the primary meaning of Greek "daimon" was always "spirit" or "one enthused with strangeness by supernatural, emotional, or unexplained causes."
The Gospel of Judas is written in Coptic, not Greek.

Your conclusion may still hold even ignoring that; I have no idea.
posted by Flunkie at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2008


I don't have a horse in this race, but the claim that the dream team mistranslated "daimon" by using "spirit" rather than "demon" is ridiculous. In direct speech from Homer until late Roman times, the primary meaning of Greek "daimon" was always "spirit" or "one enthused with strangeness by supernatural, emotional, or unexplained causes." "Demon" in a demonic sense is really a stretch rather than the norm in the net covered by that term. I'm not saying there might not have been some strange dealings in this matter overall, but that supposed mistranslation doesn't hold up as incorrect at all.

Dude, the text is in Coptic, not Greek. Even had it been in Greek, you think usage was the same from Homer until late Roman times? What piffle. But enjoy your confidence that you know better than the experts.
posted by languagehat at 12:26 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


On non-preview: pipped by Flunkie! But how could his conclusion hold when he's pontificating about the wrong language?
posted by languagehat at 12:27 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


languagehat, I was just saying that I don't find it utterly inconceivable that the first translator, rather than the second translator, was correct, and that I lack the knowledge to say so or not. In that case, zeugitai_guy's conclusion would be correct, despite the means with which he reached the conclusion being incorrect.
posted by Flunkie at 12:36 PM on June 30, 2008


Some of the sharpest digs have been reserved for Ehrman (...) Scholar after scholar at the Rice conference took shots at him. Turner said he didn't read Ehrman's book
Uh huh. Sounds scholarly.
posted by Flunkie at 12:37 PM on June 30, 2008


Has anyone considered that the author might have been using daimon in it most obvious translation: daemon? Let me just check ps -aux here . . .

launchd, kextd, netinfod, syslogd, configd, coreaudiod, memberd, securityd, notifyd, distnoted (what the heck is that?), coreservicesd, crashreporterd, nfsiod. . . .

So if the author's setup was similar to mine that would mean he was referring to Judas as having something to do with NFS, which is probably a pretty good reading. On the other hand I don't claim to be an expert on fourth century distros, so I'll leave that for the scholars.
posted by The Bellman at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Flunkie and language hat:

The point the article was making is that the term "daimon" (borrowed from the Greek into the Egyptian and then written in Coptic) should be rendered differently. I of course know that there is no monolithic translation for any given word, but in the New Testament writings to which the ARTICLE (not I) compared the usages, the conclusion they draw is totally incorrect. This is a point that has been shown many times over for NT studies but raises its head any time a related text is found (papyrus commentary (regardless of language), new text, etc.). But, yes, the main gist of this word DID remain the same, just as many roots remain the same in any language. Did it attain nuanced meanings in various languages and in different times? You bet. But in spoken Greek (and seemingly in Aramaic as well), what I gave as a standard translation is acceptable as the first thing that would have been expected to come to mind in an ancient reader's experience. I agree that I should have been more explicit about the connections between the two renderings in different languages, but given that the Coptic was at that point rendering a translation itself from a different language (Greek), I had thought the point a bit obvious. But you're right, given that I've never actually taught Coptic or published a translation from it (though I have served on at least one dissertation committee where the student was actually producing an edition of a Coptic text translated from a missing original Greek) probably does make me much less of an authority in that language than in Greek where I do. So apologies, esp. to LH.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2008


"The Cyrillic alphabet is based on Greek and Latin and is found in much of Eastern Europe amongst Orthodox Christian areas (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian). The Egyptian Coptic script, Armenian and Georgian are also based on Greek."

Also, I'm not sure if it applies here, but don't forget about the concept of "borrowed words". That is, words taken wholesale from another language and used with the same meaning in the borrowing language. English is full of them and it is possible that Coptic had borrowed words, as well.
posted by spock at 1:07 PM on June 30, 2008


zeugitai_guy:
given that the Coptic was at that point rendering a translation itself from a different language (Greek)
I don't think that's a given. I think that's a hypothesis that various people have made.

I'm not saying it's not true, or even that it's not likely to be true. But as far as I am aware, it is not a given.

spock:
"The Cyrillic alphabet is based on Greek and Latin and is found in much of Eastern Europe amongst Orthodox Christian areas (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian). The Egyptian Coptic script, Armenian and Georgian are also based on Greek."
That's talking about Coptic script, not the Coptic language.
posted by Flunkie at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2008


For people who keep saying "Coptic not Greek", please note that Coptic borrows a LOT of Greek words, especially when dealing with spiritual matters (for example: agape), and it is not a stretch to talk about the "Ancient Greek" meaning of a word when talking about Coptic. However, the context of the usage in the text would be most important when determining how a word was being used.

Coptic is the last incarnation of the Egyptian language before the Arab invasion. Written Coptic utilizes a full Greek alphabet and several "demotic" letters that are, for simplicity's sake, modified hieroglyphs.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:19 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


given that the Coptic was at that point rendering a translation itself from a different language (Greek)

I don't think that's a given. I think that's a hypothesis that various people have made.


OK, but in the narrative it is a spoken passage and I don't think they expect the reader to believe that Jesus and his conversants were speaking in Egyptian.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 1:24 PM on June 30, 2008


after the deed was done, he went and he hung himself in shame.

Interestingly, there are two canonical accounts of his death. In Acts of the Apostles, it says that he fell down in the field he bought with the silver and all of his guts burst out.

I like that version, because it styles God as motherfuckin' Jack Ruby.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:29 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


But they expected the reader to believe that Jesus and his conversants were speaking in Greek? Wouldn't they have been speaking in Aramaic?

And I'm sorry, but I don't really get what this has to do with it, anyway. There is precious little in, for example, the English bible in Aramaic or Greek; the English bible is in English, spoken parts or no. I'm not getting why a Coptic writer, writing for a Coptic audience, would think to himself, "Well, here's a speaking part, and nobody's going to believe that they were speaking in Coptic, so I'll use a Greek word with various implications that only (certain) people outside of my target Coptic-speaking audience would understand."

I'm sorry if I'm being dense, but I really, really don't get what you're going for with this.
posted by Flunkie at 1:31 PM on June 30, 2008


A little background on this Sethian Group that is supposed to be the originators of the Gospel of Judas.

The Sethians are a gnostic group whose cosmology was largely based on a series of Midrash's on the Genesis story: The Hypostasis of the Archons is a good example of this. A midrash is a Jewish tradition of exegesis whereby a story is retold to better illuminate it. In Hellenstic Alexandria, Egypt, much of the city was Jewish, and Jewish and Greek scholars shared their philosophical traditions on a regular basis. Unlike today, they did not look at Plato's Forms and the Pentatuch and say, hey! That's talking about different things. Much to the contrary. They looked at these texts and said, hey! That's talking about the same thing. Writing a midrash was a way to reconcile these disparate world views into one cosmology.

Gnostic groups (including the Sethians) often borrowed a LOT of philosophy from neo-platonists, culminating in the writings of people like Pseduo-Dionysius. With this in mind, it is very likely that the use of "daimon" in the Gospel of Judas was closer in meaning to our negative connotation-bearing "demon" than "spirit" because Plato was the first Greek philosopher to use "daimon" in this negative way (and neo-platonists, like their name, were a revival of Plato's philosophical thoughts). Prior to Plato, "daimon" had historically been used to refer to "spirit" as in Homer's texts.

All of that said, translating "daimon" as spirit rather than "demon" is an honest, hard, translation decision. It would require the person translating to know more than just the "language" but the historical and philosophical traditions of the text they are working with as well. And even then, it is hard to come down 100% in either camp.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:45 PM on June 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


Some background on Coptic in the time period we are discussing:
http://www.copticlang.com/cl-coptic-literature.php
http://www.copticlang.com/cl-coptic-literature-continue.php

From the above:
An example is the translation of the Bible from Greek into Coptic started in the second century A. D. This translation was very accurate because the translations were familiar with both languages. As mentioned earlier, between the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the entire Bible was translated into two Coptic dialects, Boheiric and Saidic, and some portions were translated into Akhmimic and Faiyumic dialects. At the same time, many “patristic” texts were handed down in their writings. In addition, the biographies of the saints were important in strengthening the faith of the people. For this reason, thousands of books were written about these saints, monks, martyrs, and some of the bishops and patriarchs. The Coptic literature is rich in its novels and stories, which scholars have divided into two categories: native and religious.
The "Gospel of Judas" is, by all accounts, one of these stories produced during this later time period. The final books included in the Bible canon were completed near the end of the First Century. The Coptic translations and other works (including the "Gospel of Judas" would have been at least a century later).

Now that I think of it, even calling it a Gospel smacks a bit of commercial sensationalism.
posted by spock at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now that I think of it, even calling it a Gospel smacks a bit of commercial sensationalism.

But the article makes it sound like Irenaeus also refers to it as a gospel (or whatever word they're translating as "gospel" here), so maybe it presents itself as such. Or am I misinterpreting that?
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:55 PM on June 30, 2008


I wasn't at all religious in high school, nor am I now, but Borges's essay on Judas as the true son of God was one of my favorite pieces of literature at the time. Maybe it's not the most historically accurate read (in whatever sense the Bible should be read as being historically accurate), and maybe it's not church-sanctioned, but I don't really care. I read the Bible as literature, and it's a deep and fantastic interpretation. It was the first time I came to see the Bible as an infinite onion rather than a pack of fairy tales. The Gospel of Judas kerfuffle (sp?) is neither here nor there for me. Scholarly investigations can't decide Judas's true nature for me any more than historians could decide where Heathcliff spent his those years when he was away from Wuthering Heights.

When The Residents' song Judas Saves came out, it sent chills down my spine. I can't find a free version on Youtube or online, but it's worth seeking out.
posted by painquale at 2:00 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting comment again whimsicalnymph. Reminds me of the fact that Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine to Catholics) was called "the crucible in which the religion of the New Testament was most completely fused with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy; and it was also the means by which the product of this fusion was transmitted to the Christendoms of medieval Roman Catholicism and Renaissance Protestantism.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

It is amazing how far removed Christendom became from the teachings of Christ, and how quickly. It is interesting to me to note that the apostle Paul warned against this (at Colossians 2:8) —
"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (NASV). Believers would point out that this was also foretold, both in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24-43) and in scriptures such as Acts 20:29,30.
posted by spock at 2:01 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Flunkie
I'm sorry if I'm being dense, but I really, really don't get what you're going for with this.
I'm just going by what's been written in this thread here, but what zeugitai_guy (supported by whimsicalnymph at least on the language front) seem to be saying is that Coptic used and shared a lot of Greek words and meanings.

I'm not getting why a Coptic writer, writing for a Coptic audience, would think to himself, "Well, here's a speaking part, and nobody's going to believe that they were speaking in Coptic, so I'll use a Greek word with various implications that only (certain) people outside of my target Coptic-speaking audience would understand."

You're talking as if Greek and Coptic are utterly alien to each other, but it sounds like in fact Coptic was heavily influenced by Greek and references to Greek meanings for Coptic words, words that might even have been borrowed from Greek, are useful. Does that help?
posted by Sangermaine at 2:04 PM on June 30, 2008


Oh yes, spock, Augustine! But after reading Stanley Stowers' A Rereading of Romans, I became convinced that even Augustine's exegesis was flawed by his own cultural milieu. ;)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:04 PM on June 30, 2008


For people who keep saying "Coptic not Greek", please note that Coptic borrows a LOT of Greek words

So does English; demon is one of them. If it doesn't keep the Greek meaning in English, why should it in Coptic? Borrowed words regularly change meaning in the new language, sometimes quite drastically.

zeugitai_guy: Sorry I got so cranky with you, but I have little patience for people who cast a quick glance at some product of scholarship and confidently dismiss it for some superficial reason. I just had to caution somebody not to pour scorn on a dialect dictionary because it happened not to include a word that was the focus of a joke they happened to like that they'd heard from a speaker of the dialect. I pointed out that the joke-teller might have made the word up, or it might be too restricted in circulation to make it into the dictionary. In any event, you clearly know your Greek, but you should be more cautious when discussing Coptic, IMHO.
posted by languagehat at 2:05 PM on June 30, 2008


So, just as an aside, why are so many people hating on the Ehrman books? Because they are flawed, because they are mainstream best-sellers, or what? I read both Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus and, while I obviously can't check his primary sourcework, nothing in the bibliography or notes made me call his scholarship into question.

I mean, the Judas that appears in the Gospel of Judas appears to be a straight up Gnostic interpretation of the man. Hardly groundbreaking or controversial conceptually.

I mean, even after reading the article, I'm a little fuzzy about the (ahem) genesis of the conflict.
posted by absalom at 2:15 PM on June 30, 2008


LH, all I can say is that "daimon" in Coptic and other languages where it gets glossed or borrowed (Arabic renderings of Aristotle texts come to mind, e.g.) does usually translate (in my past experience anyway) in a more general sense rather than "demon". In this particular case I would guess it is because Coptic writers (as opposed to speakers) tended to overlap almost entirely with Greek speakers and the surviving writing is more stylized than the spoken language would tend to be. But that's just a guess.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 2:16 PM on June 30, 2008


To languagehat: I am not ignorant of the fact that words regularly change meaning between languages or dialects. However, it is also the case that they sometimes do not (sauna, borrowed from Finnish, means steam bath in both languages...there are countless other examples).

In the case of Coptic, the meaning of "daemon" would most certainly be the same as the Greek; however which Greek meaning it refers to (spirit or demon) would depend on other factors.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:16 PM on June 30, 2008


LH, all I can say is that "daimon" in Coptic and other languages where it gets glossed or borrowed (Arabic renderings of Aristotle texts come to mind, e.g.) does usually translate (in my past experience anyway) in a more general sense rather than "demon".

Fair enough, but I'm sure you'll agree that the meaning in any particular text has to be determined according to the known usage of the time and place (and, if possible, author), rather than what it "usually" means in some wider context.

In the case of Coptic, the meaning of "daemon" would most certainly be the same as the Greek

Huh? Where do you get that? Are you a Coptic scholar? Coptic loanwords from Greek are most certainly not always "the same"; for example, one way to say "the Coptic language" in Coptic is logos ən aiguptios. Now, logos in Greek can mean a lot of things, but not (I'm fairly sure) 'language' in this sense (which is glōssa).
posted by languagehat at 2:23 PM on June 30, 2008


LH: "Logos ən aiguptios" which can be translated "language of the Egyptians" or "speech of the Egyptians." Logos in Greek can refer to language, or the "Word" (like "The Word was with God"), or thought, principle, several other things.

And I wouldn't call myself a "Coptic scholar" but I did translate Sahidic Coptic texts for two years of my life.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:33 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


A National Geographic article (1, 2) does a nice job of distilling the debate (which isn't going to be settled on MeFi). Essentially the two camps can be summarized as:

a) What we find in all the Gnostic materials—and I've found about 50 references to the word 'daimon' in these texts—[is that] they're always indicating demons, malicious figures that possess and torment people, trying to get people to do things they're not supposed to do against God.

b) Sethian Gnostics were also heavily influenced by earlier, Greek writings. In those texts "daimon" is used to mean "spirit" or to describe the spiritual side of a person. The Gospel of Judas was written at an early stage and in an almost entirely Greek-influenced form, he said. For that reason "daimon" should read "spirit,"
posted by spock at 2:57 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


In fairness, the "daimon" question is just ONE area of conflict with the initial conclusions. There is no question that other errors were made and, in fact, there have been corrections issued.
posted by spock at 2:59 PM on June 30, 2008


Editorial: By the way, I just want to thank all of the "signal" in this thread for overcoming the "noise". This is the sort of info/opinion/debate for which I come to MeFi.
posted by spock at 3:01 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huh, thanks for that, spock. I would be really interested to see what people in camp 2) are citing as "Early Greek" influence. *big sigh*.

I guess that's what I get (i.e. not being a part of this actual debate in Academia) for deciding my heart's desire lay in writing stories rather than doing the whole theology/lateantiquity history/writing a definitive coptic grammar route. I'm left pitching my two cents in the Meta. Then again, it ain't so bad. I like my life. ;)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:03 PM on June 30, 2008


I have to say, this thread got much more interesting once the usual gang of idiots got all of the LOLCRAP out of their systems, moved to other threads and let the grownups talk.
posted by turaho at 3:18 PM on June 30, 2008


absalom:
So, just as an aside, why are so many people hating on the Ehrman books? Because they are flawed, because they are mainstream best-sellers, or what? I read both Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus and, while I obviously can't check his primary sourcework, nothing in the bibliography or notes made me call his scholarship into question.
Well, I don't know why "so many people" do, but there's an obvious reason why at least some people do:

I haven't read any of his books but "Misquoting Jesus". But that one, at least, points out things like:
  • There are no two copies of the Bible in the original Greek that match, word for word
  • Sometimes the differences are actually fairly major (as opposed to something like a differently-spelled word)
  • There are whole passages of what we currently consider to be "the Bible" that are simply not present in any of the early copies (such as the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story
  • There is abundant evidence that various parts have been intentionally altered from their original versions, probably for theological purposes and definitely with theological implications
If you were someone who was (as many people are) heavily invested in the idea that the Bible, as we currently know it, is the pure, unadulterated, and literal word of your god, you might be tempted to react to such claims by just blindly hating on them.
posted by Flunkie at 3:18 PM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


ZM's comment is so full of errors that IT is laughable:

They don't even know who wrote it [Gospel of Judas]. They haven't a clue, do they?

Funny, that's the situation for many of the texts in both the Hebrew & Christian testaments, INCLUDING the Gospels. (Hint, they were not written by the disciples)

He hung himself from a tree. He didn't stop and write out his own gospel before doing so.

Unless you read in Acts where he fell and all his intestines spilled out.

I'm not sure if any of the gospels were written immediately after J.C.'s death.

No. None of them were. Mark, the earliest, was written perhaps in 66 CE, at least a generation after Jesus of Nazareth's death. The earliest texts in the Xian Testament were Paul's letters to the Thessalonians (the 2nd of which may not have been by Paul) written around 50 CE. The Gospel of John, the last one of the canonical gospels to be written, was penned around 90-95 CE.

Paul himself admits to being an ex-roman guard

IIRC He admits to being a Roman citizen, but before his conversion Saul was a Pharisitic Jew in charge of persecuting followers of the new upstart Jews worshipping that guy Jesus who they claimed to be the Messiah.

We have no idea when or how the original disciples wrote down their stories. Luke was a doctor. Matthew was a tax collector.

Again, they weren't written by the original disciples. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (both written by the same author) were NOT written by the Doctor Luke who followed Paul; there's absolutely no evidence of that, it is something that over the years became attributed to him through legend and tradition (besides, it was written around 85-90 CE, most likely long after that Luke was dead). Same goes for Gospel of Matthew, not written by Matt the Tax Collector (no evidence to support this, only legend), and that was also written much after the supposed author was dead (80-85 CE or so).

And in case you were wondering, Moses didn't write the Torah either.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:28 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


LH: "Logos ən aiguptios" which can be translated "language of the Egyptians" or "speech of the Egyptians." Logos in Greek can refer to language, or the "Word" (like "The Word was with God"), or thought, principle, several other things.

I'm well aware of that, which is why I said "logos in Greek can mean a lot of things." But I still say it didn't mean 'language' in this sense. If you can find me some texts where they use logos rather than glōssa when discussing a particular language ("the Greek language" rendered as ho hellēnikos logos, say), I'll eat my words, but hand-waving about "referring to language" won't convince me. I've read a fair amount of Greek, I'm not just going by a dictionary definition.

And I wouldn't call myself a "Coptic scholar" but I did translate Sahidic Coptic texts for two years of my life.


Well, hell, you're a Coptic scholar as far as I'm concerned! I may pick your brains about it someday. Egyptian and Coptic have always fascinated me, but I hate not being able to pronounce what I'm trying to read, and those damn hieroglyphs are beautiful but phonetically too ambiguous. I really should give Coptic a try, though.
posted by languagehat at 4:01 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I realize that this far into the language wars, I may accidentally be returning to dumb-guy, but isn't "Good Judas" thing the plot of Jesus Christ Superstar?
posted by klangklangston at 4:11 PM on June 30, 2008


My personal thanks to whimsicalnymph for her erudite contributions to this thread. This level of discussion is what makes MeFi special.

I offer the observation that this discussion--"daimonic" as it is--reflects the Platonic (or, perhaps, neo-Platonic) ideal of gnosticism: that there is a special truth known only to the cognoscenti who have been "read into" the proper arcane interpretation of the text. I also observe that, irrespective of whether Judas were to be called by Jesus the "13th spirit" or the "13th demon," it would alter not a whit the peculiarly salutary role played by Judas in effectuating the salvation of mankind. By traducing Jesus to the Sanhedrin, Judas assured the death and resurrection of the sacrificial Lamb of God. It can only be assumed that an all-knowing Jesus would have known what an instrument Judas was to become, and would have been able to call him out as a "13th spirit" without the need to accuse him expressly of being an evil "demon." Metaphorically--and practically-- there would be no difference.

Whimsicalnymph, in thy orisons, be all my hermeneutic sins remembered.
posted by rdone at 4:11 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ Superstar

I was like five when I saw that. But I saw Last Temptation of Christ more recently, and Judas was definitely less evil and more strong and troubled there.
posted by cortex at 4:44 PM on June 30, 2008


Is it possible that the writers of the Gospel of Lucas specifically chose the word 'daimon' because of it's double-meaning, and that neither translation is correct?
posted by empath at 4:56 PM on June 30, 2008


(where the fuck did i get Lucas from? -- Judas)
posted by empath at 4:57 PM on June 30, 2008


In the Gospel of Lucas, Jesus shoots second.
posted by cortex at 5:02 PM on June 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


Sweet. It took awhile for this to migrate from A&LD to the blue, but I'm glad to see it here. Fascinating read.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2008


My personal thanks to whimsicalnymph for her erudite contributions to this thread. This level of discussion is what makes MeFi special.

Seconded. Where else do I get to discuss stuff like this with people who actually translate Coptic?
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on June 30, 2008


One of the articles I read on this today says that there are literally a couple thousand religious Coptic manuscripts that are awaiting translation. The mind boggles at how much additional insight (and possible debates) await. It would be a fascinating area to go into, were one young and still picking a path.
posted by spock at 5:20 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


klang: The Judas of JCSuperstar is, in many ways, the fallen protagonist. He betrays Jesus because he thinks that JC has gotten too full of himself and isn't devoting enough effort to helping the poor and such. He also has the best songs in the musical, in my opinion.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:39 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


"You don't fix faith, River. Faith fixes you."

You guys take all this way more seriously than I ever could or would want to. You're arguing over the alleged inauthenticity of this Gospel of Judas. I question the whole thing. There's issues of Mad magazine I take more seriously than your precious Bible. Go git yer torches and pitchforks cuz it's time to rake this blasphemer over your hot coals. Been there done that bought the T-shirt. Am I bothered? Does this face look bothered to you?

I have not been able to accept on sheer faith that the Bible is word for word exactly what God wants to say since I was in junior high school, and our youth director was unable to give me a straight answer on that score. Oh, he tried! He studied hard on the subject and prayed about it. Spoke to a number of scholars. Came back to us with a two hour dissertation on what he'd found, that most (if not all) of the Bible was originally passed on by word of mouth for several generations, and then eventually transcribed, after people figured out how to write things down.

We're supposed to accept on faith that this father to son tradition was verbatim. Just how much do you remember your father ever saying to you? Could you write it all down? How do you check it for accuracy? Does he even remember what he said to you?

Then those transcriptions were on paper and would become fragile relatively quickly, so monks would have to painstakingly recreate entire volumes of material in as exact detail as humanly possible.

We're supposed to accept on faith that these monks were more than human: they were living copy machines a millenium before Xerox existed.

Then you got the people who would get together regularly to decide what gets "canonized" and what gets ignored, which led to the apocrypha, because these human beings couldn't decide.

We're supposed to accept on faith that every Council on the subject eventually led to Exactly What God Meant To Say.

Why are there Protestants and Catholics? Well, one reason is the apocrypha. The Protestants don't even bother with it at all. Will the Gospel of Judas one day end up in the apocrypha? Will anyone even care?

There are as many interpretations of 'God's Word' as there are humans who actually read the thing. Even IF one of us is right? Everyone else is wrong. Even if just a little bit.

Anyway, our youth director tried very hard to convince us kids that The Holy Bible was impervious to ridicule. EPIC FAIL. I still continued going to church for a few years after that, but the wind had long since been knocked out of those sails. Homer's Illiad has more validity!

This is fun to argue and discuss and junk, but to be honest, all this thread does, and all any conversation about the legitimacy of anything having to do with the Bible does, is push me further away from YOUR views about what YOU think YOUR god is like, and I hope to MY God, closer to the TRUTH, which ain't anywhere in any of your precious gospels. If the truth ever was in there, human beings before you and me did their level best to fail to secure it for posterity. There's your EPIC FAIL right there.

As for a much less epic fail, someone asked me why I called Paul a "Roman guard" in a previous post, and I was about to launch into a defense where I said no such thing. Then I looked back at my own words and I'll be damned but that's what I typed. I meant to type "Roman citizen" which, unless things have changed since I left church, is still historically accurate. Must be some kinda Freudian slip.

I used to half jokingly say "I'm still a Christian but I'm far from religious." It's getting increasingly harder to see myself as a Christian in any remotely conventional sense, cuz George Carlin was as right when it came to religion as he was when it came to politics: it's a dream that you have to be asleep to believe in. This entire thread - and this entire argument - is a really bad joke. I think the only person who might be laughing, if He even still remembers where He left this pale blue dot, is Him.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:01 PM on June 30, 2008


SpicyNuts: "You entire post shows nothing but cynicism, anyway."

Goodness gracious me! Whatever gave you that impression?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:08 PM on June 30, 2008


ZM, you're just parading your ignorance around like it's a badge of honor. I'm an atheist, and I find this stuff fascinating. The argument isn't about whether the Gospel of Judas is true or not. That would be nonsensical. The argument is over finding out what the authors had meant to say, which is rather a worthwhile pursuit, in my opinion.

Gnosticism is a deep and endlessly fascinating subject, and I think if you took the time to delve into it, you might find the insights rewarding.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


ZM: I think you are making a big assumption that someone must be a "believer" to be interested in religion or religious history. While I sympathize with your frustration at having received half-baked answers to legitimate questions, I'm not really sure why you are venting your anger here.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:31 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Empath beat me to it. ZM clearly equates cynicism with skepticism. One is healthy, the other – not so much. Cynic, Skeptic, what's the difference?

Belief or disbelief has very little to do with most of the topics at hand. But thanks for sharing!
posted by spock at 7:34 PM on June 30, 2008


Saxon Kane's post above was excellent but I would suggest a couple very small additions: It is entirely possible that Luke and Acts were written by the same person but the link is tenuous. They have many similarities but it is by no means a sure thing.

This may just be a dating issue, but I would say that no gospel could possibly be earlier than 70 AD (not 66) as that was the date of the destruction of the Temple and the razing of Jerusalem. All of the gospels refer to this event in various ways. They (especially John) also could in theory have been written just about any time up to the revolts of 115 CE. It seems to be that is exactly the kind of event which would have elicited comment (and several post facto "prophesies" crammed into Jesus' maw) and all of the gospels are completely silent on the issue.



To several other commenter's: Note the important difference between the Canon and just the Gospels. Part of the canon (the half of so of Paul's letters which are probably authentic) predates the gospels while a lot of the cannon (especially Revelations) comes much, much later. It is very important to remember the distinction between later writing about an early event (eg: Acts) and actually early writing (eg: Epistle to the Romans).
posted by Riemann at 7:37 PM on June 30, 2008


The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (both written by the same author) were NOT written by the Doctor Luke who followed Paul; there's absolutely no evidence of that, it is something that over the years became attributed to him through legend and tradition

I don't really have a dog in this hunt. My faith doesn't hang on whether Lucan attribution is correct or not. But I also don't think we should be so quick to dismiss traditional attribution. The ancients weren't stupid, and they obviously had a vested interest in knowing where these documents came from. To say that there is "absolutely no evidence of that" is incorrect. For instance, as you read through Acts you will occasionally come across passages during the travel narratives where the author switches from third to first person, the so-called "we passages" (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15, 21:1-8 and 27:1-28:16). If Acts was not written, at least in part, by a sometimes-companion of Paul, how do we account for those? Again, I don't think it's essential that Luke is the author, but I'm not ready to dismiss the possibility, either.

As for:
And in case you were wondering, Moses didn't write the Torah either.

Clearly he had nothing whatever to do with Deuteronomy, and clearly some parts of the Torah were assembled long after the development of the temple worship in Jerusalem and the priestly system, and yes, the who thing wasn't in its final edition until after the exile. I'll grant all of that. But it's also quite likely that someone wrote the exodus narratives and compiled the early stories about the patriarchs, and if there is even a kernel of historical truth in the story of Moses, it seems to me that someone who had the benefit of a royal education and who needed to unite his people around a compelling origin narrative (someone who led in the name of the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) would be an ideal person to start pulling those stories together. Moses certainly didn't finish the story, but I'd be surprised if he or Aaron or both didn't get their fingerprints on it along the way.

I get really annoyed at the uncritical fundies who think that Moses just sat down in the desert and wrote it out from scratch, start to finish. But I'm also not terribly enamored with the opposite extreme that says that the great, central figures of the Bible had nothing to do with getting the story on paper. That seems quite unlikely, IMHO.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:44 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The point you make is a good one, Riemann. I remember being very surprised to learn that the Gospel of John was written after Revelation. Particularly if you are a believer, then it is interesting to read the "chain of communication" that was employed to deliver the Revelation to John at Rev. 1.1. (Side point: How many entities were involved?) That means that he had the Revelation before he penned the Gospel, which makes his fuller explanation of Jesus even more interesting. For example, I recommend you take a look at the Greek in John 1:1. If he is making the point that most English translations try to torture out of it (capital God three times), you should see the capital letter Greek word Theos THREE times in the first two verses. You don't however. The point that John was making was more subtle than that and far fewer English translations get it right. Check it out for yourself. (This is one thing that BeDuhn explains so well in his book "Truth in Translation", referenced above.) The interlinear of the Emphatic Diaglott is an excellent one to check. You clearly see that the English translation does not match the meaning of the Greek to the left. This does not mean one throws up ones hands at the entire concept of the Bible, but that one who values scholarship will find one that is as free of doctrinal bias in its translation work, as possible.
posted by spock at 7:55 PM on June 30, 2008


as you read through Acts you will occasionally come across passages during the travel narratives where the author switches from third to first person, the so-called "we passages" (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15, 21:1-8 and 27:1-28:16). If Acts was not written, at least in part, by a sometimes-companion of Paul, how do we account for those?

Fiction is never written in first person?
posted by empath at 8:01 PM on June 30, 2008


ZachsMind,

I went through a similar process, and so did Ehrman, as he details in the intro to Misquoting Jesus. Thus my years of atheism, primarily as result of my disillusionment with the Bible. It turned out that it just wasn't the book that people told me it was.

And then, I started thinking that just because it wasn't what they said it was didn't mean that I couldn't appreciate it for what it was. And after a while, all the stuff that I hated about the Bible before: the obvious seams, the contradictions, the tensions, the sheer messiness of it--that's what I started to love about it again. I suspect more people would appreciate the Bible if it were presented for what it is more often, and not what it so clearly isn't. It was never supposed to be a paper God.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:04 PM on June 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pater: The Tanakh is in many ways a much more interesting text than the NT from the point of view of piecing together its orgins. The difference between the fundie "King James is the Word of God" fundie and actual scholarship (at least in terms of dating) is only a matter of 50 years or so when it comes to the NT (though 50 years which contained a massive war that completely changed the social, political and religious world of Judea it should be noted).

(note: just insert "probably" before any statement of fact which follows)
With regards to the Tanakh the various pieces were written down over the course of 500 or more years. Pieces range from having been written down within a generation of the events (eg: story of David and Bathsheba) to many hundreds of years later.

It is likely that the historical narratives are a compilation (with editing, during the reign of King Josiah and for a period up until just after the exile) of separate cultural epochs from the kingdoms of Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south. These epochs represented differing views on several matters and their being squeezed together, sometimes one sentence after the next, results in a lot of the weird discontinuities and contradictions one finds.

The northern kingdom was more rural and had an economy more based on herding than the south (where urban Jerusalem was located). The northern thinking also is extremely suspicious of kingship and, when kings are necessary, insists on the power of prophets to castigate and remind the king of his duty. Northern writers also insist that the divine name YHWH was not known until it was revealed by Moses while southern thought held that the divine name was known since the beginning.

Deuteronomy, and much of the compilation and editing, (probably) was written in Jerusalem a generation after the northern kingdom was destroyed. It is a very "northern" book in outlook and may have been written by a group of priests who fled the destruction in the north and gained power at the central shrine during the reign of Josiah. Compare the writing about Josiah in Chronicles to every single other king or priest ever. Josiah even gets better press than Moses.

There was a further layer of editing after the southern kingdom was then conquered and it's elite / educated / wealthy citizens were exiled to Babylon.
posted by Riemann at 8:04 PM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Fiction is never written in first person?

It would be easier to believe it had nothing to do with Luke if it were all first-person, empath. The odd, unannounced shifts into first person is what makes Acts so peculiar.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:06 PM on June 30, 2008


Riemann,

That's pretty much what I think, too. And I'm definitely agreed that the critical issues in the Tanakh are more interesting than in the NT. But I also think it's hard to account for a very strong tradition of Moses as the authoritative law-giver if he didn't write down some laws along the way. But if he didn't, that doesn't bother me, either.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:14 PM on June 30, 2008


Oh, and I should say, empath, that calling Acts "fiction" (a modern category into which it clearly doesn't fit, regardless of historicity questions) is beside the point for authorship. The author doesn't identify himself by name anywhere. It is tradition, not the text, that attributes it to Luke. So even if "fiction" were an appropriate label for it, that still wouldn't be a reason to dismiss Lucan authorship.

Here's the broad-brush version of the way these things work out. Fundies and evangelicals would like these texts to be as close to the time of Christ as possible, so they tend to put a lot of weight on traditional attributions and internal evidences in the text that could be seen as supporting them. Skeptics and liberals tend to assume that these must be quite some time after Jesus, since (the thinking goes) (1) it must have taken time to create and propogate miracle stories and claims of divinity. Those probably wouldn't have taken hold until the people who were actually there were too senile or too dead to counter them and (2) things like Mark 13 and parallels which refer to the events of AD 70 must have been written after AD 70, since the idea of Jesus prophesying the destruction of the temple 30-someodd years in advance is assumed not to be possible.

Since I am not fundy, evangelical or liberal, I have an academic interest in these issues, but nothing much beyond that. I think the debate is fun. Cool points all around.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:31 PM on June 30, 2008


I would basically agree with that sentiment but I think you are rather downplaying the amount of scholarship behind the notion that none of the gospels predate 70 AD.
posted by Riemann at 8:38 PM on June 30, 2008


Since the author of Luke and Acts says many things which almost certainly are not true, I have no problem being equally dismissive of the use of first person as being evidence of anything, aside from sloppy editing.
posted by empath at 8:39 PM on June 30, 2008


My question got answered! Thanks, whimsicalnymph!
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:40 PM on June 30, 2008


Blah blah blah! When God decided to commit "suicide by cop," and became a human being through a virgin birth, he needed a snitch to turn him in to the law. Judas was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, neither villain nor hero. He did God's bidding -- where's the evil in THAT? -- and turned Jesus over to the authorities so that the execution could take place. Without a betrayal, the story would be strictly dullsville.

Now, unless you want to believe in the zombie Jesus, roaming the earth and eating brains -- which might explain why so many of his followers seem incapable of independent thought -- then it is clear God succeeded in his decision to die. Nietzsche was right. Bugthumpin' insane, but right nonetheless.
posted by Seabird at 9:58 PM on June 30, 2008


"Demon" means "spirit"?! Well I'll be ...

I don't know how or when or where I got this idea but, for the longest time I have been under the impression "demon" came from a word which meant something like "servant" and which acquired increasingly negative connotations over the millenia (kind of like "flunky" or "lacky" or "henchman" or "goon"). I wonder if I read this in a book? If anyone else recognizes this (apparently spurious) etymology please send me an email. Thanks.
posted by wobh at 10:00 PM on June 30, 2008


Thread needs more Roy Harper.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:06 PM on June 30, 2008


spock,
A translator must first understand the expression and then convey the thought in a way that will be in harmony with both the original and the sensibilities of the reader.
Fuck the sensibilities of the reader.
posted by vsync at 10:16 PM on June 30, 2008


I hear ya, vsync. Let the chips fall where they may. However, for idioms there are often multiple choices available to the translator. I was thinking in particular of my example of King Saul going into the cave to "cover his feet". One could say it coursely or more delicately. The same thought is conveyed where a word for word translation could obscure the meaning to those not familiar with the meaning of the original expression.
posted by spock at 10:52 PM on June 30, 2008


Pater Aletheias: "I went through a similar process, and so did Ehrman, as he details in the intro to Misquoting Jesus. Thus my years of atheism, primarily as result of my disillusionment with the Bible."

I'm not an atheist. I know there was a supreme creator of all reality. I accept (tho i increasingly have less reason to) that there was a guy named Jesus who was born in Nazareth around two millenia ago and showed people that there's other ways of looking at things. The historical record, such as it is, shows that the general public's response to Jesus' suggestion that they look at things differently from how they had up until then, was to nail him to two pieces of wood. Can I take that as "gospel"? All we've got to go on is evidence that's been contaminated. So I can't even take that as a given anymore.

I just no longer think humanity has the slightest idea who or what that supreme being is. After his death, others (from Paul and Constantine to Jimmy Swaggart and those catholic priests caught messing with altar boys) usurped Jesus' intentions for their own twisted ends, and these writings you're arguing about are like a man blind since birth authoritatively describing color to the sighted. Fascinating? Hardly. Pointless? Absolutely.

You guys are arguing over whether or not the emperor has any clothes on, and whether or not the leopard has any stripes, and it's simultaneously sickening and hilarious.

WhimsicalNymph: "I'm not really sure why you are venting your anger here."

Because it's there.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:20 AM on July 1, 2008


I'm still amazed that the Nat Geo. should have somehow encouraged scholarship to stoop so far in search of a headline.

The "demon" row aside, this bit from the main article link fair blows my mind:

In another passage, the National Geographic translation says that Judas "would ascend to the holy generation." But DeConick says it's clear from the transcription that a negative has been left out and that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation (this error has been corrected in the second edition). DeConick also objected to a phrase that says Judas has been "set apart for the holy generation." She argues it should be translated "set apart from the holy generation" — again, the opposite meaning. In the later critical edition, the National Geographic translators offer both as legitimate possibilities.

These are so far from simply "regrettable" (and later honestly corrected) errors - because they seem crucial to the sensational alternative narrative offered.

James Freyism is a disaster for the Nat. Geo.

(I remember the magazine beating itself up not so long ago for inadvertently running a photo essay about freshly poached tusks. Readers noticed the tusks in the pictures had tiny ID numbers stamped on them - IIRC, this proved the tusks had already been confiscated - then redistributed as props for the purpose of the shocking pictures. The Nat. Geo editorial board issued all sorts of "never again!!" statements at the time. To little avail, it seems...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:49 AM on July 1, 2008


There are some that think the bulk of the New Testament, was written by a Roman named Arrius Piso.

Go here for more info.
posted by dollyknot at 6:05 AM on July 1, 2008


Riemann: Since you clearly know a lot about this stuff, may I ask what you think of Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? I know it's twenty years old, but it's my reference on these things, and I'd like to know whether it's considered mildly outdated, full of shit, or something in between.

Great discussion, (almost) everyone!
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on July 1, 2008


You guys are arguing over whether or not the emperor has any clothes on, and whether or not the leopard has any stripes, and it's simultaneously sickening and hilarious.

You really have no idea what people are discussing in this thread, do you?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:41 AM on July 1, 2008


This is probably a bone-stupid question in an erudite discussion, and maybe too late for anyone to see, but does anyone know where Phillip Pullman got his "daemon" etymology from in the Golden Compass books? There, "spirit" certainly seems the more obvious analog, rather than "demon".
posted by The Bellman at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2008


The Bellman: He got it from the Homerian usage of "daimon" meaning "spirit."

Jody Tresidder: Yeah, it is amazing how a teensy thing like negation can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Unfortunately, Coptic has this little translation problem of abbreviating words all the time, creating very long compound words (building whole clauses on the root verb wherein some of the morphemes are abbreviations, others not), and having certain words not only have completely different meanings depending on how they are used but be different parts of speech as well. Among other confusions. One of the ways to negate a sentence in Coptic has to the do with the placement of something that looks very similar to MN, which looks very similar to a preposition, and is a part of several different Coptic words. Then the parsing issue comes in. Even though missing something like a giant NOT seems very obvious to us, in these manuscripts it is much less straight forward.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2008


Thanks whimsicalnymph!
posted by The Bellman at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2008


I'm sure that others can speak to this more authoritively, but Phillip Pullman's stated intention (for the Dark Materials) was the inverting Milton's story of a war between heaven and hell, such that the devil would appear as the hero. Taking an intention and then writing the story to support that intention is the opposite of scholarship. All it "proves" is that the meaning of daimon can be taken that way. It tells us nothing of its intended use to whoever was the original writer of the "Gospel of Judas".
posted by spock at 8:46 AM on July 1, 2008


There are some that think the bulk of the New Testament, was written by a Roman named Arrius Piso.

Even if I were to give authority status to a single angelfire web site on such matters, that article does not say what you think it says. (The decline of reading comprehension these days makes baby Jesus cry).
: )
posted by spock at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2008


I became convinced that even Augustine's exegesis was flawed by his own cultural milieu.

Yes, that was my point. He seems to be the very embodiment of what Paul was warning of in Col. 2:8.
posted by spock at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2008


"... Even though missing something like a giant NOT seems very obvious to us, in these manuscripts it is much less straight forward...."

whimsicalnymph,

I assumed these (later corrected) errors indeed arose from the most subtly taxing material.
(Though I love the idea of a dodgy translator winking at a "giant NOT"!!).

It's just that - as described by the original article - the errors are strangely relevant to the thrust of the "shocking new" Judas narrative.

Just as all James Frey's errors of fact coincidentally had the effect of burnishing his wild man persona.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:47 AM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Judas assured the death and resurrection of the sacrificial Lamb of God. It can only be assumed that an all-knowing Jesus would have known what an instrument Judas was to become, and would have been able to call him out as a "13th spirit" without the need to accuse him expressly of being an evil "demon." Metaphorically--and practically-- there would be no difference.

This was entirely my point above.
posted by spicynuts at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2008


You're arguing over the alleged inauthenticity of this Gospel of Judas. I question the whole thing.

Then why are you in this thread? This thread is about the authenticity, origin, authorship and importance of newly found Gospel. Either you can be interested in it from an academic/historical/linguistic perspective or you can be interested in it from a theological perspective or you can be interested as a believer or person of faith. If you don't care about "The Bible" from any of these perspectives because you think it is fantasy, then why are you even here?
posted by spicynuts at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2008


it's simultaneously sickening and hilarious.

Ok, this is all I need to know about the mind of Zach. So having an intellectual curiosity about the origins and complexities of something that effects the entire world on a daily basis is sickening and hilarious. Awesome. Can you go back to 10th Grade English class and let the people who can separate intellectual curiosity from atheism/religious bashing continue with the Coptic etc debates? KTHXBI.
posted by spicynuts at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2008


without the need to accuse him expressly of being an evil "demon."

The thing is, as we know, Jesus didn't write his own words down. The authors of the Gospels are writing at a point decades or even centuries removed from his existence. Certainly, they, as part of a religion establishing itself, would have political motives for using 'demon' in one way over another in describing Judas.
posted by spicynuts at 9:57 AM on July 1, 2008


This thread is the best thing I've read on the subject. Thanks, everyone.
posted by painquale at 10:30 AM on July 1, 2008


I really should give Coptic a try, though.

"Do, or do not do. There is no 'try'." - Yoda
posted by spock at 10:46 AM on July 1, 2008


Did ... biblical scholars mislead millions?

Again and again, ad nauseum. Amen.

Oh, and, LOL!
posted by aiq at 7:15 AM on July 2, 2008


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