Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Rethinking Judas

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: spirituality, Gospel of Judas, Judas Iscariot, Biblical Texts, Bible, Chronicle of Higher Education,

The Kiss of JudasWhen the National Geographic Society published a long-lost text dubbed The Gospel of Judas back in 2006, news of the book made headlines in most major newspapers. Based on a codex roughly 1,700 years old and translated in secret by a group of scholars that National Geographic called a “dream team,” the book portrayed Judas Iscariot as a trusted friend of Jesus, rather than the evil betrayer he’s thought to be.

In the two years since the book was published, Thomas Bartlett reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education that a shadow of doubt has been cast on The Gospel of Judas. Serious errors were made in the translation of the text. For example, Jesus refers to Judas as “daimon,” a word the National Geographic team translated as “spirit.” Other scholars have called that into question, translating the word as “daemon,” reinforcing traditional views of Judas as evil. April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times accusing the National Geographic team of errors that bordered on fraud. She asked of the mistranslations, “Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on?”

Today, The Gospel of Judas is still causing fractures within religious scholarly communities. Members of the so-called “dream team” have even begun to question the work they signed their names to. Some accuse others of bullying them into publishing, while others hurl accusations of profiteering. Bartlett reports that the controversy continues to cause “some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed.”