Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Judas No Hero After All

Judas no hero after all

Group misinterpreted 1,700-year-old gospel scroll, Acadia professor says
By STEVE BRUCE Staff Reporter

Scholars might have been too quick to portray Judas as a hero earlier this year, says a Nova Scotia professor who was part of the controversial project.

Craig Evans, who teaches New Testament studies at Acadia University, said mistakes were made in the interpretation of a 1,700-year-old copy of the Gospel of Judas unveiled by the National Geographic Society last April.

"We had it wrong," Mr. Evans said Monday from his office in Wolfville.

"Judas may not be a hero at all in the world view of the author of this writing, but just simply a fool."

According to the fourth-century Christian text, Judas did as Jesus asked, betraying him so he could shed his earthly body and pave the way for salvation.

The scholars interpreted that as making Judas out to be a hero rather than one of the most villainous characters in Christianity, as he is portrayed in the New Testament Gospels.

"We all just assumed that Judas was a hero in the story," said Mr. Evans, the only Canadian on the Gospel of Judas project. "He was lionized, he was the greatest of the 12 disciples and so forth."

But Mr. Evans said he started having doubts about his team’s interpretation of the document after attending an October conference in Ottawa.

"The question was raised, ‘Is Judas being interpreted correctly?’ It got me thinking that maybe it wasn’t. So I just reread it and rethought it."

Now Mr. Evans is convinced that the text reveals Jesus chose Judas not because he was the strongest disciple but because he was the easiest to manipulate.

"I’m not alone here," Mr. Evans said. "There are several other experts in the field who also think that the original interpretation publicly announced in April is wrong and that Judas is, in fact, understood more as a dupe, as a fool who unwittingly, not with wisdom or intelligence or proper knowledge, complied with Jesus’ wishes in betraying him so that Jesus could get rid of the human body he inhabited and could return to heaven."

The Gospel of Judas — the only known surviving copy of a manuscript likely written in the second century — was discovered in a cave in Egypt in the 1970s, sold twice and stolen once before coming into the hands of a Swiss foundation in 2000.

Experts assembled by National Geographic spent five years reconstructing, conserving, authenticating, analyzing and interpreting the document, written in Coptic script.

Mr. Evans said 15 per cent of the text is missing, which made it difficult for the team to interpret.

"There’s always going to be the possibility of just missing the meaning of the text," he said. "There are crucial places where we have a hole in the page."

Mr. Evans revealed his new take on the Gospel of Judas in a paper he presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19.

"I stood up and said, ‘Hey guys, I think we’ve got it wrong.’ To my surprise, there were people there who vehemently agreed and it became quite a division.

"I didn’t expect that kind of support at all. I thought I would be crucified."

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University who worked on the National Geographic project, told the CBC that Mr. Evans is "very wrong."

"The reason is that we’ve never seen a gospel written where the principal figure was turned into a fool," said Ms. Pagels, who is writing a book on the Gospel of Judas.

"It’s quite a hubbub," Mr. Evans said. "I don’t think it’s going to go away quickly.

"The text has only been public not even one year yet. Now that other scholars are getting involved, they’ve having different ideas."


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

das No Hero, Scholars Say

Some scholars are refuting an interpretation of a 1,700-year-old document claiming to prove that Judas was a hero and not a villain.

Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, was part of the team that unveiled the Gospel of Judas last spring.

The document is written in Coptic script, an ancient Egyptian language. The document is written in Coptic script, an ancient Egyptian language.
(Associated Press)

"The big headline was in April that the text was discovered," Evans said.

"The second big headline is right now: oops, maybe we misinterpreted it and we need to rethink it."

The 1,700-year-old document, written in Coptic script, is believed to be a translation of an original Greek text.

It was found in Egypt in the 1970s, but an interpretation of it was first published last April by the National Geographic Society.
Continue Article

The scholars who worked on the text said it revealed secret conversations between Jesus and Judas in the week before the crucifixion, and that Judas was obeying his master's wishes in handing him over to his enemies.

They said Judas was a hero, the only disciple Jesus could trust to carry out such a difficult task.

At the time, many people said this document could rehabilitate one of the most reviled men in history: the disciple who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

But Evans, the only Canadian on the society's advisory panel, said he and his colleagues made some mistakes.

"The misinterpretation is based on some questionable reconstructions in places, also the text was simply mistranslated at a few points, and taken together it has led to what I think is a serious misinterpretation," he said.

Evans believes the document shows Judas was duped into believing he was helping Jesus, in effect making him a fool, not a hero.

The Nova Scotia scholar is "very wrong," said Elaine Pagels, one of the society's panel of experts.

"The reason is that we've never seen a gospel written where the principal figure was turned into a fool," said Pagels, an author and professor of religion at Princeton University.

Pagels has a different interpretation of the text and her book on the subject will be published by the spring.

Still other scholars say mistakes were made in the rush to release the story about the Gospel of Judas before Easter.

"It was a lot of pressure from the Geographic Society to sensationalize the release of this around Easter and just prior to the release of The Da Vinci Code movie," said John Turner, a professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Turner wasn't one of the scholars who reconstructed, translated or interpreted the text for the society, but he studied the document and concluded it backs up what Christians have believed for 2,000 years.

Judas did an evil deed by betraying Jesus to his enemies, Turner said.

"The decision was made that this is a truly shocking, revolutionary document that throws into question all of the traditional Christian claims about the figure of Judas, and the document simply doesn't support that," he said.

Terry Garcia, leader of the society's Judas project, dismisses the criticism, saying those who say the translation is incorrect are a minority.

Garcia denies the society timed the release to make money, even though it produced two books, a TV documentary, an exhibition and a feature edition of its magazine.

"First of all, it was not a commercial enterprise," Garcia said, adding the society had a responsibility to end speculation about the Gospel of Judas and set the record straight.

Garcia isn't surprised by the debate.

"This is part of the process. When we released it, we told everyone what we hoped would happen is a vigorous debate and discussion and analysis of the materials and it appears we got our wish," he said.