John Dart on the Gospel of Judas discovery

Many of us are familiar with the work of Professor John Dart with regards to Gnosticism and Early Christianity (for instance the books Jesus of Heresy, and The Laughing Saviour), but some of us were not aware that he is the editor of the conservative journal Christian Century. In a recent issue of the online version of Christian Century he muses over the news about the awaited publication of the much myth-spun Gospel of Judas (Iscariot) early this year.

In the article, John Dart reports that:

“in 2004, Rodolphe Kasser of the University of Geneva announced in Paris that by the end of 2005 he would be publishing translations of the Coptic-language version of the Gospel of Judas. As it turned out, the owner was a Swiss foundation, and the torn and tattered papyrus text had been hawked to potential buyers in North America and Europe for decades after it was found at Muhazafat Al Minya in Middle Egypt.

The “Judas” saga was confirmed in detail last month at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Philadelphia. Retired Claremont Graduate University professor James Robinson, general editor of the English edition of the Nag Hammadi Library, said he was first contacted in 1983 about negotiations to buy certain texts, including the Gospel of Judas. Many years later, he saw blurry photographs of part of the text.

Robinson said that early in November he learned that Kasser and several European, Canadian and U.S. scholars had signed agreements with the National Geographic Society to assist with a documentary film and a National Geographic article for an Easter 2006 release and a succession of three books.”

That does sound promising.

However, with every right, Professor James Robinson, who has had a prominent role in the publication of the Nag Hammadi Library (and with him John Dart) object to the continued secrecy surrounding the nature of the find. National Geographic has evidently bought the publishing rights, and plans to make a documentary, article and several books out of it. No doubt made even more timely (and profitable) with the release of the Hollywood production of the Sony Pictures Movie based on Dan Brown‘s bestseller pulp fiction novel The Da Vinci Code in the new year. It might just be me, but I have a feeling that this time around, aside from political (the Palestinian and Egyptian crises in the Post-WWII era) – crass commercialism and marketability has caused serious problems for the Academic community (I recently read a rather well-written thriller which unfortunately was released anew with the blurb “The Norwegian DaVinci Code”, Sirkelens Ende, by Norwegian genre writer Tom Egeland – which intuitively brushed the possibility with regards to future finds of “Early Christianity” interest).. but there is other things to consider also. According to our friend the Dutch antiquities dealer, Michael Van Rijns, the Gospel of Judas and the Coptic papyri Codex it was contained in, where held “hostage” by the “International” organization The Macaeanas Foundation, wherein also rather dodgy Middle Eastern black market tricksters and profiteers were involved, wherein the publishing rights were asked consisted of millions of dollars and maximum discretion clauses, unacceptable (until now?) for the Academic community to even consider. How long the Codex in question has been in circulation,what condition it is in and what it contains remains a guarded secret, while its existence is broadcasted all over the place, even by yours truly. It merits some consideration that Old Media has a tendency of making an Amazonan rainforest out of a single leaf, while the new Media, Internet has the potentional of making the story even bigger. In view of that, John Dart’s lucid commentary has merit, no matter which side of orthodox definitions of Christianity we belong to.

He pitches in:

“Hardly anything is known about the document’s contents “other than a few personages” it names, said Robinson, identifying them as the mythological figure Allogenes (literally, “the stranger”) known from some Nag Hammadi texts, and Satan, Jesus and Judas.”

That is true, for sure. I have seen the handwritten notes and temporal attempts at translation, wherein Samael and Allogenes is mentioned and which clearly broadcasts a possible affinity with the Sethian Gnostic sects of upper Egypt which is the major contributor to the Gnostic texts we know from the Nag Hammadi find, rather than the Churchfather Ireneaus of Lyons identification of the Cainities as the possessors and possible fabricators of a Gospel of Judas Iscariot. It is sobering to consider that quite a few theologians argued that Ireneaus must have meant the Gospel of Judas (Thomas), and quite a few rather stubborn and religiohistorically completely ignorant conservative theologians still hold to that theory…but I have mentioned that business before, and the translated fraqments is available for our reading pleasure and stilling our curiosity for now, on