Culture At Large

Breaking news: Judas not a hero after all

Andy Rau

Remember the buzz last year about the third-century Gnostic "Gospel of Judas," which allegedly cast Judas as a hero (rather than villain) of the Gospel story? We noted it here at TC, and it generated a fair amount of controversy and discussion, hitting the public eye just as the hype around the Da Vinci Code book and movie was picking up steam.

Well, according to a piece in the NYT this weekend, the Gospel of Judas was mistranslated and does not, in fact, feature a heroic Judas. Quite the opposite, in fact:

The shocker: Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

This isn't going to shake up anybody's faith (or lack thereof); Christians don't even recognize the Gospel of Judas as canonical, so it doesn't affect mainstream Christian theology in any way no matter what it says about Judas. (Even with Judas cast as the villain, it's not an orthodox Christian work by any means.) But between this embarrassing mistranslation, the Jesus tomb hoax, and the James ossuary forgery, is it too much to hope that future claims of Christianity-shaking archaeological discoveries will be met with skepticism, rather than breathless headlines and much-hyped TV specials?

(And really, the Judas-as-hero heresy isn't even a new idea: it cropped up in Jorge Luis Borges' fictional essay "Three Versions of Judas" several decades ago.)

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