To summarize, an old Coptic manuscript of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas was discovered in the 1970s and found its way to National Geographic. It’s a remarkable archaeological artifact, with great value for historical study of the literature and beliefs of spiritualist cults in the second to third centuries AD.
The mainstream press outlets have been taking advantage of the Holy Week season and upcoming Da Vinci Code movie to publicize the manuscript as though it were a revolutionary new finding to shake the foundations of Christianity. It really isn’t all that, however, and their positioning it as such — backed up by such fringe historians as Elaine Pagels — is a discredit to the true historical value of the Coptic document. A few links and quotes on the issue follow.
- Here’s my original post on it.
- GetReligion: The gospel of ignorance. “Before I criticize the ridiculous ignorance of the media in covering this very old story, let me offer a critique of the church. If Christians knew anything about their history, if they knew anything about how the New Testament canon came to be formed, I doubt these stories would be met with more than a yawn.” Followup: Work That Rolodex.
- Internet Monk: The Stupids Do New Testament 101. “We’ve reached a point with DaVinci madness where nothing is too comic for the mainstream media to report with a straight face. Ideas about New Testament studies that wouldn’t appear on a freshman pop quiz are now tossed about the main stream media as if they are established facts.”
- Ben Witherington on the Judas texts: Part 1 and Part 2. “This document has no material which could or should shake the faith of Christians in what is said in the NT about Jesus and Judas for the very good reason that it comes from a much later source, and one that not even its advocates are really suggesting is written by the historical Judas.” Also see his posts on The NPR Discussion, and The Sad Truth about Judas.
- Stand To Reason: An Ancient Manuscript Sheds New Light? Number of canonical New Testaments manuscripts: 5,366 separate corroborating Greek manuscripts. Number of “Gospel of Judas” manuscripts: 1 secondhand Coptic translation.
- HolyOffice: Newsflash, Judas was Shakespeare! “Bard College’s Bruce Chilton sounds like he’s trying to explain to a non-baseball fan why hitters don’t run to third base first when he says the Judas gospel ‘never set out to provide historical information and to pretend it does is a distortion.'”
- Adam Kotsko: Thoughts on Gnosticism. “Everything you hate about Christianity was present in Gnosticism, except worse.”
- Passing Open Windows: “The hype surrounding this “discovery” has been more about financing the dig than about uncovering the truth.”
- Lots of stuff from Jesus Creed’s exploration of the manuscript’s content: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. “This is a good time to explain that this ms [manuscript] was actually discovered in about 1978, but its owner at the time wanted more money than museum curates, etc., were willing to pay. To make an involved story short, the ms ended up in a safe box in a bank, and in the process it had been folded to fit into a box and frozen to protect it — neither of which were good ideas.”
- Ignatius Press Blog: Shaking in my slippers. “The bottom line is that this line of marketing (which is what it is) has been used before about The ‘Gospel’ of Thomas and other gnostic texts. Wild claims are made, pseudo-histories are written, conspiracies are created. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Sadly, it does work: on numerous reporters and those with an axe to grind with Christianity and, specifically, the Catholic Church.”
- Michael Barber has some basic info on the Gnostics and their “Lost Gospels.”
- Christian Science Monitor: A gospel’s rocky path from Egypt’s desert to print. Interesting article about the manuscript’s own adventures through outrageous pricing and theft before it came to National Geographic for dating and translation.
- Christianity Today Magazine: The Judas We Never Knew. “Let’s put it this way: This new text tells us nothing more about Jesus’ relationship with Judas than does Jesus Christ Superstar.” (Although I would argue that we actually stand to learn more about it from “Jesus Christ Superstar” than from the Gnostic Gospel of Judas.)
- J.P. Holding: Another Garage Sale Gospel. “The story is virtually the same each time on of these ‘new’ documents is uncovered: The much better attested canonical Gospels are treated as the bad guys and ignored, while the new kid on the block who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time is asked to all the parties.”