Friday, December 7, 2007

Replies to Prof. DeConick concerning her article on The Gospel of Judas

Since I took an even harder shot at National Geographic than did Prof. DeConick in my post The Gospel of Judas and the lure of gnosticism, it is only fair to post a couple of responses to her article that were published as Letters to the Editor of the NY Times:

"To the Editor of The New York Times:Re “Gospel Truth” (Op-Ed, Dec. 1), about the Gospel of Judas: April D. DeConick speaks too confidently when she talks about our mistakes in translation. She knows better. The issues of translation she highlights are almost all discussed in the notes in the popular edition and critical edition of the Gospel of Judas, and the observation that Judas is the 'thirteenth daimon' in the text is open to discussion and debate. Professor DeConick’s additional insinuations of ulterior motives by her fellow scholars in the establishment of the Coptic text and the development of an appropriate translation are extremely disappointing and disturbing. She knows how we struggled carefully and honestly with this difficult text preserved in fragments. Professor DeConick comes up with her interpretation of the Gospel of Judas by virtually ignoring all the positive things said about Judas in the text. In the end, Professor DeConick’s Judas recalls Brando in 'On the Waterfront.' He coulda been a contenda, he coulda been somebody — if he just were not so demonic.When the positive things said about Judas in the Gospel of Judas are given fair consideration, it may be said: Judas is still a contenda."

Marvin Meyer, Orange, Calif., Dec. 4, 2007

The writer, one of the original editors and translators of the Gospel of Judas, is a professor of religious studies at Chapman University.

To the Editor:

"When we became involved in the Gospel of Judas project, we assembled a team of scholars to examine, conserve, authenticate and translate the Coptic manuscript. The chief translator, Rodolphe Kasser, is one of the world’s leading Coptologists. Assisting him were three other eminent Coptic scholars. We also assembled an advisory panel of nine leading scholars and religious authorities who reviewed the manuscript, advising on its importance and impact. Once we were certain of the document’s authenticity and had a consensus translation, we published it expeditiously and put the content on our Web site. Virtually all issues April D. DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in footnotes in both the popular and critical editions. People can disagree about certain words, but the entire document needs to be considered for an accurate reading of the text. When we published, we encouraged respectful, global discourse. We invite Professor DeConick and other scholars to join us at the National Geographic Society to continue the public discussion."

Terry Garcia
Executive Vice President, Mission Programs, National Geographic Society, Washington, Dec. 4, 2007

Thanks to Fr. Imbelli for drawing attention to these responses over on dotCommonweal.

It is important to point out that I do not retract anything I posted on Monday as regards The Gospel of Judas, including about the potential problems of the National Geographic Society's translation. I have to admit that I am not familiar enough with the ins and outs of what happened with regard to making a critical edition of the original Coptic text available to add anything to this contention between DeConick and The National Geographic Society. Terry Garcia's response is most cogent and cordial, the attitude one hopes all involved would have. Nonetheless, agendas again are called into question as a result of Marvin Meyer's odd response, which is somewhat ironic as it occurs after he accuses DeConick of arrogance. He moves quickly from his contention that The National Geographic Society's translation is as accurate as the team working on it could conscientiously make it, to an assertion that what The Gospel of Judas tells us has implications for the history, development, and theology of orthodox Christianity. Once again I would draw attention to Bishop N.T. Wright's book Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?. To which Bishop Wright's answer is an unequivocal "No!"

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