More on the Gospel of Judas

Again, I include here some comments from Dr. Witherington on the Gospel of Judas.

The Gospel of Judas– the NPR Discussion

For any of you listening to "On Point" this morning on NPR, which involved host Tom Asher, myself, Karen King of Harvard, and Marvin Meyer of Chapman U. one of the translators of the Gospel of Judas, several new things came to light.First of all Professor Meyer admitted that we have absolutely no Greek fragments of this Gospel at all. His argument is that the use of Greek loan words in the Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas demonstrates that there "must have been a Greek original" behind this Coptic text. This is in no way a convincing argument on two counts: 1) there are various Latin loan words in the NT, and this certainly in no way would ever lead us to think there were putative Latin originals of these Gospels; 2) Coptic is a language already heavily dependent on Greek, and no only in regard to its alphabet. It is a language that tries to draw on the benefits of the harvest of Hellenism, including on its language.

Greek had long been the lingua franca of the Hellenistic and then Roman Empires centuries before the Gospel of Judas was ever written. Greek heavily influenced languages like Coptic, and one of the residues of such influence is loan words. No, we would have to have clear evidence of 'Greek interference' in this Coptic text— by which I mean clear evidence in the grammar, syntax etc. that the author is translating from a Greek original before we could draw such a conclusion. As things stand, Meyer is overreading the evidence we have and wishing for there to have been a Greek version of this text. This may be nothing more than wishful thinking.

The second important thing which this conversation on NPR brought to light, was stressed by Professor King, and rightly so. This document is not likely to help the cause of those who despise anti-Semitism, and all three of the scholars on this program would agree in finding such an attitude reprehensible, because this document has various passages which reflect anti-Semitic views of various sorts.

King is perfectly right to say that while Judas may get a bit of a reprieve in this document, other Jews certainly do not. It makes one wonder why anyone like Professor Meyer would hope that this document would promote more tolerance, or would think that it might achieve such an aim, given some of the polemical content of the document itself. Taken on face value the Gospel of Judas does not promote the feminist agendas of Professor King or the tolerance agendas of Professor Meyer.

Nor, I would reiterate once more, does this document in any way change our views of the historical Jesus or Judas, because this document has no claims at all to be in touch with any first century persons. Unlike the NT which was all written by Jews, with the possible exception of Luke-Acts and all written in the first century A.D., this Gnostic document like the Gospel of Mary and Philip and others are written by persons who surely are not Jews, and indeed don't much like Judaism and its creation theology, and are writing at various steps of remove from the NT period, and with a Gnostic philosophy that is in fact antithetical to much of what the NT says about a whole host of subjects such as history, eschatology, creation,the value of the OT to mention but four subjects.

When all the hype dies down, what we will be left with is further evidence of an interesting split off movement from early Christianity which began in the second century A.D. and was tolerated for two centuries by the church until the church fathers and mothers had heard quite enough of these fairy tales. In short, it helps us understand post apostolic and Nicene church history better, it tells us nothing about the origins of Christianity or the historical Jesus.

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