“The Betrayal of Judas”

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas Bartlett writes of the fraud of National Geographic’s “Gospel of Judas”–“The Betrayal of Judas: Did a ‘Dream Team’ of Biblical Scholars Mislead Millions?

When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world — with nearly all of those articles touting the new and improved Judas. …

But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn’t see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever. Those early voices of dissent have since grown into a chorus, some of whom argue that National Geographic’s handling of the project amounts to scholarly malpractice. It’s a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research.

The manuscript itself was in poor shape.

As one scholar explains it, imagine that you have 10 pieces of paper with writing on both sides. Now take those 10 pages and tear them up into tiny pieces. Then get rid of, say, a third of those pieces. Take what’s left, place it in a shoebox, and shake it. Now try to reconstruct the original 10 pages, keeping in mind that the fragile pieces must match on both sides.

The article goes on to note the controversy that erupted immediately upon the airing of the program–Prof. April DeConick of Rice could tell instantly something was wrong. She wrote a critical essay and a book, then hosted a conference at Rice earlier this year. Even Marvin Meyer, the original translator, is not happy with how National Geographic handled the process: “The pressure to sacrifice truth for drama, he says, was constant.”

The animosity between defenders and critics is palpable. Bart Ehrman says Meyer has “effectively refuted” DeConick’s argument.

It’s tough to find anyone else who agrees. In an essay presented at the Rice conference, John D. Turner, a professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, insists that Meyer’s use of a much later text to justify his interpretation of Judas “raises fundamental methodological questions.” In an interview, he is less courtly. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he says, part of last-ditch attempt to salvage an utterly discredited view.