Who Needs Facts When You Can Corner the Market?

Or perhaps a better title would be “When Scholars Defect” or “Media Virgin Researchers Exposed to the Ethos of The Scoop” or “G. G. Hubbard Spins in Grave; News at Eleven” or …

Read this the other day – an excellent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about the “Gospel of Judas” hubbub of 2006 and the back-story that went with it. Sadly, it appears that the National Georgraphic Society has become infected with the same sad parasite that eats away at our national media. See if you can see the parallels here.

What better way to sell, sell, SELL than to scrub up a well-known bad boy for the cameras? Just like some movie-star, fresh out of rehab.

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. “In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal,” read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it “a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history.” A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic’s cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel’s history, behind only a documentary on September 11.

[…]The announcement was timed so that the documentary, a book containing the translation and critical essays, an accompanying Web site, and an exhibit at National Geographic’s headquarters would all be unveiled more or less simultaneously. By keeping the translation under wraps, National Geographic had cornered the market on Judas, and now it intended to take full advantage of its position.

In all of its materials, the view of Judas as good guy was front and center. In an online video clip, [Marvin] Meyer calls the text’s Judas the “most insightful and the most loyal of all the disciples.” In [Bart] Ehrman’s essay, Judas is “Jesus’ closest friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus wanted him to do so.” The teaser on the documentary’s DVD case asks, “What if this account turned Jesus’ betrayal on its head, and in it the villain became a hero?” The discovery of an ancient document titled “The Gospel of Judas” is exciting enough. But the twist of a good Judas — well, that’s a great story.

But when other biblical scholars took issue with not only with the translation itself but the way NG managed the project, NG pooh-poohed it as “inevitable” and “irresponsible.”

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. What’s more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed.

April DeConick, professor of biblical studies at Rice University and another Coptologist, saw errors within minutes of reading the translation.

As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus’ best interests in mind — which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: “Oh no. Something is really wrong.”

She started the next day on her own translation of the Coptic transcription, also posted on the National Geographic Web site. That’s when she came across what she considered a major, almost unbelievable error. It had to do with the translation of the word “daimon,” which Jesus uses to address Judas. The National Geographic team translates this as “spirit,” an unusual choice and inconsistent with translations of other early Christian texts, where it is usually rendered as “demon.” In this passage, however, Jesus’ calling Judas a demon would completely alter the meaning. “O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?” becomes “O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?” A gentle inquiry turns into a vicious rebuke.

Read the whole article – it is fascinating and well-researched. And a testament to the mindset of “marketing trumps the truth.” Where have we heard that before?

Every year, around Christian holidays, these stories crop up. The Devil is still working hard in this world to discredit The Truth. He never rests. And sadly, it seems, especially in the current election cycle, that he has plenty of workers at his beck and call. Truth, any truth at all, is becoming harder to discern because of the incredible amount of noise and distraction being thrown at us from all directions.

John 2:26 “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”

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