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By Diogenes (articles ) | Jun 04, 2008

Remember the Gospel of Judas media sensation timed to coincide with Easter 2006? At the time the headlines blared that a newly-deciphered ancient Coptic text portrayed Judas as a good guy, with the implication that the real story had at last come to light. Thomas Bartlett's article in the current Chronicle of Higher Education shows how the National Geographic Society assembled a "dream team" of academic popularizers to contrive a suitably newsworthy "decipherment" and shill for it in the media. It appears that the novelties the Dream Team dreamed don't stand up to more rigorous scholarly examination, and several of the dreamers themselves have subsequently backed away from their claims. Some of the names may sound familiar:

This year DeConick held a conference on the Gospel of Judas at Rice. Many of the marquee names in biblical scholarship were there, including Meyer and Pagels. It was a cordial event, no thrown books or postlecture fistfights. Still, it was hard to miss the tension. When Meyer spoke, DeConick could be seen shaking her head and whispering to a colleague. One scholar referred to Meyer's defense of the original translation as "desperate" -- causing him to laugh good-naturedly, if a bit defensively, too.

At one point, Pagels grabbed the microphone to say that she did not wish to be associated with Ehrman's positive take on Judas. She also, strangely, distanced herself from the book she had written with King. The word that the National Geographic team translated as "spirit" King translated as "god" -- a choice Pagels said she now regretted. Even so, Pagels, like Meyer, pushed for a middle ground between a good Judas and a bad Judas, saying that interpretations that "eliminate the positive and emphasize the negative are no more adequate to interpreting the text as a whole."

I've no doubt Jeffrey Archer agrees entirely. The last sentence is especially poignant:

Pagels did not make herself available for an interview with The Chronicle, despite multiple requests over several weeks.

Probably just a coincidence.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 04, 2008 5:08 PM ET USA

    Modern biblical scholarship: Judas was "good", Jesus was not divine, Mary was not a virgin, the Gospels are fiction, the Church was invented to opress women, there is no God, the Bible is all tall tales and mythology, Israel never existed, David was not King, Jesus never said anyting, unless the scholars tell you he did, there was no resurrection,... etc., etc., ...

  • Posted by: - Jun. 04, 2008 3:26 PM ET USA

    The quality of recent biblical "scholarship" may actually improve if they did a "Survivor" style show. That way people could tune in every week to see which biblical "scholar" got voted out of the conference and which ones didn't. Maybe they could call it the "Jesus Seminar."

  • Posted by: - Jun. 04, 2008 8:14 AM ET USA

    Bart Ehrmann ruins an otherwise stellar teaching lineup at The Teaching Company -- which features Daniel N Robinson and Fr Joseph Koterski, SJ -- by his teaching on the New Testament. Just had to share that.