Unbiased Translation of Gnostic Gospels

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Unbiased Translation of Gnostic Gospels

Post by leesmith » Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:33 pm

Was looking around for a translation of the Gnostic Gospels that are not necessarily religious texts but more to be read as literature.

Any suggestions?

Thanks!
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Post by noman » Sun Feb 17, 2008 9:06 pm

“These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.”

- The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, 1979

link

Did Jesus have an identical twin name Judas Thomas?

When I checked this book out of the county library there was all sorts of writing in the margins of the book by someone who didn’t like what the book had to say. Then when I returned the book my library card was suspended. I had to call Ms Librarian and explain that I don’t write in books, that it is not my handwriting, and that I’m not a Christian!

That’s the only time I ever remember offering anyone a profession of my faith. But I would of said that I was a Christian, as well, if I thought that’s what it would take to reactivate my library account.

I could tell Ms. Librarian was as amused by the scenario as I was.

- NoMan
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Post by wags » Tue Feb 19, 2008 6:46 pm

hello
when i ventured beyond the bible, i bought the Nag Hammadi Library book to see the gnostic scriptures, the other book i bought was the complete dead sea scrolls. it is a great source of information!!
may peace preceed your every step, wags
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Post by bodhibliss » Wed Feb 20, 2008 4:19 am

The volume I have is the same one Wags mentioned - The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson. This is the definitive work - follow the link to Amazon to learn more.

However, it can be confusing if you're entering the thicket of gnostic thought without a guide. Some gospels are fairly straightforward, but some have hierarchies of powers and angels and such that can seem overwhelming at first. I'd recommend starting with Elaine Pagels' The Gnosticx Gospels. She doesn't provide a detailed account of each recovered gospel, but sets the context, discussing the major differences between the fluid Gnostic Christian community, and that of the dominant orthodox Church.
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Post by jlFromLannion » Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:27 am

as for me, I find lots of inspiration in the Gospel of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, as translated and commented by Jean-Yves Leloup.
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Post by bodhibliss » Mon Apr 14, 2008 1:44 pm

Thanks, jlFromLannion, for this reference! I had not heard of Leloup, but I like what I see at his site.

I find Gnostic texts mean more to me over time. Most Gnostic texts seemed strange, exotic, and alien to me on first reading - but as I let go preconceived notions ingrained in childhood, I grew more comfortable with the texts.

Gnostic scriptures, like the Upanishads or Buddhist sutras, lend themselves more readily to a psychological reading. I can find just as much spiritual depth in traditional biblical texts, but it takes a conscious effort: even now it's easy to slip into the trap of thinking of them literally, which seems my automatic default mindset (the preachers of my youth would be pleased to know they did such a good job).

That literal rendering never seems a problem with Gnostic works. The Gospel of Judas, for example, is the most recent example: with its hierarchies of spiritual entities, it strikes me not as "history," but as a work of deep psychological significance, best understood through metaphor.

Leloup's commentary echoes that understanding. Thanks for sharing this reference, jl - and it's nice to "hear your voice" in the English-language forums; alas, I don't speak or read French, so I don't get to hear what you have to say in the French forum.

tat tvam asi,
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Hamlet and Gnostics

Post by Bliss 5150 » Thu Apr 17, 2008 11:20 pm

The Gospel of Judas, for example, is the most recent example: with its hierarchies of spiritual entities, it strikes me not as "history," but as a work of deep psychological significance, best understood through metaphor.
This is the part where my professional personae comes out: The Archaeologist. And as an Archaeologist (capital "A") I feel I must comment.

It comes down to a matter of interpretatoin and translation.

Whilst, I agree with everything said above, one must understand that a language is always in a state of flux. (Despite being written in English, a 21st century, literate, school boy may not understand Shakespeare). Although, we agree Shakespeare is fiction; it does have a historical basis to it. Furthermore, despite being written in English, some of its passages are subject to debate. Unfortunately, some symbols used are completely lost on a 21st century audience.

I don't want to spend all day on Shakespeare, but one last example:

In the begining of "Hamlet", most of us know that the play beings with the sighting of a ghost. What is missed today is the historical basis of (specifically the mindset and symbols) 16th/17th century. What also occured during 16th century was the Protestant Reformation (some 70 or more years than Hamlet).

What the 16th century crowd knew at that time was, only the devil could make a spirit come back from the dead if he had gone to hell. And only the devil could communicate with the living. No one that had gone to heaven could be a ghost. Immediately, the 16th century hoi polloi knew what many 21st century English professors consistantly miss: This ghost was a messenger of the devil. Hence it was going to cause mischief. :twisted:

However, time has changed the symbol of a ghost and the meaning is lost. Traditionally, the ghost is thought to actually "be" the father who is back from the grave becuase he has unsettled business. (Catholics and new-age people are usually more prone to this interpretation). However interpreting the ghost symbol this way is incorrect.

Therefore, despite familiar symbols and language one may see how easy it is to miss something (astoundingly important) that would be plain-as-day to a 16th century illiterate in England.

Furthermore, is the matter of translation. Coptic is an incredibly difficult language, the best way to think of it is as a a blend of African and Asian. However, the stories (like the Gnostics) are believed to have been written in ancient Greek at first, then later translated into Coptic. So one can imagine the distortion. (Did you ever play the game "telephone" when you were a kid?)

Lastly, the National Geographic's tranlation of the Gospel of Judas if wrong. National Geographic is frequently (and frighteningly so) wrong. In this case they admitted they botched the translation (although "admitting" is defined differently by the staff at National Geo).
Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”

Likewise, Judas is not set apart “for” the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated “from” it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.

Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.

-April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University

If one really were to do Gnostic texts justice it would best to approach them from an academic view, and not of slap-dash sectionalism (the mantra of National Geo).

However, if one wished to forego years of learning history, ancient Coptic, ancient greek, and the anthropolicial studies of the people who wrote and read the Gnostics, and pressed on to read the Gnostics in ignorace (which I am told is bliss); what can one take away from that experience?
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Post by Valkyrie801 » Thu Apr 17, 2008 11:41 pm

It seems to me, my personal view...
We cogitate the interpretation of ancient texts far to literally.
How can one possibly know what is imparted in an ancient text 2000 years from its inception?
We must somehow see in our selves what it is that connects us, what we can compare in our current existence to what was put down all those years ago.
I remember Shakespeare in high-school. Particularly Macbeth, and Hamlet. Some of the language was very hard to grasp, and allot of my classmates were dismayed by it and blew it off as BS.
I was captured by the stories. I was able to grasp it.
It was beyond me, yet resonated within the cathedral of my spirit.

These ancient texts can not be dissected into a correct interpretation.
For they will mean differently as they resonate within the bounds of our own imagination.
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Post by shiningpath » Fri Apr 18, 2008 1:16 am

noman wrote:
“These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.”

- The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, 1979

link

Did Jesus have an identical twin name Judas Thomas?


There are a couple of problems with this quote. One is translation, and the other is missing punctuation, the two of which distort the meaning, and therein lies the confusion.

The quote is from the Gospel according to Thomas. The word "twin" should be "follower".

According to the Gnostic texts, Judas was Jesus most ardent folower, not at all how he is treated by the Coptic's.

Thus, what is meant is really "These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which his follwer, Judas wrote down. - Thomas"

Hope this helps
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Post by Evinnra » Fri Apr 18, 2008 1:22 am

Valkyrie801 wrote:It seems to me, my personal view...
We cogitate the interpretation of ancient texts far to literally.
How can one possibly know what is imparted in an ancient text 2000 years from its inception?
-------------------------
These ancient texts can not be dissected into a correct interpretation.
For they will mean differently as they resonate within the bounds of our own imagination.
Indeed, how can one possibly have an accurate perception of someone else's mind? Yet we get to learn an awful lot about our selves and the world around us by attempting to understand each other as precisely as possible. Just because a task can not be completed to a standard of perfection it does not mean that attempting to do so has no merit ...

And just because I can not know an other person's whole state of mind it doesn't mean I have a legitimate excuse to arbitrarily missinterpret what I perceive. Right?

Cheers,
Evinnra
'A fish popped out of the water only to be recaptured again. It is as I, a slave to all yet free of everything.'
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:07 am

Excellent observation about the fluidity of language, Bliss5150. Point well taken.

However, DeConick's press release, timed to sell copies of her own translation, implies the issues surrounding the Gospel of Judas are settled.

There is certainly room for scholarly disagreement, but I find Professor DeConick's claims disingenuous at best.

DeConick's bold statement that the National Geographic had recanted it's translation is simply not true - far from it. In fact in their original translation, which I purchased the day it was released, the Society's team of scholars footnote and discuss the very same issues DeConick later "discovers" on her own, and their reasons for choosing the phrasing they do.

There is no mistake to acknowledge - all was discussed up front.

I am disturbed by this assertion. Either DeConick is boldly misstating facts, or she is making a wildly mistaken assumption; either way, if she is so mistaken in English, her native language, I'm hesitant to fully trust her assertions and assumptions about what the complex, archaic Coptic might mean.

Further, a number of scholars take issue with DeConick's claim that daimon is always taken to mean "demon" in Gnostic literature. She always takes it to mean so, and reflects that in her own translation, but that doesn't make it so. The actual Greek from that period for "demon," in the sense of "evil spirit" is cacodaimon. On the other hand, Socrates was guided by his daimon, not by his demon, as we understand the term today; Plato points out that everyone possesses a daimon, which is not the same as demon - and Platonic thought permeates and informs Gnostic writings.

Elaine Pagels (Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University) and Karen L. King (Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School) point out in the commentary on their translation (independent of and differing from that of National Geographic's), that later Christians interpreted daimon as a negative entity, and today we tend to project that meaning back in time - much as we have done with Hamlet's father's ghost -which is a disconnect from actual usage in the Gnostic works.

Nor does National Geographic ever recant their interpretation - in fact, in their original translation they acknowledge that daimon could be translated "demon" instead of "spirit," but offer comparisons of translations of the term, and point out that here Jesus is informing Judas his true identity is spiritual.

Furthermore, my reading of the context precludes an interpretation of this term as "evil spirit": in this same passage Jesus tells Judas, "No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy" - hardly what one would say to a demon.

Other of Professor DeConick's claims are inflated as well:

Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.

(From DeConick's book tour press release)
(Talk about public misconceptions! The popular press embraced DeConick's claims as fact, quoting from her press release without ever actually examing either translation, or seeking opinions from other scholars, or bothering to even attempt to verify her unverifiable claims that "National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake."

DeConick's two paragraphs of opinion are still cited as fact by clerics, journalists, and bloggers throughout cyberspace without any further investigation - if she says that's the way it should be translated, must be true, no matter how many authorities with greater experience in translating Coptic might disagree.

Interesting, though, that the controversy stirred up by her press release increased sales of her book, which otherwise would have been little noticed.)


DeConick claims the Coptic text must have been altered, because she can't find a negative she assumes must have been there (which she deduces not from the facsimiles of the original manuscript, but from the transcript of the Coptic that National Geographic provides).

It's true that this section of the text is fragmentary, but it's quite a leap to claim it's been intentionally altered, which requires the collusion of 13 respected experts - especially when the only "evidence" she offers is that the earlier translation does not fit her theory. Further, DeConick bases her translation on facsimile reproductions of the Coptic text that are only 56% the size of the faint and difficult to read original manuscript (the full-sized facsimile should be ready for release this year).

Who did translate the popular and scholarly versions for National Geographic?

The chief translator, Professor Rodolphe Kasser, is one of the world's leading Coptologists. He lectured in Coptic language and literature for 35 years at the University of Geneva, he will soon publish a new Coptic dictionary, and he has been involved in the translation of many important Coptic gnostic and Coptic Manichaean texts. He worked on conserving and translating the Codex containing the Gospel of Judas for five years before it was published in 2006. Assisting him in the translation were three eminent Coptic scholars, Francois Gaudard of the University of Chicago, Marvin Meyer of Chapman University, and Gregor Wurst of the University of Augsburg.

National Geographic Press Release (this official response to DeConick's comments is a denial of her assertions - very difficult to warp this into an acknowledment of mistakes).
Their translation was vetted by nine other scholars representing a variety of religious viewponts, "from orthodox to progressive," who reviewed the translation and the original, full size Coptic text.

To Ms. DeConick's specific point, the phrase the National Geographic team translates "ascend to the holy generation" is rendered "go up to the holy race" by Pagels and King, who discuss these issues and the fragmentary state of this portion of the Coptic text in their commentary on their translation, published before DeConick's book.

Similarly, the footnote accompanying this verse iin the earliest National Geographic translation reads
Or, "return up." The translation is tentative. The text seems to allude to some kind of transformation or ascent, as in Gospel of Judas 57 (the transfiguration of Judas) or II Corinthians 12:2 - 4 (the ecstatic ascent of a man - Paul - to the third heaven).
Now that's a scholarly approach - noting limitations and offering qualifiers, providing comparisons that form the basis for the selection.

Professor DeConick, on the other hand, offers no "tentative" translations in her publicity statement; her certainty is absolute.

Again, though, the negative DeConick believes must be missing from this phrase is not supported by the context. In the sentence immediately preceding the contested phrase, Jesus points out to Judas "You will become the thirteenth and you will be cursed by the other generations - and you will come to rule over them (emphasis mine)" - a translation Professor DeConick does not attack.

There is certainly room for disagreement between scholars. However, I'm not willing to write off three translations of the Gospel of Judas (the popular and scholarly renderings by the National Geographic Society Team, working from the full size Coptic text, and the Pagels/King translation, drawn from the same reduced-size facsimile as that used by DeConick), on Professor DeConick's say-so alone.

Indeed, there are several reasons I take DeConick's assertions with a grain of salt.

1) Her claims that the National Geographic pursued a single-minded interpretation and ignored other possible readings are not true.

The issues DeConick "discovers" in her reading of the text is already discussed in the footnotes and commentary by the National Geographic team in the earliest translation they released (which I obtained at the time - hence my confusion at DeConick's "revelations" late last year, which offered nothing new and revealed nothing hidden), and are detailed in the more thoroughly referenced Critical Translation, released after the popular translation.

2) Her assertion that daimon alway means demon in Gnostic works is only opinion - might be an informed opinion, but she implies it is a statement of fact, in contrast to the thirteen eminent scholars on the Geographic team, as well as Pagels and King, who do not make bold assertons, but acknowledge and discuss the possibility of other renderings.

Indeed, Professor DeConick rigidly limits daimon to the meaning ascribed to it by Christian clerics centuries later, which remains at odds with the contemporary usage of the term at the time these scriptures were written.

3) DeConick inserts a negative into the text that is absent from the existing fragments, and claims the translators intentionally altered the Coptic text .

This is a harsh and serious charge - yet she simply makes the accusation and offers no evidence to back it up, apart from the fact that the Society's translation (which they acknowledge from the beginnning is tentative) does not support her theory.

4) DeConick ignores all context surrounding the contested wording that portrays Judas in a positive light.

DeConick's position is that the Gospel of Judas - and much of Gnostic writing - is a parody.

I don't quite get that.

She argues this account is a parody because Judas comes across in a favorable light - and she also argues it is a serious condemnation of Judas as evil, a demon who will be damned.

Which is it?

(Too bad Gnostic sects kept their humor to themselves - might have saved a few martyrs.)

Robert Eisenman, who helped break the monopoly on translation and interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls held by a small group of scholars, and whom DeConick herself claims to be emulating, takes issue with both her interpretation and that of the National Geographic scholars, claiming both base their commentary solidly and almost exclusively within the Christian tradition, falling back on historical interpretation (was Judas perceived as villain or hero?).

Eisenman instead places the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic texts on the same continuum, asking why not read them as "retrospective and polemical literary endeavors of a kind familiar in the Hellenistic World at that time? Why not consider all part of a Mystery Religion-oriented, quasi-Neoplatonic literature that was still developing in the Second Century and beyond, as the Gospel of Judas itself shows?"

The Gospel of Judas was clearly a polemical philosophical text, but so too probably were all these others. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were masters of such man/god fiction and the creation of such characters as Osiris, Dionysus, Asclepius, Hercules, Orpheus, and the like as the works of Hesiod, Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Petronius, Seneca, Apuleius, et. al. attest. Why consider any superior to the other and not simply retrospective theological repartee expressed in a literary style?

Why think any historical or representative of anything that really happened in Palestine in the First Century? Why not consider all Greco-Hellenistic romantic fiction or novelizing with an ax to grind incorporating the Pax Romana of the earlier Great Roman Emperor Augustus, and, of course, the Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish legal attachments which were the outcome of the suppression of the First and Second Jewish Revolts in 66-73 and 132-36 CE? Why not consider all simply part of this man-God/personification literature - in this instance, incorporating the new Jewish concept of "Salvation"/ "Yeshu'a" - and nothing more?

Robert Eisenman, Emeritus Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology, and author of James the Brother of Jesus, The New Testament Code, and The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation, at a November, 2007 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature - a meeting DeConick attended.
Now that intrigues me ...

Namaste,
bodhibliss
Last edited by bodhibliss on Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:59 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Apr 18, 2008 1:25 pm

Bodhi, seems like Eisenman is asking us to read these works in their historical context, much as Bliss tells us to be careful as to how we read the Bard.

The bias against Judas is powerfully ingrained. I may not be as versed as yourself and others in this area, but reading this quote from DeConick:
He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.
This rings so contrary to the Jesus I was taught to know it sets warning bells clanging all over my mythic orientation. As quite a young Catholic lad at St. Robert Bellarmine Elementary School, where I thought far more than the Sisters of St. Joseph considered good for me, I wondered why, if he was so necessary to the outcome of Christ's mission, Judas was so reviled. He had a crucial part in the passion play, as it were, and at some higher level his actions were precisely correct.

I found resonance with this later when reading Illusions, by Richard Bach. If memory serves (I no longer have the book. I've bought it several times and always given it away.), Don Shimoda tell Richard that the betrayer is the Messiah's closest friend.

The idea of reading the Coptic Gospels... or all the Gospels... or the entire Bible for that matter, as literature and not historically based religion, forces a psychological shift in which the works are freed from predetermined parameters of interpretation.

But then, of course,
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:26 pm

Clemsy wrote:Bodhi, seems like Eisenman is asking us to read these works in their historical context, much as Bliss tells us to be careful as to how we read the Bard.
Nice catch, Clemsy - the historical context is as important to Eisenman as to Pagels and DeConick and the others. It's difficult to step outside that box, even when aware it's there.

What I pick up from Eisenman is that he's looking at the Gnostic writings as metaphorical - commensurate with the myths of the time - and believes that the authors are often conscious of the symbolic nature of their writings (at least, more so than the authors of the traditional gospels). However, the debate among most other scholars focuses on wie es eigentlich gewesen wäre ("how it actually happened" - the formulation of German historian Leopold von Ranke):


Was Judas really the chief disciple? Did he betray Jesus, or did Jesus secretly conspire with and direct Judas to turn Him over to the authorities? Were the disciples right to villainize Judas, or did Jesus reveal to him the highest secrets of the kingdom?

Even though Pagels and the other scholars are no slouches when it comes to symbolism and metaphor, and despite the elaborate cosmology of this heretical gospel with its detailed hierarchy of spiritual entities, debate eventually devolves down to the historicity of Judas's role in this Passion Play

... a turn toward the literal, whereas Eisenman seems to be arguing we should approach this document as we would any other literary myth of the period.

But then again, that might simply be my projections (what I'd like Eisenman to be saying).

Of course, the Betrayer is demonized to a certain extent in all myth - but where would Osiris be without Set, or Arthur absent Mordred? Would Osiris still be ruling the Two Lands, or Arthur still enthroned at Camelot? Not likely ... Seems the Betrayer draws the line that divides the mythic from the mundane - he propels the Hero out of this world and into the timeless, eternal realm of myth.

As you suggest, this pattern underlies even the most orthodox narratives of Jesus' life; Judas is essential to the plot, for without him, there is no Cross, no Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected - and where would Christianity be without the Cross? If we can see it, is it any wonder that some early Christians arrived at the same conclusion?

Off on a tangent, I have run across an interesting argument raised by some Gnostic scholars: given that we have recently discovered so many gnostic works preserved from this period, why are there so few orthodox manuscripts preserved from the same period? Despite an active search, no one is unearthing preserved copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ... Could it be that the "heretical" accounts were more widely read by Christians than what we today consider traditional scripture?

There is some merit to this argument, along with many holes - no one had to hide copies of Mark to avoid being martyred by the Imperial church - but I am intrigued.

The idea of reading the Coptic Gospels... or all the Gospels... or the entire Bible for that matter, as literature and not historically based religion, forces a psychological shift in which the works are freed from predetermined parameters of interpretation.
Couldn't agree more ...

namaste,
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Apr 18, 2008 9:00 pm

Nice catch, Clemsy - the historical context is as important to Eisenman as to Pagels and DeConick and the others. It's difficult to step outside that box, even when aware it's there.
Bodhi, seems to me that DeConick and others view the context through a lens of theological bias. Again, I don't think I know any where near enough to even be commenting here, but just from what Ive read in the last few posts I feel that Eisenman is the one telling everyone to put the works in the context of the period, not of the narrative.

I've seen the same applied to the accepted gospels themselves in the PBS series From Jesus to Christ, The story of the Storytellers. The story of Matthew comes to mind. If I remember correctly he wrote almost a century after Christ, and his main antagonists, at that time, were the Pharisees. If I remember the details correctly, the Pharisees weren't even in control of of the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

Yet we know how the story goes.

The section in the above link on the Gnostic Gospels is of interest. Pagels is the author. Seems to me she stands closer to how you describe Eisenman.
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Apr 18, 2008 10:54 pm

Clemsy,

Elaine Pagels is sharp - she remains my favorite Gnostic scholar. She is a serious academic (and a MacArthur scholar), but also writes for a popular audience, which opens her to some of the same criticisms leveled against Campbell. She is often attacked because her interpretations of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, and the other gnostic texts are considered a threat by traditionalists.

Her work, though, is thoroughly grounded in primary sources, and her credentials clearly established. She takes flak from orthodox scholars who dismiss the gnostic texts as blips on Christianity's radar, completely unimportant. Pagels does make a powerful case that first century Christianity wasn't monolithic, but a vibrant, polyphonic movement. This suggests that the strain that's dominant today is but one of many equally valid Christianities.

My original point was that her translation and commentary on Judas with Karen King is congruent with the translation by the National Geographic team (full disclosure: the Society did hire Pagels as a consultant on the project, so if there is a conspiracy to misrepresent the facts, she would be part of the cabal).

On the other hand, April DeConick is no fundamentalist either, tied to a literal reading of scripture. She is drawn to mysticism that antedates the Nicene Creed, particularly the rich tradition of Gnostic writings, and generally offers thoughtful, well-reasoned commentary. For example, her Voices of the Mystics parallels Elaine Pagels argument in Beyond Belief: The Gospel of Thomas that the gospels of John and of Thomas are contemporary first century works representing the two sides of a dialogue on mysticism in the Syrian church.

(In some ways this reminds me of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. Indeed, Campbell voiced a view of Eliade and himself as standing back to back, with Eliade's work aimed at the academic audience, and Campbell's at the popular audience.)

DeConick's ideas and observations offer much that can add to our understanding; however, her public pronouncements on the Gospel of Judas (which are all that critics of the National Geographic translation seem to draw on, those same few provocative paragraphs - makes me wonder if those who constantly quote her press have actually read her book) depart from the scholarly standards that generally informs her work.

Eisenman's point seems to be that the nature of the debate itself constrains participants, framing complex issues as a question of which sect is correct in its understanding of Jesus - no doubt because, in our culture, no matter how broad minded the scholars, prevailing Christian theology sets the parameters and limits the discussion. Indeed, DeConick's widely reported pronouncements about the errors of the National Geographic team have served to "re-demonize" Judas, revoking his rehabilitation - but then, the discovery of the Gospel of Judas was widely perceived as restoring his reputation, and if you accept that, then anything goes.

First Darth Vader, now Judas finds redemption - who is next? Saddam Hussein? Hitler? Satan?

(Actually, seems Pagels might accomplish that in her The Origin of Satan)

I do believe that Eisenman, Pagels, and DeConick could all agree that Judas is a far more complex character than traditionally thought - that's the discussion I'd like to hear ...

bodhi
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