20 Comments

The Authenticity of the Gospel of Judas

Katherine Weber of the Christian Post asked me some questions this week about the recent revelation that the Gospel of Judas had been authenticated by a number of means. See http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/08/17656331-scholars-reveal-how-they-scrambled-to-authenticate-gospel-of-judas for the news report, and http://www.christianpost.com/news/gospel-of-judas-free-of-forgeries-but-still-fake-heretical-says-new-testament-scholar-93781/ for Katherine’s article (published 11 April 2013).

Below are her questions and my responses. This will also be published in the Christian Post later this week.

1) What are your thoughts on the authenticity of the Gospel of Judas? Is ink testing and comparison, in your opinion, an adequate method of determining the validity of an ancient text?

Paleography—the discipline of analyzing, deciphering, and dating ancient manuscripts—is little known outside of specialized circles. Traditionally, scholars especially use handwriting analysis to date manuscripts. Handwriting changes over time, and ancient Greek papyri, of which there are hundreds of thousands still in existence, give us plenty of illustrations of these changes. Actual dated papyri give us concrete evidence for when a particular style of writing was used. Of course, the manuscripts do not use our modern dating system. Instead, they are indexed to the reigns of the Caesars, mention a known person in an official capacity whose dates are known, or speak of astronomical events. For example, a petition to a government official written in “the 25th year of Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Caesar” was penned in AD 216. By such fixed dates on some of the papyri, scholars can fix the patterns of handwriting of other papyri to a range of dates. On such undated papyri, the range can be as short as fifty years.

But Coptic manuscripts are notoriously difficult to date because the handwriting was more stable than Greek manuscripts. Pinpointing the date to within one hundred years is difficult, if not impossible, in most cases. Ink analysis is important because of the shifts in ancient technology and methods that can be located in time. Radiocarbon dating is not usually used on ancient manuscripts because, until recently, it necessarily destroyed part of the document being analyzed. Apparently, radiocarbon dating was used on the Gospel of Judas, however. (There is a relatively new method for dating manuscripts that is non-destructive. I did not see any discussion of this in the report. Developed by Dr. Marvin Rowe of Texas A & M University and his doctoral assistant, Professor Karen Steelman, the method uses a plasma chamber that does not damage the artifact. See Marvin W. Rowe and Karen L. Steelman, “Non-destructive 14C Dating: Plasma-Chemistry and Supercritical Fluid Extraction,” March 2010, ACS National Meeting 2010. So it would indeed have been possible to get a relatively firm date on this fragment without destroying any text.) One problem with all kinds of radiocarbon dating, however, is that this too cannot give a precise date. Depending on the age of the artifact, the range can vary widely.

The recent revelations by Joseph Barabe indicate a date of “approximately A.D. 280,” but this seems to be more precise than the technology would suggest. Most likely, the confluence of ink analysis and radiocarbon dating have both legitimately authenticated this codex and fixed the date to the late third to early fourth century.

2) What criticisms do you have of the Gospel of Judas’ authenticity?

It is important to distinguish two concepts regarding its authenticity. First, there is the issue of whether this document is a modern forgery or a bona fide ancient text. The evidence seems to be quite strong that this is the latter. Second, when we hear the word ‘authentic’ regarding an early sub-Christian writing it is natural to conclude that authentic = true as regards the historicity of the Christian faith. This is not the case in this instance. All that is being claimed is that the manuscript really was produced in the late third century.

3) If it became a fact that the Gospel of Judas were real, how would this change the study of the New Testament?

Most likely, the original Gospel of Judas was written in the second half of the second century. Irenaeus, writing in about AD 180, condemned a gospel by this name as a fake, and described its contents as revealing that Judas “alone, who knew the truth as no one else did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal” of Jesus. This fits well with the contents of the codex, in which Jesus praises Judas as the one who will set his spirit free from the bonds of his physical body. This is vintage Gnosticism, which made a hard distinction between the spiritual and material world, branding the one good and the other bad. But does this mean that there is any historical truth to the Gospel of Judas, that it actually tells us the real story about the relation of Jesus to Judas? Hardly. Not a single scholar thinks that this conversation has any historical credibility. Irenaeus was right: this is a fake gospel which promotes a heretical idea about Jesus of Nazareth. The discovery and authentication of the Judas codex does nothing to disturb that assessment.

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20 comments on “The Authenticity of the Gospel of Judas

  1. Authentic to what? Gnosticism is about it. Good old Irenaeus!

  2. [...] via The Authenticity of the Gospel of Judas | Daniel B. Wallace. [...]

  3. If it is a bona fide ancient text, it gives us an insightful look into Gnosticism. We can learn from the difficulties that early Christians faced from heretical groups.

  4. [...] The Authenticity of the Gospel of Judas – “Katherine Weber of the Christian Post asked me some questions this week about the recent revelation that the Gospel of Judas had been authenticated by a number of means. See http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/08/17656331-scholars-reveal-how-they-scrambled-to-authenticate-gospel-of-judas for the news report, and http://www.christianpost.com/news/gospel-of-judas-free-of-forgeries-but-still-fake-heretical-says-new-testament-scholar-93781/ for Katherine’s article (published 11 April 2013).” Daniel B. Wallace [...]

  5. [...] Most likely, the original Gospel of Judas was written in the second half of the second century. Irenaeus, writing in about AD 180, condemned a gospel by this name as a fake, and described its contents as revealing that Judas “alone, who knew the truth as no one else did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal” of Jesus. This fits well with the contents of the codex, in which Jesus praises Judas as the one who will set his spirit free from the bonds of his physical body. This is vintage Gnosticism, which made a hard distinction between the spiritual and material world, branding the one good and the other bad. But does this mean that there is any historical truth to the Gospel of Judas, that it actually tells us the real story about the relation of Jesus to Judas? Hardly. Not a single scholar thinks that this conversation has any historical credibility. Irenaeus was right: this is a fake gospel which promotes a heretical idea about Jesus of Nazareth. The discovery and authentication of the Judas codex does nothing to disturb that assessment. (Source) [...]

  6. Nice job Dan as always…the body of Christ really needs to be educated with regards to these gnostic documents…you’ve rendered a great service to the church by presenting to people in a manner that is easy to understand what the gospel of judas is all about.

  7. [...] one of the things that came up in that podcast, that is, the Gnostic gospels. Dr. Wallace briefly discusses the authenticity of the Gospel of Judas. We should remember that the Gnostic gospels like this one have been around for a long time. They [...]

  8. What is the issue with this gospel? The central idea that places this text as odds with the canonical gospels is that it paints Judas is a very different light – Judas is no longer the villain who betrays Jesus for his own personal gain, or because of his own spiritual confusion, but rather an obedient servant who, when turning Jesus in to the authorities, is simply following Jesus’ own direction as a necessary step for God’s plan to come to fulfillment. Judas is portrayed as the closest of the apostles to Jesus, a leader among the apostles, and thus perhaps the object of jealousy.

    • No, the central problem is that the Gospel of Judas displays a Gnostic dualism that is at odds with canonical scripture. Jesus needed to die for our sins; He did not need to die “to free his spirit from the bonds of his physical body.”

  9. [...] Daniel Wallace addresses the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas [...]

  10. The publishing rights of the recently found “lost” gospel of Judas Iscariot—-which was converted into a made-for-TV spectacular on Sunday, April 9 on the National Geographic Channel—-was secured by the National Geographic Society for a contribution to the manuscript’s owner—-the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art—-purported to be more than $1 million to date. (The money was contributed by Gateway Computer founder Ted Waitt.) The Society has now embarked on a concerted effort to mainstream the apocryphal 3rd, 4th or 5th century AD papyrus manuscript as the legitimate diary of Judas Iscariot. The Gospel of Judas suggests that Judas was instructed by Christ to betray Him to the Sanhedrin so that His death would fulfill the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.

  11. [...] Dan Wallace shares an interview he had with Katherine Weber of the Christian Post concerning The Authenticity of the Gospel of Judas. [...]

  12. [...] ósea, la prueba de carbón, mas bien, ahora se usa plasma para poder datar el manuscrito. Pero Daniel Wallace, erudito de Nuevo Testamento en Dallas Theological Seminary, nos dice que aun cuando se usa esta [...]

  13. A great post Dr. Wallace. On a related issue, perhaps the secure dating of GJudas will help Coptic paleography in setting a more precise timeline for handwriting. If more Coptic manuscripts could be dated in this non-destructive fashion it could lead to some advances in this field. Even Greek paleography, as Nogbri has noted in his article (http://www.academia.edu/1135088/Grenfell_and_Hunt_on_the_Dates_of_Early_Christian_Codices_Setting_the_Record_Straight) and that Dr. Wallace has already discussed in the past, has its margin for error, sometimes as much as a hundred years (see also Bagnall’s “Early Christian Books in Egypt”). If more papyri could be dated this way, especially the NT papyri, perhaps more secure dates could be made for other more tentatively dated fragmentary texts, such as P52.
    Thanks for the great post!
    Tim

  14. Authenticity of the gospel of Judas? What the Gnostic writings has to do with the true gospel of salvation? It is 100% Antichrist.Unfortunately many people are living in the great delusion of deception and lies by seeing and hearing.Recently they distribute to the Congress the gospel according to Thomas Jefferson.In the sixties some people in USA were married in the presence of the book the prophet by Gibran Khalil Gibran who was actually an Antichrist.Then the Holy blood Holy grail,Da vinci code,Jesus wife…and the list does not end.In fact lies sell very well but the truth always prevails.Outside the Orthodox and Catholic CHURCH there is the tower of Babel and this time there will be no dispersion but total destruction.

  15. Great post Dr. Wallace. As for the contents of the GoJ they are perhaps the most vitriolic of all gnostic writings. Unfortunately what has not been followed up on by most people is the deliberate deception involved in the translation of the text. Marvin Meyer and others mistranslated the GoJ on purpose so NG would have a story. April DeConick exposed this in an article for the New York Times and her book the Thirteenth Apostle. After she brought this to light scholars like Birger Pearson took another look and agreed. The GoJ actually has Judas being the most pitiful of all creatures, a demon who is damned for eternity who the gnostic Jesus taunts with the kingdom he will never get to be a part of.

  16. What I find reassuring about the ancient manuscript finds like this one of the Gospel of Judas is that they tend to exonerate the Christian writers who quote them of any purposeful misrepresentation and such.

  17. A recent article on those “who sleep with men”/Gospel of Judas here:

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