April D. DeConick, a biblical scholar at Rice, has written an op-ed in the NYT saying that it seems the National Geographic Society mistranlated, perhaps deliberately, key passages in the Gospel of Judas.
This is a pretty serious charge, and I wonder as to her motives in going to the Times. Poking about her webpages, I wonder if selling her book on the GOJ, coming out in December, is the motive. Coptic translation disputes, to my knowledge, usually don’t get worked out on the NYT op-ed pages. Most NYT readers, I’d guess, don’t even know what Coptic is. This entry in her blog seems telling, where she disagrees with James R. Robinson’s comments on biblical scholars writing popular books and talking to the media, even though they seem to agree that the NGS has “exploited” the GoJ. And an older entry is even more blunt on her reasons for writing the book – she’s a strong believer in making academic work available to the public (with a big “after tenure” caveat, of course).
I found it interesting that she is careful not to mention the names of any of the translators who worked on the project in the op-ed, who form a Who’s Who of early Christian studies – Erhman, Pagels, Meyer, etc. From reviews, her critique in the book seems to be focused on Kasser, Meyer, and Wurst. I will be very interested to see any response from these folks in print to her book or op-ed piece.
DeConick’s best point is that there is no public fascimile of the assembled text of the manuscript. That is a real concern. However, this undercuts her public translation challenge, because without access to everything that the NGS translators worked with, she can’t fully critique their translation. She can only snipe at visible targets. And yet, this has not stopped her from writing a book subtitled, “What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.”
My irony detector is flashing red and making rumbling noises – something about monopolies on truth, probably. Scholars, popular book publishing, and big media don’t mix well. To be fair, a minor publishing imp wrote that subtitle, I’m sure, as she refers to it consistently as “The Thirteenth Apostle” in her blog. And she’s certainly sold me a copy. More on this later, for sure.