DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle

I mentioned this book earlier, when DeConick wrote an op-ed in the NYT, but now, having had read the book, I’d like to comment further. It’s a great little book, written in a succinct layperson’s style, and it does several things very well.

One, she lays out a compelling background for 2nd-century strands of Christianity, so much so I’m tempted to use that chapter in a future class.

Two, she absolutely nails the connections between Judas and Mark in the sense of how the relative knowledge of Jesus’s disciples and any demons are portrayed. This is an important enough distinction that I’m thinking of entitled one of my diss chapters something like “Demons Know Best.”

Three, the issues that she has with the NGS translation are clearly illustrated and she seems on solid footing for almost all of them, given my limited knowledge of Coptic. Her explanations, are, however, limited to a certain degree by the remaining lacunae. The missing page 58 concerns me in particular, along with the gaps in 55-57. Something tells me that the missing text once held something that would complicate her interpretation of the text as a Sethian Gnostic parody of apostolic Christianity (a term I like a lot better than proto-orthodox – I might use it from now on). But we’ll have to wait for another copy to show up, or for those sections to be restored somehow.

Point Two from above is where I got the most excited, as her reading of Mark as a parody, a polemic against the Jerusalem church and the authority of the apostles connected to it, is close to mine and Goulder’s. She dates Mark to 60-70, though, which seems too wide a range. From some other stuff I’ve been reading in JBL from the last 50-60 years, Mark really should be dated to the siege or later, which would make it 69-70 at earliest.

If Mark is a parody, Matthew is a clear response to that parody- but a response, maybe Ebionite, from outside the Jerusalem church, which would have been scattered physically and spiritually. I wonder if the Sethian author(s) of Judas saw themselves in a tradition of rhetorical responses in the form of gospels, also? If so, they would have found little to like in Matthew, with its Stone Cold Peter and random angels, and the neatly wrapped box offered by Luke. Did the Sethians use only Mark? Hmm.

Anyway, DeConick ends her book by implying fairly heavily that the translation of the NGS was ideological – that out of good but misguided intentions, they created a likeable Judas, rather than a Sethian demon that controls the apolostic church circa 150 – much like the job that most film versions do on Judas. She’s raised enough doubt that the NGS folks will have to respond at length to defend.

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