Campus Conversations on Judas

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to President Leebron of Rice University about my research.  A video was produced from that conversation by our media department and was posted as part of a series of talks that President Leebron is doing with our faculty: Campus Conversations with the President.  Hope you like it.

The Codex Judas Papers to be released

Excitement everywhere.

The Codex Judas Papers

are going to be published in a couple of weeks.

The Codex Judas Papers

is the collection of papers written by scholars who attended the

Codex Judas Congress

last year on the Rice campus. I am the main editor, and these papers are top notch. Many people have asked me for purchasing information once the book was released. So here it is.

The people at Brill have kindly offered a 25% discount for the book to my blog readers. It is an expensive book ($256) - nearly 700 pages - so this will be a substantial discount ($64) which reduces the price to $192.

People always ask me why these books are so expensive. I am not in the publishing business, but what I am told is that the reason that these kinds of academic books are so expensive has to do with the print run. They have very small print runs - just enough to sell to the world's libraries.

When you place your order with


, use the discount code 47900, and you will receive 25% discount. ISBN: 978-90-04-18141-0. The toll-free number for ordering in the States is 800-337-9255. The discount is valid until December 31.

Lectures for BAR Fest in New Orleans

I was just sent a link to the line up for the BAR festival in New Orleans. It looks like a great three days! BAR has created individual webpages for each speaker (here is the LINK to the webpage they created for me - I'm going to present my understanding of the Gospel of Judas and an antique magical gem housed in Paris), so you can find out more information about each lecturer as well as the lecture itself. Hope to see some of you there!

The Curse of 13

NT Wrong came back for a chat and left this intriguing comment:
And then there's the apocryphal Gospel of Luke, with its angelic messengers, and mention of the missing 13th 'aeon' from Adam ("Cainan").

What do you make of 'The Curse of Cainan (Jub. 8.1-5): Genealogies in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 and a Mathematical Pattern' by Helen R. Jacobus in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18.3 (2009): 207-232?

Actually, I came back just for a little chat. (And what better to chat about than the number 13?)
This is strange stuff, isn't it? Am I correct to infer from Helen's article that there was a curse on the number 13 as far back as the composition of the stories about the patriarchs? That the ancient Israelites (priests?) believed that the 13th generation from Adam, and each one to follow, was cursed to die unless a righteous man intervened to ameliorate the curse? In some cases this was accomplished according to the narrative cycles, and in others it wasn't, and when it wasn't the cursed person of that generation died? Is this what she is suggesting?

If so, well then there may be another layer of folk-tradition piled on top of Judas Iscariot, the 13th demon in the Gospel of Judas, who asks Jesus to intervene on his behalf, but who is told by Jesus (at least in the extant leaves of the Gospel that is so far published - who knows what new fragments might tell us if ever they are released to us) that he won't intervene, that Judas is the apostate Ialdabaoth-Nebro who will sacrifice Jesus and become the ruler-archon of the 13th realm and eventually be destroyed.

Any new information about the Ohio fragments?

What is going on with the Ohio fragments? Does anyone have any new information about the status of the Ohio fragments of the Tchacos Codex that contains the Gospel of Judas?

The last I heard, the actual fragments were in the possession of a bank due to a bankruptcy ruling in Ohio. I am still hoping that they will not be sold off to individual collectors, but will be turned over to be conserved.

It is not clear to me what is in the Ohio fragments, but my impression is that there are fragments that exist which are not part of the 50 unreleased photos.

I do not know what the fragments contain in terms of content because I haven't seen them, although there are 50 photos of some of them (?) which exist but which have not been released for scholarly study yet because ownership of the fragments themselves haven't yet been resolved.

Keep in mind that according to the numbers on the pages of the Tchacos Codex, we only have conserved about half of the original book. We know that it contained a tract that involved Allogenes, but none of what was published appears to match what we have preserved in the Allogenes text from NHC. So was is it a second Allogenes text? That is what the NGS team has said, calling it a "book of Allogenes."

It is clear that we have a fragment from Corpus Hermeticum 13. It is only a fragment at this point. Was the entire CH 13 part of this old book? It is very possible, even likely, given that Hermetic books turn up in the NHCs too.

I am hoping that a new portion of a page from the Gospel of Judas will be part of the fragments in Ohio. It would be nice to know who ascends into the cloud, among other things.

Translation problem in opening line of the Gospel of Judas

Sorry that I haven't posted in a few days, but the days and all their activities have gotten away with me. I appreciate all your comments on my last post about theology and history. This is perpetually going to be a struggle for us because there is so much at stake in terms of faith.

Yesterday the revised proofs for The Thirteenth Apostle arrived. So I will now have the pleasure of reviewing those and being reminded of what I wrote. The book is greatly expanded. It has grown from 198 pages to 258 with the addition of my two new chapters, one on astrology and the Gospel of Judas, and the other on the Judas Gem and magic. I also have added a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on second-century types of Christianity.

I am still struggling with one translation choice and whether to change the proof on this. Perhaps you have some thoughts for me. The opening line of the Gospel of Judas reads either:

"The secret revelatory (apophêmi) discourse in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."


"The secret speech of indictment (apophainô) in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."

The difficulty is that the word "apophasis" which occurs in the Coptic, can mean either "to refuse" or "deny" through an open revealed speech (such as apophatic theology in which God is revealed by stating what he is NOT) if it comes from apophêmi, OR if it comes from apophainô it can mean a sentence of judgment in court, as in an indictment.

I initially choose to translate it "secret revelatory discourse" in order to keep it broad and to allow for the ambiguity that is there. But this doesn't convey the fact that "apocalypse" is not the chosen word. Rather the word that is chosen has a negative implication - that Jesus is going to openly deny Judas something and/or he is going to openly indict him - both of which Jesus does in the following narrative. He denies Judas access to the holy generation, and he indicts him, telling him that he will become the thirteenth demon, the ruler of the world, who is identified by the Gnostics with Ialdabaoth.

Any recommendations on how to get this idea across in a plain English translation? I have been racking my brain for a long time with no good answer yet.

UPDATE: André Gagné has sent me a message to post that he still translates the line: "The secret word of the denial which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot." For more discussion on this and his fine article, go HERE to an earlier post on the subject.

The question for me is how to best translate this into English for a general readership. What is a "secret word of denial"? What the author is trying to say is that Jesus is going to deny Judas' requests in this secret conversation that took place between them. I just can't seem to settle on how to translate this concept in one word.

First day of classes

Today is the first day of classes for me this semester. I am teaching two courses. The first is an undergraduate lecture course called The Gnostics and their Gospels. This is actually my title for the general audience book I've been wanting to write for years - The Gnostics and their Gospels: An Introduction to Ancient Gnostic Spirituality. So one of my goals this semester is to record in writing as much of my lecture material as I am able, so that by the end of the semester I will have a fairly comprehensive draft of my book complete. It won't be ready to go to press, but much of the hard and detailed thinking and drafting will be done.

In conjunction with this course, I am running the Gnostic Gospels Seminar for my graduate students. We will be retranscribing and retranslating the Gospel of Judas, and we will be immersing ourselves in as much of the primary gnostic literature as we can possibly read in a semester. I have found that when I totally immerse myself in a corpus of literature - whatever the subject is - all kinds of wonderful insights happen. So I am looking forward to this opportunity to reread all the literature over the next fifteen weeks with my terrific students.

My second goal this semester is to complete the editing process of the Codex Judas Congress papers. I hope to do this by the end of February. The title will be: The Judas Codex: Proceedings of the International Congress on Codex Tchacos held at Rice University, Houston, Texas, March 13-16, 2008.

I am also writing my own academic volume on the Gospel of Judas. I have almost all the chapters complete, but I need to do some additional research and some rewriting. I believe that this will have to wait until summer, but it won't be too long before I have a draft ready to send to an academic press on Judas the Apostate. I don't have a subtitle yet.

French Edition of The Thirteenth Apostle

My thanks to Michel Valensi of "Éditions de l'éclat" who has published a French translation of The Thirteenth Apostle (Le treizième apôtre). The translation was made by Gilles Firmin to whom I wish also to extend my thanks. This edition was able to take into account a series of revisions, a second preface, and one new chapter, "Judas the Star," although I had not knowledge of the Judas gem at the time I submitted this material to be translated. So the gem chapter will become available in the forthcoming March revised English edition, along with all the other revisions that made it into the French edition.

More on the Judas Gem

I wish I had time to address all of your questions, but I have to get the revisions of the Thirteenth Apostle to my publisher by Friday. So briefly:

1. The gem is green jasper, like the Brummer gem that Josè mentioned. The lion-headed god is the same image as found on the Brummer gem, and on many many gems from the ancient world with names of the astral god including IAO, Abrasax, Chnoubis, Michael, etc. On the Judas gem, he holds a medusa-head on display. So the gem is likely a protective or aggressive magic gem. There are two cartouches with identical inscriptions on the front. They appear to me to be palindromes. Within them are hidden anagrams for the names Michael and Elieli, both angels associated with Ialdabaoth in Gnostic traditions. There are also a series of magical characters which represent various stellar and planetary signs. On the back, centered and alone appears the inscription "IOUDAS". The iconography of the god on the front suggests a 1st or 2nd c. date from a Greco-Egyptian workshop. The inscriptions on front and back are made by the same hand, so Judas was not added at a later date by someone else. I imagine that it was either mounted in a ring or in a pendant, although the mount does not survive as far as I know.

2. The Mithras leoncephaline god is another example of this same astral lord that I have been talking about. The best books on the subject are Howard Jackson, The Lion Becomes Man, and David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries. This astral lord goes by many names among the ancient people. Some Gnostics called him Ialdabaoth, Saklas, Samael, Nebruel, Michael, Elieli, and Judas. Other ancient people called him IAO, Chnoubis, Abrasax. We don't know the name of the Mithraic version, although he seems to have been a very fierce and terrifying god. This astral god was feared by the ancient people because he controlled the universe. He ruled it and our fates. He usually has a leonine head or a cock-head, solar rays, and also serpentine form. He is the pole serpent, the one who controls (or is) the axis of the universe. My student Franklin Trammell is making a complete study of the pole serpent now for his dissertation, so perhaps I can encourage him to write a short guest post on the subject.

3. I am so discouraged that the hero Judas has made it into the Sunday school catechisms already. This was one of my main fears, and why I so quickly published my book. The NGS is so influencial. People take the Society's claims as true. This business if very sad to me because the public has been misled, and I see no honest attempt to correct this misperception. The more I study this document, the more evidence amasses that Judas remains a demon. The Gnostics took the canonical gospels at face value - that Satan entered him (John 14:27). Who was Satan in the Christian tradition? He was the "ruler of the world" according to the Gospel of John. It is not such a big leap for the Gnostics to have called this ruler Samael (Satan's alternative name in Judaism) and Ialdabaoth (the magical name for the astral ruler), and to have said that this is the figure that Judas became. This is just ancient logic. Nothing more.

SBL Memories 1: The Judas Section

The start of the holidays have been a whirlwind following a whirlwind SBL conference. If the AAR-SBL split was felt in Chicago, it was not in Boston, although I missed running into my AAR friends. The SBL conference was huge - 5,100 attendees. There were more sections and events than ever before, and the book exhibit was as huge as ever. The only downside was the cold weather. The Boston wind was bitter, and I was very grateful for the hotels connected to the conference center and mall.

We kicked off the conference well at 9 am on Saturday morning, at least those of us who attended the Judas section hosted by Claremont. We were in a good-sized room and I estimate that about 200 people found their way there - it was hard to find the room. Bart Erhman started us off with an interesting thesis about who the historical Judas was. I was intrigued by his speculation that Jesus was crucified by the Romans for political sedition as the King of the Jews, although we have no public record of Jesus teaching any such thing. Jesus did teach publically about a Kingdom, and that the 12 disciples would be enthroned as rulers over the 12 tribes in Jesus' Kingdom. So Ehrman wonders if Jesus privately taught that he himself was the King, and that Judas reported him once the going started to get tough. Marvin Meyer took the podium after Ehrman and spoke about three portraits of Judas: the hero Judas as the Gospel of Judas was originally interpreted, the demon Judas that I have interpreted from the Gospel of Judas, and the more sensible (according to Meyer! not me) middle-of-the-road tragic Judas that Meyer now interprets from the Gospel of Judas. Dennis MacDonald lectured about his opinion that Judas is a complete fiction, created out of Homeric myths by the author of Mark. He thinks that Matthew is completely dependent on Mark for his Judas story, and Luke is dependent on Mark, and Matthew. He dates Luke to 135 CE, but also thinks that Quelle existed, and so posits that Luke also has a version of Quelle. In my opinion, this dating is too late for Luke because Luke is already being used by Marcion between 110 and 125 CE.

What did I do? Well I revealed the mysteries - where my research has gone since I published The Thirteenth Apostle. There were three things I discussed -all of which will be included in the revised edition of The Thirteenth Apostle coming out in March (two new full chapters - "Judas the Star", and "The Magical Judas") plus corrections of errors and a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on the second century landscape of early Christianity.

First, I discovered that the portraits of the lion-headed serpent Ialdabaoth were largely influenced by a popular decan god in Greco-Egyptian magic and astrology. His name was Chnoubis and in the Hellenistic lists of 36 decans he appears as the 13th! I need to say no more.

Second, I discussed the scene where Jesus tells the strongest of the disciples to lead forward the Perfect Man, and Judas accepts. I asked the question, who is the Perfect Man in Sethianism? The answer: Autogenes or his Son, the Son of Man; who is the Christ in Sethian Christianity. If this is the case, then Judas is accepting the role of leading forward Jesus as the Son of Man. This is essentially a Gnostic exegesis of Mark's last supper scene when Jesus says that the Son of Man will go forward as it is written of him. Then he predicts that one of the twelve will betray him. There is much more to the exegesis, but it is all I have time to write tonight.

Third, I showed an antique gem (ca. first or second c. CE) that my student Grant Adamson had come across in a catalogue he was working through for his own research on Gnostic magic. The gem shows the lion-headed astral god on one side with the hidden angel names in coded anagrams: Michael and Elieli. This lion-headed astral god goes by various names on these gems: IAO, Abrasax, Michael, Chnoubis, and Ialdabaoth. The idea behind the gem is that the owner possesses the god's names and can command the god to do whatever he desires for the god to do for him. The most secret and important name of the god often shows up on the back of the gem, in the center of the gem's face. At the end of my presentation - I made the audience wait until the last minute of my 30-minute talk to discover the name that has been hidden for 2000 years - to flip over the gem. And on the back centered in the gem's face is the name JUDAS. So now we have material evidence that there were people in the ancient world who identified Judas with Ialdabaoth the demon astral ruler, just as the Gospel of Judas says. This appears to have been a well-kept Gnostic secret that was believed to be very powerful. Knowing the demon's real name meant that the amulet-wearer could control the highest of the archons in this life and the afterlife!

Because I don't have copyright, I cannot post a photo of the gem. But I am working on buying copyright to have it in the revised edition of the paperback edition of my book. It is something to see! When Grant showed it to me, I almost fell out of my chair. The audience audibly gasped when they saw it.

So that's my story. Will post more on SBL 2008 when I get a chance. These next few weeks are going to be very busy. But I will do my best.

Some new endorsements for The Thirteenth Apostle

A couple of new endorsements for my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, just came to my attention. They are nice, so I thought it would be fun to share them with you.
"DeConick is not nearly so well known to the reading public as other Gospel of Judas scholars, such as Ehrman, King, and Pagels...but DeConick's volume, offering as it does a substantial revision of the current consensus, deserves as much attention...her book contains a vast amount of useful information, placing the Gospel in its historical and theological context in a manner that is very accessible to the general public. Additionally, many readers will appreciate her autobiographical sections, her analysis of contemporary Jesus films, and her annotated bibliography. As such, her book deserves a place in libraries along with other essential Judas publications. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/ researchers; general readers." -- L. J. Greenspoon, CHOICE, May 2008

"This fascinating new book from April DeConick...takes issue with the recent translation and offers a wholly different interpretation, one that focuses on the various distinct sects of second and third century Christians but has much to say about our modern view of this infamous character." -- The Good Book Guide

SBL sessions: Judas Iscariot

I am going to post a few sessions that I am going to be participating in while at Boston in a few weeks. This one is first thing Saturday morning (9 am).

I had my presentation written several months ago, but then a couple of weeks ago, I realized something major about the Gospel of Judas which makes a huge difference for its interpretation. Then a week ago, I ran into something else. So now I am scrambling to put together a new presentation, complete with PowerPoint (my first time for a SBL paper! so I'm holding my breath hoping that the technology is going to come through for me). Anyway, I'm not saying anything else, not even giving hints, until after the presentation so that I won't spoil it.


Future of the Past: Biblical and Cognate Studies for the Twenty-First Century
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Commonwealth - SH

Theme: What Biblical Scholars Should Know about Judas Iscariot

Linden Youngquist, Iowa Wesleyan College, Presiding
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Historical Figure of Judas (30 min)
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University
Three Figures of Judas (after Borges) (30 min)
April D. DeConick, Rice University
What Can the Gospel of Judas Tell Us about Judas and Why Is This Important? (30 min)
Dennis R. MacDonald, Claremont School of Theology
Mark's Creation of Judas “Into-the-City” and Pseudo-Histories of Pseudo-Judas (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Parody and the Gospel of Judas

In the last week, I have had two people e-mail me and ask me to further explain my understanding of the Gospel of Judas as a parody. Given that there are two people interested, I thought maybe others might be interested to.

When I employ this term I am trying to describe a situation in which the Gnostic authors believed that they understood a hidden truth about something, and that this truth nullified the Apostolic position as ridiculous, and they found this humorous - what fools the Apostolic Christians were to believe such nonsense (or so they were trying to say)! I don't think this strategy was rhetorical. I think they were serious.

There are examples of the use of this type of strategy in other Gnostic texts. For example, Apocalypse of Peter, Second Treatise of Great Seth (which actually calls the apostolic position a "joke"), the Acts of John - all these texts laugh at the apostolic position because it is understood to be a foolish ill-informed position. Again, this does not appear to me to be rhetorical, but serious criticism that results in humor at their expense. Usually the topic centered around rewriting the passion story.

Parody is a word that literally means "beside/against a song." Hegemon of Thasos was one of the first parody writers. Aristotle refers to him. Apparently he changed some words in well-known traditional songs in order to make the songs and what they stood for appear ridiculous. Parody means "counter-song" - and that is exactly what these Gnostics were doing. They were presenting a counter-story to the apostolic one, to show it up as ridiculous. In so doing, they mocked the apostolic position. There are plenty of examples of parody in the Greco-Roman world, so it is a form that would have been familiar to the Gnostics.

Scopello's Paris conference volume on Judas is published

I just heard today that Madeleine Scopello's book which contains the proceedings from the 2006 International conference on the Gospel of Judas held in Paris has been published. It is a Brill volume, so pricey and probably a library loan book for most of us, but it is very important publication because it contains a wide range of scholarship on the Gospel of Judas - first ever glimpses at what scholars world-wide are thinking about the Gospel of Judas. The paper I wrote that inspired The Thirteenth Apostle is in this volume, as well as significant pieces by John Turner, Louis Painchaud, and many many others. I don't have the final contents list on hand, but it was a great conference with great contributions.

The book is called The Gospel of Judas in Context: Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Gospel of Judas (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies; Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Reaction to Hector Avalos by Helmut Koester

David H. brought to my attention a piece written by Helmut Koester in the most recent issue of BAR: "BAR most loved and most reviled" pp. 10 and 12 September/October vol 34/5 2008. It is unfortunate that the BAR website does not link up to this article since it is written by a scholar whose voice has shaped so much of our understanding of early Christianity and its origins.

Koester is very hard on Avalos, arguing that he reveals "a deep ignorance" of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general. I find it telling that Koester, who has always argued for scholarship beyond the canon and the legitimacy of including non-canonical materials in our histories, finds Avalos' position too far afield. Koester writes, "The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible...The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions."

Koester goes on to defend BAR (which Avalos had criticized in the May/June "First person" column) and says that "most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial...but that is the normal business of scholarship." Koester cites and discusses many cases, even Hershel Shanks's initial criticism of the National Geographic's publication of the Gospel of Judas. Koester writes: "On the contrary, he (Avalos) should have congratulated BAR for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal." He goes on to severely criticize the National Geographic Society and the translators, saying that "numerous major mistakes" have now been discovered in the translation [with reference to my work (The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says) and Birger Pearson's BAR article ("Judas Iscariot Among the Gnostics" May/June 2008)].