Stephan Witetschek's review of The Thirteenth Apostle

HERE is a link to the RBL review by Stephen Witetschek of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.

I want to say a few words in response because he raises a couple of questions. First he raises the question of this book's audience. This book was written for a broad general audience. Its title was created for that audience by my publisher. I wanted to call it something entirely different, but was vetoed, and with good reason. A book's title has to capture the thesis while also being of interest to the audience you hope will read want to read it.

Second, my academic work, upon which this book is based, contains many more details (as it should), details that will only be of interest to other scholars. These academic articles are just now beginning to see the light of day in terms of publishing. Why the lag time? Because academic presses take FOREVER to move articles through the process of publication. What is now being published on the Gospel of Judas in academic venues is already outdated, having been written in mid-2006! This is one of the reasons why I published The Thirteenth Apostle. I felt that I needed to get the information out in a timely manner to the public because I felt we were wrongly informed about what this gospel really says.

Third, the translation that I was criticizing was the original English translation, not the French.

Fourth, the book was in press long before The Critical Edition by the National Geographic team was released, an edition that cleaned up some of the problems in the original release. The NGS has since also released a new popular edition - the second edition of The Gospel of Judas - in which the clean-up work continues. The areas that were modified overlap with the areas of my criticisms, as well as the criticisms of other scholars. There wouldn't be any reason for concern IF these problems were not crucial spots in the texts for interpretation. But they are. So we need to address them, which is what I did and continue to do.

Fifth, I was surprised to read in the review Witetschek's statement that "a question remains that DeConick's book does not answer: If Judas is such a demonic villain in this text, why is he at the same time the hero of the text?" I wonder why my academic reviewer missed the main point of the book which my public reviewers articulate clearly? The point of my book: Judas isn't a hero in this text. He is a villian who learns about his fate from Jesus in a gnostic parody of the apostolic church. Here are some of the public reviewers' remarks taken right off the Amazon website:
Neil Godfrey
"For most of us who have read the National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas, be prepared for a radical re-think of what we have read there. The National Geographic translation depicts Judas as the only true saint; DeConick's, as the arch demon himself -- or at least destined to join with him in the end. Which immediately raises the question: Why would a gospel make the central character a demon? DeConick shows how the apparent structure and thematic development of the gospel aligns it with an agenda opposing that Christianity that traced its genealogy back to the Twelve Apostles...the Gospel of Judas was a parody and attack on apostolic Christianity and its doctrine of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus."

"Judas, the good guy? No, indeed! He is even worse than previously thought. A closer translation and a thorough knowledge of gnostic mythology, derived partially from Plato, shows him to be a secret agent of the devil. The Gospel of Judas is a parody, written by someone from the Sethian subgroup of Gnostic Christians - to make mainstream Christians of the second century look asinine for relying on a demon ruler (Judas) and his minions (the twelve) for their teachings and practices. A more specific goal of the Gospel of Judas, according to DeConick, is to blast the doctrine of atonement and the effectiveness of the eucharist, on account of Judas's involvement."

Steve Esser
"According to DeConick, while Judas does have greater understanding than the other apostles (who are completely misguided), he is nonetheless a doomed and (literally) demonic figure. So while the text is still very much in opposition to apostolic Christianity (indeed she views it as a parody of sorts), the figure of Judas is still to be seen as a bad guy, not the good guy put forth by the National Geographic team."

A nice blog review of The Thirteenth Apostle

Does anyone know who authors the blog "Pokey Finger of God"? S/he has put up a very sensitive review of The Thirteenth Apostle, and I want to extend my thanks. The author of this review really got at what I was trying to accomplish, which was making the Gospel of Judas sensible as part of the bigger picture of early Christianity. Here's the last paragraph of the review and the LINK <<< to the rest.
I didn’t really get anything out of the original translation of GosJud. I had really low expectations for this book, expecting another dry recitation of ancient prose. Boy, was I surprised! Not only is this an interesting book, it’s got a lot of really clear analysis of some fairly complex material. Just for its coverage of the early Church, this book is a keeper.

The problem with the Church Fathers testimonies about the Gospel of Judas

Eric Mader sent along his review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, which he posted on "Necessary Prose". Here is the link to his review. One paragraph of it struck me as particularly intuitive. Mader writes:
"I suspect, however, that if the National Geographic team's interpretation is flawed as DeConick claims, it is not a matter of the scholars unconsciously seeking to assuage a collective guilt. More likely it is simply a result of them working from their expectations of what the text was supposed to contain. All the scholars on the team, for instance, would have known of the Church Fathers' descriptions of the gospel, and these descriptions would have inclined them to preconceive a positive portrait of Judas, which in turn would have influenced their translation choices--one line at a time. Building up their own portrait step by step, and leaning meanwhile on their expectations of what the gospel was supposed to contain, once their translation was finished none of them would have gone back and questioned too carefully the individual snippets. But, as DeConick shows, those snippets added up."

In my own analysis of the Gospel of Judas, I purposely kept away from the Church Fathers. And I continue to find them not only unhelpful in terms of the Gospel of Judas, but downright harmful in terms of interpretation. Why? Because:
1. We don't know if any of them actually had a copy of the Gospel of Judas, or merely were writing from rumors that were circulating about the Gospel of Judas.

2. We don't know if any of them had the copy of Judas that we now possess.

3. Pseudo-Tertullian's and Epiphanius' descriptions of the Gospel of Judas are UNLIKE the Gospel of Judas we possess. This makes me conclude that neither of these theologians possessed or read the Gospel of Judas we have now.

4. Irenaeus' description has some affinities, but ONLY in that Judas THE TRAITOR is said to know more than the others, and that his BETRAYAL resulted in cosmic chaos.

5. If Irenaeus had a copy and read a copy of the Gospel of Judas we have, I am not certain that he understood it. If he did, was he being generous and characterizing it accurately? Or not?
My approach to the Gospel of Judas is simple. Forget about the Church Fathers and what they say. Read the Gospel of Judas and figure out what IT says. Then go back and critique what the Church Fathers say.

When this is done, we find out that the Church Fathers weren't reading the Gospel of Judas we possess, except maybe Irenaeus. But rather than associating the authorship of this text with Sethian traditions as he should have done, he wrongly connects the writing of this text with an unnamed group of Gnostics who he says think that the villains of the scripture are the good guys whom Sophia saves. But our text mentions none of these villains - neither Cain nor Esau nor Korah nor the Sodomites - nor does it mention Sophia saving anyone. This means that either Irenaeus was doing this to be polemical, or he wasn't reading our Gospel of Judas.

Phil Harland's Review of Thirteenth Apostle

I want to point my readers to Phil Harland's review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. Phil is a fellow blogger and has some interesting things to say in regard to the book. I want to respond to his criticism that I use the term "apostolic" to refer to the "mainstream" church, and that this is anachronistic. We have not yet created language to discuss what actually was going on on the ground in the second century.

I hate "proto-orthodox" because of its connotation that these churches were "orthodox" when in fact they weren't. In fact, many of the main leaders of this church were later designated as heretics (i.e. Tertullian, Origen). I also hate "mainstream" because it suggests that there was a mainstream and everyone else was divergent. I find "apostolic" to be the least onerous because it suggests that these churches rallied around the twelve apostles and believed that their doctrines came from them directly, and it doesn't have any negative connotations in regard to other forms of Christianity.

If anyone has a better term to suggest, I'm more than open to hear about it, because I haven't the foggiest clue how to get out of this terminological dilemma! Thanks Phil for bringing this up.

More reviews of The Thirteenth Apostle

I want to extend a big thanks to Jim Davila for his recent post circulating the Baptist Press news story about my book, The Thirteenth Apostle.

Neil Godfrey of Vridar has put up a long and detailed review of his reading of the book. I always enjoy reading Neil's blog because I think that he is careful, thorough, intellectually fair, and honest. So it was fun this morning to look at his blog and see my book being subjected to his scrutiny! Take a look if you haven't had a chance yet.

Neil raises a good point about Wikipedia's entry on the Gospel of Judas.

Bock's second review

Here is a link to a second review by Darrell Bock. I want to respond to his concern over what the Coptic says in regard to "daimon." The photos are clear here. The Coptic says "daimon" and on this NG team and I agree. But our translation of this word into English is very different. NG team uses "spirit" and I use "demon" following traditional convention of translation of this word in Christian and Gnostic sources. In The Critical Edition, Kasser, Wurst and Meyer have pulled "spirit" and simply left "daimon" for all to translate at will.

As for my remarks in The Thirteenth Apostle, that Mark was written as pro-Pauline propaganda against the disciples in Jerusalem, Bock does not like or agree with this since he is of the opinion that early Christianity was much more harmonious than I see in our sources. Whatever one's opinion on the historical origin of Mark, the Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas are interpreting it in just this sense: as polemic against the Twelve. Thus their characterization of the Twelve as ignorant and faithless, while Judas the confessor as a demon. All this is Markan interpretation on the part of the Gnostics.

James Tabor reviews The Thirteenth Apostle

Professor Tabor has just posted a review of my book on his blog, The Jesus Dynasty. I am delighted that he has endorsed the book and offered such a kind review. I tried very hard to make the book accessible in terms of explaining Gnostic traditions as well as the Gospel of Judas in particular. So I am especially happy that he found so valuable the chapter in which I explain what Gnosticism is, and the appendices in which I cover all known Sethian literature. Here is the link.