Response (5) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

5. Transcription problems are another thing entirely. There are two transcription errors that NGS has corrected from the time it published the first popular book to the Critical Edition. These have been corrected, so why are they still important to point out? Because the public doesn’t know about them and because the corrected transcription makes for completely opposite readings in vital interpretative areas. The original wrong readings have affected the way that this text was initially interpreted and presented to the public.

Bottom p. 46 of manuscript. How did I see that the original NGS publication had emended this text and translated it: “they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]”? I compared this reading to their Coptic transcription which had been posted on-line. An [n] appeared in brackets in front of nekktê. This reads nekktê as a noun rather than an emphatic negative future verb. Through this emendation (when the n was added), the negative is no longer present in the sentence. When we met in the Sorbonne, several of us raised this point quite loudly, and then we were given another provisional transcription that would form the basis for the Critical Edition. In that edition, the emendation was gone and ktê was replaced with bôk. Now it reads: “they […] to you, and you shall not ascend to the holy generation.” The negative emphatic future is back, but with a different verb.

By the way, there is no footnote in the popular edition to indicate that the team had altered the text and that their translation was based on that alteration. There isn’t even a bracket around [your ascent]. The footnote arrived in the Critical Edition when two outside scholars, Nagel and Funk, pushed the issue.

My point is that emendations are very dangerous and often wrong because they are conscious decisions. No matter how innocent they may seem, they should be avoided except where there is no better explanation. This is especially true when we are dealing with emendations that change the sentence from negative to positive or positive to negative.

I have not made any damning, slanderous, or defamatory charges against Meyer or anyone else on the NGS team. What I have said is that the text was altered by the team when this emendation was made. This is a fact that can easily be observed. I also go on in my Op. Ed. piece to say that I do not know why this mistake (and the others) were made, but it is a question that I would like answered. I think that the emendation of this text was a mistake, that consequently the altered reading of this text has led the public and other scholars to believe that Judas ascends to the holy generation when he does not.

I have not made any statement of intentionality. I have left this as an open question in the Op. Ed. piece, wondering about two possibilities: that the task of reconstruction was difficult and that the scholars were working under conditions abnormal and harmful for the academic process. Meyer has now answered that question in his response to me: the text was a nightmare; that they kept working on it after the popular translation was published; that they got feedback from external scholars which made them put away the emendation.