(Final paragraph of THE NEW YORKER article): All this, I believe, is a reaction to the rise of fundamentalism—the idea, Christian and otherwise, that every word of a religion’s founding document should be taken literally. This is a childish notion, and so is the belief that we can combat it by correcting our holy books. Those books, to begin with, are so old that we barely understand what their authors meant. Furthermore, because of their multiple authorship, they are always internally inconsistent. Finally, even the fundamentalists don’t really take them literally. People interpret, and cheat. The answer is not to fix the Bible but to fix ourselves.Acocella mentions the second edition of National Geographic's translation of the Gospel of Judas and how it differs from the first, wondering how much our need to revise history may have affected their first publication of the Gospel of Judas (I have written about this extensively in the NEW PREFACE to the revised edition of THE THIRTEENTH APOSTLE: WHAT THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS REALLY SAYS):
(Center of THE NEW YORKER article): Even the gospel’s translators may have felt the need to augment its revisionist credentials. When Jesus, in the gospel, tells the disciples that no mortal, or almost none, will be saved, one assumes that Judas will be an exception, and that’s what National Geographic’s translators said in the first English edition. But then a number of other scholars took a look at the Coptic text and objected that this was a misreading. The translators must have seen their point, because in the second edition of their version, published last year, the line has been changed—to mean the opposite. Jesus now says to Judas, “You will not ascend on high” to join those in Heaven. In other passages, too, the second edition tells a widely different story from the first.
In fairness, no expert can tell us exactly what the Coptic said. That is not just because of the terrible condition of the codex; even when the words are there, they are often enigmatic. But, as April DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, pointed out in the Times in 2007, there was a troubling consistency to a number of the mistranslations in the first edition: they improved Judas’s image. If the gospel was truly the earth-shaking document that the National Geographic Society claimed it was—if it promoted Judas from villain to hero—then to have him denied admission to Heaven would be decidedly awkward.
So there you have it. The information that my blog and book readers have known for two years running is finally making its way into the public arena. I wonder if it will matter.