|The Gospel of Judas Surfaced.|
- About 1800 years after its ban by the Church because of its
'blasphemous' content, the Gospel of Judas has been made public again. A
Swiss foundation discovered a copy of the forbidden gospel and is
currently working on a translation.
The documents have probably already been discovered in Egypt
the fifties or sixties of last century and smuggled out of the country.
"But the price was too high and moreover no one knew that it was
about the Gospel of Judas."For twenty years the manuscript had been
in an American safe. Roberty: "It was in a terrible state when we
laid hands on it. Pages were stuck together or had fallen apart. A team
of scientists is busy piecing all the bits back together."
Scientists are really excited about this find. The American coptologist Stephen Emmel calls it 'a very exceptional find', which will cause a lot of commotion. "From an historical point of view this find is as important as the Nag Hammadi-writings half a century ago. Everything points to the Gospel referred by Prelate Irenaeus in the second century AD."
Emeritus Professor Gilles Quispel who discovered the Gospel of Thomas calls this discovery also of 'great historical importance'. "For scientists all Gospels are equal."
Why did one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the century remain hidden for such a long time? Almost two thousand years the 'blasphemous' Gospel of Judas was banned by the Church. Until the seventies of last century when Egyptian farmers accidentally found a copy in a cave. But even long afterwards nobody dared to get their fingers burned by the manuscript. "Forget the Da Vinci code, this is the real thing!"
The hunt for the Gospel of Judas
It was soon clear that the manuscripts that Stephen Emmel laid eyes on in 1983 in a dark and grotty hotelroom in Geneva were of exceptional historical value. "The documents wrapped in old newspaper were packed in three shoe boxes," Emmel remembers very well, "the authenticity was beyond doubt, but they were in a bad state. I did not dare to turn the pages out of fear for damaging them.
lifting the edges of the pages, I got an impression of the
The two manuscripts merchants, a Greek and an Egyptian did not introduce themselves. "The meeting was extremely secretive," explained Emmel, "the manuscripts were smuggled out of Egypt, so much was clear. Questions about the origin were not appreciated." The two merchants said that the documents were found in the neighbourhood of the Egyptian village Beni Masar, right next to the current Behnasa. Emmel: "It was not clear how believable that was."
It was obvious however that the Greek and the Egyptian barely realised what they had in their hands. Emmel: "They were not experts. They believed that there were three manuscripts, but there were actually four. After a quick listing, we learned that they dated from about the fourth or the fifth century AD. Two manuscripts, a translation of the Book of Exodus and a mathematical essay, were written in Greek. They were packed in separate boxes just like some of letters of Paul the Disciple also written in Coptic (old Egyptian).
most interesting discovery scattered over all three boxes were three
different texts, including one completely unknown gospel. "We could
not identify the author. Here and there we managed to decipher the name
Judas, but it was not clear which one. I supposed it was Judas the
Disciple, who was later referred to by the name of Judas Thomas. A
mistake as proved later on."
Emmel did nevertheless advise his commissioners to try anything to obtain the Gnostic codex, because it would be destroyed completely otherwise. On May 15th, 1983 he wrote in his report: "As long as it remains in the hands of its current owners, there is a considerable risk at further deterioration. Such a unique copy needs to be owned by a library or a museum as soon as possible, to restore, publish and conserve it." His cry for help remained unanswered. Emmel remembers that at the beginning of the nineties the manuscripts were offered for sale to papyrologist James Robinson, director of the Californian Institute of Antiquity and Christianity. "Robinson asked me to accompany him to New York where the documents were held in a safe. The sellers never showed. He did not want to leave Egypt because of the Gulf War."
Then, all went quiet. Emmel feared the worst, until he attended a Coptologist conference in Paris last year in July. Rodolphe Kasser, a Swiss Professor announced during his twenty minute lecture that he was translating the Gospel of Judas and caused great commotion amongst the scientists present. Emmel: "His description made me realise immediately that it was the same manuscript I saw in 1983.
The complete manuscript counted sixty two pages according to Kasser. Half of them consisted of the Gospel of Judas. It is most possibly a copy of the original text of the year 150, the same period when the Gospels of Matthew, Marc, Luke and John were also written down. Kasser did not want to reveal anything more. He referred to the owner of the manuscript, the Basel-based Maecenas Foundation ran by the lawyer Mario Roberty. Religious historians already knew of the existence of the Gospel of Judas. The Prelate Irenaeus appointed to Bishop of Lyon in 178 already warned against the 'blasphemous' works in his writings Adversus Haereses or 'Against Heresy', in which he 'disproves and exposes' the 'false' doctrine of the Gnostics.
Followers of the Gospel of Judas were Kainites, an early Christian sect, according to Irenaeus. In part I of his 'Against Heresy', paragraph 31.1 he wrote: '(Some) stated that Cain owes his existence to the highest power, while Esau, Korak, the Sodomites and all other men are dependants of each other. (..) They believe that Judas the Betrayer was fully informed of these things and that only he understanding the truth like no one else fulfilled the secret of betrayal that confused all things, both in heaven and on earth. They invented their own history called the Gospel of Judas.'
The big question is why this manuscript remained hidden for such a long time after it was discovered. Almost no one wanted to get their fingers burned according to Bruce Ferrini, an art dealer of Akron, Ohio. He himself was offered the documents in 2000 by Frieda Tchakos a gallery owner in Geneva who bought the materials the year prior to that. Before that Tchakos offered the manuscript to the famous Beinecke Library of the Yale University, but they declined the offer after long negotiations. Ferrini: "It was not the authenticity; every one was convinced that the manuscript was real."
The problem was the 'bad provenance', its obscure origin. Tchakos and Roberty told Ferrini that farmers discovered the books in the mid-seventies in a stone box in Megaga, Upper-Egypt. But others heard that the documents were already found in 1947. The place of discovery was al-Minya in Middle-Egypt.
Ferrini: "Frieda told me that the documents were obtained by a Greek trader, Nikolas Koutoulakis who had supposedly stolen them from Hannah, an Egyptian Jeweller. Koutoulakis smuggled them into Geneva. Frieda alleges that Hannah followed him by travelling to Geneva to reclaim the documents. A Coptic priest would have accompanied Hannah afterwards to New York where the documents were held in a safe in Hicksville's Citibank. They remained there till the end of nineties when they were purchased by Frieda."
Ferrini suspects that in the meantime several single pages of the manuscript were put on the market. "When I saw the work for the first time in 1999, only 25 pages remained intact, so at least half of them were missing. I cannot be absolutely sure if the manuscript was found incomplete or if its writing was never finished. But from time to time new pages would appear. Five or six different documents in total without page numbers, it was just a mess." Ferrini hesitated for a long time. He signed the deal, but then refrained from purchasing. "Frieda and Roberty could not provide him with any clear indication about its origin. We didn't buy the manuscript, because we didn't buy their story."
Tchakos and Roberty decided to end their efforts to sell the manuscript and placed it with a foundation, the Maecenas Foundation for them to negotiate in peace and quiet with the Egyptian government how to return the documents.
unpleasantly surprised when in January 2001 Michel van Rijn, a Dutch art
dealer was the first to mention the 'priceless historical documents on
his website, to be only comparable to the discovery of the Nag
Hammadi-writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran about half a century
ago. Van Rijn warned dealers not to take any risks given the sinister
origin: 'You buy? You touch?
The Maecenas Foundation does not want to reveal the prices of the purchase. But the London antique dealer who acted on behalf of Frieda Tchakos claims that she did not pay more than 300,000 dollar for the documents. "Next to nothing", says Michel Van Rijn, "this manuscript is unique, priceless. The fact that it is the Gospel of Judas that has been forbidden by the Church for centuries, makes it of interest to the general public. This is material for books and films, forget the Da Vinci Code, this is the real work!"
Stephen Emmel, coptologist, talks about an 'unusual find' that will cause a lot of commotion. "From an historical point of view this find is as important as the Nag Hammadi-writings discovered half a century ago. Everything tells us that we are dealing with the Gospel of Judas referred to by Irenaeus in the second century AD. It is fantastic that something like that re-appears after 1800 years."
calls it 'shameful' that a document of this importance remained hidden
for such a long time after its discovery: "Every one with a little
Greek or Coptic knowledge was able to recognise the words 'Gospel of
Judas'. But the people who had it were only after money. That is why the
manuscript suffered great damage and many important parts were missing.
But publishing it finally will be a good thing.
Is there a copy in the Vatican
that is the only comment made about the content of the Gospel of Judas
by Mario Roberty, president of the Maecenas Foundation. "First we
assumed the document to be fourth or fifth century. But research proved
that this is one of the earliest documents of Early Christianity. That
is what makes this discovery so exceptional."
"This work is so important that it just cannot end up in hands of a private dealer. The Gospel of Judas belongs to every one interested in Early Christianity."
The shady side of the art trade
At the end of last year Michel van Rijn announced through his website spectacular revelations about the Gospel of Judas. He was arrested a month later. His three main competitors on the market for stolen cultural inheritance, seemed to have joined together.
at the Basel airport on Wednesday afternoon of January 19th, Michel van
Rijn was to his utmost astonishment handcuffed by the Swiss police. "The
aircraft barely landed and there was the whole circus waiting for me, not
at customs, but outside the aircraft. I was pushed into a room and
stripped. I did not have a clue as to why I was arrested until some one
started shouting at me 'Where is the ring?'. Then I understood who was
Van Rijn travelled to Switzerland upon invitation of Mario Roberty, the Swiss president of the Maecenas foundation and owner of the Gospel of Judas in 2000. But as solicitor Roberty also acts in the interests of several key-players on the black market of stolen art, such as Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, two brothers who have been convicted both in Egypt and in the United States of trade in stolen art. Van Rijn warned on his website against the practises of the brothers
became the biggest robbers of protected cultural heritage in the world.
The website started out years ago as a joke. Once involved 'in ninety
percent of all art smuggling operations in the world' according to
Scotland Yard, van Rijn wanted to combat the hypocrisy in the art world
using the Internet. Successfully, because his disclosures led to arrests,
convictions and - most of all - a lot of damaged reputations. Roberto had
also been a scapegoat for years on Van Rijn's website.
Van Rijn even conducted some research for the Maecenas foundation regarding the missing fragments of the Gospel of Judas, and successfully so he said. "Roberto offered me to act as project consultant," says Van Rijn: "I was offered 50,000 pound and a share in the foundation. My name would also be mentioned as one of the discoverers of the manuscript."
It was Roberto who invited Van Rijn for a reconciliation meeting in Geneva with Ali Aboutaam. Van Rijn was not unwilling to accept. "I thought: listening would do no harm. Due to all the threats I live in a heavily protected house in Chelsea and was just granted custody for my two little sons." Roberty also mentioned that Van Rijn could potentially still do business in Switzerland with his customer Frieda Tchacos who bought the Gospel of Judas five years ago on the black market. According to him, Tchakos was interested in Van Rijn's collection of Byzantine jewellery. "Roberto specifically asked me to bring a Byzantine ring as Frieda had showed interest in it.
When I asked him how to take it with me, he replied: 'Just wear it!' But I know what Swiss customs are like and decided just to take pictures.
So when the Swiss customs seemed to be looking for a ring after arresting me, I knew instantly that Roberto was behind this." Van Rijn was deported to Geneva in an arrest van. His cell was not much bigger than the mattress he slept on. He did not get to speak to a lawyer. "This is not funny when you are 54 and responsible for two children. But I also feared for my life in prison. It is not difficult for people such as the Aboutaams, who already explicitly threatened to kill me once, to have me killed in the nick."
It was only
when Van Rijn was heard by the Swiss judge, that is became clear what the
charges were. A London dealer, Freddie Ibrahim, seemed to have made a
statement that Van Rijn was willing to delete all unwelcome articles about
Ali Aboutaam on his website in exchange for 150,000 dollar. A clear case
of blackmail according to Aboutaam who was attending the hearing
accompanied by three lawyers. The Swiss judge was not impressed by this
charge. She asked if this was the only charge. Van Rijn: "To my
astonishment one of Aboutaam's lawyers replied: did you not receive the
documents from the US?" These incriminating documents from America had
been faxed exactly one day after the arrest of Van Rijn by the lawyer of
the American billionaire James Ferrell, the by one biggest gas magnate in
the US with whom Van Rijn has not been on good terms for a while. Van
Rijn: "Ferrell is known worldwide as biggest buyer of stolen antiquities.
He is Aboutaam's biggest customer and is involved with Hezbollah. The
money he earned with art smuggling finances weapons for terrorist
attacks." Van Rijn feared the worst when he heard that the American
billionaire was involved in his trial. "Ferrell was conspiring with the
Aboutaams, two convicted criminals, and Roberty to charge me. Then I was
convinced I had to start worrying." Mario Roberty was called as a witness
a day later. Roberty gave evidence and confirmed that Van Rijn's website
is 'in principal' used for blackmail. "My e-mail to Roberty asking him for
my 50,000 pound, was added to the incriminating evidence. But that was the
amount Roberty promised me for my research for the Gospel of Judas!"
Eventually Van Rijn was released just with the fear for his life. The
Six months later there was a new attack, and successfully this time. The site www.michelvanrijn.com was from one moment to the next nowhere to be found. First it was thought to be a technical problem, but soon it was clear that all information was very curiously wiped from the net. The hackers did not leave anything to chance as they also snatched away the alternate domains such as www.michelvanrijn.org and www.michelvanrijn.net right in front of him. Everything points to a digital attack from the United States. Shortly before that a court in Ohio ruled for Van Rijn to delete all accusations from his website that are addressed at gas magnate James Ferrell. It is not clear why his opponents choose this very moment to combine forces against him. Was it the recent conviction of the brothers Aboutaam or the accusation that Ferrell was working together with terrorists? Or was the announcement of new revelations about the Gospel of Judas that Van Rijn was planning the final straw? Van Rijn could only guess his opponents' motives, but he is convinced that Mario Roberty is the evil genius in this conspiracy. "Roberty scored a hat trick. With me in prison the hunt was open and his customers got a short break."
The arrest in
Switzerland has significantly increased his lawyer bills after he had
already lost half a million in the United States. But Van Rijn refuses to
be muzzled, despite the devastating American conviction in the case
against Ferrell, two unparalleled digital bombardments and a stay in a
Swiss cell for almost a week.
Mario Roberty confirms that Michel van Rijn did some work for the Maecenas Foundation. "Van Rijn would provide us with further information about the lost fragments of the Gospel of Judas. He received a payment of 50,000 pounds." He venomously denies that he set Van Rijn up. "That is absolute bullshit. I have indeed invited Van Rijn for a meeting with my client Ali Aboutaam.
It was a big shock to me that Van Rijn was arrested upon arrival in Switzerland. I feel betrayed by Aboutaam and have broken all ties with him ever since.
'Your life is at stake with this manuscript'
"Here it is indeed; Gospel of Judas, at the very end, as was customary in those days," Gilles Quispel nods approvingly, while carefully studying the pictures of the manuscripts one by one.
"And judging by its content, it is clearly a Gnostic document. There is a reference to Allogenes, also called Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. In Jewish gnosis Seth is viewed as the Saviour." In many old documents from the first years of Christianity references to the Gospel of Judas can be found, says Quispel. But after being banned by the Church, the manuscript seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Not surprising, according to Quispel: "Gnosis is the most persecuted religion in the world. Followers were put to death by the Catholic Church. He who possessed the manuscript risked his life. Religious historians assume that the Gospel of Judas has been written in the same period as the canonical gospels of Marc, Matthew, Luke and John. Because the Judas-manuscript is written in Coptic - the last stage of Old-Egyptian - it is assumed that this is a copy translated from Greek from the original text presumably from the first or second century. Is the Gospel written by Judas, that is a difficult question to answer for Quispel. "I doubt it very much. But you can never entirely exclude this option." An obvious conclusion is that this text is from an Early-Christian Sect, called the Kainite. The Prelate Irenaeus appointed to Bishop of Lyon in 178 warned against this movement in his writings Adversus Haereses or 'Against Heresy'. It is typical that the sect was called after Cain, the son of Adam who killed his brother, says Quispel, "Gnostics are adverse, and they choose the rejected." The term 'Gnostic' stems from the Greek word knowledge and its doctrine views the own religious experience as higher than accumulating intellectual knowledge. Gnostics believed that men were one with the divine in his most inner self, an intolerable thought for the Catholic Church.
Till middle of last century what was known about old Gnostics was mainly based on documents of the Catholic Church that fought the doctrine with fire and brimstone. This changed when in 1945 farmers found an urn in Nag Hammadi in Upper-Egypt containing 12 books - or codices, written on papyrus and held together with a leather strap. The Nag Hammadi Codices consist of 52 documents, most of them with Gnostic intent. The most famous document out this collection, the Gospel of Thomas was purchased by Professor Quist in 1952.
Just like the
Gospel of Judas, the Nag Hammadi-documents ended up in the hands of money
hungry art dealers, amongst which a Belgian dealer. Promoted because of
the documents of the ecclesiastic inquisitor Tertullianus, Quistel wrote
to several sponsors when he heard of the discovery. With a cheque for
35,000 Swiss Francs in his pocket he finally got on the train to Brussels
on May 10th, 1952. "A mere trifle, even in those days, but I did return to
the Netherlands with the manuscript. Nowadays, these documents would be
worth four to five million dollars." Quispel does not exclude that the
Gospel of Judas has the same origin as the Nag Hammadi-documents. He
remembers how in 1955 he visited Tano, a Cypriot dealer in Cairo with a
large number of documents, upon request of Queen Juliana who showed a lot
of interest in the Gnostics. "The Egyptian authorities seized Tano's
collection, but he wrote to me later on that he left for Geneva to offer
some documents for sale that he was able to smuggle out of Egypt to Martin
Bodmer, a rich Swiss.
"Bodmer placed the documents in a Swiss foundation named after him. He hired a Swiss minister who taught himself Coptic to translate it. This minister, Rodolphe Kasser, is the man who is finalising the translation of the Gospel of Judas."
The Nag Hammadi-documents have been returned to their country of origin and are now placed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. "Bodmer had to return his documents. They were smuggled. That is theft. Even the hypocritical Swiss have to stay within the law."
If the Gospel
of Judas will shed new light on the live of Jesus, as was the case with
the Gospel of Thomas, needs to be seen. Quist doubts it. "The big question
is if the Judas story of the bible is correct. It is purely hypothetical,
but I believe it is. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, while
people chanted Hosanna, meaning 'save us from the Romans'. But instead of
going to the palace of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilot, as Judas
expected, he went to the temple to clear it from the money changers. Judas
understood that Jesus was a religious reformer and did not intend to
replace the reign of the Romans by a theocracy. Because of that
disappointment it is very possible that Judas went to the Pharisees to
betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver." Scientifically on the other hand,
the discovery of the Gospel of Judas is of big historic importance, stated
Quispel. "For scientists all gospels are equal. We do not differentiate
between true and false.