From The Nag Hammadi Codices to 
The Gospel of Mary
and The Gospel of Judas [1]

James M. Robinson

Delivered to the SBL in Philadelphia 11/20/2005; Revised 12/16/05/ 1/21/06.

The Gospel of Mary and The Gospel of Judas are not among the Nag Hammadi Codices. Yet this does not automatically separate them from the Nag Hammadi library. They come from codices containing tractates that have duplicates of the Nag Hammadi Codices, which thus brings them together in substance. Of course, all this calls for some explanation.

The Nag Hammadi library as a generic designation

It has been recognized from the very beginning (already in a letter from Henri-Charles Puech to Jean Doresse dated October 8, 1947) that there were duplicates of two of the Nag Hammadi tractates in a codex that had lain unpublished in Berlin for more than a century, P.Berol. 8502.[2] For The Apocryphon of John (of which there are three copies in the Nag Hammadi collection itself: II,1; III,1; IV,1) is also in the Berlin codex, Tractate 2, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ (Nag Hammadi Codex III,4) is in the Berlin codex as well, Tractate 3. In cases where there are duplicates, all the copies have to be compared, in order to establish the best available text, which is what is then translated. For this reason, two of the four tractates in P.Berol. 8502 would in any case need to be used to produce The Nag Hammadi Library in English.[3] So, in my capacity as General Editor, I decided that the other two tractates in the Berlin codex, still unavailable in English, should also be included: The Gospel of Mary, Tractate 1, and The Act of Peter Tractate 4.

This expansion of the category “Nag Hammadi library” to include such a closely-related Gnostic codex as P.Berol. 8502, though not discovered at Nag Hammadi, is actually justified on the basis of what we know about the collecting of the Nag Hammadi codices themselves. For the Nag Hammadi codices were not composed, translated, and transcribed by a single Gnostic community located at Nag Hammadi, but are a collection of materials from all over the eastern half of the ancient world. Thus, the Nag Hammadi discovery could equally well have included such material as one finds in the Berlin codex.

In our edition, we even referred to the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices as themselves a “library,” since they are a secondary collection of several smaller groups. I established this fact first by an analysis of the diverging techniques involved in producing the leather covers. (Only Codex XIII, eight of whose leaves had been conserved inside the front cover of Codex VI,[4] lacked its own leather cover.) Codices IV, V, and VIII form one rather primitive group of covers, and indeed a single scribe copied these three codices. Codices II, VI, IX, and X form another, slightly more ornate group of covers.

On the other hand, the covers of Codices I, III, VII, and XI do not cohere as a distinct group. Yet the scribal hands of three of the four codices bring them together as a single sub-group: One scribe copied most of Codex I, but a second scribe copied Tractate 4 of Codex I; this second scribe also copied Tractates 1 and 2 of Codex XII. A third scribe copied Tractates 3 and 4 of Codex XII, and also Codex VII. This makes it clear that Codices I, XI, and VII belonged together. Only Codex III seems to stand alone, both in terms of its leather cover and in terms of its scribal hand.[5]

Thus one can conclude that the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices are not a unity in terms of their origin. Instead, four groups were brought together secondarily, to be buried in a jar near Nag Hammadi.

This origin of the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices in separate sub-groups is further confirmed by an analysis of the location of the several duplicates to be found among the Nag Hammadi codices: The Apocryphon of John (II,2; III,1; IV,1), The Gospel of the Egyptians (III,2; IV,2), Eugnostos the Blessed (III,3; V,1), and On the Origin of the World (II,5; XIII,2) are the tractates with duplicates. First, one should note that no duplicates occur within the same codex or within the same sub-group of codices. Nor did the same scribe, with but one exception, copy the same text twice. But the one exception tends to prove the rule: On the Origin of the World (II,5; XIII,2) is the same text in the same scribal hand and with almost identical wording. Yet the copy in XIII,2 was discarded, when Codex XIII was torn apart to preserve only a single tractate (XIII,1). Only this one tractate was preserved, placed inside the front cover of Codex VI ---- together with a few of the opening lines of XIII,2 on the back of the last leaf, which could not be discarded without mutilating the text that one was seeking to preserve (XIII,1). The fact that this scribal duplication was nullified by separating off and discarding XIIl,2 (except for the unavoidable opening lines) would seem to attest to an awareness of the undesirability of such duplication. Indeed, a scribal note in Codex VI expresses concern not to displease whoever commissioned the work by duplicating something already owned.

Even within a single codex, minor divergences in dialect among the different Coptic translators confirm this disparate origin of the tractates that make up the Nag Hammadi codices.

Thus the Nag Hammadi codices seem to be a secondary collection of four separate groups, which themselves were collections from different scribes and translators.

The thirteen codices contained fifty-one tractates (plus a few unidentified fragments in Codex XII), but since five are duplicates, there are only forty-six different texts. All are translations from Greek, and most were composed in the second and third centuries C. E. It is largely a library of early Christian literature that was no doubt bypassed as undesirable or heretical (“Gnostic”), and so is missing from what has survived in its original Greek form. There are also a few non-Christian texts that are Hellenistic (III,3 = V,1; VI,2; XII,1) or Hermetic (VI,6,7,8). There is even a fragment of Plato’s Republic 588a-589b (VI,5). One Christian Gnostic text is ascribed (of course pseudonymously) to Zoroaster, in a cryptogram used as a colophon (VIII,1).

The codices were presumably brought together near Nag Hammadi, as individual Gnostics joined the group and brought with them whatever relevant written material they had.

All of this makes clear that the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices are not a unified whole, but rather a secondary or tertiary collection of the work of many individual authors, translators, scribes, and bookbinders, with the unifying principle being that the texts appealed to Gnostics. The circle is widest with regard to authors, reaching from eastern Syria to Greece and Egypt, but narrowing then to Egypt for the translators, scribes, and bookbinders. Some of the cartonnage lining the covers refers to places near where they were buried.

The Berlin codex, though not discovered with the others at Nag Hammadi, has much the same claim to be included in The Nag Hammadi Library in English as did the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices themselves. To be sure, one of the tractates in the Berlin codex is not Gnostic, The Act of Peter (P.Berol. 8502,4). But some of the Nag Hammadi tractates themselves are not Gnostic, such as the excerpt from Plato, Republic (VI,5), The Teachings of Silvanus (VII,4), and The Sentences of Sextus (XII,1). They must have commended themselves as congenial to the overarching Gnostic proclivity of the scribe, or person who commissioned the scribe. Perhaps in some cases it simply boiled down to what texts were available to the scribe, for some codices do not seem to have much overarching unity among the tractates they contain. Hence, if The Gospel of Mary had been available to one of the Nag Hammadi scribes, it might well have been included, which is why it was included in The Nag Hammadi Library in English. In this sense, “Nag Hammadi library” becomes a kind of generic designation for Gnosticizing codices that have been discovered at different times and places in Egypt, together documenting the widespread Gnostic movements in early Christian Egypt.

Again, in more recent times, one or two very fragmentary codices have emerged that have two duplicates of Nag Hammadi codices: The Second Apocalypse of James (V,4) and The Letter of Peter to Philip (VIII,2). These new codices have the same claim for inclusion in the generic meaning of  “Nag Hammadi library,” even though a third tractate, The Gospel of Judas, like The Gospel of Mary in the Berlin codex, is not actually included among the thirteen Nag Hammadi codices. Hence, we turn to The Gospel of Judas.

The Al-Minya Discovery

A generation ago, Ludwig Koenen of the Classics Department of the University of Michigan contacted me, to report that he was flying to Geneva in May, 1983 to negotiate for the purchase of three papyrus codices that had been offered to him for sale. One was a Greek mathematical text, in which he was interested, and another was the book of Exodus in Greek, in which his colleague David Noel Friedman was interested, for which reason  Friedman was accompanying him to Geneva. But the third was Coptic, in which neither was interested. Koenen knew of my interest in Coptic, since I was editing the Nag Hammadi Codices which are in Coptic, and so he approached me as to whether I would be interested in participating in the negotiations (and funding).

In seeking to implement this opportunity, I contacted one of our team, Harold W. Attridge of Southern Methodist University. He secured a pledge from the Rare Book Room of their Library for its total budget of the year, $50,000. Then I contacted a student of mine, Stephen Emmel, as the member of our team nearest to Geneva, since at the time he was studying with Tito Orlandi in Rome, to go to Geneva on my behalf.

The three met in a hotel room with a Copt from Middle Egypt (the discovery was said to be near Beni Masar) and a Greek, John Perdios, who had grown up in the international society of Cairo. They had been classmates in school in Cairo and had remained lifelong friends, though the Greek had returned to Athens after the Egyptian revolution. Obviously he was functioning as an intermediary for his Coptic friend in the transaction.

The sale price was $3,000,000, which of course was more than the potential purchasers could produce. Perdios reported to me that Friedman had said off-handedly that the owner should drop one zero from the asking price. Of course, when bargaining in the bazaar, it is expected that one will not pay the first asking price, but will negotiate down to a mutually agreeable price. But it would be considered an insult for the first counter-offer to be only 10% of the asking price, as if the seller knows nothing of the value of his wares or is simply trying to milk the potential buyer. Hence, the owner was offended. The negotiations ended before they had really begun. The three codices were not acquired, and the three potential purchasers went away empty-handed.

Almost! For Stephen Emmel had been less involved in the negotiations than in the Coptic codex, which he was permitted to examine in enough detail to be able to decide that it was really all that was left of two Coptic codices. This was kept secret from the sellers, since it looked as if they had set the asking price at the round figure of a million dollars per codex. Obviously the potential purchasers did not want the price to jump to $4,000,000!

They were not allowed to take notes or to make photographs. But Emmel had to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, where he transcribed what his acute eye had seen and memory had retained of the Coptic material. He afterwards wrote up his notes in a confidential memorandum which he sent to me. Its details can now be made public, since the purchase has been consummated (at an unknown price). As a result, nothing is to be gained by further confidentiality.

Emmel identified three Coptic tractates, two familiar from the Nag Hammadi Codices plus an unknown new text. One tractate was a copy of the First Apocalypse of James known from Nag Hammadi Codex V, Tractate 4, and one a copy of The Letter of Peter to Philip known from Nag Hammadi Codex VIII, Tractate 2.

Emmel could only identify the third, the previously unknown text, as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (the standard Gnostic literary genre), where he observed that Judas is mentioned. This is what is now known as The Gospel of Judas. Emmel did not see the last page, where this title is legible, so he could not provide the name of this tractate. Nor could he identify the Judas in question as Judas Iscariot, rather than Judas Didymus Thomas, which would be the normal assumption, since he is listed as the scribe of two Nag Hammadi tractates (II, 2,7).

I first mentioned the discovery in print in 1984, in an obscure publication (from the viewpoint of the sellers), and somewhat gingerly, in view of the confidentiality imposed by the hope of subsequent acquisition.[6]

There have emerged no cogent reasons to postulate that there were more [than thirteen Nag Hammadi codices]. For though a sizable part of a Fourth Century Gnostic codex was seen by Ludwig Koenen and Stephen Emmel in Europe in 1983, containing a different version of The (First) Apocalypse of James and a copy of “The Letter of Peter to Philip” (with this as its subscript title), as well as a previously unknown dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, it is associated provisionally with a different provenience than Nag Hammadi and should not, without some positive evidence to that effect, e.g. from physical traits or from the cartonnage, be identified as a Nag Hammadi codex.

I also passed on the information to Hans-Gebhard Bethge, since he was writing a dissertation (at Humboldt University, Berlin, 1984) on The Letter of Peter to Philip, who also mentioned in print the second copy:[7]

Ep. Pet. Phil. however was also handed down outside the Nag Hammadi codices, but the text of the parallel version is so far not yet available for scholarly evaluation.

In a footnote he explained how he had heard about it:

The first information about the existence of this text, which is in a papyrus codex along with a version of 1 Apoc. Jas. and a dialogue of Jesus with his disciples not identical with NCH III 5, was given by J. M. Robinson and S. Emmel at the Third International Congress of Coptic Studies in Warsaw in August 1984.

Koenen later sent me some almost completely illegible photographs he had obtained of some of the Coptic material. I made copies of them available to Wolf-Peter Funk. Ultimately, I turned over my copies, for safekeeping, to Stephen Emmel, at the quadrennial congress of the International Association for Coptic Studies meeting in Paris, on June 27, 2004. For he was the person involved from the very beginning, and has subsequently become the Editor of the Newsletter of the International Association for Coptic Studies. Hence, the Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie that he directs at the University of Münster, Germany is in effect the Secretariat of the International Association for Coptic Studies.

I had long since forwarded in March 1991 what I could read to Marvin W. Meyer, who was preparing the critical edition of The Letter of Peter to Philip:[8]

According to the reports of James M. Robinson and Stephen Emmel, a somewhat divergent Coptic text of the Letter of Peter to Philip is to be found in a papyrus codex which at the present time is neither published nor available for study.

Meyer included in his brief comment the little bit that I could transcribe from the very blurred photographs that I had received from Koenen, at Nag Hammadi Codex VIII, 135,25-136,2.

Meanwhile I interested Martin Schøyen, a wealthy Norwegian collector of ancient manuscripts, in acquiring this material. Ludwig Koenen gave me the name and phone number of John Perdios. I went to Athens, and he received me in his elegant home, took me to dinner at the best restaurant in Athens, and agreed to meet Schøyen and myself in New York along with the Coptic owner. The full name of the owner was never divulged to me, perhaps lest he be charged by the Egyptian government with illegal excavation and exportation, and/or lest Perdios be bypassed in favor of direct negotiations with the Coptic owner. Perdios would of course not want to be cut out of his share of the profit.

I inquired of  Perdios why he proposed New York for the meeting. He said his brother lived there, and he would like to visit him. I assume that the more basic reason was that the codices were there. For he would have known that we would want to see them before committing ourselves, indeed would want to take possession of them if the negotiations succeeded. Of course I could only conjecture that they might be in the custody of his brother, or of someone in the large Coptic community of New Jersey. They are now reported to have been in a safety deposit box in City Bank, Hicksville, Long Island, New York.

Schøyen agreed to attend the meeting on a date in January 1991 agreeable to the sellers. I had gone so far as to check out New York hotels! Thus, we were actively making preparations late in 1990 for the meeting. But just at this time President Bush announced that he would begin bombing Baghdad in January. Thereupon I received word from Perdios that the Copt was not willing to abandon his family at the beginning of World War III, so the trip had to be called off.

Early in 1992 I was in Geneva, and phoned Perdios to set up the New York meeting again. He said he would contact his Coptic friend and let me know, which he never did. So the meeting in fact never took place.

The French Canadian team at Laval University in Québec, which is publishing the French edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, and on whose behalf I functioned as a consultant for the Canada Council, received a grant from the Canadian Bombardier Foundation in support of their work on the Nag Hammadi Codices. They thought that this foundation might also fund the acquisition of the new material, which would make it possible for the Laval team to stay together and continue its work after the completion of its edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices. So I told them how they could contact Perdios by phone, and a member of their team, the Norwegian Einar Thomassen, did phone him in September, 2001, but nothing came of it.

The Nag Hammadi library and The Gospel of Judas

There were reports of photographs of The Gospel of Judas circulating as recently as 2002 and 2003:[9]

I have seen photos of several pages from a Coptic text entitled “The Gospel of Judas” that recently surfaced on the antiquities market.

One of those gospels generally thought to have disappeared, the gospel of Judas (known to Irenaeus toward the end of the second century), actually did survive in Coptic translation, and has been available on the antiquities market for several years.

Indeed, a mid-western antiquities dealer, Bruce Ferrini, has sent photographs of manuscripts to Charles W. Hedrick from time to time for an expertise as to their authenticity and to provide translations. Hedrick identified some leaves as The Gospel of Judas. The photographs of what were described as the final six pages of The Gospel of Judas were of professional quality. The remaining photographs were of very poor digital quality in the main. All of these have been made available to Rodolphe Kasser.

On July 1, 2004, at the quadrennial congress of the International Association for Coptic Studies held this time in Paris, Rodolphe Kasser announced that he was publishing The Gospel of Judas late in 2005. Given his slow track record in publishing the Tripartite Tractate of the Jung Codex (Nag Hammadi Codex I),[10] no one has expected him to meet that deadline. It has already been rescheduled for early in 2006. He has added a co-editor, Gregor Wurst, which gives some hope that his edition will ultimately appear and make the text available to the rest of us.

Kasser’s report has led to all-too-sensational German articles in journals for a larger non-scholarly public, first by Ralph Pöhner in FACTS,[11] then by Roger Thiede in Focus.[12]

Thiede included an interview with Stephen Emmel.[13] Although Emmel displays in exemplary form the necessary academic caution concerning a text that is not yet available, Pöhner and Thiede do the very reverse, with disastrous results. And of course Gilles Quispel got into the act, in another sensational essay by the Dutch journalist Hank Schutten.[14]

Pöhner had interviewed me by phone from Zürich, and yet what he reports about my involvement is so littered with errors that one must be very tentative in using what he reports anywhere in his article. Of course one would hope that he might be in better control of the facts insofar as they have to do with his own Switzerland.

In any case, the following summary of their reports needs to be used with caution, until (if ever) their narration is confirmed.

The middle-man is referred to as an art dealer, a resident of Geneva, Nikolas Koutoulakis, which is not the name of the resident of Athens with whom I had talked. Yet John Perdios must have been the person who negotiated in Geneva in 1983, in view of details he reported to me of the 1983 meeting. He never revealed to me the full name of the Coptic owner of the material, but explained that the owner was a resident of Upper Egypt near the site of the discovery. But the Copt, now given the name Hannah Airian, is described as “an unscrupulous jeweler” residing in Cairo. The manuscript had been discovered in a container buried in the desert sand at Muh Zafat al-Minya.

Then, as in any such sensationistic story, the femme fatale enters the picture, Koutoulakis’ young girl friend Mia. He entrusts her with negotiations with Hannah, but when she changes sides, he breaks into Hannah’s apartment, and in the ensuing struggle the papyri were broken horizontally in two. Mia absconds with a part; one leaf is completely lost, Koutoulakis gets the rest, but, in view of threats to his life, returns it to Hannah.

This is presented as taking place before the more sedate meeting in the Geneva hotel in May, 1983, though it more probably occurred afterwards, if at all. What truth lurks behind such a juicy story is of course unclear, though this could explain why the upper part of the leaves is absent from the photographs made available to Hedrick. For Emmel had been able to see the pagination present in the top margin.

There is a rumor that some of the material was displayed during the 1980s in a catalogue of the Paris antiquities dealer François Antonovich, who has two shops near the Louvre. It is unclear just what this might have been.

In 1999 Mario Roberty, a Basel lawyer involved in antiquities, acquired The Gospel of Judas, along with the First Apocalypse of James and The Letter of Peter to Philip, a total of 62 pages. Pöhner reports it was acquired from the still anonymous Copt, while Tiede indicates it came from Mia.

In 2000 the Zürich art dealer Frédérique Nussberger (thus Pöhner; Tiede: Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos of the now-defunct Zürich gallery Hefer), functioning as an agent for Roberty, offered the material to the Beinecke Library of Yale University, but without success. The Curator, Robert Babcock, has declined to explain why. Attridge, now a leading coptologist at Yale, saw the material on that occasion. He has explained that Yale does not acquire material that does not have a clear record of its legal exportation from its place of origin. It is a great pity that Yale could not acquire it, for Attridge would have published promptly an edition of the highest quality, which would have prevented the wave of sensationalism in which we now find ourselves.

It is reported to have been offered in 2002 for $2,000,000, then for twice $750,000, to the dealer Bruce Ferrini from Akron, Ohio, but his lawyers advised him not to enter such a partnership. (Ferrini is reported to be undergoing bankruptcy.)

In February 2002 the Maecenas Stiftung für antike Kunst in Basel, led by Mario Roberty, entrusted the material to Rodolphe Kasser for publication. Once published, but only then, it is to be returned to Egypt for deposit in the Coptic Museum in Cairo. This may have been a concession one had to make to Egypt as part of the negotiations. But in the case of the Jung Codex (Nag Hammadi Codex I), Kasser refused to return it to Egypt until he had completed the edition he led, in order to be sure that his was the editio princeps. This consideration may well have been involved in the present instance. In any case, its present location is kept secret, inaccessible to the academic community at large.

Malcolm Macalister Hall published on June 5, 2005, in The Sunday Review of the London newspaper Independent on Sunday, an article on The Gospel of Judas, for which he interviewed me by phone from London.[15] His essay is at least an improvement, especially in what it omits of the German-language sensationalism. But he has livened up his essay by reporting the English-language sensationalism on Michel van Rijn’s website:[16]

Van Rijn prides himself on his art-world scoops, and it was on his website that news of the existence of an extraordinary document first broke ---- at least beyond the cabal of dealers, and the cloistered confines of the scholarly community. In 2001, he revealed that the long-lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot ---- not seen for at least 1,800 years ---- was being hawked around antiquities dealers on two, maybe three, continents. It wasn’t quite the Dead Sea Scrolls, but not far off. Would this testament of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, turn Christianity on its head? Van Rijn says it asserts that Judas worked in league with Jesus to betray him, thereby to ensure his crucifixion, martyrdom (and, for believers, his resurrection), and thus to lay the foundation for ---- and ensure the success of ---- Christianity. “Forget The Da Vinci Code,” says Van Rijn. “This is the real deal.”

Hall reported that “some 30 pages of crumbling papyrus” were involved, and alluded to “allegations that pages of the priceless document have been ‘removed’ (read: ‘stolen’) along the way.”[17] But Hall fudges on the facts in order to put The Gospel of Judas on a par with the canonical Gospels by referring to its date as “the mid-second century AD (around the time the Biblical gospels were also written).”[18] The Biblical gospels were written in the last 30 years of the first century AD, which makes a big difference with regard to material that one wants to date back to 30 AD.

Hedrick was asked by Kasser if he had the missing top half of the pages. But once he said that he did not, he was warned by two American lawyers representing the Maecenas Foundation that it would prosecute him if he published anything from his pictures prior to the publication by Kasser. William Klassen, whose earlier book on Judas Iscariot has brought him into the discussion,[19] was approached by his publisher for information on The Gospel of Judas. He replied that he had more information, but was not permitted to divulge it. Marvin Meyer has reported that he knows much more about it all, but has been compelled to sign a document promising not to divulge what he knows. Indeed, on October 30, 2005, in preparing this essay for presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature on November 20, 2005, I asked him by e-mail if he could provide me with even minimal information about the source of his information, to which he replied by e-mail: “I’m sorry ---- but I must say, no comment.”

The next journalistic publication will no doubt be in French, by the scientific journalist Patrick Jean-Baptiste, writing in the French monthly Sciences et Avenir. For he interviewed me by phone from Paris on November 9, 2005, after having just talked by phone the same day with Mario Roberty of the Maecenas Foundation. At my request, he e-mailed me what he had learned from Roberty, which he kindly agreed to do. Thus he provides us with quite recent information, which I summarize as follows:

The Maecenas Foundation has a very lucrative agreement with the National Geographic Society, which next Easter will show a documentary film, as well as publishing an article in the National Geographic magazine itself, about The Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society will also publish three volumes: 1. A large elegant book, including facsimiles, Kasser’s transcription, and translations in English, German, and French by Rodolphe Kasser, Gregor Wurst, Marvin Meyer, and François Godard. A more journalistic second volume produced by the American journalist Harp Krosney will contain the story of the documents. A third volume will be a popularized version written by Kasser and Bart Ehrman.

For more details, we will have to await the Jean-Baptiste’s article, due to appear at the end of 2005.

It must be Meyer’s inclusion in Kasser’s editio princeps (no doubt to help prepare the English translation), as Roberty revealed to Jean-Baptiste, that Meyer does not feel free to divulge even to his friends. This cloak-and-dagger procedure is the very reverse of scholarly method, and cannot fail to discredit whoever is responsible for it. In my talk at the Society of Biblical Literature, I expressed the assumption that this keeping of what was going on confidential would be Roberty and/or Kasser. But at the intermission after my presentation, which was in a panel on which Meyer also sat, he came to me and corrected this assumption. He explained that, though he had been on a brief trip to Switzerland (no doubt to meet the principles there, though he did not make this clear), it was actually the National Geographic Society that had required that he sign the document swearing him to secrecy.

 Meyer went on to explain that on the occasion of a presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C., someone made an initial contact, saying he might be contacted later. Although Hedrick has reported that a person associated with the National Geographic Society who was skeptical of the venture had contacted him, the National Geographic Society obviously decided to go forward. For Meyer was contacted some time later and brought to a maximum-security room, where he had to sign in and out and guarantee confidentiality to what went on literally behind locked doors. He justified this procedure on the part of the National Geographic Society by referring to their very large financial investment in the venture. He did not make clear what it took to get him to enter into such a procedure. Hedrick has informed me that Craig Evans has also been sworn to silence by the National Geographic Society, again without details as to what his involvement may be and what consideration led him to join the enterprise. Perhaps he is intended to provide a more right-wing balance to Meyer’s more left-wing inclinations.

Meyer’s cryptic comments to me confirmed Roberty’s report to Jean-Baptiste as to Meyer’s involvement, but made one relevant correction: The volume soon to appear with the translation will not include the Coptic. Omitting the Coptic would, in effect, maintain the monopoly until they saw fit to publish the Coptic, since only then could others translate it and publish it on their own.

One such publisher who would like to publish it as soon as possible is HarperSanFrancisco, which is publishing a new translation of the Nag Hammadi texts and any other new Gnostic discoveries, especially The Gospel of Judas. This new translation is entitled The Nag Hammadi Scriptures and is due out by the time of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature November 18-21, 2006. Those of us involved in this new translation met with the publisher at the Annual Meetings of SBL in 2004 and 2005, and each time tried unsuccessfully to figure out how we could include The Gospel of Judas. The editor of The Nag Hammadi Scriptures is Marvin W. Meyer. But he was sworn to silence, and hence remained silent rather than coming up with the obvious solution (which HarperSanFrancisco is pursuing, now that I have made public what was going on).

Of course the publication of the translation of The Gospel of Judas, which Hedrick reports will be out also in time for the Annual Meeting of SBL in 2006, will in effect end this tempest in a teapot, just as the publication of the long-withheld parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices did:

 In the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Robert W. Eisenman had launched the sensational theory that the unpublished fragments were being withheld by the Roman Catholic Church, lest their contents completely disprove the validity of Christianity. For he claimed that the founder of the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was none other than Jesus’ brother James. In this case James, and presumably his brother Jesus, would, just as the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, advocate very strict adherence to Judaism. This would mean that Paul’s departure from Judaism, and the church of today following Paul’s lead, is illegitimate! But this theory breaks down for a series of very solid scholarly reasons.[20] As a result, Eisenman did not have an academic following. So he somehow got out of Israel a copy of the photographs of the unpublished fragments. He enlisted my aid in getting them published, which we did, he to prove his sensationalist theory, me to disprove it.[21] Now, once the fragments in question have been available for over a decade, Eisenman’s sensationalistic theory has simply disappeared from the media. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are of great significance to scholars in the field, have been returned to them to be studied careful and soberly, free of that kind of sensationalism.

In the case of the Nag Hammadi Codices, the sensationalist was Jean Doresse, who was the first to publicize the material in Cairo.[22] He arranged an interview with the French-language newspaper of Cairo, which published his sensational report:[23] “According to the specialists consulted, it has to do with one of the most extraordinary discoveries preserved until now by the soil of Egypt, surpassing in scientific interest such spectacular discoveries as the tomb of  Tut-Ankh-Amon.” Here again, once the Nag Hammadi Codices were published and fully available to the public,[24] the sensationalism in the news media has disappeared and serious scholarship taken over. Of course the Nag Hammadi Codices are of great importance for reconstructing early Christian history. But sensationalism only serves to discredit discoveries of such importance as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices.

It will no doubt be the same in the case of The Gospel of Judas. Once it becomes available, one will find that it does not shed light on what happened during Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem (which is what the sensationalists imply), but rather will shed light on a second-century gnostic sect. This will be important for scholars, but not for the sensationalists.

The Gospel of Judas will of course take its place along side of the other important manuscript discoveries that have illuminated our understanding of early Judaism and Christianity. This final outcome, once the sensation is behind us, is indeed suggested in Meyer’s comment to me, to the effect that the new codex will turn out to be like just another Nag Hammadi codex ---- which was of course my point of departure.

The Gospel of Judas as Heresy

The Gospel of Judas was first mentioned by Irenaeus, a heresiologist of about 180 C.E.[25] He associated it with a Gnostic sect, the Cainites, notorious for taking sides with the first murderer, Cain, who killed his brother Abel.

Then The Gospel of Judas was mentioned by Epiphanius in the fourth century.[26]

And others say, “No, he [Judas] betrayed him despite his goodness because of the heavenly knowledge. For the archons knew, they say, “that the weaker power would be drained if Christ were given over to crucifixion.” “And when Judas found this out,” they say, “he was anxious and did all he could to betray him, and performed a good work for our salvation. And we must commend him and give him the credit, since the salvation of the cross was effected for us through him, and the revelation of the things on which that occasioned.”

Hence Judas did not betray the Savior from knowledge, as these people say; nor will the Jews be rewarded for crucifying the Lord, though we certainly have salvation through the cross. Judas did not betray him to make him the saving of us, but from the ignorance, envy and greed of the denial of God.

And therefore, they say, Judas has found out all about them [the higher powers]. For they claim him as kin too and consider him particularly knowledgeable, so that they even attribute a short work to him, which they call a Gospel of Judas.

But actually hardly anything is known of its contents, other than a few personages: the mythological figure Allogenes known already from the Nag Hammadi tractate Allogenes (XI,3), Satan, and of course Judas and Jesus.

The Greek original probably dates from the middle of the second century, though the extant copy of the Coptic translation may date from the fourth. One must await its publication before one can speak of its contents. Only Hedrick’s rough draft of an English translation of the concluding lines have been made public on the internet and in German translation.[27] Improvements in the translation of these excerpts, by Wolf-Peter Funk, Hans-Gebhart Bethge, Birger Pearson, and John Turner, have circulated privately.

Of course one may speculate that Judas can be presented in The Gospel of Judas as playing a positive role in the plan of salvation: The Jewish authorities hesitated to arrest Jesus while he was surrounded by admiring crowds, so they needed to find him alone at night. Judas helped them in this regard. Without Judas, Jesus might never have been arrested. Where would Christianity be, if there had been no Judas, and Jesus, instead of dying for our sins on the cross, had died of old age? So: Thank God for Judas? Even the most broadminded among us would call that heresy!

But all that is mere speculation ---- speculation not about the motive of the historical Judas Iscariot in betraying Jesus, but speculation about a second century Gnostic text. In any case, we will have to wait and see.


Some of the Coptic text with a translation “only for personal use” has come into my hands. Of course I should not report publicly on what reached me “only for personal use.” But I can perhaps report on what it does not include: Anything sensational about Jesus and Judas that goes back to 30 CE.

[1] A preliminary draft of this paper, entitled “From The Nag Hammadi Codices to The Gospels of Mary and Judas,” was published in the Coptic newspaper, Watani International, July 10, 2005, p. 2 (ed. Saad Michael Saad). An updated summary was then presented in the panel on the theme “How Nag Hammadi Changed the World of Early Christianity,” in the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Section of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Philadelphia on November 20, 2005.

[2] Die gnostischen Schriften des koptischen Papyrus Berolinensis 8502 (ed. Walter C. Till; Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 60; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1955; second revised edition, ed. Hans-Martin Schenke, 1972).

[3] The Nag Hammadi Library in English, translated by members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, James M. Robinson, General Editor, and Marvin W. Meyer, Managing Editor (Leiden: E. J. Brill, and New York: Harper and Row, 1977), and subsequent reprints and revisions.

[4] James M. Robinson, “Inside the Front Cover of Codex VI,” in Essays on the Nag Hammadi Texts in Honour of Alexander Böhlig (ed. Martin Krause; Nag Hammadi Studies 3; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 74-87.

[5] Michael A. Williams, “The Scribes of Nag Hammadi Codices,” Newsletter of the American Research Center in Egypt 139 (1987), 1-7; “The Scribes of Nag Hammadi Codices IV, V, VI, VIII and IX,” Actes du IVe Congrès Copte: Louvain-la-Neuve, 5-10 septembre 1988, II: De la linguistique au gnosticisme (ed. M. Rassart-Debergh and J. Ries; Publications de l’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain 41; Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, 1992), 334-42.

[6] The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Introduction (ed. James M. Robinson et al.; Leiden: E. J. Brill,1984), 21.

[7] Hans-Gebhart Bethge, “The Letter of Peter to Philip,” in New Testament Apocrypha (ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, I: Gospels and Related Writings; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1991), 342, and 347, n. 2.

[8] Marvin W. Meyer, “NHC VIII,2: The Letter of Peter to Philip: Introduction,” in Nag Hammadi Codex VIII (ed. John H. Sieber; The Coptic Gnostic Library; Nag Hammadi Studies 31; Leiden, New York, Copenhagen, Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1991), 227-32: 232.

[9] Charles W. Hedrick, “The Four 34 Gospels,” Bible Review 18.3 (June, 2002): 20-31, 46-47: 26; Charles W. Hedrick, “The Secret Gospel of Mark: Stalemate in the Academy,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2 (Summer 2003): 133-145: 139.

[10] James M. Robinson, “The Jung Codex: The Rise and Fall of a Monopoly,” Religious  Studies Review 3 (1977): 17-30.

[11] Ralph Pöhner, FACTS: Das Schweitzer Nachrichtenmagazin(January 6, 2005): 76-79.

[12] Roger Thiede, Focus13 (2005): 107-16.

[13] Thiede, Focus 13 (2005): 118-19.

[14] Hank Schutten, “The Hunt for the Gospel of Judas,” available on internet.

[15] Malcolm Macalister Hall, “The Gospel Truth,” The Sunday Review: The Independent on Sunday (June, 5 2005): 24-26, 28, 31.

[16] “The Gospel Truth,” 24.

[17] Hall, “The Gospel Truth,” 24, 26.

[18] Hall, “The Gospel Truth,” 26.

[19] William Klassen, Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996).

[20] Summarized in James M. Robinson, The Gospel of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 75-77.

[21] Robert H. Eisenman and James M. Robinson, eds., A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Washington, D. C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991, second revised impression 1992).

[22] For full details see James M. Robinson, The French Rôle in Early Nag Hammadi Studies 1946-1953, Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, section Etudes, forthcoming, and, abbreviated, “The French Role in Early Nag Hammadi Studies,” The Journal of Coptic Studies 7 (2005): 1-12.

[23] La Bourse Égyptienne, June 10, 1949.

[24] The Nag Hammadi Library in English, see note 3 above.

[25] Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I 31.1.

[26] Epiphanius, Pan. 37.3,4-5; 6.1-2; 38.1.5.

[27] Pöhner, FACTS, 79; Tiede, Forum, 113.

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