Is the Gospel of Judas a Forgery?

I have been reading Robert M. Price’s Secret Scrolls: Revelations from the Lost Gospel Novels (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2011). Occasionally Price contextualizes some of the books he examines with discussions of theories and results of biblical scholarship. Sometimes, however, this contextualizing is drawn from what most of us would consider “fringe” scholarship—for example, dating the composition of the canonical gospels to the mid-second-century,  Barabara Theiring’s ideosyncratic views on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament  as “put together and heavily rewritten by Polycarp” (p. 169, appealing to David Trobish, The First Edition of the New Testament [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000]).

Another of Price’s contextual nuggets is the claim that the Gospel of Judas is a forgery (p. 76-77, 181). Price appeals here to an article by Richard J. Arthur, Associate Professor of New Testament at the Unification Theological Seminary (“The Gospel of Judas: Is It a Hoax?” Journal of Unification Studies 9 [2008] 35-47, available online HERE). Price summarizes the article in three points: the text betrays an awareness of modern moral issues (“it seems to be editorializing on the priestly scandals of our time, as it depicts priests sleeping with women and ‘sacrificing’ children, this last perhaps pointing to abortion or molestation”), part of the gospel copies from The Secret Book of John (“the impression one gets from reading it is a patch transferred out of context, no longer making the sense it did in the original”), and it contains a scribal error found also in one of the extant copies of John from Nag Hammadi (Price asks, “what are the chances that the scribe of Judas copied from another [i.e., non Nag-Hammadi] copy of The Secret Book of John that made the very same goof in the very same spot?”).

Price accedes that the papyrus on which Judas is written is genuinely ancient (and, I might add, it was carbon-dated by the National Geographic Society to between 220 and 340 C.E.) but the text is not (but, again, the ink appears to be an ancient recipe). He goes on to declare that the forger is one of the members of the NGS team, but does not say which one (the team includes: Rodolphe Kasser, Gregor Wurst, François Gaudard, Marvin Meyer, and Florence Darbre). Arthur does not make this charge in the original paper, but he does say, “that our hoaxer is a member of the community of modern Coptic scholars who have special regard for Codex II as the first exemplar of the Apocryphon of John from Nag Hammadi to be published. He concludes the paper on a conciliatory note, despite the severity of the accusation: "The Gospel of Judas is probably a hoax, and all the writings in it of recent authorship. These writings were prepared in our time, on some old papyrus leaves, probably from a palimpsest, without a binding. There is no cause for rebuke. One of our colleagues has created great excitement; he is a jolly fellow and has done us all a favor.”

I’m not able to interact with Arthur’s theory on a linguistic level, but I do find his literary and text-critical arguments unconvincing (that the second-century church suffered from similar problems in leadership and its critics hurled at it typical insults does not surprise me, and it is not improbable for a similar error to occur in texts drawing upon common material). I can only assume other scholars have not been convinced by Arthur’s arguments given that I have not come across any other reference to his article. Those interested in the debate over the origins of Secret Mark may find the issue of interest since, once again, we get cavalier accusations of forgery against an eminent scholar in the field.

10 responses on “Is the Gospel of Judas a Forgery?

  1. I was enjoying your article, Tony, until the last line! I read Arthur’s article some time ago and was unimpressed by it. I understand that you disagree with Stephen Carlson’s case, but I think it is unfair to call his case cavalier.

  2. I’m not sure I would use “cavalier” to describe Carlson’s arguments, or Peter Jeffrey’s for that matter–though, as you say, I don’t agree with their positions, they do take the time to present evidence (none of it strong, mind you). “Cavalier” describes just about everyone else who accused Smith of forgery before Carlson came along (Quesnell, Neusner, Akenson, even Price, to name a few). What else would you call unfounded accusations of forgery?

  3. Ok, if you’re not talking about Stephen’s work there, then I’m not so bothered. I don’t know Peter’s as well as I do Stephen’s though I also think it would be unfair to describe his work as cavalier. I disagree that there evidence is not strong, but that’s a discussion for another day.

  4. Ah, Mark. Just wait until you read the proceedings from the Secret Mark Symposium. You will be convinced (well, I hope so anyway).

  5. The manuscript is due at the printer’s this month; hopefully that means it will be ready for SBL in November.

  6. “Combining the sharp eye of a master sleuth and the erudition of an academic, Stephen Carlson tells the story of an extraordinary literary hoax. With forensic skill Carlson shows how Morton Smith succeeded in fooling many biblical scholars into believing that he had discovered a hitherto unknown fragment of a sensational gospel. The Gospel Hoax uncovers the clues and unmasks the perpetrator of a remarkable feat of deception…. Fascinating, compelling, and utterly convincing”

    – Mark Goodacre associate professor etc (cover endorsement)

    In the future the debate over the authenticity will likely be viewed as a collision between the idealism of the post-war generation and the reactionary cynicism of self-serving ‘professional’ academics of the post-modern age. One wonders whether in a hundred years it will no longer be Morton Smith on trial but the subsequent generation who did not even so much as check whether Stephen Carlson’s forger’s tremor was the result of his using the lowest possible quality images of the manuscript to achieve the results he – consciously or unconsciously – wished to achieve.

    I would even go so far as to say that it will not even be Carlson who will be judged harshly (because he wasn’t even a ‘real’ scholar when he wrote the Gospel Hoax) but those cynical professional scholars who continue to this day to resist admitting they endorsed a thesis without checking the work behind its claims.

  7. “…it depicts priests sleeping with women…”

    Neither the Gospel of Judas nor Arthur’s article says anything about sleeping with *women*; both speak of sleeping with *men*. So this looks like an error, either Price’s or yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>