The Lost Translation of Judas

The Divine Comedy , Dante’s imaginative vision of the Christian afterlife, describes the poet’s journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. In Dante’s hell, there are nine concentric circles and in each region the sinners are punished in proportion to their earthly sins. The ninth circle is reserved for Lucifer and the traitors. Lucifer has three faces in which he chews three of the greatest traitors in history: Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s assassins and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.

This year The National Geographic published a translation of the Lost of Gospel of Judas. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas is the favorite disciple to whom Jesus imparts secret teachings. Contrary to the teachings of other Christian texts, Jesus came to save the world, predicted his own death and used Judas as an instrument in that process. According to this version, Judas is the good guy, a friend of Jesus who helps him achieve his life mission.

A new book,The Thirteenth Apostle by Dr. April Deconick says that the National Geographic translation is wrong.

I wrote this book because when I read the Coptic transliteration of the manuscript in April 2006, I realized that Judas was much more a hero in the National Geographic translation than he was in my own translation. As I worked through the Coptic and then sat and studied the text as a whole, I quickly came to see that Judas is not a good guy in this gospel. He is not Jesus’ friend or the greatest disciple. I began to wonder why the NG team translated in reference to Judas “daimon” as “spirit” when its most accepted translation is “demon.” I wondered why the team chose to say that Judas is “set apart for” the holy generation, when the Coptic actually reads that he is “separated from” the holy generation. And so forth.[What is different about my translation of the Gospel of Judas?]

In his lecture at the 19th International Conference on South Asian Archeology in Italy, Prof. B.B. Lal gave an example of how linguists can manipulate translations to suit their agenda.

A case in point is that of the well known Professor of Sanskrit at the Harvard University, Professor Witzel. He did not hesitate to mistranslate a part of the Baudhayana Srautasutra (Witzel 1995: 320-21). In 2003 I published a paper in the East and West (Vol. 53, Nos. 1-4), exposing his manipulation. Witzel’s translation of the relevant Sanskrit text was as follows:

“Aya went eastwards. His (people) are the Kuru-Pancalas and Kasi Videha. This is the Ayava(migration).(His other people)stayed at home in the west. His people are the Gandhari, Parasu and Aratta. This is the Amavasava (group).

Whereas the correct translation is:

Ayu migrated eastwards. His (people) are the Kuru-Pancalas and the Kasi-Videhas. This is the Ayava (migration). Amavasu migrated westwards. His (people) are the Ghandhari, Parsu and Aratta. This is the Amavasu (migration).

According to the correct translation, there was no movement of the Aryan people from anywhere in the north-west. On the other hand, the evidence indicates that it was from an intermediary point that some of the Aryan tribes went eastwards and other westwards.

The problem it seems was that National Geographic gave the manuscript to a few scholars who mistranslated. The originals were not made public and so no one else could read or correct these mistakes. Now National Geographic has decided to make this information public so that  scholars can read, debate and decide what those Coptic texts really mean.

In the Aryan Invasion folklore, the agenda is very clear, but in the case of the Lost Gospel of Judas story, it is not clear if it was a genuine mistake or agenda driven.

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