MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.
Last week, the National Geographic Society made the remarkable announcement that it had completed the translation of the Gospel of Judas, a five-year project that required Herculean efforts of restoration, authentication and translation. The Gospel challenges the traditional view of Judas Iscariot as the ultimate betrayer. Instead it describes him as Jesus's most trusted disciple and collaborator. It says that Judas betrayed Jesus to help him fulfill his destiny as the savior of humankind.
The text is believed to be 1,700 years old. It was originally found three decades ago in Egypt along with other early Christian writings. How it became available to the public is too complicated to recount here, but articles in two major newspapers today, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, raised questions about whether the manuscript was obtained legally and ethically, at least according to contemporary standards for acquiring antiquities, but nobody seems to dispute that the document is the real thing.
And so today, we'd like to focus on how the text changes what we know about Judas and the Bible. Does this Gospel change the way we think about Jesus and his sacrifice? Does this work prompt new discussion about why certain texts are included in the Bible and others, like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, are not. How different would the Bible be if these other works were included?
If you have any questions about the Gospel of Judas, where it came from or what it says, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And our first guest is Marvin Meyer. He is professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University in California. He is also one of the translators of the Gospel of Judas. He joins us from the studios of NPR West. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. MARVIN MEYER (Chapman University): It's very good to be here.
MARTIN: How do we know that this is the real thing?
Dr. MEYER: Well, if you mean by the real thing that this is an authentic text, we have looked at it very carefully. We have examined the kind of handwriting that is to be found. There have been carbon-14 dating methods that have been employed, and the ink has been tested. There has never been, I think, a piece of papyrus that has been looked at as carefully as this, so this actually is a genuine and authentic ancient text.
What's also interesting is that this is a copy translation, and Irenaeus of Lyons in 180 talked about a Gospel of Judas. We are convinced that this is a version of that same Gospel of Judas that Irenaeus talked about, so that we are suggesting, with a great deal of confidence, that in fact the Gospel of Judas was likely composed in Greek in the middle of the second century. So that makes it a rather early Gospel and a very interesting example of another perspective on a variety of things that happened during holy week toward the end of the life of Jesus.
MARTIN: Okay. Let's talk about all of that, but first, who is believed to have written this gospel? Any idea?
Dr. MEYER: I wish we had a name. The way this often happened in the world of antiquity was if you wrote something that was insignificant like a letter or you were fashioning some receipt or something like that, you might put a date on, you might put your own name on, and so on. But if you were writing something that you thought was destined to stand the test of time, something that was truly significant, you wouldn't trivialize it by putting a date on or putting your own name on.
You would, perhaps, put the name of an apostle on or some disciple or some holy person out of the past. So we don't know the name of the person, but we have a kind of a profile of the person, that this is somebody who lived in the middle of the second century, was very conversant in the Greek language, was a Christian person who had a kind of a mystical view -- we call a Gnostic view --of Christianity that involved the vision that the value of Jesus essentially is that he is the revealer of wisdom and knowledge, and by tapping into that wisdom and knowledge, we can find in our own lives a spark of, a bit of the spirit of God within ourselves, that Jesus can lead us to that kind of recognition, and thus we can obtain salvation.
MARTIN: Many people will not have had a chance to read this Gospel yet as they're listening to us today, so walk us through it as briefly as you can. Does it contain things found in the other Gospels, like a story of Jesus's birth, of his ministry? Tell us what are some of things in the Gospel?
Dr. MEYER: Well, there is, in fact, a certain amount of narrative. There is a story that is told, but the main part of the gospel has to do with a revelation that is given, that is a mystical revelation. But essentially the gospel begins during the last days of the life of Jesus, and Jesus meets at several times with the disciples in general but has special meetings with Judas because Judas is singled out of the 12 disciples of the group of disciples as being the disciple that has particular insight, is especially aware of who Jesus is and is open to the teaching of Jesus, so Judas gets a special kind of education from Jesus.
There is a revelation that is given. The terms of the revelation are different from the New Testament, but they have to do with a kind of a mystical appreciation of how the light of God came down from a deity that is utterly transcendent, down to this world and finally permeates human beings. And as a result, human beings have a bit of that light within, and Jesus has that light within, and Judas has that light within, and all that Jesus and Judas and all of us have to do is to recognize that.
And when Judas realizes that, in the Gospel of Judas, then he himself is told, you know, look up at the light that is above and ascend into the light, and he has his own kind of transfiguration. Just as Jesus has a transfiguration in the New Testament gospels, Judas has a transfiguration here.
And so he goes into a light, and he hears the divine voice and he becomes enlightened, and then he does what Jesus asks him to do, because toward the end of the gospel, Jesus and Judas are talking, and this, of course, I suppose is the part of the gospel that has attracted the most attention thus far.
Jesus turns to Judas and he says, you will exceed all of them, that is, all the other disciples. You will be greater than all of the other disciples for you will sacrifice the man that clothes me, that is Judas is asked by Jesus to turn Jesus in to the authorities so that he may die, that the body of Jesus may die so that that inner person, that inner light, the real person of Jesus may be liberated from the mortal body and Judas does that.
MARTIN: And he does that. Let's go to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Brock. Brock, what is your question?
BROCK (Caller): Yes, hello, thank you for taking my call. My question is this. And what sort of light does this shed on Judas simply playing his part in the prophecy, in a sense that Christ had to die and Judas was simply playing his part in making that sort of happen, and do Christians need to now reevaluate the Judas kiss? And I'll take that off the air. Thank you.
MARTIN: Oh, thank you, Brock. Thank you for calling.
Dr. MEYER: Yes, yeah, a very good question. Yeah, the Judas kiss. The very phrase has gone down in history with a great deal of infamy connected to it. We all know what the Judas kiss is. It's a kiss of betrayal. Of course, in the first century, a kiss between a couple of men would be a greeting. It's a way of saying hello. Even as in the Middle East, it still is a greeting that is given between men or between women. But the kiss that is the kiss of betrayal in the story is the key part of that story.
Well, what's interesting about the Gospel of Judas is that it gives, to be sure, a positive assessment of Judas, that Judas is doing the will of his good friend Jesus, and is doing exactly what Jesus asks him to do.
But, before there was a Gospel of Judas that was in our hands, there was a fair amount of discussion about exactly who Judas Iscariot was and scholars and popular writers, purveyors of popular culture for some time have been, you know, imagining, now, who was this engaging, this enigmatic figure of Judas. Because there are plenty of hints already in the New Testament that he was a part of the inner circle of disciples, that he was close to Jesus, that he had a trusted position in that circle, and as the caller has indicated, it is even said in the Bible that Jesus tells him, now, what you are about to do, go do it quickly.
So, that exactly what that means for this kind of reexamination of Judas, well, that is what we're up to right now and, hopefully, that process will begin as we set the gospels on the table and put the Gospel of Judas on the table as well and, perhaps, reexamine the figure of Judas to see exactly what we can conclude about him.
MARTIN: But, Professor, the other parts of the Bible do indicate an awareness of what is to come. I mean, Jesus reflects that he knows that something is about to happen. What do you think the purpose of it is in recasting Judas as, sort of, the catalyst for this great thing that is about to happen? I mean, because, presumably, that could have been, it could have been recounted that way in the other gospels. Clearly, we're speculating here, but why do you think it wasn't? I mean, why do you think that the other testimonies are so different?
Dr. MEYER: Well, you know, the exact role of Judas, the motivation of Judas is one of the great questions about the New Testament and about the New Testament gospels and there has been a huge amount of speculation. The earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament, doesn't really give any motivation, per se. You know, it's not clear on why Judas did what he did and there's been a lot of speculation about that.
Was it something that involved disillusionment or was it something that involved a different vision of the kingdom of God or was it a mistake that happened or was it an agreement between Jesus and Judas of some sort? Did something go very wrong or did something go very right through all this?
I think that as we think back, over the past several years, and think about, well, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and some novels that have been done and the work of scholars and so forth that are exploring this, this is one of the great issues and I would hope that the Gospel of Judas will allow us to continue to address, perhaps now with a bit more vigor, exactly what is going on in these accounts.
What, of course, is interesting is that, eventually, the portrayal of Judas, which is increasingly negative as we look chronologically at the New Testament gospels from Mark through Matthew and Luke and onto John, that account is increasingly negative and Judas is increasingly demonized as the years pass.
MARTIN: Excuse me, Professor. We need to take a short break.
We're talking about the recent translation of the Gospel of Judas and how it changes our assumptions of Judas's relationship to Jesus and we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is email@example.com. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.
We are talking about the Gospel of Judas. The manuscript is one of dozens of early Christian texts that are not included in the Bible. Some have been found, some are only referred to in other writings, some are gospels, some are not. For some reason, over time, those texts just didn't make the cut. Will this new manuscript change the way you think about Judas? Would the Bible be the same if gospels like this were included?
Our guest is Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible and Christian studies at Chapman University in California. He is one of the translators of the codex. You're invited to join the discussion. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor, before the break we were talking about how this text may revise our interpretation of Judas and Judas's role in the last days of Jesus's life and I think one of the things that would be puzzling to many people is that if Judas was acting in fulfillment of prophecy, why did he kill himself?
Dr. MEYER: Well, of course, to say that he killed himself is to look at one or two of the gospels of the New Testament. There is no particular agreement or unanimity about that point at all. In fact, what really happens in the New Testament is that as the time passed from one gospel to another as we trace the development of the New Testament gospels, the portrayal of Judas is increasingly negative.
It is said in the Gospel of Luke that he may be inspired by the Devil, in the Gospel of John, he may be a devil, as a matter of fact. And the painful reality of this, as I believe we all know, is that this figure of Judas became one of the building blocks for the development of anti-Semitism and as time passed, it became increasingly the conviction that what Judas was, was, if I can put it very badly, but in keeping with that hateful tradition of anti-Semitism, the bad Jew who turned in his master.
And in portrayals of Judas in artwork he is portrayed, he is caricatured along the lines of a Jewish person. I guess my personal hope is that, if I can just say this, my personal hope is that, if we have a chance as Jewish and Christian people, and Muslims for that matter, to take a look at the Gospel of Judas, it may give us the occasion to reopen that discussion.
Now, hatred cannot be so easily eradicated, but if we begin to take a look at this to see some of the positive features of this portrayal of Judas and the Gospel of Judas, it may give us a chance to revisit this building block of anti-Semitism and, perhaps, to destroy it.
MARTIN: I think many people are, well, that's a very rich topic and I think we should try to spend a little bit more time on it before we close our discussion today, but I think a lot of people are very interested in how the Bible evolved into what it is today, what we understand as the Bible, what books are included, what writings are included and what are not.
And joining us to help talk about that is Elaine Pagels. She is professor of religion at Princeton University and she joins us by phone from Princeton, New Jersey. Welcome, Professor Pagels.
Dr. ELAINE PAGELS (Princeton University): Hello, nice to be with both of you.
MARTIN: Why isn't the Gospel of Judas in the Bible?
Dr. PAGELS: Well, that's a good question. We know that there were, as I believe my colleague has probably said, many gospels in the early Christian movement and at a certain point, about the year 180, one of the Christian leaders said, there really can only be four gospels and he said all the others were blasphemous and wrong. He chose the four gospels that are narrative gospels and they also have a lot about the public teaching of Jesus.
But he said, all of the gospels which claim to have secret teaching of Jesus, and we have a lot of those, including this one, were wrong and should be eliminated.
Dr. PAGELS: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. For one thing, these secret gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Philip tend to include not the basic story of Jesus, but kind of an advanced level teaching as if it were some, also includes mystical speculations. And they're probably meant to be what you learn after you learn the basic teachings about Jesus's baptism and his healings and his death and his resurrection.
MARTIN: And does that somehow fight the message of the gospels, which I believe means the good news, that this is something available to all people who are willing to embrace it?
Dr. PAGELS: Well, it's certainly true what you say that it was said to be open to all people. It's just that some people thought that, while open to all, there were also different levels, because if you look at, say, Jewish tradition or Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, you see mystical traditions as well as public teachings in all of them and there were, also in the Christian movement, secret teachings that were treasured by devoted Christians. Many of them were monks who copied these texts, liked them very much.
So, they thought these other texts were important for people to learn, but not to put in a canon because those are books you're supposed to read in public in church.
MARTIN: Could you just, you mentioned this earlier, but could you just clarify for people who may not have heard you, what does Gnostic gospel mean?
Dr. PAGELS: Well, that's a really hard question, actually. It often means, not the real ones. You know, if we called it, say, a Christian gospel, that would probably be what the author had in mind. When we call it a Gnostic gospel, on the one hand you can say it's about people who claimed to know something about the secret teaching, that's fair enough. But, very often, it really means for people today, the wrong gospel, the bad ones, the heresy.
Dr. PAGELS: So, I used that term and I'm a little sorry I did because --
MARTIN: It's somewhat derogatory. It's meant to be a judgment. It's not authentic.
Dr. PAGELS: Yes.
MARTIN: Interesting. I did not know that. That's helpful.
Let's go to Morrilton, Arkansas. Reagan, what's your question?
REAGAN (Caller): My question is, I'm interested in the historicity of this picture of Judas that's portrayed in the Gospel of Judas. When the news of this gospel came out I went online and looked at the text and, I mean, it seems to -- the worldview presented in the gospel seems to be very Greek. It seems to be typical of many of the other Gnostic gospels, which was the worldview that came from the Greek world and not the Jewish world.
And so, I'm wondering how accurate you think the picture that this gospel presents of Judas is to the historical Judas who, of course, was not in the Greek worldview and was rather in the Palestinian one?
MARTIN: Thank you for your question, Reagan. Who would like to answer that? Professor Pagels?
Dr. PAGELS: Marv, are you going to take that? I mean, I don't know. It's a hard question.
Dr. MEYER: Why don't you start, yes.
Dr. PAGELS: It's an important question you raise. I would say, though, that a lot of the teaching there, strange as it may look, has a lot to do with Jewish speculations about angels and what really happened in the beginning of creation.
Now, whether this reflects anything about the actual Judas, we don't know. It could have older traditions in it. I would say, more conservatively than that that at least it tells us what people in later generations were arguing about and one of those things is, well, why did he do it? And some people say he did it for money. He did it because the Devil made him do it. That's in the gospels that Marv Meyer mentioned, the gospels of Luke and Matthew and John. But, this one says that other people suggested he did it because of a secret agreement and because of a spiritual mystery that he understood.
MARTIN: Professor Meyer, what do you think?
Dr. MEYER: I would simply add to what Professor Pagels said. And I agree with most everything that she said. But I would simply want to add that this is, in a way, kind of the fundamental question that a number of people are raising. What does this say about Jesus and Judas and the historical figures and so on?
And what I would say about the historicity of it is that all of the gospels that we have are interpretations. All of them are theological statements. All of them have been heavily edited so that it's not as if we find one that tells the real historical story and all the others depart from that.
They all need to be examined for the point of view and the motivation and that's part of the richness of this particular moment that now we have another gospel before us that gives us a chance to see yet another perspective on all of these things.
Now, this comment about this being rather Greek, you know, in a way, the point is a good one. But, I believe that what we can see in this Gospel of Judas is that the revelation that is given, that is put on the lips of Jesus, essentially is a Jewish revelation. That this kind of vision of the universe and a high God that is responsible for everything, a God that, in a way, extends God's self down into this world and, finally, is responsible for the light of the divine that found within people in this world, that that really is a Jewish point of view.
But, it's a Jewish point of view that has been influenced by Greek thought, too. It's what we call a Hellenistic Jewish point of view, with a fair amount of Platonic thought in it. It's a very rich kind of heritage and that must antedate the gospel itself because it seems to be representative of something that was around before.
Again, this may help us have a richer idea of some of the wonderful speculation, the wonderful theologizing, the wonderful perspectives that were emerging in this very rich and diverse world of the first and second centuries of the common era.
MARTIN: Let's go to Oakland, California and Andrew. Andrew, what's your question?
ANDREW (Caller): I guess I have a question or point that I've never understood why Jesus, or not, Judas and the Jews have been reviled for killing Jesus because isn't that the whole point of Christianity, that he died for everyone's sins. So, if Judas hadn't sold him out, hadn't betrayed his master, then Christianity wouldn't exist. So he should be thanked.
Dr. PAGELS: Well, I think that's a really important point because it's that kind of perspective that this author explores. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas is thinking exactly that way and this is, and you see it, as you know, in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John in the New Testament and --
MARTIN: Can I just ask the caller, Andrew, is this something that's always puzzled you before you read this work or before you heard about this gospel? Is that the kind of question that troubled you, which is this is the fulfillment of a prophecy? If there was a prophecy, something had to bring it about so why is the person who brought it about the bad guy?
ANDREW: Yeah. I saw some anti-Semitic skinhead on TV once and he was all mad at the Jews for killing Jesus, and I wondered, well, did he actually know anything about Christianity. That, you know, Jesus was supposed to sacrifice himself for all our sins and so I just thought it was kind of weird.
MARTIN: Thank you, Andrew.
ANDREW: Thank you.
Dr. MEYER: Well, it is a very interesting point that is raised, and it's one of the fundamental points in terms of the assessment of the crucifixion in early Christianity, really, up to the present day.
We talk about Good Friday. Well, is Good Friday good Friday or bad Friday? Is the crucifixion a good thing or a bad thing, and certainly, historically speaking, in the most immediate way of assessing it, a crucifixion is a horrific kind of penalty imposed by the Romans on political folks that they judged were dangerous to the welfare of the Roman empire and so forth. And it's painful and ugly and awful. But the --
MARTIN: Excuse me, Professor. Was it meant to be a shaming death?
Dr. MEYER: Oh, absolutely.
MARTIN: Besides being horribly painful. I mean, it's torture, but was it meant to be shaming?
Dr. MEYER: It certainly was, yes. A person would be naked, displayed in the throes of death, you know, on a cross. It was an awful sort of thing that often involved exposure to the elements and to animals and birds and so forth. I mean, the stories that we can recreate about that are horrific.
But yet, throughout much of Christianity, the crucifixion has been embraced as something that is positive.
Now, the portrait of the positive features of the crucifixion in the Gospel of Judas is a little bit different, but it still is said to be release for Jesus. But interestingly, in the Gospel of Judas, there is no crucifixion account itself, but the gospel ends with Judas handing Jesus over as Jesus wanted and that's the end of the Gospel of Judas.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Professor Meyer and Professor Pagels, both of you talked about mysticism and the mysticism of the text. And this gospel does speak of mysteries beyond this world. Was mysticism a larger part of early Christianity than it is today and why do you think this aspect has receded from our practice of Christianity today?
Dr. PAGELS: Shall I try that?
Dr. MEYER: Yes, yes. Please.
Dr. PAGELS: Professor Meyer had mentioned that, and that is a really fundamental point and a really good question. Because we do know now what we didn't, of course, that there were many claims about mysterious and secret understandings of these teachings. Because Jewish teaching, like most teaching, proceeded in different ways. Most people would teach one way publicly and another way privately. And I think that much that we call Gnostic or secret teachings or much that the church fathers called heresy is really Jewish mystical teaching.
And there was a lot of it. But it seems to me that some of the fathers of the church wanted to eliminate these other teachings because they felt they were leading to different divisions between the groups. And in the face of persecution, when this was an illegal movement to belong to, they felt it was very important to unify the group on sort of the lowest common denominator and the simplest principles.
MARTIN: Let's go to St. Louis, Missouri. I'm sorry. I want to bring in a caller before the break.
Dr. MEYER: Yes, please.
MARTIN: St. Louis, Missouri and Jonathon.
JONATHON (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. I was just curious about the providential nature of this text. If you believe in God and if you believe that God has a providence, then there is a sort of validity to the original canon. But at the same time, I think, there is a validity to all of these new texts, the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Thomas, as they come out for the Christians of the time in which they're discovered.
So, in particular, this seems to me, whether or not it's historical truth, a really interesting Christian (unintelligible) for Christians of our day and age. And I was just wondering what the guests had to say about that.
MARTIN: Interesting. Thank you, Jonathon.
Dr. MEYER: Yes, a very nice comment. A very significant comment.
Let me address it like this. I think that one of the richest aspects of the publication of the Gospel of Judas is that now we have before us a text that simply underscores yet again the great diversity that was around in the early Church.
Sometimes, it is suggested that in the beginning there was only one kind of variety of Christianity, but it becomes clearer to all of us, and the Gospel of Judas helps us appreciate that. That in the beginning of Christianity, there was diversity, and there always has been diversity. In the present day there is diversity.
And I suspect that one of the helpful things about the Gospel of Judas and its clarification for us of the diverse nature of the Christian movement is that it might help us appreciate, and maybe even celebrate, some of that kind of diversity that is to be found in the early church but also is to be found in our world today. And if that is the case, we may all be the better for it.
MARTIN: When we come back from a short break, more on the Gospel of Judas and your calls. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION for NPR News.
Today, we're talking about the Gospel of Judas. You can read an excerpt from the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus speaks privately to Judas, at the TALK OF THE NATION page at NPR.org.
Our guests are Marvin Meyer, Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University in California, and Elaine Pagels. She is the Harrington Sphere Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Join the conversation, call us at 800-989-TALK. Our email address is email@example.com.
Professor Pagels, the caller earlier was intriguing to me because he talked about how perhaps these books coming out now is providential. And I am wondering if, just as you've pointed out that in the early days of Christianity there was a need to suppress dissension because this was a group that was under attack, I do wonder whether these texts coming forward, especially with all the tools we have now to disseminate information, the interest that we clearly see, is this going to be a challenge for Christianity today to incorporate this information? I mean, this isn't easy to restrict knowledge now. You can't suppress a book even if you wanted to.
Dr. PAGELS: That's true. That's a really good point and the people, I liked his point very much. It was an important insight because the people who copied these texts and who treasured them were people who really wanted to deepen their spiritual practice. Many of them were monks, we know that. And they were certainly thought of themselves as Christians who wanted to learn how to devote themselves to God more fully.
So, yes. I think they're very appealing because they contain insights that have led many people brought up in Christian tradition to look either in Kabala in Jewish mystical tradition or in Buddhism and other religions for insights they haven't found in Christianity.
MARTIN: But what I'm asking you is, does this pose a challenge to authorities now in, Christian authorities. And I don't mean authorities' in the sense of you know, people -- but there are, there is a sense that some denominations particularly have more of a sense of what is to be discussed than others, but all information is easily obtained, particularly in the West. And so is this a challenge for Christian authorities of today to decide how this information is to be received by the public.
Dr. PAGELS: Absolutely is. You know, there are already, you've probably seen ministers denouncing it and certainly certain members of the Roman Catholic clergy denouncing it. And they, either because they do not acknowledge what Professor Meyer said, which is that all the gospels we have contain interpretations and not simply facts, or because they don't want people to be confused.
Even today, in Muslim countries, it's considered a serious offense to say that something in the Koran was not said by Muhammad. So, to say that something in the gospels was maybe not said by Jesus but added later can offend many people and does.
MARTIN: Professor Pagels, you have to leave us soon so I have one more question for you. From Dixon, Illinois here's Luca.
LUCA (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my question.
Christian faith seems to be informed tremendously by the canonical gospels, so how is it then that Christians are supposed to judge the seeming contradictions between the canonical gospels and the Gnostic ones, since to do so in terms of their faith would be question begging?
Dr. PAGELS: You're right. I think judging it is a very, very hard question.
In the early church, they called it discernment of spirits. How can you tell which revelations are genuine and which ones aren't? That's an enormous question. I mean, the canon was created to solve it. I don't find any easy answer to it, I must say.
I do think it's wonderful that we can now, as you say, we can read all of these for ourselves and think about them and discuss them. I think, unless you want to take the voice of some authority who's perfectly willing to step in and say, read these, these are junk, we do have to read them for ourselves and talk about them and think about them, and then make decisions.
Dr. MEYER: Can I say one thing?
MARTIN: Luca, thank you for your question.
And, I'm sorry Professor Meyer, we're going to have to say goodbye to Professor Pagels here. Professor Elaine Pagels, she's the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and she joined us from Princeton New Jersey. Thank you so much for calling. For calling in and joining us.
Dr. PAGELS: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. Take care. Bye bye.
Dr. MEYER: Goodbye.
MARTIN: And Professor Meyer, you were going to say that --
Dr. MEYER: Yes, I was --
MARTIN: -- do you think this poses a challenge for authorities today in incorporating these, these texts?
Dr. MEYER: Well I simply want to add to what Professor Pagels said very well, that it may in fact present certain kinds of challenges, but the public has a right to know. And the church has a right to know. And priests and bishops and ministers and laypeople in churches have a right to know.
And I would hope that with the richness of what we have before us, with the Gospel of Judas but with other texts as well that have come to light in the last century or so, that we would be able in a new and rather exciting kind of way to look at these texts and to appreciate the developments of church history. And to revisit some questions that are very important.
I think that this is the sort of thing that could be very liberating, and I hope it is. I hope that a good discussion, with agreement and with disagreement, will emerge from this.
MARTIN: Let's go to San Antonio, Texas, and Glen.
Glen, what's your question?
GLEN (Caller): Yeah, thanks for taking my call.
The discussion heretofore has been really wonderful, but a tad bit academic, I think. I wanted to figure out what would be the impact of the modern, I'll say evangelicals. Growing up in the south, I remember seeing bumper stickers in church saying, you know, God said it, I believe it. That settles it. But when you have to evaluate these multitude of other gospels that were in circulation and the competition between them, what -- and this Gospel of Judas kind of brings it out right now -- what kind of effect does that have on belief systems that say, this is the authoritative interpretation? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
MARTIN: Thank you for calling. Although Glen, let me just say before you go that I'm not sure I can ask two academics not to be academic, but thank you for pointing it out.
Dr. MEYER: Yes. It's a very good comment and a difficult one. And I guess I really turn it back to Christians, to evangelicals and to all believers and all people of spirit, to engage these kinds of texts and to see what it will mean for them.
First and foremost, what we have before us is the Gospel of Judas, composed in the middle of the second century. And I believe that the first series of comments that we would have wanted to give about it would have to do with life in the middle of the second century and the diversity of Christianity at that time.
And if beyond that there are further discussions that can open up that can shed light on the New Testament and can shed light on some of the enduring kinds of issues about who was Judas anyway and what role does he play in the account of the last days of Jesus and the crucifixion, if it opens up that discussion, I think we all can be enriched by that.
MARTIN: You've spent your life studying these texts, these kinds of issues. When you first heard about this, do you remember how you felt, Professor Meyer?
Dr. MEYER: Yes, well, prior to the Gospel of Judas, we really haven't known that the Gospel of Judas was a part of this wonderful codex for very long. The announcement was made in the summer of 2004 in Paris by Rodov Cossier (ph), the senior investigator in the project. And then we knew for sure that the Gospel of Judas was a part of the codex (unintelligible).
But before that, there were other gospel discoveries that took place, other manuscript discoveries. The discovery of the Naghamadi library in the 1940s, the middle of the 1940s, disclosed to us other gospels, the Gospel of Thomas being the most famous, perhaps, but the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip and the Egyptian Gospel. And from another find we knew about the Gospel of Mary. So there have been some outstanding discoveries that have taken place in recent decades. And all of these, I think, impressed me very much. I find it very exciting to have a kind of a window on the early church like this, and to gain an appreciation of all the different points of view found in that early church.
MARTIN: Professor, I know I'm asking you to speculate, which you may or may not enjoy doing --
Dr. MEYER: Well, let's try.
MARTIN: -- but how different do you think Christianity would be, as it's practiced today, if these Gospels had been included in the canon?
Dr. MEYER: Well, you know, one of the very interesting things that Professor Pagels mentioned before, we were talking about mysticism and what sometimes is called a Gnostic point of view, that is to say a point of view that advocates gnosis or knowledge, one of the interesting things about that is the Gospel of Judas has a strongly mystical kind of cast.
And one of the issues with mystics is the fact that not only do they feel as if they have access to the light of God within, but what that means is sometimes political trouble, because, if they have immediate access to God, then they don't need to have the priests and the bishops. And there have been many a priest and bishop that has taken exception to that. They would like to keep their employment and their job and so on, and there was a kind of a political disagreement among mystics and those in the emerging orthodox church.
So that part of what is going on here has to do with that kind of argument. That's one of the reasons why a gospel like the Gospel of Judas was excluded. These people were independent folks. So from that point of view, the emergence of an orthodox church that eventually was well-organized, was hierarchical in many cases, was tied in to some of the political and economic and social realities of the day, and thus could be a strong political force in society, that might have been impacted by these kinds of people.
Of course, along with that kind of structure, come a series of problems as well. But certainly, a mystical approach is rather a different approach than what we see in the emerging orthodox church.
MARTIN: Professor Meyer, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Dr. MEYER: Well, thank you very much.
MARTIN: Marvin Meyer is Professor of Bible and Christian Studies at Chapman University in California. He was one of the translators of the Gospel of Judas, and he joined us from our studios in NPR West.
We were also joined earlier by Elaine Pagels. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Last week the National Geographic Society made the remarkable announcement that it had completed the translation of the Gospel of Judas. Why wasn't it included in the Bible?
Last week the National Geographic Society made the remarkable announcement that it had completed the translation of the Gospel of Judas. The five-year project required major efforts of restoration, authentication and translation. The text, believed to be 1,700 years old, was found three decades ago in Egypt.
Why was the Gospel of Judas not included in the Bible? There are other gospels that have been found over the last century that were not included -- among them, the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene. How different would the Bible be if they had been included, and why did some books make the cut while others didn't?
Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible and Christian studies at Chapman University in California; one of the translators of the discovered manuscript The Gospel of Judas
Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University