Swiss foundation seeks to shed light on controversial Christian text named after apostle said to have betrayed Jesus.
About 2,000 years after the Gospel according to Judas sowed discord among early Christians, a Swiss foundation says it is translating for the first time the controversial text named after the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus Christ.
The 62-page papyrus manuscript of the text was uncovered in Egypt during the 1950s or 1960s, but its owners did not fully comprehend its significance until recently, according to the Maecenas Foundation in Basel.
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The manuscript written in the ancient dialect of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community will be translated into English, French and German in about a year, the foundation specialising in antique culture said on Tuesday.
“We have just received the results of carbon dating: the text is older than we thought and dates back to a period between the beginning of the third and fourth centuries,” foundation director Mario Jean Roberty said.
The existence of a Gospel of Judas, which was originally written in Greek, was outlined by a bishop, Saint Irenee, when he denounced the text as heretical during the second century.
“It’s the only clear source that allows us to know that such a Gospel did exist,” Roberty explained.
The foundation declined to say what account Judas is said to give in his alleged gospel.
According to Christian tradition, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ by helping the Romans to find him before he was crucified.
“We do not want to reveal the exceptional side of what we have,” Roberty said.
The author of the text is unknown.
“No one can clearly state that Judas wrote it himself,” Roberty said, while pointing out that the other gospels were probably not written by their supposed authors either.
The four recognised gospels of the New Testament describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and are said to record his teachings from the eyes of four of his disciples, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Roman Catholic Church limited the recognised gospels to the four in 325, under the guidance of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine.
Thirty other texts – some of which have been uncovered – were sidelined because “they were difficult to reconcile with what Constantine wanted as a political doctrine,” according to Roberty.
The foundation’s director said the Judas Iscariot text called into question some of the political principles of Christian doctrine.
It could also to some extent rehabilitate Judas, whose name has often come to symbolise the accusation of deicide – God-killing – levelled by some Christian teachings against the Jewish people, he added.
After the manuscript is restored, the text is due to be translated and analysed by a team of specialists in Coptic history led by a former professor at the University of Geneva, Rudolf Kasser.
Jean-Daniel Kaestli, an expert on gospels who has seen the manuscript, said the discovery was “very interesting”, although the papyrus was in a bad state.
He added that it was not going to lead to a revolutionary change in the vision of the Bible, although it could shed some new light on parts of Christianity’s holy text.
The Maecenas Foundation, which aims to protect archaeological relics found in poor countries, hopes to organise exhibitions around the manuscript and to produce a documentary on the process of unravelling the text.
The full launch is due in Easter 2006.