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Religion professor disputes translation of Judas gospel

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 | May 11, 2006 - 10:45 PM |

BY TAMARA BELKOV

Being called the 1,700-year-old lost voice of an early form of Christianity known as Gnosticism, the Gospel of Judas found its voice at St. Andrew's United Church Wednesday evening through University of Sudbury professor of religious studies André Gagné.

The biblical story of Judas's betrayal of Jesus has come to symbolize disloyalty in the extreme. This recently translated gospel is said to refute Judas's villainous role and depict him as a hero.

The Gospel of Judas was originally found in Egypt in the 1970s. In the past 30 years, the document has lead a life of intrigue rivalling the popular novel The DaVinci Code. (The movie will be released May 19.)

The gospel disappeared from sight, including a 17-year-stay in a Hicksville, New York, safety deposit until it resurfaced and became a hot property in 2000. A Swiss antiquities dealer bought it, tried to sell it, then turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation of Ancient Art to restore and translate. The foundation claims it plans to give the restored original to an Egyptian museum.

Gagné, both an expert on ancient Christian writings and the Coptic language, offered his interpretation of the controversial Gnostic text written in ancient Coptic.

Armed with a laser pointer, he highlighted the Coptic text projected on the screen, "This line says '…for you (Judas) will sacrifice the man that bears me.' It's saying Judas already had in his mind to sacrifice Jesus, and Jesus is aware of this. He (Jesus) is just prophesizing what Judas is going to do and had already stated. This reflects the Gnostic view of Christianity."

National Geographic, which has rights to publish the gospel, has reported the Judas gospel says Jesus asked Judas to betray him.

Gagné disputes this and maintains this is not a matter of semantics but one of grammar.

"They've mistranslated the tense. It was done too quickly. It lacks the accuracy necessary for interpretation in my opinion."

National Geographic partially funded the restoration and translation of the Gospel of Judas and has received the exclusive rights to it.

Gagné accused National Geographic of marketing sensationalism in its coverage of the important religious find. Gagné maintains the current translation is not as accurate as it could be and he would like to see other Christian academics and Coptic specialists given access to the text in its original Coptic form.

"This is the first time something like this has happened," according to Gagné. "This is an important archeological find and we have the moral responsibility to look after it."

Gagné has studied biblical exegesis in Montreal and Louvain in Belgium and is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the International Organization for Qumran Studies, the Association catholique des études bibliques au Canada and the Réseau de recherche en analyse narrative des textes bibliques.

The May issue of National Geographic has more on the Gospel of Judas, or visit www.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel .

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