Sunday, September 30, 2007


Fighting for truth and justice in the study of history is a lot like fighting a war, isn't it? No guns and bullets, but the energy it takes to go up against the powers that tell lies is enormous and the hostility you encounter because you oppose them often feels lethal. It feels like it takes your whole life just to make small corrections.

In Bart Ehrman's The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed (2006), there is a combination of honesty and dishonesty that makes the dishonesty stand out all the more clearly. What I have to say about Ehrman's work on Judas is no different from I would say about any other scholar's, and I can already feel the guns of vituperation aimed at me because I would dare criticize any scholar for the lies they tell.

Ehrman is honest enough to mention the Greek word paradidomi, which does not mean betray, but he mentions it only once (on p.16) in connection with Paul's use of it at 1 Corinthians 11:23 where he refers to the night when Jesus was turned over. When Ehrman first translates this, he says betrayed. But then on the next page, he points out that paradidomi does not mean betray. In fact, he says "betray" may be an inaccurate translation and then retranslates is as "handed over". He uses the more correct meaning of paradidomi as the major reason why he thinks Paul was probably not referring to a betrayal.

What he never tells his readers, or apparently himself, is that the Gospels use the same word to describe Judas' action. When he discusses Mark' version of Judas (20-23), he sometimes says "hand over" or "turn over" but he also uses "betray". He never gives any justification for why Mark should be translated as saying betray and he never brings up that Mark is using paradidomi, the same word Paul uses.

Ehrman is quite aware that some people (including scholars, though he never mentions them here) have a tendency to create a Gospel in their own head and use this to substitute for what the Gospels actually say. He calls this a mega-Gospel which he explains as "a Gospel found nowhere in the New Testament but simply in our own heads, as we write a Gospel of our own to substitute for the Gospels of the New Testament" (33). This is not the best way to study the Gospels, he points out. But in the case of Judas, he is busy creating his own mega-Gospel. He does exactly what he says you should not do.

In his discussion of Judas in Mark, he refers to Judas' act as "the evil deed" (20). (In other places, he calls it "the foul deed" [43] and "a malicious act" [97].) But what on what basis does he leap to this conclusion? Mark never uses the appropriate word for betray, prodidomi; he never explains a motive for the act; he never shows any disciples criticizing Judas after the deed is done; no one calls Judas evil or curses him out. This allegation of evil exists only in Ehrman's head, in his mega-Gospel.

Mark himself relates a perfectly neutral account of Judas. And not one scholar has the honesty to tell you that. Tradition branded Judas a traitor, tradition created a mega-Gospel. This branding is simply the worst sort of historical study. It is as dishonest as scholarship as gets.

When Ehrman offers his own theory of what Judas betrayed about Jesus (having to do with revealing Jesus' private, not public, teaching that he was a King), he says that his theory "makes sense of all the data" (165). Hardly. He never explains why Mark uses paradidomi, why a motive is missing from his account, and why no recriminations against Judas. He never acknowledges how neutral Mark's account is. There is a lot of data he simply ignores (but I go over it all quite carefully in Chapter 9 of my book, link at right). But that's how witch trials go: Ignore, erase, all the exonerating data.

A lot of people will think I am being quite harsh with scholars. I do not beg to differ. I insist on differing. The harshness is all on the scholarly side for condemning a man on the basis of virtually no evidence. Outrageous. I don't think it will ever end until some of us cry out and demonstrate how wrong this is.

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