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UA team verifies age of Gospel of Judas

Florence Darbre (right), conservator of the manuscript, works with coptologist Gregor Wurst to reassemble multitudes of fragments into their proper pages and locations.

Florence Darbre (right), conservator of the manuscript, works with coptologist Gregor Wurst to reassemble multitudes of fragments into their proper pages and locations.

University of Arizona scientists have verified the antiquity of a document from the earliest days of Christianity – a codex that includes the controversial Gospel of Judas Iscariot, which indicates Judas turned Jesus over to Roman authorities at Jesus’ request.

A.J. Tim Jull and Gregory Hodgins used radiocarbon dating procedures to determine the age of five samples from the leather-bound papyrus document discovered about 30 years ago near Al Minya, Egypt.

Five samples from the 66-page manuscript date the material from A.D. 220 to 340, according to Jull, director of the National Science Foundation-Arizona AMS Laboratory, and Hodgins, assistant research scientist.

“All date to the third to fourth century, clearly before the Council of Nicaea, which presumably would have suppressed such a document,” said Jull.

That council, the first ecumenical conference of bishops of the Christian Church, was arranged by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in A.D. 325.

The codex, or manuscript, which had deteriorated into about 1,000 fragments, contains the only known surviving Gospel of Judas as well as the Epistle of Peter to Philip, the First Apocalypse of James and a fragment of a fourth text, yet to be titled.

As often is the case with ancient documents, the codex circulated among a number of antiquities traders, making its way from Egypt to Europe to the United States, where it sat in a Long Island, N.Y., safety deposit box for 16 years.

It was bought by a Zurich, Switzerland, antiquities dealer, according to National Geographic, and the dealer turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basil, Switzerland, in February 2001 for translation and restoration. The papyrus fragments were reassembled and pressed between sheets of glass for preservation.

National Geographic Channel will present a two-hour documentary on the codex at 7 and 9 p.m. Sunday. It will include footage of the UA radiocarbon dating work.

Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs, described the codex as “the most significant biblical find in 60 years.” It was Garcia who hand-carried five test samples of papyrus and leather from Geneva, Switzerland, where other testing was being conducted, to the UA laboratory.

The Gospel of Judas maintains that Judas acted at Jesus’ request in delivering him to Roman authorities – a position that differs markedly from that of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which charged that Judas had betrayed Jesus.

The manuscript also was authenticated by other techniques, including ink analysis, its content, the language patterns and the handwriting style.

UA’s National Science Foundation AMS Lab, established in 1981, has worked previously with dating other biblical materials including the Shroud of Turin and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and has become a world leader in radiocarbon and isotopic dating techniques.

The restored codex materials eventually will be donated to the Coptic Museum in Cairo.



The text from the 1,700-year-old Gospel of Judas was translated by a team of scholars and made public in an English translation by the National Geographic Society.

It begins: “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.”

“Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom,” Jesus says to Judas, singling him out for special status. “Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.”

The text ends with Judas turning Jesus over to the high priests, and does not include any mention of the crucifixion or resurrection.

National Geographic said the author believed that Judas Iscariot alone understood the true significance of Jesus’ teachings. The author of the text is not named in the writings.

Source: National Geographical Society and The Associated Press




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