The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

The Pokey Finger of God header image 2

Book Review — The 13th Apostle

June 5th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history, media, metaphysics

April D. DeConick, The Thirteenth Apostle. (c) 2007, Continuum. London, New York.

This scholarly translation of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas attempts to address some inaccuracies and misrepresentations made in the original translation. DeConick’s translation work began the day the plates from the National Geographic scholars had been released. Reading from the original Coptic, it was not long before DeConick found the first of many glaring errors in the first translation. By the time she was done, she was certain that this original translation was significantly flawed.

In introduction, DeConick relates the discovery and initial scholarly work done on the Gospel of Judas. From the damage done to the text when it was stored in a freezer, to the painstaking work done to assemble the puzzle-piece page parts, she is clearly in awe of the work done by the NatGeo team in reassembling the original text. It’s clear that this book is not in any way a slam on the first scholars, but is, instead, a fresh translation from an author who is not only an expert on the very group that actually composed the Gospel of Judas, but also one on the cultural representations of Judas, as well.

If only every translation of these ancient ‘lost’ books included commentary like this. Not only does DeConick provide appropriate background to understand the references, she summarizes the text, and then discusses the motivations of the author(s) of the book. She does everything but read the text to me in the original tongue. Even the end notes are valuable resources for further exploration on Sethians, Gnosticism, and research in ancient texts. While much of what she shows is in the name of proving her point regarding the translations, she ends up telling such a compelling story that her reading demonstrates its own internal veracity.

This book is a true gem. You can throw out the GosJud translation and this is still a marvelous, wonderful book. The way that DeConick describes the Sethians in their social and theological environment is priceless. I could kvetch that she should have talked about the Persian influence more, or included more detail about how the Sethians formed. This, in no way, diminishes the quality of information found in this book regarding the influence of groups in early Christian development. We are shown the main conflicts that shaped the theological development of the Sethians, and we are given a knowledge of their metaphysic that allows us to understand how the Sethians directly contributed to the development of the Christianity we have today.

I didn’t really get anything out of the original translation of GosJud. I had really low expectations for this book, expecting another dry recitation of ancient prose. Boy, was I surprised! Not only is this an interesting book, it’s got a lot of really clear analysis of some fairly complex material. Just for its coverage of the , this book is a keeper.

Tags: ···