The Gospel of Judas is part of an ancient Coptic (Egyptian) codex which dates from around the third century AD. Although discovered in the 1970s, the portion called the Gospel of Judas has only recently been restored and translated
The completion of the restoration and translation was announced by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2006, and the manuscript itself was unveiled then at the National Geographic Society headquarters,
accompanied by a television special entitled The Gospel of Judas on April 9, 2006, which was aired on the National Geographic Channel.
The language of the codex containing the Gospel of Judas is the same Sahidic dialect of Coptic as the
Nag Hammadi Library, discovered in Egypt in 1945. The Codex has three parts: an Epistle to Philip that is ascribed to Peter (a variant is in the Nag Hammadi collection), the Revelation of Jacob (also known from Nag
Hammadi), and the Gospel of Judas. Up to a third of the codex is currently illegible.
The Gospel of Judas contains gnostic ideas and claims to bring new information to the relationship between Jesus and
Judas Iscariot. "Unlike the accounts in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which Judas is portrayed as a reviled traitor, this newly discovered Gospel portrays Judas as acting at Jesus'
request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities." ^^
The Gospel of Judas was known among some of the early Christians of the second century. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, denounced it by name in his influential work,
Against Heresies i.31.1:
It is quite possible that the document Irenaeus referred to was actually the source for this Coptic document. Early Gnostic teaching spawned numerous writings which were clearly viewed as spurious and heretical by the early church. A large portion of
these writings practiced
pseudonymity, where those with little authority used an authoritative name (e.g., a disciple) to bolster their writings acceptance.
The only known manuscript to include the text of the
Gospel of Judas surfaced in the 1970s, after 1700 years in the desert of Egypt as a leather-bound papyrus manuscript. The papyri on which the Gospel is written are fragmentary with some sections missing, in some cases scattered words, in others
many lines. This is most likely due to the wear and tear associated with the elements and the passage of time. According to Rodolphe Kasser, the codex originally contained 62 pages; but when it came to the market in 1999, only 26 pages remained because
individual pages had been removed and put up for sale. From time to time, these missing pages appear and are identified.
Through the decades the manuscript was offered about, very quietly, but no major library felt ready to purchase a manuscript that had such questionable provenance. Switzerland-based antiquities dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos bought the codex in April
2000 - though its full contents remained a mystery - and eventually the leatherbound codex was purchased by the Maecenas Foundation in Basel, a private foundation directed by lawyer Mario Jean Roberty.
The existence of the text was made public by Rodolphe Kasser at a conference of Coptic specialists in Paris, July 2004. In a March 2005 statement, a spokesman for the Maecenas Foundation announced plans for edited translations into English, French and
German, once the fragile papyrus had undergone conservation by a team of specialists in Coptic history led by a former professor at the University of Geneva, Rodolphe Kasser, and that their work would be published "in about a year." A. J.
Tim Jull, director of the National Science Foundation Arizona AMS laboratory, and Gregory Hodgins, assistant research scientist, announced that a radiocarbon dating procedure had dated five samples from the 62-page leather-bound papyrus manuscript from
220 to 340 in January of 2005 at the University of Arizona.^^ This puts the Coptic manuscript in the third or fourth centuries, a century earlier than had originally been thought from analysis of the script. In January 2006,
Gene A. Ware of the Papyrological Imaging Lab of Brigham Young University conducted a multispectral imaging process on the texts in Switzerland, and confirmed their authenticity.^