Judas Iscariot may be evil after all: Louis Painchaud’s critique of common interpretations of the Coptic Gospel of Judas

Jim Davila was recently at a conference at the University of Ottawa (on “Christian Apocryphal Texts for the New Millenium: Achievements, Prospects, and Challenges”). There Louis Painchaud (U. Laval), a very trustworthy expert in Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism, presented a paper in which he argues against the mainline interpretation and translation of the Gospel of Judas. Thanks to Painchaud, Jim provides a summary of the paper entitled À PROPOS DE LA (RE)DÉCOUVERTE DE L’ÉVANGILE DE JUDAS. You can read the abstract on Jim’s blog, but essentially Painchaud argues that the Gospel of Judas portrays Judas as an evil character, not as the rehabilitated figure as presented in the translation and interpretation published by the National Geographic Society (and as espoused by Bart Ehrman, William Klassen, and others): “A close reading of the Gospel of Judas reveals a totally different picture. Judas is guilty of sacrificing the man who wore Jesus, he is a demon, misled by his star, and he will never make it to the place reserved for the Holy Generation. He is both demonized, in the same way as he is demonized in the Gospel of John, and assimilated to Juda the patriarch eponym of Judaism through the question “What advantage…? (GosJud 46:16; Gen 37:26).” (cited from Painchaud’s summary).

If that entire National Geographic translation is contaminated by a particular interpretation of how Judas is presented in that writing, then a whole lot of recent commentary (including my own previous posts based on the National Geographic translation) will need to be tossed in the garbage. A new translation of the Coptic Gospel of Judas by Painchaud would be helpful, of course, but that is a considerable undertaking. We’ll have to wait and find out more. If I only knew Coptic! Now this is exciting stuff!