Columnists > Voices

'Scholarly malpractice'

Searches continue for the non-historical Jesus

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

The media keep heralding discoveries that purport to give us a new Jesus. But, in the words of The Chronicle of Higher Education, they are little more than "scholarly malpractice."

What National Geographic did with The Gospel of Judas is only one example (see WORLD, June 28). In 2006 that magazine published an ancient text that purported to present Judas as the good guy, who betrayed Jesus only at His request. Even though scholars noted that the work was written by Gnostic heretics centuries after the time of Christ and so had no historical authority, the press heralded the manuscript as if Judas were another Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

But as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rice Professor April DeConick, an expert in Coptic, the language of the document, noticed that the National Geographic translation has Jesus calling His betrayer "the 13th spirit," whereas a more literal rendering would be "the 13th demon." The translation says that Judas "would ascend to the holy generation," but leaves out the word not. The translation "set apart for the holy generation" should read "set apart from the holy generation." Furthermore, the media glossed over the overt meaning even of the faulty translation, that Judas is sacrificing Jesus to the demon god Saklas. Evidently, despite what the media reported, even the Gnostic heretics did not approve of Judas.

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But the Gospel of Judas affair pales before the allegation, presented through another science-popularizing TV channel, that archaeologists have uncovered the tomb of Jesus and His family. According to a Discovery Channel documentary, researchers stumbled upon a tomb in Jerusalem filled with labeled boxes containing the bones of Jesus son of Joseph, his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah, along with Matthew and Thomas, who must have been his relatives.

But experts-not just Christians but Jews and nonbelievers-were virtually unanimous in debunking the tomb of Jesus claim, which if true would destroy Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14). All of those names-including "Jesus," also known as "Joshua"-were common in first-century Israel. The tomb could not be that of Jesus of Nazareth; among other reasons, He and His family were not from Jerusalem but, well, you know, Nazareth.

Strangely, even evidence for the Resurrection gets twisted into reasons to doubt it. A tablet associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls refers to the coming of a prophet who will die and rise again after three days. That sounds like a prophecy of Christ or an exegesis of Hosea 6:2. But the media spun the finding along the lines of this headline from the London Times: "Dead Sea tablet casts doubt on death and resurrection of Jesus." The reasoning is that the biblical account of Jesus' resurrection might have come from a preexisting Jewish tradition, concluding, illogically, that therefore it did not happen.

Good scholarship keeps exposing scholarly malpractice. And our culture's search for the non-historical Jesus keeps running up against the Christ of history.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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