ALEX CHADWICK, host:
First, news today that a long lost gospel from early Christian times has been found and translated. It is the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The announcement came at a news conference at the National Geographic Society in Washington this morning. To most Christians, Judas is synonymous with betrayal, the disciple who told the Romans where to find Jesus.
The story of how this gospel was found, actually decades ago, and the efforts to save it, is told in a new book called The Lost Gospel. I spoke with the author, Herb Krosney, as part of our Radio Expedition's interviews.
Herb Krosney, this is not the Judas Iscariot that we know from the Bible. In the Bible, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus. But this gospel tells a different story. This is Judas' version of what happened. How is it different? What does he say?
Mr. HERB KROSNEY (Author, The Lost Gospel): Well, we don't really know 100 percent that it's Judas' account. We know that a writer in the 2nd century told this story, which is the story of the encounter between Judas Iscariot and Jesus. Judas is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, and that sacrifice is to sacrifice, you know, the life of Jesus, in order that Jesus may obtain eternity and immortality. And Judas is the one who enables all of us to help find that inner spark within ourselves.
CHADWICK: This gospel is written on papyrus, this ancient Egyptian form of paper. It probably dates to about the year 300. How was it rediscovered? It lay hidden for 1,700 years?
Mr. KROSNEY: Well, first of all, we believe that it was buried in a burial cave in a place called Carara(ph), which is on the Eastern side of the Nile. And it was discovered by some peasants. It was sold to a dealer in Cairo and made the journey from Carara, which is in middle Egypt, up to Cairo. And then it began a really incredible 30-year journey, which I've tried to trace through the world of antiquities dealers, of attempting to find a placement for it, people really not knowing what it was, and all the time in a state of constant progressing deterioration.
CHADWICK: People didn't know what it was, because it's written in this ancient Coptic language, and even though they knew they had a valuable, very ancient document, they didn't know how valuable.
Mr. KROSNEY: They did not know it was the gospel of Judas. It was really not identified as the gospel of Judas until the year 2000.
CHADWICK: That's when a Swiss dealer actually bought it out of a bank vault on Long Island, which it's quite a long story of how it got there. But it lay there for 16 years. She takes it to Yale, and a scholar there says this is an unbelievable discovery. I can read this. It says on the last page, this is the gospel of Judas.
Mr. KROSNEY: This document was absolutely unique. And it is the only remaining testament that we know of a document that was originally written in the 2nd century.
CHADWICK: What did it look like when this Swiss woman finally got a hold of it? What kind of shape was it in? When she opened these boxes and looked at it, what did she see?
Mr. KROSNEY: It was really a mess. It was practically indecipherable. The pages had been molded and blended together, so that it was an incredible job of restoration to separate out the pages. There were numerous fragments that had been floating around. And all of this became a jigsaw puzzle that this great restorer who was in charge of the restoration process had to solve. And they worked for a period of, really, five years now, since the middle of the year 2001, getting this document back into something that we can read. And the document that we can read is what is now being released.
CHADWICK: What is in this lost gospel about Judas? What does it say about Judas Iscariot?
Mr. KROSNEY: Judas is actually in a totally revised relationship to Jesus. He is Jesus' favorite disciple. He is the person who enables Jesus to reach the heavens. And he himself is a star in the sky, according to, you know, the words of Jesus.
CHADWICK: Could you read something from the gospel?
Mr. KROSNEY: The star that leads the way is your star, Jesus tells Judas. Jesus said to Judas, You will exceed all of them, for you will sacrifice the man that clothed me.
Mr. KROSNEY: What he means, as the scholars interpret it, is the soul of Jesus will be liberated from the body that entraps him. His soul is now liberated to come to heaven.
CHADWICK: Herb Krosney, author of The Lost Gospel. We have more about this online at npr.org, and we'll have more of this interview in a moment when DAY TO DAY continues.
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CHADWICK: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. The National Geographic Society today displayed pages from the only known copy of the gospel of Judas, which was believed lost nearly 2,000 years ago.
The early Christian gospel presents a different account of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his disciple, Judas Iscariot. Herb Krosney is the author of the book, The Lost Gospel. Herb, how do you know that this document that you have is authentic?
Mr. KROSNEY: There's been a process of, first of all, scientific tests, such as carbon dating, which has established the age of the papyrus. We've also, at National Geographic, we've done tests on the ink that was written, and it corresponds with the ink that was written at the time. And the various calligraphers and philologists who have looked at the document, some who are among the greatest in the world, have looked at this and have no doubt as to its authenticity.
CHADWICK: How are Biblical scholars going to regard this document? I mean, I guess that's a subject for discussion for a while because these translations are new, but how is this going to change our understandings of early Christianity?
Mr. KROSNEY: I think that the gospel of Judas, the lost gospel, opens up quite a bit more of the history of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, where we really, really do not know a lot about early Christianity. Early Christianity was a very diverse movement, the split from Judaism was just occurring. We see a whole potential history beginning to unfold, one that we have not been able to appreciate, because the 2nd and 3rd centuries have remained in considerable obscurity over the years. When it comes to the 4th century, when Eusebius of Caesarea began to recount Christian history and the Empire, the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, then we have more, fuller and more robust records.
CHADWICK: Herb, you're a writer, I know not a religious scholar, but can you foresee a time, or have any of the scholars you've spoken with, foresee a time when this gospel might be included in the New Testament?
Mr. KROSNEY: Well, I would really doubt that it would be included in the New Testament. In early Christianity there were at least 30 potential gospels floating around and there were dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of additional documents, which were winnowed down at an early stage in the 3rd and 4th centuries to what became the New Testament and the basis of the new religion called Christianity. I don't think that any apocryphal document will now be accepted in the cannon of orthodox Christianity.
CHADWICK: Herb Krosney author of The Lost Gospel, the quest for the gospel of Judas Iscariot. Herb, thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.
Mr. KROSNEY: Thank you for having me.
CHADWICK: Here are two passages from the translation of the gospel of Judas: Jesus said to Judas, step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.
And here's the other one: Jesus said to the disciples, Let any one of you who is strong enough among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face. They all said, We have the strength, but their spirits did not dare to stand before him, except for Judas Iscariot.
Pages from the gospel of Judas will be on display starting tomorrow at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington. They'll eventually be kept at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. We have much more material on this gospel at our Web site npr.org, and that has links to National Geographic, where you can learn more about how to see the gospel.
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