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CSI: Ancient Egypt? Investigating the 'Gospel of Judas'

Scientists reveal how they verified that the text known as the 'Gospel of Judas,' which paints Judas and Jesus as collaborators, dates to about 280 A.D.

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The Gospel of Judas, a text dated to about A.D. 280, tells the story of Judas as a collaborator with Jesus instead of a betrayer. Scientists recently revealed how they authenticated the age of the text.

Joseph Barabe / McCrone / LiveScience.com

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A long-lost gospel that casts Judas as a co-conspirator of Jesus, rather than a betrayer, was ruled most likely authentic in 2006. Now, scientists reveal they couldn't have made the call without a series of far more mundane documents, including Ancient Egyptian marriage licenses and property contracts.

The Gospel of Judas is a fragmented Coptic (Egyptian)-language text that portrays Judas in a far more sympathetic light than did the gospels that made it into the Bible. In this version of the story, Judas turns Jesus over to the authorities for execution upon Jesus' request, as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body. In the accepted biblical version of the tale, Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

As part of a 2006 National Geographic Society (the Society) investigation of the document, microscopist Joseph Barabe of McCrone Associates in Illinois and a team of researchers analyzed the ink on the tattered gospel to find out if it was real or forged. Some of the chemicals in the ink raised red flags — until Barabe and his colleagues found, at the Louvre Museum, a study of Egyptian documents from the third century A.D., the same time period of the Gospal of Judas.

"What the French study told us is that ink technology was undergoing a transition," Barabe told LiveScience. The Gospel of Judas' odd ink suddenly fit into place. 

CSI: Ancient Egypt

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