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The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot?

Apr 6, 2006 (Day to Day)

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Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up the four accepted Gospels of the Christian New Testament. Now a new gospel has been unveiled by the National Geographic Society — one that focuses on the story of Judas Iscariot.

To most Christians, Judas is seen as a traitor, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. But a newly restored papyrus document dating to the 2nd century AD portrays a very different man. Judas is shown as Jesus' best friend, asked by Jesus himself to betray his identity to fulfill the prophecy and liberate his soul to ascend to heaven.

The story of how this gospel was found, and the international effort to authenticate, conserve, and translate it, has been chronicled in the new book by Herb Krosney called The Lost Gospel.

The leather-bound papyrus codex, believed to have been translated from the original ancient Greek to the Coptic language around 300 AD, was found in the 1970s in a cave in the desert near El Minya, Egypt. It then circulated among antiquities traders, moving from Egypt to Europe to the United States. The codex languished in a safe deposit box on Long Island, N.Y., for 16 years before being bought in 2000 by Zurich-based antiquities dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos.

When attempts to resell the manuscript fell through, Tchacos — alarmed by the codex's rapidly deteriorating state — transferred it to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland, in February 2001 for conservation and translation.

Rodolphe Kasser, one of the world's leading Coptic scholars, was recruited to reconstruct the manuscript and to transcribe and translate the text. The 66-page manuscript contains not only the Gospel of Judas but also a text titled James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), a letter of Peter to Philip and a fragment of a fourth text scholars for now are calling the Book of Allogenes.

The National Geographic Society unveiled the only known copy of the Gospel of Judas on Thursday. The full story of the discovery and restoration of the Gospel of Judas can be seen on the National Geographic Channel. The first showing is Sunday, April 9, at 8 PM ET.

Additionally, the Gospel of Judas is featured on the May cover of National Geographic magazine. Pages of the codex will be on display at the National Geographic Society, and will eventually reside at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt.

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