Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jesus, Judas, And The Gospel Of Judas (Part 3)

You can read Part 1 by clicking here, and Part 2 here.

AP: Stephen Emmel, a known scholar in Coptic studies and a professor at the University of M√ľnster, Germany, was summoned along with other experts to examine a batch of very ancient manuscripts written in Greek and Coptic. The dealer did not allow the experts to photograph or take notes on what they saw. Emmel, however, excused himself so that he could go to the restroom and secretly write down as much as he could remember from the Codex, which, in his opinion, should have immediately been placed into the hands of experts for restoration and research.

The other codices from the same batch, which were also from around A.D. 4-5 (also on papyrus and probably found in the same area), were placed on the market. They included Exodus in Greek, a volume containing the Pauline letters in Coptic, and a text on mathematics in Greek. It must be emphasized that the value of these manuscripts for philology is also very high, not just because they were new and interesting texts, but because they were new examples of manuscripts of great antiquity written on papyrus, of which there are few complete manuscripts preserved in their binding. These manuscripts greatly contributed to the study of material culture.

The meeting with the dealer in Geneva did not bring the success some had hoped. Hanna demanded a price much higher than universities could reasonably afford. So any hopes of a deal were dashed. Kasser complains in his edition on the text of the Gospel that institutions couldn't come to an agreement together so that they could raise enough money to rescue Codex Tchacos before anything bad transpired.

The Egyptian shopkeeper, seeing how the negotiations fell apart, placed the codex into a safety deposit box at a bank in Hicksville, New York, where it seems to have remained until the year 1999. The fate wasn't pretty. The codex had already gone through a terrible experience as it passed from hand to hand on the black market, as it was stolen and later recovered, etc. Now in the safety deposit box, the one thing it lacked was safety . . . now from the elements found within the bank. The prolonged stay indoors, without any regulation of temperature and humidity, wasn't good for the papyri leaves. Being on the east coast of North America with its changing weather patterns only made matters worse.

In 2000, Frieda Nussberger Tchacos, a dealer of antiques of Egyptian origin, got the codex. This is where it gets the name it has. She later tried to sell it to Yale University. The manuscript was kept at Beinecke Library where it was examined for a few months. In the end, though, it was not purchased. It was during this time that Bentley Layton, another distinguished scholar in Coptic studies, who was also an specialist in Gnosticism, identified one of the text contained in the codex as the Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

In September 2000, Frieda Nussberger Tchacos sold the codex to an American named Bruce Ferrini. This dashed the hopes that the manuscript would be preserved and researched. While in Ferrini's hands, which was only a short amount of time, they froze the codex. When they did that, they caused serious deterioration of the papyri fibers. Needless to say, they really hurt the manuscript. The manuscript was later returned to Tchacos because Ferrini could pay the price Tchacos was asking for. It was then sold to the Maecenas Foundation in Switzerland, where the lawyer worked who had helped the antiquarian to recover the piece worked. The deal was done in February 2001.

This is a pretty sad history, one that is fairly common for important historical and archaeological artifacts. They have to walk through a dark maze of the licit and illicit traffic of historical pieces. Because of this, they get severely damaged or experience deterioration, which ultimately just makes it harder to study and for the world to know the most they can about such important treasures. Why is it like this? The answer: Because money moves the world, not culture. And no one takes the car out of park for culture. The only thing that starts the engine and carries us anywhere is the dollar.

Once in Geneva, the manuscript was masterfully reconstructed and restored. The pages were deteriorated in the bottom, and portions of it were just separated from the original . . . intentionally. It is estimated that around ten or fifteen percent of the text of the Gospel was lost. We know about parts of the text from photographs that were taken before the manuscript lost some of these fragments.

The codex was presented to the scientific community in public for the first time at the eighth International Congress of Coptic studies, which was held in Paris in 2004. They discussed the possibility of the existence of other fragments of the codex that circulated in the United States in photos and transcripts. The truth is that thanks to some old photos, part of the lost text can be "rebuilt." It's not entirely lost, although the codex itself is a bit thinner without it.

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