The "Gospel of Judas"

I've just finished reading the newly released translation of The Gospel of Judas

(HT to edmund at Becoming for the link)

I'm not going to speak to the authenticity of this document, because I have far too little information (or scholarly background) to put forth any sort of informed opinion on the matter. Instead, I want to write about something that bothered me about the translation itself.

The document is very difficult to read, because there are many gaps, presumably because the source material is fragmentary. But the portions that you can follow have, for lack of a better word, a very "modern" feel. (I mean "modern" in the usual sense, as in "current," rather than it's use in the modern vs post-modern discussions). That is to say, most of the dialog that goes on wouldn't seem out of place today. My first reaction to that realization was to think to myself that this couldn't possibly be authentic. However, I rejected that, as I have no other reason to doubt the dating procedures that were done, placing this as a 4th century document.

So I considered a bit more, and came to the conclusion that the most likely cause for this apparent anachronism is the mindset of the translators themselves. Translating between languages is never an exact science, even when translating between contemporary languages. It's that much worse in the case of ancient text. So the translators really have no choice but to choose combinations of meanings which make sense to them, putting their own biases and pre-conceived notions into the translation. I'm not faulting them for this. It's just in the nature of the task.

Which leads me to think about the translations of the canonical texts.

Even if you take as given that the authors of those texts wrote down, word for word, without alteration, the exact language given by God, you've still got the issue of the translators. Are we also claiming that they are perfectly inspired by God? I know that those who claim the King James as the only true translation probably feel that to be the case, but I just don't buy it.

Language is an imperfect method of communication. Written language even more so. I have no problem with saying the the authors were inspired by God. What I do have a problem with is people trying to say they know exactly what those authors meant by those writings. Or, rather, by the translations of those writings. Even if a person learns to read the ancient texts themselves, you're still introducing the bias and error of the language teachers.

So is there a point to reading these texts?

I think that there is. Even if they are only approximations of what the original authors intended, there is still value. Focusing on one or two verses (proof texting) is dangerous, partly because of what I've outlined here. But looking at the overarching story allows the truth to shine out through the imperfections.

I'm reminded of a solar eclipse that happened when I was a child. Everyone wanted to make sure we kids knew not to look directly at the sun, because, even though it would be dark, our eyes would still be damanged. So we were given "projects" to construct devices to allow us to see the event, without looking directly at it. One was a piece of paper with a pinhole in it, to let light through. It acted as a sort of rudimentary lens to focus an image of the eclipse on a second piece of paper held behind it. It was imperfect. It was out of focus. But you could still see the eclipse. You could still learn, without destroying your ability to see.
That's how I see the biblical texts. We don't have the capacity to fully grasp God. But we can see God's working through the imperfect lens of the texts we have from the period. Text both inside and outside the canon. We can give more "weight" to the canonical texts, due to the respect we give to those who chose them, but we can also learn from those text not so approved, in my opinion.

As well as more modern writing. I don't happen to believe that God forgot how to inspire people after the first century.