NEW YORK — An expert on ancient Egyptian texts is predicting that the Gospel of Judas— a manuscript from early Christian times that's nearing release amid widespread interest from scholars — will be a dud in terms of learning anything new about Judas.
James M. Robinson, America's leading expert on such ancient religious texts from Egypt, predicts in a new book that the text won't offer any insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. His reason: While it's old, it's not old enough.
"Does it go back to Judas? No," Robinson told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The text, in Egypt's Coptic language, dates from the third or fourth century and is a copy of an earlier document. The National Geographic Society, along with other groups, has been studying the Judas text.
The society said Thursday it will release its report on the document "within the next few weeks" but didn't specify whether that would come via a book, magazine article or telecast.
Robinson has not seen the text that National Geographic is working on, but assumes it is the same work assailed by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons around A.D. 180.
Irenaeus said the writings came from a "Cainite" Gnostic sect that jousted against orthodox Christianity. He also accused the Cainites of lauding the biblical murderer Cain, the Sodomites and Judas, whom they regarded as the keeper of secret mysteries.
National Geographic's collaborators on the translation and interpretation of the text include its current owner — Mario Roberti's Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland — and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery in La Jolla, Calif. Rodolphe Kasser, formerly of the University of Geneva, is the editor.
Robinson writes that the journey of the text to Switzerland was "replete with smugglers, black-market antiquities dealers, religious scholars, backstabbing partners and greedy entrepreneurs." In the process, Robinson fears, the fragile text may have been mishandled and parts of it lost forever.
Robinson is an emeritus professor at Claremont (Calif.) Graduate University, chief editor of religious documents found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and an international leader among scholars of Coptic manuscripts.