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Sorry Precedents, and Contrasts

March 30, 2011

Part of my impatience with the way this “lead codices” matter is being handled (people who own or have access to the items toying with us through the press, simply for the purpose of puffing their own interests, typically commercial) is that there are precedents.  I think in particular of the disgraceful ways that the Tchacos Codex was handled:  passed/sold from hand to hand secretly for years, dangled before libraries and museums in surreptitious meetings in hotels with high prices asked, at one point frozen (!!), kept in a safety deposit box for years, et alia.  (A now-senior scholar who saw the codex some 20+ years ago told me that what is now intact = about 50% of what the codex originally comprised, the other half now a pile of dust and fragments.)

Then, when the National Geographic Society stumped up $1million, the owners were moved graciously to make it available for scholarly study.  But even then, access was restricted, and so the initial claims about the Gospel of Judas text (i.e., that Judas was treated positively), which helped to sell all the publications of those involved, were subsequently shown to be mistranslations (kudos here to April DeConick and others).   The correct understanding of the text makes it less sensational, but scholars ought to be concerned first and foremost about accuracy.

But if scholars refused to play ball with the  interests that sometimes control these items, perhaps we just might be able to shame them into doing what’s right.  It’s worth a try.

By contrast, when people such as Charles Freer or Chester Beatty or Bodmer acquired historically important items, they engaged competent scholars first and foremost to edit them and make them available to others.  Freer even paid for a few hundred copies of the editions of his biblical manuscripts to be given to major libraries internationally.  These people didn’t try to cash in on the items, but knew that they should be treated as what we now call “world heritage” items.

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  1. evette permalink

    So when will the public know what these items say in detail? I’m just a Christian like other christians we just want to know if the find is real, and if it is will we ever know what the items say.

  2. Fernando permalink

    Hear hear! An example in my field is the Archimedes Codex, which disappeared into private hands for a century, was damaged and even had some pages painted over. It was finally bought by someone who had both the means and the will to have it prperly studied. Would that others would do the same!

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