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My Non-Disclosure Agreement and the Gospel of Judas

I broke off the thread on the Gospel of Judas and the non-disclosure agreement that I had to sign at … at the point where I had to sign the non-disclosure agreement!   Here I resume.

So the deal was this:  in order to be allowed to see the manuscript, to examine it, to have access to a translation of it, to study the translation, and to write an essay based on it for the National Geographic’s intended book on the Gospel of Judas – all of this before anyone else in the universe (apart from Rodolphe Kasser who had access to the manuscript, and the people that he was working with to restore it) had a chance to see it – I had to agree not to tell anyone about it.   The choice was this:  I could agree not to tell anyone, and so be given access to the text and its translation; or I could decide not to agree and not be given access.   I didn’t like the choice, but it was really a no-brainer.

After the entire affair ended and the dust settled, those of us who signed the non-disclosure agreement were attacked by fellow scholars, who felt that non-disclosure agreements were unethical and prohibitive of true scholarship.   I couldn’t agree more.   But none of us was given the choice of signing and having access or not signing and having access.   It was sign and get access; don’t sign and don’t get access.   We didn’t come up with the idea of the non-disclosure agreement.  We were presented with it as the one option we had.

I completely agree that this is not how scholarship ought to be done.   Historical scholarship involves open access to information and texts.   Everyone needs to be able to see the text that scholarship is based on so that this scholarship can be checked, and critiqued, and evaluated, and refined, and honed, and re-presented.  And all of this should happen among scholars who have access to the same information (and text), well BEFORE any discussion of the information or text is presented to the general reading public.   Public scholarship should not be published until scholars have had a chance to evaluate, check, and refine claims, views, and interpretations.

But that was not an option in this case.   And the reason was that the owner of the text and / or National Geographic (I don’t know if this was the owner’s view, but it certainly was National Geographic’s) did not want information about the find to be widely publicized until they themselves had publicized it.

I don’t know all the ins and outs, in part because National Geographic did not want any of us to know them.   And let me stress, I am NOT necessarily faulting National Geographic.  In some ways, it *too* had its hands tied.  This is how I understand the basic situation.  If someone reading this has a fuller or better scoop, let me  know.  But as I understand  it, the scoop is this.

National Geographic had…

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Bart Ehrman discusses the Apocalypticist
The Gospel of Judas: Discovery, Restoration, and (Non-)Disclosure

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Comments

  1. Patrick
    Patrick  February 10, 2015

    That National Geographic documentary was fairly well done. The one glaring error for me was that they showed Judas hanging from a Eucalyptus tree. Eucalyptus are native to mainly Australia with some other species in southeast Asia. They were not brought to Israel until about 100 years ago. To follow tradition they should have shown an elder tree. There is a jelly fungus that is found on elder and other trees that is named after him: Auricularia auricula-judae. The common name Judas ear unfortunately became Jew’s ear.

  2. SWerdal
    SWerdal  February 10, 2015

    Another way of attempting to recoup or at least justify large investments in antiquities or artifacts was taken in the case of a 47-million year old missing link, named Ida, in 2009, which I think cost about $800,000. Nat Geo, like so many other publications, were reporting what had been announced without many experts (or peer review) involved, and thus no non-disclosures were necessary. But it took less than a year before the experts began weighing in on the specimen’s shortcomings as more lemur-like than primate leading to our direct lineage. If i’m not mistaken Ida has spent the last 6 years being carefully scrutinized in peer review before any more exaggerated claims are made. So, you can’t win when there’s big $$ at stake.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/090519-missing-link-found.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/03/confirmed-fossil-ida-is-not-a.html

  3. Jason  February 10, 2015

    In an era where you have to agree to a EULA that specifies that you won’t use iTunes to create weapons of mass destruction, I don’t think anyone is going to fault you for agreeing not to spoil the surprise for the organization that was there to show many of us our first photograph of a human mammary.

  4. John  February 10, 2015

    “But sometimes it is a necessary evil.”

    So aren’t Wallace and Evans simply coming to the same conclusion you did, with this latest fragment?

  5. Adam0685  February 10, 2015

    Excellent post as always!

    How’s the research on oral tradition, memory, etc. going?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2015

      Great. But I sure wish I had more hours in the day and more days in the week!!

      • BrianUlrich  February 10, 2015

        There is a recent publication called The Arabs and Islam in Late Antiquity: A Critique of Approaches to Arabic Sources, by Aziz al-Azmeh, and while reading it it occurred to me that some parts dealing with orality, writing, and memory might be of more general application, though more as a counterpoint to the direction you are probably taking. You’ve probably run across Fred Donner’s Narratives of Islamic Origins, which deals with how discrete bits of narratives came to be deployed as representative of certain themes which served the interest of articulating the new community in its historical context.

  6. Curtis7777  February 10, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, what would have been the repercussions if the agreement had been violated?

    What would occur in a situation where an agreement is violated accidentally?

    Just curious.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 11, 2015

      I assume they would have sued me back to the stone age….

      • nacord  February 11, 2015

        So did Wallace violate his contract by “spilling the beans” in your debate with him, or is announcing a discovery without any details just amount to teasing?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 13, 2015

          I don’t know! And wish I did!

          • Mhamed Errifi  February 14, 2015

            I have diffrent interest in judas and i dont think you discused that argument in your book how jesus became god my argument is did the 12 dicsiple believe jesus was god and the answer is no. i have used judas to come to the conclsion because no jews would have conspired to kill somebody whom they believe him to be god yes jews killed prophets or mesiahs because they believed were false. every jew in fist century believed that god has full knowledge of things to happen in the future and things that ran in your head such as thoughts , conspiry ; ideas before you even carry them . it will make no sense that juda knew all that and yet he went ahead to conspire to kill his god his plot would fail . the fact of the matter he did it as gospels tell us is proof that he believed jesus was not aware of the plot because to him he was just human being who could not know what secret is hiding in his mind

  7. rburos  August 27, 2016

    I saw the documentary, and thought it felt not too unlike a supermarket tabloid. Overall, however, I feel Nat Geo is a net gain and I can forgive them for the finance games they are forced to play. I’m grateful you did sign the agreement, because by giving an honest and competent broker access early on, it will keep the gate keepers honest–even if only eventually so.

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