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Gospel of Judas: Ink Analysis Was Only Way to Authenticate Ancient Document

Image: Gospel of Judas: Ink Analysis Was Only Way to Authenticate Ancient Document
Fragment of a copy of the Gospel of Judas.

By    |   Tuesday, 09 Apr 2013 09:57 AM

An ancient gospel that paints Judas as a co-conspirator of Jesus instead of a traitor was found to be authentic in 2006, but scientists now say that determination couldn’t have been fully made without analyzing the ink from other ancient documents -- which they have done. 

For 2,000 years, Judas was believed to have betrayed Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, but the Gospel of Judas tells a different story. The fragmented Coptic (Egyptian-language) text dates back to the year 300, and was discovered in the Egyptian desert in 1970. It was preserved and translated by scholars from the National Geographic Society.

The Gospel of Judas casts him in a much more sympathetic light than the stories that made it into the Bible. In this version, Judas turned Jesus over to authorities at Jesus' request, as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body.

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In 2006, the National Geographic Society launched an investigation into the authenticity of the document, starting with ink analysis. Using third-century Egyptian documents preserved at the Louvre Museum, microscopist Joseph Barabe of McCrone Associates in Illinois and a team of researchers examined the chemistry composition of the ink.

The ink was found to be a mixture of brown ink and a black one called "lamp black," which Barabe said was consistent with the time period. The ink, like other ancient documents, also contained sulfur.

Barabe and his colleagues caution that this finding doesn't prove beyond doubt that the document is authentic, but rather that there are no red flags proving it's a forgery.

"There was definitely a point where, all of the sudden, I just kind of relaxed and said, 'This is probably just fine,'" Barabe told LiveScience.com.

Barabe appeared Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans to give his behind-the-scenes account of the investigation of the Gospel of Judas.

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An ancient gospel that paints Judas as a co-conspirator of Jesus instead of a traitor was found to be authentic in 2006, but scientists now say that determination couldn’t have been fully made without analyzing the ink from other ancient documents -- which they have done.
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