Can a document written on dried plants survive for 1,700 years? This is exactly what happened in the case of a copy of the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. It was translated from the original Greek into Coptic in Egypt around A.D. 300 and written on papyrus, a form of paper made from dried reeds.
The Gospel of Judas was discovered somewhere in the Egyptian desert, bound up with two other ancient texts, in the early 1980’s. In 1983 it was offered to a pair of scholars from Rome by two men, an Egyptian and a Greek, in a Geneva, Switzerland hotel room. At that time the text was already in poor condition. The men wanted $3 million for the papyrus but the price was too high and no sale was made.
After trying unsuccessfully to sell it in the United States, one of the men stored the Gospel of Judas in a safe deposit box in Hicksville, New York, on Long Island, while he kept trying to find a buyer. There it sat, deteriorating further, for 17 years. The document survived a few more misadventures before finally returning to Geneva and coming to rest at the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, where it is being preserved and studied.
Having traveled from Egypt to Geneva to New York and back to Geneva, and who knows where else, the document will eventually find a permanent home back in Egypt, at the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
“This script comes to light by a miracle,” says Rodolphe Kasser, an expert on Coptic texts who is studying the document. And this miracle document opens a new window into the real people and events surrounding the birth of Christianity.
Learn more about the Gospel According to Judas Iscariot at the National Geographic website. And visit the Cairo's Coptic Museum.