The Gospel of Judas - an excerpt

Father Leo Newman, an expert papyrologist and New Testament scholar, has been called to Israel to examine a newly-discovered ancient papyrus scroll...

‘The day before yesterday, Leo,’ Calder said. The lighting was subdued. It gleamed on his platinum hair. ‘We found it just the day before yesterday. I called you straight away.’

There were cabinets along the side of the room. There were binocular microscopes and a pair of computer terminals. And in the centre of the room was a table on which the scroll lay. Beside it in a second dish lay a filthy rag, like an ancient, stained bandage. ‘It was wrapped,’ the young man said. ‘Wrapped and tied off with some kind of twine. We’re sending pieces of the cloth for radiocarbon dating of course. And the bundle was inside a jar. The jar is still at the site.’

Leo peered at the scroll. It looked like a dried out piece of turd, like something excreted from the bowels of history, from the fundament of the earth, which is the Valley of the Dead Sea. He peered at the frayed edges, at the dumb, blank verso. ‘Well?’

‘It’s the first literary papyrus ever recovered from the Dead Sea area,’ the woman added. ‘When we opened the cloth we found that the first sheet was fragmented. It had come detached from the rest of the scroll. But we have all the pieces and it seems there are no significant lacunae.’

‘You’ve read it?’

‘Koine is not my specialism,’ she replied.

‘But you could read it?’

‘More or less. There were some problems, but I could get the sense.’

Calder spoke. ‘Leo,’ he said portentously, ‘this may be the greatest text discovery there has ever been. It could make the Dead Sea Scrolls look like a picnic in the Garden of Eden.’

‘Why? What the devil is it?’

The little group had gathered round. They were like a medical team gathering round a patient in a hospital ward. Almost as though delivering a fatal X-ray, the young man leant across and placed a sheet of glass on the table beside the scroll, a sandwich of glass, two pieces held together with black tape. In between the panes were eight fragments of papyrus. They made a kind of crude jigsaw, the edges in approximate juxtaposition like a collage assembled out of old, discoloured fragments of newsprint. ‘The first page,’ he said. ‘Have a look.’

Leo sat. He turned the glass towards him. Greek cursive script straggled across the pieces, leaping brightly from one fragment to another along the line of the fibres, the strokes of lampblack almost fresh despite their two thousand years entombment. He glanced up at them. ‘It’ll not be easy. I’ll need time.’

‘All the time you need,’ said Calder. The others of the group were silent, as though their collective breath was held.

Leo began to read. He adjusted the light over the plate and put on his reading glasses and began to trace the lines of script with his finger, like a child reading the Torah at a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony, tracing out the holy scripture with a yad, a silver pointer that is made in the form of a pointing hand, for the word of the law is too precious to be defiled by human touch.

It is Ioudas son of Simon of Keriot known also as Ioudas the sicarios who writes this, he read, and he writes that you may know this to be true.

He glanced up at them. Then he looked back at the papyrus and read through the lines again, almost in case he had made some kind of absurd error:

It is Ioudas son of Simon of Keriot known also as Ioudas the sicarios who writes this and he writes that you may know this to be true

Ioudas, Judas. Somewhere within Leo’s skull a voice called: Who is worthy to open the scroll? Absurdly, for there could be no doubt, he read over the words a third time. Judas.

‘Is this some kind of joke?’ Leo asked.

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Simon Mawer 2008 - 2015. This website is written and maintained by the author.