Wikipedia's article on The Gnostic Gospels begins as follows:
The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of about fifty-two texts supposedly based upon the ancient wisdom teachings of several prophets and spiritual leaders including Jesus, written from the 2nd to the 4th century AD.The Telegraph obituary copies this as follows:
The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of about 52 texts supposedly based upon the teachings of prophets and spiritual leaders, including Jesus, written from the 2nd to the 4th century AD.It is practically verbatim. If the obituary writer is dependent on Wikipedia, it's not surprising that the piece is riddled with errors.
An article in last year's New York Post, The new New Testament, by Maureen Callahan, features the following statements:
These writings, 52 in all, date from between 150-300 AD and offer profoundly differing accounts of the life and death of Jesus Christ . . . .
. . . . The Gospel of Philip ridicules the idea of a virgin birth and of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead and anyone who would believe either. The Apocalypse of Paul also claims that Christ’s rise from the dead was spiritual, not physical. The Gospel of Mary suggests a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (which served as the basis for “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown’s loopy 2003 bestseller).This passage appears to be the basis for the Telegraph's problematic paragraph I mentioned yesterday:
These writings offer profoundly differing accounts of the life and death of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Philip, for example, ridicules the virgin birth and Christ’s bodily resurrection; The Apocalypse of Paul also claims that Christ’s rise from the dead was spiritual, not physical; The Gospel of Mary suggests a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.This is plagiarism pure and simple, and like many plagiarizing students, the author is copying from someone else because s/he does not understand the issues him/herself, carrying over the errors from the source piece.
I am grateful also to Todd Brewer in comments for noticing other elements in the article that appear to be plagiarized. Take this paragraph from a New York Times article in 2003, The Heresy That Saved a Sceptic,
Early Christians were subject to unimaginable persecutions, and church fathers believed that for Christianity to survive, there had to be a unified belief system, Ms. Pagels said. Some time around A.D. 180, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons denounced all gospels but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as heretical, ''an abyss of madness and of blasphemy.''
About 50 years after Constantine's conversion early in the fourth century, the New Testament became Christianity's official text.This is the basis for the first paragraph of the Telegraph obituary:
What we know as the New Testament – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation – was actually born of thousands of texts and gospels circulated among the early Christians. Members of the new faith were subject to persecution, and the Church fathers felt that for the faith to survive, there had to be a unified belief system. Some time around AD 180, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon denounced all gospels but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as heretical. Later, about 50 years after Constantine’s conversion early in the fourth century, the New Testament became Christianity’s official text.Notice Elaine Pagels's characteristic use of "Bishop Irenaeus" finding its way into the plagiarized piece, though her name itself is, of course, removed in the copied text. The copied version has several other typical signs of plagiarized texts, abbreviation by omission of colourful (and tell-tale) detail ("an abyss of madness and of blasphemy") and the substitution of metaphors ("the new faith . . the faith") that in due course revert, by fatigue, to the original wording ("Christianity").
In comments, Todd Brewer notes that there are probably other elements in the piece that are plagiarized too. He is right. One major source is the article by Thomas Bartlett, The Betrayal of Judas, in The Chronicle of Higher Education from May 2008, including here:
As he translated, a startling portrait of Judas Iscariot emerged. This was not the reviled traitor who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. This was the trusted disciple, the close confidant, the friend. This was a revelation.This is rewritten in the Telegraph obituary as follows:
As Meyer began translating the text, a startling portrait of Judas Iscariot emerged. Instead of the traitor who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, he found Jesus’s best-loved disciple and friend, a man singled out to receive mystical knowledge and a hero who helps Jesus return to the realm of the divine and fulfil his destiny as Messiah.Bartlett's article in The Chronicle continues as follows:
When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world -- with nearly all of those articles touting the new and improved Judas. "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal," read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it "a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history." A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic's cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel's history, behind only a documentary on September 11.This paragraph is copied in The Telegraph obituary like this:
When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world, The Guardian hailing the work as “a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history”. Meyer subsequently travelled to Egypt to film a documentary about the discovery, aired later on National Geographic’s cable channel, that attracted record audiences.Once again, there is abbreviation. Some is innocuous -- there is no need for a British paper to explain what The Guardian is so that note is dropped. But the note that "Meyer subsequently travelled to Egypt" is a poor summary of the Chronicle's accurate order of events. And "record audiences" is also a poor summary of the Chronicle's more nuanced statements on the TV ratings.
Immediately after the above paragraph in the Chronicle, is the following:
But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn't see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever.This is taken over by the Telegraph obituary like this:
But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the translation, disputing Meyer’s interpretations of key passages which converted Judas from arch villain to hero.In the Chronicle article, Bartlett writes in detail about April DeConick's critique:
She started the next day on her own translation of the Coptic transcription, also posted on the National Geographic Web site. That's when she came across what she considered a major, almost unbelievable error. It had to do with the translation of the word "daimon," which Jesus uses to address Judas. The National Geographic team translates this as "spirit," an unusual choice and inconsistent with translations of other early Christian texts, where it is usually rendered as "demon." In this passage, however, Jesus' calling Judas a demon would completely alter the meaning. "O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?" becomes "O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?" A gentle inquiry turns into a vicious rebuke.The passage is is carried over more vaguely, and with substantial abbreviation, in the Telegraph piece:
In another passage Meyer’s translation has Jesus saying to Judas “O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?” An alternative translation is “O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?” turning a gentle inquiry into an angry rebuke.The Telegraph piece, which is focusing on Meyer, omits mention of the rest of the National Geographic team and does not give DeConick's name.
The Telegraph obituary does, however, mention James Robinson, and it spends time detailing the controversy between the two men. As Todd Brewer points out (comments), the material here appears to be gleaned from an article in the LA Times, "Was it virtue or betrayal", by Louis Sahagun, from January 2007. But that article does not feature the detail that Meyer sported "a silver hoop in his left ear", which I suspect is carried over from the LA Times obituary, where the same phrase occurs.
I think that it is disgraceful that The Telegraph's obituary of Marvin Meyer is a patchwork of passages plagiarized from different electronic articles and I would like to suggest that they acknowledge what they have done, issuing a full apology, and replacing the plagiarized piece with something that appropriately honours Professor Meyer's memory.