Originally looted from a tomb in Egypt, the Tchacos Codex containing the Gospel of Judas arose on the Egyptian antiquities market without much interest, probably because of the high asking price of three million dollars. During this period the codex spent 16 years in a Long Island bank vault. Eventually the Coptic papyrus came into the possession of Zurich antiquities dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger. She showed it to Yale Professor Bentley Layton, who identified one of the texts within it as the Gospel of Judas. Yale was too fearful of the legalities to purchase the codex, however.

At this point the National Geographic Society entered the drama as the financial backer. With the Maecenas Foundation of Ancient Art in Basel conserving the text and the National Geographic Society committed to publishing the critical edition, all should have been well for the Gospel of Judas. It wasn’t.

In moves that reminded some scholars of the publication process of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the National Geographic Society under a veil of secrecy contracted three Gnosticism experts to prepare a critical edition of the text; all other scholars were denied access to the manuscript. Things got worse when the marketing strategy deployed for the critical edition “sold” the gospel as a possibly authentic historical account with a heroic Judas who was rewarded with ascension into the divine realm. The resulting publication was highly criticized for its translation and sensationalism.

Less than two years after the release of the first edition, National Geographic announced a substantially revised edition that responded to the plethora of scholarly criticism. Despite this controversy, the Gospel of Judas is still a significant apocryphal text for understanding Gnosticism.