Friday, May 05, 2006

The Ethics of Judas

Or, Everything's For Sale

The LA Times' cogent musings on the ethics involved when National Geographic paid at least $1 million for the right to the content in the Gospel of Judas is rich food for thought.

If you are unaware, the Gospel was originally purchased for $300,000 by a person with a history of dealing in looted, ill-gotten antiquities. The Gospel of Judas is one such antiquity. It's provenance is spotty -- the sort of thing that National Geographic generally frowns upon.

Lara Croft aside, tomb raiders are generally bad. They plunder sites, robbing them of their historical accuracy and their archaeological treasures. Their methods are quick and crude. As often as not, they destroy more than they take away, in their efforts to claim their prizes.

In fact, archaeologists in Guatemala are currently working against the clock to hold off tomb raiders long enough to discover some of the secrets hidden in a royal Mayan tomb that dates back to 500 A.D. -- or 1,000 years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.

Imagine--you have made the discovery of a lifetime. It could affect our understanding of an extinct culture and time. It could re-write history (or at least add to it in some significant way). You have studied for this and spent years preparing. You have painstakingly prepared the site so that no aspect is overlooked, tossed aside, or ignored. But when you do find something that makes it all worthwhile, you must do your best work under the ticking time bomb of some lout who is only interested in raping your work of everything that holds monetary value -- and is heedless of the damage he causes while doing so.

Ah, but there's money to be made, so that evidently makes it acceptable to bolster the credibility (and the bank accounts) of grave robbers, tomb raiders, and other archaeological neo-destructionists. The Gospel of Judas made for a very interesting television special, I understand. And it's been returned to the land from which it was plundered.

So that's all right, then, isn't it?