"I went through hell and back, and I saved something for humanity," Ms. Tchacos Nussberger said in a telephone interview. "I would have given it for nothing to someone who would have saved it."
Last week, National Geographic began a large campaign for the Gospel of Judas, featuring it in two new books, a television documentary, an exhibition and the May issue of National Geographic magazine.
The organization did not buy the document. Instead, it paid $1 million to the Maecenas Foundation, effectively for the manuscript's contents. Part of the revenues generated by the National Geographic projects go to the foundation.
The foundation was set up some years ago by Ms. Tchacos Nussberger's lawyer, Mario Roberty, well before it became involved with the Gospel of Judas. Mr. Roberty is the only official of the foundation, which he said was involved in projects like returning antiquities to their countries of origin. He said that when Ms. Tchacos Nussberger turned over the document to the foundation in 2001, he quickly contacted officials in Egypt and assured them that the manuscript would be returned there. He said the foundation had clear legal title to the document.
To quote Col. John "Hannibal" Smith: "I love it when a plan comes together!"
"'I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him,'" Ms. Tchacos Nussberger, 65, is quoted as saying in one of the society's books, "The Lost Gospel," by Herbert Krosney. Mr. Krosney is also an independent television producer who brought the gospel project to National Geographic.
Missing from the book is any mention of an incident in 2001 when Ms. Tchacos Nussberger was detained in Cyprus at the request of Italian officials, who wanted to question her as part of a broader investigation into antiquities that had been illegally taken out of Italy and sold elsewhere. Paolo Ferri, the Rome-based prosecutor in the case, said she was charged with several violations involving antiquities but was given a reduced sentence that was suspended because she had, among other things, previously agreed to return an artifact claimed by Italy.
I am willing to bet that the "van Rijn angle" is also missing from Krosney's book.
Then in 2001, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger sold it to an antiquities dealer in Ohio for $2.5 million, but the deal fell apart when the dealer did not make good on the payments.
There is Ferrini again, but according to Ferrini it was more a matter of questions concerning the provenance (which the Yale reps also had) than a cash issue. Given the reports concerning his bankruptcy, it may have been a bit of both.
All in all, I am not quite sure why the NYT overlooked Robinson's book and involvement with exposing some of this information, it is an important part of the story. I still have problems with the claim that National Geographic is sponsoring a full codicological OR papyrological analysis of this manuscript. They simply don't have enough of it to make a comprehensive assessment.