The past few weeks I have been interviewed by several journalists about my book The Thirteenth Apostle. There are a couple of questions that have been consistently coming up, questions which probably shouldn't have surprised me, but did nonetheless.
One question that I get asked is what religion I am. Now I don't have any difficulties with talking about this per se, except that I wonder how many classicists or historians who write books get asked this question in interviews? Why do religious studies scholars get asked this question? The assumption behind this question appears to be that if you study religion, you do so because you are religious, and your work is somehow justifying that religion.
Now this assumption is not completely wrong. There are in fact many religious studies scholars, particularly of the biblical variety, who either have a conscious task of apology, or who are doing so unaware. My readers know that I am of the opinion that historians of religion need to be very personally aware of this, and demand otherwise of their own contributions. Our apology has no place in the modern histories we are reconstructing from our ancient sources.
That said, when I answer the reporter's question, "What religion are you?", with "A liberal Christian" or "A progressive Christian", there is usually a pause as the reporter responds, "but your book is conservative."
How delightful. How fascinating. How paradoxical.
I am not a liberal or conservative scholar. I am a historian of religion whose main goal is to reconstruct the history and theology of the ancient Christians as accurately as I can. If the text had said that he was a hero, I would have supported that position. But it doesn't. So I have to follow through, maintaining academic integrity even if this means that I have to take a position opposite many scholars whom I consider to be friends. Judas is still a demon, even in the gnostic tradition. Epiphanius was wrong, as are the scholars who wish it to be otherwise.