Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eisenman: A Conservative DeConick?

Huffington Post is carrying an article today written by Robert Eisenman in response to my Op. Ed. in the New York Times, "Gospel Truth," and the SBL Book panel on the Gospel of Judas. It is called, "Gospel Fiction and the Redemonization of Judas."

The impression that Eisenman gives about my point of view is absolutely fascinating - and dead wrong, I'm sorry to report. In fact, any one who has been a regular reader of my blog, a student in my courses, or kept up with my scholarship will find his characterization rather amusing and ill-informed. According ot Eisenman, I have not only "redemonized" Judas, but I have done so because I am a "conservative" scholar. Because I am a "theologically-minded" person and scholar, I appear to be against the "rehabilitation" of Judas as an historical figure, the Huffington Post entry reports.

So again we see the conservative-liberal frame being put into place, and the rhetoric of historical Judas overlaying the discussion. I ask, why? especially when neither of these frames has any association with my argument, or the arguments of Louis Painchaud, John Turner, Birger Pearson, Einar Thomassen, and so forth.

Judas' portrayal in the Gospel of Judas has nothing to do with the historical Judas. If an ancient text calls him a demon, this means nothing in terms of who Judas Iscariot actually was. Texts calling him Satan, a demon, or the Thirteenth Demon, are presenting us with various ways that the early Christians interpreted Judas and his role in the death of Jesus.

I am not reading the Gospel of Judas as a religious person - conservative or otherwise. As I have said numerous times, personal theology and scholarship cannot mix if we intend to do genuine historical work. This is my motto, and I continue to criticize biblical scholarship for allowing theology to rule the day. Here is a case in point. Eisenman cannot frame this discussion of Judas beyond the theological. If I say that the text calls Judas a demon, then I must be a conservative believer who is against the rehabilitation of Judas. But the fact is, I'm about as liberal as you can get in terms of religious belief and affiliation. But this just doesn't seem to make sense to Eisenman, who seems fairly confident that I must be a conservative believer because I have said that the Gospel of Judas takes a traditional view of Judas.

What nonsense this is. As a scholar, if a text calls Judas a hero, I will advocate that characterization. But if the text does not, then I will advocate otherwise. And the Gospel of Judas says otherwise. I am not re-demonizing Judas. He never was anything but a demon in the Gospel of Judas. He was only made into a good guy by the National Geographic Society's interpretation of the Gospel of Judas which was based on a faulty transcription and problematic English translation.


Memra said...

Bravo!!! Stand your ground. If the Sahidic Coptic text calls Judas a *daimwn*, and the 1st/2nd century context was "demon,"so be it.

I don't think scholarship and personal theology should mix even in theological exegesis, let alone historical dissertation. The text should be allowed to speak for itself.

But that's another topic.

paulf said...

April, you obviously are a smart person, how can it be possible that you don't see the political implications of your words?

Why in the world do you think that you were featured in National Review, a vicious right-wing political magazine? Did the editors suddenly develop an interest in obscure ancient Gnostic writings? No, you ripped into "liberal" Biblical scholars, which makes you a hero to conservatives.

You are an enemy of their enemy, which makes you the standardbearer of the McCarthyite right and Christian fundamentalists, people who create enemies as easily as they breathe. Why is any of this even remotely hard to understand?

One irony, of course, is that as far as I can tell you aren't a conservative or a believer in the literal truth of the Bible. But your words have taken a life of your own, which I have discussed previously.

The other irony is that none of this has anything to do with the truth or untruth of anything in the Bible.

I guess the question now is, how you handle this newfound public platform?

paulf said...

Life of "their" own, not "your" own.

Patrick George McCullough said...

Wow. I mentioned in my post the other day that I don't think your position is really "conservative." The so-called "liberal" scholars are actually conserving the traditional interpretation of Ancient Christians' interpretations of the Gospel of Judas, even if they disagree with the value judgment of it as heresy. You are presenting a nontraditional and thus inherently nonconservative understanding of the Gospel of Judas.

I don't understand why people think your reading is "conservative". Not that it even matters. Or at least, it shouldn't matter.

I'm also a little skeptical of Eisenman talking about how he silenced the room with his penetrating question in San Diego. But I wasn't at that session.

paulf said...


This is very simple.

There is nothing in the DeConick position that is "conservative" in any sense. Her appeal to conservatives is that she attacked the "liberal" scholars who are the bane of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

DeConick's sudden fame has nothing to do with the accuracy of her interpretation of "Judas." (And to be clear, I suspect her position is closer to being accurate than the NG team, although I am not qualified to judge and also doubt it is really possible to know for sure.)

But none of her newfound supporters from outside the scholarly community care one whit about Judas the gospel. They hate liberals and anything that is bad for liberals has to be good.

Want evidence? Check out the new book by National Review editor Jonah Goldberg which literally says that liberal second-grade schoolteachers are the modern version of Hitler. Before you accuse me of making up something too ridiculous to be true, google it.

Deane said...

Eisenman is on his usual soapbox, of course, where everything in the Pesharim and Gospels forms a code which happens to tie into Eisenman's own scheme. When Eisenman first worked out his scheme, he was still able to claim that the Pesharim were “all from the first century [AD]”--due in large to the lack of information from Cave 4. But as Michael Wise has demonstrated, out of 32 “possible and plausible” historical references in the Scrolls, 26 relate to the period 100 to 30 BC, and the remaining 6 to the second century BC. None at all refer to the first century AD. So, despite the very foundations of Eisenman's scheme being taken away from under it, he continues to refer everything in the literature to the same scheme he invented some 30 years ago--although somewhat more vaguely, now. It may be time for him to move on.

He also mentions the "creation of such characters as Osiris, Dionysus, Asclepius, Hercules, Orpheus, and the like" in "the works of Hesiod, Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Petronius, Seneca, Apuleius". This idea, of the invention of gods and heroes, is applied as a broad analogy to the Gospels. But, he has it back-to-front. The Greek and Roman writers he refers to did not "create" these characters, but 'rationalised' earlier legends more and more over time, until the supernatural stories became more and more historicised. They process was not one of "theological repartee", as in the Gospels, but a general trend towards "historicising repartee" (as Paul Veyne nicely describes). So, the analogy is very poor.

What is amazing is that he seems to thing that the "hushed silence" which fell on the room was some sort of theologically conservative shock at what he was saying. I wasn't there, but I strongly suspect the "hushed silence" had more to do with what Prov 26.4 speaks about than conservative shock.

g. wesley said...

i think this is a rather transparent example of personal conviction totally warping perception, which is a bit surprising coming from an emeritus professor.

i'm also surprised that he would not only jump to such conclusions but allow them to be published.

his main argument seems to be that the gospel of judas MUST be read/used as a rehabilitation, BECAUSE of the attrocities perpetrated in conjunction with the christian demonization of judas and, by metonymy, jews in general. rather than aiming to understand the text, he's interested in what it could help [him] "to achieve."

the reversal of anti-semitism is a worthy cause to be sure (though personally, i doubt that it is still as rampant as eisenman insinuates, especially in academia). but this and other religious/politcal/ethical motives and convictions should not be allowed to control scholarship. (that they influence it, at least to some small extent, is probably inevitable.)

eisenman writes of the name judas/judah being used as "a slur on the whole Jewish people," which he thinks the ngs version of the gospel of judas promised to help reverse. but even if judas were a hero in this text, it and the rest of the sethian corpus (where the god of jewish scripture is presented as ignorant, malevolent, etc.) is hardly the place to turn to for a reversal of anti-semiticism.

yuckabuck said...

I have been a sometime reader of your blog since Mark Goodacre linked to it. I applaud and appreciate your frequent calls to make sure that our exegesis is divorced from our personal religious beliefs. Since I actually am a conservative, both theological as well as political, I thought I would take a break from creating enemies as easily as I breathe, and also applaud you for your New York Times op-ed. Contrary to what some think, we vicious right-wingers sometimes like to take a break from starving little children and bombing abortion clinics, just to enjoy the back and forth of academic debate and the pursuit of truth through peer critiques.

I have not always agreed with some of your conclusions on this blog, but I understand that I am not an expert in the pseudopigraphical literature, and I have always respected the tone with which your conclusions are presented.

The reason why this McCarthyite enjoyed your op-ed was not because it "ripped into liberal scholars," but because it was a fine example of good scholarship correcting bad scholarship. When (if?) I finally make it to graduate school, I will know what's really in the Gospel of Judas, despite any professor telling me different, and that will be because of you. Thank you.

Ps. to paulf,

I don't know that the editors of National Review suddenly developed an interest in ancient Gnostic writings, but if you actually read John Miller's piece on April's site, there is no mention of liberal theology. The only blame apportioned is the one April herself raised- Was National Geographic putting out shoddy scholarship in order to capitalize on a Da Vinci trend?

It was actually the Huffington Post (a vicious left-wing blog?) that brought conservative/liberal labels into it. So much for conservatives not caring a whit about the Gospel of Judas. National Review's blog actually discussed the gospel of Judas when NG first announced it, as well as other newsworthy stories, such as the Talpiot tomb.

And as I know what Jonah Goldberg has actually said about his new book, I intend to actually read it, instead of just googling it, before I demonize it.

David Creech said...

Perhaps you can help a young academic begins to feel the pangs of disillusionment. How do you keep doing your work (which is top rate and methodologically sound) when it is immediately cast into a simplistic debate of conservative vs. liberal? Rather than hearing the argument, looking at the evidence, and attending to the nuance, folks like Eisenman and some on this blog simply dismiss your position as ideologically driven. It makes me wonder why I even bother to engage.

David Creech said...


Geoff Hudson said...

Basically, all Eisenman is saying is that the various characterisations of Judas Iscariot in the texts are indications that he was a larger than life historical character. The Gospel of Judas is one example.
Bad he may have been to some, but good he most certainly would have been to others.

In any case I'm a fan of Eisenman.

paulf said...

I think Eisenman is correct in some of what he says, although he really doesn't address the central question that he raises, whether Judas was portrayed as a demon by the author of "Judas."

Yes, it is entirely possible that the Judas character -- or his role as traitor -- was invented for anti-Semetic purposes by the gospel authors, but that doesn't mean that the Gospel of Judas is not also anti-Semetic.

paulf said...

yuckabuck, I didn't google Goldberg's book, I've read actual passages from it, and it's a pathetic screed that almost made my eyes fall out from the stupidity.

"Liberal fascism differs from classical fascism in many ways. I can't deny this. Indeed, it is central to my point."


"The Holocaust could not have occured in Italy because Italians are not Germans."

With a chapter entitled: "Hitler: Man of the Left." Apparently because he was a vegetarian.

If you have an open mind for that, well...words excape me.

As for the rest of what you say, this is being trumpted far and wide as a rebuke against the "good Judas" potrayal which is seen as an attack on the Bible. I'm not saying that is a fair portrayal of her opinion or a correct way to look at the book, but that is what is.

April DeConick said...

Wow, I appreciate all of your comments and don't know what more to say except "thanks."

To "Paulf" I can only say that I do not have control over how my academic work is used by others. I understand completely all you are saying, but I cannot be dishonest in order to support so-called "liberal" scholarship, just as I cannot be dishonest in order to support so-called "conservative" scholarship. I have to call a spade a spade, which I always try to do. It's just that this spade is much more public than the others which have remained in the erudite journals of my profession. What I can do is what I try to do here on my blog - to remind readers of my positions and arguments. I think about this more along the lines that "Yuckabuck" said here in the comments: "The reason why this McCarthyite enjoyed your op-ed was not because it 'ripped into liberal scholars,' but because it was a fine example of good scholarship correcting bad scholarship." When I do my research and writing, I don't do it to take a stab at "liberal" or "conservative" scholarship. I do it to present what I think is the best interpretation of the evidence. Sometimes the "liberal" interpretation wins, and sometimes the "conservative", although I don't like to think about or frame my work in this way.

I really like Patrick's insight - he is correct. The idea of Judas as a hero in the Gospel of Judas is actually the position of the church fathers, and may have contributed to the NGS's push to interpret the text in this way. But it turns out that the church fathers appear to have been wrong - the Gnostics agreed with the Apostolic Christians that Judas was a demon. They just disagreed about which demon he was, and what that means theologically.

Peter Nathan said...

It appears that the 'answer' to the give and take -- push and shove, would appear to be establishing incontrovertibly,that it is a Sethian text. Perhaps the other side could work to prove the opposite. Knowing the approach taken at the first SBL session where you presented in the 'small' room, no real defense was raised against it being Sethian. Marvin M made a claim for reading it as not being a Sethian text. Are there ways of really proving one way or another or is that a subject for a doctoral dissertation?

Pastor Bob said...

OK, this is just weird. Eisenman doesn't even seem to be talking about scholarship or theology. He seems to be saying that Dr. DeConick's work is really about politics.

What really surprises me is his connections between the Judas of the NT gospels and Acts and the Gospel of Judas. While Judas in the Gospel of Judas, (if Dr. DeConick is correct) is identified by Jesus as a real demon, the Judas of the NT gospels is only a human being. To be sure, Eisenman is correct, the Matthew and Acts accounts of his death differ dramatically and John does say that the devil had already entered Judas but that is rather different from saying that Judas was a demon.

Further, as Dr. DeConick says in her book, the NT gospels and the Gospel of Judas start from rather different viewpoints on the nature of reality. Gnosticism in its various forms is different from the Apostolic gospels. Therefore Judas' role in them is also different.

What I find most shocking about Eisenman's article is that he seems to say that those who disagree with the NGS translation and interpretation are somehow anti-Semitic because they translate words and sentences and interpret those words and sentences in ways that do not praise Judas.

I thought this was all about what sentences meant in an ancient text. Apparently I was wrong! At least according to Eisenman.

Geoff Hudson said...

Bob wrote:"What really surprises me is his connections between the Judas of the NT gospels and Acts and the Gospel of Judas."

It would not if you had read any of his books. His basic technique is finding relationships, parallels and allusions between words in the texts, recognising that he is dealing with a great deal of fabricated and garbled information. This involves transmitted memories, which is something April has said she is very interested in, but in the case of the Gospel of Judas she seems to have forgtten that. Eisenman's historical work does not for the most part involve the kind of literalist interpretation usual among academics. It operates more on the principal that if there is suffcient smoke, there is fire.

Geoff Hudson said...

Deane wrote: "What is amazing is that he seems to thing that the "hushed silence" which fell on the room was some sort of theologically conservative shock at what he was saying."

Actually, what Eisenman was complaining about was lack of even-handedness by the academy in their treatment of ancient 'Christian' documents in general. He was saying, in effect, that it was not OK to regard one second century document like the Gospel of Judas as without history in relation to what happened in Palestine in the first century, and then treat other documents like the NT as historical in that sense. As Eisenman pointed out, in effect, chair Michael Williams blurted out a ridiculous answer, "Tradition affirmed that they were", i.e. tradition affirmed that the latter were regarded as historical in the sense Eisenman suggested, and the former was not.

g. wesley said...

peter nathan,

you raise some thorny issues.

it would be pretty difficult to contend that the gospel of judas is not related to the so-called sethian text group (e.g., apocryphon of john, trimorphic protennoia) in terms of its mythology.

but the sethian text group is not without its own uncertainties. it seems to be generally accepted (even by king and williams) as a legitimate working category (within which there are subcategories, such as barbeloite and ophite), although there is some question as to the exact parameters of the group (and subgroups). it is also debatable whether the proponents of these texts called themselves sethians, and some scholars (especially wisse) doubt that the similarities between the so-called sethian text group can be used to support the existence of a destinct and unified religion/christian sect.

the question of designation isn't that important. whether one chooses to classify the gospel of judas as a sethian or ophite or (even more potentially problematic) gnostic text, the mythographic similarities still exist. of course there are some differences too.

meyer himself places the gospel of judas within the sethian text group in his chapter on "judas and the gnostic connection" in the original ngs publication. and he's presenting a paper at the codex judas congress in march titled, "when the sethians were young: the gospel of judas in the second century."

based on a passage in the ngs version where seth is listed as chief ruler of the underworld, ehrman has cautioned against classifying the the gospel of judas as sethian text "without remainder," because it is generally held that the proponents of the sethian text group revered seth. but the passage was probably wrongly restored in the ngs version and name seth does not belong there.

ANS said...

Following your logic and seeing the NatGeo Gospel of Judas, I can tell you that the relations between jews and Christians has already “saved” by the holocaust lie, the gospel has a new reason: the final emancipation of jews: Globalization of consciousnesses.

paulf said...

April, once again, to be clear, I am not saying that you had political motivations for interpreting the Gospel of Judas the way you did. I assume you had only the best intentions, and I have no reason to believe your interpretation is wrong.

But I am saying that others seized on your opinion as published in the Times op-ed to make their own political or theological point, which I don't think is justified or even an accurate representation of the debate.

Sometimes things take on a life of their own.

bart007 said...

Upon reading this article and several related ones, and having a solid math - science background, I came to comments simply to point out that in the 'hard sciences', and much more so in the historical searches and interpretations, the prejudices and personal bias's of the researcher often taints and distorts the factual discovery.

NGS has printed quite a few science articles in recent years that came back to bite them as being promoters poor research and wishful interpretation on their part.

DeConick accurately notes that some of this information is driven by the strong human desire to make money. Shock, Controversy, and Outrageous Claims sell. If you tell people what they already know or believe, they yawn. Tell them a big lie and their ears perk up "I would never have thought THIS to be true, how FASCINATING, I must read it and learn more."

When it comes to the Judeo-Christian Bible and faiths, doing research in this field is very attractive to many who have an inate bias against these faiths and desire to control and spin the interpretation of findings in accord with that bias.

Surprisingly, in reading comments here, I found paulf as a 'poster child' of this personal bias overiding reality. His fear that DeConicks truthful reporting correcting NGS grievious error concerning the gospel of Judas leads paulf to accuse DeConick of comforting the enemy, the enemy in his mind being those who believe the Bible is the actual word of God, intended for them.

Paulf accuses DeConick of ripping into "liberal' biblical scholars, being a hero of conservatives, like the "vicious right-wing political magazine", Paulk meaning William Buckley's National Review.

Paulf goes on to proclaims to DeConick, "You are an enemy of their enemy" presumably meaning in accord with the tone of his response: 'You are an enemy of the liberally biased biblical scholars who are the enemy of the conservative biblical biased scholars.'

Paulf elaborates on the DeConick's betrayal by labeling her as the "standardbearer of the McCarthyite right" and "Christian Fundamentalists", who really are, according to paulf - " people who create enemies as easily as they breathe.' Half of me is ROFL, and the other half of me is crying that such views are in vogue today. DeConicks crime in paulf's eyes: informing the public that the coptic word for demon does not mean 'a good and very nice person'.

In light of paulf's introductory salutation to April DeConick, 'April, you are obviously a smart person', paulf's comment becomes a prime example of what it means to "Browbeat", be it April DeConick or the public.

This gives the public cause for concern; how could we possibly trust the biblical scholars and those periodicals who select what should, and should not, be reported.