Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gnostic Parody

Let me ask my readers. Where do we find examples of Gnostics using parody or satire to criticize Christians or Christian ideas that they do not like?


David Creech said...

I can't think of any satires or parodies off hand, but texts such as the Testimony of Truth, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Second Treatise of the Great Seth clearly take aim at "apostolic" Christianity and mock its heroes, ritual, and belief. In my mind, Dr. DeConick's reading of the Gospel of Judas falls well within the parameters of these types of attacks.

Rebecca said...

I can't speak to the parodies of other Christian groups in Gnostic texts, but it seems to me that the exegesis of the Genesis story of creation in the Hypostasis of the Archons does fit into the category of mocking traditional biblical beliefs. Certainly the use of the verse in Isaiah 44 where God says, "Besides me there is no god" and other similar verses is used to mock the biblical god and those who believe in him as worshippers of Ialdabaoth - much like the Gospel of Judas mocks the disciples for worshiping Ialdabaoth instead of the true god.

g. wesley said...

Professor DeConick,

I don't know about a parody through and through, like the stuff Lucian was writing at the time of the Sethians, and I'm not even sure parody is the right word for it, but the laughing savior's repeated reinterpretations in Apocryphon of John come to mind. (But of course, it is generally accepted that this text, or the frame story at least, portrays John in a favorable light, the savior's laughs/mocking notwithstanding.)

For instance (as we've discussed earlier), Ialdabaoth is said to be Christ ('xc' BG 43.19) or Lord ('jois' II 12.6) over his progeny. He calls himself God, and his fistborn Athoth he links with christhood/goodness ('tmntxrc' II 12.15-16), in immitation of the the anointing of the divine son by the real god of the light (II 6.18-26). From the Sethians' perspective, Ialdabaoth and Athoth (=the god and savior whom they understood their opponents to revere) have no legitimate claim to these titles, which instead ironically signify their destruction and powerlessness (II 12.30-33).

This Sethian irony goes unnoticed or at least unheeded in the original NGS transcription and translation of Gospel of Judas 52.4-6, where the passage is restored and translated as: "The first is [S]eth, who is called Christ." Apparently the restoration resulted from the editors' assumption that the connotation of 'pexc' (the Christ) is possitive and therefore refers to the divine Seth, who in some Sethian texts is identified with the savior.

This restoration presents at least two glaring problems. First, the immediate context of 52.4-6 is not possitive: an account of the origin of the realm of the dead and its rulers. Second, such placement of Seth as chief among the rulers of the underworld and the offspring of Ialdabaoth conflicts with Gospel of Judas 49.5-6 (to say nothing of other passages in other texts like Aprocryphon of John BG 34.19-36.7), which descibes the appearance of "the incorruptible [generation] of Seth" in the realm of light. Furthermore, the evidence for an archontic Seth is sparse at best(Epiphanius, and perhaps implicit in on the Origin of the World).

In his chapter on "Judas and the Gnostic Connection," Meyer downplays the negative context of 52.4-6, stating that "Gospel of Judas lists Seth (also called Christ) as an angelic ruler of the world," which seems benign enough to anyone unfamiliar with Sethian texts. And he does not seem to acknowledge that this restoration conflicts with Gospel of Judas 49.5-6, not to mention the various other elevated views of the son of Adam in Sethian texts.

In the initial NGS publication, there is no note addressing alternatives to this highly idiosyncratic restoration and interpretation of 52.4-6.

Arguably (as Turner has shown), the passage should be restored as follows: "The first is called Atheth, who is called the good one," And 'pexc' (the christ/anointed one/good one) should be understood as a title mimetic of the divine son of the god of light but applied blasphemously (by Ialdabaoth) and ironically (by the Sethians) to one of the rulers of hell (=the cosmos).

The translation of 52.4-6 in the critical edition is slightly different: "The first is [S]eth, who is called 'the Christ,'" the added quotation marks perhaps reflecting some acknowledgement of irony. And there is a note rejecting the restoration Athoth, with an omega (as the name is found elsewhere in Sethian texts), on the grounds that, if the letter in front of the theta is a vowel, it could only be an eta. At any rate, even if one were to consider this enough to disqualify the name Athoth (the name could easily be Atheth, as Turner suggests), it hardly justifies the NGS restoration. Whatever the name is, it's probably not Seth and certainly not the divine Seth.

This does not bear directly on the question of Judas, but I think it presents a rather compelling example of how the NGS restoration/translation misses (ignores?) Sethian irony.

Grant Adamson

April DeConick said...

All of you point to exactly the texts and ideas that I have in mind when I try to contextualize the "humor" of the Gospel of Judas. It is at once parody and satire - they are really laughing at the ignorance of the Apostolic Christians - but the are also really trying to correct the errors of the Apostolic tradition.

So Meyer is wrong here. There are plenty of examples of Gnostic use of parody and satire, and its use in the Gospel of Judas is just another example.

Talon said...

I'm sorry, but my simpleminded understanding of the word "parody" implies something amusing, and I can't find anything in any of this that would imply that the text is meant to be funny.

Be that as it may, here is what I really don't undertand -- if the point is that the author of Judas is laughing at or in some way denigrating apostolic Christians, how is that so radically different than the NG Team?

Yeah, they say Judas is viewed positively and DeConick says he is viewed negatively, but both agree that the book was written from a Gnostic point of view in opposition to the orthodox Christians of the day. Isn't that the central fact in the whole issue and the rest window dressing?

Also, I think they both agree the book says nothing about the historical Jesus or Judas, and that its value to us today is to demonstrate the diversity of thought in second century Christianity.

It seems to me -- an outsider in this field, to be sure, terms like "Sethian Gnosticism" don't roll off my tongue -- the difference between DeConick and the NG team is very subtle.

As such, I don't understand accusations of bad faith on the part of the NG team. There is disagreement in a translation, which is to be expected. But I haven't heard anything that makes me think that one side or the other is being underhanded.

To me, the real shame in all this is that by attacking the NG team's intentions, DeConick has given a big weapon to Christian fundamentalists who use it as a point to argue that anyone who questions the Bible story is a charlatan. And I know that those who use this line either don't know what they are talking about or aren't being honest, but still, that's likely to be the lasting legacy of the Times op-ed.

José Solano said...

The objective scholar seeks to establish the truth. There should be no concern over how one side or another uses the facts. Secularists may be looking for something that undermines fundamentalists’ views and vice-versa. It is of enormous significance if an early writing demonstrates that Judas was thought of as a “good guy” in clear contradiction of all other thoughts concerning Judas. Whether intentional or not it brings into question the NT testimony.

Dr. DeConick’s epilogue in The Thirteenth Apostle shows a fascinating pattern since the sixties and earlier to exonerate Judas in film and literature as a noble good guy. This tendency, coupled with some superficial details such as the very title, Gospel of Judas, may have something to do with the NG’s team assumption that Judas is some sort of hero. Another plausible motivator for NG to produce a noble Judas is of course the pure sensationalism of the idea and the material rewards that often accompany such sensationalism. Showing a demonic Judas is no more than we already know from the NT.

What I keep bringing up in GJ, that is particularly interesting for contemporary discussions but no one has yet addressed, is line 38. 20: “Some were sleeping with men.” Did Sethian Gnostics and Apostolic Christians find common ground on this issue? Is this too volatile for any scholar to focus on today? There is focus on their differences but perhaps we should examine how much they had in common. Who would be more open to this examination, fundamentalists or secularists?

Talon said...

Jose, are you saying that the fact that one person tries to elevate Judas as a hero is evidence that another person is doing it? Do you have any actual evidence that the individuals on the team were motivated by material gain?

One could easily turn that argument around, as well. Let's face it, if Dr. DeConick didn't make allegations against the NG team, her book would be completely obscure except to a handful of eccentrics (I include myself in that group), and surely the NY Times would not have wasted precious op-ed space on an esoterical book. So couldn't one argue that she made those allegations as a way of gaining fame and fortune for herself?

The idea that Judas was not the bad guy in the book is not completely irrational, if only because (as I understand it) he was the guy to whom Jesus entrusted the secret of salvation. Is it customary for the bad guy to be the one with the favored knowledge?

Finally, whatever the book of Judas says, it says absolutely nothing about the validity of the New Testament. I think both sides would agree with me on that. It's a story (probably) written in the second century by someone expressing their own understanding of truth. It is not a historical critique and even if it were, it wouldn't carry much weight beyond demonstrating what the author believed.

Talon said...

...someone expressing his or her own understanding ... excuse me for the error

Pastor Bob said...


If accuracy in scholarship isn't important then why bother doing it? I don't know Coptic but I do know Koine Greek. If daimon is a carry over word from Koine Greek to Coptic then, in a religious text it means demon. Like it or not the NG scholars got it wrong.

Oh, and while I happen to be an orthodox Christian I can see the humor in the Gospel of Judas. The apostles, the people who claim they followed Jesus around never got what Jesus was trying to tell them. So here they are, the leaders of a new religion, who are teaching the exact opposite of what their leader taught. That's funny!

Of course I think the Sethites are wrong, but that doesn't mean they can't tell a good joke or two.

José Solano said...


If we have been following the amazingly seedy means by which this document was acquired and brought to light in the hoarding and sensationalistic manner that should be an embarrassment to a highly esteemed institution like NG, there should not be any surprise or shock that their intentions might be questioned or suspect.

I certainly recommend James Robinson’s book with the unfortunate title, The Secrets of Judas, for an overview of the entire, shall we say “cloak and dagger” intrigues leading to the purchase and sequestering of the document by NG.

So you ask, “Do you have any actual evidence that the individuals on the team were motivated by material gain? Well, read Prof. Robinson’s understanding of the events for some insights into this matter.

Nevertheless, I would like to offer the NG and the translators every benefit of doubt that they developed their translation with honesty and integrity even as they sought to make lots of money. And that’s Ok, though it would have been better if they had opened up the original even while they were working on their translation. But big business enterprises do not tend to be so altruistic.

This is of course all water under the bridge and the document is now available to everyone and a totally different translation has already been produced. There must be others coming out soon I suppose.

In a sense GJ may be seen as a parody though parody is really somewhat different from mere ridicule. In GJ Jesus is essentially ridiculing everyone but it is not a mocking imitation of anything as parody tends to be.

The play I wrote a few months ago is a parody as its title demonstrates: “The Gospel of Judas Meets the Da Vinci Code in the Family Tomb of Jesus.” In the light of Dr. DeConick’s translation I’m going to have to change it somewhat.


Geoff Hudson said...

One might well suspect that in his original writing (that is before the Flavian historians garbled them for propaganda) Josephus POSITIVELY admired Judas the so-called Galilean and his so-called sect, thus:

"they say that God is to be their only ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man Lord; and since this immovable resolution of theirs is WELL KNOWN to a great many, I shall speak no further about the matter; nor am I afraid that anything I have said of them should be disbelieved, but rather fear, that what I have said is beneath the resolution they show when they undergo pain" (Ant.18.1.6.).

And strangely, War 2.8.10 has almost the same about 'Essenes':

"They contemn the miseries of life, and are above pain, by the generosity of their mind. and as for death, if it will be for their glory (i.e. in heaven not on earth), they esteem it better than living always; and indeed in our war with the 'Romans' gave abundant evidences what great souls they had in their trials, wherein, although they were tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, and went through all kinds of instruments of torment, that they might be forced to blaspheme their 'legislator', or to eat what was forbidden them, no, nor once to flatter their tormentors, nor to shed a tear; but they smiled in their very pains, and laughed those to scorn who inflicted the torments upon them, and resigned up their souls with great alacrity, as expecting to receive them again."

The implication is that Judas and his followers were Essenes or prophets and that their ‘legislator’ was God himself, or rather the Spirit of God against whom they would not commit what was unforgivable - blasphemy or disobedience. It was “in our war with the Romans”, not BY the Romans, that the Essenes were thus persecuted. During that war, the bad boys torturing and tormenting the prophets were the priests - those zealous for the Law, that is the zealots or the sicarri, not the Roman soldiery. The prophets believed that when they died they would rise to glory in the presence of God. And they would not call any man, such as Moses, Lord.

This is the positive historical memory of Judas transmitted through time that re-surfaces in the Gospel of Judas. It was a Jewish memory of conflict between priests and prophets who were severely persecuted by the former. One example of that persecution is the massacre at Ein Gedi (War 4.7.2) by ‘sicarri’ (priests) of what must have been agriculturalist Essenes or prophets. This is an incident that some Jewish scholars have squirmed their way out of (see page 148, Myth of Masada by Nachman Ben Yehuda). Yehuda cites Shmaria Guttman: “the people of Ein Gedi … were land tenants of the Roman regime. In fact the people of Ein Gedi almost did not have private land, it was state property, and the state then was the ruling Roman Empire.” Guttman then inferred that the ‘sicarri’ of Masada were justified in destroying their fellow Jews of Ein Gedi for refusing to provide them with food because the agriculturalists rented their farms from Romans. Never mind that as land tenants of the Romans, the residents of Ein Gedi must have had friendly dealings with them, i.e. the residents of Ein Gedi were peaceful, and not for war. And there are the remains of a Roman temple at Ein Gedi.

The massacre at Ein Gedi (War 4.7.2) is asynchronously interpolated in the extant text as though occurring later, as was the capture of Masada which must have been taken before Jerusalem.

Talon said...

Jose, biblical archeology is not big business. Subprime bonds are big business. The cloak-and-dagger part of the manuscript discovery does not in any way imply bad faith in translating.

Also, I never said anything bad about accuracy.

And the word "daimon" does not obviously mean "demon." Just because one scholar says so doesn't make it so. It is her opinion. She may be right, but others disagree.

José Solano said...

Geoff, I think that Judas the military rebel and Judas Iscariot are two different Judas. Judas was a very popular name at the time. Am I missing something in your Comment?

Talon, the NGS was certainly trying to make a lot of money through its sensationalist hype in bringing out this document and the scholars working on the translation certainly wanted to exclude others from access to the Coptic original. Why? One may conjecture but I have clearly said “I would like to offer the NG and the translators every benefit of doubt that they developed their translation with honesty and integrity. . . .” I have no competency whatsoever to make any judgment on the accuracy of the translation. I’m excited to see what scholarly corroboration comes out for the translations. My interest is just in obtaining an accurate translation.

Pastor Bob said...


Like it or not, words have meaning. As Dr. Deconick points out in her book the word daemon in Greek can mean angel in certain philosophical writings but by the time of Koine Greek in religious settings it always means demon. Check a New Testament Greek English Lexicon to see. Now if she is correct and daemon is a carry over word from Greek to Coptic, given the time period and the textual setting, it has to mean demon. One could easily find out by checking a Coptic English Lexicon.

Geoff Hudson said...

José, the original writings of Josephus became a vehicle for Flavian propaganda. Thus Judas the so-called Galilean was not violent but a peaceful prophet who was the original prophet of the NT.

The original prophetic documents of the NT were re-written under Flavian influence so that Judas was made the villain who betrayed the fabricated Pauline Jesus. The original birth story in the NT was about the birth of Judas son of Zechariah (Ezekias in an interpolated text of the writings attributed to Josephus). Thus the birth story of Jesus in the NT is entirely fictitious. And the birth of the so-called John the Baptist was the birth of Judas. This is why 'John' is immediately written out of the story to introduce the fictitious Jesus. The story should have been about Judas and his run-ins with the priests.

The real troublemakers for the Romans were the messianic priests whose violent philosophy was that of the scrolls found in the caves near Qumran. The scrolls were transported by the priests from Jerusalem to the caves at the outbreak of the war with the Romans. The Romans under the command of Nero came to the defence of the prophets who were being persecuted by the priests causing civil unrest because the prophets were popular with the people.

Under the Flavians, everything changed. The prophets became the villains of the war - it was the prophets led by Simon the son of Judas who defended the sanctuary, were taken captive, and paraded through Rome in Vespasian's and Titus' misclaimed triumph.

Neronian forces had previously been let into Jerusalem by the prophets. Those forces killed many of the priests and destroyed much of the temple, but left the sanctuary of the prophets standing. Nero went back to Rome to claim his triumph, only to face revolution. After the death of Nero, Jerusalem and the sanctuary were ransacked by Titus - there never was a battle of Jericho type seige of Jerusalem by Titus.

Talon said...

I guess I should take it as a compliment that nobody is responding to what I am saying, and arguing with what I am not saying.

Nowhere have I said the NG team is right. I have said that the issue is not settled by DeConick's pronouncement and I am not qualified to judge.

Bob, your position is glaringly silly. So all you need to do is look in the handy-dandy Coptic-English dictionary? "slaps head" Wow, why didn't anyone else think of that?

Of course there have only been a billion sermons preached over the years about how the interpretation of some passage was wrong because a word was interpreted the wrong way.

Even "demon" in English is not always bad. I watched the Nets game last night and Jason Kidd was running up and down the court like a demon. Years from now will people think I was saying he is in league with Satan?

José Solano said...

Oh, I see Geoff. It’s just amazing that what you so authoritatively and easily assert is not universally recognized by scholars, or anyone else. Have you contacted the discovery channel yet? If they ignore it see if you can contact Dan Brown.

José Solano said...

Talon, you say the issue is not settled and in a sense that is correct. There will certainly be much more to say about a good or bad Judas in the Gospel of Judas and Prof. Meyer has already countered Prof. DeConick’s thesis. Others will have something to say about the interpretation, I would presume. What’s most important about DeConick’s work is that it strongly supports an opposite view from the one initially presented which should send everyone back to the drawing board to reexamine the manuscript and not blindly accept the first interpretation.

It would have been best if copies of the Coptic original had been released immediately so that scholars might have tried to translate it without the influence, pro or con, of the one first published. It is unfortunate that the NGS chose to sequester the manuscript; a stolen manuscript that that they purchased, which legally means it was never theirs. Nevertheless, to use the Meyer analogy from Brando, with DeConick’s work we certainly have a solid “contenda” to his translation.

When and how this discussion will be “settled” I have no idea. No doubt it will be settled for some sooner than for others.

But we digress from the question of parody.

Geoff Hudson said...

So Jose you only believe what is UNIVERSALLY recognized by scholars, do you? Can you tell me anything in the field of biblical studies and the related history that is UNIVERSALLY accepted by scholars? Are April's views UNVERSALLY accepted by scholars? How many 'scholars' bring the baggage of their predjudices into their arguments? How much published material do you read that already contains the predjudices of its'scholastic' authors?

Assertion enables one to build a logical consistent picture of what one believes was reality using the few words that a blog permits. Suffice it to say, I believe that the editors of the NT and the writings attributed to Josephus were confidence tricksters, and there are a number of scholars who believe similarly. These texts bear all the hallmarks of severe editorial and the agendas of their editors.

José Solano said...

Sorry Geoff but this thread is about Gnostic parody and I think we are wandering far off. For 1st and 2nd century conniving conspiracy theories I suggest you get in touch with Dan Brown. He’s a recognized master at such intrigues.

Geoff Hudson said...

And one aspect of the gnostic parody was whether or not Judas in the Gospel of Judas was being denigrated or not. As far as the Sethian satire aginst Judas is concerned, the jury is out - there is no UNIVERSAL agreement Jose. As far as the incorporated memory of Judas is concerned it is positive, at least from my own view. But no academic has yet stuck their neck out to comment on what is clearly a remembered positive view of Judas in the sanctuary, and that in conjuction with remembered anti-priest, anti-sacrifice sentiments.