Monday, December 17, 2007

A Move to Marginalize

Thanks to Jim West for pointing me to John Dart's write up about the SBL session about the Gospel of Judas in San Diego. It is well done and I recommend taking a moment to read it. I just want to note John Turner's observation, which John Dart records:
Another seasoned scholar in Gnostic studies, John Turner of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told the Century in San Diego after the November 17 session that he thought Pagels and King did not "take seriously" the criticisms from colleagues.
I also carried away this impression. But I wonder if it is that they genuinely don't take the criticism seriously, or that they don't want to take it seriously because they published quickly before they were aware of all the problems with the Coptic transcription they were using. For instance, Pagels noted in her talk that Judas does receive the mysteries, and therefore is enlightened, an initiate. The problem with this interpretation of Judas' reception of the mysteries is that the corrected text tells us why he receives them. Jesus tells Judas that he will teach him the mysteries "not so that you will go there, but so that you will lament greatly" what he is about to do. So the text itself tells us the opposite of Pagels' interpretation. He is not receiving the mysteries to become an initiate. He is receiving the mysteries so that he will not be ignorant of his participation in Ialdabaoth's plan to kill Jesus. And because of this, Judas will be punished with
lamentation and eventually, the text says, annihilation.

So I think that we are seeing an attempt to marginalize the criticism of Judas as hero in order to give others the impression that these criticisms are not serious enough to be considered. There is a lot at stake here. I see this happening with Marvin Meyer's response to all this as well. John Miller, a journalist for National Review, has written that Meyer told him that it is merely an interpretative matter and "These critics are just a little group of people" (National Review, December 31, 2007, p. 26).

Yikes! If Marvin Meyer wishes to make me part of "a little group of people," okay, I'm a younger scholar, not of the generation that brought in the Nag Hammadi materials. But to call my colleagues this - John Turner, Birger Pearson, Hans Gebhard-Bethge, Einar Thomassen, Louis Painchaud, Craig Evans - is truly shocking to me. There are no more prominent scholars in the field than these people. For hard criticism to be lobbied by these kinds of scholars is serious indeed. By the way, several of the scholars in this "little group of people" were the same scholars that Marvin Meyer relied on to re-edit, re-translate, and re-interpret the Nag Hammadi texts for his new international version of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

The long and short of this for me is that this language is nothing more than an attempt to marginalize the criticism, to refocus the discussion off the issues rather than on them. Because if we were to look at the actual issues, then we would have to talk about the fact that Jesus tells Judas that he is the Thirteenth Demon, that he isn't going to ascend to the Gnostic generation, that, in fact, he is separated from it. By the way, just to keep things straight. These are not interpretative matters as Meyer keeps saying. This is actually what the Coptic text says. The only interpretative matter is what this means.


g. wesley said...

again, thanks for the update.

i hope the people who read the responses by meyer and ngs read this.

paulf said...

Wow, let's get out the fainting couches -- scholars are calling each other names!

April, why is it OK to accuse Meyer essentially of deliberately perpetuating a fraud but not OK for him to call your side a "little group of people," which seems to me an incredibly mild thing to say, given the circumstances?

This is what bugs me about all this silliness: It denigrates the entire field when scholars can't disagree without resorting to the "bad faith" argument. The public at large should know much more about these topics, but they never will as long as "scholars" are so parochial and inept about the way the topics are presented.

A personal example from another recent issue in which the scholars got out their fainting couches -- the alleged tomb of Jesus. The "Biblical ARchaeology Society" crowd all were shocked, shocked that a dirty unwashed filmmaker -- of all things -- dared intrude into their precious field. They rushed to say: "What an outrage!" (I make no claim to whether I believe it or not.)

Now I attend a conservative Presbyterian church in a very blue state in the Northeast, and a couple of months ago the pastor mentioned said tomb and confidently posited that the whole thing was a hoax, based on the attacks on Shimon Jacobovicci. From that, he can tell his flock not to listen to scholars because they are always trying to trick them into disbelieving the clear, plain words of the Bible. And he can cite scholars who say that the other scholars are liars and charlatans.

Of course, he is full of shit and has no idea what he is talking about any time he mentions an archaeological issue.

My point is that the public will probably never get any of the nuance about the textological debate, but most people will gather from all this that scholars are all a bunch of frauds.

If you want the personal attacks to be your legacy (and I would say the same thing to Meyer if he had a blog), then by all means keep it up. But the whole lot of you need better PR strategy.

David Creech said...

After the Annual Meeting I told my dissertation director that I did not think that the criticisms received an adequate response from Pagels, King, Meyer, et al. Although several papers from giants in the field raised legitimate and compelling concerns, Meyer and others resorted to simple dismissals such as, "The thesis is not tenable" or "We'll just have to disagree." The fact is that the original read of the NGS committee does not hold water. Perhaps they have not addressed the actual evidence and arguments that have been put forth because they in fact have no evidence to support their (mis)reading. And, to counter Meyer's claim that only a little group of people disagree with him, my impression is that his position is now in the minority.

Memra said...

You said: "By the way, just to keep things straight. These are not interpretative matters as Meyer keeps saying. This is actually what the Coptic text says. The only interpretative matter is what this means."

Thanks. That's a good line I can use in another controversial context, involving the "unforbidden" gospels.