Friday, March 30, 2007

The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says

It is now official. My book about the Gospel of Judas is in production. It is being published by Continuum International Publishing Group. The pages are being typeset even as I write this entry. The cover art for the jacket is being designed - a choice between a Giotto image (which I love) or an old Byzantine fresco of the famous kiss (which is iconic). The book will be released in October in hardback for $19.95. My editor tells me that in two weeks, it will be listed electronically in Continuum's online catalogue. I'll post the link when it becomes available.

Here is the catalogue description.
The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says
April D. DeConick

In 2006 National Geographic released the first English translation of the Gospel of Judas, a second-century text discovered in Egypt in the 1970s. The translation caused a sensation because it seemed to overturn the popular image of Judas the betrayer and instead presented a benevolent Judas who was a friend of Jesus.

In The Thirteenth Apostle April DeConick offers a new translation of the Gospel of Judas which seriously challenges the National Geographic interpretation of a good Judas.

Inspired by the efforts of the National Geographic team to piece together this ancient manuscript, DeConick sought out the original Coptic text and began her own translation.

“I didn’t find the sublime Judas, at least not in Coptic. What I found were a series of English translation choices made by the National Geographic team, choices that permitted a different Judas to emerge in the English translation than in the Coptic original. Judas was not only not sublime, he was far more demonic than any Judas I know in any other piece of early Christian literature, Gnostic or otherwise.”

DeConick contends that the Gospel of Judas is not about a “good” Judas, or even a “poor old” Judas. It is a gospel parody about a “demon” Judas written by a particular group of Gnostic Christians known as the Sethians who lived in the second century CE. The purpose of the text was to criticize “mainstream” or apostolic Christianity from the point of view of these Gnostic Christians, especially their doctrine of atonement, their Eucharistic practices, and their creedal faith which they claimed to have inherited from the twelve disciples.

Professor DeConick provides her English translation and interpretation of this newly recovered gospel within the previously overlooked context of a Christianity in the second century that was sectarian and conflicted.

The first book to challenge the National Geographic version of the Gospel of Judas, The Thirteenth Apostle is sure to inspire a fresh debate around this most infamous of biblical figures.

San Diego SBL - Agenda for New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar

I have finally put together the next round of entry presentations for the SBL Seminar, the New Testament Mysticism Project.

Seminar members collectively are writing a commentary covering mysticism in the New Testament. The Seminar will progress systematically through each New Testament text, writing overviews of each text as well as commentaries on relevant pericopes.

Each entry will include the original language passage, a new translation, a line-by-line commentary, the reception history of the pericope through the Ante-Nicene period, literature parallels, and select bibliography.

Entries are discussed each year at the SBL meetings. Participants prepare commentary entries which are discussed in a round table format by members of the seminar. Entries are NOT READ as formal papers. Instead the time is used to introduce the entry by the author and discuss it in detail as a group. This is a working group, a collaborative project to write a commentary on New Testament mysticism.

After the meeting, the entries are revised by the author, and the collected and edited by April D. DeConick, Andrei Orlov and Kevin Sullivan into a three-volume commentary called New Testament Mysticism. Volume 1: The Synoptic Gospels, Luke-Acts, Johannine Literature, and the Catholic Epistles. Volume 2: The Pauline and Deutro-Pauline Epistles. Volume 3: Hebrews and Revelation.

Fall 2007, San Diego
Session One - The New Testament Mysticism Project
Mysticism in the New Testament Gospels
April Deconick, Rice University, Presiding
Andrei Orlov, Marquette University
John 1:45-51 and Matthew 4:1-11//Mark 1:12-13//Luke 4:1-13 (20 min)
Kevin Sullivan, Illinois Wesleyan University
John 6:35-65 and Matthew 16:17-23//Mark 8:27-33//Luke 9:18-22 (20 min)
Cameron Afzal, Sarah Lawrence College
John 9:5 and Matthew 7:21-23 (20 min)
Break (10 min)
Jeffrey B. Pettis, Fordham University
John 12.24 (20 min)
Catherine Playoust, independent
John 3:1-15 (20 min)
Robert G. Hall, Hampden-Sydney College
John 12:37-41 and Matthew 13.43 (20 min)
Jonathan A. Draper, University of KwaZulu-Natal
John 1:18 and Matthew 12:6 (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)
Session Two - The New Testament Mysticism Project
Mysticism in the New Testament Gospels
Andrei Orlov, Marquette University, Presiding
April D. Deconick, Rice University
John 20:24-29 and Matthew 22:23-33//Mark 12:18-27//Luke 20:27-38 (25 min)
Robin Griffith-Jones, Temple Church
John 20:11-18 (25 min)
Charles A. Gieschen, Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne
John 1:12, 5:37-38. 12:28, 17:6, 20:31 and Mt 28:19-20 and Mt 26:64//Mk 14:62//Lk 22:69-70 (25 min)
Break (10 min)
Jared Calaway, Columbia University in the City of New York
John 2:19-22 (25 min)
Jane D. Schaberg, University of Detroit Mercy
John 8:28 and 12:31-34 (25 min)
Alan Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
John 14:16, 15:26, 16:7, 1 John 2:1 and Matthew 17:1-8//Mark 9:2-10//Luke 9:28-36 (25 min)
Discussion (20 min)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dr. Istvan Czachesz's website on Cognitive Approaches and Memory Studies

Dr. Mladen Popovic (from Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium) sent me a link that I want to share with everyone. Thank you!

Wondering what cognitive approaches are and how they might be useful for Biblical Studies? Check out the fantastic website that Dr. Istvan Czachesz (from the University of Groningen) has put together, including some pdf files of articles that he has written on apocryphal texts using cognitive approaches as his method.

It is a good site to pick up some starting bibliography if you are interested in expanding your method base. Personally, I think it will be essential for biblical scholars of this generation to learn cold (and apply to our own field) what cognitive studies already knows about human behavior and memory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The First Tendency of Communal Memory

I have been wanting to post about this important topic for several weeks, but I just haven't had the chance to sit down and write something coherent due to time constraints.

I ran across Social Memory theories a few years ago when Tom Thatcher asked me to write a piece for a volume that he and Alan Kirk were co-editing called Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Semeia 52; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005). Alan Kirk was kind enough to send the contributors a starting bibliography, and I will always be indebted to him for this.

Once I started reading, I literally couldn't put the books and articles down. I think I drove my colleagues at Illinois Wesleyan crazy talking about it all the time. What excited me so much about it was the fact that these theories explained why and how people's traditions are the way they are, and it was exactly what I had been observing and writing about for years in the early Christian literature. But here were anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and historians who had already developed the vocabulary to explain the dynamics. I was so taken by the importance of these theories for the study of early Christianity, that I completely rewrote the manuscript I had almost completed at the time. This rewrite became Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas.

On to a quick summary of communal memory and one of its tendencies.

In cultures where literacy is minimal and an oral consciousness dominates, the dominant power of the mind is memory. This memory includes not only individual memory (which I think played a large role in the way our traditions were transmitted too), but also social or communal memory, as I prefer to call it. Communal memory is the dimension of remembering that we share as a people. It's our history remembered. It transcends the individual person to include everything about the community - we are talking its literature, its art, its sacred places, its ruins, its holidays, its relics, its rituals, and on and on.

This might not seem like that big of a deal. Isn't this just the traditions a community shares? Yes. But what Social Memory studies have shown is that it is the nature and dynamics of communal memory - its characteristics and tendencies - that are important to understand. I have found the application of these studies to be particularly significant for those of us to consider while reading and interpreting literature produced by the ancient Christians.

Today I will just post the first of these tendencies. Communal memory depends upon shared frames of references within a culture as it thrives on remaking the past into a history with contemporaneous meaning. The way that communal memory functions is not a simple matter of recall, or retrival, or preservation of past traditions and historical experiences. On the other hand, communal memory does not invent new traditions or history out of thin air, because the power of the memory is within the hands of the community which controls it. What communal memory does, however, is reconfigure the past - its traditions and historical experiences - to make it conform to the present experiences and future expectations of the group.

What does this mean for the historical hermeneutic I am developing? It means that the history we read about cannot be what actually happened, but what has been reconfigured as happened. We should not be talking in terms of "reliable" history and "unreliable" history, "authentic" memories and "inauthentic" memories. Such questions of "accuracy" and "errancy" must be replaced with other questions of community identity, membership, authority, experience, interaction and so forth. The issue must become for us, why a particular group of Christians constructed its memories in a particular way at a particular time, rather than how accurately a text depicts what actually happened.

I will post on the second tendency in a future post. For now, a good first read about communal memory is Barbie Zelizer, "Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12 (1995) 214-239.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mandaeans and the Sixth Stage of Genocide

There was just posted on the Mandaean list-serve, a letter from Dr. Gregory Stanton, the President of Genocide Watch, in Washington D.C. He is deeply concerned about the Mandaeans and believes them to be experiencing at least the sixth stage of genocide.

Please, join the Mandaean Emergency Campaign to help the humanitarian lobby for their immediate relocation as refugees of the Iraqi War. They are a religious minority, the last Gnostics with religious roots in antiquity. They are a baptizing community. One of their leaders is John the Baptist. They have some communities in the diaspora, mainly in big cities like Detroit and Houston, communities that are willing to help the Iraqi Mandaeans relocate.

Soon to be News

I have some good news to share about the Gospel of Judas, but I can't do it until Friday. So check back in.

Goodbye to Matteo Grosso

Mr. Grosso has been working with me for the past five weeks on his dissertation - the reception history of the Gospel of Thomas. He worked on the Gospel of Mark for his first thesis, and now is writing on the Gospel of Thomas for his second. He is a doctoral student at the University of Turino, who came to Rice University this semester as a visiting student-scholar. We first met at Madeleine Scopello's outstanding conference on the Gospel of Judas put on last October at the Sorbonne where he told me about his dissertation topic and his wishes to come to Rice.

His stay has gone by quickly, but he has accomplished much, setting up all the chapters to his dissertation and completely writing two of them using a classic commentary style (Thomas, Hippolytus and the Naassenes; Thomas and Clement of Alexandria). He is writing in Italian since this is a requirement for graduation from the University of Turino. Once he finishes the book, he plans to translate it into English immediately with an eye on submitting it for publication.

So I recommend watching for his name and his book in the next couple of years. His work will be a very valuable contribution to the studies of the Gospel of Thomas.

I have thoroughly enjoying our time together, and I wish him the best in travel back to Italy, and continued success writing.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Future of Biblical Studies

Today I am thinking particularly of our future as biblical historians because we are welcoming on campus graduate students who may be coming to study with us beginning in Fall 2007. Where are we in terms of our knowledge of early Christianity, its literature, its history, its practices, its theology, and so forth? What direction does our field need to go? How can we advance?

The first on my list, is the development and practice of an uncompromising historical hermeneutic, informed by contemporary disciplines of thought from the arts and sciences. In former posts, I have spoken about what some of the primary principles of such a hermeneutic should look like, and I will be creating future entries on the subject later.

The second on my list is the fact that we must face the troubled waters of the rhetorical culture and conquer oral consciousness. There is a huge body of literature on orality and rhetorical culture that has amassed in the last fifty years, and which remains largely unknown to biblical scholars. How many biblical scholars have actually read Albert Lord, The Singer of Tales, from cover to cover, let alone numerous books by Walter Ong or Miles Foley to name only the surface "three" who have studied orality? A few of us have, and some of us have incorporated the results of this literature in our work. But we are only in the beginning stages of digesting this huge corpus of material on orality and rhetoric, and trying to sort out the implications (and there are many, and they are deep) for biblical studies. I think these studies are absolutely CRUCIAL, and without them, our field will continue floundering in terms of compositional theories and transmission of traditions.

The third on my list is Social Memory theories. Again, we as biblical scholars are about fifty years behind in our knowledge base. I don't know why this is, since Social Memory theories have been picked up by historians long before we biblical scholars even heard of the existence of these theories. These theories have enormous implications for biblical studies because they explain how and why traditions form and shift, are preserved and erased. They help us with historiographical problems, really proving in my opinion that history recounted is never the history that happened but only the history remembered by people for reasons contemporary to the community remembering. Think about what this means for early Christian writings.

The fourth on my list is cognitive approaches and memory studies. Here again, we are fifty years behind the times. What our colleagues in psychology know about this is truly remarkable, and what we know about it (among us generally) is truly pathetic I think. Yet the application of this material to biblical studies is not just pertinent, it is essential.

The fifth on my list is Coptic. No one who studies early Christianity should be allowed to graduate with a Ph.D. without having learned Coptic. There are too many early Christian documents in Coptic for it to be considered just an "additional" language any more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Voices of the Mystics Available Electronically

This must be the day for news-out-of-the-blue. I just received a message from Logos Bible Software that my book on John and Thomas, Voices of the Mystics, has now been published in electronic format as part of the Gnostic and Apocryphal Gospels Collection. I didn't know anything about this, but it looks impressive on their website.

I'm declaring this a day for mysteries to be revealed.

Thomas Cover Art

I just received an very fun note from my editor at Continuum about the cover art on the paperback of my book Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. Apparently two artists, Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel of Toronto, have used the image from my cover as part of their art exhibit that will be displayed at the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto, Saturday March 31 through April 28th. The exhibit is called the History Machine series.

Why is this so exciting for me? Because I am the cover artist whose art is being incorporated into someone else's artwork! This is an incredible honor for me. The original cover can be viewed on my sidebar above my list of publications. I hope to get a copy of the Donovan-Siegel image, and if I do I will ask if I can share it on my blog.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Help for the Mandaeans

I have some more news about the Mandaean Emergency Campaign. It appears that congress is starting to listen to our letters and the Mandaean Society of America's lobby.

Please if you haven't already, send your letters! The more attention we bring to their plight, the more likely the State Department will grant them refugee resettlement status. It is a vital moment in the push to get the Mandaeans refugee status. Here is an earlier link to template letter form and addresses.

The Associated Press has reported that four Republicans and one Democrat (Joseph R. Pitts, R-Pa., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., and Marilyn N. Musgrave, R-Colo.) have sent a letter on Tuesday to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice urging the Bush administration to do more to help will appropriate resettlement programs for Mandaean refugees that have fled to Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Indonesia, where they are still be persecuted.
Judy Redman sent me a link to a BBC report from March 4th about their continued persecution. Jim Davila has posted on this Associated Press Report earlier today. My thanks to both of them!
The letter states that the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. should be expanded to include the Mandaeans. The Associated Press quotes two congress representatives as saying:
"The cost of doing nothing could very well be the disappearance of an entire ethno-religious minority. Clearly, we must not let that happen," Pitts said.

"I felt it essential for me to write Secretary Rice and request her assistance with the Mandaean refugees because their cause was very compelling," Gohmert said. "They are seeking religious freedom."
Mr. Nashi, the spokesperson for the Mandaean Society of America, hopes that the support from the congress members will place more focus on Mandaeans as a "special group among other refugees. I hope it will produce some action from the Department of State towards accepting (Mandaeans) as a small vulnerable ethnic-religious group," Nashi said, according to the Associated Press report.

Kurtis Cooper, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said that the plight of Mandaeans is something the department is aware of.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Emerging from the Tomb

I have emerged from the tomb so to speak - at least it feels like it. What a relief. I left my office Monday with a finished book on the Gospel of Judas. I've turned it over to my editor, so now its fate is in her hands.

Now I'm trying to catch up on the Jesus Tomb controversy. What I have found (not too surprising!) about the comments that I have followed here on the blogs, on the web, on Ted Koppel, and on e-mail lists, is the control that theology holds over us - not only what conclusions we draw, but what inquiries we feel we are allowed to make, and how we should be allowed to make them. The rabid attacks, the name-calling, the outright dismissals, the unwillingness to discuss the possibilities, the Christian apology even in scholars' responses. I haven't even had a chance to form my own opinion yet, because I feel so smothered by all the rhetoric!

This is an occasion again to be reminded that historical inquiry in our field must be liberated from the constraints of faith. Faith must not dictate to us what questions we consider or predetermine our answers. We must follow a course of rigorous academic discourse and lay out all the possibilities. Then we must narrow these down. And in the end we will sort out what the data means. But this process must be a process of free inquiry without a predestined outcome.

I am happy that Simcha Jacobovici laid out his opinion as a journalist. In my opinion, he has shown up once again how afraid we are as scholars to talk about Jesus' death - that the man really died and was buried. And that the resurrection is a doctrine of faith. Frankly, my feelings after watching his film was how silly we look as biblical scholars. I continue to worry about our image. How can we ever be taken seriously as historians as long as we keep wanting to also be theologians or be worried about our faith?

My hope is that Simcha Jacobovici has stirred up the hornet's nest enough that scholars will begin publishing their argued cases in peer-edited forums. If we keep this only a discussion of various posts on the web, or allow Ted Koppel to ask the questions, we will never come to a scholarly consensus. To launch this, I suggest organizing an academic conference in a year so that the case can be discussed among scholars sitting at the same table.

PS. I'm not offering to organize or hold the conference.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More About Gnosticism

From the questions I received on my last post, I thought it might be good to address some of these issues in a main post.

There were ancient Gnostics - folks that self-defined as Gnostics (seekers after the direct experience of God v. intellectual understanding of him).

These people formed lodges or conventicles or study circles where they studied, prayed, and held initiation rituals. They were interested in esoterica - the hidden meaning of the scriptures, and learning the mysteries of the Kingdom, which included experiential journeys into the upper Aeons.

These people sometimes continued to attend apostolic churches or synagogues. Sometimes they choose not to, and defined themselves apart from the churches and synagogues.

There were different groups of Gnostics, groups that studied with different teachers. So their social settings, their theologies, their ritual performances all varied. They would never have understood themselves to be part of a religion called Gnosticism. They wouldn't have identified with each other at all. In fact, often they identified against each other as can be very easily seen in the Testimony of Truth (NHL). This is why I try not to use the word Gnosticism. These people only get grouped together by their detractors in the ancient world and by us today, as if they were all the same "heresy." They weren't the same, and they weren't a heresy. They were esoteric Jews and Christians who later became defined as "heretics" within the discourse of normation.

Now do they have similarities? Yes. First they all want direct experience of God and trust revelation for their knowledge of God. Second they have similarities in their mythologies - they all have an ignorant or arrogant or rebellious demiurge who creates and rules the world; and they all have original sin as a fall within God himself. Why did they have these similarities? Because they were all trying to combine middle Platonic thought with the Judeo-Christian traditions, and they appear to have been influenced historically by each other. In other words, Gnostic thinkers like Valentinus and Basilides were talking to each other and borrowing ideas.

So I fall somewhere between Williams-King and Logan. I don't think the evidence shows a religion of Gnosticism, but I do think we have Gnostics, and I don't think we have described them or their relationships with each other very accurately or well yet. This is difficult, because to do so you have to get into the minds of the various Gnostics and see the world through their eyes.

As for modern day Gnostics. This is a different movement from the ancient one. It is a modern interpretation of ancient texts within completely different social and religious environments. The old school of Gnostics were theologians trying to figure out the world and God and how Jesus fit into everything while remaining faithful to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, particularly Genesis, Paul and John. The old school Gnostics understood themselves to be the only Jews or Christians who really "got it." From what I can tell from the websites on modern Gnosticism, the new school is trying to use NHL as scriptures as an alternative to Judaism or Christianity today.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What is Gnosticism?

We are struggling to answer this very stubborn question. Why? Because we have realized after examinnig the literature recovered in the 1940s from Nag Hammadi, Egypt, that the rubric "Gnosticism" is a misnomer. It is a modern rubric that contemporary scholars have invented, rather than a word that describes a historical religion. Scholars built our modern understanding of Gnosticism to help us describe groups in the ancient world whom the leaders of the apostolic churches identified as deviant or heretical.

We understood these "heretical" Christians as participants within a larger religiosity, an umbrella religion we called Gnosticism. Gnosticism came to represent for us a form of religion in the ancient world that had turned against Judaism and Christianity, a perversion of traditional morality and piety as well as theology. It was described by scholars in the last century as a form of religiosity characterized by a negative view of the world and human existence, succumbing to nihilism and yearning for everything spiritual.

But this "golden bough" had broken. Analysis of the Nag Hammadi texts has shown us that there is no generic Gnostic religion. Rather there were a variety of Jews and Christians who were esoterically minded and yearned for the experience of "gnosis" - a direct meeting with God - and they had varying relationships with the apostolic churches or the synagogue. They all appear to have formed conventicles, study circles, or lodges in which they met for initiation into the mysteries of the Kingdom. But some of these people remained active members of the apostolic churches or synagogues, while also participating in the esoteric lodges. Others left the churches and synagogues, and only attended the lodges. These lodges were very distinct from each other in terms of social location, ritual performances, and even theological systems.

Even though there was no Gnosticism, I don't think this means that there were no Gnostics. So we must be very careful not erase the Gnostics in our post-modern reconsideration of Gnosticism as a mega-narrative that we created. What we need is to rethink the Gnostics and remap the second century so that it makes sense with the Nag Hammadi literature and the normative discourse that the Fathers of the apostolic churches were putting into place to suppress those whose Christian religiosity did not match their own. So yes, there were Gnostics. But who they were still remains to be fully understood.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Staying in Touch

I am sorry that I have not been able to post for a few days. But I am literally locked in my office, finishing Judas the Apostate. I think my family doesn't even know who I am any more, I've been so distracted with writing this manuscript to meet my deadline. So more to come next week, once I have the book off my desk to be read by my editor - who hopefully will like it and want to publish it!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Are the people who wrote the Gospel of Judas "Christians"?

Christianity in the second century did not have the rigid boundaries that we might think it did. I think it is more appropriate to understand it as "sectarian." This includes "mainstream" or "apostolic" Christianity. Christianity was only in its youth. It hadn't figured itself out yet. It was trying to determine its relationship with Judaism, its understanding of Jesus, its view of salvation, its use of rituals, its hierarchy, its position on women, its sacred scripture, its interpretation of scripture, and so forth. For every one of these issues, there were Christians with several answers. And many of these Christians formed their own communities. They talked to each other. They argued with each other. They agreed and they disagreed. Sometimes the discussion became heated, turned nasty, included name-calling, false accusations, and real hatred.

Now we have usually identified ourselves with the Christian position developed by the "church fathers," which itself is a problem since their positions were diverse. They disagreed with each other, and after their deaths, some were declared heretics. What do we do with Tertullian who was a Montanist, and who essentially created the tradition of Christianity that would come to dominate the West? Or what about Origen whose theology was later condemned, and yet whose theology formed the cradle for all later eastern Christian traditions? So even our concept of "mainstream" Christianity as some monolithic homogeneous entity is a misnomer.

Enter the "Gnostics" such as the Sethians who wrote the Gospel of Judas. Were they Christians? Well, it depends on who you would have asked. Irenaeaus would have said, "No." But they themselves would have said, "Yes." And they would have said that Irenaeaus wasn't. The Sethian Christians understood themselves to be the only Christians who really got it, who really understood Jesus' message. The mainstream Christians were ignorant, and not real Christians in their opinion.

So again, we come to apologetics, and how it affects the study of Christian Origins. Do we continue to understand the second century from Irenaeus' perspective? Do we continue to allow his "orthodoxy" to be ours? Or do we allow other voices to emerge and be heard, the voices of people who self-identified as Christians, but whose voices were marginalized, suppressed and silenced? For me, the choice isn't even a choice. The only right thing to do as a historian is try to fairly listen to all the voices, and use that to reconstruct what was really going on between the many different Christians in the second century.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Few Thoughts on "Canonism"

Stephen Carlson has just made a very nice post showing the biases of our citation system. I thank him for this.

I have disliked our citation system for a very long time. Whenever I have published on the non-canonical materials and tried to NOT italicize their titles (to match the convention of citation for canonical materials), the editors won't allow it. This is a terrific example of the way we "privilege" canonical materials. So much of "canonism" in our field is insidious (like many -isms in our world).

I want to push us to reflect further about the need to stop dividing our texts along canonical boundaries when writing our histories of early Christianity. I keep reading in remarks on this blog and in other blogs how much better the NT texts are for the reconstruction of Christian Origins. But this is not necessarily true. What texts we use will all depend on the question(s) we are trying to answer. For instance, the Gospel of Judas tells me a heck of a lot about what Christians were thinking about in 150 CE than any NT text can. And the Gospel of Judas is not a historiography, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the "historical" Jesus or the "historical" Judas if there was one. But it has a big story to tell about the choices Christians were making theologically and practically, and how they understood their own history.

I feel very sad that our field is so dominated by the "historical" Jesus - as if his quest IS the quest for Christian Origins. Frankly, he has less to do with Christianity's origins than most like to think. My scholarly investigations have led me to the point of concluding that Jesus had very little to do with Christian origins. The growth and survival of Christianity, in fact, probably happened in spite of he, his disciples and his brother James whose movement was Israel-centered, faithful to the Torah, and radically apocalyptic. The enmity that the author of Mark directs towards the Twelve apostles is startling. Have you ever really read what he has to say about them? He loathes them, while praising the same agenda as Paul.

So certainly we cannot a priori assume canonism. But even after we have investigated our texts for "age" and "historical reliability," we have to be very careful. Why? Because these should not be our determinants. Our questions should.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Professor Bolender starts "Mandaean Crisis International"

Professor John Bolender is the president of a new organization called Mandaean Crisis International. He has written to me about his organization. If you are interested in joining his efforts, he can be contacted by e-mail or snail mail:

now until Sept. 5th, snail mail address
John Bolender
904 Loop Road
Piketon, OH 45661

after Sept. 5, snail mail address
John Bolender
Department of Philosophy
Middle East Technical University
Ankara 06531
The purpose of Mandaean Crisis International is to bring the attention of the international community to the plight of Mandaeans, especially those currently suffering in Iraq. Mandaean Crisis International makes use of the internet as a means of linking individuals, NGOs, and other organizations around the world to form a pressure group for the defense of Mandaean rights worldwide.

For more information on what the Mandaeans are facing everyday, I refer you to a couple of articles on the web written by Professor Bolender.