Friday, November 30, 2007

Conservative or Liberal Scholarship?

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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Slate for Codex Judas Congress

I've revised the slate for the Codex Judas Congress now that all the initally invited scholars have contacted me with their paper titles. As soon as their abstracts come in, I'll put those up as well.

Link to Codex Judas Congress information.

Especially note the two public lectures: one featuring Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst; the other Elaine Pagels and Karen King. The location has changed to the McMurtry Auditorium in Duncan Hall. I am working on setting up a table of books written by all the scholars who will be attending the conference. This will be set up outside the auditorium before and after the public lectures.

Graduate students, please consider submitting your topic for a poster session.

Link to Poster session information.

I have had scholars begin to contact me who are not on the slate but who would like to attend, and even present a paper. If you are in this situation, feel free to e-mail me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Phil Harland's Review of Thirteenth Apostle

I want to point my readers to Phil Harland's review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. Phil is a fellow blogger and has some interesting things to say in regard to the book. I want to respond to his criticism that I use the term "apostolic" to refer to the "mainstream" church, and that this is anachronistic. We have not yet created language to discuss what actually was going on on the ground in the second century.

I hate "proto-orthodox" because of its connotation that these churches were "orthodox" when in fact they weren't. In fact, many of the main leaders of this church were later designated as heretics (i.e. Tertullian, Origen). I also hate "mainstream" because it suggests that there was a mainstream and everyone else was divergent. I find "apostolic" to be the least onerous because it suggests that these churches rallied around the twelve apostles and believed that their doctrines came from them directly, and it doesn't have any negative connotations in regard to other forms of Christianity.

If anyone has a better term to suggest, I'm more than open to hear about it, because I haven't the foggiest clue how to get out of this terminological dilemma! Thanks Phil for bringing this up.

Why speciality units at SBL are important

My ruminations here represent a continued reflection about SBL and the importance of the formation of specialized groups. I remember years ago how difficult it was to get permission from the SBL Powers to form new groups. There was a policy to keep the number of groups limited, and to encourage scholars to work out their research agendas within already established groups.

I recall the meeting at the University of Michigan on Vision and Audition in 1995 when I proposed to the scholars present that we form the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism unit. I distinctly remember one of the scholars present shaking his head and admonishing us that our unit would never be approved because the SBL was not allowing for the expansion of its number of units. I'm one of those people that take such advise as a challenge, so we went ahead with the proposal anyway. Of the couple new units approved that year, we made the cut.

Why did I suggest that we form this group? The main reason was that the academy had no units studying mystical traditions or religious experience. So when my colleagues and I tried to present papers in other groups, our work was tangential and even marginalized in those sessions. The audience had come to hear about a particular text or set of texts - be it the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Rabbinic literature, or Nag Hammadi literature, or Thomas traditions, or Pseudepigrapha - and when we would try to engage them in a conversation about mystical traditions within this literature, it wasn't particularly productive because it wasn't their issue or interest.

But once we formed a space for the discussion of the mystical to occur, wow, did things happen. I think our unit, in terms of publishing books connected to our unit, is one of the most productive. I can list at least twenty books that have roots in our group, and these books are published in excellent scholarly series put out by Brill, Mohr-Siebeck, T & T Clark, SUNY, etc.

And what spins off should be noted too. From the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has been the creation of the Religious Experience in Antiquity unit, and the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar - more spaces for more scholars to explore connected but more specialized interests or research projects (as is the case with the New Testament Mysticism commentary). It is the snowball effect, and it is what vitalizes everything that our generation of scholars will produce.

These smaller specialized units allow a space for graduate students to be welcomed into the academy, to be supported as they look for jobs, as they begin writing for journals, and publishing their first book.

But complete specialization and separateness is not what I'm talking about. It is important to stay connected to the discourse of other groups. So the ability to do joint sessions on a common topic of interest is exceedingly vital. We try to put together a joint session at least every other year, to stay in touch with bigger issues and alternative methods.

This is what I mean when I say that SBL is a communal experience for me. And I can't imagine it being that way without the presence of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group to which I owe more than words can express. I just can't emphasize enough how these units can become your family, your home away from home. The people that I have met and worked with in these units have become very dear to me. I can't imagine a SBL meeting without this special space for us and our work. Or our Saturday night dinners, which is always a highlight of my meeting.

So I am SO GLAD that the SBL Powers have changed their minds and policy on new groups, allowing the growth to occur and supporting this as much as possible. I don't worry one bit about "over-specializing" - this isn't even a word in my vocabulary. What we are about is enlivening biblical studies, making it an exciting field for a new generation of scholarship. To do this successfully requires scholars to have the freedom to work on collective projects, to create units that support minority positions or interests as well as the dominant.

With more units, it means that we are going to miss things that we would like to have been part of. But when hasn't this been the case? It also means that the committees have to provide an agenda that the group wants to participate in. But this is what we want anyway - programming that is connected to the scholarship happening on the ground.

This means, though, that we are never going to have our agendas set two years in advance as the SBL Powers are insisting - because who knows what fabulous things we are all going to be doing then (smile!).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Talking about miracles

Okay, I have to chime in on the miracle discussion that seems to have enchanted the Christian Origins list serve as the result of Crossley's and Bauckham's discussion at SBL. But I'm going to be brief.

First, if biblical scholars were more concerned about operating as historians than theologians this wouldn't even be a discussion. Historians do not begin with the position that miracles can happen (because God can do anything he wants to do) therefore Jesus performed (or: could have performed) miracles.

When miracles are attributed to famous people in historical writings - and there are many examples beyond Jesus - historians start with the position that these are stories meant to attribute certain superpowers or status to the famous person, or are being used to show the ancient reader that the person being described was thought to be extra-ordinary, divine or godlike. Why should the historical study of Jesus be any different in terms of method?

Second, the fact that this IS a discussion, and that some biblical scholars actually approached James Crossley, maintaining that we can't rule out that Jesus could have performed miracles, should not come as a surprise. The issue at stake is really not about miracles, is it? It is about apology and having it dominate and control our discourse as biblical scholars. It is no wonder that classicists and archaeologists and ancient historians look at our work with suspicion.

I am not going to get into the discussion about whether or not miracles can or cannot happen. I am tired of that discourse and all the false labeling that goes on with it. What I want us to face is the fact that we, as biblical scholars, are willing to suspend what we know about our world when it comes to Jesus and so-called historical research about him, but we are not willing to do so for other figures.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My SBL Odds and Ends

Mark Goodacre has some reflections on SBL that I wish to comment on, since my reflections are quite a bit different from his.

My experience of SBL is a communal one. What I mean is that this is the one time of year that I get together with scholars who are working on similar projects and texts. It is a time to catch up on what everyone else is doing and thinking. It is a time to share what I've been doing. It is a time to celebrate publications and other successes. It is a very valuable time to me, and the one year I missed when I was eight months pregnant remains a hole in my institutional SBL memory.

I have found that reading papers is actually a good thing especially in larger groups. No amount of predistributing paper is going to mean that anyone in the audience has read it and digested it. Predistributing only works if the group is very small - like a seminar - and the goal of the meeting is detailed discussion of the paper (like the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar).

But this is not the goal of all sessions, nor should it be. The paper reading sessions have their own goal, and that is distribution of information for general comment. This is extremely informative especially when the committee has set up a coherent slate of papers, and offers one person to summarize and respond to the set of papers read. Hearing a paper read is not the same thing as reading it in my office, just as studies of orality and scribality have shown. Why? Because the orator can be interrupted, can be asked questions, can be probed for further information or reflection, can interact with the audience. It is these interactions, these intersections with others, that adds even more value to these sessions.

I might add, however, that orators need to distinguish between the written word and the oral word. Rewrite your academic paper into an oration (think: public lecture), and it will be more concise and easier for the audience to follow. I started doing this last year for my conference presentations, and I have found that the feedback from the audience is much more positive. Get your thesis out there, and a few solid points developed, and that's it. Leave the rest for the publication that will follow out later.

The other sessions that I find helpful are the book review sessions. In these sessions the respondents give a good sense of the content of any given book, have some critical remarks, to which the author can then reply. The best book review sessions are the ones where all comments and responses have been prepared ahead of time, and read at the conference. The Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has done review sessions almost every year, and they are very successful in my opinion. The best book review I heard this year was by James Tabor of Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary.

As for the number of sessions, when SBL first started to allow for more and more sessions (about three years ago I think), I was concerned that the sheer number wasn't necessary, and would keep the number of attendees down per group due to competition. But this just hasn't been my experience so far. I am developing a different sense of the SBL units now that so many are being put into place. These units function as small communities of scholars with like interests, goals, and projects. More often than not, these interests cannot (and perhaps even should not) be cultivated in already existing units, because the already existing unit has its own history, method, and past/future agenda. Even though leadership is made to shift in the units, they remain controlled by the community of scholars who launch them. I see nothing wrong with this as long as the agendas continue to be full of life for the community involved. And as long as the powers that be allow other communities of scholars to form their own groups to support their own research.

So if a group of scholars wants to open a unit on "History in Acts" as a separate venture from the Acts group (which has its own life and interests), then I say let it be. The more units like this that come into existence, the more research will be done and distributed. This policy allows for minority positions to have their own sessions, rather than be controlled by the dominant position which might already have a unit that is not interested in the minority position.

As for issues of attendance, I think that my original perception of needing to cultivate large audiences for all the SBL units is silly. The SBL unit's success has little to do with large or small audiences. It has to do with the community of scholars who form the basis of the group, whether or not the session is helpful to them. This community might consist of 20 or 120, but these are the people for whom the sessions are built to inform and interest, not the 5120 who could care less about the subject.

What to do about competing time slots? This has been the big drag of the programming from day one. I don't see any way out of it. There will never be a meeting without overlap. So it comes down to the luck of the draw and individual choice of attendance.

I want to emphasize only two things that I hope that the SBL organizers will consider. Stop 9-11:30 a.m. sessions on Saturday. We need this time for committee meetings. I do not like these early morning sessions at all.

Please judge room size better. I cannot believe that the panel on Judas where Elaine Pagels and Karen King were responding to Birger Pearson, Louis Painchaud, and me was put in a room that seated 75. People were sitting in the aisles, along the perimeter of the room, and hanging out the door. Those crammed in the doorway told me that at least 50 people tried to get into the room, but finally left exasperated.

Finally I want to say that I absolutely LOVE the Friday working sessions. I hope that SBL will continue to allow for these sessions. It is time for closed seminars like the New Testament Mysticism Project to get real work done on communal projects.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New book on the Gospel of Mary

While at SBL I ran across a new commentary on the Gospel of Mary by Chris Tuckett. It is part of a new series on the other gospels called Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts. This is a must-have book for people studying the Gospel of Mary because it contains critical rereadings of all the manuscripts and has terrific facsimiles of the manuscript pages. I haven't read Tuckett's treatment yet, so I can't comment on his take yet. Here is the catalogue blurb about it:
This volume, the first in a major new series which will provide authoritative texts of key non-canonical gospel writings, comprises a critical edition, with full translations, of all the extant manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary. In addition, an extended Introduction discusses the key issues involved in the interpretation of the text, as well as locating it in its proper historical context, while a Commentary explicates points of detail. The gospel has been important in many recent discussions of non-canonical gospels, of early Christian Gnosticism, and of discussions of the figure of Mary Magdalene. The present volume will provide a valuable resource for all future discussions of this important early Christian text.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book Honoring Alan Segal and Larry Hurtado

I couldn't mention this book before because it was a surprise reveal at SBL. But I helped edit a book honoring the scholarship and friendship of Alan Segal and Larry Hurtado. We have called it Israel's God and Rebecca's Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity (published by Baylor Press). The book is very integrated, very much like a conference volume with cutting edge papers.

I don't have the book here at home, so if I miss an author is is due to my memory failure and nothing else. Contributors include Fredrikson, Adela Collins, Bauckham, Dunn, Epp, Thompson, Bond, Foster, Casey, Miller, Newman, Gieschen, Levison, Klawans, Elior, Fitzgerald, Perkins, Capes, DeConick. And we had Alan and Larry contribute pieces for each other, telling them that the book was for the other person!

So this is the book I was working on all summer with David Capes. Since we are both in Houston, we worked in my office on the book, bringing it together just in time to be printed for the final joint AAR/SBL meeting. We had a surprise reception at Lou and Mickey's across the street from the convention center. Alan and Larry were completely surprised and delighted with the book. Carey Newman brought the project to reality, and we are all very thankful to him. The book is gorgeous.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I did get to the grocery store yesterday after the cable guy dealt with our cable problems. On saturday, a new washer is scheduled to be delivered.

So now I'm starting to prepare our dinner - traditional turkey (and tofu turkey since I'm allergic to poultry, and two of our guests are vegetarian), mashed potatoes, bread and herb stuffing, green beans, squash, salad, and popovers. No one around here likes pumpkin pie except me, so I'm making apple crisp instead. This year we are excited to share Thanksgiving with Chad, Franklin (my graduate students) and Franklin's wife Sarah.

May your day be filled with family, good friends, great food, and thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My contribution to the Judas book panel

I really enjoyed listening to each of the panelists successively from the first publication on Judas to the most recent. It gave me a bigger picture of all the interpretations as well as what is at stake. If you missed the event, here is what I had to add to the panel:
The main point of my book The Thirteenth Apostle is that the first scholarly interpretations of the Gospel of Judas are inaccurate. This was partially the result of the fact that they were based on a Coptic transcription released on-line that was provisional and very flawed. This now has been corrected in the Critical Edition, but not before the errors became part of the academic discourse and our consciousness.

Unfortunately, they have affected and skewed our perception of the gospel's actual story and presentation of Judas. Doesn't the gospel say that Judas will ascend to the holy generation? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't the gospel say that it is possible for Judas to go to the kingdom? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't Jesus ask Judas to release his soul? Not in any transcription.

This confusion is compounded by the fact that I think the original English translation contains a few substantial errors that do not reflect what the Coptic says. For instance, Judas is separated from the holy generation, not set apart for it. This translation choice makes a big difference.

So who was Judas? The gospel actually is very clear about his identity. Jesus calls him the Thirteenth demon and says that his star belongs to the thirteenth realm. In Sethian demonology this means that he is being identified with Ialdabaoth "god of the thirteen realms." How and why this transparent reference to Ialdabaoth was missed in the beginning of the National Geographic project, I do not know. But until someone can offer a better explanation about who the thirteenth spirit is beyond an allusion to lucky numbers, I will maintain my interpretative starting point with what the Coptic says about Judas. He is the thirteenth demon Ialdabaoth, who is also called the Apostate.

With this as my starting point, the rest of the text makes complete sense. Judas knows and confesses Jesus because he is a demon. Jesus reveals the mysteries to him to punish him with remorse as deserves the terrible demon that he is. Judas will make a sacrifice worse than all those performed by the other disciples because he iwll kill Jesus and make the offering to Saklas. Because the offering is made by a demon to Saklas, the atonement and eucharist ceremonies are doing no more than worshiping Ialdabaoth, and leading people astray. Judas as Ialdabaoth the archon in the thirteenth realm will rule over the twelve lesser archons who are the apostles. When the gospel says that Judas the demon is more perfect than all the other apostles, it is decimating the doctrine of apostolic authority upon which rested the faith of the mainstream Christians. Judas a wicked demon understood even more than they.

The Gospel of Judas is not good news about Judas, just as the Gospel of Matthew is not good news about Matthew. It is good news about Jesus - that only his body was killed by Judas, that the Archon and his creations will be destroyed, while the baptized Gnostics, the holy generation are saved.

The most important issue that the Gospel of Judas has raised for me in terms of our future scholarship is procedural. I think the National Geographic Society's involvement has been very damaging for us. The fact that it selected a handful of scholars to work up the text and to legally bind them to silence has been detrimental to us all. It dictated to us how our scholarship was to be done. And we all know that this is not how the best scholarship is done. The best scholarship is done when facsimiles are published first, and scholars worldwide can begin working on the texts, talking to each other, sharing information, and arguing. In this way, the academic community double and triple checks itself before "the" critical edition is released. The release of a public translation based on a provisional transcription is not the way to go.

My reactions to the Judas book Panel

The Judas book panel on Sunday evening was a highlight of this SBL conference for me. Michael Williams did an outstanding job as moderator, keeping all of us on track with five minutes each to bring out the highlights of our books and our thoughts on the Gospel of Judas' importance.

There were several surprises of the evening. The biggest surprise is that a new German critical edition of the Tchacos Codex was released at the meeting. It is written by Joanna Brankaer and Hans Gebhard-Bethge. Here is the link if you want more information about it. So the book was added to the panel ad hoc and we learned that they have taken the same interpretative slant that I have in The Thirteenth Apostle. Apparently, there are a number of European scholars who are moving to this interpretation based on their own analyses of the document.

The other surprise was James Robinson's comments in which he chastised scholars for writing popular books because profit is involved. He read the rules he made scholars agree to when they signed on to work on the Nag Hammadi documents in the sixties and seventies. One stipulation was that they could not profit financially from their work and they could not talk to the media at all about their work. Although I understand that he is upset about how much National Geographic has exploited this ancient gospel, at the same time I had to wonder how many popular books he has written over the years? I bring this up because it is a no-win situation. If scholars keep on publishing only within the guild, the knowledge that the public wants to know will not be distributed to them. If scholars work to rewrite their scholarship for the general audience, the only way that it is going to get to the public is through publishers and distributors that work for profit.

Michael Williams provided a summary at the end that I thought was terrific. He said that he sees real movement in the scholarship on Judas, and that out of the discussions at this SBL, both public and private, we are really moving forward with scholarship on Judas. The chance we had in San Diego to gather together as a community of international scholars and talk face to face about this text was just what we needed to move beyond individual positions. I hope that the upcoming Codex Judas Congress will provide a similar venue to continue these discussions (and others).

Home from SBL

Sorry that I didn't get to a computer while in San Diego, but I was racing around so much that I never even saw a computer terminal let alone have a chance to sit down and collect my thoughts. Now I return home to a washer that has burnt out - yes there was smoke billowing out of the thing - and a cable gone bad and an empty refrigerator. So I'm dealing with those things today. Is Thanksgiving really tomorrow?

All this means is that I can't write my reflections on SBL today, but I promise to do it soon, because there is so much to relay. In the meantime, I had a great chuckle at Dilbert this morning. If it is not 11-21-07, you will need to plug in that date to find the strip I'm talking about. It is the sentiment of scholars who feel misread - no names need be mentioned, but if you want to read about that discussion, here is the link to my past conversation about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

MacLean's Article on The Thirteenth Apostle

April is in San Diego with many of you at the annual SBL meeting. She is crazy busy there and has asked me (her husband) to put up a post, or two, linking to items of interest. So here is a link to an article that April did an interview for, in MacLean's. April called home last night after arriving (safely) in her San Diego hotel and is looking forward to the conference and seeing many of you there!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

San Diego bound

I may be down for a few days due to travel. I will try to find access to a computer while in San Diego to keep you posted on what's happening out there. I am looking forward to the Judas sessions especially. Saturday afternoon 1-3 p.m. looks like it will be lively since Elaine Pagels and Karen King will be responding to me and Birger Pearson and Louis Painchaud! Come if you can. S-17-70, GH Gibbons.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index

For a small department, we are mighty! The stats just released by the Chronicle for Higher Education have ranked the productivity of the faculty in the Religious Studies Department at Rice University to be fifth in the nation. This is quite astounding given the comparative size of our department to the others in this top tier (Harvard, Duke, Emory, New York University).

I might mention that there are some things that are not controlled for in these stats, and probably should be. There is a big difference between theology departments and religious studies departments, and between departments and committees or programs. For instance, there is no differentiation between the divinity school department and university religion department at schools like Harvard, Duke, Emory, Princeton, and Yale. So these universities are not really being judged on their Religion programs, but have been judged on a combination of their theology and Religion programs. Additionally, places like NYU do not even have a Religion department, but a program that draws on a number of faculty housed in various departments, some of whom may only contribute one class to the program.

Our faculty number is wrong. We are nine with one open position (not 11). So the "per faculty member" calculations are lower than they should be by quite a bit.

The Rice Department is one of the only solely Religious Studies humanities program represented on the list! I think that if all the factors that I mention in this post were controlled for, our ranking as a Religious Studies faculty in a humanities division of a university is higher than these stats indicate.

I am quite happy to see our department get the recognition it deserves. It is a "happening" place with very innovative and dedicated faculty.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Interview on Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis

I had the delight to talk to Mr. Miguel Conner who is the host of "Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis," an on-line "radio" interview program about all things related to ancient Gnosis. He uploads the interviews and has them available for a week. Then the interviews get transfered to pod-casts on i-pod, and as Miguel says, become immortal. It's quite genius I think, and from the looks of his website, he has had some very interesting guests, covering very important topics. So I highly recommend his backlist to you.

Miguel and I chatted last week about The Thirteenth Apostle and the Gospel of Judas. He has uploaded the interview, and it is available to listen to on his website until Nov. 17th. Then it will become a pod-cast. Here is Miguel's website. Just scroll down until you see the link to the interview.

Friday, November 9, 2007

More reviews of The Thirteenth Apostle

I want to extend a big thanks to Jim Davila for his recent post circulating the Baptist Press news story about my book, The Thirteenth Apostle.

Neil Godfrey of Vridar has put up a long and detailed review of his reading of the book. I always enjoy reading Neil's blog because I think that he is careful, thorough, intellectually fair, and honest. So it was fun this morning to look at his blog and see my book being subjected to his scrutiny! Take a look if you haven't had a chance yet.

Neil raises a good point about Wikipedia's entry on the Gospel of Judas.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context

In case you haven't heard yet, Professor Charlesworth, for the Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, is holding a three-day conference in Jerusalem called "Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context." Dates are Jan 13-16, 2008. The provisional agenda that I was sent looks outstanding in terms of coverage and folks involved. Actually amazing might be closer to the mark.

Topics to be covered in special sessions:
Ancient Beliefs about the Afterlife and Burial Customs
Tombs, Ossuaries, and Burial Practices: The Archaeological Evidence
Burial Beliefs and Practices: The Textual Evidence
Onomastics and Prosopography in Second Temple Judaism
The Talpiot Ossuaries and their Epigraphy
Paleo-DNA and its Archaeological Applications
Patina Testing and its Archaeological Applications
The Talpiot Tomb in March 1980
Mary Magdalene in Early Christian Tradition
Relating Tomb Archaeology with Historical Figures: Possibilities and Problem Discoveries
The Palestinian Jesus Movement: Correlating Textual and Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Christianity
The Burial of Jesus, the Empty Tomb, and the Jesus Family
Statistics and the Talpiot Tomb

This is exactly the kind of academic forum that I suggested (on this blog) was needed when all the media hoopla engaged the Talpiot Tomb. I am looking forward to participating in the Jerusalem conference, and want to thank Professor Charlesworth for organizing it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mandaeans Risk Extinction

This news report was released on Nov. 2, but didn't come to my attention through Mandaean Crisis International until today. It is found on BeliefNet news.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Should we write for the public?

On a chat thread on PTG, there is a very interesting post about academic writing v. public writing with some references to recently published pieces on the subject in SBL and Chronicle of Higher Education. Since the thread would not let me directly respond tonight and also because I think that this is an issue for all of us to consider as a community of scholars, I am posting my response here on my blog.

The points raised in this thread are a real concern of mine. I decided to write The Thirteenth Apostle as a trade book, not my normal academic prose for a tiny audience of my colleagues. Why? Because I am tired of sitting by and witnessing the public being given bad information (for whatever reasons).

I started out of the classroom, realizing how ill-informed my students were about religious studies and Christianity in particular. I began venturing into adult public audiences and saw immediately that the misinformation was even worse there. And the response and feedback I started getting when I took the time to actually begin sorting things out with them was tremendous. My audiences were so happy and sincerely grateful to finally hear straight talk from a historian without a theological agenda.

So I decided about a year ago that the best way to get the word out to as many people as possible was by beginning to write trade books. My vision for my general public writing is not the dissemination of the agreed upon knowledge of my field. My vision is to write for the public what I have learned from my own research, to take my academic publications and make them accessible to anyone who cares about the subject.

There is no reason that scholarship should continue to be locked down, to be accessible to a few. If scholars are going to change the face of knowledge, it has to go beyond the corridors of the Academy. Why is it that biblical scholarship hasn't gone into the churches when ministers are trained in seminary to be biblical scholars? Because very few are taking the information to the public, probably for fear of the reaction of those who might not want to hear what biblical scholars have to say. Herein lies the apology of our field. Are we going to continue to leave public education on religion to the churches, to the evangelists, and to the journalists? I say, no, the time is here for scholars to step up to the plate and begin to care about public knowledge (or lack thereof).

That is not to say, however, that there is not a place for academic writing. By no means! Academic writing is necessary for us to work out the problem effectively and in the kind of detail that most general audiences would not be interested in. But that detailed professional work has to come first, it has to come before the general audience book on the subject.

This is how I wrote The Thirteenth Apostle. I first wrote a long academic paper, working out all the problems and details. I delivered a version of the paper to an academic audience at a conference and got all kinds of feedback. Then I went home and reworked the academic paper for publication in an academic volume. Then I went to public audiences and began lecturing on the subject. And only then did I sit down and write the general audience book.

This has implications for the untenured professor who is learning to write and participate in the guild. He or she must at this stage in the career be focused on academic writing and figuring out the field for him- or herself. In other words, there is a stage in the career where the profession is apprenticed. And during this period, general audience writing should be put on hold. After the scholar has written and published in the Academy and knows what he or she wants to say, then the time will come to make that accessible to the public, preferably after tenure when academic freedom is more secure.

It is my opinion that we are obligated to make our work accessible to the public. As I wrote in The Thirteenth Apostle, I didn't want to write that book. My friends were the people on the NG team. Going public means that you are putting your reputation on the line in a really big way with whatever you say. But, even with this awareness, I felt that the public had been so misinformed about the Gospel of Judas that I thought it would be unethical for me not to say something and correct the mistakes publically. So I really was compelled to sit down and, in the end, just write it.

Baptist News story by Gregory Tomlin

Mr. Tomlin of Baptist News interviewed me over the weekend about my work on the Gospel of Judas and my concerns about the way that the National Geographic Society has handled this text and continues to leave scholars in the dark without access to the facsimiles. I thank Mr. Tomlin for writing such a great piece. If possible, please share his article with those you know. Here is his article.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Diary 4: Layton's Coptic Grammar

Update on chapter 8. Since I last wrote, the students worked through the exercises for chapter 8. This is the only chapter that they have complained about so far. I already discussed my opinion of this chapter in a previous post. I think the problem is that the chapter doesn't appear to have a focus. So it is scattered in terms of content, and in terms of what is being asked in the exercises. The exercises were mainly about the possessive pronouns, while the chapter had a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

But the real beauty of Layton's grammar is coming through in Lessons 9 and 10 where he lays out very succinctly the two systems of the Coptic verb. In Lesson 9, he covers the present-tense and future tense system which he calls the durative sentence. His coverage is thorough and systematic. Also included in this chapter are the infinitive and qualitative states (which Layton calls the stative). The list of verbs in section 69 is overwhelming for the students. So it is good to let them know that they do not have to memorize all these verbs in this lesson. Layton will pick a few to cover from this list in the lessons to come. The boxes on p. 76 were too much, with the exception of the verbal auxiliaries which I asked the students to learn along with the future auxiliary.

Lesson 10 covers the second verbal system which Layton calls the non-durative conjugation (5 main clause bases, and 5 subordinate clause bases). Again it is very systematic and easy to follow. I especially like the fact that Layton introduces the negative forms of these bases alongside the affirmative. I have some trouble with his labels for the various bases, so I have adjusted these a bit with my students. His "past" I call the "perfect." His "aorist" I call the "habitual". His "optative" is not the Coptic optative, but the "emphatic future". The "not yet" and "jussive" are fine.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More Details about the Codex Judas Congress

Three things I want to say about the upcoming Codex Judas Congress (March 13-16, 2008, Rice University).

1. All of the paper topics have been submitted to me. So I have posted them on the CJC website. The range of issues that scholars will be addressing is fantastic as you can see.

2. It is my pleasure to announce the two general public lectures that will be given by four of the scholars attending of the Congress. These are going to be real highlights of the Congress. I hope that you will be able to attend if you are from the Houston area. Please note that the room location may change.
Reconstructing an Ancient Papyri Book:
How the Gospel of Judas was Restored and the Questions It Raises
National Geographic Restoration Team - Professor Marvin Meyer and Professor Gregor Wurst
Thursday, March 13, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Herring Hall, Room 100

What Else Didn’t We Know about the Early Christians?
Professor Elaine Pagels and Professor Karen King
Friday, March 14, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Herring Hall, Room 100
3. Graduate students, please don't forget the poster session. We have a fantastic space for the posters within the room that the Congress will be held. Check out the information about the poster session on the CJC website here. Deadline for application is January 7. Those papers which are part of the poster session will be considered for publication in the final Congress volume.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Some lectures coming up

For those who are around town (Houston), I'm going to be discussing the Gospel of Judas with two groups in the next two weeks. On November 7th, 3:15-4:15, I'll be speaking to a group of Rice alums in the Rice Hallmark lecture series. On November 14th, 11:30-1, I'm talking at a luncheon put on by the Houston Foundation for Contemporary Theology. Now that I write this, I realize that I don't know the locations, so I will add that information to this post tomorrow.

For those coming to SBL (San Diego), there is so much going on with the Gospel of Judas, and from the advance papers that are coming across my desk, it's going to be exciting! So here's a reminder of these sessions.

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
9:00 AM to 11:15 AM
Room: Irvine - MM

Theme: Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas

Michael Kaler, McMaster University, Presiding
Philippa Townsend, Princeton University
“What is this Great Race?”: The Meaning of “Genea” in the Gospel of Judas (25 min)
Judith Hartenstein, Philipps Universität-Marburg
The Genre of the Gospel of Judas and its Relationship to the Gospel of Mary (25 min)
Hans-Gebhard Bethge, Humboldt University and Johanne Brankaer, A _Not Found
The Codex Tchacos as “Collection” (25 min)
Gerd Lüdemann, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
The Judas Iscariot Trajectory in Primitive Christianity and Its Origin (25 min)
John Turner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Respondent (25 min)

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: La Jolla - MM

Theme: The Gospel of Judas

Ismo Dunderberg, University of Helsinki, Presiding
April D. DeConick, Rice University
The Subversive Gospel of Judas and Sethian Humor (30 min)
Birger A. Pearson, University of California-Santa Barbara
The Figure of Judas in the Coptic Gospel of Judas (30 min)
Louis Painchaud, Laval University
“I Have Told You the Mysteries of the Kingdom": The Significance of the Kingdom in the Gospel of Judas (30 min)
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Respondent (15 min)
Karen King, Harvard University, Respondent (15 min)
Antti Marjanen, University of Helsinki, Panelist (30 min)

xBooks on the Gospel of Judas: An Evening with the Authors
7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
Room: 30 C - CC

The weblink with book links for this panel is here.

Michael Williams, University of Washington, Presiding
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University, Panelist (5 min)
Gregor Wurst, University of Augsburg, Panelist (5 min)
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (5 min)
James Robinson, Claremont Graduate University, Panelist (5 min)
N. T. Wright, Durham Cathedral, Panelist (5 min)
Gerd Luedemann, Georg-August-Universität , Panelist (5 min)
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Panelist (5 min)
Karen King, Harvard University, Panelist (5 min)
Stanley Porter, McMaster Divinity College, Panelist (5 min)
Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge, Panelist (5 min)
April DeConick, Rice University, Panelist (5 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Michael Williams, University of Washington
Summation of Discussion (10 min)

Books by Panelists:

Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, with additional commentary by Bart Bart Ehrman, The Gospel of Judas (Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2006).

Rudolphe Kasser and Gregor Wurst, The Gospel of Judas, Critical Edition, Together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos(Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2007).

Bart Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

James Robinson, The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel (San Francisco: Harper, 2006).

N.T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006).

Gerd Lüdemann, Das Judas-Evangelium und das Evangelium nach Maria. Zwei gnostische Schriften aus der Frühzeit des Christentums (Stuttgart: Radius, 2006).

Elaine Pagels and Karen King, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (New York: Viking, 2007).

Stanley E. Porter and Gordon L. Heath, The Lost Gospel of Judas: Separating Fact from Fiction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Simon Gathercole, The Gospel of Judas: Rewriting Early Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

April D. DeConick, The Thirteenth Apostle, What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (London: Continuum, 2007).

Christian Apocrypha
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Columbia 1 - MMChristopher Matthews, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Presiding
Antti Marjanen, University of Helsinki
Does the Gospel of Judas Rehabilitate Judas Iscariot? (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Details about SBL session: Peter Williams' review of Nick Perrin

For those of you who are interested, here is the session information for the paper on Tatian and Thomas. Peter Williams is reviewing Nick Perrin's position in this session. I mention it because the SBL book doesn't reveal the subject since it is categorized as a "panel."

New Testament Textual Criticism
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 23 C - CC

Theme: Honoring the Work of William L. Petersen

AnneMarie Luijendijk, Princeton University, Presiding
Peter Williams, University of Aberdeen - Scotland, Panelist (30 min)
Ulrich Schmid, Free University, Amsterdam, Panelist (30 min)
Lucas Van Rompay, Duke University, Panelist (30 min)
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)