Sunday, December 30, 2007

Forbidden Gospels 2007 Retrospect

This was the first year for the Forbidden Gospels Blog (=FGB). I didn't know what to expect when I started this at the end of January 2007. In fact, I didn't bother putting a counter on the site until April 2007. I was so new to blogging, I didn't even know what I would write about or who would be interested in reading what I would write.

But here I am at the end of the 2007 year looking back at my 340 posts and considering what good has come of all of the chatter. Has the FGB made any difference to the biblioblog world, to the academic conversation, to the larger things of life? I guess my readers must be the judges of this when all is said and done. But here are a few areas that I think this blog has made some difference this year.

1. Gospel of Judas.
This blog raised awareness of the problems with its initial National Geographic translation and interpretation, and the fact that full-size facsimiles were not released to the scholarly community as they should have been according to the 1991 resolution passed by the Society of Biblical Literature. This resulted in the writing and publication of my book The Thirteenth Apostle, the publication of the Op. Ed. "Gospel Truth" in the New York Times, and the publication of "More on the Gospel Truth" in the Society of Biblical Literature Forum. All of these items were featured on the FGB, along with many more posts that can be read in chronological order of posting here: FGB on the Gospel of Judas.

The end of it is not in sight. National Geographic Society just uploaded zip files of all the texts in the Tchacos Codex (Dec. 23rd), so we finally have the full-size facsimiles although I think their resolution is only web quality. Nonetheless, we can now begin to critically work these texts. Thankfully they were made available prior to the Codex Judas Congress, which will take place at Rice University in March 2008 (13-16th). So the scholars coming to the conference will have the photos to work from. In the coming year, I will keep you updated about this Congress, which has been made possible by generous funding through the Faculty Initiative Grant at Rice University.

2. Mandaean Emergency Campaign.
This blog has supported the campaign to help relocate the Iraqi refugees in the US as soon as possible. This blog has promoted a letter writing campaign and has circulated a petition. To read all the Mandaean postings, go to FGB on the Mandaeans.

I was hoping that by Christmas we would have the 1000 signatures needed to complete the petition, but we seem to have stalled at 524. Please, continue to circulate this petition. Tell your students about it in the new year, pass the information on to your family and friends, send out the link in mass e-mails if you can. Let's get this petition finished and sent through the proper channels so that the last living Gnostics may find a place of refuge away from persecution. Here I invoke the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas 68: "Jesus said, 'Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted. A place will be found, where you will not be persecuted.'" Let us create that safe place in the US for the Mandaeans to survive.

3. A voice for historical hermeneutics.
It is my ardent opinion that when the recovery of history is our goal, theology and apology must not be mixed into our investigation. It matters not the outcome of our historical quest - whether it ends up pleasing the so-called religious conservatives, liberals, or no one at all. What matters is that the quest is as honest to the historical evidence as possible. This is a hermeneutic that I try to uphold at all costs. Historical inquiry must be preserved and distinguished from the faith quest and its issues.

The FGB has many features on the hermeneutics of history, and I have experienced something of its effects with the publication of my analysis of the Gospel of Judas which has been lauded by some of faith as a condemnation of "liberal" scholarship. This is an outcome I find at once fascinating and disheartening, since my work on Judas has absolutely nothing to do with supporting people of faith or undermining "liberal" scholarship. If Judas had been a hero, believe me, I would have been one of the first to jump on that bandwagon. But my historical investigation led me to a very different conclusion, which I'm sure you all know too well by now.

With this, I want to send out my thanks to all my readers - those who agree and who disagree with me. I have learned an enormous amount from you this year, and I look forward to continuing our conversation in the year to come. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Are these the Tchacos Codex Facsimiles?

Check this out. Has the National Geographic Society finally uploaded the high resolution full-size images of the Gospel of Judas and the rest of the Tchacos Codex? If so, it was done without much fanfare. Here is the link. My thanks to those at the National Geographic Society who came through for us. Merry Christmas to all!

Stefan Lovgren for NGS: Judas was a demon after all?

Here is the story written I was interviewed for by NGS's Stefan Lovgren. It was posted December 21st. Yes, I'm behind as ever, at home here steaming Christmas pudding on my stove and baking stollen, and so taking out a few minutes to post. The piece is called, "Judas was 'Demon' after all, new gospel reading claims." It is a more formal response to my book The Thirteenth Apostle written for NGS by one of its reporters and posted on NGS's website.

Friday, December 21, 2007

SBL Forum: More on the Gospel Truth

The Society of Biblical Literature Forum has just posted an article I wrote as a follow up to the NY Times Op. Ed. piece "Gospel Truth." It is called "More on the Gospel Truth."

I missed an article from the Canadian CBC that came out on Dec. 4th. 2006! It features Craig Evans and John Turner. It is called "Judas no hero, scholars say."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eisenman: A Conservative DeConick?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

National Review: "Questions about that Judas Manuscript"

John J. Miller from National Review has written a succinct article about the controversy relating to the National Geographic Society's translation and interpretation of the Gospel of Judas. He interviewed a variety of people for the story including me, Marvin Meyer, Craig Evans, Birger Pearson, and John Turner. Because the story is only available on-line to subscribers of the magazine, I was given permission to post the story on my website as a pdf file. It is published in hard copy in the December 31, 2007 issue of National Review. To view the scanned image of the article, click here. The article link is on the right hand side of my web page: "The Gospel Truth? Questions about that Judas Manuscript." Hope it is easy enough to get to.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last Minute Shopping

Need some ideas for stocking stuffers or gifts for book lovers? If the person is interested in Gnosticism, other gospels, second-century Christianity, esotericism and so forth, here are some books published fairly recently that might work for a gift. I am focusing here on books that are accessible to non-specialists. Although I may differ in my own opinions and approaches, I think that these books are engaging and informative.

Birger Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism
Jeffery Kripal, The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion
Alastair H.B. Logan, The Gnostics: Identifying an Early Christian Cult
Christopher Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction
Richard Valantasis, Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities
Florian Ebeling, The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times
Paul Foster (editor), The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers
Fred Lapham, An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha
Hans-Josef Klauck, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction
Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities

If you are looking for the actual texts themselves (Nag Hammadi Codices, Tchacos Codex, NT Apocrypha) they are found in these volumes:

Marvin Meyer (editor), The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition
J.K. Elliott (editor), The Apocryphal New Testament
Rodolphe Kasser and Gregor Wurst (editors), The Gospel of Judas together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos: Critical Edition

Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.

Book Note: What We have Heard from the Beginning (Tom Thatcher)

You may or may not have guessed it, but this is a book on Johannine studies. It's full title is What We Have Heard from the Beginning: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies (Waco: Baylor Press, 2007).

Tom Thatcher has edited a very fascinating volume here. As he tells in the preface, he set out to write a sort of time capsule about Johannine studies, to introduce the major scholars of Johannine studies to the next generation of students who will carry on the discussion of the fourth gospel. He asked seasoned senior scholars to write conversational vignettes about his or her "journey with John." So the senior discussions include evaluations of the state of the field, programmatic remarks on meritorious questions, personal histories of research in the field, and summaries of current work - as Thatcher says, "anything that one might share with an interested student over coffee after class" (p. xvii). So these essays provide the reader with an overview of where Johannine studies has been and where it stands today.

Then Thatcher asked a younger scholar who will be carrying on Johannine studies into the next several decades to offer brief responses to each of the senior essays, to reflect on their senior colleague's comments, to identify unanswered questions. So this is the future forecast of Johannine studies, where it is going, from the perspective of those who work in "the ongoing stream of Johannine tradition" (p. xviii).

The senior-junior teams include: Ashton-North; Beutler-Claussen; Borgen-Labahn; Brodie-Williams; Carson-Köstenberger; Culpepper-Harstine; de Jonge-Kirchschlaeger; Fortna-Thatcher; Kysar-Rensberger; Martyn-Reinhartz; Moloney-Coloe; O'Grady-Lee; Painter-Anderson; Schneiders-Conway; Segovia-Lozada; Smith-Keener; Van Belle-Judge; van Wahlde-Just.

I found the senior scholars' pieces to be engaging, and think that Thatcher achieved his time capsule. A very unique project.

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.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Odds and Ends

I apologize for not posting regularly the past week or so. We are bogged down in exams here at Rice, and my in-laws are here for the holidays. And we celebrate more than Christmas in December in my family since my son's birthday is mid-month. So we just finished a pizza party here at the house for Alexander. He's four this year. So I'm bushed. I promise that I will post occasionally over the rest of the month, and get back to every day posts once the new year starts and I'm back to my office regularly.

For now I want to say, Yeah! You all came up with exactly the parody texts I think about when I'm explaining the Gospel of Judas. There is quite a fair amount of Gnostic parody, with Jesus laughing at the ignorance of the non-Gnostic Christians. So I have no idea how Marvin Meyer can say that the Gospel of Judas cannot contain parody or satire and that there are no examples of this in ancient literature. I can point to a number of substantive examples as you have all outlined in your comments.

The more I study the Gospel of Judas, I also have come to realize that the subversive message of the text (non-Gnostic Christians have been tricked into worshiping the wrong god, the Demiurge) is satire at this fullest. The author I think was sincerely worried about the salvation of the non-Gnostic Christians, whose leaders were leading them astray. He was using satire to criticize and correct them.

If you get a chance, check out the National Review this week. There is a full story about the Gospel of Judas, my involvement, and other scholars who are also questioning NGS's work and interpretation. When I get a copy of the magazine, I will post the text here.

As for the Mandaean petition, we are almost half way there: 449. So keep passing it around and encouraging those you know to sign it. Let's help get the Mandaeans a safe haven in the US.

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?

Mandaean Petition Update

As of today, we are one-third of the way. We have 333 petitioners. We need 1000. Please post this petition to your blog if you can, and try to send it around to your e-mail address book entries and other lists that you might be part of. I would like to see us be able to reach our goal this holiday season. It would be the best gift I can think of! Here is the link to the petition.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Contending about Judas

Marvin Meyer told me a couple of days ago to expect letters in the NY Times in response to my op. ed. Here they are, one from Meyer and one from the National Geographic Society. You have to scroll down to see the NGS letter.

Update 12-11-08: Press releases posted on NGS's website, one by Marvin Meyer and the other by National Geographic.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Please circulate this petition on your blog

Since many of my readers have their own blogs, and we all have somewhat different audiences, please if you can copy the Mandaean petition link from my previous post, and put it up on your blog. We need 1000 signatures.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Petition to Sign to help the Mandaeans attain refugee status

Please help the Mandaeans gain refugee status as a community. Click this petition. It only takes a few seconds to sign.

From John Bolender:
Dear all:

At this site, you will find a petition addressed to US Sec. of State Rice concerning granting asylum to Mandaeans as a community. In order to see the petition, you will have to click the link marked "letter," which I admit is rather small and easy to miss. I urge you to sign the petition and to spread the word to others to do likewise. Thank you very much.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Werner Kelber, A Review Article

If you want to update yourself on issues of orality and scribality in early Christianity, Werner Kelber has just published a MUST READ review article on the subject.

Responses to New York Times Op. Ed.

I have received many communications from readers of the NY Times this weekend in response to my op. ed. piece, Gospel Truth published on Saturday. Most people are grateful to know about the controversy. One person wrote me to tell me that studying religion was a waste of my life and that I should work in another field. I guess we have different perspectives on that! There are a couple of questions that keep being asked, so let me say a few words about this here.

1. The Gospel of Judas tells us nothing about the historical Judas, if indeed he even existed. This issue seems to be very confused in the public mind. These ancient gospels were fictions in terms of what we today call "historical facts". This text wasn't written to tell us what Jesus really said to Judas. It is a theological text. In this case, we have a Sethian Gnostic writer who is using stories about Judas the demon to make a new point. He is criticizing mainstream Christianity - its doctrines (Christ's death functioned as a sin atonement) and its practices (the eucharist which reenacts Christ's sacrifice and atonement).

2. When we translate words like daimon, we should be doing so by comparing our text to texts closest to the traditions and age of the text in question. Why? Because the thought-world assumed by the text determines how words are being used. In this case we need to be looking at Gnostic texts in the second and third centuries. I have found so far about 50 instances of the word daimon in Gnostic literature. It means "demon," beings in opposition to the supreme God, and creating an imperfect world out of their rebellion and ignorance.
(1) Trimorphic Protennoia (Sethian, early 2nd c.): mentions Archons, Angels, and Demons (35.17); calls Ialdabaoth the demiurge "the great Demon" who produces the cosmic realms (40.5); mentions the "chains of the Demons of the underworld" which the redeemer broke (41.6).
(2) Apocalypse of Adam (Sethian, mid 2nd c.): refers to the Archons Solomon, Phersalo and Sauel who sent out an "army of demons" to seek out Mary the virgin to try to kill Jesus when he incarnated (79.5).
(3) Gospel of the Egyptians (Sethian, late 2nd c.): Nebruel is called the "great Demon" twice (=one of three terrifying demiurge Archons in 13th realm) (57.10-20); the demiurge Archon is said to create "defiled (seed) of the demon-begetting god which will be destroyed" (57.25).
(4) Zostrianos (Sethian, early 3rd c.): fragmentary reference to demons (43.12).
(5) Testimony of Truth (Gnostic, late 2nd c.): interprets the leaven parable to refer to the "errant desire of the angels and the demons and the stars". These figures are associated with the Pharisees and the scribes of the law who belong to the Archons who have authority over them (29.17); speaks about fighting against the Archons and the Powers and the Demons (42.25).
(6) Apocalypse of Paul (Gnostic ?, 2nd c.): speaks of principalities, authorities, archangels, Powers, and the whole race of demons.
(7) Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic, 3rd c.): in context of discussion of Archons, talk about dreams comes from a demon worthy of the person's error (75.5); the physical body is called an "abode of demons, the stone vessel in which they live" (82.53-54). The Testament of Solomon says that Solomon confined demons to these sorts of vessels.
(8) Authoritative Teaching (Gnostic ?, beginning of 3rd c.): speaks of the "force of ignorance and the Demon of Error" (34.28).
(9) Concept of Our Great Power (Gnostic, early 4th c.): refers to the dissolution of the Archons following Jesus' crucifixion. The are referred to as evil demons who will be destroyed (42.17).
(10) Paraphrase of Shem (Gnostic, 3rd c.): a series of 35 passages which speak of demons who are part of the darkness which work to create this world. For all the references, see The Thirteenth Apostle, p. 186 n. 20.
Gnostic texts use this word to mean nasty Powers, Archons, entities within the cosmic sphere, with creative and tempting powers. The Christian literature in this period, as well as the NT, uses daimon to mean demon too.

But can't daimon mean "divinity" whether for good or evil. Yes, as I write in my book The Thirteenth Apostle, in Greek philosophical literature where the cosmos is not envisioned as mostly or entirely under the rule of evil beings. If the Gospel of Judas were a Greek philosophical text, we could argue for a more generic translation. But it is not. It is a text of the Sethian Gnostic variety where the heavens surrounding this earth are populated by Archons and their nasty assistants, evil powers and demons. Here Judas is the 13th Demon, a designation for Ialdabaoth.