Sunday, November 30, 2008

SBL Memories 1: The Judas Section

The start of the holidays have been a whirlwind following a whirlwind SBL conference. If the AAR-SBL split was felt in Chicago, it was not in Boston, although I missed running into my AAR friends. The SBL conference was huge - 5,100 attendees. There were more sections and events than ever before, and the book exhibit was as huge as ever. The only downside was the cold weather. The Boston wind was bitter, and I was very grateful for the hotels connected to the conference center and mall.

We kicked off the conference well at 9 am on Saturday morning, at least those of us who attended the Judas section hosted by Claremont. We were in a good-sized room and I estimate that about 200 people found their way there - it was hard to find the room. Bart Erhman started us off with an interesting thesis about who the historical Judas was. I was intrigued by his speculation that Jesus was crucified by the Romans for political sedition as the King of the Jews, although we have no public record of Jesus teaching any such thing. Jesus did teach publically about a Kingdom, and that the 12 disciples would be enthroned as rulers over the 12 tribes in Jesus' Kingdom. So Ehrman wonders if Jesus privately taught that he himself was the King, and that Judas reported him once the going started to get tough. Marvin Meyer took the podium after Ehrman and spoke about three portraits of Judas: the hero Judas as the Gospel of Judas was originally interpreted, the demon Judas that I have interpreted from the Gospel of Judas, and the more sensible (according to Meyer! not me) middle-of-the-road tragic Judas that Meyer now interprets from the Gospel of Judas. Dennis MacDonald lectured about his opinion that Judas is a complete fiction, created out of Homeric myths by the author of Mark. He thinks that Matthew is completely dependent on Mark for his Judas story, and Luke is dependent on Mark, and Matthew. He dates Luke to 135 CE, but also thinks that Quelle existed, and so posits that Luke also has a version of Quelle. In my opinion, this dating is too late for Luke because Luke is already being used by Marcion between 110 and 125 CE.

What did I do? Well I revealed the mysteries - where my research has gone since I published The Thirteenth Apostle. There were three things I discussed -all of which will be included in the revised edition of The Thirteenth Apostle coming out in March (two new full chapters - "Judas the Star", and "The Magical Judas") plus corrections of errors and a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on the second century landscape of early Christianity.

First, I discovered that the portraits of the lion-headed serpent Ialdabaoth were largely influenced by a popular decan god in Greco-Egyptian magic and astrology. His name was Chnoubis and in the Hellenistic lists of 36 decans he appears as the 13th! I need to say no more.

Second, I discussed the scene where Jesus tells the strongest of the disciples to lead forward the Perfect Man, and Judas accepts. I asked the question, who is the Perfect Man in Sethianism? The answer: Autogenes or his Son, the Son of Man; who is the Christ in Sethian Christianity. If this is the case, then Judas is accepting the role of leading forward Jesus as the Son of Man. This is essentially a Gnostic exegesis of Mark's last supper scene when Jesus says that the Son of Man will go forward as it is written of him. Then he predicts that one of the twelve will betray him. There is much more to the exegesis, but it is all I have time to write tonight.

Third, I showed an antique gem (ca. first or second c. CE) that my student Grant Adamson had come across in a catalogue he was working through for his own research on Gnostic magic. The gem shows the lion-headed astral god on one side with the hidden angel names in coded anagrams: Michael and Elieli. This lion-headed astral god goes by various names on these gems: IAO, Abrasax, Michael, Chnoubis, and Ialdabaoth. The idea behind the gem is that the owner possesses the god's names and can command the god to do whatever he desires for the god to do for him. The most secret and important name of the god often shows up on the back of the gem, in the center of the gem's face. At the end of my presentation - I made the audience wait until the last minute of my 30-minute talk to discover the name that has been hidden for 2000 years - to flip over the gem. And on the back centered in the gem's face is the name JUDAS. So now we have material evidence that there were people in the ancient world who identified Judas with Ialdabaoth the demon astral ruler, just as the Gospel of Judas says. This appears to have been a well-kept Gnostic secret that was believed to be very powerful. Knowing the demon's real name meant that the amulet-wearer could control the highest of the archons in this life and the afterlife!

Because I don't have copyright, I cannot post a photo of the gem. But I am working on buying copyright to have it in the revised edition of the paperback edition of my book. It is something to see! When Grant showed it to me, I almost fell out of my chair. The audience audibly gasped when they saw it.

So that's my story. Will post more on SBL 2008 when I get a chance. These next few weeks are going to be very busy. But I will do my best.


Ralph Hitchens said...

Sounds like an interesting session. I seem to recall that Paula Fredriksen also maintained that Jesus was executed for sedition, making a connection between this fact and the fact that the apostles were not arrested.

So no one talked about the literary line of succession between the Judas Gospel and modern interpretations such as _The Last Temptation of Christ_ or "Jesus Christ Superstar?"

Frank McCoy said...

You state, "First, I discovered that the portraits of the lion-headed serpent Ialdabaoth were largely influenced by a popular decan god in Greco-Egyptian magic and astrology. His name was Chnoubis and in the Hellenistic lists of 36 decans he appears as the 13th! I need to say no more."
I would be interested in knowing more about the Hellenistic lists of 36 Decan gods. E. A. Wallace Budge's, The Gods of the Egyptians (Vol 2, pp. 304-310) indicates 37 Dekan gods. The list he gives is presumably pre-Ptolemaic, although he does list some Ptolemaic-time variants--none of which is Chnoubis.
I also wonder if, lurking in the background of Ialdabaoth and this Chnoubis is a Mithraic lion-headed divinity, sometimes identified with Chronos, Aion or Saturn, who has a snake coiled around him.
Is Ialdabaoth the same the same being as Yaltabaoth in the Apocryphon of John--who, in 10:11, is said to be a "lion headed serpent (Nag Hammadi)" or to have "the face of a serpent and the face of a lion (Berlin Codex)"?
The reason I ask is that Yaltabaoth appears to be modelled after this Mithraic deity. In the Mysteries of Mithra (p. 105), Franz Cumont thusly describes a statue of it, "This leontocephalous figure is entirely nude, the body being entwined six times by a serpent, the head of which rests on the head of the skull." So, with two heads, one of a serpent and one of a lion, and with a body wrapped by a serpent, it sure sounds like Yaltabaoth.
Again, in 11:4, this is said about Yaltabaoth, "He became strong and created for himself other aeons with a flame of luminous fire which (still) exists." This association of Yaltabaoth with a flame of fire mimics the association of the Mithraic deity with a flame of fire. So, in the Sacred Books of the Egyptian Gnostics (p. 257), Jean Doresse states, "In a similar fashion, the monstrous lion-headed statue of the Mithraic Aion, which might have looked comical in the light of day, was revealed only in the gloom of a cell, where the worshipper had but a glimpse of it--in the lurid glimmer of flames made to issue from its jaws of stone..."
In any event, I'm looking forward to the revised edition of your book. I haven't bought your original offering, but this revised edition sounds too good to pass up.

N T Wrong said...

Fascinating. How is the name Judas spelled on the gem, April?

José Solano said...

Mithraic god Aion, Roman, 2nd-3rd century, Museo Profano, Vatican. See

Frank McCoy said...

Dear Mr. Solano:
I could not access the web-site you list.
A good introduction to the Mithraic lion-headed deity is, "The Eighth Gate: The Mithraic Lion-Headed Figure
and the Platonic World-Soul", by David Ulansey. It is found here:

Those who are interested in the Thomas tradition will find these two paragraphs from it of particular interest:
Our discovery of the leontocephaline's connection with the boundary of the cosmic sphere provides an obvious answer to this question, for of course the most important function of Oceanus in antiquity was as a symbol of the outermost circular boundary of the world.[26] The fact that both the leontocephaline and Oceanus are identically entwined by a serpent, therefore, makes perfect sense: the serpent around each of them symbolizes their roles as ultimate boundaries. And, conversely, the fact that in Mithraic iconography Oceanus-- the boundary of the world-- is entwined by a serpent provides remarkable support for my claim that the serpent-entwined leontocephaline also symbolizes the cosmic boundary-- and hence the Platonic World-Soul-- as indicated by the Barberini painting.

One last piece of evidence in this connection is worth noting. In the Acts of Thomas, the same text that includes the famous Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl, the apostle Thomas is confronted by a serpent. The serpent speaks to him, and at one point says, "I am son of him who girds the sphere about; and I am kinsman of him who is outside the ocean, whose tail is set in his own mouth."[27] Here, exactly as in the Mithraic evidence, we find an enclosing serpent related simultaneously to the world-containing ocean and to the boundary of the cosmic sphere.

Richard James said...

Hi April,

I am not aware of any hard evidence that Marcion used Luke prior to 130. I happen to agree with MacDonald that Luke is relatively late. I would estimate Luke at around 130. I don't see any clear evidence of Luke prior to Justin and 2 Clement (and Marcion, but post 130). Is there some evidence that I am unaware of?


Pastor Bob said...

Dr. Deconick

Alas the original National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas has now made it into Sunday School material. In the lesson book for this Sunday it mentions the Gospel of Judas and says Judas is the hero. Don't worry, I intend to disabuse my students of the notion and explain, briefly, the controversy.

José Solano said...

Hi Frank,

The sculpture of the Mithraic god Aion that I referenced is the same as the one shown on the frontispiece of C. G. Jung's book Aion, Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. The long URL I gave was cut off but you can Google The Psychology of Evil by Stephen Diamond and find the photo among others in the article. It is similar to Fig. 5 in "The Eighth Gate" of Ulaney that you reference, replete with intertwining serpent, nude figure with astrological signs, lion's head and wings and standing on a sphere.

As you know the quotation from The Acts of the Apostles "I am kin to him that is outside the ocean, whose tail is set in his own mouth" is an image of the uroborus which can be a symbol of the primal undifferentiated state of a person or of humanity itself.

These are all very fascinating universal symbols but it is interesting that this symbolism was particularly active in this period of the second and third centuries when the Gospel of Judas may have also been in vogue in certain circles. Indeed, this is the period of the great gnostic proliferation that challenged orthodox Christian communities.

The gem that Dr. DeConick mentions, and that drew gasps from her audience, is certainly something many would like to see and learn more about. The association of the name of Judas with the leontocephalous, Abrasax (Abraxas), Ialdabaoth, etc. is astoundingly compelling. I fear becoming overly excited in seeing this as a sort of a small Rosetta stone of this era by connecting symbols of the time.

Now, Dr. DeConick, you mention that the "astral god goes by various names on these gems." Are there more gems available from this period with inscriptions on them? As my interest is so piqued can you tell us a little more about this gem? What kind of gem is it? What is the size and color? Was it on a ring or just carried around? Is it translucent? How was the inscription written? And as NT Wrong asks, "How is the name Judas spelled" and in what language?

There will no doubt be many more questions.

Thanks for this most intriguing post.

José Solano said...

Sorry Frank but my comment should refer to the "Acts of Thomas" and not "The Acts of the Apostles" as I by habit wrote.

José Solano said...

In the attempt to answer some of my own questions I came across the following: —

And Christie's has inscribed Gnostic gems for sale:

There is more.

José Solano said...

It looks as if the URL addresses do not fit in the comment section but Google "gnostic inscribed gem" and you'll come across many sites.

José Solano said...

In Birger A. Pearson's Ancient Gnosticism, 2007, pgs. 47-48 there is mentioned a gem inscribed on one side with "a lion-headed deity . . . with the names 'Ialdabaoth' and 'Aariel' on the other side." Fig. 2.2 diagrams both sides of this Gnostic gem.

Leon said...

I have said it before and I will say it again: Scholars keep reading negativity into the Gospels texts about Judas even where it does not exist. All the Gospels, but especially Mark, tell a highly ambiguous story. The clear data making Judas out to be a traitor is missing. Scholars keep assuming it, but assumption is not proof. The straight fact is the ambiguity and no one will admit it. Making Judas into a traitor as scholars have done does not prove he was one. Rather the opposite. The fact that scholars have to alter what the texts say is a better sign that Judas was in all likelihood innocent. If scholars do not stick to the actual details, there is no hope of recovering history, but then that is probably the point of their rewriting of the Gospels.

Leon Zitzer