Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-29-08

From the invisible, ineffable worlds, the invisible righteous soul came. She is a fellow member, and a fellow body, and a fellow spirit. Whether she is in the descent (to earth) or is in the Pleroma, she is not separated from the upper aeons. They see her and she looks at them in the invisible world. Secretly her bridegroom fetched the word as medicine. He put it in her mouth and made her eat it like food. He applied the word to her eyes as medicine and made her see with her mind. He made her perceive who her kinsmen were and where she first came from so that she would receive what is hers.

Authoritative Teaching 22.14-34 (Christian text; mid- to late-second century; distinctive Middle Platonic features).

Commentary: this is a retelling of a common story, especially in Alexandrian Christianity, of the embodiment of the soul (as a fall), and its redemption.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parody and the Gospel of Judas

In the last week, I have had two people e-mail me and ask me to further explain my understanding of the Gospel of Judas as a parody. Given that there are two people interested, I thought maybe others might be interested to.

When I employ this term I am trying to describe a situation in which the Gnostic authors believed that they understood a hidden truth about something, and that this truth nullified the Apostolic position as ridiculous, and they found this humorous - what fools the Apostolic Christians were to believe such nonsense (or so they were trying to say)! I don't think this strategy was rhetorical. I think they were serious.

There are examples of the use of this type of strategy in other Gnostic texts. For example, Apocalypse of Peter, Second Treatise of Great Seth (which actually calls the apostolic position a "joke"), the Acts of John - all these texts laugh at the apostolic position because it is understood to be a foolish ill-informed position. Again, this does not appear to me to be rhetorical, but serious criticism that results in humor at their expense. Usually the topic centered around rewriting the passion story.

Parody is a word that literally means "beside/against a song." Hegemon of Thasos was one of the first parody writers. Aristotle refers to him. Apparently he changed some words in well-known traditional songs in order to make the songs and what they stood for appear ridiculous. Parody means "counter-song" - and that is exactly what these Gnostics were doing. They were presenting a counter-story to the apostolic one, to show it up as ridiculous. In so doing, they mocked the apostolic position. There are plenty of examples of parody in the Greco-Roman world, so it is a form that would have been familiar to the Gnostics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-24-08

Give me your mercy!
O my savior,
save me, for I am yours!
I came from you.
You are my mind.
Bring me forth!
You are my treasury.
Open for me!
You are my fullness.
Take me to you!
You are rest.
Give me what is perfect,
what cannot be grasped!

Prayer of Paul A.3-10 (a Valentinian second century prayer)

Commentary: Now go back and read 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (in Greek if you are able). I posted a translation of part of this passage yesterday which was correctly identified by Jim Deardorff. What do you make of it now? By the way, I was not thinking about this Valentinian prayer when I posted the entry yesterday. I posted it because it came up in my mysticism seminar since we were discussing Paul and mysticism. Today I thought that we needed a prayer so I decided to pull out this Valentinian text. And wow, as I translated it was I surprised to see 2 Corinthians 4 invoked! These little coincidences always make me wonder...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-23-08

The god of this aeon has blinded the minds of unbelievers in order to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God...For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the gnosis of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Commentary: Who said it? What does it mean?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back but buried

I'm back from Amherst, but buried in work. So haven't been able to post much this week. My apologies. As a quick update about things that have been on my mind:

1. I was knocked out by Colin Powell's appearance on Meet the Press and what he had to say which I thought was an honest assessment of the situation.

2. I am trying to prepare for Society of Biblical Literature conference in Boston at the end of November. More an this later.

3. Continuing my work on the Gospel of Judas, which has gone to another level. More on this later too!

4. Classes are progressing well. Actually great! I have wonderful very bright students who love these materials as much as I do.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-16-08

In light of our discussion, I offer the opinion of two very different second century church fathers for today's Apocryphote:
I shall endeavour to persuade you that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because he announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, wishes to announce to them;....that he who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, I mean numerically, not in will.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 56 (mid-second century Rome)

Origen: Is the Son distinct from the Father?
Heraclides: Of course. How can he be Son if he is also Father?
Origen: While being distinct from the Father is the Son himself also God?
Heraclides: He himself is also God.
Origen: And do two Gods become a unity?
Heraclides: Yes.
Origen: Do we confess two Gods?
Hearclides: Yes. The power is one.
Origen: But since our brothers take offense at the statement that there are two Gods, we must formulate the doctrine carefully, and show in what sense they are two and in what sense the two are one God.

Origen, Dialogue with Heraclides 124 (early third century Alexandria)

Off to Amherst tomorrow

I am flying to Amherst tomorrow to give a lecture on the Gospel of Judas for the Center of Inquiry.

Following up on polytheism in early Judaism and Christianity

Lots of comments yesterday. Thank you to all for raising good issues.

1. I want to post here Rebecca Lesses' comment because she is SO right to bring this up. It is the same in Christianity which is why I said in my post that whether or not you think Christianity became a monotheistic religion depends on how you view the success of the Trinity.
Rebecca Lesses: And even after the rise of rabbinic Judaism, we still find Jewish mystical texts that are very questionably monotheistic - see the treatment of Metatron in 3 Enoch, among other Hekhalot literature. (Some of the texts call him Metatron YHWH, after all). I sometimes think that it's only because of medieval rationalist philosophers like Maimonides that Judaism became truly monotheistic (and that's only if you focus on the rationalist tradition). The doctrine of the Sefirot in the medieval kabbalah is questionably monotheistic in the same way that the doctrine of the Trinity in Christianity is questionable.
2. Definitions always get in the way. Monotheism is always going to be a stumbling block for us. I say along with Paula Fredrikson, RETIRE IT! for our period. Let's work out a better language to talk about what was going on. If I can pray to an angel and get help (i.e., be healed) and still be considered a Jew or a Christian, what should this be called? If I think that God can manifest himself on earth in various forms, and I start worshiping one of them (i.e., Jesus) in addition to the father, and still be considered a Jew or a Christian, what should this be called?

3. As for the issue of exclusivity. Well it does and doesn't work. There were ranges of possibilities within early Judaism. Some Jews saw Yahweh worship as exclusive - as in Yahweh is unique and other gods cannot be assimilated to him. Other Jews were fine with assimilating him with other gods. Were the Jews known for worshiping Yahweh? Absolutely. Were the Jews known for resisting his assimilation? Absolutely. But keep in mind that this was only SOME Jews, and these particular Jews had a loud voice that the Romans noticed because it was the voice of RESISTANCE which led to uprisings and conflicts that they had to deal with.

4. We must move to more complex understandings of the historical situation. This is tough for us because we want things to be simple. But they are never simple. Just look at Judaism and Christianity today. Look at the range of ideas and the range of reactions to them within the communities. The ancient world would have been no different, except for the fact that each community had less knowledge at any given moment about what other communities were doing around their world. So insular developments of traditions should be expected to some extent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?

N.T. Wrong (who I hope will one day reveal his/her real identity) is again right. His/her question reveals that he/she knows what he/she is talking about. Here is his/her question:
Well, because you asked. I've often wondered to what extent and in what ways Christian doctrine concerning the divine was influenced by the emerging Rabbinic orthodoxy (ca. AD 200). That is, Rabbinic orthodoxy seems to have introduced a stricter monotheism to the matrix of Judaisms that included Christianities. Did that part of Christendom which is now called 'proto-orthodox' Christianity likewise, and in response, seek to 'tone down' its polytheistic understandings of divinized humanity, a divinized Christ, angelic and demonic beings, and a Most High God? How do the discussions going on in Rabbinic Judaism provide a normative influence on Christianities which previously seemed quite open to a hierarchy of divinities, even in its 'proto-orthodox' quarters, as is evidenced in the Epistle of the Apostles, or the Odes of Solomon, or Mileto, or the Gospels of John and Thomas?
I don't have a great deal of time these days since I've become involved in writing another article on the Gospel of Judas (you won't believe what I have been finding!) and trying to get prepared to fly to Amherst this weekend to give a lecture on the Gospel of Judas on Friday night to a CSSR group.

Here's my quick take on Wrong's question. It is undeniable in my opinion that Judaism and Christianity before Nicaea were not monotheistic religions (as we define it today). In fact, one can question whether Christianity ever really became monotheistic - all depends on how convinced you are that the doctrine of the Trinity actually resolves the polytheism of a Father and Son being worshiped. Of course there is absolute resistance to this idea, especially among scholars who want early Judaism and Christianity to be monotheistic. So they have come up with all kinds of ways to contort the sources and their readings of them to make it look otherwise, including playing the heresy card.

But here are the facts as I see them. The first Christians were Jews. They had no problem worshiping Jesus alongside the father god almost from the start. I think that this worship was pre-Pauline, and centered in Antioch, although I do not rule out Jerusalem (see my paper in the book Israel's God and Rebecca's Children, "How we talk about Christology Matters"). They thought that Jesus was God's great angel who came to earth as a human being and was exalted to the angelic status of the NAME angel at his resurrection. The Jews in the Second Temple period from Philo to Qumran to all the Jewish apocalyptic texts believed that God manifested himself as the NAME angel on earth. This NAME angel, because he was invested with God's NAME, was essentially GOD. The Samaritans had various sectarian movements in the first century that played on this theme. Simon the Samaritan taught that he was the manifestation of this POWER of God, and that he had been sent to earth from the father in order to save the lost soul. The Jewish gnostics in the first century were able to develop the demiurge myth because they relied on these same ideas - that God had a NAMED angel YAHWEH who was distinct from GOD yet was the GOD who created the world.

Then there are all the polemics among late first and second century Christians about who is worshiping angels, who is asking angels for intercessory favors. Christians or Jews? Then we add to this all the polemics that developed in the late second and third centuries among the rabbis about the TWO POWERS heresy and how authentic Jews only worship YAHWEH. Then we find poor Arius caught in a ferocious battle over whether or not it is desirable to continue to call Jesus an angel and worship him as second in command.

I could go on and on. My point is this. Early Judaism and Christianity were not monotheistic religions, but were at best monalotrous (=worshiped one god but allowed for the existence of other gods). It was because of this that Christianity was able to be born out of Judaism as a Jewish expression of a new form of Yahwehism, and Gnosticism could become the fancy of Jewish intellectuals living in first-century Alexandria. This must mean that the program of some of the post-exilic priests to make Judaism a monotheistic religion DID NOT WORK, as in fact the wisdom literature and Sophia traditions prove in my opinion. This had to wait until the rabbis came along and created what many consider the basis for modern Judaism, and insisted that all forms of worship other than YAHWEH be banned. Whether or not the bishops and church theologians ever really made Christianity monotheistic depends on how well one thinks that the Nicaea decision and later the doctrine of the Trinity really worked.

As an aside, this scenario is not new stuff, nor is Boyarin the first to discuss some of these issues in his book Borderlines (2004). In fact, Alan Segal in Two Powers in Heaven (1977), and Jarl Fossum in The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord (1985) and The Image of the Invisible God (1995) were the two scholars who made the case initially, and wrote about it brilliantly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-14-08

James said to Jesus, "You have come with knowledge, to rebuke their forgetfulness. You have come with remembrance, to rebuke their ignorance."

First Apocalypse of James NHC V 28.7-10 (early third century Valentinian text; from Syria)

Scholars as heresiologists

I want to draw attention to Tony Burke's new contribution to the SBL Forum. He has taken his analyses of modern scholars' presentations of extra-canonical texts and written a fabulous critique. He has called it HERESY HUNTING IN THE NEW MILLENIUM. I recommend reading the entire piece. Here is the beginning:

A cottage industry of books has emerged in the past few years responding to apparent "attacks" on the Christian faith by such perceived enemies as the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, and the discoverers of the so-called Jesus Tomb.[1] Targeted also in these books are the texts of the Christian Apocrypha (CA). The books are transparently apologetic with the aim of disparaging the CA and the Gnostics who (they say) wrote them so that their readers will cease being troubled by thei texts' claims. The problem with such books, at least from the perspective of those who value the CA, is that they often misrepresent the texts, their authors, and the scholars who study them. Proper research and sober argument take a back seat to the apologists' goal of buttressing the faith.

In many ways these books read much like the works of apologetic writers from antiquity, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. They too were concerned about the impact of non-canonical texts and heretical ideas on their readers and sought to reinforce the faith by denigrating and ridiculing their enemies. Then and now accuracy was sacrificed to the needs of apologetics. Yet, perhaps there is something that scholars of the CA can learn from the modern apologists, something not only about ourselves but also about those who were attacked by the heresy hunters of the past.

Tony has very good insights in this piece, and I hope he considers writing a book on this subject. It would be a real service to the field. Tony shows how there is a group of scholars writing for the popular audience today who use the same techniques as the ancient heresy hunters in order to discredit the apocryphal materials, techniques like name-calling, ignoring scholarship to the contrary, misrepresenting scholarship to the contrary, etc.

This is one of the major reasons, in fact, that I started this blog, have begun to write books on Gnosticism and the other gospels for general audiences, and have increased the number of general lectures that I am giving. I am very concerned that the general public has been misled and misinformed by scholars who are writing with apology as their main goal. These authors appear to be ill-informed about the apocrypha and scholarship on it, especially Gnosticism, and this information is being passed on as credible by editors and publishing houses that do not care to promote good scholarship, but only are concerned about the dollar.

So send me your questions. What do you want to learn about? And I will write some posts in response. Let's get your questions answered.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-13-08

[Judas (Thomas)] said, "Tell me Lord, what is the beginning of the way?"
He said, "Love and goodness."

Dialogue of the Savior 142.5-7 (Syrian Christian encratic text, early second century)

Commentary: Judas Thomas (The Twin in Johannine gospel) is the hero of early Syrian encratic Christianity. Here he asks a question very similar to John 14:5: "Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" to which Jesus responds, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me." When we compare these two texts, it is fascinating how the Syrian text frames Thomas' question in a positive sense, while the Johannine author does not. Also, look at the difference in answers. In Syrian Christianity, it is a personal ethics that is the beginning of the spiritual journey (as it is in Jewish Christianity). Not so in Johannine gospel which promotes here salvation through the work of an intermediary figure, Jesus. I have made the argument in the past (in my book VOICES OF THE MYSTICS) that the Johannine gospel is responding to a form of Syrian Christianity (represented by the Gospel of Thomas) which it does not approve. The Dialogue of the Savior is a text coming from the same Christian tradition as the Gospel of Thomas, and reveals a continuation of the conflict between encratic Syrian Christianity and that promoted by the Gospel of John.

Novgorodian icon of the Apostle Thomas, 1350 - 1370 CE

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-11-08

Jesus said, "If you have money, do not give it at interest. Rather give [it] to someone from whom you will not get it (back)."

Gospel of Thomas 95.1-2

Commentary: Need I say more?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Words of wisdom for the campaign trail

This editorial from the Houston Chronicle struck me when I read it this morning:

Campaigning going too far

I am sick and tired of this election, which is not dealing with the real issues that affect all of us. I watched in horror these last few days as Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee, stirred up racial hatred, getting responses such as "off with his head" and "kill him." To what point? Does the Republican Party want Barack Obama assassinated? Is this what John McCain represents? How can anyone possibly not be upset with this type of campaigning?


As I was reading through the last page of the Sentences of Sextus this morning to post an apocryphote of the day, one of Sextus' proverbs (393) from the second century made me remember McFarland's editorial and so I decided to post it. Sextus' proverb is something for us to keep in mind during this last month of the campaign when last ditch efforts of highly skilled campaign spin-doctors try to stir up deep fears and hatreds to keep us from thinking straight.
Guard yourself from lying. (Because when you lie) there is a deceiver and the deceived.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-10-08

Tell yourself that whatever you do that is good, God does...Know who God is, and understand who it is who thinks within you. A good person is a work of God.

Sentences of Sextus 390, 394-5 (second century; Alexandrian)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Look at the alchemical picture closely

In response to the comments on my last post, particularly of the alchemical manuscript picture:

Yes, Genesis and Proverbs are being invoked...the alchemical tradition is about creating the primordial perfect Adam be like "god". Look at the androgynous man and woman in the outside courtyard. This is Genesis 1:26-28. And Sophia is God's partner in creation according to Proverbs. Sophia is the mother. She is also the Tree of Life. She is also God's presence, the Shekhinah. Look at her sitting in the Temple in the holy of holies in the tree of life - and also this must be the tree of knowledge. The fire is guarding the gates of Paradise. I'm not sure because I can't see it well enough, but I think the Zodiac signs (Leo and Taurus) are guarding gates, the entrances to the heavenly world. And I think there is a figure of a soul ascending; it looks like a baby ghost coming out of a corpse on the wall and being pulled into the upper court by its angelic Twin. This is all of esoteric Christian tradition rolled into one manuscript picture. Now we just need to find out what manuscript this comes from. Does anyone know?

Source of manuscript illumination:
Janus Lacinius, Pretiosa Margarita Novella (1577-1583).

From: Alexander Roob, The Hermetic Museum (Taschen 1997), p. 36.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-9-08

"O those who do not see! You do not see your blindness! You do not see that which was not known! ... The senseless and blind are always senseless, always slaves of law and earthly fear. I am Christ, the Son of Man, from you and among you...I alone am the friend of Sophia. I have been in the bosom of the Father from the beginning, where the children of truth and the Greatness are. Rest with me, my fellow spirits and my kin, forever."

Second Treatise of the Great Seth 65.2-17, 70.5-10 (probably a late second-century Christian Sethian text)

Manuscript illumination: an alchemical representation of Sophia as a Tree of Learning and source of Life.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-7-08

Then all the children of light truly will know the truth and their root, and the Father of everything and the Holy Spirit. They will all say with a single voice, "The truth of the Father is just, and the Son is above everything." And from everyone forever, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" Amen.

The Hypostasis of the Archons 97.15-22 (Sethian; mid-second c.).

Manuscript illumination: Isaiah's vision as recorded in Isaiah 6.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why do I occasionally post on politics?

From the comments in a few of my past posts, I can see that some of you don't want to see my blog discuss politics because it shows my biases. I have this to say:

1. Religion (and its making) is tied to politics. It is now and it was then. Watching what happens now, can help us to understand what happened then. Why do you think the Gnostics were thrown out? Because they held different beliefs? Or because the different beliefs they held meant that certain people could and could not be in power?

2. Objectivity is not neutrality. The press confuses these two, and in trying to be neutral (i.e., unbiased), they forget to be objective and call a spade a spade. So it is up to people such as myself to try to raise the objective observations above the fray. In this case, the objective observation is that Palin is not prepared on either a national or international level to become our next VP or President (should that happen).

3. Half of my readers are from the international scene. Many send me comments by e-mail, thanking me for my posts on Palin because all they get from the media is a crazy view of Americans who appear to not know what they are doing. These international readers are in total shock over the American reaction to this campaign. They cannot fathom how such an ill-prepared person as Palin can be so close to the White House. In fact, one of my international readers said that Palin makes George W. Bush look like an intellectual giant, something which he would have never thought possible.

4. This campaign is HISTORIC. Not only are we having to face sexism and racism, but we will be witnessing the hostile takeover of our government by the religious right if we are not careful. Too extreme? Consider the Supreme Court which is likely to lose at least two justices in the next presidency, and if they are replaced by conservative judges, there will be no more debates or controls in our government against the imposition of the values of the religious right on all of us. Is this what we want for our country?

Communal memory in operation

As I have been watching the various reactions to this presidential campaign, I am fascinated with the way in which I can see communal memory in operation - how older memories are refashioned to meet the needs of a current group, especially as it attempts to solve some crisis. Usually I have only ancient texts to study, and so I cannot observe this process as an organic one. So seeing it in process now is very educational. Perhaps it will allow me to bring even more insight to my old text studies.

What do I see? Well I see some evangelical and conservative Christians in a real crisis over this campaign. Why? Because the republicans have nominated a woman as VP, and according to their strict literal readings of scripture, women cannot be in leadership positions, especially if those positions dominate men.

Let's take the Southern Baptist Convention which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on my blog. Ten years ago there was a conservative hostile takeover of the Convention that resulted in a doctrinal and practical shift - women were told to stay home, and be helpmates to their husbands based on what the bible says literally. At the time, this was applied to secular vocations, not simply pastoral.

In fact, just last year, Sheri Klouda a Hebrew professor in Dallas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) was denied tenure because of her gender. According to the Dallas news the controversy was over 1 Timothy which says, "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man." This was used to fire her from her teaching post. Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor who came to her defense said, "Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties. She is a professor, for heaven's sake," Mr. Burleson said. "The same institution that conferred her degree and hired her has now removed her for gender. To me, that is a very serious, ethical, moral breach."

Now that Palin is on the republican ticket, there is a dilemma for these communities. So we see a shift now in some of these circles to begin emphasizing part of the past, while redefining the other part. The emphasis is now being placed on spiritual leadership - women cannot be leaders in church. But they can take on these roles if they are secular, like perhaps becoming one of the most powerful people in the world - the President of the United States. And the redefinition comes in terms of "this is what we always meant, but are just clarifying."

So now, according to David Kotter executive director of the Louisville, Kentucy-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, "Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world" (Houston Chronicle). Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says that their leadership beliefs are based on New Testament teachings, and do not apply to women in secular leadership. "Where the New Testament is silent, we're silent," he said. "Where the New Testament speaks, we're under its authority" (Houston Chronicle).

Has this shift opened a crack for women's leadership in areas that Land and Kotter may not have intended? Sheryl Brady, one of the five pastors featured in the recent edition of Gospel Today (which I also blogged on last month), reasons, "My problem with all this is, how can we have a Sarah Palin running for vice-president and yet (Southern Baptists) don't think a woman can be preacher?" Colorado-based author Margaret Feinberg, an up-and-coming evangelical voice says that for a lot of young evangelical women, Palin's nomination is "exciting" because "it speaks to young evangelical women who face a glass ceiling in our workplaces, but also the stained-glass ceiling of the church" (Associated Press).

This shift in communal memory - really the development of a counter-memory in order to deal with a crisis situation in the present - is not being met with open arms by some of the conservative Christians because they are recognized as a change from the previous platform. In March 2007, the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of white evangelicals thought that mothers with young children (i.e., Palin?!) working outside the home was a "bad thing" rather than a good one. Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry, says, "The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least. The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities -- of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home" (Los Angeles Times). Voddie Baucham, a Texas pastor who has criticized the Palin selection as anti-family in a series of blogs, said that the overwhelming evangelical support demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics. "Evangelicalism has lost its biblical perspective and its prophetic voice," Baucham wrote. "Men who should be standing guard as the conscience of the country are instead falling in line with the feminist agenda and calling a family tragedy . . . a shining example of family values" (Los Angeles Times).

Send me material and links that you have noticed about these shifting communal memories.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-6-08

If you seek with a perfect seeking, then you will know the Good, that it is in you! Then you will know yourself, that you derive from the pre-existent God!

Allogenes 56.15-20 (Platonic Sethian text, 3rd century)

Friday, October 3, 2008

My reaction to the Biden and Palin debate

I watched the VP debate last night and was again very uncomfortable seeing Palin in action. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, but to see her so out of her league makes me upset. Women have fought so hard to be able to break into politics, against stereotypes that we are intellectually inferior to men and can't go the distance. And now to see Palin emerge on the VP scene as unprepared as she is, well, I wish it were different.

The fact that the media is falling over themselves to increase their ratings with nonsense "analyses" after the interview is equally troubling. To call her style "folksy" and to say that because she surpassed expectations she had a victory is nothing but media spin.

This is what I saw from my couch. I saw a woman who, because she didn't know enough about the subjects and thus refused rudely to answer the posed questions, resort to flirting. I saw her wink and use voice and body language that was inappropriate to a professor, let alone a VP presidential candidate who might become a President one day. Her remark to call John Biden by his first name was not folksy. It was rude and pretentious. Her invocation of socceer moms and Joe six packs, her use of slang jargon, and her mispronunciations were not cute. They were demeaning, as if the middle class of which I am a part, cannot understand anything but street conversation.

George Stephanopoulos of ABC gave her debate an A- and her style an A. Based on what? The fact that she was coherent, even though she had little knowledge of the issues that were being debated? As a professor, this is so offensive, I don't even know where to begin. We don't give grades based on exceeding sub-standard expectations. We give grades based against a knowledge-set that must be met. We don't give grades based on "a good try." We give grades based on the quality of the work. And Palin performance was neither of these. It showed how much she doesn't know (as oral exams often do).

UPDATE: J.K. Gayle left this link in the comments. I didn't know about this blog previously.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-3-08

There are some who say, "We are faithful [...]." But if they had the holy spirit, unclean spirits would not cleave to them. Fear not the flesh nor love it. If you fear it, it will gain mastery over you. If you love it, it will swallow and paralyze you.

Gospel of Philip 65.36-66.7 (late second century Valentinian text; Syrian or Alexandrian?)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Magical Cup has nothing to do with Christ

Jim Davila posted today on a news release item about an old magic cup that has been discovered in the sea of Alexandria.

The report:
A bowl, dating to between the late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., is engraved with what may be the world's first known reference to Christ. The engraving reads, "DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS," which has been interpreted to mean either, "by Christ the magician" or, "the magician by Christ."
This cup has nothing to do with Christ. The Greek on the cup has CHRESTOU not CHRISTOU (or CHRSTOU as the newsreport has it!). CHRESTOU was a well-known title for one of the Sethian Gnostic archons, ATHOTH. It means "EXCELLENT ONE". It is found in several Sethian texts, including the Gospel of Judas. I do not yet know what OGOISTAIS is, but I am going to work on it. But it doesn't mean "magician." This magical bowl is possibly a GNOSTIC magical bowl with an invocation to ATHOTH on it. So don't believe the hype for minute. This bowl had absolutely nothing to do with CHRIST or with CHRIST as a magician. BUT it is totally fascinating if this object is actually SETHIAN!

UPDATE: Wieland Willker has been tracking suggestions on his blog Textual Criticism of the Bible HERE. Thanks for the link Wieland!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Article Note: "Acts of Impropriety: The Imbalance of History and Theology in Luke Acts" (Gerd Lüdemann)

Gerd Lüdemann sent me a link to an article that he just published in the Toronto Journal of Theology 24 (2008) 65-79. He begins the piece with a stunning quote from Ernst Troeltsch:

"The historical method, once it is applied to biblical scholarship and church history, is a leaven which transforms everything and which finally causes the form of all previous theological methods to disintegrate. Give historical method your little finger and it will take your whole hand."

Reading the opening quote again made me lament the falling away of historical methods as post-modern trends have taken control of the academy. I am worried about the training of the next generation of scholars who are shying away from the hard historical-critical work because it is not as fashionable as post-modern analyses. What will this means twenty years from now? I can't emphasize enough how essential it is to do our own work - from the manuscript up. Textual work and historical-critical work is hard work. It is slow work. But without it, we cannot be sure that we are not making the same mistakes that our predecessors did, or worse, building upon them. Furthermore, there is a new historiography emerging and it needs to be tended.

So I want to thank Lüdemann for his careful historical-critical analysis of Acts. He brings up some tough historical hermeneutic issues in this piece, including the fact that our new historiography has revealed to us that no one writes entirely objective history. What does this mean for Acts, he asks? Go HERE FOR HIS ANSWER.

Apocryphote of the Day: 10-1-08

O Lord Almighty,
how much glory shall I give you?
No one has been able to glorify God adequately.
O Merciful God,
you have given glory to your Word in order to save everyone,
He who has come forth from your mouth and has risen from your heart
is First-born, Wisdom, Prototype, First Light.
For he is light from the power of God
an emanation of the pure glory of the Almighty.

Teachings of Silvanus (Alexandrian Christian text, second century)

Book Note: The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. An Introduction (Hans-Josef Klauck)

Professor Klauck is on a roll. He has just published another handy book, (finally!) a current English introduction to the Apocryphal Acts. How useful is it? Each chapter covers one of the Apocryphal Acts. He lists the critical edition bibliographical information, translations, plus a content bibliography. Then he discusses the Acts in some detail with more bibliographical information. This will be an excellent book for courses on the apocrypha, as well as a good resource to have on one's library shelf. Klauck relies on his vast knowledge of the Christian apocrypha to make accessible a body of early Christian literature often overlooked. His coverage is thorough and up-to-date, emphasizing provenance, narrative content, and religious context.

It is published by Baylor University Press for $39.95.