Friday, December 12, 2008

Apocalypse of Gabriel at the Houston Museum of Natural History

The Houston Museum of Natural History has just opened an exhibit called "The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story." At the last minute, the Museum was able to get the Apocalypse of Gabriel stone. So it is here down the street from me. I have some more updates about interpretation and authentification, but I do not have time to post that now. Will return to the subject soon. I promise.

French Edition of The Thirteenth Apostle

My thanks to Michel Valensi of "Éditions de l'éclat" who has published a French translation of The Thirteenth Apostle (Le treizième apôtre). The translation was made by Gilles Firmin to whom I wish also to extend my thanks. This edition was able to take into account a series of revisions, a second preface, and one new chapter, "Judas the Star," although I had not knowledge of the Judas gem at the time I submitted this material to be translated. So the gem chapter will become available in the forthcoming March revised English edition, along with all the other revisions that made it into the French edition.

Apocryphote of the Day: 12-12-08

"Peace be with you from peace, love from love, grace from grace, faith from faith, life from holy life!"

Apocryphon of James 1.1-7 (Valentinian? text from Nag Hammadi)

Commentary: a post for the second week of advent - Peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New article on Valentinian sex

An article that I wrote several years ago has finally been published in a new volume on Western Esotericism. The title of the article is "Conceiving Spirits: The Mystery of Valentinian Sex." It is found in Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Jeffrey J. Kripal (eds.), Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2008) pp. 23-48. By the way, this is a Brill hardcover, so it is a library book unless you have $200 to drop on one volume!

I conclude in my contribution to the volume that the Valentinians believed that the end of the world and the entrance into the Pleromic Bridal Chamber would correct what Adam had perpetuated in the beginning, that is the dispersion of the spirit in immature form within the corrupted soul. Since Adam had procreated from his material aspect, he had been acting from carnality, from lust. Therefore the child he bore, Cain, had a soul inclined toward evil, one whose spiritual seed was easily overcome by the presence of powerful demons and passions. The conception of Abel, on the other hand, was believed to have taken place in such a way that he acquired a soul with a spiritual seed which was able to respond positively rather than negatively, to live righteously (as a member of the Christian church) and be redeemed. Seth's soul was endowed with an elect seed because his conception was marked by Adam's spiritual aspect, when he raised his soul to the heights of heaven as he lovingly embraced Eve. This form of lovemaking was considered by the Valentinians to be sacred, and would lead to their own redemption as well as God's.

I argue in this article that the Valentinians were not opposed to eros as long as it was not lust, that they distinguished between lovemaking and hedonism. Although they were opposed to carnality, they were not opposed to sexual pleasure between married partners. For them, sex was understood as a delightful and sacred experience when the souls of the married partners mingled with the heavenly powers, resulting in the conception of a spiritually superior child, one that would be morally-inclined and redeemable, if not elect.

This is a long way away from Augustine's reproach for eros and his notion that sex should ideally be no more than a handshake.

What would our society be like if the Valentinian understanding of sex had become our model, rather than the Augustinian?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 12-9-08

Jesus said, "The world is a bridge. Cross this bridge but do not build upon it."

'Abdallah ibn Qutayba 'Uyun 2.328 (The Muslim Jesus)

Christ Pantocrator, c. 1200, Cefalu, Sicily.

I was surprised too

As a follow-up to my post last night, I want to stress that I was very surprised by the results of my experimental exercises. I had been taught as a form critic and a source critic and a redaction critic in university. So these were my standards, and I thought that their conclusions were reasonable given our evidence. So I set up my experimental exercises with the expectation that I would see some distinction in the memory distortions that occurred in the different media modes of transmission (OO, OW, WO, WW).

When I didn't, it struck me hard how much our field makes up theories with little to no hard evidence to support them. And then we go about using those theories as our assumption base and creating more theories on top of them. The only thing that we go on is the seat of our pants, and any reasonable scenario appears arguable and convincing. We tell ourselves it is okay because we cannot recreate the ancient world to study, and continue along our merry way. At least this has been my own personal experience.

But what happens when we compare the results of our modern day experiments to the texts we have and we discover comparable memory distortions, when human memory appears to be the big factor? In this case, the position that needs to justify itself is the one that continues to plead that we don't have the ancient people to study.

I want to emphasize that my sample was small and only was a pilot exercise. More testing needs to be done. To do this, I really need to set up a lab at Rice, and to do this is going to require money and a big time commitment on my part. I still have an entire data set from my earlier experiment sitting on my shelf in which I tested for secondary orality. This data is waiting to be collated and analyzed, but I haven't been able to get around to it yet. In this case, I asked the subjects to memorize the mustard seed parable from Mark. On a set date, I tested them on their memory of the parable by asking them to record it. Then I asked them to listen to a different version of the mustard seed parable. I then asked them after a period of 45 minutes (so we would be dealing with long-term memory instead of immediate recall) to record the version that they had heard. I have no idea yet regarding the results, because I haven't had the time to do the data analysis yet.

These experiments taught me more than I can even convey in writing, but they required a level of organization and computation and rigor which was taxing for me. I got little else done that year which was frustrating since my real academic interest is intellectual history. At the moment, I am trying to handle the new Coptic codex which contains the Gospel of Judas, and so any return to this type of cognitive classroom is going to have to wait for me. But I encourage my colleagues to consult cognitive psychologists at their universities and begin their own testing. Be open to what might happen, and do not be afraid to share what you learn. The way to move the field forward is to try new things and see what we can see. If nothing happens of importance, oh well. But if we learn something, doors might open to us that otherwise would remain closed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

human memory is THE factor

I appreciate Mark Goodacre's response to my recent posts. But I must insist that experimentation makes a difference - a huge difference - in what we can and can't know, and what we can and can't argue. On this see the good post by N.T. Wrong (who seems to be consistently right - when will we know your ID?).

Take for example Professor Bartlett's experiments which were created not as laboratory experiments, but as real life tests of human memory. He asked subjects to read a story three times. Then at varying intervals he asked his subjects to write the story down. He noted specific alterations (what we call today memory distortions) to the materials. These alterations are specific and consistent. I found the same ones, and I did not have access to his experiments until after I had run my own and was writing up my analyses. This was another shock to my system.

What is fascinating is that originally I wanted to track the differences in media environments. So I had divided my subjects into five groups: oral-to-oral (OO=heard saying and orated reproduction); oral-to-written (OW=heard saying and wrote down reproduction); written-to-oral (WO=read saying and orated reproduction); written-to-written (WW=read saying and wrote down reproduction); and sources-retained (SR=read saying and wrote down reproduction but retained written "original"). In other words, I had four media environments in which composition and recall relied entirely on human memory, while one media environment allowed my subjects to consult a written source. I was confident that I would discover all sorts of differences in the first four mixed media reproductions and was ready to track them.

Much to my surprise, the differences in these four media environments were not present at all in long-term memory reproductions. In other words, in the four the media modes that relied on human memory for transmission, there was no difference in how the material looked after it was transmitted. The material underwent the same type of changes at the same rates. The differences occurred only when the written source was retained and the subjects could consult it.

In other words, from the reproductions themselves made by my subjects it was impossible to deduce whether the subject heard the saying or read the saying, wrote it down or orated it, as long as this was done from memory and not from consultation of a written source. The factor for distortion in transmission was NOT the media environment - it was dependence on human memory.

So how can we tell if the author of Thomas' parable of the Wheat and Tares was dependent on Matthew? If we are dealing with literary dependence through consultation of Matthew's text, we would expect either near verbatim reproduction or paraphrase according to the results of my experimental exercises - and we have neither of these. This is too complicated for me to go into here, so please have a read of my article and the results which I charted.

If the author of Thomas' parable was remembering Matthew's version, then the only way to know that it is Matthew's version and not some other is to detect a significant amount of Matthean development of the parable in Thomas' version. It becomes difficult at this point to detect exactly what is Matthew's development, since the concept of ONE originating parable cannot exist in an oral-rhetorical culture.

I REALLY caution all of us on this point, because I discovered in another experimental exercise that I didn't publish (yet?) that when you have twenty-five versions of a parable in front of you that all look similar, if you ask how these twenty-five versions came about, you are tempted to try to build a family-tree based on similarities in some versions. But what I'm finding is that people make the same adjustments to versions INDEPENDENTLY of each other, and these adjustments are due to the way in which our memories work, and cultural and linguistic phenomena within a given generation of people. So the twenty-five versions may be all independent versions with no relationship to each other except that all persons were present to hear a version orated (and in fact were in the case of my experimental exercise). I admit being quite shocked about this, and seeing form criticism fail miserably before my very eyes.

But if we examine the Thomasine parable carefully we see that we do not have significant commonalities with Matthean secondary developments (="rationalization" or "idiosyncrisies" as Bartlett would have phrased it). The verses that appear to me to reflect Matthew's theological interests - the dialogue of the enemy in vvs. 27-28 and the accumulated proverb in v. 30 - are not found in Thomas' version. But Thomas' version represents a condensed form of the parable, although it is impossible to conclude that this originating form is a memory of Matthew's version or some other version available to the person who composed Thomas' version (which still, based on studies of oral composition, has the characteristics of an orally-composed text).

SBL Memories 3: Become more scientific

I promised to expand on points 3 and 4 of my last post, which I would like to do today. Mainly I want to respond to the persistent comment that because we can't experiment with ancient people, we can't learn anything valuable and shouldn't bother experimenting or relying on modern psych literature.

Although it is certainly true that we do not have ancient people to use in our experiments, the conclusion that we can't learn anything valuable and shouldn't bother experimenting or relying on psych literature is not a justifiable conclusion. What it amounts to is an excuse to keep us all in the dark about the impact human memory had on the Jesus traditions and how materials were actually composed in a world in which literacy was so low that an oral consciousness even dominated the written word and scribal practices.

Why do we want to be kept in the dark? Because it allows us to conclude whatever we want to from our ancient sources, with no justification beyond that it might sound good to us? This way we can keep the red letter edition of our bibles and we can write assuredly who the historical Jesus was?

But the facts are these. The only way that we have the actual verbatim words of Jesus is if someone followed him around and recorded in writing immediately everything he said with 100% accuracy, and then this document was copied with no errors into other documents. Or if someone with a very good short term memory spoke immediately what he had heard to the next person who also had a very good short term memory and so forth until it was written down with 100% accuracy. Since neither of these processes are likely, we can forget the red letter editions, and we can forget knowing what he said verbatim or who the historical Jesus was beyond the broader strokes.

What about trained discipleship, where Jesus was the teacher teaching his disciples to memorize his words? For those who like this model, it must be kept in mind that such training, if it existed (which I seriously doubt in the case of the Jesus movement since this is nowhere found in our Christian sources) was not about verbatim memory. It was about remembering the central teaching and a few words, and reconstructing from memory the best one could. The ancient people knew that their memories, even trained, were not that accurate. This is why the rabbis had all kinds of magical spells to try to improve their memory of the Torah! Our notion of memorizing is based on our knowledge of literacy, where we have texts that we can read over and over and over again, test our memory of it for accuracy, and keep working on it like this until we get it into our long-term memories. But this is not the way of the ancient world, where most memory work had to be done orally with little to no reference to written words. What one can remember in this type of learning environment is very different from the literate "memorizing" we all think about today.

In order to know how this process worked and how it might have affected the composition of our texts, it is essential in my experience to experiment and to read in cognitive psychology which tells us how human memory operates and affects the transmission process. When we compare the results of this knowledge with what we see in our texts, it is really quite amazing what we can learn about the ancient people processes.

Let me give an example that I mentioned too in the SBL session. Professor Goodacre points out that on several occasions Thomas fails to narrate the middle part of a given parable, making the ending almost unintelligible. He uses the Parable of the Wheat and Tares as a clear example of this. He concludes that this clumsiness comes from Thomas’ familiarity with the Synoptic stories, when he rushes to retell the familiar story, rather like someone who can’t tell a good joke, he rushes ahead to the punchline and leaves out the middle.

What is the evidence that writers who have a literary document in front of them from which they are copying ever leave out the middle because they are rushed? Just based on logic, I would think that literary copying would be otherwise. That the copyist would be more careful to preserve the material he is using, that he is working slowly, that he can stop and go back and double check, and that he can erase and correct. Such is not the case, however, when an author is relying on human memory, when he cannot double check a written source. Even more so for the author who is composing orally, when in fact he really is like a teller of jokes who forgets the middle to rush to the end, and who cannot stop and redo it, or erase what he has just said because he is speaking, not writing, as he composes. But this is just my logic, it is not based on any scientific data.

So what about scientific data? What experiments have been done that might help us? The subject of memory distortion is its own field of study within cognitive psychology, but most studies on errors of commission generally try to explain why memory distorts rather than how it distorts. Although there has been related work done in the field of cognitive psychology on the instability and stability of human memory, the only experiments conducted that might help with the questions we have about literary dependence is the work of McIver and Carroll (JBL 2002, Applied Cognitive Psychology 2004). So I went after a grant and set up my own pilot experimental exercises with the help of Professor Jean Pretz, a cognitive psychologist at Illinois Wesleyan University where I was a professor at that time. I have just published the results in Tom Thatcher’s volume, Jesus, the Voice, and the Text, "Human Memory and the Sayings of Jesus: Contemporary Experimental Exercises in the Transmission of Jesus Traditions," so I refer you to that article for all the supporting data. I want to emphasize that the results are based on only forty-four subjects and my goal was only to run a short pilot – to test the waters and see if my results warranted further experimentation on a larger-scale that would be able to generate more-significant statistical data. Even though these findings should be tested further, the results are in line with the results of other studies conducted by psychologists who study human memory.

One of these relates directly to Professor Goodacre’s example. In my experimental exercises, I asked different groups of students to transmit proverbs, parables, and miracles stories in different media environments. I found that the traditions that relied on human memory for transmission suffered drastic condensation and remodeling, even to the point of becoming nonsense. The psychological experiments of Professor Bartlett in the 1930s proved this as well (Remembering, Cambridge, 1932). Whenever a person was asked to recount from memory a story, and it was written down, the narrative was denuded to an undecorated tale. Bartlett noticed that only the main points were left, the central motifs.

This is not to say that details weren’t added. They were, and when this happened, they usually were features more contemporary or idiosyncratic, representing the view, and as Bartlett called it, the rationalization of the tradent. Even so, moderate expansion was not the norm in any of the memory environments that I studied. But it was the norm for the words to be condensed into something more easy to recall.

Data from my own experimental exercises not only support Bartlett here, but further suggest that the lost of details happens mostly in the middle of the reproductions just as we see in Thomas 57. I might add further that the entire saying displays the characteristics of an orally transmitted parable. It commonalities with Matthew’s version amount to a few memory trigger words like “good seed”, “enemy came,” “pull out the wheat,” “harvest” and “burned.” Although the general message of the parable is maintained across the versions, the details and presentations are strikingly different. Thomas’ version has been abridged over the years of its oral performance to the point that the antecedent “them” has been lost. Matthew’s version has been expanded during its transmission so that it contains secondary features that appear to reflect the theological interests of Matthew, such as the dialogue about the “enemy” in vvs. 27 and 28 and the accumulated proverb in v. 30. Both versions suggest that each author received something older, yet exactly what that older version was is impossible to determine. The reason for this is that in the oral sphere we can have no single originating version from which we can create a family-tree of dependent versions.

Let me know if you want to hear more about this subject. I will gladly post on it. But this particular post is getting too long for a blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

SBL Memories 2: Dating our sources

On Saturday afternoon, the new consultation on the Cross and Diversity in early Christianity held a session on dating sources. Mark Goodacre and Simon Gathercole gave key note papers. I responded to Goodacre and Stephen Patterson to Gathercole. The room was packed. People were hanging out the doorways, and people were even sitting behind me when I was speaking at the podium. Conclusion: the room was too small for a discussion that many wanted to be a part of.

My sense was that this was a panel that really brought out how divided the academy is in terms of method and assumptions. It showed me just how much we are in a time of transition, when the older models are being seriously questioned and yet we don't have anything better in place yet. I tried to emphasize three major shifts in the field that I think must be taken very seriously:

1. What are we to do with the extra-canonical materials? My approach is to understand three phases of writing among early Christians. I would place these documents in these phases, which means that there is substantial material to work with in the pre-70 CE period, informing us mostly about Jerusalem and Antiochean Christianity and the conflicts that were taking place. I am still not convinced that the provenance of Q is Galilee. It appears Antiochean to me:
First-level bearers of tradition. Pre-70 CE. The early missions when letter writing was important, as well as instruction manuals and catechisms of Jesus’ words. Here I would place Paul’s letters, the letter of James, the Didache, at least two versions of Quelle, and the early written book of Thomas that I call the Kernel Thomas.

Second-level creators of foundation stories. 70-100 CE. The death of the eyewitnesses and the destruction of the Temple prompted this generation of Christians to rewrite their memories and revise their received traditions. In this period, the synoptic gospels and John, Gospel of the Hebrews, Acts, deutro-Pauline letters, Revelation, P. Egerton 2 (?), Hebrews (?),

Third-level developers of formative theology and ecclesiology. 100-135 CE. This generation of writers was focused on formative theology, ecclesiology and interactions with other communities (whether peaceful or aggressive). 1 Clement, Johannine letters, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, Pastoral Pauline letters, commentaries of Basilides (lost), writings of Valentinus (fragments), Shepherd of Hermas, writings of Marcion (lost), letters of Ignatius and Polycarp, Papias’ books (fragments), Hegesippus (fragments), Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of the Ebionites, Letter of Barnabas, Gospel of Peter.
2. New developments in textual criticism and scribal practices are demonstrating that the eceletic text we call the critical edition is NOT a first century text, and is NOT what the early Christians wrote or were reading or hearing read. We have created a manuscript of the “Bible” which we treat as if it were a first-century document. The Nestle-Aland edition is not an ancient manuscript. Its committee readings to do represent any manuscript that ever existed in the ancient world. Yet our forefathers worked with this as our received critical text and made all sorts of theories about literary relationships between texts based on comparing Nestle-Aland readings internally and externally to other texts. And this approach continues today without even the slightest pause.

But honestly when we are dealing with issues of literary dependence and basing our conclusions on “same” words here and there, shouldn’t we be more than a little concerned that we don’t have much in terms of manuscripts prior to the third century? And those which we do have vary substantially, even versions of the same text.

This sort of variation is typical of rhetorical societies where scribal practices have developed out of oral consciousness. Add to this that we know the early Christians were quite comfortable altering texts to fit their needs, and complaining loudly about other Christians whom they thought were doing so too.

This suggests that we have two big hurdles: we don’t have the first-century texts, and we don’t have stable texts until relatively late, and some would argue, if ever. So for the future of literary dependence arguments to succeed, scholars are going to have to figure out how to take into account our vast manuscript tradition and what the existence of all these variants actually means in terms of ancient composition and transmission of documents.

3. We need to understand how ancient people actually composed their texts, how they operated within the rhetorical environment. What part does human memory play in this process? I will try to post separately an expansion on this issue.

4. We need to start testing our theories by setting up scientific experiments, or at the very least, reading cognitive psychology literature beyond a few college textbooks. Because human memory is a factor in the transmission of materials in rhetorical environments, it behooves us to know how the human memory works and how its effects might be reflected in the various versions of sayings of Jesus that we find in the literature. I'll try to post a separate post on this as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on the Judas Gem

I wish I had time to address all of your questions, but I have to get the revisions of the Thirteenth Apostle to my publisher by Friday. So briefly:

1. The gem is green jasper, like the Brummer gem that Josè mentioned. The lion-headed god is the same image as found on the Brummer gem, and on many many gems from the ancient world with names of the astral god including IAO, Abrasax, Chnoubis, Michael, etc. On the Judas gem, he holds a medusa-head on display. So the gem is likely a protective or aggressive magic gem. There are two cartouches with identical inscriptions on the front. They appear to me to be palindromes. Within them are hidden anagrams for the names Michael and Elieli, both angels associated with Ialdabaoth in Gnostic traditions. There are also a series of magical characters which represent various stellar and planetary signs. On the back, centered and alone appears the inscription "IOUDAS". The iconography of the god on the front suggests a 1st or 2nd c. date from a Greco-Egyptian workshop. The inscriptions on front and back are made by the same hand, so Judas was not added at a later date by someone else. I imagine that it was either mounted in a ring or in a pendant, although the mount does not survive as far as I know.

2. The Mithras leoncephaline god is another example of this same astral lord that I have been talking about. The best books on the subject are Howard Jackson, The Lion Becomes Man, and David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries. This astral lord goes by many names among the ancient people. Some Gnostics called him Ialdabaoth, Saklas, Samael, Nebruel, Michael, Elieli, and Judas. Other ancient people called him IAO, Chnoubis, Abrasax. We don't know the name of the Mithraic version, although he seems to have been a very fierce and terrifying god. This astral god was feared by the ancient people because he controlled the universe. He ruled it and our fates. He usually has a leonine head or a cock-head, solar rays, and also serpentine form. He is the pole serpent, the one who controls (or is) the axis of the universe. My student Franklin Trammell is making a complete study of the pole serpent now for his dissertation, so perhaps I can encourage him to write a short guest post on the subject.

3. I am so discouraged that the hero Judas has made it into the Sunday school catechisms already. This was one of my main fears, and why I so quickly published my book. The NGS is so influencial. People take the Society's claims as true. This business if very sad to me because the public has been misled, and I see no honest attempt to correct this misperception. The more I study this document, the more evidence amasses that Judas remains a demon. The Gnostics took the canonical gospels at face value - that Satan entered him (John 14:27). Who was Satan in the Christian tradition? He was the "ruler of the world" according to the Gospel of John. It is not such a big leap for the Gnostics to have called this ruler Samael (Satan's alternative name in Judaism) and Ialdabaoth (the magical name for the astral ruler), and to have said that this is the figure that Judas became. This is just ancient logic. Nothing more.

Horner on-line

My student Mike Heyes found a link to Horner's Coptic New Testament on-line. Vols. 1 and 2 aren't scanned yet, but this is great to be able to have internet access to most of the volumes. This set is extremely difficult to find except in select libraries, and it is the only "critical" edition that I know about, although it needs updating desperately to take into account new manuscripts. I am putting a link to this on my sidebar under Internet Resources.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 12-1-08

Grant (me) what no angel has seen nor archon heard, and what has not entered the human heart. (Grant me) the angelic which came into existence, and what originally was fashioned by the God of the soul, since I have faith and hope...For yours is the power and the glory and the praise and the greatness forever and ever. Amen. In peace. Christ is holy.

Prayer of Paul A.25-B.10 (Valentinian prayer)

Commentary: I post this prayer in celebration of the first week of advent which reminds us that the Christmas story is about "hope."

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.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

In the wake of SBL comes Thanksgiving, and for my family, the beginning of the Christmas season. Wade is preparing turkey for the meat-eaters (I'm allergic to turkey, if you can believe that!), and I have a veggie turk'y roast for the vegetarians. I've decided to try quail myself to see if this is a poultry I might actually not be allergic to. I put together a traditional stuffing that my mom taught me a long time ago when I was a child, and a ironed my grandma's table cloth in memory of her. We will have mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, cranberry sauce, broccoli and baby leaf salad. Apple pie for dessert since Wade is not a fan of pumpkin. The one dish that I cannot make even though it was traditional for me growing up is jello salad with fruit. Sorry Jello Inc. but days of jello salads (and casseroles) are over for me. Some of my students and their families will be joining us for dinner.

And as a special treat, Alexander has learned a table grace that he will sing (to the tune of "On Top of Spaghetti"):

"The month of November,
has Thanksgiving Day,
we gather for dinner,
watch football and play.
With turkey and stuffing,
and cranberries too,
we are thankful for family
and friends just like you."

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 11-17-08

Hear me, you who hear,
and learn my words, you who know me.
I am the hearing that attains everything,
and I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name.

Many are the pleasantries of numerous sins...and fleeting pleasures
which are embraced until you become sober
and go up to your resting place.
And you will find me there,
and you will live, and not die again.

The Thunder: Perfect Mind 20.27-34 and 21.20, 25-32 (Sethian ? gnostic poem from second century)

Commentary: I moved the second stanza from third person to second person to maintain consistency with the first stanza. The speaker is the female aspect of the Godhead, called by different names such as the Mother Spirit or Sophia.

Illustration: Sophia by Hildegaard von Bingen (1098-1179) according to some websites I toured. Can anyone confirm that this is indeed one of Hildegaard's paintings?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some new endorsements for The Thirteenth Apostle

A couple of new endorsements for my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, just came to my attention. They are nice, so I thought it would be fun to share them with you.
"DeConick is not nearly so well known to the reading public as other Gospel of Judas scholars, such as Ehrman, King, and Pagels...but DeConick's volume, offering as it does a substantial revision of the current consensus, deserves as much attention...her book contains a vast amount of useful information, placing the Gospel in its historical and theological context in a manner that is very accessible to the general public. Additionally, many readers will appreciate her autobiographical sections, her analysis of contemporary Jesus films, and her annotated bibliography. As such, her book deserves a place in libraries along with other essential Judas publications. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/ researchers; general readers." -- L. J. Greenspoon, CHOICE, May 2008

"This fascinating new book from April DeConick...takes issue with the recent translation and offers a wholly different interpretation, one that focuses on the various distinct sects of second and third century Christians but has much to say about our modern view of this infamous character." -- The Good Book Guide

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Name of the Lord and its significance

In the last post, a question was raised that I would like to address:
This isn't about the election. I've just been enjoying your ORIGINAL GOSPEL OF THOMAS IN TRANSLATION. As someone who got interested in the Jerusalem Church, James, and offshoots of that community while taking a course on the gospels at Davidson College years ago, it's interesting and good to see the Thomas material less thru the Gnostic frame and more as what it is/was. I've always been curious as to at what point early believers started to think of Jesus as God or equate him with God, so the material relating to the NAME Angel was especially interesting because out of all of the material, it was completely new to me. Would you, perhaps, point me to some additional articles and/or early texts where the NAME Angel theology is expressed or implied. If so, I'd be very grateful.


William Madden, Instructor
Dept. of Humanities
Georgia Perimeter College
Atlanta GA
The classic comprehensive study is Jarl Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord (Tübingen, 1985). This is the book of my own teacher, from whom I learned these ideas. I apply them to everything I do, but I wrote a piece recently in which I tried to incorporate them into my discussion of the origin and development of Christology. This article is April DeConick, "How we talk about Christology matters," in David Capes, April DeConick, Helen Bond and Troy Miller (eds.), Israel's God and Rebecca's Children (Waco, 2007) pp. 1-24. One of Fossum's other students, Charles Gieschen, has written significant pieces on the subject. The most accessible is an overview article published in my favorite early Christian studies journal, which I highly recommend: Charles Gieschen, "The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology," Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003) pp. 115-158. See also Gieschen's book, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden, 1998). Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We did it!

Congratulations to Barack Obama! This is a moment I will always remember.



Saturday, November 1, 2008

SBL sessions: Memory and Textuality

I think that the study of human memory is the future of biblical studies. The people that are giving papers in the memory sessions are really on the cutting edge of future methodology. They are setting us on a new course. At least I think so.


Mapping Memory: Tradition, Texts, and Identity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Meeting Room 313 - CC

Theme: Memory and Textuality

Chris Keith, University of Edinburgh, Presiding
Thomas Vollmer, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Social Memory and the Dead Sea Scrolls (25 min)
Whitney Shiner, George Mason University
Other People's Texts in the Memory of Non-Judean Participants in the Cult of Jesus (25 min)
Jason T. Larson, Syracuse University
The Gospels as Sites of Memory (25 min)
Sandra Huebenthal, Aachen University
Luke 24:13–35 and Social Memory in Luke (25 min)
Break (5 min)
April Deconick, Rice University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

SBL sessions: New consultation on Christian Origins

I agreed to respond to Mark Goodacre's paper which he is giving in this new consultation. I believe that Mark has been posting some of his thoughts already on his blog. Because I have been so bogged down rewriting my own presentation for the Judas Iscariot section (see previous post), I have not yet been able to turn my attention to this topic. But I will shortly.

My understanding is that this consultation wishes to rethink entirely the picture of Christian Origins that has been developed in the last couple of decades. I'm not on the steering committee or very knowledgeable about this group's identity or agenda, so I hope to discover more once I attend. Will follow up with an after-post containing more information.


Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity Consultation
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Beacon B - SH

Theme: Sources and Methods in Early Christian History

John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Presiding
Mark Goodacre, Duke University
Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (30 min)
April DeConick, Rice University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)
Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge
The Gospel of Thomas as a Source for Early Christian History (30 min)
Stephen Patterson, Eden Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

SBL sessions: Judas Iscariot

I am going to post a few sessions that I am going to be participating in while at Boston in a few weeks. This one is first thing Saturday morning (9 am).

I had my presentation written several months ago, but then a couple of weeks ago, I realized something major about the Gospel of Judas which makes a huge difference for its interpretation. Then a week ago, I ran into something else. So now I am scrambling to put together a new presentation, complete with PowerPoint (my first time for a SBL paper! so I'm holding my breath hoping that the technology is going to come through for me). Anyway, I'm not saying anything else, not even giving hints, until after the presentation so that I won't spoil it.


Future of the Past: Biblical and Cognate Studies for the Twenty-First Century
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Commonwealth - SH

Theme: What Biblical Scholars Should Know about Judas Iscariot

Linden Youngquist, Iowa Wesleyan College, Presiding
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Historical Figure of Judas (30 min)
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University
Three Figures of Judas (after Borges) (30 min)
April D. DeConick, Rice University
What Can the Gospel of Judas Tell Us about Judas and Why Is This Important? (30 min)
Dennis R. MacDonald, Claremont School of Theology
Mark's Creation of Judas “Into-the-City” and Pseudo-Histories of Pseudo-Judas (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)

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.