Friday, February 29, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-29-08

The Lord answered James, saying, "If you are oppressed by Satan and persecuted and you do the Father's will, I say that he will love you, and make you equal with me, and consider you beloved by his providence and by your own choice. So will you not stop loving the flesh and being afraid of suffering?...Remember my cross and my death, and you will live!"

Apocryphon of James 4.35-5.10, 34-35 (ca. 150-200, a Valentinian text) trans. by DeConick

Erhman on Suffering

One of my undergraduate students this week asked me about the problem of suffering in relation to Bart Ehrman's newest book, saying that although Ehrman does not try to convert his reader to agnosticism, that my student now realizes that the challenges theodicy poses to Christianity are enormous.

For those of us who study these materials this is not a new problem. In fact it goes back to the first century in Christian literature. And we know that the problem was actually solved by many groups of Christians in the early second century. Look at the Valentinians. They argued that suffering is part of God's own experience as he-she developed self-consciousness. It is part of God's nature, and resulted in the creation of this world through a lesser (although not evil) creator god (whom Jesus actually saves in the end!). So the descent of the redeemer is about God joining humans in our suffering in order to alleviate it through the redemptive plan that he put into place, an alleviation that will happen at the end of time as we know it.

I say this because theodicy is not a problem for Christians UNLESS God is conceived as the ONLY God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, AND all-loving. If your religious system allows for polytheism like Marcionite Christianity which has the good merciful God who intervenes in a world not his own run by an just and wrathful God named Yahweh - no problem. If your religious system allows for a God whose right hand is good and whose left hand is evil as some forms of Judaism promoted - no problem. If your religious system allows for karma as Buddhism and Hinduism - no problem. Or, as in the case of the Valentinian Christians, if suffering is in God's nature, and there are lesser beings who become responsible for creation, then theodicy is no problem.

I write this to say again how important it is to remember the "others", the forms of Christianity that did not win the day. They did not lose the day because they didn't have solutions to age old problems. In fact, these forms of Christianity developed to SOLVE these age old problems. In the end, it was not theology that distinguished the Apostolic church and gave them the upper hand. The more I study the problem, the clearer it becomes to me that the reasons for victory had more to do with politics and social issues than anything else.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-28-08

We are joyful!
Enlightened by your knowledge.
We are joyful!
You have shown us yourself.
We are joyful!
While we were in bodies,
you have made us divine through your knowledge...
We have known you,
Light of Mind.
Life of life,
we have known you.
Womb of every creature,
we have known you.
Womb pregnant with the Father's nature,
we have known you.
Eternal continuance of the Father who gives birth,
we have worshiped your goodness.
We ask one wish,
we wish to be sustained in knowledge.
We wish one protection,
that we do not stumble in this kind of life.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving 64.15-65.2 (early Hermetic prayer preserved in Nag Hammadi collection) trans. by DeConick

Commentary: This prayer was used for the purposes of achieving heavenly ascent and transformation into an immortal being. It is similar to what we find in the Hermetic Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth. The petitioners are being born again from God's womb. Following this prayer and ascent initiation, the community members turn and embrace each other, and eat a vegetarian meal together ("holy food which has no blood in it").

Tonight in Farnsworth Pavilion, Rice University

Just a reminder. If you live in the area, the Friends of the Fondren Library are hosting an event celebrating Rice authors, artists, composers and editors. I will be one of five people speaking on a panel, sharing with those who come why I wrote my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. There will be a reception following the program, and books of all authors will be available for purchase according to the literature that was sent to me. 5:30 p.m. Questions: call 713-348-5157 or 5908.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Guest Post: Luedeman on "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?"

Professor Luedeman has asked me to post this guest post contribution to the Blog Co-op.

"Why I'm a Secularist," by Gerd Luedeman

Secularism not only teaches us to base our lives and thinking on the findings of critical scholarship in both the sciences and the humanities, but also persuades us to apply critical investigative tools in every field of academic endeavor. My lifelong study of the Christian religion illustrates both of these principles.

Theology is a scholarly discipline when it observes the intellectual protocols of the modern university and bids farewell to deductive epistemological principles of any kind - including revealed truth and any privileged knowledge God. Theology becomes a valid academic discipline insofar as it employs the historical-critical method's three presuppositions of causality, the potential validity of analogies, and the reciprocal relationship between historical phenomena. But this adoption of the atheistic methodology of secularism demands that traditional religion undergo a Copernican revolution.

However it may disenchant the world, true objectivity means relinquishing the canonicity or sacredness of particular writings, any claims to a revelation, and all distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy except those found in historical discourse. This same even-handedness outlaws dogmatic and theological judgments unsupported by empirical evidence, and refuses to deal with questions of religious truth except to compare different truth claims. The scholar of religion must steer clear of ideologies, but it is obliged to use the methods and insights of the sciences and humanities, including those derived from such neighboring disciplines as sociology, psychology and ethnology, for their illumination of historical phenomena is often decisive. Its assumptions and conclusions must remain open to peer review and revision on the sole basis of best evidence.

Therefore petitionary prayer by academic theologians amounts to self-betrayal. As Huck Finn says, "You can't pray a lie." Still, though excluded from the ranks of true believers, we can be religious spirits without religion, hoping by critical secularism to make the world a better place.

(First published in Free Inquiry 25 (2005/6), p. 35.)

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? My perspective

How we answer this question depends upon where we stand, though this doesn't make it a "relative" answer.

If my task is to reconstruct history, than Athens can have nothing to do with Jerusalem. If we allow our faith issues to cloud the historical process, we cannot do the job of a historian. Why? Because faith agendas will control our history, even to the point of creating a history that looks like or supports whatever our faith is.

The question of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus is a fine example of this as we have discussed on this blog and others in the past. As a historian, this is not a historical event because dead bodies don't rise. It is a faith event. Even the second century Valentinians seem to have understood this. What did the Valentinian teacher tell Rheginus about this? He said quite bluntly, "For, my child, 'the dead shall rise!' belongs to the domain of faith, not of argument."

If my task is to understand whether or not Athens has anything to do with Jerusalem as a believer, this is quite a different thing. Here each person must decide whether faith needs reason. This means that one must decide what "faith" is. I think that certain forms of Christianity have usurped the meaning of faith over the centuries so that today it is often tauted as believing doctrines that go against science or logic. When I study the ancient sources, however, "pistis" is something quite different from this modern definition. It is a person's relationship with "the holy," a relationship that is lived through imitation of saintly people and piety.

My own feeling on this issue is that faith without reason is futile, that a reasoned faith is necessary. This is not to say that reason is the entire realm of our knowledge. There is knowledge other than reason. But even this is supported by reason which is necessary in order to grasp and translate this kind of knowledge into something recognizable.

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-27-08

The world's farming relies on four things. A harvest is gathered into the barn because of water, earth, wind, and light. God's farming likewise relies on four things - faith, hope, love and knowledge. Faith is our earth in which we take root. Hope is the water with which we are nourished. Love is the wind by which we grow. Knowledge is the light by which we [ripen].

Gospel of Philip 79.18-30 (a Valentinian text; late second c.) trans. by DeConick

An apropos parable for this Blog co-op day.

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? Open Post

This is an open post space for those of you who wish to address Tertullian's age-old question. Please use the comment space to post.

Here are links to others who have already posted on the subject:

IHSOUS Blog by Solomon Landers
"This blog is devoted to translations from the Canonical Gospels, but I found your theme to be interesting, and made an exception by posting my thoughts on it there."

Overbeck Studies Blog
"In my study of Franz Overbeck, I have dealt with this question over and over again."

Sufficiency Blog by Bob MacDonald
"It is an excerpt from a longer story. The story in outline is in 365 parts of which this is pericope 21."

Exploring Our Matrix Blog by James McGrath
"Here's a link to my post for the 'blog co-op.'"

Merkavah Vision blog by Deane

Tim Ashcraft
"Here is a link to my post on the Co-Op. It's an attempt to briefly answer Tertullian's question from a conservative Christian viewpoint."

Jim West

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mandaean baptism objected to by local residents in Australia

I find it so disheartening that we cannot find a solution to support the Mandaean community more than we have. This is a minority religion, the only living Gnostic religion left. Because these people are not Jews or Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or something we commonly recognize, they remain unknown and their practices suspect to many of people.

The Mandaeans are Gnostics whose movement was connected with John the Baptist. They use multiple baptisms in flowing rivers as part of their ritual life. These rituals are not what Protestants think - only symbols. These rituals must be performed exactly as they always have been, because, as in the Catholic tradition, they actually affect the soul. So it saddens me to read in an Australian newspaper that a local community is hindering the Mandaeans who live there from baptizing in the Nepean River because 50 residents have complained about the color of a cloth they use.

The Daily Telegraph reports:

A RARE and ancient religious culture is battling for survival because residents in Sydney's west do not fancy the group's chosen shade of white.

The followers of John the Baptist were all but wiped out after 2000 years of oppression that reached a genocidal crescendo during the Iraq war.

But it could be Wallacia locals who inadvertently finish what fanatics started, by objecting to a Mandaean baptismal pool for reasons such as the colour of shade cloths.

For more of the news story click here.

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-26-08

"Those who have an independent conscience will remove themselves from the babbling of nature and will bear witness to the testimony on the whole. They will strip off the burden of darkness. They will put on the world of light. They will not be kept back in the least of places. And what they possess from the power of mind, they will give to faith...From now on, proceed with faith to shine in the depths of creation."

The Paraphrase of Shem 42.25-43.4, 41.20 (An unknown Gnostic system of three generative principles) trans. by DeConick

Reminder: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Blog Post Co-op for Wednesday 27th. Consider writing on the subject on your own blog or on the open post I will put up tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-25-08

The Savior swallowed up death. You know this. When he put aside the perishable world, he changed himself into an imperishable Aeon. He rose, having swallowed the visible through the invisible. He gave us the way to our immortality. As the Apostle said of him, "We suffered with him, we arose with him, we ascended with him"...This is the resurrection of the spirit, which swallows up the resurrection of the soul in the same way as the resurrection of the flesh. But if someone does not believe, he cannot be persuaded. For, my child, "the dead shall rise!" belongs to the domain of faith, not of argument.

The Treatise on the Resurrection 45.15-30, 40-46.9 (a Valentinian letter written to Rheginus) trans. by DeConick

Commentary: ca. 150-200 CE. Well, I opened the Treatise and my eye fell on this passage. Strange coincidence given that we are heading toward Wednesday 29th, for the Blog Post Co-op: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? A couple readers have already sent me links to things they have written on the subject, but I'm reserving all until then!

Teaching Valentinianism

Tony has a nice post on the joys and frustrations of teaching Valentinianism. Since he has opened the subject, I thought it would be fun to say a few words about it myself, since I teach this area all the time. I personally find the Valentinian mythology utterly fascinating, particularly how these Christians assumed a Platonic worldview, combined that with a cosmology they knew from the Sethian Gnostics, and reworked all to make it function within the Apostolic Christian tradition as the first complete systematic theology. And as Tony realizes through his wonderful classroom exercise (I think I'll try it too), they did this through exegesis of scriptures, Jewish and Christian alike, in the same was that other Alexandrian fathers did, especially Clement and Origen. When I teach Valentinus along with other fathers, it becomes soon clear that his system and that of his students is not very far removed from Origen in particular.

I usually start my lecture on the subject by saying to the students that I am going to tell them a story that never happened but everything in it is true (from the perspective of the Valentinian Christians that is). I also mention that the main concern of the myth is how this imperfect world of suffering is connected to a transcendent Good God. Or as Valentinus himself said in a letter, how our spirits can come to dwell in this "toilet" (he actually uses language I can't post!).

Then we go on to discover how Plato and Sethian mythology is recombined in a thoroughly Christian context, with the result that our first systematic Christian theology is born. Part of this systematic theology is the use of sacraments, and probably the development of a few additional sacramental practices. What do they do? Nothing less than release and protect the fallen spirit so that it can return home. Marriage as a sacrament is part of this process, and since the Valentinians thought that their own marriages were highly charged sexually in order to conceive children with the strongest spirits, well it is a fun time in class finally getting away from the obscene asceticism of so many of the early currents.

Jim Davila reviews The Thirteenth Apostle

Thanks to Jim Davila for posting a very thorough review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

That Platonic Daimon again...

Every now and then when browsing on the internet, I come across discussions of "daimon" and statements that because Plato used the term to indicate "spirit" so could the Gnostics. I am rebuffed with the simple statement that "the Gnostics relied on Plato." This in fact is the exact argument that Bart Ehrman put forward during the Judas book session at the San Diego SBL. Oh, and also I am criticized because "angels" (a positive term) is used as well to describe the Archons.

I say, "Hold your horses!" (yes, I actually say this, because I'm an equestrian - and now I live in Texas!).

Let's think about this. The Gnostics had taken biblical theology to a new level by merging it with Platonic thought. But did Platonic thought (or biblical theology for that matter) look the same after the merger?

Plato had a demiurge, a creator god. Was he good or evil? He was good. And he worked hard to create the best possible world as a reflection of the world of forms. The world he created was the best that could be given the fact that it was a reflection of the higher world in the realm of matter. The soul can work to be freed from matter by pious living, and upon death, ascend back to the Good.

The Sethian Gnostics had a demiurge, Ialdabaoth. Was he good or evil. He was evil, an opponent to the high god, in a war against the high god. Because he was the one who created the world, it is a world of suffering and imprisonment. The only hope for freedom of the soul is for a redeemer to come and teach it how to get out of the cycle of imprisonment that contains it through Ialdabaoth's rule and destroy Ialdabaoth's army. No amount of righteous living is going to free the soul from the clutches of the demiurge. Only a redeemer more powerful than Ialdabaoth could do it. The redeemer comes as a spy in disguise, and ends up double-crossing the Archons, vanquishing them when he was crucified. He wins the war and saves the soul. This is NOT Plato's universe, but it is the Gnostics'.

Yes the Archons are called angels. But what kind of angels are they? They are the fallen or jealous angels who are battling the high god (cf. the fall of Satan myth, which was a myth that these Gnostics also merged with the Platonic myth). The good angels (the ones that didn't fall) are the Aeons who live beyond this cosmos. The daimons are the demons, which is another class of malicious beings created from a different substance than the angels. So in Sethian mythology the two nasty assistants to Ialdabaoth are Nebro(el) who is called a demon (daimon), and Saklas a jealous angel.

All of this is to say two things:
1. We have to be very cautious not to assume that the same word used in one tradition means exactly the same thing in another. This was the downfall of the History of Religions School, and we cannot make this same mistake twice! When a word is reappropriated (as the Gnostics did with Plato's ideas), meanings alter sometimes substantially. So what we have to do is figure out the tradition that has reappropriated the term, and how this reappropriation has been done.

2. The same word can be used in these texts to mean different things, and this wouldn't have been problematic for the audience who knew the bigger myth. Yes, Saklas may be called an angel, but he certainly wasn't one of God's good ones! Nor were any of the lesser Archons and their numerous assistants who dwelled in their heavens. They were literally called "armies" of angels (often translated "hosts"), and their enemy was the supreme God and his Son.

The conclusion remains that daimon in the Sethian context is negative. It means demon. And when you add "13" to the title (Thirteen Demon), the particular demon referenced is Ialdabaoth who dwells in the thirteenth realm. This is common Sethian mythology discussed in texts that were written in the same time period as the Gospel of Judas.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Call for Blog Post Co-op on Wednesday, February 27th

Consider participating in a Blog Post Co-op on Wednesday, February 27th. Fellow bloggers and readers, the subject for a Co-op post on that day is the age-old question that Tertullian asked:

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

If you participate in the Co-op by addressing this question on your own blog, I will collect links to your posts and put them up here as well. Just send me your link,

I will also have an open post for those of you who would like to post something but don't have a personal blog space to do it.

I hope that this Blog Post Co-op will generate a healthy conversation among us!

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-22-08

"Rich is the person who has mercy on many, and imitating God, gives what he has. For God has given all things to his creation. Wealthy people, you should understand that you ought to minister, for you have received more than you yourselves need. Learn that others lack the things you have in abundance. Be ashamed to keep things that belong to others. Imitate the fairness of God, and no one will be poor."

Preachings of Peter (as quoted by John of Damascus, Parall. A. 12) (ca. early second century). This writing may have been one of the sources that the author of the Pseudo-Clementines relied on, although past attempts to recover it from this work have not been very successful. We have quotations from the Preachings of Peter preserved in some of the works of the Church Fathers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-21-08

Not only is he called "Without-Beginning" and "Without-End"
because he is unborn and immortal
but also because, just as he has no beginning and no end, He-Is.
He is incomprehensible in his greatness
inscrutable in his wisdom
invincible in his power
and unfathomable in his sweetness.
Truly, he alone is the good unborn and perfect Father
who is complete
who is filled with all his offspring
and with every virtue
and with everything of value...
It is not possible for mind to conceive him,
nor can words convey him,
nor can eyes see him,
nor can bodies touch him,
because of his inscrutable greatness
and incomprehensible depth
and immeasurable height
and boundless will.
This is the nature of the Unbegotten One.

Tripartite Tractate 52.35-53.11, 54.15-25 (a Valentinian creed about the Father, ca. 180-210 CE)
(translated by DeConick)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Note: Eyes That See Not (G. Luedemann)

There just arrived in my mailbox today Weststar's newest book on the historical Jesus. Eyes That See Not: The Pope Looks at Jesus by Gerd Luedemann.

This book is particularly important in my opinion because it critically dismantles Pope Benedict's so-called historical approach in his book Jesus of Nazareth. What is significant, is not the historical Jesus that Professor Luedemann reconstructs, but that he shows how the academic process and the critical portrait of Jesus is different from the doctrinal. These are separate quests, with separate sets of assumptions. Luedemann writes, "The historian is obliged to present objective evidence for his or her assertions. The rules of the game do not permit one to rely on uncorroborated testimony or claims of authority."

Why did Professor Luedemann feel that it is necessary to respond to the Pope's book? He says that there are two reasons. First, "the enthusiastic response it has received even among educated people reflects the fact that the very existence of biblical criticism is widely unknown." Second, he worries that many Catholic biblical scholars might be intimidated by writing an honest evaluation of the Pope's work. So he has undertaken the task of defending historical reason.

Luedemann hopes that his historical-critical approach to each passage that the Pope also discusses will help readers learn "how reasonable twenty-first century people" can read the Bible outside its normal doctrinal interpretation.

I think this book would be a valuable book to use in adult education church groups, read slowly alongside the Pope's book. When finished, I bet that the adult education classes would have a good idea how the historical method works in comparison with the theological.

Friends of Fondren honor 2007 Rice Authors and Artists

If you are in the Houston area, you might be interested in this event.

Thursday, February 28, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Farnsworth Pavilion, Ley Student Center, Rice University

Program and Panel Discussion sponsored by The Friends of Fondren Library
to honor the 2007 Rice Authors, Artists, Composers, and Editors

I have been asked to be one of five panelists, to talk about my book The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. The moderator will be asking us questions, as well as the audience.

A reception follows, and books by all authors will be available for purchase.

For more information, call 713-348-5157 or 5908

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-20-08

"My loins are girded with truth, and my sandals are bound on my feet. May I not see their thongs untied. I have put my hand to my ploughshare, and I have not looked behind me, so that my furrows may not be crooked. My fields are white and are ready for reaping. May I receive my reward...May I receive your face and worship before your holy beauty...The internal I have made external, and the external internal. Let your will be fulfilled in every part of me...Let us receive the crown of victory."

Acts of Thomas 147

Commentary: (ca. late second or early third c.) This is a prayer attributed to Judas Thomas (the Apostle) while in prison before his martyrdom. The reference to receiving God's face and worshiping before his holy beauty is striking in its merkavah mystical language. Thomas is asking to be allowed to enter the heavenly throneroom and receive a vision of God's face, in order to worship God's Beauty.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-19-08

"A cup of milk was offered to me,
and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord's kindness.
The Son is the cup,
and the Father is he who was milked,
and the Holy Spirit is she who milked him,
because his breasts were full,
and it was undesirable that his milk should be released without purpose.
The Holy Spirit opened her bosom,
and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
Then she gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing,
and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand."

Odes of Solomon 19:1-5

Okay, this one wasn't random. But I couldn't help it given the article in the Catholic National Registry which turned me into a man.

This is a baptismal hymn from a collection of liturgies used in the early Syrian churches at the end of the second and beginning of the third centuries. The reference to the cup and milk is likely a reference to eucharist practices. Some early Christians used milk (or water) instead of wine. Since the Syrian churches at this time tended toward encratic behavior (rejection of the body, marriage, meat and wine), the practice of drinking a cup of milk at the eucharist fits their overall lifestyle program. Notice that the Spirit is still being treated as a female figure in Syria, although it is the Father who has the breasts and gives the milk!

DeConick has become a man according to the National Catholic Register

Thanks to Professor Emmer of Emporia State University for sending me this link to an article in the National Catholic Register. He has already submitted a letter to the editor.

Not only does this article use my work to try to support its thesis against so-called "relativism" of the media, but I have become a man! Here is a link to the whole article, with the paragraph below that has wrongly identified me as a male. The National Catholic Register appears to have followed the lead of the Legionary Father John Flynn who spoke of me as a he.
Print media is not exempt from problems. An egregious case of inaccuracy came with the so-called Gospel of Judas Iscariot, which National Geographic hyped in 2006. April D. DeConick, in an editorial-page commentary published Dec. 1 in The New York Times, revisited the find. He described how he re-translated the Coptic text, finding many errors, including choices of translation made by National Geographic scholars that “fall well outside the commonly accepted practices.”
One wonders how such an identification could be made with the first name "April." Perhaps I should be flattered (although I'm not). What comes to my mind is the Gospel of Thomas 114: "For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." And the fact that still we must fight gender bias (among other things!).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-18-08

Jesus: "Truly I say to you, no one will enter the Kingdom of Heaven at my request, but rather because you are filled...Hence, become full of the Spirit." Apocryphon of James 2.29-34, 4.19-20.

NOTE: Many people are only familiar with the canonical materials and the forms of religiosity that have emerged from that material. Materials outside this purview have remained largely unknown and discredited for centuries for its impiety and heresy. I hope that my postings of these Apocryphotes will begin to make some of the para-biblical material heard more widely, particularly the voices of its authors who were living piously their interpretation(s) of Judaism and Christianity. Some have asked how I pick these quotes. The truth is I take a collection of apocryphal works, open it up, and post something from that page. This literature is so full of rich material, it is fairly easy to do!

Answering Tony's questions about the translation of the Gospel of Judas

Tony discusses a great exercise in his Gnosticism class, comparing translations of the Gospel of Judas - mine and Marvin Meyers. He ended with a few questions. Here are my responses.

Tony: 1. At 39, 24 DeConick has “And the animals that were brought for sacrifice” while Meyer has “And the cattle brought in are the offerings you have seen.” Is the Coptic “animals” or “cattle”?

My response: Crum 400b: TBNE: beast, domestic animal; used in translated texts for ox, ass, camel, sheep, goat, mule, oxen.

Tony: 2. At 52, 4-6 DeConick has “The first [is Ath]eth, the one who is called the ‘Good One,’” while Meyer has “The first is [Se]th, who is called Christ.” Again, what is the Coptic?

My response: The Coptic is an abbreviation: ChS. This abbreviation is used in Coptic literature for chrestos and for christos. Both are common. By the way, Layton even mentions this confusion over this abbreviation in the Coptic literature in his new lessons book (see section 17). So we must distinguish them from context. Since Christ is never an Archon, it is probably chrestos, "the good one". This is a well known title for Athoth, an Archon in the Sethian literature. He is to be associated with the moon, as I am finding out in my recent research on this Archon. As I have said in my book, I think that Athoth is the Archon in the partial lacunae, not Seth.

Tony: 3. At 33, 19-21 DeConick has “Often he did not appear to his disciples, but when necessary, you would find him in their midst,” while Meyer has “Many a time he does not appear as himself to his disciples, but you find him as a child among them.” Both editors note the difficulties in translating this passage. One student thought the key to the solution might be in the words translated “as himself”—if this is present in the manuscript, he asked, then “as a child” might be the superior reading. So, what is in the manuscript?

My response: The word in question is hrot. Meyer has translated this "as a child" from a Boharic Coptic word that is not quite the form that we have in the Coptic Judas (Crum, 631a-b). In fact, the spelling is not the Boharic spelling. So this Boharic translation is highly unlikely, and I wouldn't make any arguments based on it. Instead, our expression probably comes from htor, which means "necessity". So the literal translation would be "in necessity". The scribe has inverted the t and the r. As for "as himself", this personal pronoun is suffixed directly to the verb "reveal" as it should be. Coptic requires this sort of suffixing. Jesus is revealing himself. That is all it means.

4. In 40, 5-6 DeConick has “and generations of the impious will remain faithful to him,” while Meyer has “and generations of pious people will cling to him.” So, what is it: pious or impious?

Response: This is an editorial mistake that has to be corrected in my revised edition. My hand notes (which is how I work out my translations) have "pious" (which is correct according to the Coptic transcription). I have not been able to trace how the error came into the proof. I apologize for not catching this in proof, but it will be corrected in reprint.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-15-08

"Listen, O soul, to my advice.
Do not become a den for foxes and snakes,
nor a hole for serpents and asps,
nor a lair for lions,
nor a shelter for vipers.
When these things happen to you,
O soul, what will you do?
For these are the Powers of the Adversary.
You were a temple.
You made yourself a tomb.
Stop being a tomb, and become a temple again,
so that uprightness and divinity may remain in you.
Light the light within you.
Do not put it out."

Teaching of Silvanus 105.28-106.3, 10-15 (an Alexandrian Christian writing)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Symposium on Early Christian Art at Kimbell Museum

It has come to my attention that there is a symposium planned at the beginning of March to go along with the terrific exhibition of early Christian art at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth. Here are the details from the website advertising it. Again, this is something not to miss.

Symposium on Early Christian Art

Saturday and Sunday, March 1–2, 2008

A two-day symposium featuring distinguished scholars from Europe and America will discuss various aspects of the function of Christian art, including its use in the format of Christian self-identity. The symposium will be moderated by the curator of the exhibition, Jeffery Spier of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

This symposium has been made possible by a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation.

Welcome and Introductions
Saturday, March 1
10:15 a.m.
Malcolm Warner, acting director, Kimbell Art Museum, and
Timothy Potts, director, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

Temple, Church, and Synagogue: The Evolution of Religious Architecture in the World of Early Christianity
Saturday, March 1
10:30–11:30 a.m.
L. Michael White, R. N. Smith Endowed Chair in Classics and Religious Studies; director, Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, department of classics, University of Texas at Austin

Emblems of Catholic Identity in Rome and North Africa
Saturday, March 1
11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Annewies van den Hoek, lecturer on Greek and Latin, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Images at the Christian Tomb: What They Do and What They Expect
Saturday, March 1
2–3 p.m.
Ann Marie Yasin, assistant professor, department of classics and art history, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Fountains, Apses, and the Meaning of Water
Saturday, March 1
3–4 p.m.
Beat Brenk, full professor of Early Christian and medieval archaeology, Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza," Italy

The Earliest Christian Decorated Books: Function and Use
Sunday, March 2
11 a.m.–noon
John Lowden, professor, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Art and Liturgical Disposition in Early Christian Churches
Sunday, March 2
1:30–2:30 p.m.
Sible L. de Blaauw, Van der Meer chair of Early Christian art and architecture, Department of the History of Art, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, The Netherlands

"Countless Imaginations" and the Authentic Likeness of Christ
Sunday, March 2
2:30–3:30 p.m.
Herbert L. Kessler, professor of the history of art, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Sunday, March 2
3:30–4:30 p.m.

Apocryphote of the Day: Valentine's Day

"Like this, the soul again made herself beautiful. [She hastened] to enjoy her lover, and he too loved her. And when she made love with him, she received from him seed, which is the spirit that gives life. She bears good children and raises them. For this is the great perfect wonderful birth. So this marriage is consummated by the will of the Father.
The soul needs to regenerate herself and become as she was at first. So the soul moves. And she received divinity from the Father. She caused her rejuvenation so that she should be restored to where she was from the first.
This is the resurrection from the dead.
This is the redemption from captivity.
This is the ascent to heaven.
This is the road up to the Father."

Exegesis on the Soul
133.32-134.16 (A Valentinian text) (trans. DeConick)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Picturing the Bible at Kimbell Art Museum

On display at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is a manuscript page I have always wanted to see. It is The Ascension from the Rabbula Gospels, Syria 586, vellum, Cod. Plut. I. 56, Fol. 13v (Biblioteca Mdicea Laurenziana, Florence). I have been fascinated with this rendering of Christ for years, since he is standing on nothing less than the wheeled merkavah!

If you are in Texas, go and see this exhibit. I haven't been yet. But as soon as the Codex Judas Congress is over, it is on my list of things to do. Maybe I will even try to organize a "field trip" with some of my students. It appears to be a gorgeous exhibit that is NOT traveling.

The Kimbell's website describes it as follows:

The Kimbell Art Museum announces Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, a landmark exhibition of the earliest works of art illustrating the Old and New Testaments that will be on view from November 18, 2007, to March 30, 2008. Developed and organized by the Kimbell (its exclusive venue), and guest-curated by Dr. Jeffrey Spier of the University of Arizona, this highly important exhibition draws upon recent research and new discoveries to tell the story of how the earliest Christians first gave visual expression to their religious beliefs....

For more prose about the exhibition, CLICK HERE.

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-13-08

Truly truly
Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus on the right hand
Living water
Servant of the servant
Glorious Name
Truly truly
truly truly
O He-Who-Is
Who sees the Aeons
Truly truly
He-Who-Is forever
Truly truly
In the heart
He-Who-Is forever and ever
You are what you are
You are who you are.

This is my own translation of a beautiful baptismal hymn found in the Holy Book of the Invisible Spirit 66.10-22. Interspersed in the hymn are vowels that were sung to bring harmony to the spheres. So old is this liturgy that some of the lines are retained in Greek, although the letters are Coptic. This suggests that the retention of the Greek was part of its liturgical performance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 2-12-08

"'Behold, I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved. Understand and know that you may come forth from the body and be as I am. Behold, I shall reveal to you what is hidden. Reach out your hand and take hold of me.' At once I reached out my hands, but I did not find him as I thought he would be. After this I heard him say, 'Understand, and take hold of me.' Then I understood, and I was afraid, yet I was exceedingly joyful." Second Apocalypse of James 57.3-20 (unknown Gnostic affiliation).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day

In order to highlight the fact that "heresy" depends on where you are standing, and that the people who wrote the literature that we call "apocryphal" of "parabiblical", were "living" their religion, I am going to begin posting "Apocryphotes", or daily readings from the apocrypha.

"It is written in the Psalms, 'I have been deeply troubled in my groaning, I shall drench my bed and cover each night with my tears. I have become old among all my enemies. Depart from me, all you who do lawless things, for look, the Lord has heard the cry of my weeping, and the Lord has heard my prayer.' If we truly repent, God, who is patient and abundant in mercy, will hear us. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Exegesis on the Soul 137.15-26 (A Valentinian text).

The problem with the Church Fathers testimonies about the Gospel of Judas

Eric Mader sent along his review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, which he posted on "Necessary Prose". Here is the link to his review. One paragraph of it struck me as particularly intuitive. Mader writes:
"I suspect, however, that if the National Geographic team's interpretation is flawed as DeConick claims, it is not a matter of the scholars unconsciously seeking to assuage a collective guilt. More likely it is simply a result of them working from their expectations of what the text was supposed to contain. All the scholars on the team, for instance, would have known of the Church Fathers' descriptions of the gospel, and these descriptions would have inclined them to preconceive a positive portrait of Judas, which in turn would have influenced their translation choices--one line at a time. Building up their own portrait step by step, and leaning meanwhile on their expectations of what the gospel was supposed to contain, once their translation was finished none of them would have gone back and questioned too carefully the individual snippets. But, as DeConick shows, those snippets added up."

In my own analysis of the Gospel of Judas, I purposely kept away from the Church Fathers. And I continue to find them not only unhelpful in terms of the Gospel of Judas, but downright harmful in terms of interpretation. Why? Because:
1. We don't know if any of them actually had a copy of the Gospel of Judas, or merely were writing from rumors that were circulating about the Gospel of Judas.

2. We don't know if any of them had the copy of Judas that we now possess.

3. Pseudo-Tertullian's and Epiphanius' descriptions of the Gospel of Judas are UNLIKE the Gospel of Judas we possess. This makes me conclude that neither of these theologians possessed or read the Gospel of Judas we have now.

4. Irenaeus' description has some affinities, but ONLY in that Judas THE TRAITOR is said to know more than the others, and that his BETRAYAL resulted in cosmic chaos.

5. If Irenaeus had a copy and read a copy of the Gospel of Judas we have, I am not certain that he understood it. If he did, was he being generous and characterizing it accurately? Or not?
My approach to the Gospel of Judas is simple. Forget about the Church Fathers and what they say. Read the Gospel of Judas and figure out what IT says. Then go back and critique what the Church Fathers say.

When this is done, we find out that the Church Fathers weren't reading the Gospel of Judas we possess, except maybe Irenaeus. But rather than associating the authorship of this text with Sethian traditions as he should have done, he wrongly connects the writing of this text with an unnamed group of Gnostics who he says think that the villains of the scripture are the good guys whom Sophia saves. But our text mentions none of these villains - neither Cain nor Esau nor Korah nor the Sodomites - nor does it mention Sophia saving anyone. This means that either Irenaeus was doing this to be polemical, or he wasn't reading our Gospel of Judas.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Page 123 of the book nearest me

I haven't been officially tagged by anyone, but upon reading tags by Jim Davila and others, here is the book closest to me right now: the Critical Edition of the Tchacos Codex (Kasser, Wurst, et. al.). In fact, it is sitting here open next to my computer. My Coptic class has begun to translate both versions of the First Apocalypse of James so we are working on making a synopsis edition, and I am writing about this text as I prepare my paper for the Codex Judas Congress.

p. 123, the first five lines of the Critical Edition happen to come from the First Apocalypse of James!
"As for me, I have come from the image of the One Who Is to show you the One Who Is. And I have also come to show you the image of the powers, so that the children of the One Who Is may understand what is theirs and what is not theirs" (trans. Kasser, Wurst, et. al.).
What is my translation of this passage?
"As for me, I have come from the image of He-Who-Is. Also I have come to tell you all about the image of the Powers, so that the children of He-Who-Is might know theirs and those who are not theirs" (trans. DeConick).
By the way, the Nag Hammadi version is very different:
"I brought from the image of [...] so that these children of He-Who-Is might understand which ones are theirs and which ones are strangers."
Either we are dealing with different Greek recensions which are being translated, or these scribes are treating whatever they are translating as they might handle oral traditions, or a little of both.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lent Begins

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Convergence and Historical Hermeneutics

As I work on writing my paper for the Codex Judas Conference, I have been thinking about astrology and the idea of sympathy or correspondence, the old saying "as in heaven, so on earth". This has led me to further thoughts about the job of the historian interpreting these ancient documents. Is locating anything close to "authorial intent" possible? Because texts are what readers say they are, does that mean that the historical inquiry is without merit? Since texts are multivalent in terms of their interpretation, is there a point to historical methods?

Certainly this is not a new discussion to this blog. But what is new to me is something that is sort of in my peripheriel vision, not quite focused clearly. It has something to do with convergences or correspondences. Although a text can be multivalent in its interpretation, not all interpretations are historical, nor are all historical interpretations equally convincing. Why is this (here I am speaking of the latter observation)? Because some historical interpretations have a more convincing frame, have more elements that converge with what we know from other literature (and material remains).

What should govern our historical inquiry so that the convergences or correspondences with other information is the fullest it can be? I can think of several things. First, the frame that I want to use when I am discussing any given text is traditional. That is, I want to make sure that the text I'm discussing is being discussed against the frame of its tradition(s). If the text is Valentinian, then I want to talk about it within the pool of Valentinian literature and information that we have access to, and I want to do it against texts that are regionally and chronologically similar (if at all possible). So besides framing it traditionally, I also want to frame it geographically and chronologically.

The other frame I try on is an oppositional one. Are there texts which are competing with the ideology, the sociology, the narrative of the one I'm studying (again, always with regionality and chronology in mind)? What can be known from this comparison?

The final frame I try on is turning to material external to the particular tradition (i.e, not Valentinian) to see if the discussion in my text is being developed or discussed in other places? What can be gained from this frame? is a question I then pursue.

I find this way of working to be very valuable and honest, because it transcends in many ways the interpretative cavern that post-modernity has left us with. But this is hard work, and it requires historians to become more careful and sensitive exegetes. It means that we have to try to work from inside the texts and traditions we have, rather than imposing on them our own wishes for their meaning.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Looting of the Baghdad Museum

The Archaeological Institute of America, Houston Society has an interesting lecture scheduled for Thursday, February 14 (yes, Valentine's Day!), 7 pm, The Hilton Hotel, University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun.

Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, Former Director of the Baghdad Museum will be talking about "The Looting of the Baghdad Museum: A Loss of a Nation's Memory".

He will speak about the fate of the Museum and its collection of priceless artifacts that have been lost.

Tickets: 281-497-7382 or at AIA-HOUSTON.COM

Coffee and Dessert Reception to follow at 8:30 pm.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kevin Edgecomb's January Carnival

I usually don't post on the carnivals because so many other bloggers do. So I figure that my readers probably already know about them, especially by the time I get around to reading them myself. But I just read Kevin's carnival covering January blogging, and it is truly amazing. If you haven't seen it yet, take a look. It is one to bookmark.

Faces from the Talpiot Conference

Here is a group photo of those of us who went to the Qumran excursion the day before the Talpiot Conference. In the front row is Valerie Hemingway, Lee McDonald, Geza Vermes, Jim Charlesworth, Leah, James Tabor, Ann Brock, Mrs. Feuerverger, Andrey Feuerverger. In the second row is Lamar Barden, Alan Segal, Konstantinos Zarras, John Hoffmann, Eric Meyers, Dick Darden, Mrs. Pokorny, Petr Pokorny, and me. It was a wonderful excursion with Professor Vermes giving us a lecture on site about his memoirs translating the Dead Sea Scrolls into English, and Professor Charlesworth walking us through the ruins.

Some of us tried to climb up to one of the caves. This is not a hike for the weary. I kept thinking, if the latrine is really behind that rock cropping, I guarantee I would have had a hard time being part of this community! My experience also got me to think long and hard about the idea that these caves are in some way a library. They are not easily accessible by any means. In fact, none of us was able to actually get to the cave we were headed for. So I'm starting to think about these caves as repositories for the literature during a time of crisis, that is the years of the Jewish War, to hide them. It is also possible that some of the caves were used as places to bury copies of sacred texts that needed to be discarded for whatever reason. But a library where people come and go, carrying manuscripts back and forth to read? I don't think so.

Setting up the Codex Judas Congress

I've been too busy to contribute much to the blogsphere lately. Since returning from Jerusalem, I've been working on some of the final details for the Codex Judas Congress, which is turning out to have a fabulous agenda thanks to the now thirty-five (!) scholars and graduate students who will be coming to Rice University the week of March 13-16. I keep adding abstracts to the website as the authors send them to me. So check it out every now and then. I moved the scholars and abstracts to a separate subpage on the Codex Judas site. You will find a draft of the schedule too.