Monday, March 31, 2008

Codex Judas Congress feature news story

Bryan Ellis has written a very poignant piece covering the Codex Judas Congress at Rice University. His piece appeared in the Rice Thresher NEWS on Friday, March 21, 2008.

Though Rice may have been taken over by the excitement of Willy Week and Beer-Bike, the academic community was focused on another big event on campus last week. The Codex Judas Congress, which was put together by Religious Studies Professor April DeConick, took place Mar. 13-16 in Farnsworth Pavilion, and various buildings across campus.

Thirty scholars from around the world came to discuss the recently rediscovered Tchacos Codex, a fourth century collection of Gnostic documents from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In addition to the scholars invited to participate, there were also five papers presented by graduate students, including religious studies graduate students Chad Day, Franklin Trammel and Claire Villarrael. Other graduate students attended as auditors, as did several members of the Houston community.

DeConick said she was pleased with the attendance. The 45 seats set up in Farnsworth for the congress were filled to capacity on Thursday. Likewise, the two evening lectures given to the general public nearly filled McMurtry Hall. DeConick said she estimates the event drew about 200 attendees each night.

The Tchacos Codex, particularly the Gospel of Judas it contains, is very important in the scholarly community at the moment. These texts reveal the self-perception of a "heretical" religious community that had previously been known only through the condemnation of early church fathers like Irenaeus.

One of the few unanimous conclusions of the congress was that the Gospel of Judas condemned the church fathers.

"This text is a polemical text of the mainstream or apostolic church, especially in terms of its sacraments," DeConick said.

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-31-08

The Father is [the root] of everything, the [Ineffable One] who dwells in the Monad. [He dwells alone] in Silence, [and Silence is] tranquility since, after all, [he was] a Monad and no one [was] before him. He dwells [in the Dyad] and in the Pair, and his Pair is Silence. And he possessed everything dwelling within him. And as for Intention and Persistence, Love and Permanence, they are indeed unbegotten. God came forth: the Son, Mind of everything, that is, it is from the Root of the All that even his Thought stems, since he had this One in Mind.

A Valentinian Exposition 22.20-36

Comment: Another passage to consider in our discussion of modalism and trinitarianism. How might we describe the Valentinian position in relation to other second century attempts to frame the trinitarian problem?

On the difference between trinitarianism and modalism

In response to a question raised in one of the comments, I thought I'd address this in a main blog post.

First trinitarianism did not exist at the time that modalism was popular and condemned - late second and early third centuries. Trinitarianism is a doctrine that was developed by the two Gregories and Basil in the fourth century.

With that in mind, modalism was the belief that the doctrine "God is One" must be preserved at all costs. So the modalists taught that God is one persona and three activities. He is GOD acting out in history as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no difference in GOD, only that HE has different names or modes. The problem that Tertullian had with their being no individuation of any kind is that this means that the Father suffered and died too. Although this is a heresy today, this is the way that most Christians in the pews still understand the Christian God. There is GOD and he is a Father (with a white beard sitting on a throne in heaven), a Son (Jesus Christ incarnate on earth), and a Spirit (charismatic activity in the church until Jesus comes again).

The Trinity is a doctrine that took on philosophical terms to try to explain the Christian God. It was framed with the concept of the universal and particulars. The idea is that there can be three different or "particular" horses in the stable - Lightening, Blaze, and Bolt. All of them, however, are horses because they share in a universal "horseness". This concept is applied to God where God is the universal and Father and Son and Holy Spirit are the particulars. They taught that there was no difference in the divine nature or ousia, only in the relations of the particulars to each other. It is the development of the idea of Tertullian that God is one substance and three persona. The Cappadocians said that different characteristics of the three (for instance, "unbegotten," "begotten," "proceeding") were not characteristics designating the divine nature, but only of the particular mode of the divine nature. The "sameness" of nature was an equality or likeness of substance, not a unity of substance.

Of course the Trinity borders on polytheism, which the Cappadocians were accused of - in their case creating a doctrine of three, even four gods. This is still the opinion of critics of this doctrine. The Cappadocians responded by affirming that the nature was indivisible and that the category of number cannot really be applied to GOD. Only material beings can be numbered. The biggest problem with the Trinity framed in this way, however, is that the distinctions, the particulars, make no difference at the transcendent level. In the transcendent realm these differences cannot be maintained, but were only put into place to deal with the doctrine of incarnation to explain the difference between Jesus and God, and yet to allow for worship of Jesus as GOD. The Cappadocians knew this and so in the final moment say that the Trinity cannot be grasped by the intellect, but only by means of mystical participation in the liturgy, in the Eucharist on the altar.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-27-08

To be able to speak about things exalted, we need to begin with the Father, who is the root of everything. From him, we have received grace to speak about him. He existed before anything other than himself came into being. The Father is a single one, like a number, for he is the first one and the one who is only himself. Yet he is not like a solitary individual. Otherwise, how could he be a father? For whenever there is a "father," the name "son" follows. But the single one, who alone is the Father, is like a root with a tree, branches, and fruit.

The Tripartite Tractate 51.1-20 (Valentinian, end of second century)

Comment: Note how the language and the topic of discussion is part of a dialogue among the second century church theologians about the nature of the Father and his relationship with the Son. The metaphor used is common among the theologians at this time, and is used by Tertullian in order to argue for three persona and one substantia in an oikonomia when he takes on Modalism.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Codex Judas Congress Group Photo

Here is our esteemed group, unfortunately missing John Turner, Louis Painchaud, and Wolf-Peter Funk!

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-26-08

"In my weakness, do not forsake me,
and do not be afraid of my power.
For why do you hate my fear
and curse my pride?
But I am she who exists in all fears
and strength in trembling.
I am she who is weak,
and I am well in a pleasant place.
I am senseless and wise.
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless and ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear."

Thunder: Perfect Mind (15.20-30, 14.26-31)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: Easter Sunday

They nailed him to the tree, and they fixed him with four nails of brass. The veil of his temple he tore with his hands. It was a trembling which seized the chaos of the earth, for the souls which were in the sleep below were released. And they arose. They went about boldly, having shed zealous service of ignorance and unlearnedness beside the dead tombs, having put on the new man, since they have come to know that perfect Blessed One of the eternal and incomprehensible Father and the infinite light, which is I, since I came to my own and united them with myself.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Apocryphote: Easter Eve

Then the ruler of Hades said, "Who is this? What is it? His word has abolished the law of the aeon. He is from the Logos of the power of life." And Jesus was victorious over the command of the archons, and they were not able by their work to rule over him.

The archons searched after that which had come to pass. They did not know that this is the sign of their dissolution, and that it is the change of the aeon. The sun set during the day; that day became dark. The evil spirits were troubled. And after these things he will appear ascending. And the sign of the aeon that is to come will appear. And the aeons will dissolve.

And those who would know these things that were discussed with them, will become blessed. And they will reveal them, and they will become blessed, since they will come to know the truth. For you have found rest in the heavens.

Concept of Our Great Power

Friday, March 21, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: Good Friday

I, Peter, saw Jesus in this way, as if he were being arrested by them. And I said, "What do I see, O Lord? Is it actually you they are taking? Are you holding onto me? Who is on the cross, glad and laughing? Is it another person whose feet and hands they are hammering?" The Savior said to me, "The person you see on the cross, glad and laughing, is the living Jesus. The one whose hands and feet are being hammered with nails is his flesh, which is what is given in exchange"...I saw someone about to approach us. He resembled the person who was laughing on the cross. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was the Savior. There was a great ineffable light around them. A number of ineffable and invisible angels were praising them.

Apocalypse of Peter 81.3-21, 82.4-14 (trans. by DeConick)

Ferrini Auction Report

Today in The Plain Dealer, the Ohio newspaper, it was reported that the Ferrini auction has taken place. As for the missing Tchacos Codex pages and the Dead Sea Scroll fragments:
Ferrini's most valuable items, including Dead Sea Scroll fragments, were not in the auction. Ownership is still in dispute and is likely to be settled in court, Haley said.

Other rarities withheld from the auction include fragments of the Book of Exodus and papyrus fragments of the Gospel of Judas, which purports to record conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot in the last week of their lives.

Thanks to Stephen Goranson for sending me this announcement.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-21-08

Jesus said, "You (Judas) will do worse than all of them (the disciples). For the man that clothes me, you will sacrifice him. Already your horn has been raised, and your wrath kindled, and your star ascended, and your heart [become strong]."

Gospel of Judas 56.17-24 (trans. by DeConick)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-20-08

"Then their high priests murmured because he had gone into the guest room for his prayer. Some scribes were there watching carefully in order to arrest him during the prayer. For they were afraid of the people, since he was held by all as a prophet. And they approached Judas. They said to him, 'What are you doing here? Aren't you the disciple of Jesus?' He answered them as they wished. Then Judas received some money. He handed him over to them."

Gospel of Judas 58.9-26 (trans. by DeConick)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Codex Judas Congress Report 2

The CJC did result in at least one consensus. It was agreed that the Gospel of Judas was written as a critique of mainstream or Apostolic Christianity. The twelve disciples were understood to be negative figures, giving homage to Ialdabaoth-Nebro-Saklas. What was the critique about? All agreed that the eucharist was being critiqued in the text. Some thought also baptism.

Jim Robinson raised a series of questions in his paper about the state of affairs with the Tchacos Codex. Gregor Wurst provided some of the answers. He said that he continues to work on placing the fragments which are found in the back of The Critical Edition. He encouraged everyone to work on trying to place them. He said that he doesn't know when the Codex will be returned to Egypt. He has heard 2010. At the moment, it is in the possession of the Maecenas Foundation and Mario Roberty. It is housed at the Bodmer Library and access is regulated by a written protocol which scholars must follow.

Gregor Wurst told us that he first saw the papyri in August 2004. He said that his initial interpretation of the Gospel of Judas was influenced by Irenaeus' testimony. When the team wrote their book, The Gospel of Judas, they didn't have any idea what pp. 55-56 said because the big island fragment had not been placed yet. Gregor placed it in Fall 2005-Spring 2006 when the book was already in print. He was able to stop the press and insert the translation, but could not use the information to rewrite the interpretation. This is the page that links Judas' sacrifice with the sacrifices mentioned earlier, and that Judas wouldn't ascend beyond the thirteenth realm. My own memory of my initial reaction to the Gospel of Judas when I read it for the first time was a feeling of dread when I came across this very passage. This is the passage that signaled for me that Judas was serving the demiurge, and that the NGS interpretation was off.

More later...

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-18-08

"Then a great disturbance occurred. The archons raised their wrath against him. They wanted to hand him over to the ruler of Hades. Then, one of his followers, they recognized. A fire took hold of his (Judas') soul. He handed him over, since no one recognized him. They acted and arrested him. They brought upon themselves judgment. And they handed him over to the ruler of Hades."

The Concept of Our Great Power (41.14-29) trans. by DeConick

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two more pages of the Gospel of Judas?

Upon closer read of the Ferrini auction article mentioned in my previous post, there appears to be two more pages of the Gospel of Judas in his possession. According to the article:

Bowers declined to put a value on the Gospel of Judas fragments, and said doing so would be irrelevant, as his client has promised to donate the artifact to Egypt, where it can be properly archived, displayed and studied.

Ferrini is expected to give a deposition Monday in a Summit County courtroom regarding the ownership. Bowers said Ferrini has produced two more pages of the Judas text and has indicated he will give up claims of ownership. Ferrini's attorney, Tim McKinzie,did not respond to a request for comment.

Now we can't be sure that these pages are from the Gospel of Judas, but are likely part of the Tchacos Codex. Which pages? This is most tense and infuriating. Who is he going to give up ownership to?

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-17-08

"I am seeking the Kingdom of the Three-Powered One, which has no beginning."

Marsanes 6.18-20 (a late third century Sethian Platonized treatise from Nag Hammadi)

Bruce Ferrini's Auction

Jim West has pointed out the Bruce Ferrini auction. The news report says that it does not include the rest of the fragments of the Gospel of Judas (actually they are the fragments of the rest of the Tchacos Codex!), or fragments from the book of Exodus and Colossians.

Wow, is this the book of Exodus and the letters of Paul that were also found with the Tchacos Codex? Remember, there were three other books in that limestone box found in a tomb near Al Minya. A greek version of Exodus and the Coptic letters of Paul and a mathematical book. Fragments of Exodus and the mathematical book have shown up in various collections around the world, but the letters of Paul seem to have vanished. Is this part of that book? It very well might be given that Ferrini possessed the Tchacos Codex, and now appears to have parts of the Exodus book and a letter of Paul.

Please please if you possess any of these fragments, or know of people who bought from Bruce Ferrini, contact me or Gregor Wurst. These materials need to be preserved and conserved properly for future generations, not to speak of the importance they hold in reconstructing our own past religious histories. They are not just artifacts. They are part of our common story.

Codex Judas Congress Report 1

Sorry that I haven't been on the blog for several days, but the CJC was very intense and I didn't even have time to check e-mail let alone blog.

I am happy to report that the CJC was immensely successful. Thirty scholars attended and about ten graduate students, as well as many public auditors. The two public lectures filled our auditorium. The atmosphere was one of cooperation and work. There was no chair-throwing which many attendees expected. Instead it turned out to be a model conference for scholarly exchange and understanding. I wish in fact that we could have started out our study of the Gospel of Judas with just such a conference, and then moved to the work on the critical edition and public translation together. There are many things that we learned from each other. Very good questions were raised. And scholars were very open and generous with their knowledge.

What did we accomplish? As for the figure Judas, there were four positions that were maintained by various scholars. The hero Judas is being seriously challenged now by a large number of scholars, in fact most who attended. The room was mainly split between those who think that he is ambiguous in the text and those who think that he is a negative character, a demon. There were a few who were advocates for the agnostic stance - "I don't know."

Gregor Wurst showed us a new fragment that he has put together. It says "servant of Saklas" but he doesn't know where in the text it should be placed yet. Should it be placed on p. 56? We don't know. But this fragment in such a context would support the idea that the apostles (or Judas) are making sacrifices to Saklas as his servants!

The room was evenly split on who enters the cloud, and seriously good arguments were made for both Jesus and Judas. We all agreed that this missing page is the page that we really want to find. If any of you have purchased a fragment of this text on e-bay or anywhere else (or know someone who has) PLEASE I beg you to contact me or Gregor Wurst. We need every fragment of this text that we can find to make the proper reconstructions.

More later...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Codex Judas Congress is almost here!

Just a reminder that this very special event is on the horizon. In two days, we will be convening the Codex Judas Congress. This is the first international conference to study the Tchacos Codex, the fourth century book that contains the Gospel of Judas and other important Gnostic documents.

Thirty scholars will be participating in round table presentations and discussions. Each scholar is contributing a paper. The forum is a working conference, with the intention to think tank together about this new material. What does it tell us about early Christianity that we didn't know before? That we knew before? What can we learn about Gnostic-Christian-Jewish relations?

HERE is the link to information about the CJC, including the daily schedule and scholars' abstracts.

There will be two public lectures in the evenings. If you are in the Houston area, you may wish to join us for these.

Professor Marvin Meyer and Professor Gregor Wurst
Reconstructing an Ancient Papyri Book:
How the Gospel of Judas was Restored and the Questions It Raises
Thursday, March 13, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Duncan Hall, 1055, the McMurtry Auditorium

Professor Elaine Pagels and Professor Karen King
What Else Didn’t We Know about the Early Christians?

Friday, March 14, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Duncan Hall, 1055, the McMurtry Auditorium

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-11-08

"Be earnest about the word! For as to the word, its first part is faith, the second is love, the third is works. From these comes life...You can receive the kingdom of heaven. But unless you receive it through knowledge, you will not be able to find it."

Apocryphon of James 8.10-15, 25-27 (ca. mid-second century; probably Valentinian text)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thirteenth Apostle Discussion Questions

Many have written me and e-mailed me with questions and advice about my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. A woman who wrote one of the letters was concerned that she only learned about my book by accident when she came across the article that was written on it in National Review. She said she thought that information about it should be made more readily available to churches and adult education classes. So I took her good advice, and I created and posted a series of discussion questions for The Thirteenth Apostle. And my publisher put together an ad to circulate for this purpose. Check it out HERE.

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-10-08

Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon the world. And look! I am guarding it until it blazes."

Gospel of Thomas 10 (trans. DeConick)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-7-08

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman carrying a jar filled with meal. While she was walking on the road still a long way out, the handle of her jar broke. Behind her, the meal leaked out onto the road. She did not realize it. She had not noticed a problem. When she arrived at her house, she put the jar down and found it empty."

Gospel of Thomas 97 (trans. by DeConick).

Book Note: Mystery of the Book of Revelation (Cameron Afzal)

A nice surprise showed up in my mailbox. Ron Afzal has published his book on Revelation with Mellon Press. It is a new study of Revelation from the perspective of social and communal memory studies. The book is called The Mystery of the Book of Revelation: Reenvisioning the End of Time. Because it is published by a small press, it is not cheap. So look for it in libraries or ask your library to order it.

If you think that the message of the book of Revelation has been resolved - you are certain that it is an early Christian apocalypse about the future yet-to-come, a reality-not-yet-lived - then this book is for you. Afzal reassesses Revelation from the viewpoint of a biblical historian ensconced within literary and social memory theories. Thus he shows a concept of parallel times - how the prophecies of John of Patmos recast the past in terms of John's perceptions of the present experiences of the early Christian communities in Asia Minor. The eschatology in Revelation is not about an unfulfilled and virtual future, but is about the intended audience's present experiences.

Reading John's eschatology in this way raises many important issues for me, not the least of which is the significance of the often-overlooked mystical dimension of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is not just about the cataclysmic future. It is about the seer's involvement with heavenly mysteries and worship in the present, and his relaying of that to the faithful in the present, as a reminder that although in this world they are suffering, they are not of this world. Along with the seer, they have been transported into the heavenly world, and worship before God's throne. The seer's visions are reminders, reassurances that all is well. God is in control, and their life with him forever is blessed and secure.

This is a condensation of a short preface I wrote for Ron's book (pp. i-iii).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-6-08

"Until baptism Fate is real, but after it the astrologers are no longer right. It is not only the washing that is liberating, but the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, to where we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth."

Theodotus as recorded by Clement of Alexandria (Excerpts of Theodotus 78.1-2). Theodotus was a Valentinian teacher in the east in the mid- to late second century.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-5-08

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman. She took a little yeast. She buried it in dough. She made the dough into large bread loaves. Whoever has ears should listen!"

Gospel of Thomas 96, trans. by DeConick

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-4-08

Jesus said, "Adam was given the power that he might choose what he wanted from the two. And he chose the light and stretched out his hand and took it. He left the darkness and withdrew from it. Likewise every man is given the ability to believe in the light. This is the life of the Father who sent me. And whoever has believed in me will live, if he has done the work of light."

Epistula Apostolorum 39 (Ethiopic version) ca. late second century

Commentary: This is considered an early "catholic" or "orthodox" text. Yet look at the reference to Adam. His action (taking the apple in his hand) is the right decision. This is usually considered a gnostic reading of the Genesis story. So much for such categories in the second century!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Paterson Brown's Hypertext of Gospel of Thomas

Paterson Brown of the Ecumenical Coptic Project has just finished his hypertext interlinear of the Gospel of Thomas. Check it out HERE.

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-3-08

"And after that I heard voices in the height of heaven saying, 'Present that wretched soul to God, so that it may know that it is God whom it despised.' When it had entered heaven all the angels saw it. A thousand thousand exclaimed with one voice, all saying, 'Woe to you wretched soul, for the sake of your works which you did on earth. What answer are you about to give God when you have approached to adore him?' The angel who was with it answered and said, 'Weep with me, my beloved, for I have not found rest in this soul.'...And there came the voice of God to it and said, 'Where is your fruit which you have made worthy of the goods which you have received? Have I put a distance of one day between you and the just person? Did I not make the sun to rise upon you as upon the just?'"

The Apocalypse of Paul 16 (Greek version; NOT NHC) ca. second century.

Commentary: Origen in hom. V in Psalmos 36 describes the fate of souls after death. His description seems to be drawn from chapters 13ff. of this Apocalypse of Paul.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop kidnapped in Baghdad

This just in my e-mail from the Mandaean list-serve. More bad news from Baghdad. When is this going to end?

From the Associated Press:

Gunmen abducted a Chaldean Catholic archbishop soon after he left Mass in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the latest in what church members called a series of attacks against Iraq's small Christian community.

The gunmen killed three people who were with Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, said Iraqi Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul Sattar, a spokesman for the Ninevah province police.

It was not known who was behind the kidnapping, said an aide to Iraq's Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the church.

"This act of abduction against a Christian clergy member will increase our fears and worries about the situation of Christians in Iraq," said Archbishop Andreos Abouna.

The Chaldean church is an Eastern-rite denomination that recognizes the authority of the pope and is aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican said in a statement the fact that the gunmen knew Rahho had been celebrating a religious rite indicated the kidnapping was premeditated.