Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birger Pearson speaks out publically about the Gospel of Judas

This is just published in BAR. Birger Pearson does an outstanding job (yet again!) making sense of it all in an full article on the Gospel of Judas called, "Judas Iscariot Among the Gnostics." I highly recommend reading the entire piece. Here Pearson weighs in as a "revisionist" and has some of his own words to say about the National Geographic fiasco.

A highlight:
Scholarly criticism of the National Geographic interpretation of the Gospel of Judas has been widespread. My own assessment of their work was presented in a paper at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego in November 2007. After I had prepared that paper, I received a copy of April DeConick’s new book [The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (New York: Continuum, 2007)]. I am happy to say that she and I have independently come to very similar conclusions regarding what the Gospel of Judas really says about Judas. There are others as well. In a very recent book, one of the National Geographic scholars, Marvin Meyer, refers to three scholars who have proposed “a revisionist understanding” of the Gospel of Judas. In addition to DeConick, Meyer names Louis Painchaud of the University of Laval, Quebec, and John Turner of the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, all outstanding Gnostic scholars. This is not to denigrate the distinguished reputation of the National Geographic scholars, only to emphasize the growing scholarly dissatisfaction with their work. I am happy to count myself as one of the group that Meyer calls “revisionists.”

Who Knew Judas?

Rice University has an very interesting website that has a fun feature I just discovered. Yesterday someone stopped me and said, "Hey, I saw you on Who Knew?" I probably looked dumbfounded. What is Who Knew? Check it out HERE. Click on Judas and a story window opens up.

Speaking on behalf of Obama

I usually keep contemporary politics off my blog. But today I am upset enough about what I see happening in the media that I am going to say something here. Now that we have blogs, the media no longer controls all the public information. So my thought is let's use this to our advantage and let's start speaking out and passing a message of hope and reason around the blog world.

Like many of you, I am extremely concerned about the future of our country. I am also extremely concerned that we, the US populace, continue to allow the media to do our thinking for us, and essentially determine the election of the next President of the United States, as it did in the last election. And look at what a disaster that has turned out to be!

Aren't we brighter than this? Don't we realize that the media spins things this way and that way just to keep us entertained and watching TV? They are exploiting knowledge and our emotions, and keeping millions of us from actually talking about what actually matters. And how they do it is through FEAR. They make us afraid of our own shadows. They push all of our deep fear buttons. And the response is predictable.

And they are going at it big time now, feeding the frenzy - all of our fears about race and religion exposed and dumped on Obama. It saddens me greatly. In such a vicious climate, can we ever have another leader with a higher social vision? Or will we end up with the mediocre, and continue as usual?

PASS IT ON: Hope, Reason, Vision!

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-30-08

Release yourselves,
and what has bound you will be dissolved.
Save yourselves,
so that your soul may be saved.
The kind Father has sent you the Savior
and has given you strength.

Why are you hesitating?
Seek when you are sought.
When you are invited,
For the time is short.

Do not be led astray.
Many bonds and chastisers surround you.
Flee quickly before death reaches you.
Look at the light!
Flee the darkness!
Do not be led astray to your destruction.

Zostrianos 131. 10-132.5 (early third century Sethian text)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-29-08

This is the knowledge of the living book that he revealed finally to the aeons as letters. He revealed how they are not just vowels nor consonants for reading, thinking they are without meaning. But they are letters of the truth which are spoken only by those who know them. Each letter is complete like a complete book because they are letters written in unity. The Father wrote them for the aeons so that through his letters they would know the Father.

His wisdom contemplates the Logos,
his teaching utters the Logos,
his knowledge has revealed the Logos,
his patience is a crown upon the Logos,
his joy is in harmony with the Logos,
his glory has exalted the Logos,
his image has revealed the Logos,
his rest has received the Logos into himself,
his love has made a body for the Logos,
his faith has embraced the Logos.

In this way the Logos of the Father goes forth in wholeness, as the fruit of his heart and an impression of his will. The Logos supports the wholeness. He chooses it and also receives the impression of the wholeness, purifying the wholeness, bringing it back into the Father, into the Mother, Jesus of the infinite sweetness.

Gospel of Truth 22.38-24.10 (early second century, perhaps a sermon written by Valentinus)

Monday, April 28, 2008

SBL Announcement about AAR Joint Future Meetings

I just received this in my e-mail from Kent Richards as a general announcement to members of SBL. It is the board's response to AAR's recent announcement to meet simultaneously with SBL again. The bad news appears to be that SBL has scheduled its own meetings until 2013 in Baltimore! That means six years before rejoining?! This is TOO LONG!
The SBL Council discussed this announcement at its meeting on April 26, 2008, and offers the following comment to SBL members.

We are pleased to hear of this new development, and wish to reaffirm our continued interest in meeting at the same time and in the same city as the AAR. The SBL was not involved in the original decision by AAR; nor have we been involved in the present one. We will certainly discuss with AAR the feasibility of meeting in the same city at the traditional time (the weekend before US Thanksgiving) as soon as it is possible given present scheduling commitments and contractual arrangements. We are already scheduled through 2012 (Chicago) and 2013 (Baltimore). Once discussions commence with AAR regarding future concurrent meetings, the SBL Executive Director will report regularly on the progress in making this a practical reality. We firmly believe that holding the SBL Annual Meeting at the same time and in the same city as other organizations involved in the advancement of biblical, religious, theological, and related academic studies is a good idea. It brings together people from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to exchange ideas and build relationships.

Kent Richards
SBL Executive Director

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-28-08

A foolish person does not guard against telling a mystery. A wise person does not blurt out every word. Rather the wise person will be discriminating toward those who listen (to him). Do not mention everything in the presence of those whom you do not know.

Teachings of Silvanus 97.10-18 (Alexandrian text, mid-second century)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Best Wishes to my graduating seniors!

It is that time of year already when some of our students are off to "start" their lives. I want to take a minute to wish the very best to the senior religion majors, and to give a special word of blessing to all those who have worked with me over the last two years. Many of you started with me in my first semester, and have hung in there taking course after course. I am honored to have had you in my classroom, and I have learned from you many things, and been impressed with your desire to know more - even Coptic! So blessings to all and a final word:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

Houston Farris...on to become a minister!
Kate Hicks...on to study law at Harvard!
Jake Schornick...on to study Beowulf and old English!
Roger Sharpe...on to become an attorney!
Meg Shelley...on to become a graphic artist!
Brett Snider...on to become a prosecutor!
Caitlin Thomas...on to become a minister!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Exam question option for my students in Christian Controversies and Creeds

This post will be of interest to my students in Christian Controversies and Creeds. This is an additional question I'm offering on the exam, and can be written in place of one of the questions I have already distributed. If you choose to answer this question, print this blog post and attach it and your answer to the exam.

In the Houston Chronicle on Saturday, there was a piece published on Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church, since Orthodox Easter is being celebrated on April 27. For Holy Week, congregants refrain from eating meat, dairy products, fish, wine and olive oil. They avoid malicious talk and many refrain from sex. Fasting is not a novelty among the Orthodox. They fast 180 days a year, including every Wednesday and Friday. But Lent intensifies the practice.

Here is what the priests and the lay people had to say when describing their tradition:
"People want a passive, entertaining, consumer-driven Christianity. That's not Orthodoxy."

"Lent helps me gain discipline. It is participating in the sacrifices Christ went through."

"Orthodox practices have changed me dramatically. It's about not living for myself but for others."

"Lent is a time of spiritual cleansing, renewal, purification. Life is not food. Life is not entertainment. Life is not earthly gratification. It is becoming more human, more like Christ...Lent reminds us that we eat food to live. We don't live to eat food. The true food is God."
Question: Which of the three paradigms we have discussed in class is reflected here? In three sentences or less, explain your choice.

Peter Jeffery's response to Scott Brown

Peter has asked me to post a link to his response to Scott Brown's review of his book The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled, because RBL will not publish it. I am happy to do this. But I just want to note that as far as I know it is not RBL's policy to publish authors' responses to any reviews that are written of our books. If this were done, then it would not be a Review publication, but a Debate publication. One of the nice things about the blog world, however, is that it allows us some measure of response and recourse if we feel it necessary.

Other reviews and discussion of the Secret Gospel of Mark are being tracked HERE.

More Thoughts on the Lost Boys of Zion

I continue to worry about the Zion Ranch situation. Just how bad is it? Are we dealing with abandoned teenage boys as well as pregnant teenage girls?

IF this is turns out to be the case - and I hope that the State of Texas is investigating this - then we have Zion parents who are abandoning their children in addition to everything else going on there. The news article I posted previously asked why the State of Utah did not go after the parents of compounds there for child abandonment. The response: we want to go after the leader, Jeffs. I question this decision, and hope that Texas investigators will do more than this. All of us parents are responsible for our children. It is, in fact, against the law to abandon them.

I also want to mention that I just noticed Rebecca Lesses' response on one of my earlier posts that the Zion Ranch is not Little House on the Prairie. I would like to bring it forward here, because what she has to said has been suspiciously absent from the discussion:
In all of the news coverage of this sect, one thing I have not noticed is any discussion of how thoroughly patriarchal and male-supremacist it is. The focus has been only on questions of child-protection - but in fact the two things go together. The older privileged males of the sect marry and have sex with young girls - who have no choice of who to marry or whether to marry at all. A woman in one of these marriages has no choice about whether her husband marries another woman as well, and she can't prevent her own daughters from being married off. And then, there are all the teenage boys who are driven off in order to allow the older men to have many wives. The FLDS is an American movement - I certainly have no problem, as an American, as judging this social system as oppressive to women and children.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost Boys of Zion

Stephen Carlson gave this link to a story that ran in 2005 on Jeffs and the Lost Boys. Here is the link. Thanks Stephen.

Romanticizing Zion

The Houston Chronicle this morning published another distressing article on the Zion Ranch. This one is a celebration of the clothing and hairstyles of the women. Will we see some new fashion for women come out of this Ranch? So the reporter asks. Will we see pastel colors again - how sweet they are - and puff sleves - how old-fashioned? Full length dresses perhaps - to give women today a more subdued appearance? And what about hair styles. Aren't their buns homey? Long hair is "in" now, and women are on the look out for vogue "updos."

This is enough to make me want to scream, "You have to be kidding!" How desperate are we as a culture (maybe this is just Texas?) to romanticize this compound, as if it is some return to a lost Eden or a golden era of pioneers and self-sufficiency?

Let us keep this in mind. The State of Texas has taken temporary custody of over 430 children because the underage girls in this compound are pregnant. They got pregnant somehow. Someone permitted it and someone did it. And the mandatory DNA tests are going to sort this out. We are talking about statutory rape. We are talking about a polygamous compound in which some men have dozens of wives, many who are still children themselves. These men have hundreds of children and grandchildren. The families dress in specific colors in order for them to be recognized as a husband's family unit. The women dress with head to foot coverage so as not to tempt other men in the compound or make jealous other wives in their particular family unit. What happens to the boys on this Ranch? In a small polygamous compound, certainly they cannot all be maintained. Has anyone wondered what is going on with them? The pattern here?

News from Toronto on Talpiot Tomb

The Globe and Mail just released a story following Andrey Feuerverger's publication of his statistics article which we learned about at the Talpiot Tomb conference in January.

Excerpts from this story:
In a peer-reviewed article published last month in the prestigious Annals of Applied Statistics, Andrey Feuerverger places the odds of the 2,000-year-old tomb not belonging to the Jesus family at 1 in 1,600.

This figure is even more bullish than the 1-in-600 figure that Dr. Feuerverger calculated a year ago, when interviewed for The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a $4-million documentary produced by James Cameron and directed by Toronto's Simcha Jacobovici...

For years, archeologists attempted to deflect speculation about the tomb, saying that the names inscribed on the Talpiot ossuaries were common to the period. But Dr. Feuerverger's analysis rejects that argument, noting that while the individual names might have been common, this specific cluster of names so resonant of the New Testament is not. Indeed, in January, at a symposium with about 50 academics in Jerusalem, no one made the case for commonality.

Instead, opponents have challenged Dr. Feuerverger's historical assumptions, notably that the unusual Greek name Mariamne found on one of the ossuaries is an appropriate designation for Mary Magdalene.

But even discounting the Mariamne assumptions, Dr. Feuerverger's 51-page paper says that the tomb has a 0.48 chance of belonging to Jesus. That means, says James Tabor, head of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, "that if we had two tombs to examine, one of them would be the Jesus tomb. With Feuerverger's paper in print, a more responsible discussion of the Talpiot tomb name frequencies and statistics can take place."...

University of Detroit professor Jane Schaberg, one of the world's ranking experts on Mary Magdalene, says it is "quite possible, even probable," that the inscription on that ossuary describes Magdalene and adds that the tomb "may very well belong to Jesus and his followers, as opposed to Jesus and his family. My gut tells me it's a movement site."

UPDATE: Here is a link provided by a reader in the comments to stats paper and all the comments on it. Thanks!

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-22-08

The soul of Adam came to exist by means of breath. The soul's twin is the spirit. His mother is the thing that was given to him. His soul was carried (to him), and he was given a spirit where the soul is. When he was unified, he spoke words incomprehensible to the powers. They envied him.

Gospel of Philip 70.23-29 (Valentinian text, mid-second century)

Comment: Who is Adam's mother?
I translated the word "unified" but it literally means "twinned" and is the same word, although a verb, as earlier in the passage with the spirit is called the soul's twin. So the idea is that the spirit and soul are twinned in the person, or united.

Understanding what Gnosis/Gnosticism IS

A few of my readers commented about what Gnosis is:
Richard: There is no question that I would like a clearer view/understanding of what is Gnosticism. At present (and I am no scholar) I see many wildly different flavours of Gnosticism. The only commonality I notice is that things labelled as "Gnostic" tend to have more complicated notions of the spiritual / divine realm than mere Christianity or Judaism do. Anything to help clarify this would be of interest to me.
Jeremy: I would be fascinated to hear your further thoughts on this matter. At the Palm Tree Garden, we've been playing with something to which we refer as "The Four Point Plane." It's a 'litmus test' we use when discussing "Gnosticism," and we've found it especially useful
1) Emanations Cosmology. The heavenly and phenomenal worlds are ultimately the effect of God's process of "emanation," or pouring forth from itself.
2) Immanent Pneumatology. God's spirit fills the heavenly and phenomenal worlds. God is right here, right now.
3) Gnostic Soteriology. Gnosis, which can also be called insight, plays the most important role in the salvation of the Gnostic.
4) Sacramental Praxis. Gnosis can be facilitated by symbolic ritual.

Grant: As far as social structure, I've been meaning to ask, how did you think to liken the 'gnostics' to a lodge movement (I don't recall anyone else who does this)? And how has that been received in your experience? I think it's definitely better than sect or cult. Would you also liken the Greco-Roman clubs, or associations, or mysteries (in which more than just Greeks and Romans participated) to lodge movements?
So let me try out where I am on thinking about this subject now. Things have shifted for me this year after all the work I've been doing on the Gospel of Judas, and also thinking about Rice's new graduate program in Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism (=GEM).

1. Gnosis is a peculiar kind of knowledge. It isn't any knowledge. It isn't "okay I know I'm divine so I'm alright" kind of knowledge. It is what I would call "unconventional knowledge." What makes Gnosis (and eventually Gnosticism when it comes into being in the late third and early fourth centuries) different from other kinds of knowledge is that it is knowledge received through revelation, that turns on its head conventional interpretations and theology, often in very profound and ingenious ways. Today in our language and world we would call it "subversive" or maybe even "transgressive," and maybe (although this feels really anachronistic to me) "countercultural" in the sense of counter the normal religious beliefs and expectations of the times. Think here about the Sethian interpretation of the Genesis story, where Eve does a good thing and the serpent is Christ.

2. In terms of content, it refers to knowledge that will enable the spirit within, that piece of god that is trapped, to be liberated at death and find its way home. And this ALWAYS includes special rituals. But it also includes a map of the universe and the multiple layers of divine beings and entities between us and the supreme source.

3. Esotericism is hidden knowledge, secrets. I think that all Gnosis is esoteric, but not all esotericism is Gnostic.

4. Mysticism is immediate encounter with the sacred.

5. Lodge idea. My idea for those of you who aren't my students is that the gnostics started out in a lodge movement in Alexandria. It was probably a Hermetic lodge. This means that the Gnostics first self-identified as Jews, and eventually as Christians. Went to lodge in addition to synagogue, where initiation was done into the higher mysteries. I didn't get this idea from anyone. I came up with it myself after looking at all the evidence and trying to make sense of this sociologically. I remember fifteen years ago when Gilles Quispel sat at my doctoral defense and gave a special lecture on Hermeticism and the lodge in Alexandria. That is where I learned about the Hermetics as lodge religionists. So it wasn't long before I started to think of the Gnostics and their connection to Hermetism, and how their movement must have started in the lodge and continued as a lodge movement, especially in the Valentinian tradition. What I am working out now is how the various strands of Gnosis emerge from this environment and eventually become a new religious movement. This is what my paper from the Codex Judas Congress is about.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Is Judas' gospel that ambiguous?

JMS Providence asked me in one of the comments:
Dr. D, this isn't necessarily related to your post but last night, I was up rather late, and at 1AM the National Geographic Channel was airing their work on the Gospel of Judas. I'll tell ya, I haven't really studied any of this much, but I was quite shocked when I first saw it year or two ago. So does this mean that they still hold to their position and have not edited their program to show such opposing work as yours? Just wondering. And if so, is Judas' gospel that ambiguous?
What you are asking is important. So important that I am making a post about it, and I hope that some of you pass this around on list serves and so forth.

No the Gospel of Judas is not that ambiguous in my opinion. It is actually very straightforward once you transcribe and translate it correctly. Certainly there is always room for interpretation of details. But Judas is clearly identified not just as a demon, but as the thirteenth, and this is the numerical identification of the demiurge archon who lives in the realm just above his twelve archon assistants. Moreover, the thirteenth realm is described as having Judas' star in it, which means that it is IN this cosmos, not some realm in the divine world beyond or between this cosmos and the supreme God. Stars are only fixtures in this cosmos. And they are negative beings according to the ancients because they were associated with fate.

There is so much misinformation about the Gospel of Judas it makes me want to cry, not because I am in love with the Gospel of Judas, but because I am in love with truth. I want nothing more than to provide sound information to people who want to know about early Christianity. I do not have an agenda beyond this. Nothing I have done has anything to do with liberal or conservation religious positions. I am a historian and I say what I see from that position whether it confirm or deny contemporary religious beliefs.

The work that I have done on the Gospel of Judas, in the academic sphere, and in the general publication The Thirteenth Apostle, is making tremendous impact on our understanding of this gospel. I want to add, that my voice is not alone. There are a number of us who from the first release of the Gospel of Judas by National Geographic in 2006 saw the troubles with the transcription, translation, and interpretation that was offered to all of us. We have all been working as hard and fast as we can to correct these problems.

National Geographic has not gone on blindly. The Society in the last two months has had the team retranslate and reinterpret the Gospel of Judas in a second edition of its book. It is slated to come out in June. The team has corrected the transcription errors. These are the errors that were made when the Coptic manuscript was examined and then scribed down in Coptic letters - in other words a hand written copy was made of the manuscript. When this is done, scholars will sometimes "emend" the text - that is change what the manuscript says in their transcription of it. This is done when scholars think there was a mistake in the manuscript. It can happen with misspellings, dropped letters, and so forth. As I wrote in my book, the team had originally emended the text on p. 46.24-25. When they did this, the emendation made the text read that Judas would ascend to the holy generation. Without the emendation, the text says he won't. The team corrected this in The Critical Edition of the Gospel of Judas which was released last June, and now they have done so too in the revised second edition of the popular translation that will be released this June.

There was another transcription error on p. 35.25 which had read that Judas would learn the mysteries of the kingdom. It would be possible for him to go there, but he would grieve. Now the NGS team has corrected this reading: Judas will learn the mysteries of the kingdom, not so that he will go there, but so that he would grieve.

The new version of their book gets rid of "spirit" and allows "daimon" to stand in the text. They have also gone with "set apart from that generation" (46.17) instead of the incorrect "set apart for."

So these are all major major changes in terms of our interpretation of the text, and they are changes that were brought about because the team continued to work on the text, reassessing it, and listening to us their critics.

So all of this is well and good, but as far as I know there are no plans to change their movie, which is one of their most widely viewed movies. And I doubt that any fanfare will attend the release of their second edition and I doubt much will be done in terms of publicity to let the public know about it. If anyone knows otherwise, I will be glad to hear it and correct my impression.

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-21-08

It is written, "Moses made a serpent of bronze (and) hung it upon a pole...Whoever will gaze upon this bronze serpent, none will destroy him. Whoever will believe in this bronze serpent will be saved." For this is Christ. Those who believed in him have received life. Those who did not believe will die. What then is this faith?

The Testimony of Truth 48.31-49.11 (anonymous Gnostic text, probably from Alexandria, early second century).

Thinking about Gnosis again

I am working on the problem of Gnosticism and Gnosis. I never meant to do this because it is such a can of worms. But my research this semester that led to my Codex Judas Congress paper, "Apostles as Archons: The Emergence of Gnosticism and the Fight for Authority in the Gospel of Judas, First Apocalypse of James, and Other Literature," has got my engines revved. I actually think there is a very reasonable solution. And, as I found with my work on the Gospel of Thomas, the reason that we couldn't see it before is that we didn't have the categories to understand it.

Part of the problem that I'm only now getting my head around, is that in the first place our understanding has been dictated by the categories that the church fathers put into place. We understand that they did this to legitimate and consolidate their own positions, but we still have continued to bury ourselves in them. Some scholars, here I am thinking about Karen King and also Elaine Pagels recently, have gone the next step and removed the categories altogether, so there are no heretics and there are no gnostics. The conundrum that this puts us into is it leaves us with no way to talk about the gnostics who were different types of Jews and Christians and who by the fourth century had become some kind of alternative or new religious movement persecuted by the conventional religions.

In the second place, the sociologists of religion have not been too helpful. Here I am thinking of Rodney Stark especially. I really disliked his A Theory of Religion. It might be meaningful to discuss some groups today, but it has nothing to do with the ancient world at all. And so when he tries to apply his theory to the ancient world, it is anachronistic and obscures what was happening.

Why? Because the western world wasn't Christian then. It was Roman. And the Romans didn't have an orthodox religion, unless you want to call their civic polytheism orthodox. I wouldn't because orthodox implies a right way. And for the Romans, there were many right ways, and you could enlist in lots of them simultaneously without offending any of the gods.

And Christianity, which was actually one of many religions in the second century, just did not exist as a dominant orthodox pattern yet. So to talk about sects deviating from Christianity, or cults forming, just does not work. We are in a pluriform Roman religious environment, and a pluriform Jewish and Christian sub-environment (if you get my drift), no matter how we slice it. So I have trouble with words like "deviant" which make up the basis for social theories of religion. Now by the fourth century, this is another story, and then we might begin to engage these categories.

At any rate, it is this complicated mess that I want to try to untangle this year.

Friday, April 18, 2008

SBL Fund Pledge Drive

The Society of Biblical Literature is inviting pledges for its 2008 Society Fund. All contributions are tax deductible.

Gifts will be used this year to expand support of colleagues whose annual income is less than what many of us make in a week. The Society will continue to add resources to the International Cooperative Initiative that provides free electronic access for scholars and students in under-resourced countries. The Society will improve the resources for teachers and school districts who are teaching the Bible and religion courses in public education.

If you wish to contribute, visit the SBL website. Pledge forms are also available on the website under “Donate to SBL.”

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-18-08

My Redeemer, redeem me, for I am yours.
I am the one who has come forth from you.
You are my mind.
Bring me forth!
You are my treasure house.
Open for me!
You are my completion.
Take me to you!
You are my rest.
Give me the perfection that cannot be grasped.

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul 1.5-10 (Valentinian prayer)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-17-08

My child, listen to my teaching which is good and useful, and end the sleep that weighs heavily upon you. Leave behind the forgetfulness which fills you with darkness. If you were unable to do this, I would not have said these things to you. But Christ has come in order to give you this gift. Why do you pursue the darkness when the light is at your disposal? Why do you drink stale water when sweet water is available? Wisdom summons, but you desire folly. Wisdom summons, "Come to me, all of you foolish people, that you may receive a gift - good and excellent knowledge. I am giving you a high-priestly robe which is woven with all kinds of wisdom."

Teaching of Silvanus 88.21-89.1, 89.5-14 (Alexandrian Christian text, second century).

The Zion Ranch is not "Little House on the Prairie"

I just have to speak out this morning about a news article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle this morning, "Zion Ranch mothers question CPS raid." Terri Langford reports how "beautiful" the compound is. How there are oak trees everywhere. How groomed the road is that stretches between two metal gates. How everywhere there are signs of "devotion to industry" with new crops planted. How nicely squared boulders line the rock quarry. Theirs is a "quiet life" with lovely women in pioneer dresses "with puffed long sleeves." Oh how sweet the colors of the cloth, yellow, light blue, turquoise, and dark blue. How each has long hair put up in a "beautiful upsweep." For four blissful years they lived a quiet life until...the "state descended" on them.

The women were interviewed by the press. And what do they say? When questioned about the pregnancies of the thirteen and fourteen year old girls in the compound, one of the women said, "What does 'age' mean?" Another said, "It's a choice." Another, "Everybody in America has free agency."

What is going on here? When a man has sex with a thirteen year old girl she has no choice. The last time I knew it was a crime in the US called rape. And usually the police arrest him and he goes to court where it is decided what to do with him. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly Warren Jeffs isn't just a convicted criminal, he is convicted on two counts of being an accomplice to rape because he forced a 14 year old girl into a marriage with her first cousin! And if the mothers of these children think for an instant that their daughters have a choice in this situation, they had better think twice. What thirteen year old child is going to leave the compound on her own, especially when the message preached around her is to go forth and multiply!

We need to be very aware here that a religion, no matter what it is, does not have the right to overstep the law of the US. Members may choose to, but if the members of a religion break a law, then there are consequences. And the pregnancy of all these young girls is not only distressing to me, but is more than suggestive of a pattern of male criminal behavior. The Zion Ranch is not "Little House on the Prairie."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-16-08

Great is the first aeon
male virgin Barbelo
the first glory of the invisible Father
she who is called Perfect.
We bless you
producer of perfection
giver of aeons.
You have become multiple,
but you remain One.
Yet becoming multiple through division
you are three-fold.
Truly you are three-fold.
You are one of the One.
You are from a shadow of him
you are the Hidden One
a world of knowledge
knowing that those of the One
are from a shadow.
These are yours in your heart.

The Three Steles of Seth 121.20-25, 122.5-19 (Sethian doxology to the Mother God Barbelo)

In Remembrance: The Passing of David Noel Freedman

It is with sadness that I have learned of the passing of David Noel Freedman, 1922 - 8 april 2008. I have fond memories of Professor Freedman from my time as a student at the University of Michigan. Although I was a student in the Near Eastern Studies Department, Professor Freedman had an office across campus in the "then" Religion program. This program no longer exists partly because he retired, and he "was" the Religion program at Michigan.

I remember him lecturing in the 100-level Introduction to Western Religion course. In fact, I still have the notes that I wrote down during those lectures. It was from him that I first learned about the idea of the covenant - that it is a Near Eastern treaty, and that there is a difference between the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic one. Professor Freedman talked about the Abrahamic covenant as unique, because it was a covenant of divine commitment, whereas the Mosaic covenant was more common because it was a covenant of human obligation. The idea that the stronger party in the treaty - in this case God - would require nothing of the lesser party in terms of obligations was striking in terms of Near Eastern fealty. God obligated himself to Abraham, and all Abraham had to do was accept that. I still use those old notes from his lectures as the basis for my own when I cover this material in my courses.

Professor Freedman was a publishing giant. And the field of biblical studies has greatly benefited from his devotion to this area. There is one particular article of his I still find myself returning to when I teach. It was written for a general audience, but it nonetheless shows how conscious Professor Freedman was to teach difficult subjects to different audiences. It is his famous article, "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah" published in The Biblical Archaeologist. It is about how literary evidence and archaeology can work together to recover a past before it got rewritten by the exilic priests. I am convinced, from the evidence in this article and elsewhere, that Yahweh was not worshiped alone in the old Israelite religion, but had a consort by his side who went by the name Asherah. I'm discussing this very topic, in fact, in my first chapter of Sex and the Serpent in Ancient Christianity: Why the Sexual Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter, which I have been working on the past couple of weeks.

So Professor Freedman, although he has passed from this life, will remain with us here. For what he taught was great, and his memory will be carried on.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-13-08

Such are those who have from above something of the immeasurable greatness, as they wait for the unique and perfect One. The One-Who-Is is there for them. They do not go down to Hades nor have they envy nor groaning nor death with them. But they rest in him who is at rest, not striving nor confused about the truth. They are the truth. And the Father is in them and they are in the Father, perfect, undivided from the truly Good One. They lack nothing at all, but they are at rest, refreshed in the Spirit.

Gospel of Truth 42.11-33 (Valentinian text, early to mid- second century; perhaps authored by Valentinus)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-10-08

"When the demon had said this, the apostle said to him, 'How did you acquire knowledge concerning the hidden mysteries of the height? A soldier, when cast out of the palace, is not at all allowed to learn the mysteries of the palace. And how will he learn the hidden mysteries of the height?...Why then should you not tremble, when you speak the mysteries of the height? For I tremble completely in all my limbs and I glorify the receiver who will come for the souls of the holy people.'"

Acts of Andrew, P. Utrecht I, p. 13-14

Comment: My critics say that Judas in the Gospel of Judas cannot be a demon because he knows the mysteries, which I have argued is not the case since the demons know plenty in the Gospel of Mark. Today I pulled down The Apocryphal New Testament, and opened it randomly to p. 269. And here it be! A fragmented text, but with another demon in the know, and an apostle who is concerned about it. Oh, poor Judas, the demon who knows the mysteries. Need I say more?

Dissertation Abstract: Brent Landau, "The Sages and the Star-Child"

It is that time of year again. Dissertations are being defended. New life journeys are about to begin! So first let me congratulate Dr. Brent Landau for a successful defense of his Harvard thesis which examines a Christian apocryphal text, called the Revelation of the Magi.

Brent Landau
Harvard University
Dissertation Advisor: Professor François Bovon
Dissertation Title: The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon
Defended: Spring 2008

This study analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity. The first chapter is a critical edition of the Syriac text of this apocryphon as found in the Chronicle of Zuqnin, an eighth-century world chronicle preserved in a single manuscript, codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. The corresponding annotated English translation is the first of its kind for this text.

The second chapter compares the Syriac text with a much shorter version of the narrative contained in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, an Arian commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the fifth century. It concludes that the Opus is a witness to a Greek version of this apocryphon, basically equivalent to the received Syriac.

The third chapter attempts to trace the prehistory of the text prior to its fifth-century form, and argues that the earliest form of the text was a pseudepigraphon, written from the putative perspective of the Magi themselves. This text, which was composed in the late second or early third century, was redacted in the third or fourth century to include a third-person account of the Apostle Judas Thomas’ conversion of the Magi.

The fourth chapter investigates the use of foundational Christian writings by the Revelation of the Magi. Although the text is obviously dependent upon Matthew for its basis narrative structure, the terminology and theology of the Gospel of John is much more influential, especially since the text portrays the Magi’s star as Christ in luminous form—the literal “light of the world.”

The fifth and final chapter argues that the text employs two different modes of religious diffusion: divine universal revelation and human mission. Its presentation of divine revelation has particular consequences for understanding the origins of religious difference. According to the Revelation of the Magi, because Christ can appear to anyone, in any place, at any time, he is actually the wellspring of all of humanity’s religious traditions.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-9-08

In the name of the Great Life,
the sublime light be glorified.
You are the path of the perfect,
the way which leads up to the Place of Light.
You are eternal life,
who went forth and settled in a true heart.
You are wise and pleasant,
you teach wisdom and praise to all who love your name.
It is well for him who is attentive to you, my lord,
and walks on the path behind you.
You are the day of joy,
in which there is no sorrow or lamentation.
You are the wreath of victory
which is set on the head of the enlightened.
You are the light of the Mighty
for you went forth and came into the world.
You are the medicine,
which cures all who love your name.
Life is victorious, and victorious is the human!

Selections from GR 12.2 (Mandaean text)

Comment: this is a old psalm praising Kushta or Truth. She is a Light Being.

What can we do to help the Mandaeans?

Mr. Suhaib Nashi, the president of the Mandaean Associations Union, recommends:

1. The international community and especially the USA, the UK, Australia, the EU countries, UNHCR and all other NGO’s should act to prevent this humanitarian disaster from continuing. One of the oldest and most peaceful communities in the Middle East is being annihilated under the eyes of the international community.

2. The U.N declaration for the protection of indigenous, ethnic and religious minorities is compatible with the situation of the Mandaeans and should be applied. Furthermore, the International law for the prevention of genocide should be considered.

3. Because of the role and responsibility of the United States in Iraq, and the commitments that the Coalition governments have made before and after the invasion of Iraq, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have special obligations least of which is morally to step up and save the Mandaeans and other religious minorities in Iraq. These governments should acknowledge that Mandaeans will not be safe from persecution in Iraq in any eventuality and should therefore provide Mandaeans with permanent protection by accepting them for resettlement.

4. The United States of America especially has obligations to save the Mandaeans and other religious minorities in Iraq. The United States Government should give the Mandaeans a P2 visa without delay as an extremely endangered religious minority that is at the verge of extinction due to religious persecution.

5. The USA government should start speeding up its processing of the current referred cases from UNHCR and stand up for its obligations to admit 12000 refugees this year. These obligations were not met last year.

6. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has already urged Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Mrs. Dobriansky to create new or expand existing options for allowing members of Iraq's Chaldea-Assyrian and Sabean Mandaean religious minority communities to access the U.S. refugee program, and to urge UNHCR to resume full refugee status determinations for all Iraqi asylum seekers and assess all claims without delay.

7. The international community should look seriously in helping the Mandaean refugees to resettle in one country which permits religious freedom and practices and where a community of Mandaeans can preserve their existence for the future. UNISCO has already declared the Mandaean language a threatened language.

8. The UNHCR has an immediate and urgent obligation to start processing more cases for resettlement. We suggest the Organization should take active steps to provide protection for the refugees in Jordan and Syria and give them a proper legal status to prevent abuses.

9. The UNHCR should consider granting all Mandaeans a full refugee status as a group and not on an individual basis, and give them complete protection from forcible returns to Iraq.

10. Proper Medical, and humanitarian assistance should be offered and financial support to any agency that can provide that help to the refugees. Active steps from the European Union and USA should be taken to secure the funds allocated to the refugee Mandaeans.

11. Changes should be made to the Iraqi constitution to guarantee the rights of Mandaeans and other minorities and the Iraqi government and the legal system should implement these changes to gain the trust of minorities in a safe and secure future.

12. The Iraqi Government should be held responsible for providing financial help for the refugees through independent agencies to provide them with the necessary humanitarian support.

13. The Iraqi Government should be responsible on recording and saving the properties of the Mandaean community in Iraq including their archives, documents and history until such time that their return is safe.

14. Militia leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity when they or their followers are caught by police in the future.

Contact in the USA (; in UK (; in Sweden (; in Canada (

Mandaean Human Rights Report March 2008

The Mandaean Human Rights Report is available now. It is a pdf file on the Mandaean Associations Union website. To read it in its entirety, you will need to go to THIS LINK, scroll down until you see the Mandaean Human Rights Annual Report March 2008, and click the report. The report is gruesome. It is forty-one pages of terror. Here is an executive summary that has been circulated on the Mandaean list-serve, but it does not even begin to cover the genocide outlined in the annual report as you will see even if you skim the full report and its appendix.

The Sabian-Mandaean religion is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the Middle East lived mainly in Southern Iraq and few in Iran. It is independent of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It follows the teachings of John the Baptist; baptism being its central ritual. The Mandaeans are around sixty thousand at the present time. During the past decade, and especially the past three years, thousands have escaped Iraq and Iran, choosing self-exile and escape rather than death and persecution. There is now a large refugee population in Syria (2100 families), Jordan, (500 families), Yemen (46 individuals) and smaller numbers in Lebanon, Egypt, Mali, and Thailand.

Major changes have happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Husain. The situation has deteriorated especially recently. Chaos and civil war are in the horizon. The sectarian identity among Iraqis has preceded the national identity and the violence is increasing in scope and lethality. Sunni and Shia death squads are roaming the streets of Baghdad and other cities of Iraq. These death squads are killing based on the last names and religious affiliation. Mandaeans are targeted by both sides. Hundreds have been killed and numbers are increasing rapidly.

Forceful conversion is happening to an alarming degree. Boys are being kidnapped, forcefully circumcised (a major sin in Mandaean religion) and forcefully converted to Islam. Young girls have been kidnapped, raped, or forced to marry Muslims. Families receive threats demanding that they either convert or pay “Jizia,” a ransom paid allowing others to live among Muslims. Confiscation of property is becoming a common, unpunished practice. Mandaean houses are being taken in different areas. Often, police and neighbours are unwilling to provide assistance. Employment in Iraq is now related to political, sectarian and ethnic affiliation rather than qualifications. The Government is the major employer in Iraq. The ministries are divided among the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish factions and they deny others, namely Mandaeans and Christians, any chances of employment.

More than 80% of the Mandaean community has been displaced to outside Iraq. The Mandaean community in Iraq has dwindled from more than 60 thousand in the early 1990s to 5-7 thousand today. Those Mandaeans who are unable to leave Iraq are currently moving to different cities inside the country. Mandaeans have tried to express their concerns through the political process in Iraq, however, contacts with officials, religious leaders, and political party leaders usually end in empty promises. The police force is corrupt, often helps attackers, and has little to no role in protecting minorities. Mandaeans situation is different from other minorities in Iraq as they do not have any identified geographical area as their save haven, they have no choice but to leave Iraq seeking for refuge. The Situation in Syria and Jordan is dire for refugees. These countries are neither ready nor willing to help thousands of refugees and a humanitarian disaster is eminent. Refuge seekers are denied work, education, health care and most of all protection from abuses. Children are pushed into illegal child labor. Some girls are being lured into the sex trade and some are kidnapped and married by sex traders to be sold in other countries.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-8-08

Savior said, "I want you to know that all people born on earth from the foundation of the world until now, being dust, while they have inquired about God, who he is and what he is like, have not found him. Now the wisest among them have speculated from the order and movement of the world. But their speculation has not reached the truth...But I, who came from the Infinite Light, I am here, that I might speak to you about the precise nature of the truth, since I know it...He-Who-Is is ineffable. No principle knew him, no authority, no subjection, nor any creature from the foundation of the world until now, except he alone and anyone to whom he wants to reveal through him who is from First Light. From now on, I am the great Savior. But he is immortal and eternal, having no birth; for everyone who has birth will perish. He is unbegotten, having no beginning; for everyone who has a beginning has an end...He is called 'Father of the Universe.'"

Sophia of Jesus Christ 92.6-19, 94.5-21 (possibly our earliest Sethian text; late first century).

Comment: The Gnostics are already speculating about the relationship between the Father and the Son in the late first century. The Father is unbegotten, eternal, without birth. The Son is the only one who can reveal the Father to others.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More information on NT manuscripts

Eric Sowell on Archaic Christianity has written a great post with much information on the NT manuscripts and what is happening in the field of textual criticism. Take a look HERE. He shows the difference between the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, the Editio Critica Maior, United Bible Society Greek Text, Tischendorf, the International Greek New Testament Project, Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text, Swanson, and an on-line resource. THANKS ERIC.

I am going to put some of these links into my sidebar this month, because they are important to keep track of digital images and projects that continue with the manuscripts.

New Testament Greek Manuscripts Series

One of the comments put me onto a Tyndale House Publishers series, called the New Testament Greek Manuscripts. When I went to Tyndale House website, I found that they no longer own them, but sent me to a mission website where they can be purchased. They are book-by-book complete manuscript traditions of all verses, I think. But, there are not volumes for every book of the NT. Since Tyndale no longer owns the series, I wonder if this means that there will be no more volumes. Does anyone know?

Here is the LINK.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Manuscript Month on Forbidden Gospels

In order to circulate more information about the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, I have decided to devote a series of posts in the month of April to this topic. I am frustrated as a scholar that we are operating with so little knowledge of a manuscript about what a gospel or a letter of Paul actually looked like in the first century. I have a love/hate with Nestle-Aland. Mostly I hate it because it makes us forget that we are not reading a manuscript that exists, but a modern composition.

Did you know that Erwin Nestle intended this to be the case? He wrote in the introduction to the 25th edition that his book was set up with the sigla and apparatus for those scholars "who want to concentrate on the text itself, without noticing the variations." He said that scholars "will easily get used to overlooking these signs."

Did you know that the Nestle-Aland edition is not a full critical edition? It doesn't contain all the textual variants. In fact, to my knowledge, we do not yet have an edition of the manuscripts with a full accounting of all the variants.

I understand that there is a project in Germany that is ongoing to solve some of this trouble. If any of you have further information about this project, or other publications, that are working to give a full account of the manuscripts, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail. Let's pass around this information this month, and get on top of what is going on in textual criticism these days!

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-4-08

If you want to be singled out in the world
so that the secrets of the world and the mysteries of wisdom should be revealed to you,
study this Mishnah and be careful about it until the day of your passing.
Do not try to understand what comes after you,
but do investigate the words of your lips.
You should try to understand what is in your heart and be silent,
so that you will be worthy of the beauty of the Merkavah.

Hekhalot Zutarti, section 335

Why the Synoptic Problem can't be solved

Mark Goodacre has posted a link to the upcoming Oxford conference on the Synoptic Problem. There appears to me to be a great line up of scholars, and some very excellent papers. I am particularly happy to see that Alan Kirk is going to be there and shed some light on the issue of scribal practices and ancient composition. I am also pleased that Peter Head is going to carry on with the issues of textual criticism. Both of these areas represent, in my opinion, the future of synoptic studies.

Which takes me to the point of this blog post - that the Synoptic Problem is unresolvable. Whatever solution is posed will always be a hypothesis, and there will always be problems with it. Why? Because we don't have first century manuscripts of our gospels let alone autographs. And the transmission process of this material involved more than simple copying. It was creative reperformance and this means that it relied on human memory - whether we are talking about oral transmission or written.

To put it plainly, we have no idea what the Gospel of Mark actually said in the first century, or the Gospels of Luke or Matthew. We might act like we do. But the truth is we don't. Our manuscript tradition is at best 3rd century, and variable particularly by geographic locations. To be honest, I don't even know where Mark was written, although I can make a fairly educated guess. Textual criticism has created a wonderful eclectic Greek text for all of us to use. But it isn't what Mark wrote. It isn't what Matthew wrote. And it isn't what Luke wrote. How we should handle this fact as a guild has yet to be worked out with any satisfaction. I think we mostly ignore it because dealing with the manuscript tradition is, well, just too complicated.

But this we know. The early Christians, consciously and unconsciously were adjusting and even editing their gospels in this time period. One of the things that they were doing is harmonizing the stories. This isn't just the operation of scribes doing so deliberately. It is also the function of human memory which tends to recall things through what the mind already knows. So if a person knows a particular version of a story, and he or she learns a new version, the new version is going to be recast in light of the old.

At some point, I think it is going to be necessary for those people who work on the Synoptic Problem to deal with these two issues. By this I mean, not gloss over them, not give them lip service, but really face them and try to figure out what that means when we are trying to understand first century composition of our gospels. It is my sincere hope that whatever else comes out of the Oxford lineup, this will.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-3-08

What sort of God is this? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge. And second he said, "Adam, where are you?" Does not God have foreknowledge? Would he not know from the beginning? Afterwards he said, "Let us cast him out of this place, lest he might eat of the tree of life and live forever." Surely he has shown himself to be a malicious grudger. And what kind of God is this? For great is the blindness of those who read, and they did not know him. And he said, "I am the jealous God. I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children until three and four generations." And he said, "I will make their heart thick, and I will cause their mind to become blind, that they might not know nor comprehend the things that are said." But these things he has said to those who believe in him and serve him!

The Testimony of Truth (47.15-48.15)

Comment: This is from a Gnostic sermon. For me, it shows just how much Gnostic exegesis is bible literalism.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 4-1-08

It is I who am the part of my mother.
It is I who am the mother.
It is I who am the wife.
It is I who am the virgin.
It is I who am pregnant.
It is I who am the midwife.
It is I who am the one that comforts pains of travail.
It is my husband who bore me.
It is I who am his mother.
It is he who is my father and my lord.
It is he who is my force.
What he desires, he says with reason.
I am in the process of becoming.
Yet I have borne a man as lord.

On the Origin of the World 114.8-15

Comment: Who am I?

Reactions to the Trinity

Several of my readers had vivid reactions to the Trinity doctrine as I outlined it last. It must be recognized that this doctrine is not universal among Christians. Some Christians today, as well as Muslims, view the doctrine as polytheistic even in the form it was framed by the Cappadocians. This criticism of the doctrine is as old as the doctrine itself. The Cappadocians in fact tell us that they were accused of creating a doctrine that allowed for the worship of not just three but even four gods.

One of my readers wanted to know what happened to the female, quoting the Genesis story about God's image being male and female. I am writing on this topic for my new book which I'm calling tentatively, You shall be like God: Sex and the Serpent in Early Christianity. Just a brief overview of one of the chapters on the Trinity which I'm writing. The mother was originally part of the Trinity. She was the Holy Spirit. As long as the Christian tradition remained attached to Aramaic traditions, the Spirit's female gender is retained. But once the church moves away from these roots, more and more into Greek (and eventually Latin) where the Spirit is neutered, the mother falls away, or is dismissed. The result is a very awkward doctrine of a Father god who births a son god from which proceeds a nebulous neutered spirit god. My readers are always asking why the "other" gospels and gnostic materials are important. Here is a case in point. They help us to reconstruct the earliest doctrine of the Trinity as it included the female.

Something sweet

This post has nothing to do with the topic of my blog, except that it is something on my mind, and I guess shows how new words are created from old ones. It is one of those little glowing moments that happen to moms and dads as their babies grow up.

This morning as I was walking hand in hand with my little four year old to school, we were giggling about something. And he got the hiccups. He turned to me and said, "Mommy, I'm hiccing up." From the mouth of babes.