Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 SBL Program Book

Here is the LINK for the 2009 SBL Program Book. More on specific sessions I want to highlight later.

The Gospel of Judas in The New Yorker

This morning Jared on Antiquitopia brought our attention to and posted his thoughts on the August 3rd THE NEW YORKER article written by Joan Acocella, in which she argues that the push to heroify Judas by the National Geographic team of scholars and their supporters is part of a trend to counter fundamentalism by academics. She writes in support of Susan Guber's new book, Judas: A Biography (in which Guber takes a "cold view of the Gospel of Judas" according to Acocella):
(Final paragraph of THE NEW YORKER article): All this, I believe, is a reaction to the rise of fundamentalism—the idea, Christian and otherwise, that every word of a religion’s founding document should be taken literally. This is a childish notion, and so is the belief that we can combat it by correcting our holy books. Those books, to begin with, are so old that we barely understand what their authors meant. Furthermore, because of their multiple authorship, they are always internally inconsistent. Finally, even the fundamentalists don’t really take them literally. People interpret, and cheat. The answer is not to fix the Bible but to fix ourselves.
Acocella mentions the second edition of National Geographic's translation of the Gospel of Judas and how it differs from the first, wondering how much our need to revise history may have affected their first publication of the Gospel of Judas (I have written about this extensively in the NEW PREFACE to the revised edition of THE THIRTEENTH APOSTLE: WHAT THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS REALLY SAYS):
(Center of THE NEW YORKER article): Even the gospel’s translators may have felt the need to augment its revisionist credentials. When Jesus, in the gospel, tells the disciples that no mortal, or almost none, will be saved, one assumes that Judas will be an exception, and that’s what National Geographic’s translators said in the first English edition. But then a number of other scholars took a look at the Coptic text and objected that this was a misreading. The translators must have seen their point, because in the second edition of their version, published last year, the line has been changed—to mean the opposite. Jesus now says to Judas, “You will not ascend on high” to join those in Heaven. In other passages, too, the second edition tells a widely different story from the first.

In fairness, no expert can tell us exactly what the Coptic said. That is not just because of the terrible condition of the codex; even when the words are there, they are often enigmatic. But, as April DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, pointed out in the Times in 2007, there was a troubling consistency to a number of the mistranslations in the first edition: they improved Judas’s image. If the gospel was truly the earth-shaking document that the National Geographic Society claimed it was—if it promoted Judas from villain to hero—then to have him denied admission to Heaven would be decidedly awkward.

So there you have it. The information that my blog and book readers have known for two years running is finally making its way into the public arena. I wonder if it will matter.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New blog menu bar

I have been working the last two days trying to figure out how to put "static" information pages on Blogger which doesn't have such a widget or capability. It has meant study of html code and reading a series of posts on techno blogs and hours of tearing my hair out (okay, I'm not bald yet). But it has been achieved at least in a useable format although I am sorry to say that it is not pretty. Creating pretty picture tabs was just too much for me.

I promise to get back to posting real content, although it will continue to be slow over the rest of the summer. My little boy Alexander is starting Kindergarten, and so I want to give him some real home summer time during the month of August before he starts into the public school system. I will post sporadically, and will be tweaking the look of my blog in the meantime.

I am still considering whether to continue the Creating Jesus series, so if this is something you want me to do, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Creating Jesus: To Chalcedon?

Pastor Bob has asked me to take us to Chalcedon in terms of christology. I can certainly do this...but I don't want to bore my readers with the same subject for an extended period of time. I can cover all the controversies to Nicaea, Nicaea, and its fallout, but only if this is something that will interest you.

As for James McGrath's post today, arguing for a possession christology in John. I do not find these arguments convincing. There is no prophetic tradition from Judaism in which the prophet is ever God. No prophet would ever claim "I AM" for himself or "I and the Father are one." Now the Kavod and Angel of the Lord traditions do help to explain this, as they also help to explain the distinction that Jesus is the son and a mediator figure (which I have explained in earlier posts in this series). But prophet traditions do not. The spirit in prophetic tradition is always a temporary possession of a full human being and never makes the possessed God himself.

This is not to say that prophetic traditions have not influenced early strata of Johannine traditions. They have, particularly Samaritan understandings of the Prophet-like-Moses. But these traditions have been reconfigured within a Hellenistic model of anthropology in which the Logos descends into flesh. The language is not language of descent into a full human being, into a "man", but of the descent of God's Reason into flesh. This is ensoulment language not possession language.

Perhaps it would be helpful to know that in Hellenistic philosophy, particularly that influenced by Plato, God was conceived as The Good and The One. When he thinks (which is all he can do) he is Mind-Logos within which exists all thoughts and patterns for the universe. Plato perceived these to be "forms." Some of the first Christians thought of them as little logoi. Origen, in fact, says that these little logoi became our souls when their love for God began to cool off and they fell down into matter and became psyches. Only one little logos remained completely attached to God and this is what Origen thought became Jesus' soul.

Creating Jesus 23: Ensoulment christology

I have been on vacation, and now that I'm back for a couple of weeks at least, I want to try to finish up the Creating Jesus series.

We were discussing Johannine understandings of Jesus last time. What we have in John is something different from the other gospels. The Johannine perspective is an ensoulment perspective. In other words, the Logos (God's mind) descends and takes on flesh. So Jesus' soul is the Logos. This means that he is different from ordinary human beings who do not have God's Logos as our souls. The divine aspect of Jesus is not an appendage to Jesus' soul; it is Jesus' soul.

There is in this paradigm a fusion of Logos language and Hellenistic anthropology with Angel of Yahweh traditions. The word Logos is appropriate because it would have been understood by the Hellenistic populace to describe a substitute psyche. God's Reason is ensouled in Jesus.

The result? God walks around on earth as a human being. Jesus' body is the New Temple in which God's presence walks. He is the Glory, God's manifestation, visible in his person, his signs and wonders, and his crucifixion. Because of the ensoulment paradigm, the Kavod is made to assert characteristics of Reason, characteristics that would otherwise be foreign to its tradition, particularly the assertation that the Glory or Kavod is personalized as Jesus' soul so that a particular person, Jesus, becomes the earthly manifestation of the hidden God (John 1:18).

It is a rather clever theological claim, blending Hellenistic philosophy and anthropological knowledge with Angel of the Lord and Kavod biblical traditions. By so doing, the author of John has God himself manifested in history as Jesus.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-13-09

"The way of the perfect leads to the house of the Lord, and whoever is perfect enters into his bridal chamber."

Liber Graduum 5.13.12

Friday, July 10, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-10-09

I am going to be starting the Apocryphote of the Day again after a several month hiatus.

"All that makes for a soul's perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred. As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ are known by their actions."

Ignatius of Antioch, letter to the Ephesians 14

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New book on Thunder: Perfect Mind

In case you missed Jared Calaway's post, he has a book that he co-authored coming out with Polebridge Press. It is a re-translation and re-examination of the Nag Hammadi poem, The Thunder: Perfect Mind. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon HERE.

I am proud of Jared who worked with me as an undergraduate for four years at Illinois Wesleyan University before he entered the Ph.D. program at Columbia where he is now finishing his dissertation under the tutelage of Alan Segal. Congratulations Jared!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Creating Jesus 22: God's psyche

I have been home doing improvement projects lately, so the blog has been quiet on my end. Back in the office for the day today, so here is the next post.

There has been some activity in the comments to my last post about whether or not the Logos is really God or just sharing his nature. This discussion is a Nicene discussion, and is reading John in light of those later theological wars. John was read and claimed to support both the Arians and the anti-Arians and the marginal Arians. It was read to be a subordinianist document - that the Son was the Logos (lesser or other than God), a mediator between God the Father and humanity. And it was read to be a homoousian document, identifying the Father with the Son. It came to be read as a document that supports the two-natures doctrine that prevailed at Chalcedon, as well as the monophysite position.

So John is a difficult document to work with, especially if we are trying to understand the text as a pre-Nicene document. But if we look internally, we see that the author appears to have understood Jesus to be the pre-existent Logos, God's very mind, and that this mind came to exist in flesh. So what we have here is an ensoulment Christology. In other words, God's mind or psyche (=soul in English translation) took on flesh and became a human being. Thus Jesus didn't have his own normal human soul or psyche like you and I have. His soul or psyche was God's mind. Quite literally he was God manifested as a human being.

Again, Sophia traditions cannot explain Jesus' equivalence with the eternal God. It appears that we are dealing again with the Angel of YHWH traditions, the manifestation of God that bears his NAME, the Tetragrammaton. The NAME in Jewish traditions was understood to be a hypostasis of God's eternal nature, and thus, was viewed as equivalent to him. The NAME was instrumental in creation and was present in the Angel of YHWH. So what we seem to be seeing in the Johannine gospel is retrospective thinking about the embodiment model. Jesus' identification with the Angel of YHWH is pushed back pretemporally, from pre-existent to precosmogonic.

This traditional Jewish thinking is combined with Hellenistic-Greek understanding about the origin of the human being, particularly the origin of the psyche or rational aspect of the human being. The psyche or soul fell from the heavens into the material body. This becomes a human being and is birthed from the womb. So what we have in John is the idea that God's Logos, his mind becomes a soul embodied as Jesus.

More on this in the next post.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Creating Jesus 21: What about the Gospel of John?

So far I have discussed the earliest paradigms: The Jerusalem Paradigm where we find a possession christology and a behavioral soteriology; The Antiochean Paradigm where we have an embodiment christology and a sacrificial soteriology. The Jerusalem paradigm survived in the eastern formations of Christianity and is still prominent in the traditions of the Syrian and Assyrian orthodox churches. The Antiochean paradigm is most familiar to westerners because it survived most prominently in the Roman Catholic tradition which also means that it survives in the Protestant reform movements.

The third paradigm is most prominent in Alexandrian traditions and our earliest source for it is the Gospel of John. It is also known in some eastern Syrian literature because there was an ancient road that connected Alexandria with Edessa and news and ideas spread quickly across this route. I do not have an answer to the question of John's birthplace, but I have been leaning lately toward Alexandria for a host of reasons that are too involved to comment on here.

This paradigm knows the other two, and represents the height of retrospective teaching about Jesus. Jesus is not a great Angel or a spirit who descends and embodies a human being at baptism or in the womb. His pre-existence is moved a step back, to a time before creation. He is God's reason or logos. The Logos IS God, the text says. He is God's mind that becomes flesh.

Although scholars have opted in the past to explain this by noting parallels with sophia traditions - traditions about God's wisdom - these parallels have never been able to explain the identification of the Logos with God existing from the beginning. Sophia is never God from the beginning.

How is this to be explained? More on this in my next post.