Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Note: The Mystery of God (Rowland and Morray-Jones)

The long awaited much-anticipated book on early Christian mysticism has finally been published. I have read pieces of this in draft since I was in graduate school (fifteen years ago), so I am particularly excited to see this in print. It clunked into my mailbox this morning. It is a huge volume put out by Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum. It is co-authored by Christopher Rowland and Christopher Morray-Jones, two pioneers in the study of early Christian mysticism: The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

The book is huge, almost 700 pages. There are several studies by Christopher Morray-Jones that have been revised and republished in this volume, including his important work on Paradise and Paul, and The Temple Within. There is much new here, too, including Rowland's work on New Testament mysticism as an expression of Second Temple apocalypticism, and Morray-Jones' research on the New Testament and the Kabbalah.

The book overview is as follows:
This book brings together the perspectives of apocalypticism and early Jewish mysticism to illuminate aspects of New Testament theology. The first part begins with a consideration of the mystical character of apocalypticism and then uses the Book of Revelation and the development of views about the heavenly mediator figure of Enoch to explore the importance of apocalypticism in the Gospels and Acts, the Pauline Letters and finally the key theological themes in the later books of the New Testament. The second and third parts explore the character of early Jewish mysticism by taking important themes in the early Jewish mystical texts such as the Temple and the Divine Body to demonstrate the relevance of this material to New Testament interpretation.
This book will be essential to anyone studying early Christian mysticism.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jesus on the Road to Nicaea 3: Anti-Semitism

If we are going to talk about turn-of-the-century Christian literature and the development of a Christian self-identity, then we are going to have to be ready to face anti-Semitism. It infuses this literature. It is explicit as well as implicit.

This is a topic that is difficult to broach because we are talking about hatred that, when mobilized by those in power, leads to terror, violence, and death. It is very tough to look at this literature and not feel shame and guilt.

What I think has been happening in scholarship as a way to dampen this shame and guilt in post WWII modernity is a reenvisioning of the conflict between the Jews and the Christians in this period as an intra-Jewish conflict. In my opinion, this revision of history (whether intentional or unintentional) serves to soften the shame and guilt by suggesting, however subtly, that Christianity is not guilty of originating anti-Semitism because 1) Christianity didn't really exist yet and 2) the conflict was a conflict that arose among Jewish brothers and sisters. The desire to revise the history of Judas is part of this scholarly trajectory (whether intentional or unintentional), either wishing Judas away or wanting him to be a hero that later traditions demonized. All of this effectively works toward exonerating the earliest Christians, so that the Christian tradition is not inherently at fault for anti-Semitism (and therefore we don't need to change anything essential to Christianity today), and so we can return to being brothers and sisters as we were before the conflict arose.

There are many things about this revision of history that I am uncomfortable with, especially the argument that anti-Semitism arose as an intra-Jewish conflict, which effectively ends up shifting the blame for the origin of anti-Semitism on Judaism rather than Christianity (although I don't think that this was the intention of the academic argument).

So in my posts when I discuss the separation of Christianity and Judaism, I will be addressing this issue openly. It is correct that Christianity is a Jewish movement during this period, BUT it also is a movement that is taking on a self-identity that is beginning to define itself against Judaism or superior to Judaism. So when the Christian tradition was forming as its own unique religion (when it was identifying itself as something other than Jewish), it generally did so by defining itself over and/or against Judaism rather than in continuity with it. Even its attempt to keep the Jewish scriptures was done in terms of superiority, the Jewish scriptures become the "old" covenant superseded by the "new." The Jewish ways of interpreting their scriptures were discarded as foolish and ignorant, while the Christian way was understood to be God-inspired.

This process of self-identification occurred gradually and at different times for different Christian populations and some groups chose to keep closer ties to Jewish traditions than others did. Anti-Semitism originated within this environment. It is at the core of the original process of Christian self-definition. What this means for Christianity today and in the future is something that I think the churches still need to address, especially since the anti-Semitism that was the consequence of early Christian self-definition became part of the Christian scripture when texts like the Gospel of John were canonized.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jesus on the Road to Nicaea 2: the lay of the land

Christianity on the threshold of the second-century was very much involved in self-definition. And depending on where you might have lived, the Christianity you would have known, and the Jesus you would have known, would be very different.

Keep in mind that at this time there was no New Testament. Scripture was the Jewish scriptures, which themselves were still in the process of canonization. The Christians were reading the Torah and the prophets and the wisdom literature.

And the Christians were producing their own writings and these were circulating. Someone had collected Paul's letters into a little book, and that was traveling around. Books that contained stories and sayings of Jesus were also circulating and this was known as the memoirs of the apostles and also the "gospel."

The eyewitness generation was dead. The second generation was old and beginning to die. So they were busy trying to set down their memories and interpretations and practices.

The end of the world hadn't arrived, even with the destruction of the Temple. This delay continued to be a major problem, and two things resulted. First there was an intensification of apocalyptic expectations, dreams, visions, and hopes. It is in this period that Revelation is written, the visions of Hermas are recorded, and millenarian hopes emerge. Second there is a feeling of settling down and waiting, of postponement and the continued need to set into place a church as a permanent institution. So this is the period when different communities put into place hierarchies of power, and women begin to struggle to stay in power. The easy charismatism of the early movement is vanishing (or perhaps better, going under ground).

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Jews were trying to redefine their traditions so that they would survive in synagogues without the Temple and the cult. The Christians were part of this redefinition. The first generation had been Jewish. The second generation was beginning to experience turmoil and conflict in regard to this relationship. In the 80s, we hear about a serious conflict between Christian Jews and other Jews over how the traditions should be interpreted. Thus the author of the Gospel of Matthew reveals a Christian self-definition that is trying to win the Jewish debate and emerge as the new Judaism. This is probably taking place in western Syria, around Antioch. But then we begin hearing references in texts like John (I think from Alexandria) that they were no longer welcome in the local synagogues in the 90s CE. And the language in this text shows a community that has begun to define itself as something other than Jewish. There are the Jews and there are us, the gospel says.

I realize there has been the desire in recent scholarship to downplay the separation between Judaism and Christianity in this period, even pushing it to Nicaea. But this position just cannot be supported from the literature unless we turn a blind eye on half of what this literature says. The separation is something well underway by the beginning of the second century, and, depending on the community you were involved with, may already have been achieved by mid-second century (as we will see for certain with Marcionite Christian churches and the Sethian Christian churches and, I would argue, for some Apostolic Christian churches).

It is my opinion that during this struggle emerged a radical monotheism in the Jewish tradition which shut out the possibility of divine mediators, while Christianity developed further the earlier monaltrous Jewish tradition which reserved worship for the 'big guy' but recognized particular angels as intermediaries who could be called upon for aid. The Angel of YHWH is particularly important in this regard, as is the KAVOD figure and the NAME itself. All of these represent the hypostasizing of the hidden YHWH who was beyond direct contact. I'm not sure what to label this form of worship, but it is not the radical monotheism that the Jewish rabbis decided upon and enforced.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-26-09

Beware of lust, my son, for lust leads to fornication. Likewise refrain from unclean talk and the roving eye, for these too can breed adultery.

Didache 3

Can you tell what I'm writing about today? Early Christians and their attitudes about sex. I'm working on chapter 3, "Is Sex a Sin?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The fallacious 'paradidomi'

Today I want to speak about the verb 'paradidomi' since there have been a number of discussions about this verb left in the comments of previous posts. What can and can't it tell us about Judas?

I want to say up front that my reading of Judas and this verb has nothing whatsoever to do with the angst between so-called liberal and conservative scholars. In fact, I resent this sort of labeling because it is nothing more than theology rearing its head in the academy. Scholars aren't "liberal" or "conservative". In our field, whether a scholar is "liberal" or "conservative" is not an academic designation, but a theological designation (is the person in favor of progressive, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc. Christianity).

When I read internet perspectives on my work, particularly my views on the Gospel of Judas, I am stunned how often I am labeled a conservative, when all I am is a historian doing her job recovering the best history possible given the sources with no apology for Christianity. My views on the Gospel of Judas are actually "liberal" by strict definition, since they go completely against the status quo and the established tradition that scholars have held for hundreds of years - that Judas in the Gospel of Judas should be a Gnostic and a hero. He is not.

Nor can the arguments about the term 'paradidomi' exonerate him from the biblical sources. What is the argument? That 'paradidomi' means only "hand over" and not (necessarily) "betray."

How is this argument made? By turning to NT references to the word such as Paul's use of it in 1 Cor 11:23-24 (where Paul says: "For I received from the Lord that which I also handed over to you"); Rom 8:32 (God "handed over" Jesus for us all); etc. Once it is established that 'paradidomi' means 'to give or hand someone or something over to someone else' the coast is clear to make the argument that Judas may not have been such a bad guy historically, especially since the NT gospel writers each portray the reason for Judas' 'handing over' of Jesus quite differently. Guess no one really knew and they were just scapegoating a good guy (or a guy that didn't exist at all).

Now here is the problem. 'Paradidomi', like most words, has a range of acceptable meanings and uses. You have to know the context of most words to know which meaning is intended. In fact its several definitions across Greek literature include: 1. to transmit or impart as a teacher, or hand down legends or information; 2. to give a city or a person into another's hands, such as surrender and treachery; 3. to allow or permit someone to do something.

So how do the NT gospel writers use the verb contextually in their telling of Judas' story? Mark 14 has Jesus say to the twelve at the table, "one of you will hand me over." The disciples begin to grieve ('lupeô') when they hear this statement. Then Jesus damns the man who will hand over the Son of Man: "Damn that man by whom the Son of Man is handed over! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Mark's story clearly uses the word in its treacherous sense. Judas is doing a terrible thing by turning Judas in. He is a disciple who is a turncoat.

Matthew's version (c. 26) isn't any better. Relying on Mark's story, he transmits the same use of 'paradidomi': The disciples grieve when they hear that one of them will hand Jesus over; this man is damned, better not to have been born. And - here is the difference - verbally identified as Judas!

Luke's version (c. 22) is equally scathing. He begins by telling us that Satan entered Judas who then went to talk to the high priests about how he would 'hand over' Jesus. So the word is now connected to the action of the chief demon and ruler of this world. Jesus later says at the table that one among them will hand him over. He damns the man who will turn him in.

John's version doesn't rely on the synoptics. He tells us as early as c. 6 that Jesus knew when he choose the twelve that one of them was a devil. This one is identified by John as Judas who would hand him over. Thus in c. 13 we learn that the devil had already put into Judas' heart the plan to hand over Jesus. Jesus predicts Judas' plan to hand him over as fulfilment of scripture that "He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me." Once Judas eats the morsel served by Jesus, Satan himself enters Judas and he goes out to do the deed. Judas' connection with Satan the ruler of the world is even more pronounced during the Farewell Discourse when Jesus says that he has run out of time to talk to them because "the ruler of this world is coming" in reference to Judas' plan to come to the garden and hand over Jesus to the authorities. This is all portrayed by John as part of God's plan to overthrow the ruler of this world.

My point is that in every one of these Judas cases, 'paradidomi' means treachery and betrayal. The contexts could not be more explicit.

The fact that each author gives a different motivation for Judas' betrayal says nothing more to us than all our authors knew that Judas had done something so bad that they felt the need to explain why he would have done such a terrible thing. So they suggest money, demon possession, and "it was part of God's plan" as answers.

As far as the Sethian Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas - they were very faithful to scripture. Judas Iscariot was identified by them with Satan, the ruler of this world, whom they also called Saklas and Ialdabaoth.

So the next time you read about how 'paradidomi' exonerates Judas, think again, because it is a fallacious argument.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus on the Road to Nicaea 1: the controversies

This is the beginning of a new series of posts following the previous series called Creating Jesus. In that series, we looked at the foundational stories and three major emergent christological paradigms in the earliest literature.

The Jerusalem paradigm was the earliest, viewing Jesus as a human being born of human parents who was possessed by the spirit at his baptism. He died the death of a Jewish martyr and received the reward of the martyr: resurrection from the dead and exaltation as an angelic being, in his case, the Angel of YHWH. Baptism cleansed of previous sins, anointing gave the spirit, and eucharist was an apocalyptic party anticipating the Messianic banquet in heaven and the coming of Jesus as the YHWH angel of Judgment. Pious living in imitation of Jesus the Righteous One is the heart of salvation. This paradigm became very popular in the east, particularly moving through Mesopotamia and eastern Syria, although it appears to be the ground for the other two paradigms and was not unknown in the west.

The Antiochean paradigm developed quickly. Although I am not certain if it first fermented in Jerusalem and then was taken to Antioch, or if it originated in Antioch, it became the dominant paradigm in Asia Minor and western Syria. It also traveled west to Rome and became exceedingly popular there. In this paradigm, the possession is moved back to the womb. The Angel YHWH possesses the fetus from the time of conception or the quickening. Mary becomes a virgin who bears a child who already is divine. Jesus is a full human being with an additional aspect to his soul, a special angelic augment. This is an embodiment christology. Baptism and anointing deliver the spirit of Jesus to the believer, so that the person has already been resurrected as Jesus was. Jesus' death functions as a universal atonement. Eucharist is a sacrificial renactment of Jesus' death and is a serious ceremony of mourning rather than a celebratory party.

The Alexandrian paradigm is the final one. In it, we move back further to a pretemporal "moment" when the Logos existed as God. The Logos was the mind of God and this is what descends into flesh and becomes Jesus. This is an ensoulment christology where the mind of God functions as the "human" soul of Jesus. Jesus is YHWH walking on earth as a human being. Baptism is rebirth, a transmutative process that recreates the believer in God's image. Eucharist involves consuming a divine body which acts as the medicine of immortality. The person who eats the sacred body finds that his or her own body-soul is slowing transformed into that same sacred body. It is a process of glorification or theosis: becoming god.

Now these are the three foundational christological and ritual paradigms which fuel the controversies of the second century and eventually lead to Nicaea. Keep in mind that the second century authors do not necessarily know of these as separate paradigms. Each author will have a tradition that he learned which usually corresponds to his geographical location and the paradigm of the school he attended. But he will also know the paradigms embedded in the things he had available to read and consider "scriptural." Sometimes these authors will mix elements together from the different paradigms, or they will impose upon other paradigms the dominant paradigm they have learned, or they will develop one and not discuss the others at all. It is necessary for us to be flexible and read our sources carefully to determine what is actually going on.

The three controversies that become bound up with christology are the Jewish-Christian controversy (How Jewish are we as Christians?); the Gnostic controversy (Should we as Christians worship YHWH or another god who lives beyond this universe?); the Monarchian controversy (How monotheistic are we as Christians?).

Next time we will begin to look at the Jewish-Christian controversy (although I hope you notice that all three of the controversies I have outlined are REALLY Jewish-Christian controversies).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Last day of summer

Celebrate the last day of summer! Tomorrow will be here soon, and with it another semester of research and learning. I'm on a grant this semester - so no teaching. I'm going to be writing about star gates and ascent for an SBL presentation, but the big project is finishing my book, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. I will be returning to finishing up chapter three on Jesus and Paul. But that can wait until tomorrow. The rest of the day is to enjoy the last moments of summer. Alexander starts kindergarten at 7:35 am (!) tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-20-09

My heart was pruned and its flower appeared,
Then grace sprang up from in it,
And it produced fruits for the Lord.
For the Most High circumcised me by his Holy Spirit,
Then he uncovered my inward being towards him,
And filled me with his love.
And his circumcising became my salvation,
And I ran in the way, in his peace,
In the way of truth.

Odes of Solomon 11.1-3 (Syrian, end of second and beginning of third century CE)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-18-09

I promise to return to more substantial posts next week. I have given myself the first three-week "vacation" I have had, well, since I can remember. Once I am back in the office, regular "hearty" postings should resume. But for now, an apocryphote for the day.

"If you desire to devote yourselves entirely to God...lend to those who do not repay you."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, The Muslim Jesus, pp. 144-145

Monday, August 17, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-17-09

"Do not seek the world by destroying yourselves. Seek salvation by abandoning what is in the world. Naked you came into the world and naked you shall depart."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al Zuhd, The Muslim Jesus, p. 146

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-13-09

"Whoever has learned, acted, and acquired knowledge, he is the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, The Muslim Jesus, pp. 98-99.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-12-09

"Beware the world and do not make it your abode."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, The Muslim Jesus, p. 98.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Working on the blog today

Designed a new banner for the blog today. What do you think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Report: The Historiographical Jesus (Le Donne)

Today a package arrived in my mailbox. What's this? I thought as I opened it. As I tore the package open and the name of the book emerged "The Historiographical Jesus" by Anthony Le Donne, I thought, "My gosh, a perfect title!" Simultaneously I thought (in regards to historical Jesus research) - "it is about time!"

Of course I haven't had time to read and digest all that Le Donne has to say yet. But I can see already that this book is a "must" read. It is pioneering, taking seriously the study of social memory and applying it to what Le Donne thinks we can and can't say the Jesus traditions.

Refreshingly he establishes himself as an historian who is not trying to get back to "unrefracted memory" (that is, what actually happened), but to account for the earliest memory refractions in Jesus' story. So "authenticity" and "historicity" are redefined to point to earliest memories of Jesus and Le Donne maps out the criteria that he uses to pick up this information.

Le Donne works with the concept of memory refraction in the Jesus tradition and analyzes how the stories and saying of Jesus were distorted as they were handed down and consciously and unconsciously reframed. Anthony argues that the analysis of memory refraction allows historians to escape the problems between memory and typology and recover the earliest memories of Jesus.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Creating Jesus 24: Transmutative Soteriology

As I finish up the final paradigm, the one in which God's Logos or Reason functions at Jesus' soul, so that God is literally a human being walking around on earth, I want to address how this alters the pattern of salvation. Because we have here a christology in which God and the flesh meet, forming an extraordinary human being, the goal of this paradigm is for all humans to experience this same transmutation, a perfecting that alters their humanity in the same way that it had altered Jesus'. This is a process called theosis and it is captured in the words of many of the church fathers from the east, "God became man so that man can become God."

How was this achieved? Largely it happens through the sacraments. It begins through baptism when one is "reborn of water and spirit" (John 3:5). It is a REBIRTH. The person's soul is literally born anew. It was believed that the waters purified the person while the spirit infused the soul, altering it so that the soul and person was created anew reflecting God's image.

This transmutation was maintained through the person's participation in the eucharist. In John 6, the author is not speaking about cannibalism, eating the flesh and blood of the historical Jesus. Rather the person is supposed to consume a sacred or divinized flesh, the extraordinary body of God. This body the person's eats is "the bread of life" which has "come down from heaven." This heavenly bread is Jesus' divinized flesh, and when consumes, yields life eternal to the one eating it. This incorporation of the sacred body worked like divine medicine, immortalizing the person over time. It is familiar to us in our adage: "You are what you eat."

So here, in John's gospel, we have our third and final paradigm, one that understands the eucharist as an experience of at-one-ment in contrast to the sacrifical model familiar to the Pauline tradition of "atonement." The devotee incorporates the sacred elements to imitate the ensoulment of Jesus, since at the moment of consumption a unification between God and the human is experienced. When this happens regularly, a process of transmutation is undergone, and eventually theosis will be achieved.

Since I got a very positive response to continuing this series beyond the foundational paradigms, I have decided to move forward into the second-century and trace with you what happened to these paradigms in the theology and practices of the Christians up to Nicaea. So my posts will begin a "new" series called Jesus on the Road to Nicaea.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 8-6-09

I'm still "away" on "vacation" for the couple of weeks before school starts, but I thought I'd drop in with an apocryphote, and to let you know I'm still around. Once I return to my office at the end of August, I'll begin posting more regularly again.

"But I say to you, what you seek and ask about, look, it is in you!"

Dialogue of the Savior 16

Monday, August 3, 2009

2,000 year old ritual cup uncovered in Jerusalem

This news has now made the LA Times. Congratulations James, to you and your crew. Very exciting!