Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digitization of the Goussen Library Collection

Michael Herkenhoff of the Goussen Library collection just sent me this link to 850 prints of their collection which they just finished digitizing and uploading to the net. Some of the prints are in Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Arabic, Armenian, and Georgian languages. They date from the 16th to the 20th century. For copyright reasons, all prints digitized predate 1901.

I briefly checked out the Coptic version of Revelation. The copy dates from 1885. The pdf file of the scanned manuscript shows the Coptic written out by hand with annotations occasionally at the bottom of the pages. Wish I had more time to study this.

I also noticed a Syriac edition of the Didascalia Apostolorum edited by P.A. de Lagarde is in the collection along with a large number of other Syriac texts.

It was VERY neat to click a button and have the printed manuscript in front of me! What will all this digitizing mean for the future of scholarship. One day soon, we will be able to double check the manuscripts themselves for readings by surfing the internet!!

Check out the entire collection HERE.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Exposing the inaccuries of English translations of the bible

Bible translation has been a concern of mine, as has recovering women's history. Elizabeth McCabe has a good article on the subject of Phoebe as a deacon and a church leader on the SBL Forum and how her titles have been inaccurately translated as early as Jerome and his Vulgate. I enjoyed reading this feature which represented a compressed blurb from her forthcoming edited volume. I look forward to picking up the new book that McCabe has edited when it is released:
Women in the Biblical World: A Survey of Old and New Testament Perspectives (ed. Elizabeth A. McCabe; Lanham: University Press of America, 2009).
Phoebe is a good example (as is Junia) of how male translators and interpreters of the bible have altered our knowledge of women's history in the earlier period, erasing leadership roles that were theirs from the beginning of the movement. Historical-literary criticism being done especially by feminist biblical scholars is largely responsible for restoring these women to their historical prominence.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Note: Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse (Philip L. Tite)

I am trying to unbury myself from the mound of books that is piled up in my office. My students will be smiling by now reading this. Literally, I have three mountains piled on my desk (I have a big u-shaped desk).

One book that I have been intending to mention because it is another new book out on Valentinianism is by Philip Tite, Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse: Determining the Social Function of Moral Exhortation in Valentinian Christianity. It is another Brill publication, so it may be a library check out book rather than a purchase.

The subject that Tite covers is the moral instruction given within Valentinian Christianity. He uses a form of socio-rhetorical criticism that he develops from the work of social psychologists and literary critics. He does not map out particular early Christian communities or factions within these communities, but views how the texts "use social re-presentation, through narrative articulation, in order to persuade the audience or recipient to identify with the social idealization of the author as a shared worldview. In this sense, both our texts 'create social identities'; this does not open the texts to historical reconstructions of actual social groups, but rather the elucidation of group formation processes as sets of joint actions. The communicative situation of each text, therefore, can be seen as an attempt to construct identities for persuasive purposes" (p. 314).

I agreed that the texts we are examining are all about the power of persuasion. But I would go farther and point out that the persuading the text is doing is the persuading the author is doing in a real social situation. It is his side of a dialogue. And with the Valentinian material, we have the other side of the dialogue in the heresiologists and their attempt to implode Valentinian ethics. So history is lurking behind the Valentinian ethical persuasion found in their texts, and no matter how "idealistic" the representation of our authors may appear, their point of view represents an historical point of view of the person who wrote it and the people he associated with. It was the ideal which they hoped would be lived (or was being lived) in their community.

Tite spends 56 pages mapping out his methodology and it requires careful reading. Throughout these pages, he is critical of Vernon Robbins' approach because of what Tite calls Robbins' "omission" of a bridge between text and social reality: "Indeed, the movement from the level of the text to the level of the occasion behind the text is not only impossible with this method, there is furthermore no corrective agent in place for the errors that emerge when one moves from one level to the other without such a bridge" (p. 33).

I wonder about this. I have never personally read Robbins' that way, nor has this ever come across in the many private conversations I have had with Robbins about his socio-rhetorical method. I don't think that Robbins' approach omits this bridge. I have always understood that it was built on it. Robbins' approach has always been about real authors and real worlds of the authors and how, by examining the various textures in the text, that the social discourse as the author presents it can be recovered. Robbins understands texts (=implied author) to be extension of the real authors themselves and the social world they are engaged in (cf. p. 21 Tapestry) (and I agree).

The book is well-documented and refreshing in that it presents Valentinian moral exhortation as a Christian moral discourse which was used to shape their social identity. Thankfully, Tite leaves behind the old heresiological categories and point of view. I am glad that this book is now part of the discussion about second-century Christianity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-23-09

"The kingdom of heaven is at your right hand."

Gospel (I prefer: Revelation) of the Savior 97.13-15

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back to women

I just finished writing chapter four of Sex and the Serpent. So I will probably be returning to posting on some gender-related issues. In the meantime, I have been contemplating this jewel from Celsus quoted by Origen. I have been thinking about women's witness and how their prominence in the pre-gospel story cycles are already being dampened in the foundational written narratives in the New Testament gospels, particularly the Lukan version - although the Matthean and Johannine versions are remodeling an older traditional story too. There are many possibilities for "why" these authors were dampening the women's witness, particularly Mary Magdalene's, but Celsus' remarks are telling on more than one account: on the view of women witness as inauthentic among Roman men (Roman Law did not allow women to be witnesses); on the view of women in the Roman world as emotive irrational creatures attracted to religious frenzy and superstitions; on the view that the resurrection is nothing more than a dream misinterpreted or a way to persuade people to give the Christians money. Did the evangelists consider the traditional story about the women's witness and commission by Jesus (see Matthew 28:9-10) a liability that needed to be dealt with?

According to Celsus:

We must examine this question – whether anyone who actually died ever rose again with the same body?...Who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamed in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands of people), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.

What is it about biblioblogging...?

What is it about biblioblogging that invites misreading, mischaracterizations and negative assessments of other bloggers' posts? Is it the speed by which a post is 'read' or the desire to sensationalize everything written or the wish to inflame readers and spread fear among them or the easiness of stereotyping and plugging every argument into an either-this-or-that category when in fact the argument is complex?

What did I say yesterday? I said that as a historian I find the combination of historical-criticism, literary criticism and social-scientific approach to be the most advantageous. I said that I felt that nothing can replace historical-criticism and if we are going to recover history this is not going to be done via literary criticism alone. We must continue to train our students rigorously in historical-criticism even though post-modern interpretation is sweeping the academy.

I laid out the principles of historical criticism as I use them, so that all can see the assumptions I start with. I do this in every book I write too, because I want my readers to know what my approach is and what my presumptions are. There is no neutral text, and there is no neutral interpretation as I have said countless times (so often in fact that I am getting tired of needing to continue to write it, but I guess I do because other bloggers keep criticizing me for missing this very point?!). However, this does NOT make all interpretations equally valuable for the historical endeavor. This is where I draw the line on theological interpretation and confessional perspectives. They are fine for certain discussions, as long as they are not being paraded out as historical or confused with the historical.

As for the historical-critical approach and feminism. There is nothing anti-feminist about the historical approach in and of itself. What is anti-feminist is its application which has been controlled by white (mainly European) males since only recently. So the kind of history that has been recovered and written has been the history of the dominant group, and it is the history that justifies and sustains that group. Here again we are talking about white males who are in power and who wish to remain so. When our histories, whether religious or social or political, have been written and put into text books and taught to our children, it is the history of the dominant group - their master commemorative narrative - that we are disseminating. Now this is not new news. It is ho-hum by now and I imagine you are yawning.

So what have we done about this now that we have recognized it because feminist scholarship and literary critical methods have brought this to our attention? We have gone back and added a paragraph about important women in our textbooks and we have minted coins with Anthony's face on it, coins that we never use! But we haven't rewritten our histories to reflect what we are learning about the hidden histories and the marginalized past nor have we commemorated it as a society (this is especially true of our religious histories - which is why I am writing Sex and the Serpent). Why not add a paper dollar to those we use already, and put Anthony on it? Why not make a government holiday commemorating the Suffrage movement? Why not rename important boulevards with the names of women we wish to commemorate? Etc.

So the biggest "new" piece to the historical-critical puzzle which I included yesterday in my ten principles, is that the historical-critical method I use has been opened up to be aware of the marginalized histories, that - as my mom used to say - there are always two-sides to a story. As a historical-critic, I recognized a long time ago that the dominant story we are told in most of our texts is not the way things were (or for that matter 'are').

This is the call of our generation - to understand our past more fully and appreciate the variety and complexity of it. We need to give proper credit to the marginalized histories for their own sake, but also with the recognition that the dominant stories would not be what they are if those it marginalized had not lived.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Choosing your method

Today I want to address the issue of methodology which any reader of my blog knows is on my mind frequently. I see my generation of scholars in a precarious situation in terms of method because so many have left the hard work of historical criticism to pursue the post-modern literary trends that are of interest to so many in the academy, especially those scholars who are confessional or interested in contemporary theological interests. Literary criticism can provide the means to disengage with history while still leaving the impression that what has been done is a historical investigation.

I have nothing against literary criticism. In fact, various literary methods inform my research. But as I have argued in my publications and on this blog, literary methods alone are not a replacement for historical criticism, because they do not operate by the same assumptions and they do not seek to answer the same questions. I have discovered that the best methodological approach seeks to bring three fields together : historical criticism, literary criticism, and social-scientific criticism.

But nothing can replace historical criticism, and training in it is the best thing that we can give our students whether they know that or not. Without it, we run the risk of falling into the erotics of the text itself or apologetics, and confusing history with story (or worse theology) and de/re-contextualizing its conversation. So you have to choose. There isn't a middle ground. You can't research and write from a semi-historical method. There is no such thing. If you do this, you are allowing your confessional stance to influence your history. It is like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren't. Either you are a historian operating by the critical perspective, or you are not.

These are the 10 'commandments' or 'operating principles' for the historical-critical interpretation of ancient texts which inform my research:

1. There is no such thing as a neutral text. There is always power and persuasion involved.

2. The author always has a viewpoint and that viewpoint is always engaging another viewpoint (hidden or open) whether to polemicize against it or to develop it or to interpret it or to pass it on.

3. When the text is read against the grain (not for its intended purpose of persuasion to its own viewpoint and its own 'history'), the social dynamics of the text become visible and voices that are hidden by the author begin to emerge. It is the job of the historian to not only concentrate on recovering the dominant voice(s) in the text, but the submerged and oft-silenced voices too.

4. The text is not reporting history, it is reporting theology and it is using story to do so. This makes recovering history extremely difficult because all is not as it seems. We need to ask questions such as why is the author reporting his history and his theology this way? What other histories and theologies does the author know about? What traditions has the author received? How has the author shaped those traditions? Why has he shaped them in the manner that he has? Who has something to gain by this view of history and theology? Who has something to lose by this view of history and theology? What are the author's assumptions and how do these impact the author's narrative? How is the author's narrative related to other narratives? How is the author's narrative related to history? Etc.

5. There is always something before, during and after the text. The traditions it yields are part of a dynamic ideological, social, and religious network with strong geographical semblance. This geographical semblance developed along the roads, trade routes, sea routes, that connected the major cities and the various intellectual schools in those cities.

6. There is rarely (perhaps never) an either-or solution to our texts. We must not expect things to fit nicely in two boxes. The real historical situation is complex and complicated, and any solution we develop must be willing to pull things out of the boxes and allow them to get messy.

7. There is no such thing as 'background' to a text or a tradition. The text or tradition is fully immersed and fully engaged in the dynamics of ancient culture written and performed and transmitted from the minds of ancient people. The author isn't grabbing this idea from here and that idea from there, and so forth, and accurately representing them. The author is a person of his time and culture in which he is immersed in the richness and dynamics of his world where things are not laid out in neat columns, but are mixed up, and often confused. He may know bits and pieces of things due to his cultural exposure, but those bits and pieces may or may not be accurate representations of the ideas. Most often they have been arranged into some kind of pattern that makes sense to the author, but doesn't necessarily represent the bits and pieces accurately. For instance, if he were living in Alexandria, he likely is exposed to Hermetism. But this doesn't mean that what he knows about Hermetism is actually what the Hermetics were practicing in their lodge meetings. And his mixed up versions of things may become foundational for later people.

8. To understand the texts historically, it is necessary to figure out the ancient mindset the best we can, mapping its assumptions and expectations, and allow those to inform our reading of the text. This can only be garnered through a cautious cross-cultural study of the ancient peoples who lived around the Mediterranean, reading from medical literature, studying archaeological remains, shifting through documentary evidence, engaging the whole range.

9. There is nothing new under the sun. The perspectives transmitted in these texts are part of a social memory dynamic that constantly shuffles received traditions to align them with the present experiences of the individuals and groups.

10. The historian must remain skeptical of what the author of the text claims to be true or false.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What do I mean by 'confessional'?

I can't seem to find a satisfying word to describe religiously-invested scholars whose contributions are apologetic in orientation. When I used 'apologetic' people objected. When I used 'conservative-progressive' people objected. When I used 'theological' people objected. Maybe people just want to object? If someone has a better descriptor, I'd be happy to entertain it.

My point in using confessional (or any of the other descriptors I have tried out on this blog) is that scholars who are so invested theologically in a religious tradition and its maintenance are willing to suspend what we know to be factual about our world in order to read their scriptures as fact. These scholars confuse their confessional tradition with history and justify it as history, when in fact what they are justifying is actually theology.

Can a Christian be a historian of Christianity? Of course. But I would qualify this: only if that Christian is not invested in maintaining Christian theology as history in their academic contributions. That Christian must first and foremost be operating critical of the religion, and must be unwilling to cave in to the pressure of making theological claims historical knowledge. So training in historical-critical method is essential, as is vigilance in maintaining this orientation.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The never-ending confusion about perspective

As many of my readers know, I have written many posts already on the historical-critical method and how essential it is for scholars in biblical studies to make the choice between confessional scholarship and historical scholarship. As Jesus said, "It is impossible to serve two masters, or one will be honored and the other insulted."

There is a big difference between confessional scholarship and its working assumptions and historical-critical scholarship and its working assumptions, and we must never confuse the two. Confessional scholarship is willing to compromise and apologize in order to keep 'history' aligned with the faith tradition. It is willing to understand theology as history and write about knowledge in these terms. Historical-critical scholarship is built on the presuppositions of the scientific search for knowledge. It is unwilling to allow theology to be history.

If you are at all uncertain about this distinction, it is easiest to see it when you look at a religion that is not your own and the claims to truth that religion makes. Think about claims that are made about Mohammad, Buddha, or any religion that has "historical" founders or scriptures. Its views on their founders are theology historicized. They are religious truth claims that have been accepted as fact by believers from that tradition, and scholars who work in that tradition. Those outside that tradition recognize this easily.

The easiest example of this in Christianity (which I have also discussed on numerous occasions previously) is the physical resurrection of Jesus. Confessional scholars are willing (some even feel compelled) to allow for the physical resurrection of Jesus to be historical fact. Of course it is not. Dead bodies don't come back to life. And Jesus' body did not come back to life. This is a theological doctrine that was historicized in the literature of the early believers. Those outside of Christianity, and non-confessional academics in another field (like science) see this immediately.

The virgin birth story is another example. Confessional scholars are willing to allow for Jesus' birth from a virgin. This is theology that they have confused with history. Of course Jesus had a human father -whether it was Joseph or someone else. Children aren't born without an egg fertilized by a sperm. If you really want to get silly about this, in the case of Jesus, since he was male, he had to get his Y chromosome from somewhere. Since dads are the only transmitters of the Y chromosome, he had to have a dad. And it wasn't the holy spirit. Even the Valentinians laughed at that logic since everyone knew the holy spirit was Jesus' mom. She was a female!

Humor aside, this is a very serious issue for our field, and now that post-modernism is gripping the academy, we see the abuse of philosophy in order to bolster the positions of confessional scholars who want to continue to make the argument that their theology (and their scripture) is history. They confuse the idea that since all positions are subjective, the scientific position has no better claim to truth than their own.

Of course there is a difference, and in the case of the scientific approach is does a more accurate job recovering history than a theological approach because these approaches have different sets of assumptions they begin with. The scientific approach does not allow you to mistake theology for history, nor does it allow you to mistake the doctrines that developed in the religious tradition to be the history that the tradition says they are. The scientific approach knows that this is the way that the religion justifies its doctrines; it is no history. But confessional scholars are willing to excuse its religious doctrine for history and even bolster this justification by (mis)using philosophy, literary criticism and the social sciences to try and argue that there is nothing we can know for certain because there is no objective truth, so their truth is as historical as any other.

I can't write more today because I am home with a sick five year old (as I was yesterday). But I hope in the next few days to continue my train of thought, because I think this is the MOST IMPORTANT discussion of my generation - whether we are willing or not to abandon our field to confessional claims to knowledge and truth in the post-modern age.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My response to Robert Eisenman and "Redemonizing Judas"

Robert Eisenman has updated and republished his Huffington Post piece on "Redemonizing Judas." I mention this not because I think it is a good article (things are quite mixed up in his article), but because again I am characterized by Eisenman as a "conservative" scholar who thinks the NT gospels are more historical than the extra-canonical gospels, all because I argue that the demon Judas is in the Gospel of Judas rather than the hero. The fact that I argue for a demonic Judas is the only point that Eisenman appears to know about my work. From this fact he appears to have drawn the incorrect conclusion that I am a "conservative" scholar who is a "theologian" interested in pushing a conservative Christian platform in my writing for which I am criticized. Indeed, such a characterization of me or my work could not be more off the mark.

In my opinion, it is sad that Eisenman would publish such a mixed up article on a widely read blog like Huffington Post, leaving his readers with the wrong impressions about the scholars he mentions. He calls Michael Williams and Jim Robinson "conservative" theologians too, so at least I am in good company.

It is humorous that I receive criticism for my work on the Gospel of Thomas from those interested in maintaining canonical authority and historicity, while also getting slammed for my work on the Gospel of Judas by those on the other side of the fence who want to trump the canonical stories with (in my view) misunderstood extra-canonical literature.

The fact is I am a historian with no interest in apologizing for Christianity or maintaining Christian tradition. When I read texts, I do so as an historian and I say it like I see it with no concern about whether or not it "fits" with the traditional Christian picture of things.

My studies of the Gospel of Thomas have led me to conclude it contains a very old kernel gospel that pre-dates Paul and likely Quelle in the forms we have it in Matthew and Luke. The mystical tradition and encratic perspective it upholds was developed in response to the delayed eschaton and became the basis for much of Christianity in eastern Syria. So the gospel is both young and old. Because of this, we must use caution when addressing the text in our work. But it contains an essential "missing" piece to the puzzle of early pre-Pauline Jerusalem Christianity.

My studies of the Gospel of Judas have led me to conclude that the Sethian Christians who wrote it were very careful exegetes of the canonical gospels. They took seriously the claims in Luke and John that Judas was a demon, even the demon Satan who ruled the world. As such, they identified Judas with the Ialdabaoth demiurge (the demonic ruler of this world), and understood Judas' astral destiny to be identical with Ialdabaoth's, the god of the thirteen realms. If anything, this conclusion turns upside down the expected narrative based on past scholarly readings of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. It is hardly a "conservative" argument, nor is does it represent an attempt on my part to forward a "conservative" traditional Christian agenda.

The origins of the Gospel of John (and Thomas)

Another attempt to unravel the relationship between the gospels of John and Thomas is at hand. Christopher Skinner has been interviewed by Andrew Bernhard and Michael Grondin about his new book John and Thomas - Gospels in Conflict? which can be read HERE. According to this interview, Skinner uses a narratalogical approach favored by Culpepper. He concludes that because other disciples are characterized negatively in the fourth gospel, the author of John is doing this as a narratological choice, and, therefore, his negative portrayal of Thomas does not suggest polemics against Thomasine Christianity.

My response to this interview:
1. Just because the author of the gospel of John has negative things to say about disciples other than Thomas does not lead to the conclusion that there is (or can be) no polemic against Thomasine traditions in this text.

2. The fact that Riley, Pagels and myself point out differing topics for those polemics (resurrection; genesis exegesis; soteriology) does not suggest that the conflict we see is "speculative" in some negative unsubstantiated way as Skinner implies. All of scholarship is speculative. This is not a bad thing as long as it is based on the evidence and reasoned well. The development of models have to be based on reasoned speculation from our sources. Because three academic studies don't emerge with a consensus opinion on the nature of the Johannine polemic, does not support the conclusion that there is no polemic. The three positions need not be mutually exclusive. These three positions may in fact be pointing to three pieces of the puzzle, and strengthen the argument for a polemical relationship between the Johannine and Thomasine traditions rather than weaken it. In fact, I wrote in my introductory chapter, "I would like to note that this monograph is only investigating one stratum layer among many that influenced the composition of the Gospel of John and its precursors. This investigation offers one more piece of the complicated puzzle of Johannine origins and should be read in addition to previous theories about John's origins rather than as a replacement for them" (p. 33).

3. I am concerned by Skinner's suggestion that because Riley, Pagels and myself do not come to the same conclusions regarding the topic of the polemic, that we are making the details fit our own theories. This type of criticism has nothing to do with scholarly argumentation. It is an attempt to dismiss the evidence without dealing with it. In fact, my hypothesis developed out of my careful exegetical reading of these texts, as did Riley's and Pagel's. I did not have some sweeping theory in place before I started my research, and from the conversations I have had in the past with both Riley and Pagels, neither did they.

4. I want to say a few words in response to Skinner's statement, "One of the first things I found problematic in the approach (which I, for purposes of brevity, have designated the 'community-conflict hypothesis') was that these scholars were all making a great deal about an entirely speculative 'conflict' while doing very little exegesis in the Fourth Gospel." I did "very little exegesis in the Fourth Gospel"? Are you kidding me? I have two entire chapters of exegesis of the Fourth Gospel in my book Voices of the Mystics (as well as a entire chapter exegeting the gospel of Thomas, and another entire chapter exegeting Syrian texts with associated traditions). This is not "little" in my eyes.
I want to reiterate my position, so that it doesn't get too muddled in the internet and future publications.
1. My position has been and continues to be that our narratives are communal narratives that reflect the discussions that have engaged the people responsible for developing those particular traditions before the composition of the narratives themselves. They are not written to be nice stories about Jesus. One of the biggest concerns of the authors, it to write to correct and provide the right information to the intended audience. If you are at all in doubt of this, go and reread Luke 1:1-4, who knows other written accounts and wishes to write the orderly one for Theophilius so that he can be truthfully informed. Or chapter 24 of the same gospel in which Jesus has to correct the resurrection beliefs of those who were saying that his suffering meant that he was not the Messiah (esp. vv. 25-27).

2. My position has been and continues to be that the author of the gospel of John is aware of the type of vision and ascent mysticism that came to be associated with the Thomasine traditions in Syria, and he is polemicizing against them. I have not and do not maintain that the author of the gospel of John knew or read the gospel of Thomas. In fact, the entire first chapter of my book Voices of the Mystics is devoted to discussing the concept of developing TRADITIONS that eventually get embedded in our gospels. The competition is between the Johannine and Thomasine traditions and the communities who "owned" these traditions. It is not a competition between their gospels as literary compositions. If I have read Pagels correctly, she too argues that the author of John knew and thoroughly disagreed with the type of exegesis of the Genesis story offered in the gospel of Thomas, that he was engaged in a clash of traditions and polemics against the specific patterns of exegesis preserved in the gospel of Thomas, not the gospel of Thomas itself (Beyond Belief, p. 479).

3. I don't perceive of these communities as some isolated churches somewhere in the ancient world. The use of Johannine and Thomasine community language is chosen in order to indicate the communal nature of these developing traditions, not a church that had a sign on the front lawn that said "The Church of John" or "The Church of Thomas". In fact, I think that the Thomasine community was the very early apostolic tradition in eastern Syria. In other words, Christianity in Syria early on would have appeared very much along the lines of the theology we find in the gospel of Thomas. As for John, it represents at least two types of Christianity - a pre-final-redactor Christianity and a post-final-redactor Christianity - a form of Christianity as it was being practiced in Alexandria and another form of Christianity as it was being practiced in, I think, western Syria and perhaps Asia Minor. I'm still working this aspect out.

4. The origins of the Fourth Gospel has not been satisfactorily worked out, although we are a fingernail away. It is a gospel containing many polemics, much of which has already been mapped by a number of previous scholars. The author is particularly hard on the twelve (one of them was a devil!, another was a traitor!, and another a doubter!), especially in the pre-final-redactor version (before c. 21 was added; and perhaps the resurrection stories fiddled with). The heroes of this earlier version of the gospel are not among the twelve, but are the outsider disciples: the beloved disciple (who is Lazarus by narratological reading of the gospel), Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary Magdalene. This gospel legitimatizes itself on authorities alternative to the Twelve and the Petrine tradition, Thomas among them and the particular brand of mystical Christianity that appears to have become associated with his name in Syria. It isn't until the gospel is redacted into the form we have with c. 21 that the Petrine is fully embraced. The polemics in this gospel are far-reaching. The Johannine author is like the author of the Testimony of Truth, who is unhappy with everyone except his very own.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sobering stats on women and patriarchy

If you haven't already seen it, Julia O'Brien posted on the New York Times Magazine about how women are actually faring in the world...not good.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Teach both theories...let the kids decide

Gail Dawson passed this cartoon link from the Washington Post on to me. Although biblical studies is not featured, it could be. And it is a real concern of mine here in Texas where teaching the Bible in public schools is now legal this year. How many secondary school teachers are trained in the difference between theology and history? So I couldn't resist making a quick sketch to add this panel to the cartoon:

Apocryphote of the Day: 9-10-09

Jesus said, "It is impossible for a person to mount two horses and to bend two bows."

Gospel of Thomas 47.1

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A response to Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob left this in a comment, raising the issue that he too, as a theological blogger, has been on the receiving end of attack, and notes that the attack is not just positional but personal.
I blog on theological issues, issues in the PCUSA and sometimes Biblical issues as related to issues in the PCUSA. I'm male but have noticed the tendency to react by some bloggers with derogatory comments not only about what I say but also about me.

Being a Calvinist I suppose I understand the reason people don't respond in calm and ration manners. Winning is more important than rational discussion and some believe the proper way to win is attack.

I have participated in April's blog for a while now and while I don't always agree with her I like her perspective.

If you can get more women who will participate in rational discussion (while I have noticed that males tend to attack more often some women do too.) I would love to participate.

BTW I am not surprised but also disappointed that disagreement in academia is as virulent and demeaning as it is in church circles.
Bob raises two issues I would like to respond to. Regarding biblioblogging, I think we need to agree among ourselves to cultivate an atmosphere of respect, and demeaning remarks need to be left out of our conversations. Fair criticism is one thing. Demeaning a position or a person is another.

As for the viciousness of academia and the unwritten rule that we need to win at all costs, this is a climate we too can choose to change. Who made up this rule anyway? Who says that we have to fight like dogs in order to be good scholars? Now I don't want to be misunderstood here. Criticism is not a bad thing, but it needs to be constructive, it needs to work to move our thinking forward. We must take stands when a stand is needed. BUT let's face it, most of us are fairly close on our general views, and our arguments are generally (not always) over the small stuff.

Recognizing this, about fifteen years ago, I helped put together a group to study Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism. One of the things that was important to me was that the group function constructively, that the environment was not hostile and warlike, but collegial and cooperative. That group is still in existence, and I have had scholars come up to me more than once and say that the ONLY reason they bother coming to SBL anymore is to attend our group. Why? Because we are actually doing something constructive in an environment that is cooperative. Why most of our conference continues with this old model of fighting and bickering is beyond me. It serves none of us well, it does not move the field forward. It reflects a mentality of scholarship that is harmful not helpful. Academia is not a war. In fact, we can accomplish a lot more by putting our heads together in a think tank then we will ever be able to do fighting each other as individual scholars.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dutch Biblioblogs

I just received a very kind e-mail from Jan Pieter van de Giessen who has been watching the positive and negative reactions on the blogs regarding my postings about what we are going to do about the gender gap. This became the starting point for some Dutch biblical bloggers who write only in Dutch to notice that there is a "gap" for Biblioblogs written in non-English languages. So they have just created BiblioblogNED to represent Dutch voices. Jan also noted that this collection of voices is different from other lists because it does not make distinctions between male and female bloggers or the churches from which they come.

This is an example of a positive initiative that was sparked by our heated discussion. And it is a reminder that the community we are writing to on our blogs is international. I don't read Dutch, but I will link to this in my blog roll for those readers who do read Dutch!

Thanks Jan for sending this to me.

What does "insidious" really mean?

Sexism is insidious.

The Latin etymology is fascinating, meaning something like, "sitting there and waiting to ambush." It has a hidden treacherous quality. The lurking lion. Unknown to us. Behind the bushes. Quiet until it strikes with great force and surprise.

Why is sexism insidious? Because it is part of who we are as products of this society. It is built into the structures around us. It is our past and it haunts our present. None of us, no matter how well-intentioned we are, can completely escape it, although try we must!

Imagine my horror and guilt when I realized last week that my own blog roll sorely lacked women bloggers, that I, someone who is a vocal advocate for women's equality, was contributing to the problem of their silence in the biblioblog field! Yes, I had listed those few I knew, but I had not made a concerted effort to go out and find more. I had not networked with others in my field that might know their whereabouts. Thus my recent posts on gender included my own promise that I would try to build a blog roll that reflected what was actually happening in terms of women bloggers and the bible, whatever that turned out to be. Over the weekend, I found that indeed women's voices are out there, but they are largely unengaged, marginalized, hidden from us, or run out of the discussions. This makes it look like they aren't there or aren't interested.

So as for blame, well, who will cast the first stone? Not I. I am one of the crowd convicted by Jesus' words.

My response to the problem of the silence of women on the biblioblogs is not to fix blame, or spend a lot of time succumbing to guilt, but to analyze the problem and then immediately mobilize, to ask what needs to be done to correct it and go about doing so the best I can. So although I think that we are all part of the problem given the insidious nature of sexism, we can also all be part of the answer. We can make the choice to mobilize and make this the year that women bibliobloggers are brought into our community as welcomed and engaged voices.

What are some practical things we might do? These are only a few suggestions that occur to me based on what I have learned from other women bloggers this week and from my own experience as a woman in the blog world. I hope you will send along your own ideas so I can add to these.

The important part is to implement, whether that implementation appears to others as a "token" or not. Even something that is perceived by others as a "token" is a small step in the right direction that will help raise awareness. If we do nothing but continue to sit around our computers and complain, be bitter, criticize those who are trying to do something positive, or feel sorry for ourselves, nothing is going to change. The choice is ours.

1. Link to women bloggers on our blogs, through blog rolls and/or occasional posts that highlight a discussion going on among women bibliobloggers and religion bloggers. Engage positively with women who are blogging. Find some common ground between the two of you and blog on that. If in question, you might check out some male blogs whose authors have had positive engagements with women bloggers in their posts. I am reticent to name names in case I leave someone out inadvertently and give offense. I think it is very evident who those bloggers are.

2. Go out and support a woman in our field, help her get started with a blog of her own.

3. Follow the links on women's websites and blog rolls and find new blogs that none of us know are there. Let the rest of us know.

4. Invite a woman scholar, minister, or graduate student to write a guest post for your blog, especially if she is not already blogging. You might even do so once a month.

5. Include book notes and article notes on publications that women are making in our field.

6. Give bloggers the benefit of the doubt and don't jump to a negative conclusion immediately or sensationalize or trivialize their position. I think this must be the ideal we strive for, even if we might fail sometimes. We ought to read what they have said and allow it our best interpretation, not our worst. If in doubt, we ought to ask the blogger what he or she meant before drawing a negative conclusion. Ask for further clarification. Most of us are not trying to be jackasses.

7. Ultimately we need to recreate the biblioblog climate. My thoughts on this is that this network should not operate as a men's club. Nor should it reflect the conversation that might be going on in the men's bathroom. It should not be a male competition, an academic meeting, or a war. It is a very public and very international forum that invites us to speak together as a world community. We need to allow for the fact that different people with different backgrounds blog for all kinds of different reasons. If we want women to blog on the bible, and we want them to be counted among us, then their posts and their persons need to be treated civilly and respectfully. If in doubt, ask yourself if something you are posting about a woman or her words is something you would want said about your wife or your mom or your daughter.

I leave this post with a prayer whose words came rushing into my mind this morning while I was walking to my office. From St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Expanding blog list with women's voices

I commented a few days ago that I thought that women blogging on the bible were invisible because we weren't including them on our biblioblog rolls and that if we linked to them and included them, that this would increase their visibility and hopefully change the appalling stats. So I had promised my readers that this weekend, when I had more time, I would get them into my own blog roll. My husband (thank you Wade!) and I are in the process of searching the web for blogs written by women who address the bible. As we find the blogs, we are putting them into my blog rolls. In order to try to organize this a bit, I have now put up two blog rolls. One I call "Women and Religion Blog Roll" and the other "Early Christian History Blog Roll." I will continue to add blogs as they come to my attention.

I especially want to thank all those women who emailed me and pointed me to their blogs. It is unfortunate, however, that the biblioblogging environment appears to have become even more hostile to women since I started talking about this on my blog. Many women have said to me in those emails that they have not felt welcome in the biblioblog environment and some have faced such hostile reactions to their previous posts that they have retreated and stopped talking about the bible on their blogs anymore. This is so incredibly sad to me. What is it about women's voices on the bible that is so threatening, especially to male readers?

I have to say that it is striking how immediately aggressive and sexualized some of the male reaction to my gender blogging has been, and how the humor used (including the cartoons and some of my colleagues reactions to those cartoons and circulation of them) turned women like me into either bitches, madams, or dominatrixes. Much of the male interpretation of my words has literalized them and exaggerated them, so that my words have been turned into the sexist words of a "man-hater" as one blogger put it. I wonder if he would say this to my husband?

I wonder if anyone else has wondered what the purpose of this kind of sexually aggressive rhetoric is? What is it trying to accomplish?

So what have I discovered out of all of this about gender and biblioblogging?

1. Males dominate the biblioblogs, not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of voice and interpretation. Many women who have tried to blog on the bible did not find it a welcome environment. They talk about aggressive and hostile reactions to their posts from male responders, so they chose to retreat and stop writing on the subject rather than become involved in a fight they didn't seek.

2. Women bloggers are not showing up often enough in biblioblog rolls. This is compounding the problem of the appallingly low numbers of bibliobloggers who are women.

3. Women bibliobloggers are usually devoting their blogs to subjects that most bibliobloggers consider marginal or uninteresting or perhaps (dare I suggest this?) threatening. A good number of women bloggers I'm finding are either blogging on extra-canonical materials or feminist issues which is not considered "biblical-enough" to bother with.

4. Women bloggers who talk about the bible are not doing so exclusively nor in the SBL sense. Women's blogs show more concerns for the present-day church and gender issues related to their relationship with the clergy and the church. They are more in line with AAR considerations than SBL. Many are confessional and include a significant amount of personal journaling. So again they are "on the margins" of the bible and not turning up in the biblioblog conversation.

5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage were right (more on Gage in another post).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Five Women Scholars who have most influenced me

This meme is easy. There are so many women scholars who have influenced me that I can quickly write over a dozen. These are not in any particular order. They all have influenced me in different areas of my work.

1. Matilda Gage
2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
3. Rachel Elior
4. Jane Schaberg
5. Elizabeth Fiorenza
6. Daphna Arbel
7. Phyllis Trible
8. Rosemary Ruether
9. Holly Hearon
10. Elaine Pagels
11. Karen King
12. Anne McGuire
13. Elizabeth Clark
14. Virgina Burrus
15. Elizabeth Castelli
16. Madeleine Scopello
17. Ann Graham Brock

Friday, September 4, 2009

Gender Inequality: Is the problem the bible?

The bible is the problem in our society, in as much as patriarchalism and male domination has been and continues to be interpreted as sacred decree, and mobilized in our lives as such. It is mobilized in ways that are both conscious and unconscious. It is insidious and it is structural and it is accepted as the way things are.

My position here is not new by any stretch of the imagination. It has been recognized since the 1800s when the Suffrage Movement was in full swing. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (pictured on the left) set out to revise the traditionally male interpretations, by employing the few women during her time who were educated to read the primary languages and had learned the history to write commentaries on all the passages from Genesis through Revelation that concerned women. She says that some of the invited women refused to participate in the project because they feared "they might compromise their evangelical faith by affiliating with those of more liberal views, who do not regard the Bible as the 'Word of God' but, like any other book, to be judged by its own merits" (p. 9). The preface to her book, The Woman's Bible, was written in 1895. She opens her book by identifying the problem with the traditional way in which the Genesis story has been interpreted by men who use it to demonstrate that woman is a sinner and inferior being (p. 7):
From the inauguration of the movement for woman's emancipation, the Bible has been used to hold her in the "divinely ordained sphere," prescribed in the Old and New Testaments. The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and statutes are all based on this idea...The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced...Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.
Towards the end of her introduction, she writes very openly about her own view as a woman living in 1895 (pp. 12-13):
The only points in which I differ from all ecclesiastical teaching is that I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked to God, I do not believe that God inspired the Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman, for all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible. Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek, in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman...There are some general principles in the holy books of all religions that teach love, charity, liberty, justice and equality for all the human family, there are many grand and beautiful passages, the golden rule has been echoed and re-echoed around the world. There are lofty examples of good and true men and women, all worthy of our acceptance and imitation whose lustre cannot be dimmed by the false sentiments and vicious character bound up in the same volume. The Bible cannot be accepted or rejected as a whole, its teachings are varied and its lessons differ widely from each other...[in their discrimination of women] the canon law, the Scriptures, the creeds and codes and church discipline of the leading religions bear the impress of fallible man, and not of our ideal great first cause, "the Spirit of all Good," that set the universe of matter and mind in motion, and by immutable law holds the land, the sea, the planets, revolving round the great centre of light and heat, each its own elliptic, with millions of stars in harmony all singing together, the glory of creation forever and ever.
I find these words to be astonishing. In fact, I find the words written by both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage (I'll make a separate post about her soon) to be so brave and daring that I want to weep. How did these women find the courage to stand up and say these things publicly, especially at a time when the Suffrage Movement was trying to link up with the Temperance Movement? The Women's Christian Temperance Union was a powerful group of evangelical women who were religiously conservative, and wanted to get the right to vote in order to legislate their understanding of biblical morality in the form of prohibition. They argued that it was the God-given duty of women to oversee the morality of their families and they wanted the right to vote to bring that to the public and state.

In fact Stanton's position was disliked by Susan B. Anthony (pictured on the left) who wanted more than anything else to merge the two movements because Anthony recognized that divided the parties would never get enough political power to achieve the right to vote. She thought that if we changed the politics and got women the right to vote, that we would then be able to change the religion to reflect our political equality. So Anthony wrote to Olympia Brown:
I suppose your feeling of my change is the same as that of Mrs. Gage and Mrs. Stanton - that is because I am not as intolerant of the so-called Christian women as they are - that therefore I have gone, or am about to go over to the popular church. I do not approve of their system of fighting the religious dogmas of the people I am trying to convert to my doctrine of equal rights to women. But if they can afford to distrust my religious integrity, I can afford to let them.
Stanton and Gage disagreed with Anthony. They thought that the right to vote was essential, but that it alone would not change our equality as long as the Bible and the way it was mobilized to subordinate women continued. Even though Stanton still stayed in the coalition and even was elected its President (Gage left and founded the Women's Liberal Union), she never gave up this view. In her introduction (pp. 10-11), she writes that some of her female colleagues (she must be referring to Anthony) say that:
it is not politic to rouse religious opposition. This much-lauded policy is but another word for cowardice. How can women's position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable.
So here we find ourselves just over a hundred years later, ninety years after women got the right to vote. What has changed? Certainly we have made progress. Women are being educated, have careers outside the home, have changed some laws to make them more equitable. But look around. Look at the stats on the web. Women make less money for equal work outside the home. Women do not equally receive higher degrees, nor do they advance in their professions at the same rate as men. We have far fewer women judges than men, far fewer women legislators than men, and still no woman in the White House. The equal rights amendment failed. Our churches are run mainly by men, and even in those liberal protestant traditions, women are not seated in senior pastoral positions as frequently as men.

When I look around, what I see is that Stanton and Gage were right. For women to ever achieve equality in our society, our understanding of the bible and its interpretation must change.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gender is on my mind

Perhaps it is just coincidence that as I finish off chapter 3 of Sex and the Serpent, I have begun to see the biblioblog world differently. I am becoming more and more aware of how insidious sexism is, how it is institutionalized, how it is around us in ways we don't recognize, how what we do or don't do fosters it without our knowing it. A simple thing like a blog roll and who is on it can make a huge difference. If that blog shows up on 200 other blogs every time the author posts, consider how that multiples her voice. Consider the thousands of readers of our blogs who might look at that blog roll and see her post and think, hey, that looks interesting, think I will go over there and check it out.

I am keenly aware that our time is not a feminist time, but a negative reaction to it, or some would say against it. I have even noticed a turning back for women, as if we are so exhausted with the fight, that we are hunkering down in the trenches and retreating just to try to keep some of the ground that we have gained over the last thirty years. And men continue to dominate the churches, men continue make more money for equal work (in fact we are now losing ground in this stat the last time I looked it up), men continue to dominate the courts and the senates and the congresses, men continue to dominate institutions of higher education, men continue to dominate the corporate world. What is happening in the majority of homes, I can only guess, but I do know this, domestic violence is continues to plague our country and it is statistically the men who are violent to the women and children they live with.

My suspicion is that much of the male domination continues because deep in our communal psyche the bible reigns, where women are dominated by men from chapter 2 of Genesis, and depending on your interpretation of Genesis 1:27, perhaps even from chapter 1 itself. In fact, Paul read Genesis 1:27 in a radically patriarchal way, understanding it to mean that only men are created in the image of God, leaving women to be the "glory of men" (1 Cor 11:7). The male domination we experience today is not just social, something that can be changed through reasonable measures we take in society-building, because the domination is divinely ordained. It is fixed, something that God set it in place and women deserve because they are the temptresses and sinners who wrought (and still wreck) disaster on men and the world. No matter if we agree or disagree with this, it is out there among us, in the communal consciousness. Matilda Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were right. The biggest obstacle to the equality of women in our society is the bible, the Genesis story in particular.

I have been lamenting this for a long time, but now I am becoming angry about it. I have taught on the subject of women and the bible for fifteen years, and yet it is now as I write about the subject that the hundreds of years of suppression, the hundreds of years of divine sanction for male authority and domination, the hundreds of years of women's often willing silence is rolling over me. At times is is hard for me to write because my feelings of pain are so strong.

So today I want to leave you with some words I wrote yesterday for chapter 3 of my book, about the women in Corinth who faced Paul and his patriarchalism, women who read Genesis 1:27 very differently from Paul - to mean that they too were created in God's image and should no longer wear the authority of their husband's on their heads:
"From Paul's argument we can gather that the women in Corinth had removed their veils (at least while worshiping) in order to align their social lives with their spiritual experience. They had mobilized their church by making their spiritual experience a social reality. Since they had been baptized in Christ and received his spirit, they believed that they had been recreated in the androgynous image of God. As such, the strict gender hierarchy of their immediate world had been abolished for them. Freed from these constraints, they tore off their veils, toppling the male hierarchy and dismissing the now-illegitimate authority of their husbands. This is an astonishingly brave action for them to have undertaken, since it would have marked them to other Jews and Romans as licentious women, even adulteresses, a point which Paul takes great strides to press home."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What are we going to do about the blogger gender gap?

Alright, the gender gap among bibliobloggers is appalling. The gender gap has nothing to do with the internet or women being afraid to blog or publicly speak our minds since women do this in many other internet forums.

I continue to muse that it has nothing to do with the area of study since seminaries have plenty of women attending, as do the churches. I admit that women are sparse at SBL, and they are sparse in universities as professors in this field (I can count on my hands the number of women that hold professorships in biblical studies), and they are sparse in leadership roles in churches, but blogging is not being done mainly by professors and church leaders. Graduate students and people fascinated with the field make up a large portion of bibliobloggers.

Biblioblog Top 50 commented in my last post on the subject that they have considered this and have come to the conclusion that biblioblogging is mainly confessional so "Simply put, because the structure of Christian authority is male-dominated, and because most bibiobloggers have Christian affiliations, biblioblogging is likewise male-dominated."

This is a good try, but I don't think so. There is no Christian authority hovering over women and telling them they can't or shouldn't blog on the bible. Women are great talkers, and from my lifelong conversations among friends, women love to talk about their spirituality and religious traditions. The power structures that are keeping women from advancing in the field of biblical studies in terms of the academy, or keeping them from advancing in the churches into positions of power, do not control the internet.

Or do they? Let's consider Biblioblog Top 50's comment further. At the end of the comment we find this language in relationship to women's blogs on the bible.
(But, for those interested in reading at the margins: Tonya from Hebrew and Greek Reader; Ekaterini G. Tsalampouni from Ιστολόγιο βιβλικών σπουδών / Biblical Studies Blog; Amy Anderson from Evangelical Textual Criticism; Mandy from The Floppy Hat; Gillian Townsley and Elizabeth Young from The Dunedin School; Suzanne McCarthy from Suzanne’s Bookshelf; Rachel Barenblat from Velveteen Rabbi; Renita J. Weems from Something Within.com; Deirdre Good from On Not Being a Sausage; Iveta Strenkova from Bibbiablog; Cláudia Andréa Prata Ferreira on three separate blogs; Karyn Traphagen on Boulders 2 Bits; Julia M. O’Brien; Jane Stranz on Of life, laughter and liturgy . . .; Helen Ingram on The Omega Course; Lao Shi (Jennifer ) Chiou on 邱老師網誌
Chioulaoshi Blog; Ruth P. Martin on The Pioneers’ New Testament; Brenda Heyink on Joining in the Conversation; Judy Redman on Judy’s research blog; Annette Merz and Cathy Dunn on Acta Pauli; Lisa, White Bear Girl aka Sophie Clucker on Bible Study Connection; Megan Rohrer on Transcript.)
What? "For those interested in reading at the margins"?! Are women's biblioblogs at the margins?! At the margins of what? With this kind of language, it is no wonder that women's biblioblogs aren't in the stats. I have never considered my blog "on the margins" nor do I imagine have Deirdre or Judy or any of the other women considered their blogs to be marginal.

So this is my hypothesis. I think there are as many women bibliobloggers out there as men, but they are not visible. Why? Because many of us women post on subjects that are considered marginal (even heretical, especially if there is any feminist bent) to bible studies by the men who are blogging about the bible. Our blogs are easily justified as unimportant. They remain unknown or unread because they haven't been linked to by the male bibliobloggers who dominate this blog niche and the field in general, a point that Julia wisely raised in the comments to my last post on this subject. Julia wrote: "But I also wonder about the role of networking and way that many of the blogs in the top tier regularly reference one another. How do we encourage each other's success, make sure that others find the good work that's out there?"

So I say, enough of this nonsense and rationalizations. This is what I'm going to do. This weekend when I have more time, I am going to get the women bibliobloggers (all of them) into my sidebar blog roll. I am going to start with this list that Biblioblog Top 50 has so kindly put together on women's blogs (their so-called marginal blogs). And if any of my women readers have biblioblogs not in that list, or if any of my readers know of other women bibliobloggers not in that list, send that information to me and I will add it to the blog roll. Those links will be there for anyone who wishes to copy them and get them into their own blog rolls.

Let's create some visibility for women bibliobloggers and stop the marginalization of women's biblioblogs. Let's change the stats.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gender concerns among bloggers

I continue today writing on sex and gender and early Christianity (I'm finishing up c. 3 of Sex and the Serpent), but I took a lunch break and surfed over to the Biblioblog Top 50. I scrolled down the page and was struck by the fact that in that list of hundreds of names and blogs I am just about the only woman's voice represented. And as a voice, my woman's voice would have to be a voice asking us to rethink orthodoxy and heresy, to revision the struggle for power and authority, to listen to the echoes of those who lost the theological and social battles, and learn from our past to better our lives and those of our children.

Why are there so many male bibliobloggers? Why are there so few females on that list?

Book Note: Beyond Gnosticism (Dunderberg)

There has been a renewed interest in Valentinianism lately, particularly I have been noticing a number of things in the pipeline on the Gospel of Philip. But in this post, I want to draw attention to Ismo Dunderberg's new book, Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus (New York: Columbia, 2008).

The book comes together out of Dunderberg's earlier work in published articles on Valentinianism, which form the basis for most of his chapters. The articles have been rewritten so that the book has a good narrative flow and the subjects are interconnected.

What Dunderberg does quite well is contextualize Valentinian traditions within the ancient schools of philosophical thought as a Christian tradition. He begins the book by pointing out that the majority of Valentinians probably "did not form a church of their own but remained within the community of other Christians, took part in its meetings, and shared their rituals" (p. 3).

What does it mean that the Valentinians "were not clearly separated from other Christians but belonged to the same community" (p. 3)? Dunderberg uses the ancient "school" movement as his comparative tool. The goal of the book is to reexamine Valentinian mythmaking as a justification for their way of life and their moral instruction, in much the same way that mythmaking and moral exhortation functioned in other ancient schools.

Dunderberg has done an excellent job bringing together so much material on the Valentinians and examining it thoughtfully in light of his thesis without deeming the Valentinian material as superfluous or heretical. A delightful perspective. Dunderberg's knowledge of the ancient sources is impressive and his book should help to open up the otherwise fairly esoteric field of Valentinian studies and early Christian mythmaking.