Friday, September 30, 2011

A Valentinian Inscription

Love it when the new picks this kind of thing up (60 years later...). Here is a CBS Live article on an old Christian inscription found in Rome in the 1953, NCE 156. Gregory Snyder has recently published a updated analysis of it in the Journal of Early Christianity in which he argues (with additional evidence) for a 2nd century date and Valentinian provenance. His translation is as follows:
To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,
[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.
Synder, according to CBS, thinks that it is the oldest Christian object we possess.

Professor Synder is working on series of articles on Christian teachers and their schools in Rome. He plans to publish a book on the subject. Looking forward to it.

Network Criticism

Last year, I was involved in a wonderful seminar made possible by an Andrew W. Mellon grant to lead a graduate research seminar, Mapping Death.  One of the stipulations of the seminar was that it had to be interdisciplinary.  The question that arose for me is how do I run a seminar on a topic - in this case Mapping Death - when the individual fellows weren't going to be working on the same project or be in the same field?  I resolved this problem by making method and theory our common ground - to share how our different fields approach our subjects.

This turned out to be very rewarding as I hope the series of posts on the Mellon Seminar I put up last year showed.  I worked very hard to critique the historical approach I was trained in, and to try to develop some kind of approach that would allow movement out of the postmodern no man's land where the author is dead and texts relate to texts as the reader fancies.

In this post, I want to lay out some of the serious questions I have about historical critical studies as I look to move forward with my approach which I am calling Network Criticism:
  • What does it mean to the historical enterprise when texts are forced to fit the logic of a modern person, when modern logic is privileged at the expense of the logic of the subjects themselves?
  • What does it mean to the historical enterprise when historians snag what they can from the sources to construct systems of backgrounds, influences and linear causal developments that may never have existed in history? 
  • What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we construct an author’s intent, and then understand this construction as primary and authoritative? 
  • What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we understand the message of the text to be separate from the extended conversation that the text was part of and fueled? 
  • What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we treat texts as disembodied discourses, as intellectual histories with no real connection to the material human beings who produced them – to their tangible material bodies or to the material culture they inhabited?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Planning for Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

I can't believe it, but the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting is fast approaching, and hurray! it is a joint meeting with the American Academy of Religion again.  I am a member of both organizations, and so I am so pleased that the two societies are together again. 

There have been some big changes for those of us who are involved in the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section.  We came up for renewal this year, and we sent out a survey to our members.  Based on the results of that survey, we decided to change the name of the section to Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, and to broaden our mission statement: "This unit critically investigates religious currents of secrecy/secrets (esotericism) and/or their revelation through praxis (mysticism) in the formative period of Judaism and Christianity (ca. 500 BCE-500 CE)."

We have two great sessions scheduled for November, one of them a joint session with The Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity group.  Please join us if you can.


Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 2011 - Convention CenterTheme: Reconstructing Practice from Texts
The annual banquet dinner for this group will be held at a local restaurant on Saturday evening. Contact April DeConick ( for reservations and information.
Kelley Coblentz Bautch, University of St. Edwards, Presiding
Jeff Pettis, New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Raising the Serpent: Gods, Magicians, and the Mystical in John 3.14-15 (20 min)
April D. DeConick, Rice University
“The road for souls is through the planets”: The Mysteries of the Ophites Diagrammed (20 min)
Cordula Bandt, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
The Tract "On the Mystery of Letters" in Context of Late Antique Jewish, Gnostic and Christian Letter Mysticism (20 min)
Break (5 min)
Grant Adamson, Rice University
Descent of the Soul and the Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 among Jews, Christians, and Later Platonists (20 min)
Ellen Muehlberger, University of Michigan
Evagrian Death Meditation and Amphilochius’s Homily on Lazarus (20 min)
Brent Landau, University of Oklahoma
Mystical Practice and Experience in the Syriac Revelation of the Magi (20 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
Joint Session With: Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 2018 - Convention CenterTheme: Praxis and Experience in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism
This session is dedicated to the memory of Alan F. Segal
April Deconick, Rice University, Presiding (5 min)
James R. Davila, University of St. Andrews
Ritual Praxis in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism (25 min)
Istvan Czachesz, University of Heidelberg
Experience in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism: Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience (25 min)
Break (10 min)
Frances Flannery, James Madison University
Mysticism as an Epistemological Sub-Category of Religious Experience: The Case of the Testament of Abraham (25 min)
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College, Respondent (15 min)
Pieter Craffert, University of South Africa, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Digital Humanities

I posted last week about the trouble that technology can cause in the classroom, in terms of students who insist on surfing the internet, reading Facebook, tweeting, and so on while class is in session.  This, however, does not mean that technology is a bad thing.  It means that we need to develop expectations in our classrooms for digital etiquette.

It is also true that the use of technology to teach and research in the Humanities is in full swing, and we need to catch up with this in our classrooms and become more savvy in terms of how we can use technology to help us with our research.

So I'm wondering what ideas you have, as students and as teachers.  What are some of the things that can be done to help us integrate our study of the Humanities and digital technology?  Express your opinion in the comments.

Today the Digital Humanities was featured in the news when 60 NEH grants were given for those with projects that integrated technology and the Humanities.  Here's the story:
WASHINGTON — “Secret plan to replace human scholars with robots,” read Brett Bobley's first slide.
“Oops!” exclaimed Bobley, director of the office of the digital humanities for the National Endowment of the Humanities, feigning embarrassment. The audience, made up mostly of NEH grantees, laughed. They were here at the endowment’s headquarters on Tuesday to celebrate their roles in forging a new frontier for the humanities -- a category of academic fields at risk of turning fallow for lack of public support. 

Humanities research is often derided as gauzy and esoteric, and therefore undeserving of tax dollars. Amid financial crises, humanities departments at many public universities have been razed. But even amid cuts, there has been a surge in interest in the digital humanities -- a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it the study of history, language, and culture.

“While we have been anguishing over the fate of the humanities, the humanities have been busily moving into, and even colonizing, the fields that were supposedly displacing them,” wrote Stanley Fish, the outspoken professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, on his New York Times blog in June. 


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Menil Collection to send back Cyprus Frescoes

If you have not ever had a chance to see the famous Byzantine frescoes that have been on long term loan from the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, don't wait any longer.  The Menil campus will be returning them to Cyprus in February.  I don't know what will happen to the gorgeous chapel and the equally gorgeous glass and iron inner sanctum that holds the frescoes.  So now is the time to go over to the Menil and see them one last time.

Here is the letter from the Menil Director Josef Helfenstein distributed to Friends of the Menil Collection:
After more than two decades in Houston, the beloved Byzantine frescoes will go back to Cyprus in 2012. While this moment is bittersweet, the story of these frescoes—from their rescue, to their long-term loan to us, and now to their return—very much reflects the essence of the Menil Collection, its focus on the aesthetic and the spiritual, and our responsible stewardship of works from other nations and cultures.

In 1983, Dominique de Menil, founder of the Menil Collection, was presented with an extraordinary prospect: to acquire two 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. Mrs. de Menil was struck by their beauty and understood immediately their art historical significance. However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus.

That knowledge led to an act of extraordinary generosity—in fact, a series of generous actions that eventually engaged many other people. First, the frescoes were acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Then, the Menil Foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 pieces when they were stolen. In gratitude, the Church lent the frescoes to the Menil on a long-term basis, for presentation in a consecrated chapel in Houston. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened to the public in 1997, with support for its construction provided by donors in Houston and across the country.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experienced the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion. Moreover, the frescoes’ installation in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel—a consecrated space that simultaneously honors their sacred origins and the tragic history of their looting from their true home church in Lysi—includes a profound, sacred dimension and is therefore different from traditional museum presentations of antiquities.
While the loan of the frescoes formally concludes in February 2012, this will not be the end of their story—or the story of the building. We are exploring how best to use it in the future, in ways that carry forward our mission. We will also be organizing a number of public programs focused on the frescoes over the next few months, and I hope you will join us for these events.
Thank you for your interest and support.  We look forward to seeing you at the Menil Collection soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Holy Misogyny lecture series

If you would like to hear me speak about my new book and read from it, I have been invited to several upcoming book signing events.  I am keeping track of them at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Holy Misogyny is out!

Finally, finally...Holy Misogyny is published.  I just received a couple of author copies in my mailbox.  So if you pre-ordered my book, it should be arriving at your home or office very soon.  I don't yet see the Kindle button activated, so please, if you want to purchase my book in e-form, click the "we want this in Kindle" button.  I was told that it will be available electronically, but I figure that it never hurts to keep reminding the powers that be that we would like this asap.

I am really pleased with the book.  It is a book that began 25 years ago when I agreed to teach a class on gender and the bible at Albion College.  That was a long time ago.  Back then I didn't have the faintest idea that I would want to write a book on gender, let alone do it.  I did not study gender in graduate school.  This only became an interest of mine when I began teaching.  Each time I taught the class and revised it, I became more and more shocked at what I was finding in the early Christian literature, and was frustrated that this material was not being covered in books authored about early Christianity.  I couldn't understand why because the material was so important.  So eventually I overcame my own anxieties about not having been formally trained in gender studies, and wrote the book myself.

I hope you like it, or at least, I hope it gives you something to think about.

"An intriguing, important, and appropriately dangerous book. DeConick brings her study of the difficult canonical and apocryphal texts into conversation with contemporary concerns in a satisfying and accessible way. Her style is both technical and easy-going. This is a book for the general public as well as the academic classroom. I learned a great deal from it and am left with many questions to chew on happily and to discuss. The reader is aided in the search for 'Lady God,' and in the struggle to create societies that abhor and reject violence to the female body." — Jane Schaberg, Professor of Biblical Studies and Gender/Women’s Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, USA

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's talk technology

I think about technology a LOT.  It is around me all day, every day.  When I'm not in my classroom, I am in my office sitting in front of my computer working.  Email dominates my space and time.  It is everywhere, on my phone, on my ipad, on my computers.  All correspondence with students, colleagues, administrators takes place via email and texting.  Blogging is an extended classroom.  I have become addicted to Dropbox (and no one has paid me to say that).  How did I ever work before I installed it?  Shared folders, updated files, multiple computers.  Wow.  Research articles come to me across the internet from libraries everywhere, in pdf format that I can read, search, and highlight on my iPad and my AirBook.  I no longer buy hard cover books when I can get the e-version and have my library on my iPad and carry it around with me.  It used to be that computer technology was mainly associated with my workplace and writing articles and books, but not anymore.  Now it dominates home and entertainment space too.  An Apple TV.  How fantastic is that gadget?  Ipods.  Netflix.  Hulu.  I am in love with my iPad which is the ultimate toy, especially for those of us who like to doodle, edit and filter photographs, keep track of Facebook, read novels, and what about Flipboard to keep track of news and my blog reader?  I draw my personal line at gaming, but my son loves Angry Birds and Webkinz World.

And I wonder why I am worn out?  Why my life feels like there isn't a moment of down time?  There isn't.  Technology, with all its bright lights and fast pace, has seeped into my life everywhere.  I am watching as the fascination with it - and it is fascinating - begins to disrupt traditional modes of communication in my life, like face to face conversations.  And my classroom.  No longer is it a place of focused conversation between my students and myself.  It is a place with computer screens bisecting desks, and students busy pushing buttons and playing on Facebook and Wikipedia, and texting on cell phones.

I guess what I am saying is that technology is ahead of us.  We are enthralled with it.  It has become essential to how we live and work.  But we have yet to figure out how to control it.  We are like that kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory who loves chocolate so much he jumps into the chocolate sea and nearly drowns.

I hope you don't think I have the answers to this dilemma, because I don't.  Of course, there are personal decisions that we all have to make, things we can do to create non-technology time in our days and weeks.  A sabbath day away from it all.  A sabbath time of day every day so families can see each other face to face.  The dilemma I am talking about is taking place in larger communities (like our high schools and universities) with lots and lots of implications.  One aspect of this communal dilemma that I think needs immediate attention is our classrooms, and how to recreate classroom etiquette.  I don't mean to sound like Emily Post, but my gosh, we need some etiquette here.  I am not harping on how rude these behaviors are becoming, or how disruptive (they are both these things).  What I'm harping on is that these behaviors have already destroyed our classrooms.  There can be no classroom when twenty students are sitting there on Facebook and Flipboard and their phones.  I don't know what it is, but it isn't a classroom.  No learning is going on.

The internet has allowed for an interesting yet destructive blending of mental spaces.  Want to know something?  Look it up on Wiki.  Learning something and entertainment have been blended.  Learning is no longer viewed as healthy hard work, something that our minds should have to struggle to do.  If it is not entertaining in the classroom, well then, let's surf the internet.  I think that this is due in part to the fact that because of the internet and sites like Wiki, all forms of knowledge have been blended into each other, so that popular opinion and popular ways of knowing (what is called plain style knowledge) have been given equivalent weight with critical engagement and critical ways of knowing that require years of training and professionalization in particular fields (what we teach in our classrooms and write about in our publications). 

So I put this out into cyberspace as a kind of call, especially to other teachers.  We need to get caught up with the technology and establish technology boundaries in our classrooms.  We need to take back the classroom.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A prayer in memory of 9/11

May it never happen again.