Sunday, December 30, 2007

Forbidden Gospels 2007 Retrospect

This was the first year for the Forbidden Gospels Blog (=FGB). I didn't know what to expect when I started this at the end of January 2007. In fact, I didn't bother putting a counter on the site until April 2007. I was so new to blogging, I didn't even know what I would write about or who would be interested in reading what I would write.

But here I am at the end of the 2007 year looking back at my 340 posts and considering what good has come of all of the chatter. Has the FGB made any difference to the biblioblog world, to the academic conversation, to the larger things of life? I guess my readers must be the judges of this when all is said and done. But here are a few areas that I think this blog has made some difference this year.

1. Gospel of Judas.
This blog raised awareness of the problems with its initial National Geographic translation and interpretation, and the fact that full-size facsimiles were not released to the scholarly community as they should have been according to the 1991 resolution passed by the Society of Biblical Literature. This resulted in the writing and publication of my book The Thirteenth Apostle, the publication of the Op. Ed. "Gospel Truth" in the New York Times, and the publication of "More on the Gospel Truth" in the Society of Biblical Literature Forum. All of these items were featured on the FGB, along with many more posts that can be read in chronological order of posting here: FGB on the Gospel of Judas.

The end of it is not in sight. National Geographic Society just uploaded zip files of all the texts in the Tchacos Codex (Dec. 23rd), so we finally have the full-size facsimiles although I think their resolution is only web quality. Nonetheless, we can now begin to critically work these texts. Thankfully they were made available prior to the Codex Judas Congress, which will take place at Rice University in March 2008 (13-16th). So the scholars coming to the conference will have the photos to work from. In the coming year, I will keep you updated about this Congress, which has been made possible by generous funding through the Faculty Initiative Grant at Rice University.

2. Mandaean Emergency Campaign.
This blog has supported the campaign to help relocate the Iraqi refugees in the US as soon as possible. This blog has promoted a letter writing campaign and has circulated a petition. To read all the Mandaean postings, go to FGB on the Mandaeans.

I was hoping that by Christmas we would have the 1000 signatures needed to complete the petition, but we seem to have stalled at 524. Please, continue to circulate this petition. Tell your students about it in the new year, pass the information on to your family and friends, send out the link in mass e-mails if you can. Let's get this petition finished and sent through the proper channels so that the last living Gnostics may find a place of refuge away from persecution. Here I invoke the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas 68: "Jesus said, 'Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted. A place will be found, where you will not be persecuted.'" Let us create that safe place in the US for the Mandaeans to survive.

3. A voice for historical hermeneutics.
It is my ardent opinion that when the recovery of history is our goal, theology and apology must not be mixed into our investigation. It matters not the outcome of our historical quest - whether it ends up pleasing the so-called religious conservatives, liberals, or no one at all. What matters is that the quest is as honest to the historical evidence as possible. This is a hermeneutic that I try to uphold at all costs. Historical inquiry must be preserved and distinguished from the faith quest and its issues.

The FGB has many features on the hermeneutics of history, and I have experienced something of its effects with the publication of my analysis of the Gospel of Judas which has been lauded by some of faith as a condemnation of "liberal" scholarship. This is an outcome I find at once fascinating and disheartening, since my work on Judas has absolutely nothing to do with supporting people of faith or undermining "liberal" scholarship. If Judas had been a hero, believe me, I would have been one of the first to jump on that bandwagon. But my historical investigation led me to a very different conclusion, which I'm sure you all know too well by now.

With this, I want to send out my thanks to all my readers - those who agree and who disagree with me. I have learned an enormous amount from you this year, and I look forward to continuing our conversation in the year to come. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Are these the Tchacos Codex Facsimiles?

Check this out. Has the National Geographic Society finally uploaded the high resolution full-size images of the Gospel of Judas and the rest of the Tchacos Codex? If so, it was done without much fanfare. Here is the link. My thanks to those at the National Geographic Society who came through for us. Merry Christmas to all!

Stefan Lovgren for NGS: Judas was a demon after all?

Here is the story written I was interviewed for by NGS's Stefan Lovgren. It was posted December 21st. Yes, I'm behind as ever, at home here steaming Christmas pudding on my stove and baking stollen, and so taking out a few minutes to post. The piece is called, "Judas was 'Demon' after all, new gospel reading claims." It is a more formal response to my book The Thirteenth Apostle written for NGS by one of its reporters and posted on NGS's website.

Friday, December 21, 2007

SBL Forum: More on the Gospel Truth

The Society of Biblical Literature Forum has just posted an article I wrote as a follow up to the NY Times Op. Ed. piece "Gospel Truth." It is called "More on the Gospel Truth."

I missed an article from the Canadian CBC that came out on Dec. 4th. 2006! It features Craig Evans and John Turner. It is called "Judas no hero, scholars say."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eisenman: A Conservative DeConick?

Huffington Post is carrying an article today written by Robert Eisenman in response to my Op. Ed. in the New York Times, "Gospel Truth," and the SBL Book panel on the Gospel of Judas. It is called, "Gospel Fiction and the Redemonization of Judas."

The impression that Eisenman gives about my point of view is absolutely fascinating - and dead wrong, I'm sorry to report. In fact, any one who has been a regular reader of my blog, a student in my courses, or kept up with my scholarship will find his characterization rather amusing and ill-informed. According ot Eisenman, I have not only "redemonized" Judas, but I have done so because I am a "conservative" scholar. Because I am a "theologically-minded" person and scholar, I appear to be against the "rehabilitation" of Judas as an historical figure, the Huffington Post entry reports.

So again we see the conservative-liberal frame being put into place, and the rhetoric of historical Judas overlaying the discussion. I ask, why? especially when neither of these frames has any association with my argument, or the arguments of Louis Painchaud, John Turner, Birger Pearson, Einar Thomassen, and so forth.

Judas' portrayal in the Gospel of Judas has nothing to do with the historical Judas. If an ancient text calls him a demon, this means nothing in terms of who Judas Iscariot actually was. Texts calling him Satan, a demon, or the Thirteenth Demon, are presenting us with various ways that the early Christians interpreted Judas and his role in the death of Jesus.

I am not reading the Gospel of Judas as a religious person - conservative or otherwise. As I have said numerous times, personal theology and scholarship cannot mix if we intend to do genuine historical work. This is my motto, and I continue to criticize biblical scholarship for allowing theology to rule the day. Here is a case in point. Eisenman cannot frame this discussion of Judas beyond the theological. If I say that the text calls Judas a demon, then I must be a conservative believer who is against the rehabilitation of Judas. But the fact is, I'm about as liberal as you can get in terms of religious belief and affiliation. But this just doesn't seem to make sense to Eisenman, who seems fairly confident that I must be a conservative believer because I have said that the Gospel of Judas takes a traditional view of Judas.

What nonsense this is. As a scholar, if a text calls Judas a hero, I will advocate that characterization. But if the text does not, then I will advocate otherwise. And the Gospel of Judas says otherwise. I am not re-demonizing Judas. He never was anything but a demon in the Gospel of Judas. He was only made into a good guy by the National Geographic Society's interpretation of the Gospel of Judas which was based on a faulty transcription and problematic English translation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

National Review: "Questions about that Judas Manuscript"

John J. Miller from National Review has written a succinct article about the controversy relating to the National Geographic Society's translation and interpretation of the Gospel of Judas. He interviewed a variety of people for the story including me, Marvin Meyer, Craig Evans, Birger Pearson, and John Turner. Because the story is only available on-line to subscribers of the magazine, I was given permission to post the story on my website as a pdf file. It is published in hard copy in the December 31, 2007 issue of National Review. To view the scanned image of the article, click here. The article link is on the right hand side of my web page: "The Gospel Truth? Questions about that Judas Manuscript." Hope it is easy enough to get to.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last Minute Shopping

Need some ideas for stocking stuffers or gifts for book lovers? If the person is interested in Gnosticism, other gospels, second-century Christianity, esotericism and so forth, here are some books published fairly recently that might work for a gift. I am focusing here on books that are accessible to non-specialists. Although I may differ in my own opinions and approaches, I think that these books are engaging and informative.

Birger Pearson, Ancient Gnosticism
Jeffery Kripal, The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion
Alastair H.B. Logan, The Gnostics: Identifying an Early Christian Cult
Christopher Markschies, Gnosis: An Introduction
Richard Valantasis, Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities
Florian Ebeling, The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times
Paul Foster (editor), The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers
Fred Lapham, An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha
Hans-Josef Klauck, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction
Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities

If you are looking for the actual texts themselves (Nag Hammadi Codices, Tchacos Codex, NT Apocrypha) they are found in these volumes:

Marvin Meyer (editor), The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The International Edition
J.K. Elliott (editor), The Apocryphal New Testament
Rodolphe Kasser and Gregor Wurst (editors), The Gospel of Judas together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos: Critical Edition

Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.

Book Note: What We have Heard from the Beginning (Tom Thatcher)

You may or may not have guessed it, but this is a book on Johannine studies. It's full title is What We Have Heard from the Beginning: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies (Waco: Baylor Press, 2007).

Tom Thatcher has edited a very fascinating volume here. As he tells in the preface, he set out to write a sort of time capsule about Johannine studies, to introduce the major scholars of Johannine studies to the next generation of students who will carry on the discussion of the fourth gospel. He asked seasoned senior scholars to write conversational vignettes about his or her "journey with John." So the senior discussions include evaluations of the state of the field, programmatic remarks on meritorious questions, personal histories of research in the field, and summaries of current work - as Thatcher says, "anything that one might share with an interested student over coffee after class" (p. xvii). So these essays provide the reader with an overview of where Johannine studies has been and where it stands today.

Then Thatcher asked a younger scholar who will be carrying on Johannine studies into the next several decades to offer brief responses to each of the senior essays, to reflect on their senior colleague's comments, to identify unanswered questions. So this is the future forecast of Johannine studies, where it is going, from the perspective of those who work in "the ongoing stream of Johannine tradition" (p. xviii).

The senior-junior teams include: Ashton-North; Beutler-Claussen; Borgen-Labahn; Brodie-Williams; Carson-Köstenberger; Culpepper-Harstine; de Jonge-Kirchschlaeger; Fortna-Thatcher; Kysar-Rensberger; Martyn-Reinhartz; Moloney-Coloe; O'Grady-Lee; Painter-Anderson; Schneiders-Conway; Segovia-Lozada; Smith-Keener; Van Belle-Judge; van Wahlde-Just.

I found the senior scholars' pieces to be engaging, and think that Thatcher achieved his time capsule. A very unique project.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Move to Marginalize

Thanks to Jim West for pointing me to John Dart's write up about the SBL session about the Gospel of Judas in San Diego. It is well done and I recommend taking a moment to read it. I just want to note John Turner's observation, which John Dart records:
Another seasoned scholar in Gnostic studies, John Turner of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told the Century in San Diego after the November 17 session that he thought Pagels and King did not "take seriously" the criticisms from colleagues.
I also carried away this impression. But I wonder if it is that they genuinely don't take the criticism seriously, or that they don't want to take it seriously because they published quickly before they were aware of all the problems with the Coptic transcription they were using. For instance, Pagels noted in her talk that Judas does receive the mysteries, and therefore is enlightened, an initiate. The problem with this interpretation of Judas' reception of the mysteries is that the corrected text tells us why he receives them. Jesus tells Judas that he will teach him the mysteries "not so that you will go there, but so that you will lament greatly" what he is about to do. So the text itself tells us the opposite of Pagels' interpretation. He is not receiving the mysteries to become an initiate. He is receiving the mysteries so that he will not be ignorant of his participation in Ialdabaoth's plan to kill Jesus. And because of this, Judas will be punished with
lamentation and eventually, the text says, annihilation.

So I think that we are seeing an attempt to marginalize the criticism of Judas as hero in order to give others the impression that these criticisms are not serious enough to be considered. There is a lot at stake here. I see this happening with Marvin Meyer's response to all this as well. John Miller, a journalist for National Review, has written that Meyer told him that it is merely an interpretative matter and "These critics are just a little group of people" (National Review, December 31, 2007, p. 26).

Yikes! If Marvin Meyer wishes to make me part of "a little group of people," okay, I'm a younger scholar, not of the generation that brought in the Nag Hammadi materials. But to call my colleagues this - John Turner, Birger Pearson, Hans Gebhard-Bethge, Einar Thomassen, Louis Painchaud, Craig Evans - is truly shocking to me. There are no more prominent scholars in the field than these people. For hard criticism to be lobbied by these kinds of scholars is serious indeed. By the way, several of the scholars in this "little group of people" were the same scholars that Marvin Meyer relied on to re-edit, re-translate, and re-interpret the Nag Hammadi texts for his new international version of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

The long and short of this for me is that this language is nothing more than an attempt to marginalize the criticism, to refocus the discussion off the issues rather than on them. Because if we were to look at the actual issues, then we would have to talk about the fact that Jesus tells Judas that he is the Thirteenth Demon, that he isn't going to ascend to the Gnostic generation, that, in fact, he is separated from it. By the way, just to keep things straight. These are not interpretative matters as Meyer keeps saying. This is actually what the Coptic text says. The only interpretative matter is what this means.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Odds and Ends

I apologize for not posting regularly the past week or so. We are bogged down in exams here at Rice, and my in-laws are here for the holidays. And we celebrate more than Christmas in December in my family since my son's birthday is mid-month. So we just finished a pizza party here at the house for Alexander. He's four this year. So I'm bushed. I promise that I will post occasionally over the rest of the month, and get back to every day posts once the new year starts and I'm back to my office regularly.

For now I want to say, Yeah! You all came up with exactly the parody texts I think about when I'm explaining the Gospel of Judas. There is quite a fair amount of Gnostic parody, with Jesus laughing at the ignorance of the non-Gnostic Christians. So I have no idea how Marvin Meyer can say that the Gospel of Judas cannot contain parody or satire and that there are no examples of this in ancient literature. I can point to a number of substantive examples as you have all outlined in your comments.

The more I study the Gospel of Judas, I also have come to realize that the subversive message of the text (non-Gnostic Christians have been tricked into worshiping the wrong god, the Demiurge) is satire at this fullest. The author I think was sincerely worried about the salvation of the non-Gnostic Christians, whose leaders were leading them astray. He was using satire to criticize and correct them.

If you get a chance, check out the National Review this week. There is a full story about the Gospel of Judas, my involvement, and other scholars who are also questioning NGS's work and interpretation. When I get a copy of the magazine, I will post the text here.

As for the Mandaean petition, we are almost half way there: 449. So keep passing it around and encouraging those you know to sign it. Let's help get the Mandaeans a safe haven in the US.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gnostic Parody

Let me ask my readers. Where do we find examples of Gnostics using parody or satire to criticize Christians or Christian ideas that they do not like?

Mandaean Petition Update

As of today, we are one-third of the way. We have 333 petitioners. We need 1000. Please post this petition to your blog if you can, and try to send it around to your e-mail address book entries and other lists that you might be part of. I would like to see us be able to reach our goal this holiday season. It would be the best gift I can think of! Here is the link to the petition.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Contending about Judas

Marvin Meyer told me a couple of days ago to expect letters in the NY Times in response to my op. ed. Here they are, one from Meyer and one from the National Geographic Society. You have to scroll down to see the NGS letter.

Update 12-11-08: Press releases posted on NGS's website, one by Marvin Meyer and the other by National Geographic.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Please circulate this petition on your blog

Since many of my readers have their own blogs, and we all have somewhat different audiences, please if you can copy the Mandaean petition link from my previous post, and put it up on your blog. We need 1000 signatures.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Petition to Sign to help the Mandaeans attain refugee status

Please help the Mandaeans gain refugee status as a community. Click this petition. It only takes a few seconds to sign.

From John Bolender:
Dear all:

At this site, you will find a petition addressed to US Sec. of State Rice concerning granting asylum to Mandaeans as a community. In order to see the petition, you will have to click the link marked "letter," which I admit is rather small and easy to miss. I urge you to sign the petition and to spread the word to others to do likewise. Thank you very much.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Werner Kelber, A Review Article

If you want to update yourself on issues of orality and scribality in early Christianity, Werner Kelber has just published a MUST READ review article on the subject.

Responses to New York Times Op. Ed.

I have received many communications from readers of the NY Times this weekend in response to my op. ed. piece, Gospel Truth published on Saturday. Most people are grateful to know about the controversy. One person wrote me to tell me that studying religion was a waste of my life and that I should work in another field. I guess we have different perspectives on that! There are a couple of questions that keep being asked, so let me say a few words about this here.

1. The Gospel of Judas tells us nothing about the historical Judas, if indeed he even existed. This issue seems to be very confused in the public mind. These ancient gospels were fictions in terms of what we today call "historical facts". This text wasn't written to tell us what Jesus really said to Judas. It is a theological text. In this case, we have a Sethian Gnostic writer who is using stories about Judas the demon to make a new point. He is criticizing mainstream Christianity - its doctrines (Christ's death functioned as a sin atonement) and its practices (the eucharist which reenacts Christ's sacrifice and atonement).

2. When we translate words like daimon, we should be doing so by comparing our text to texts closest to the traditions and age of the text in question. Why? Because the thought-world assumed by the text determines how words are being used. In this case we need to be looking at Gnostic texts in the second and third centuries. I have found so far about 50 instances of the word daimon in Gnostic literature. It means "demon," beings in opposition to the supreme God, and creating an imperfect world out of their rebellion and ignorance.
(1) Trimorphic Protennoia (Sethian, early 2nd c.): mentions Archons, Angels, and Demons (35.17); calls Ialdabaoth the demiurge "the great Demon" who produces the cosmic realms (40.5); mentions the "chains of the Demons of the underworld" which the redeemer broke (41.6).
(2) Apocalypse of Adam (Sethian, mid 2nd c.): refers to the Archons Solomon, Phersalo and Sauel who sent out an "army of demons" to seek out Mary the virgin to try to kill Jesus when he incarnated (79.5).
(3) Gospel of the Egyptians (Sethian, late 2nd c.): Nebruel is called the "great Demon" twice (=one of three terrifying demiurge Archons in 13th realm) (57.10-20); the demiurge Archon is said to create "defiled (seed) of the demon-begetting god which will be destroyed" (57.25).
(4) Zostrianos (Sethian, early 3rd c.): fragmentary reference to demons (43.12).
(5) Testimony of Truth (Gnostic, late 2nd c.): interprets the leaven parable to refer to the "errant desire of the angels and the demons and the stars". These figures are associated with the Pharisees and the scribes of the law who belong to the Archons who have authority over them (29.17); speaks about fighting against the Archons and the Powers and the Demons (42.25).
(6) Apocalypse of Paul (Gnostic ?, 2nd c.): speaks of principalities, authorities, archangels, Powers, and the whole race of demons.
(7) Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic, 3rd c.): in context of discussion of Archons, talk about dreams comes from a demon worthy of the person's error (75.5); the physical body is called an "abode of demons, the stone vessel in which they live" (82.53-54). The Testament of Solomon says that Solomon confined demons to these sorts of vessels.
(8) Authoritative Teaching (Gnostic ?, beginning of 3rd c.): speaks of the "force of ignorance and the Demon of Error" (34.28).
(9) Concept of Our Great Power (Gnostic, early 4th c.): refers to the dissolution of the Archons following Jesus' crucifixion. The are referred to as evil demons who will be destroyed (42.17).
(10) Paraphrase of Shem (Gnostic, 3rd c.): a series of 35 passages which speak of demons who are part of the darkness which work to create this world. For all the references, see The Thirteenth Apostle, p. 186 n. 20.
Gnostic texts use this word to mean nasty Powers, Archons, entities within the cosmic sphere, with creative and tempting powers. The Christian literature in this period, as well as the NT, uses daimon to mean demon too.

But can't daimon mean "divinity" whether for good or evil. Yes, as I write in my book The Thirteenth Apostle, in Greek philosophical literature where the cosmos is not envisioned as mostly or entirely under the rule of evil beings. If the Gospel of Judas were a Greek philosophical text, we could argue for a more generic translation. But it is not. It is a text of the Sethian Gnostic variety where the heavens surrounding this earth are populated by Archons and their nasty assistants, evil powers and demons. Here Judas is the 13th Demon, a designation for Ialdabaoth.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Conservative or Liberal Scholarship?

The past few weeks I have been interviewed by several journalists about my book The Thirteenth Apostle. There are a couple of questions that have been consistently coming up, questions which probably shouldn't have surprised me, but did nonetheless.

One question that I get asked is what religion I am. Now I don't have any difficulties with talking about this per se, except that I wonder how many classicists or historians who write books get asked this question in interviews? Why do religious studies scholars get asked this question? The assumption behind this question appears to be that if you study religion, you do so because you are religious, and your work is somehow justifying that religion.

Now this assumption is not completely wrong. There are in fact many religious studies scholars, particularly of the biblical variety, who either have a conscious task of apology, or who are doing so unaware. My readers know that I am of the opinion that historians of religion need to be very personally aware of this, and demand otherwise of their own contributions. Our apology has no place in the modern histories we are reconstructing from our ancient sources.

That said, when I answer the reporter's question, "What religion are you?", with "A liberal Christian" or "A progressive Christian", there is usually a pause as the reporter responds, "but your book is conservative."

How delightful. How fascinating. How paradoxical.

I am not a liberal or conservative scholar. I am a historian of religion whose main goal is to reconstruct the history and theology of the ancient Christians as accurately as I can. If the text had said that he was a hero, I would have supported that position. But it doesn't. So I have to follow through, maintaining academic integrity even if this means that I have to take a position opposite many scholars whom I consider to be friends. Judas is still a demon, even in the gnostic tradition. Epiphanius was wrong, as are the scholars who wish it to be otherwise.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Slate for Codex Judas Congress

I've revised the slate for the Codex Judas Congress now that all the initally invited scholars have contacted me with their paper titles. As soon as their abstracts come in, I'll put those up as well.

Link to Codex Judas Congress information.

Especially note the two public lectures: one featuring Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst; the other Elaine Pagels and Karen King. The location has changed to the McMurtry Auditorium in Duncan Hall. I am working on setting up a table of books written by all the scholars who will be attending the conference. This will be set up outside the auditorium before and after the public lectures.

Graduate students, please consider submitting your topic for a poster session.

Link to Poster session information.

I have had scholars begin to contact me who are not on the slate but who would like to attend, and even present a paper. If you are in this situation, feel free to e-mail me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Phil Harland's Review of Thirteenth Apostle

I want to point my readers to Phil Harland's review of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. Phil is a fellow blogger and has some interesting things to say in regard to the book. I want to respond to his criticism that I use the term "apostolic" to refer to the "mainstream" church, and that this is anachronistic. We have not yet created language to discuss what actually was going on on the ground in the second century.

I hate "proto-orthodox" because of its connotation that these churches were "orthodox" when in fact they weren't. In fact, many of the main leaders of this church were later designated as heretics (i.e. Tertullian, Origen). I also hate "mainstream" because it suggests that there was a mainstream and everyone else was divergent. I find "apostolic" to be the least onerous because it suggests that these churches rallied around the twelve apostles and believed that their doctrines came from them directly, and it doesn't have any negative connotations in regard to other forms of Christianity.

If anyone has a better term to suggest, I'm more than open to hear about it, because I haven't the foggiest clue how to get out of this terminological dilemma! Thanks Phil for bringing this up.

Why speciality units at SBL are important

My ruminations here represent a continued reflection about SBL and the importance of the formation of specialized groups. I remember years ago how difficult it was to get permission from the SBL Powers to form new groups. There was a policy to keep the number of groups limited, and to encourage scholars to work out their research agendas within already established groups.

I recall the meeting at the University of Michigan on Vision and Audition in 1995 when I proposed to the scholars present that we form the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism unit. I distinctly remember one of the scholars present shaking his head and admonishing us that our unit would never be approved because the SBL was not allowing for the expansion of its number of units. I'm one of those people that take such advise as a challenge, so we went ahead with the proposal anyway. Of the couple new units approved that year, we made the cut.

Why did I suggest that we form this group? The main reason was that the academy had no units studying mystical traditions or religious experience. So when my colleagues and I tried to present papers in other groups, our work was tangential and even marginalized in those sessions. The audience had come to hear about a particular text or set of texts - be it the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Rabbinic literature, or Nag Hammadi literature, or Thomas traditions, or Pseudepigrapha - and when we would try to engage them in a conversation about mystical traditions within this literature, it wasn't particularly productive because it wasn't their issue or interest.

But once we formed a space for the discussion of the mystical to occur, wow, did things happen. I think our unit, in terms of publishing books connected to our unit, is one of the most productive. I can list at least twenty books that have roots in our group, and these books are published in excellent scholarly series put out by Brill, Mohr-Siebeck, T & T Clark, SUNY, etc.

And what spins off should be noted too. From the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has been the creation of the Religious Experience in Antiquity unit, and the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar - more spaces for more scholars to explore connected but more specialized interests or research projects (as is the case with the New Testament Mysticism commentary). It is the snowball effect, and it is what vitalizes everything that our generation of scholars will produce.

These smaller specialized units allow a space for graduate students to be welcomed into the academy, to be supported as they look for jobs, as they begin writing for journals, and publishing their first book.

But complete specialization and separateness is not what I'm talking about. It is important to stay connected to the discourse of other groups. So the ability to do joint sessions on a common topic of interest is exceedingly vital. We try to put together a joint session at least every other year, to stay in touch with bigger issues and alternative methods.

This is what I mean when I say that SBL is a communal experience for me. And I can't imagine it being that way without the presence of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group to which I owe more than words can express. I just can't emphasize enough how these units can become your family, your home away from home. The people that I have met and worked with in these units have become very dear to me. I can't imagine a SBL meeting without this special space for us and our work. Or our Saturday night dinners, which is always a highlight of my meeting.

So I am SO GLAD that the SBL Powers have changed their minds and policy on new groups, allowing the growth to occur and supporting this as much as possible. I don't worry one bit about "over-specializing" - this isn't even a word in my vocabulary. What we are about is enlivening biblical studies, making it an exciting field for a new generation of scholarship. To do this successfully requires scholars to have the freedom to work on collective projects, to create units that support minority positions or interests as well as the dominant.

With more units, it means that we are going to miss things that we would like to have been part of. But when hasn't this been the case? It also means that the committees have to provide an agenda that the group wants to participate in. But this is what we want anyway - programming that is connected to the scholarship happening on the ground.

This means, though, that we are never going to have our agendas set two years in advance as the SBL Powers are insisting - because who knows what fabulous things we are all going to be doing then (smile!).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Talking about miracles

Okay, I have to chime in on the miracle discussion that seems to have enchanted the Christian Origins list serve as the result of Crossley's and Bauckham's discussion at SBL. But I'm going to be brief.

First, if biblical scholars were more concerned about operating as historians than theologians this wouldn't even be a discussion. Historians do not begin with the position that miracles can happen (because God can do anything he wants to do) therefore Jesus performed (or: could have performed) miracles.

When miracles are attributed to famous people in historical writings - and there are many examples beyond Jesus - historians start with the position that these are stories meant to attribute certain superpowers or status to the famous person, or are being used to show the ancient reader that the person being described was thought to be extra-ordinary, divine or godlike. Why should the historical study of Jesus be any different in terms of method?

Second, the fact that this IS a discussion, and that some biblical scholars actually approached James Crossley, maintaining that we can't rule out that Jesus could have performed miracles, should not come as a surprise. The issue at stake is really not about miracles, is it? It is about apology and having it dominate and control our discourse as biblical scholars. It is no wonder that classicists and archaeologists and ancient historians look at our work with suspicion.

I am not going to get into the discussion about whether or not miracles can or cannot happen. I am tired of that discourse and all the false labeling that goes on with it. What I want us to face is the fact that we, as biblical scholars, are willing to suspend what we know about our world when it comes to Jesus and so-called historical research about him, but we are not willing to do so for other figures.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My SBL Odds and Ends

Mark Goodacre has some reflections on SBL that I wish to comment on, since my reflections are quite a bit different from his.

My experience of SBL is a communal one. What I mean is that this is the one time of year that I get together with scholars who are working on similar projects and texts. It is a time to catch up on what everyone else is doing and thinking. It is a time to share what I've been doing. It is a time to celebrate publications and other successes. It is a very valuable time to me, and the one year I missed when I was eight months pregnant remains a hole in my institutional SBL memory.

I have found that reading papers is actually a good thing especially in larger groups. No amount of predistributing paper is going to mean that anyone in the audience has read it and digested it. Predistributing only works if the group is very small - like a seminar - and the goal of the meeting is detailed discussion of the paper (like the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar).

But this is not the goal of all sessions, nor should it be. The paper reading sessions have their own goal, and that is distribution of information for general comment. This is extremely informative especially when the committee has set up a coherent slate of papers, and offers one person to summarize and respond to the set of papers read. Hearing a paper read is not the same thing as reading it in my office, just as studies of orality and scribality have shown. Why? Because the orator can be interrupted, can be asked questions, can be probed for further information or reflection, can interact with the audience. It is these interactions, these intersections with others, that adds even more value to these sessions.

I might add, however, that orators need to distinguish between the written word and the oral word. Rewrite your academic paper into an oration (think: public lecture), and it will be more concise and easier for the audience to follow. I started doing this last year for my conference presentations, and I have found that the feedback from the audience is much more positive. Get your thesis out there, and a few solid points developed, and that's it. Leave the rest for the publication that will follow out later.

The other sessions that I find helpful are the book review sessions. In these sessions the respondents give a good sense of the content of any given book, have some critical remarks, to which the author can then reply. The best book review sessions are the ones where all comments and responses have been prepared ahead of time, and read at the conference. The Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism group has done review sessions almost every year, and they are very successful in my opinion. The best book review I heard this year was by James Tabor of Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary.

As for the number of sessions, when SBL first started to allow for more and more sessions (about three years ago I think), I was concerned that the sheer number wasn't necessary, and would keep the number of attendees down per group due to competition. But this just hasn't been my experience so far. I am developing a different sense of the SBL units now that so many are being put into place. These units function as small communities of scholars with like interests, goals, and projects. More often than not, these interests cannot (and perhaps even should not) be cultivated in already existing units, because the already existing unit has its own history, method, and past/future agenda. Even though leadership is made to shift in the units, they remain controlled by the community of scholars who launch them. I see nothing wrong with this as long as the agendas continue to be full of life for the community involved. And as long as the powers that be allow other communities of scholars to form their own groups to support their own research.

So if a group of scholars wants to open a unit on "History in Acts" as a separate venture from the Acts group (which has its own life and interests), then I say let it be. The more units like this that come into existence, the more research will be done and distributed. This policy allows for minority positions to have their own sessions, rather than be controlled by the dominant position which might already have a unit that is not interested in the minority position.

As for issues of attendance, I think that my original perception of needing to cultivate large audiences for all the SBL units is silly. The SBL unit's success has little to do with large or small audiences. It has to do with the community of scholars who form the basis of the group, whether or not the session is helpful to them. This community might consist of 20 or 120, but these are the people for whom the sessions are built to inform and interest, not the 5120 who could care less about the subject.

What to do about competing time slots? This has been the big drag of the programming from day one. I don't see any way out of it. There will never be a meeting without overlap. So it comes down to the luck of the draw and individual choice of attendance.

I want to emphasize only two things that I hope that the SBL organizers will consider. Stop 9-11:30 a.m. sessions on Saturday. We need this time for committee meetings. I do not like these early morning sessions at all.

Please judge room size better. I cannot believe that the panel on Judas where Elaine Pagels and Karen King were responding to Birger Pearson, Louis Painchaud, and me was put in a room that seated 75. People were sitting in the aisles, along the perimeter of the room, and hanging out the door. Those crammed in the doorway told me that at least 50 people tried to get into the room, but finally left exasperated.

Finally I want to say that I absolutely LOVE the Friday working sessions. I hope that SBL will continue to allow for these sessions. It is time for closed seminars like the New Testament Mysticism Project to get real work done on communal projects.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New book on the Gospel of Mary

While at SBL I ran across a new commentary on the Gospel of Mary by Chris Tuckett. It is part of a new series on the other gospels called Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts. This is a must-have book for people studying the Gospel of Mary because it contains critical rereadings of all the manuscripts and has terrific facsimiles of the manuscript pages. I haven't read Tuckett's treatment yet, so I can't comment on his take yet. Here is the catalogue blurb about it:
This volume, the first in a major new series which will provide authoritative texts of key non-canonical gospel writings, comprises a critical edition, with full translations, of all the extant manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary. In addition, an extended Introduction discusses the key issues involved in the interpretation of the text, as well as locating it in its proper historical context, while a Commentary explicates points of detail. The gospel has been important in many recent discussions of non-canonical gospels, of early Christian Gnosticism, and of discussions of the figure of Mary Magdalene. The present volume will provide a valuable resource for all future discussions of this important early Christian text.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book Honoring Alan Segal and Larry Hurtado

I couldn't mention this book before because it was a surprise reveal at SBL. But I helped edit a book honoring the scholarship and friendship of Alan Segal and Larry Hurtado. We have called it Israel's God and Rebecca's Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity (published by Baylor Press). The book is very integrated, very much like a conference volume with cutting edge papers.

I don't have the book here at home, so if I miss an author is is due to my memory failure and nothing else. Contributors include Fredrikson, Adela Collins, Bauckham, Dunn, Epp, Thompson, Bond, Foster, Casey, Miller, Newman, Gieschen, Levison, Klawans, Elior, Fitzgerald, Perkins, Capes, DeConick. And we had Alan and Larry contribute pieces for each other, telling them that the book was for the other person!

So this is the book I was working on all summer with David Capes. Since we are both in Houston, we worked in my office on the book, bringing it together just in time to be printed for the final joint AAR/SBL meeting. We had a surprise reception at Lou and Mickey's across the street from the convention center. Alan and Larry were completely surprised and delighted with the book. Carey Newman brought the project to reality, and we are all very thankful to him. The book is gorgeous.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I did get to the grocery store yesterday after the cable guy dealt with our cable problems. On saturday, a new washer is scheduled to be delivered.

So now I'm starting to prepare our dinner - traditional turkey (and tofu turkey since I'm allergic to poultry, and two of our guests are vegetarian), mashed potatoes, bread and herb stuffing, green beans, squash, salad, and popovers. No one around here likes pumpkin pie except me, so I'm making apple crisp instead. This year we are excited to share Thanksgiving with Chad, Franklin (my graduate students) and Franklin's wife Sarah.

May your day be filled with family, good friends, great food, and thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My contribution to the Judas book panel

I really enjoyed listening to each of the panelists successively from the first publication on Judas to the most recent. It gave me a bigger picture of all the interpretations as well as what is at stake. If you missed the event, here is what I had to add to the panel:
The main point of my book The Thirteenth Apostle is that the first scholarly interpretations of the Gospel of Judas are inaccurate. This was partially the result of the fact that they were based on a Coptic transcription released on-line that was provisional and very flawed. This now has been corrected in the Critical Edition, but not before the errors became part of the academic discourse and our consciousness.

Unfortunately, they have affected and skewed our perception of the gospel's actual story and presentation of Judas. Doesn't the gospel say that Judas will ascend to the holy generation? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't the gospel say that it is possible for Judas to go to the kingdom? Only in the flawed original transcription. Doesn't Jesus ask Judas to release his soul? Not in any transcription.

This confusion is compounded by the fact that I think the original English translation contains a few substantial errors that do not reflect what the Coptic says. For instance, Judas is separated from the holy generation, not set apart for it. This translation choice makes a big difference.

So who was Judas? The gospel actually is very clear about his identity. Jesus calls him the Thirteenth demon and says that his star belongs to the thirteenth realm. In Sethian demonology this means that he is being identified with Ialdabaoth "god of the thirteen realms." How and why this transparent reference to Ialdabaoth was missed in the beginning of the National Geographic project, I do not know. But until someone can offer a better explanation about who the thirteenth spirit is beyond an allusion to lucky numbers, I will maintain my interpretative starting point with what the Coptic says about Judas. He is the thirteenth demon Ialdabaoth, who is also called the Apostate.

With this as my starting point, the rest of the text makes complete sense. Judas knows and confesses Jesus because he is a demon. Jesus reveals the mysteries to him to punish him with remorse as deserves the terrible demon that he is. Judas will make a sacrifice worse than all those performed by the other disciples because he iwll kill Jesus and make the offering to Saklas. Because the offering is made by a demon to Saklas, the atonement and eucharist ceremonies are doing no more than worshiping Ialdabaoth, and leading people astray. Judas as Ialdabaoth the archon in the thirteenth realm will rule over the twelve lesser archons who are the apostles. When the gospel says that Judas the demon is more perfect than all the other apostles, it is decimating the doctrine of apostolic authority upon which rested the faith of the mainstream Christians. Judas a wicked demon understood even more than they.

The Gospel of Judas is not good news about Judas, just as the Gospel of Matthew is not good news about Matthew. It is good news about Jesus - that only his body was killed by Judas, that the Archon and his creations will be destroyed, while the baptized Gnostics, the holy generation are saved.

The most important issue that the Gospel of Judas has raised for me in terms of our future scholarship is procedural. I think the National Geographic Society's involvement has been very damaging for us. The fact that it selected a handful of scholars to work up the text and to legally bind them to silence has been detrimental to us all. It dictated to us how our scholarship was to be done. And we all know that this is not how the best scholarship is done. The best scholarship is done when facsimiles are published first, and scholars worldwide can begin working on the texts, talking to each other, sharing information, and arguing. In this way, the academic community double and triple checks itself before "the" critical edition is released. The release of a public translation based on a provisional transcription is not the way to go.

My reactions to the Judas book Panel

The Judas book panel on Sunday evening was a highlight of this SBL conference for me. Michael Williams did an outstanding job as moderator, keeping all of us on track with five minutes each to bring out the highlights of our books and our thoughts on the Gospel of Judas' importance.

There were several surprises of the evening. The biggest surprise is that a new German critical edition of the Tchacos Codex was released at the meeting. It is written by Joanna Brankaer and Hans Gebhard-Bethge. Here is the link if you want more information about it. So the book was added to the panel ad hoc and we learned that they have taken the same interpretative slant that I have in The Thirteenth Apostle. Apparently, there are a number of European scholars who are moving to this interpretation based on their own analyses of the document.

The other surprise was James Robinson's comments in which he chastised scholars for writing popular books because profit is involved. He read the rules he made scholars agree to when they signed on to work on the Nag Hammadi documents in the sixties and seventies. One stipulation was that they could not profit financially from their work and they could not talk to the media at all about their work. Although I understand that he is upset about how much National Geographic has exploited this ancient gospel, at the same time I had to wonder how many popular books he has written over the years? I bring this up because it is a no-win situation. If scholars keep on publishing only within the guild, the knowledge that the public wants to know will not be distributed to them. If scholars work to rewrite their scholarship for the general audience, the only way that it is going to get to the public is through publishers and distributors that work for profit.

Michael Williams provided a summary at the end that I thought was terrific. He said that he sees real movement in the scholarship on Judas, and that out of the discussions at this SBL, both public and private, we are really moving forward with scholarship on Judas. The chance we had in San Diego to gather together as a community of international scholars and talk face to face about this text was just what we needed to move beyond individual positions. I hope that the upcoming Codex Judas Congress will provide a similar venue to continue these discussions (and others).

Home from SBL

Sorry that I didn't get to a computer while in San Diego, but I was racing around so much that I never even saw a computer terminal let alone have a chance to sit down and collect my thoughts. Now I return home to a washer that has burnt out - yes there was smoke billowing out of the thing - and a cable gone bad and an empty refrigerator. So I'm dealing with those things today. Is Thanksgiving really tomorrow?

All this means is that I can't write my reflections on SBL today, but I promise to do it soon, because there is so much to relay. In the meantime, I had a great chuckle at Dilbert this morning. If it is not 11-21-07, you will need to plug in that date to find the strip I'm talking about. It is the sentiment of scholars who feel misread - no names need be mentioned, but if you want to read about that discussion, here is the link to my past conversation about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

MacLean's Article on The Thirteenth Apostle

April is in San Diego with many of you at the annual SBL meeting. She is crazy busy there and has asked me (her husband) to put up a post, or two, linking to items of interest. So here is a link to an article that April did an interview for, in MacLean's. April called home last night after arriving (safely) in her San Diego hotel and is looking forward to the conference and seeing many of you there!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

San Diego bound

I may be down for a few days due to travel. I will try to find access to a computer while in San Diego to keep you posted on what's happening out there. I am looking forward to the Judas sessions especially. Saturday afternoon 1-3 p.m. looks like it will be lively since Elaine Pagels and Karen King will be responding to me and Birger Pearson and Louis Painchaud! Come if you can. S-17-70, GH Gibbons.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index

For a small department, we are mighty! The stats just released by the Chronicle for Higher Education have ranked the productivity of the faculty in the Religious Studies Department at Rice University to be fifth in the nation. This is quite astounding given the comparative size of our department to the others in this top tier (Harvard, Duke, Emory, New York University).

I might mention that there are some things that are not controlled for in these stats, and probably should be. There is a big difference between theology departments and religious studies departments, and between departments and committees or programs. For instance, there is no differentiation between the divinity school department and university religion department at schools like Harvard, Duke, Emory, Princeton, and Yale. So these universities are not really being judged on their Religion programs, but have been judged on a combination of their theology and Religion programs. Additionally, places like NYU do not even have a Religion department, but a program that draws on a number of faculty housed in various departments, some of whom may only contribute one class to the program.

Our faculty number is wrong. We are nine with one open position (not 11). So the "per faculty member" calculations are lower than they should be by quite a bit.

The Rice Department is one of the only solely Religious Studies humanities program represented on the list! I think that if all the factors that I mention in this post were controlled for, our ranking as a Religious Studies faculty in a humanities division of a university is higher than these stats indicate.

I am quite happy to see our department get the recognition it deserves. It is a "happening" place with very innovative and dedicated faculty.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Interview on Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis

I had the delight to talk to Mr. Miguel Conner who is the host of "Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis," an on-line "radio" interview program about all things related to ancient Gnosis. He uploads the interviews and has them available for a week. Then the interviews get transfered to pod-casts on i-pod, and as Miguel says, become immortal. It's quite genius I think, and from the looks of his website, he has had some very interesting guests, covering very important topics. So I highly recommend his backlist to you.

Miguel and I chatted last week about The Thirteenth Apostle and the Gospel of Judas. He has uploaded the interview, and it is available to listen to on his website until Nov. 17th. Then it will become a pod-cast. Here is Miguel's website. Just scroll down until you see the link to the interview.

Friday, November 9, 2007

More reviews of The Thirteenth Apostle

I want to extend a big thanks to Jim Davila for his recent post circulating the Baptist Press news story about my book, The Thirteenth Apostle.

Neil Godfrey of Vridar has put up a long and detailed review of his reading of the book. I always enjoy reading Neil's blog because I think that he is careful, thorough, intellectually fair, and honest. So it was fun this morning to look at his blog and see my book being subjected to his scrutiny! Take a look if you haven't had a chance yet.

Neil raises a good point about Wikipedia's entry on the Gospel of Judas.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context

In case you haven't heard yet, Professor Charlesworth, for the Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, is holding a three-day conference in Jerusalem called "Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context." Dates are Jan 13-16, 2008. The provisional agenda that I was sent looks outstanding in terms of coverage and folks involved. Actually amazing might be closer to the mark.

Topics to be covered in special sessions:
Ancient Beliefs about the Afterlife and Burial Customs
Tombs, Ossuaries, and Burial Practices: The Archaeological Evidence
Burial Beliefs and Practices: The Textual Evidence
Onomastics and Prosopography in Second Temple Judaism
The Talpiot Ossuaries and their Epigraphy
Paleo-DNA and its Archaeological Applications
Patina Testing and its Archaeological Applications
The Talpiot Tomb in March 1980
Mary Magdalene in Early Christian Tradition
Relating Tomb Archaeology with Historical Figures: Possibilities and Problem Discoveries
The Palestinian Jesus Movement: Correlating Textual and Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Christianity
The Burial of Jesus, the Empty Tomb, and the Jesus Family
Statistics and the Talpiot Tomb

This is exactly the kind of academic forum that I suggested (on this blog) was needed when all the media hoopla engaged the Talpiot Tomb. I am looking forward to participating in the Jerusalem conference, and want to thank Professor Charlesworth for organizing it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mandaeans Risk Extinction

This news report was released on Nov. 2, but didn't come to my attention through Mandaean Crisis International until today. It is found on BeliefNet news.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Should we write for the public?

On a chat thread on PTG, there is a very interesting post about academic writing v. public writing with some references to recently published pieces on the subject in SBL and Chronicle of Higher Education. Since the thread would not let me directly respond tonight and also because I think that this is an issue for all of us to consider as a community of scholars, I am posting my response here on my blog.

The points raised in this thread are a real concern of mine. I decided to write The Thirteenth Apostle as a trade book, not my normal academic prose for a tiny audience of my colleagues. Why? Because I am tired of sitting by and witnessing the public being given bad information (for whatever reasons).

I started out of the classroom, realizing how ill-informed my students were about religious studies and Christianity in particular. I began venturing into adult public audiences and saw immediately that the misinformation was even worse there. And the response and feedback I started getting when I took the time to actually begin sorting things out with them was tremendous. My audiences were so happy and sincerely grateful to finally hear straight talk from a historian without a theological agenda.

So I decided about a year ago that the best way to get the word out to as many people as possible was by beginning to write trade books. My vision for my general public writing is not the dissemination of the agreed upon knowledge of my field. My vision is to write for the public what I have learned from my own research, to take my academic publications and make them accessible to anyone who cares about the subject.

There is no reason that scholarship should continue to be locked down, to be accessible to a few. If scholars are going to change the face of knowledge, it has to go beyond the corridors of the Academy. Why is it that biblical scholarship hasn't gone into the churches when ministers are trained in seminary to be biblical scholars? Because very few are taking the information to the public, probably for fear of the reaction of those who might not want to hear what biblical scholars have to say. Herein lies the apology of our field. Are we going to continue to leave public education on religion to the churches, to the evangelists, and to the journalists? I say, no, the time is here for scholars to step up to the plate and begin to care about public knowledge (or lack thereof).

That is not to say, however, that there is not a place for academic writing. By no means! Academic writing is necessary for us to work out the problem effectively and in the kind of detail that most general audiences would not be interested in. But that detailed professional work has to come first, it has to come before the general audience book on the subject.

This is how I wrote The Thirteenth Apostle. I first wrote a long academic paper, working out all the problems and details. I delivered a version of the paper to an academic audience at a conference and got all kinds of feedback. Then I went home and reworked the academic paper for publication in an academic volume. Then I went to public audiences and began lecturing on the subject. And only then did I sit down and write the general audience book.

This has implications for the untenured professor who is learning to write and participate in the guild. He or she must at this stage in the career be focused on academic writing and figuring out the field for him- or herself. In other words, there is a stage in the career where the profession is apprenticed. And during this period, general audience writing should be put on hold. After the scholar has written and published in the Academy and knows what he or she wants to say, then the time will come to make that accessible to the public, preferably after tenure when academic freedom is more secure.

It is my opinion that we are obligated to make our work accessible to the public. As I wrote in The Thirteenth Apostle, I didn't want to write that book. My friends were the people on the NG team. Going public means that you are putting your reputation on the line in a really big way with whatever you say. But, even with this awareness, I felt that the public had been so misinformed about the Gospel of Judas that I thought it would be unethical for me not to say something and correct the mistakes publically. So I really was compelled to sit down and, in the end, just write it.

Baptist News story by Gregory Tomlin

Mr. Tomlin of Baptist News interviewed me over the weekend about my work on the Gospel of Judas and my concerns about the way that the National Geographic Society has handled this text and continues to leave scholars in the dark without access to the facsimiles. I thank Mr. Tomlin for writing such a great piece. If possible, please share his article with those you know. Here is his article.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Diary 4: Layton's Coptic Grammar

Update on chapter 8. Since I last wrote, the students worked through the exercises for chapter 8. This is the only chapter that they have complained about so far. I already discussed my opinion of this chapter in a previous post. I think the problem is that the chapter doesn't appear to have a focus. So it is scattered in terms of content, and in terms of what is being asked in the exercises. The exercises were mainly about the possessive pronouns, while the chapter had a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

But the real beauty of Layton's grammar is coming through in Lessons 9 and 10 where he lays out very succinctly the two systems of the Coptic verb. In Lesson 9, he covers the present-tense and future tense system which he calls the durative sentence. His coverage is thorough and systematic. Also included in this chapter are the infinitive and qualitative states (which Layton calls the stative). The list of verbs in section 69 is overwhelming for the students. So it is good to let them know that they do not have to memorize all these verbs in this lesson. Layton will pick a few to cover from this list in the lessons to come. The boxes on p. 76 were too much, with the exception of the verbal auxiliaries which I asked the students to learn along with the future auxiliary.

Lesson 10 covers the second verbal system which Layton calls the non-durative conjugation (5 main clause bases, and 5 subordinate clause bases). Again it is very systematic and easy to follow. I especially like the fact that Layton introduces the negative forms of these bases alongside the affirmative. I have some trouble with his labels for the various bases, so I have adjusted these a bit with my students. His "past" I call the "perfect." His "aorist" I call the "habitual". His "optative" is not the Coptic optative, but the "emphatic future". The "not yet" and "jussive" are fine.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More Details about the Codex Judas Congress

Three things I want to say about the upcoming Codex Judas Congress (March 13-16, 2008, Rice University).

1. All of the paper topics have been submitted to me. So I have posted them on the CJC website. The range of issues that scholars will be addressing is fantastic as you can see.

2. It is my pleasure to announce the two general public lectures that will be given by four of the scholars attending of the Congress. These are going to be real highlights of the Congress. I hope that you will be able to attend if you are from the Houston area. Please note that the room location may change.
Reconstructing an Ancient Papyri Book:
How the Gospel of Judas was Restored and the Questions It Raises
National Geographic Restoration Team - Professor Marvin Meyer and Professor Gregor Wurst
Thursday, March 13, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Herring Hall, Room 100

What Else Didn’t We Know about the Early Christians?
Professor Elaine Pagels and Professor Karen King
Friday, March 14, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Rice University, Herring Hall, Room 100
3. Graduate students, please don't forget the poster session. We have a fantastic space for the posters within the room that the Congress will be held. Check out the information about the poster session on the CJC website here. Deadline for application is January 7. Those papers which are part of the poster session will be considered for publication in the final Congress volume.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Some lectures coming up

For those who are around town (Houston), I'm going to be discussing the Gospel of Judas with two groups in the next two weeks. On November 7th, 3:15-4:15, I'll be speaking to a group of Rice alums in the Rice Hallmark lecture series. On November 14th, 11:30-1, I'm talking at a luncheon put on by the Houston Foundation for Contemporary Theology. Now that I write this, I realize that I don't know the locations, so I will add that information to this post tomorrow.

For those coming to SBL (San Diego), there is so much going on with the Gospel of Judas, and from the advance papers that are coming across my desk, it's going to be exciting! So here's a reminder of these sessions.

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
9:00 AM to 11:15 AM
Room: Irvine - MM

Theme: Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas

Michael Kaler, McMaster University, Presiding
Philippa Townsend, Princeton University
“What is this Great Race?”: The Meaning of “Genea” in the Gospel of Judas (25 min)
Judith Hartenstein, Philipps Universität-Marburg
The Genre of the Gospel of Judas and its Relationship to the Gospel of Mary (25 min)
Hans-Gebhard Bethge, Humboldt University and Johanne Brankaer, A _Not Found
The Codex Tchacos as “Collection” (25 min)
Gerd Lüdemann, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
The Judas Iscariot Trajectory in Primitive Christianity and Its Origin (25 min)
John Turner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Respondent (25 min)

Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: La Jolla - MM

Theme: The Gospel of Judas

Ismo Dunderberg, University of Helsinki, Presiding
April D. DeConick, Rice University
The Subversive Gospel of Judas and Sethian Humor (30 min)
Birger A. Pearson, University of California-Santa Barbara
The Figure of Judas in the Coptic Gospel of Judas (30 min)
Louis Painchaud, Laval University
“I Have Told You the Mysteries of the Kingdom": The Significance of the Kingdom in the Gospel of Judas (30 min)
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Respondent (15 min)
Karen King, Harvard University, Respondent (15 min)
Antti Marjanen, University of Helsinki, Panelist (30 min)

xBooks on the Gospel of Judas: An Evening with the Authors
7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
Room: 30 C - CC

The weblink with book links for this panel is here.

Michael Williams, University of Washington, Presiding
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University, Panelist (5 min)
Gregor Wurst, University of Augsburg, Panelist (5 min)
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (5 min)
James Robinson, Claremont Graduate University, Panelist (5 min)
N. T. Wright, Durham Cathedral, Panelist (5 min)
Gerd Luedemann, Georg-August-Universität , Panelist (5 min)
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Panelist (5 min)
Karen King, Harvard University, Panelist (5 min)
Stanley Porter, McMaster Divinity College, Panelist (5 min)
Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge, Panelist (5 min)
April DeConick, Rice University, Panelist (5 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Michael Williams, University of Washington
Summation of Discussion (10 min)

Books by Panelists:

Rudolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, with additional commentary by Bart Bart Ehrman, The Gospel of Judas (Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2006).

Rudolphe Kasser and Gregor Wurst, The Gospel of Judas, Critical Edition, Together with the Letter of Peter to Philip, James, and a Book of Allogenes from Codex Tchacos(Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2007).

Bart Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

James Robinson, The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel (San Francisco: Harper, 2006).

N.T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006).

Gerd Lüdemann, Das Judas-Evangelium und das Evangelium nach Maria. Zwei gnostische Schriften aus der Frühzeit des Christentums (Stuttgart: Radius, 2006).

Elaine Pagels and Karen King, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (New York: Viking, 2007).

Stanley E. Porter and Gordon L. Heath, The Lost Gospel of Judas: Separating Fact from Fiction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Simon Gathercole, The Gospel of Judas: Rewriting Early Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

April D. DeConick, The Thirteenth Apostle, What the Gospel of Judas Really Says (London: Continuum, 2007).

Christian Apocrypha
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Columbia 1 - MMChristopher Matthews, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Presiding
Antti Marjanen, University of Helsinki
Does the Gospel of Judas Rehabilitate Judas Iscariot? (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

Details about SBL session: Peter Williams' review of Nick Perrin

For those of you who are interested, here is the session information for the paper on Tatian and Thomas. Peter Williams is reviewing Nick Perrin's position in this session. I mention it because the SBL book doesn't reveal the subject since it is categorized as a "panel."

New Testament Textual Criticism
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 23 C - CC

Theme: Honoring the Work of William L. Petersen

AnneMarie Luijendijk, Princeton University, Presiding
Peter Williams, University of Aberdeen - Scotland, Panelist (30 min)
Ulrich Schmid, Free University, Amsterdam, Panelist (30 min)
Lucas Van Rompay, Duke University, Panelist (30 min)
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Panelist (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Judy Redman has tagged me

I'm not sure what 10-20-30 meme tag is all about, but it looks like I have received a electronic chain letter this Halloween. Since it's Halloween maybe I can remember where I was all those years ago!?

10 years ago, was before my son Alexander was born, and before I married Wade. Wow, that was a different era of my life. Let's see it would have been my second year as an assistant professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. I had a horse then, a chestnut quarter horse named Kodak. And that Halloween my riding buddy Kathy and I dressed up in costumes and rode around Moraine View State Park. I think that I was Robin Hood that year. We had a great time trail riding, the maples and oaks blazing with color and the sunlight saturating the forest.

20 years ago, I was in graduate school working on my master's degree with Paul Mirecki. That would have been the year I started to learn Coptic from him. I can't remember a thing about that Halloween, probably because as a grad student I didn't dress up or hand out treats to kids. Since my birthday is only a few days away, most likely I went north for the weekend and spent it with my mom, dad and sister in northern Michigan celebrating my 24th birthday.

30 years ago, I would have barely been a teenager. We lived in northern Michigan and often we would drive to Bloomfield Hills to my grandma's house for Halloween. That year I think was my last year trick-or-treating and when we got to grandma's my sister and I didn't have a costume. I don't remember what my sister put together, but she and I went through grandma's garage and attic and I created an elaborate hat with silk flowers and birds on it. Then I wrapped a sheet around myself and stuffed pillows underneath, strapping them secure with a rope belt. I have no idea what I was supposed to be, but I definitely looked funny. That night my sister and I ran throughout the neighborhood being silly and collecting candy being kids one last time on Halloween.

My tags:
Tony Chartrand-Burke - Apocryphicity
Rebecca Lesses - Mystical Politics
Jared Calaway - Antiquitopia

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bock's second review

Here is a link to a second review by Darrell Bock. I want to respond to his concern over what the Coptic says in regard to "daimon." The photos are clear here. The Coptic says "daimon" and on this NG team and I agree. But our translation of this word into English is very different. NG team uses "spirit" and I use "demon" following traditional convention of translation of this word in Christian and Gnostic sources. In The Critical Edition, Kasser, Wurst and Meyer have pulled "spirit" and simply left "daimon" for all to translate at will.

As for my remarks in The Thirteenth Apostle, that Mark was written as pro-Pauline propaganda against the disciples in Jerusalem, Bock does not like or agree with this since he is of the opinion that early Christianity was much more harmonious than I see in our sources. Whatever one's opinion on the historical origin of Mark, the Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas are interpreting it in just this sense: as polemic against the Twelve. Thus their characterization of the Twelve as ignorant and faithless, while Judas the confessor as a demon. All this is Markan interpretation on the part of the Gnostics.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Some information about the Tchacos facsimiles and the Ohio fragments

I have an update. I have just been told by a reliable source that National Geographic Society is going to create a FTP-server with the 66 published pages of the Tchacos Codex. This will give all scholars access to the facsimiles. Hooray! Let's hope that this project is finished in a timely manner.

The identity of the person who has the Ohio fragments is not apparent. The fragments are inaccessible to scholars because there is a legal battle involved about who actually owns them. I am told by the same source that the contents of the photographed fragments is not all that exciting.

So some joy in my posting and some disappointment. I will just be relieved when the facsimiles of the Codex are available to all of us who study these materials.

An SBL Paper: Thomas and Tatian re-evaluated

Some of my readers who are going to be attending SBL may be interested in this session. The paper is part of a 'panel' in the session in memory of Bill Petersen (1 p.m. on 18 Nov) so the title and abstract have not been publicized.

Peter Williams, Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge

The Relationship between Thomas and Tatian:
An Evaluation of a Recent Theory

It was William L. Petersenís Doktorvater who originated serious discussion of the relationship between the Diatessaron and the Gospel of Thomas. This relationship has been highlighted recently by Nicholas Perrin in his books Thomas and Tatian (2002) and Thomas, the Other Gospel (2007). Perrin proposes that Thomas was originally written in Syriac and that a series of catchwords runs through Thomas when one translates it back into Syriac. A representative sample of these catchwords is investigated and it is found that they provide no basis for the view that Thomas was composed in Syriac. Therefore the likelihood that Thomas used Tatianís Diatessaron is greatly diminished.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Has National Geographic violated the SBL resolution on handling new documents?

Judy Redman has kindly sent me a reference to the 1991 Society of Biblical Literature resolution that was officially adopted in order to put a stop to monopolies on newly found ancient manuscripts. Has National Geographic violated both of these official Society of Biblical Literature resolutions which it had distributed to the American Council of Learned Societies? I think so. These are the resolutions that lifted all restrictions from the Dead Sea Scroll materials. National Geographic Society is supposed to be a "learned society". In my opinion, it must comply to these wise resolutions. The facsimiles should be released immediately.
1. Recommendation to those who own or control ancient written materials: Those who own or control ancient written materials should allow scholars to have access to them. If the condition of the written materials requires that access to them be restricted, arrangements should be made for a facsimile reproduction that will be accessible to all scholars. Although the owners of those in control may choose to authorize one scholar or preferably a team of scholars to prepare an official edition of any given ancient written materials, such authorization should neither preclude access to the written materials by other scholars nor hinder other scholars from publishing their own studies, translations, or editions of the written materials.

2. Obligations entailed by specially authorized editions: Scholars who are given special authorization to work on official editions of ancient written materials should cooperate with the owners of those in control of the written materials to ensure publication of the edition in a expeditious manner, and they should facilitate access to the written materials by all scholars. If the owners or those in control grant to specifically authorized editors any privileges that are unavailable to other scholars, these privileges should by no means include exclusive access to the written materials or facsimile reproductions of them. Furthermore, the owners or those in control should set a reasonable deadline for completion of the envisioned edition (not more than five years after the special authorization is granted.)
These recommendations were originally published in Zeitschrift fuer Papyrologie und Epigraphik 92 (1992) 296.

What is in the Ohio Fragments?

Some of my readers have raised important questions about the Ohio fragments. NG has photos of 50 fragments of pieces of the Tchacos Codex that is somewhere in Ohio. These photos should be included on the CD that National Geographic should produce and make available to scholars worldwide. How long does the academic community have to wait for the release of the facsimiles, which are already made and in electronic form?

Is anyone other than me even slightly curious about what the Ohio fragments are? And frustrated that we are getting nowhere? I want to know why the Ohio manuscript is so hush-hush? What is it that we aren't being told? The manuscript still exists. Someone still has it and I think we all know who it is. Why isn't it being turned over to the academic community so that we can preserve it properly? Or does NG claim to own it and are trying to get it from the dealer who has it? Or maybe NG already has it, but are keeping it top secret?

There is too much that the worldwide scholarly community isn't being told. I don't like it one bit, because it is completely railroading the academic process. I think that NG should become transparent on this one.

Whoever has information about the Ohio fragments, please share them with us in the comments.