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.

U.S. News and World Report

U.S. News and World Report has published a piece on the Gospel of Judas, featuring my work. Here is the link. Thanks to Dateline Rice for bringing this to my attention.

Equal access to the Tchacos Codex is needed!

Stephen asked me in my last post when the Tchacos Codex will be sent back to Egypt and maybe the situation will get better once that happens.

I have heard shifting dates on this. The last date I heard was 2012. If someone knows something different, please correct me.

My point is this. I have no idea what will happen once the Codex goes back to its home in Egypt at the Coptic Museum.

What I do know is this. For those of us who work on these materials, we can't do any real scholarship until we have the facsimile photographs and can all come to an agreement on how the transcription of these texts should read. The Critical Edition that was put out by National Geographic is based on the opinions of only a few scholars. The rest of the scholarly community has not seen the manuscripts yet. The Critical Edition has to be evaluated. This can't be done until the rest of us see the manuscript itself in Switzerland or have access to facsimile photos. Since most of us have academic positions that require us to be at home to teach, the facsimiles are the only way to distribute the information that we all need to work on this cache.

The process of writing a critical edition has all been backwards. Usually critical editions come after the scholarly community has had a chance to discuss the text and figure out what is going on. It is very dangerous to release a critical edition that only a few eyes have seen, because even one small error can perpetuate a hundred more errors in the scholarly literature.

So I repeat. What is the problem with National Geographic? This is a relatively simple request from the scholarly community. Until we have facsimiles, the academic process is not only held up, but damaged, because scholars are going ahead and working on these materials without having seen the photos or manuscripts. So any mistakes that have been made in The Critical Edition are going to be perpetuated and end up causing problems for decades.

We already saw this happen with the Dead Sea Scrolls. And also with the Gospel of Judas. All the literature that has been produced on the Gospel of Judas thus far has been based on a faulty transcription that the NG team released in April 2006 on its website. The original transcription is erroneous, and the errors in it are being perpetuated. And the public, let alone the scholarly community, has been misled.

I thought that the National Geographic Society was all about the quest for truth and knowledge for the sake of humankind. I no longer feel this way. Until it releases the facsimiles and gives all of us equal access to the materials, the National Geographic Society is keeping us all in the dark. Because of this, errors that shouldn't have been made, have been made, and are continuing to be made.

Is there something that National Geographic is trying to cover up? Was the original transcription even more faulty than we have discovered with the information that we have been given? Or is National Geographic just exploiting these ancient texts to sell its books?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DeConick wants to know what is going on with National Geographic and the Judas Codex

Today I decided that I am not going to be the patient nice scholar anymore. I am tired of working in the dark, first on the Gospel of Judas, and now on the rest of the Tchacos Codex.

This Codex has been so mishandled by the National Geographic Society in terms of the academic process and the release of information to the community of scholars who are experts on these texts, that I have decided that I cannot keep silent any longer. This is turning out to be a repeat of the fiasco that held back our knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls for at least thirty years.

What's the problem? First, National Geographic created a secret society of a few scholars to work on the codex which contains the Gospel of Judas. These scholars had to sign non-disclosure statements in order to work on the secret team. This means that they were legally silenced. They had to work in isolation from the rest of the scholarly community. When they were finished with their analysis, they published it as "the" interpretation of the gospel. But the truth is that they were rushed to finish because National Geographic wanted a particular release date which the scholars weren't ready to make. Because of this, the scholars had to publish only a provisional Coptic transcription and translation. But it was framed as finished to the public.

Now it turns out, after further reflection, that the original transcription and translation were riddled with problems which the team tried to correct in The Critical Edition. But too late. Other scholars who had been denied access to the manuscripts jumped at the chance to publish their own translations and interpretations based on the original faulty transcription. And so the errors are perpetuated, along with an interpretation that now cannot be supported by the corrected transcription and translation! So National Geographic's ploy to keep everything secret to exploit the release of the text for profit has put good scholars' reputations on the line, and has completely misled the public about what the Gospel of Judas actually says.

Second, National Geographic still has not released the facsimile photographs that it promised to do. Scholars have to have full-size real-life photographs of manuscripts in order to access what they actually read, particularly in damaged areas of the manuscript. What did National Geographic do this summer? It released photos in The Critical Edition that were reduced by 56%. This makes them absolutely useless for any of us who are working on these texts. I know that the Society has been made aware of this because I posted earlier about this and it was forwarded to National Geographic. But as far as I know, they have made no moves to do anything about it. The pages of the Tchacos Codex are not only photographed by National Geographic, but they are digital. It would cost them nothing to put those photos onto a CD and distribute them to scholars, who are even willing to pay for this information. But no, almost two years later we are still working blindly because we continue to be denied access to the facsimiles. Not every scholar can get a year-long sabbatical to fly to Switzerland to work on these manuscripts!

One has to ask "why"? Why won't National Geographic release the facsimiles? There are only two possibilities that I can think of. Either National Geographic is hiding something that they don't want us to see in the manuscript. Or the Society could care less about the academic community and the search for knowledge - all they want to do is milk these old gospels for all the revenue they can get. In other words, exploitation. And so they are going to release things in bits and pieces, and never enough for the scholarly community to actually work on the texts.

Third, it turns out that The Critical Edition of the Tchacos Codex that they released does not contain all the leaves the Society knows about. From what I understand there are 50 more pages of this book that National Geographic Society has photos of, and I assume therefore knows the contents of, and this information is under lock and key. The additional manuscript leaves are somewhere in Ohio. Who knows if we will ever see them. But at least we could have access to the photographs of the additional pages so that we could all start working on them. I want to know what the heck is in the rest of the Tchacos Codex.

The way that National Geographic has handled and continues to handle this Codex is appalling. It has crippled the academic community and the search for knowledge. I will not stop until something is done to rectify this situation.

Venturing Beyond the Beyond

I finally got the schedule for the conference on Friday, October 26, celebrating the work of Elliot Wolfson on Jewish mysticism.

If you can, drop by for all or some of the talks. I'm going to be speaking on the Gospel of Judas, how the original release of the Gospel in Coptic transcription and English translation misrepresents the Gospel and its subversive, even transgressive, interpretation of scripture. The Gospel of Judas is particularly tied to the Gospel of Mark, and remains faithful to a literal reading of this scripture. Judas is not a hero. He is not a Gnostic. He is the undercover agent for Ialdabaoth, or perhaps more appropriately Ialdabaoth's human alter ego.

I think that expectations that the lost Gospel of Judas might confirm Epiphanius' story may have colored the way in which the original transcription and interpretation was made, especially the choice to emend a line to speak of Judas' ascent to the holy generation, when in fact the Coptic says no such thing. In fact, the Coptic says that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation. This has been corrected in the newly released Critical Edition, but unfortunately it was THE line upon which scholars have been arguing for a Gnostic Judas. The line is fictitious. Judas doesn't ascend anywhere, although it is implied that he will end up in the 13th heaven as Ialdabaoth The Apostate!

For more, come to the lecture. There is also my book The Thirteenth Apostle where I cover much of this material.

Symposium Schedule

October 26, 2007
Fondren Library - Kyle Morrow Room

Morning Session

9:00 Light breakfast and informal meeting
9:20 Opening Remarks by Jeff Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Rice University
9:30 "The Erotics of Transcendence: In Quest of the Body," Edith Wyschogrod, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, Rice University
10:00 "Beauty and the Abyss: Wolfson and Augustine on Making Things out of Nothingsomething," Virginia Burrus, Professor of Early Church History, Drew University
10:30 "Three Painted Angels: The Poetics and Aesthetics of Epiphany," Marcia Brennan, Associate Professor of Art History, Rice University
11:00 Discussion of Morning Papers
12:00 Lunch Break

Afternoon Session

1:20 Opening Remarks by Marcia Brennan, Associate Professor of Art History, Rice University
1:30 "The Gnostic as Transgressor: Radical Thinking about the Gospel of Judas,"April DeConick, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Rice University

"To Give Honor Where Honor is Due: An Encomium to Truth," Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture, University of California-Berkeley

2:30 "To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest: Some Personal Reflections on the Paradox of Honesty in Wolfson's Thought," Steven Wasserstrom, Professor of Judaic Studies, Reed College
3:00 Discussion and Response by Gregory Kaplan, Anna Smith Fine Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies, Rice University
3:30 Reflections and Concluding Remarks, Elliot R. Wolfson, Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University
4:15-5:00 Open Discussion of all papers and remarks

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

News Article on Mandaeans and their need for help NOW

Here is the latest news feed on the Mandaeans. It is written by Y. Berman and was released yesterday. He predicts that the Mandaeans will not survive the next two decades without immediate help. It is a lengthy piece with lots of information and stories. Berman begins:
With between 50,000-70,000 believers worldwide, Mandaeism is one of the tiniest religions in the world; and if nothing dramatic changes soon, it is probably a matter of a few decades before it will vanish from the world.

In the past two millennia, the Mandaeans have resided along the banks of the Lower Euphrates and Tigris rivers (in southern Iraq) and along the nearby Karun River (Iran). The rise of Saddam Hussein to power and more so the civil war which followed his demise in 2003 have caused this tiny community to spread around the world and face one of the greatest threats to its existence.

James Tabor reviews The Thirteenth Apostle

Professor Tabor has just posted a review of my book on his blog, The Jesus Dynasty. I am delighted that he has endorsed the book and offered such a kind review. I tried very hard to make the book accessible in terms of explaining Gnostic traditions as well as the Gospel of Judas in particular. So I am especially happy that he found so valuable the chapter in which I explain what Gnosticism is, and the appendices in which I cover all known Sethian literature. Here is the link.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Coptic Website by Howard Middleton-Jones

I'd like to point you to a website run by Howard Middleton-Jones from the UK. He is working on putting together an interactive multi-media database for Coptic Monastic sites, art and archaeology. He has put up a recent interview he had with Dr. Gawdat Gabra while in Muenster recently. Check it out here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What happened in San Antonio?

Besides the Alamo? which is genuinely one of the most beautiful historical sites I've visited in the US.

The Unearthed Texts BAR Seminar was the best seminar experience I've ever been part of. The group of people who attended were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that speaking with them was really engaging.

And it was the debut of The Thirteenth Apostle. Professor James Tabor, who gave a series of fascinating lectures on recovering embedded texts at the Seminar, has posted his response to the seminar and my analysis of the Gospel of Judas.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

DeConick responds to Osteen

Well it's Houston and Joel Osteen has released another "inspiring" best-seller. I imagine that my readers are probably familiar with Osteen, and his just-released book Become a Better You. We in Houston have been deluged with Osteen-mania, including five days of excerpts from his new book in the Houston Chronicle. I have been following the excerpts, getting more and more concerned about his "inspiring" message, and reminded about the main pop theology that has irritated me about Christianity since my teens when I watched my mom embrace it.

Osteen tells his audience that if they want happiness they need to be satisfied with where they are because God is in control of things and we are right where God wants us to be. His message:
If you're in a hard place, be encouraged in knowing that God is still in control of your life...

Recall those three Hebrew teenagers in the Old Testament who wouldn't bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar's golden idol. The king got so upset that he ordered them thrown into a fiery furnace.

But the Hebrew boys said, "King, we're not worried about it. We know that our God will deliver us. But even if He doesn't, we're still not going to bow down." Notice, they embraced the place where they were, even though it was difficult, even though they didn't like it.

You can do something similar. Quit living frustrated because your prayers weren't answered the way you wanted. Quit being depressed because you're not as far in your career as you had hoped, or because you have a problem in your marriage, or in your finances. No, just keep pressing forward. Keep your joy and enthusiasm. You may not be exactly where you hoped to be, but know this: God is still in control of your life.
As for bad marriages, Osteen says:
Well, he may not be the perfect husband. But you can thank God that at least you have somebody to love. Do you know how many people are lonely today? Believe it or not, some woman would be glad to have your husband. Be grateful for that man. Be grateful for that woman.
I normally don't get involved in contemporary theological discussions, but the days on end that I have had to put up with reading this message has irritated me enough that I feel compelled to respond. Why? Because what Osteen is saying is not just nauseating, it is downright dangerous. Here is another man in power, telling his flock to be content with all aspects of their lives, because God is controlling those situations. He uses a very violent image - a king executing those who don't submit to him - to inspire his audience to hang in there because God is in control. Does he really think that if any of us find ourselves raped or kidnapped or faced with genocide or war that we should expect God to swoop down and save us like the young teenagers who faced execution by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar?

What about women and children who are being beaten by their husbands, boyfriends, and dads every day in America? Is God in control of them? Should they stick it out because it is what God plans for their lives?

It is just this sort of Christian theology that bolsters abused women, and tells them that it is the right thing to do to stay with the abuser. That they must deserve it in some way, that they are being punished for being bad people, that they need to learn to forgive their husbands and love them unconditionally. I know this from personal experience since my husband has dedicated many years of his life to helping abused women try to get legal protection against the abuser.

Now my reader might think that Osteen can't possibly intend this? My response is that it matters not what he intends, but how his message is received by women in abusive relationships and other people who face terrible things that are beyond their control. His message "you must learn to be happy right where you are" is downright dangerous for them.

So I have another message. If you are in an unsafe place, if you are being hurt, abused, or threatened, get out. No one is going to do this for you - God or anyone else. You have to make the decision to leave.

There is so much in our lives that happens to us that we have no control over - and it is not because God wants those things to happen to us. But there are things we do control and it is our responsibility to use our brains and figure out how to get to where we want to go if we aren't already there. So if you hate your job, don't be content with it and thank God that at least you have a job. Figure out what needs to be done to get the job you prefer or dream about, and do it, knowing full well the risk. It might take years. It might take training. It might take saving money. It might take moving. It might not work out the way you planned it. So have a plan B. My point is this: if you have a dream, you are your own fairy godmother.

New Books on the Gospel of Judas Released

A couple of items this morning. I noticed that The Thirteenth Apostle is no longer hanging out on Amazon as a "pre-order" item. It is now going into the cart as "available." So my guess is that if you already ordered it, your box from Amazon will be on your doorstep very soon. If you have been waiting to order it, it has been released.

Marvin Meyer's compendium on Judas is now listed on Amazon for "pre-ordering."

Simon Gathercole's new release The Gospel of Judas is also listed on Amazon for "pre-ordering." Check out his vogue cover art!

So some new items that we have been waiting for are finally becoming available.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Advance Copies have arrived

Yesterday, Alexander (my 3 year old) was home for a sick day. So last night after Wade got home from the D.A.'s office, we drove up to Rice, hoping that a box of books would be waiting for me in at my office. Sure enough, the box was in the mailroom, and it was very special to open it with my family present. Since The Thirteenth Apostle is dedicated to Wade (a Bob Dylan fan - this was the one book in which I could use a quote from one of his songs - and I was granted permission by Dylan to use the quote at no cost, for which I am very grateful), it was a memorable moment to give him the first copy out of the box. And Alexander asked for his own copy and was thrilled with it because he wants to "keep it forever" and show it to his class in "show-n-tell" today. So that's my story. It was truly a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

What is different about my translation of the Gospel of Judas?

The Thirteenth Apostle is published! Here are some of my musings about The Thirteenth Apostle as I'm putting together a lecture on this subject for the Biblical Archaeology Seminar in San Antonio this weekend. By the way, copies of the book will be available at the Seminar.

Why did I write this book? I wrote this book because when I read the Coptic transliteration of the manuscript in April 2006, I realized that Judas was much more a hero in the National Geographic translation than he was in my own translation. As I worked through the Coptic and then sat and studied the text as a whole, I quickly came to see that Judas is not a good guy in this gospel. He is not Jesus' friend or the greatest disciple. I began to wonder why the NG team translated in reference to Judas "daimon" as "spirit" when its most accepted translation is "demon." I wondered why the team chose to say that Judas is "set apart for" the holy generation, when the Coptic actually reads that he is "separated from" the holy generation. And so forth.

What does the Coptic really say? The Coptic says that Judas is a demon, that he will be instrumental in bringing about Jesus' sacrifice, that this was the worst thing he could do. Jesus tells Judas that he will not go to the Kingdom, that he is working for the demiurge Ialdabaoth-Nebruel, that he will lament and grieve his terrible fate. Furthermore, the text says that Jesus will tell him the mysteries of the Kingdom not so that he will go there, but so that Judas will lament greatly his actions within the cosmic drama. Judas is separated from the holy generation. He is the thirteenth demon, which means he is to be associated with Ialdabaoth, the "thirteenth" archon or ruler in Sethian Gnosis.

Why is my translation different from National Geographic's? What is troubling to me is that the provisional Coptic transliteration which NG put out in April 2006 was not finished, but scholars published translations and interpretations based on it. It contained reconstructions of the Coptic that were erroneous, including the statement that Judas will ascend to the holy generation and that he would be taught the mysteries of the Kingdom because it was possible for him to go there. The Coptic text does NOT say this. It says the opposite, and this has been corrected (thank goodness!) in The Critical Edition that NG put out this last summer. The problem is that now the world thinks that Judas is a Gnostic hero when in fact the Gospel of Judas says nothing of this. In fact, it says the opposite. My translation is of the actual Gospel of Judas.

The Thirteenth Apostle is published!

The long-awaited (at least for me!) moment has arrived. The Thirteenth Apostle is published. Haaris Naqvi, my editor at Continuum, has put up a post on the T & T Clark blog about it with endorsements from several scholars. If you get a chance, take a look here.

Louis Painchaud (Universite Laval, Canada): "April DeConick's new book provides solutions to major issues raised by this fascinating but frequently misunderstood text."

Jane D. Schaberg (Prof. of Religious Studies, University of Detroit, USA): "April DeConick makes a brilliant contribution to the conversation about this puzzling gospel, whose 'bitter voice' she hears as a sophisticated, ironic parody of mainstream Christianity. Her engagement with the gospel of Mark and with movie versions of Judas deftly bring first and second century sectarian conflicts into contemporary focus. I highly recommend this book to all those interested in the apocryphal and canonical gospels."

Prof. Madeleine Scopello (Director of Research at the National Center of Scientific Research, Sorbonne, France): "Turning upside down the most accepted understanding of the Gospel of Judas, April DeConick gives a radical new reading of this Coptic text, based on her fresh, personal translation. [...] A deep original insight is offered on the intense and troubled story of early Christianity with its rival, opposing streams. Those who are interested in the Gnostic adventure cannot miss The Thirteenth Apostle."

The best price for purchase is Amazon, which is offering it for $13.57, if you can believe that!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Beyond the Beyond: A Wolfson Conference

This is an update and reminder that Rice is hosting a conference on October 26, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library, Rice University.

On the Visual Imagination and Mystical Hermeneutics of Elliot R. Wolfson

Bringing together a panel of distinguished scholars, this symposium will take Elliot R. Wolfson's groundbreaking writings on Jewish mysticism and his related paintings and poetry as points of departure for lectures focused on the reenvisioning of embodiment, time, beauty, ritual practice, angelic presence, and issues of transgression, law and honesty.

Daniel Boyarin, University of California, Berkley
Marcia Brennan, Rice University
Virginia Burrus, Drew University
April D. DeConick, Rice University
Gregory Kaplan, Rice University
Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University
Steven M. Wasserstrom, Reed College
Elliot R. Wolfson, New York University
Edith Wyschogrod, Rice University

The Humanities Research Center at Rice University, The Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation, and the Religious Studies Department at Rice University.

I don't know what other lecturers are doing, but I will be speaking about the Gospel of Judas as a subversive ancient Gnostic gospel, one that transgresses the mainstream in terms of hermeneutics and visual imagination in order to challenge and critic the mainstream. I will also address how this text has been received by scholars in the modern world, and how its transgressive message has been subverted and buried through modern translation and interpretation.

My still tentative title (since I still have to sit down and write this lecture yet):
The Gospel of Judas and Subversion in Antiquity and Today

Please join us for part or all of the conference if you can!

What about this scenario?

I'm still thinking about the Jerusalem Council because I would like to finally make sense of this thing. I'll be brief. What about this?

1. Jerusalem Church had a mission to the Gentiles. The desirable conversion was with circumcision although some leniency with regard to food laws (Peter). But there were some who wanted to remain uncircumcised (Stephen). The center of this mission becomes Antioch, but it was a satellite of Jerusalem remaining under its watchful eye. This uncircumcised mission is never safe. It has problems from the beginning and brought about Stephen's martyrdom and the persecution of Christians which Saul took part in.

2. Paul becomes part of this mission after a revelatory experience. When he goes to Jerusalem the first time, he meets with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18-20).

3. The persecution of the uncircumcised mission continues (cf. Galatians 2:4). So Paul makes a second trip to Jerusalem initiated by a revelatory experience to discuss the mission with Peter and James. He takes Titus. And it is agreed that Paul could continue his mission to the uncircumcised, while Peter spearheaded the mission to the circumcised (Galatians 2:1-10).

4. Peter is arrested and James son of Zebedee is killed (Acts 12:1-3). This may be the result of a continued persecution of the Christians for supporting a mission to the uncircumcised. So James finally makes a ruling that the Gentiles must be circumcised and he sends envoys to Antioch to carry this out (Acts 15.1-3; cf. Galatians 6:12-13).

5. When the envoy arrives after Peter gets there (Galatians 2:11-14), there is a dispute over tablefellowship and circumcision (the circumcision party is "feared"). Paul cannot understand the decision from Jerusalem and finds Peter's behavior that of a hypocrite.

6. Paul becomes his own missionary to Asian and Grecian churches.

7. James is forced to make a ruling on food laws now, which he does (in Paul's absence) (Acts 21:25; Acts 15). James never rules that the Gentiles don't need to be circumcised. This is the Jerusalem Council.

8. James sends missionaries out to the Antiochean mission churches in Asia and Greece, to circumcise the Gentiles and relate the Noahide ruling. Paul combats this.

9. James writes the epistle of James and sends it out to the churches to combat Paul.

10. Exhausted, Paul realizes that he cannot do this alone. So he collects money for the Jerusalem Church and makes his way to Jerusalem where he ends up causing a riot because of the perception that he says that Jews don't need to be circumcised. And he is carted off to Rome eventually.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why the Forbidden Gospels?

I have been asked by some why I named my blog "The Forbidden Gospels." So I thought that it would be fun to reflect on that today since I have just had a nice chat about mysticism and social activism with Andrea Jain, a graduate student here at Rice who studies Hinduism. Most of us at Rice in Religious Studies have some interest in mysticism. For many of us it is the core of our study.

The name of my blog is tied to mysticism, even though it may not appear that way at first glance. Of course it is a "fun" reference to para-biblical gospels. But more than that it is a serious reference to the "apple" in the Garden that Eve ate. But it is not the disobedient act that I reference. Rather it is a reference to Eve's yearning for knowledge against the ruler, the god, who dominated her, and her choice to achieve it against his wish. It is a gnostic and a mystic reading of Eden.

I call this type of hermeneutic "subversive". We could also call it "transgressive". It is the type of hermeneutic that mystics live by, because it represents the calling into question of received knowledge, of religious traditions and social conventions that govern us. The mystic has transcended the conventional; he or she has literally come face to face with God beyond the walls of the synagogue or the church. Transformed in body and mind, the mystic has transcended the rulers of this world and joined the gods.

So scripture, as it is conventionally interpreted, cannot be appropriated by the mystic from the traditional perspective, which is meant to maintain the status quo and the power structures of male authorities. Rather it is turned inside out, like the mystic has been him- or herself. It has a message, hidden within, that transcends convention and structures of power, a message that subverts and challenges these. The call of this subversive hermeneutic is usually a call to individual conscience, to listen to the "god within", and to step forth in the community as a voice whose only authority is its own.

The literature produced by these kinds of people is not well-liked by the conventional or "orthodox." It becomes suppressed literature, not only in the sense that the ancient people burned the books, but they forbid them too, and created a demonic aura about them to keep the flock away from their "deviant" views.

But to return to the Eden story and its subversive meaning. The subversive story is about the human being "coming of age." Discontent with parental rules that stifle his or her own emerging self, the human sets out on the journey to become an authentic individual of conscience and choice, truly becoming "like God." It is about thinking for yourself and acting on it. How different would our world be if this wasn't a subversive interpretation of Eden?

So the name of my blog is a reference to this subversive story, and the challenge of religious studies which seeks to examine religious traditions beyond the conventional and the apologetic interpretations.

Skarsaune and the Jerusalem Council

I was looking through Oskar Skarsaune's book, In the Shadow of the Temple, today, and I came across the solution that he uses in his book and which he attributes versions of to Bauckham and Bruce (p. 169):
Paul's first visit to Jerusalem: Gal 1:18=Acts 9:26-30
Paul's second visit to Jerusalem: Gal 2:1-10=Acts 11:30; 12:25
Antiochean Affair: Gal 2:11-14=Acts 15:1-3
The writing of Galatians: before the council in Acts 15
Paul's third visit to Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Council: Acts 15:2-29
There is some merit in this solution, but I think it still assumes that the Jerusalem Council ruled on circumcision, which I don't think is a given based on Acts 21:25.

I also am not convinced that the Antiochean Affair is to be connected to Acts 15:1-3 since the former appears to me to be about food laws (which the Jerusalem Council then responded to and ruled on), while the folks from Jerusalem who came to circumcise the Antiochean believers appears to me to be a response to a Jerusalem decision to circumcise the Gentiles, perhaps under pressure of persecution by other Jews in Jerusalem in the 50s. This event had to occur just before Paul's third missionary journey.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Diary 3: Layton's Coptic Grammar

The first exam went very well. Every student is able to read all the different types of PE sentences. So the first five chapters have achieved their goal.

On chapter 6, there are some problems. First, students don't understand what a "specifier" is. This word is not descriptive enough for them. Second, the actual information given on specifiers is scanty, and it is divided. Some of the material comes later in chapter 8. This is okay except that one of the exercises (B.j.) required the students know about the NIM sentence constructions which aren't covered until chapter 8. So my advice is to do chapter 6 and chapter 8 in the same week. And the instructor is probably going to have to give quite a bit of lecture information on what specifiers are. I call them "Quantity Expressions" for lack of a better term, and teach them in this way: What are the pronouns used to express quantity? Interrogative (ash, ou, nim, ouâr) and Indefinite (laau, ouon, hah); How do you construct quantity phrases? with linking particle en; How do you construct quantity sentences with ou, ash, laau, nim (=chapter 8)?; What are the fixed expressions of quantity? use of ash en he and ash em mine. Layton does not cover this material well, so anticipate giving students more examples along with more explanation.

The cardinal numbers are covered well in chapter 6, although the students get hung up in section 46 with the singular definite article with plural numbers.

In the exercises for chapter 6, I think there are two typos: (44) occurs twice interrupting the sentences, and these need to be removed.

Lesson 7 is all about prepositions, and Layton is very thorough here. On page 53, in the large box, enchi should be removed. It is not a preposition, but a subject marker.

Lesson 8 is filler. Perhaps Layton needed "20" chapters. As I said earlier, chapter 8 really belongs in chapter 6 (at least the first half of section 57). The rest of the chapter is about possessive pronouns and an overview of what students have learned about articles and pronouns. So nothing really "new" except the possessive pronouns which could be easily combined with Lesson 7 which is about prepositions and how they suffix pronouns.

I am looking forward to learning our first verb in chapter 9. The beauty of the way that Layton has laid out this grammar is that students are taught everything except verbs first. They can read any nominal sentence; any pronoun; any prepositional phrase. So when the verb comes, they can concentrate on it exclusively. By the way, my students were able to sight read a long portion of Thunder: Perfect Mind on their exam (after only 5 chapters!):

I am the first and the last,
I am the honored and the scorned,
I am the whore and the holy,
I am the wife and the virgin,
I am the mother and the daughter,
I am the limbs of my mother,
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my birth.
I am the Lord.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

More Thinking about the Jerusalem Council

Loren Rossen offers his summary of events here.

I have a couple of items that pop up as I continue to think about the Jerusalem Council.

1. If it is a historical event (which I lean toward because of the knowledge and application of the Noahide laws in early Christianity; and we would expect the Jerusalem Church to be the one who "ruled" on the Gentiles), then it likely occurred after the Antiochean Affair, not before.

2. It does not have to be identified with Gal. 2. This could be an entirely separate affair. Gal. 2 may be an earlier meeting. Paul may not have even been involved in the Jerusalem Council since its food rulings are no compromise for Paul. It is not clear to me that the Jerusalem Council made any decision about circumcision (see Acts 21:25).

3. For years (even from the beginning?) the Jerusalem Church allowed for a range of behaviors on the part of Gentile converts, and supported the Antiochean Church (and at first Paul) which allowed Gentiles to remain uncircumcised, but not Jews. Peter was the big advocate for this position, and this moderate position appears to have been permitted by Jerusalem who sends Barnabas and other teachers and prophets to help with the Gentile mission. The Gentiles in Antioch weren't necessarily circumcising themselves given Paul's connection to their mission.

4. There seems, however, to have been real hostility especially in Jerusalem in terms of Gentiles who remained uncircumcised, perhaps for fear that the implications would be that Jews don't need to be circumcised either (if we follow what Luke tells us). Here I'm not even thinking of folks within the Jerusalem Church. I'm thinking of Jews external to it. Was Stephen's martyrdom about it (cf. Acts 7:51)? Was Saul's persecution of the church about it? Was James son of Zebedee killed by Herod because of it? Was Peter arrested because of it? Was the riot that got Paul arrested because of it?

5. Something happened in Jerusalem in the 50s that caused James to send an envoy to Antioch telling them to circumcise the Gentiles. This doesn't have to be a case where James is going back on his word. This suggests that something socially or politically was happening that caused James to finally make a decision to circumcise the Gentiles, a decision that he maintains following the Antiochean Affair when Paul goes out on his own and faces churches who are now being told by Jerusalem to circumcise the Gentiles. In other words, the uncircumcised had become a liability and James had to act. But why?

6. After the Antiochean Affair, James rules on the food laws, and allows for Gentiles to follow some form of the Noahide Laws. Is this later ruling the Jerusalem Council?

UPDATE 10-10-07: Doug Chaplin posts his thoughts on the subject here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Jerusalem Council

My thoughts are on the Jerusalem Council since my class and RECRS is shifting into this discussion soon. I have never been satisfied with the way in which scholars have handled this Council, because I haven't seen a proposal that fits all the evidence. I especially don't like "it never happened" because this position does not take into account all the evidence. But it also couldn't have happened as Luke says it did because it doesn't fit with what we know about things from Paul's letters.

1. The solution that Acts 15 never happened doesn't make sense of the fact that Luke knows about a decision (letter?) from James that resorts to Noahide laws, nor that these laws appear to have been known and observed by Christians as late as the third century. These laws have to have been instituted or invoked by someone somewhere in the first century in order to deal with the Gentile problem.

2. Paul's understanding of his meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Galatians 2 does not correspond to Acts 15, neither in terms of outcome or in terms of who was there and what was discussed. Trying to harmonize them results in apology, not history.

3. If the decision of Acts 15 had been made prior to the Antiochean Affair, it doesn't make sense that the apostles would then begin a counter-mission to Paul after the Affair and demand circumcision of the Gentiles in the churches Paul missionizes. It is very clear to me that the opponents to Paul are not unknown folks, but authoritative missionaries (even disciples) from Jerusalem.

4. Then there is that strange passage in Acts 21:25 that appears to suggest a letter having been sent out without Paul's knowledge about a decision made by James in terms of the Noahide laws, a decision that looks to be a compromise between Paul's radical position, and that of the Jerusalem Church, although no mention is made of circumcision.

5. Other observations?

So here is another thought experiment for you. How can the Jerusalem Council best be explained given the evidence we have?

For Judas Enthusiastics

I have recently discovered that Marvin Meyer has gathered together in a small book in English translation all known texts from antiquity that refer to the disciple "Judas" Iscariot. It's put together in the same fashion as his collection of "Mary" texts. Included are NT texts, Gospel of Judas, Dialogue of the Savior (?! - this is not Judas Iscariot, but another disciple by the name of Judas), Concept of Our Great Power, Acts of John, Papias, Apocrypha, Islamic sources, and the Golden Legend. Harper is publishing it and I think that its release date is December 1, 2007, but HarperOne catalogue says that it will be available to purchase 11-20-07. So I'm conjecturing that this means that it will be released to the public at AAR/SBL meeting in San Diego. Here is the link to Amazon on the book. It's called Judas.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gorgias Press

I'm delighted to be the "enthusiast of the month" for Gorgias Press. If you haven't found this publisher yet, check it out. They are a specialist publisher, getting back into press books that have been out of print, and commissioning new research. Their specialty? Ancient Near East with a particular focus on religious traditions that went east along the Silk Road. So they have many studies on Aramaic and Syriac Christianity, and beautiful books on Gnostics in this area, as well as other unusual but essential studies.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Nathaniel Deutsch speaks out about Mandaeans

Wade brought to my attention an op.ed. piece in the NY Times this morning. Professor Deutsch, a Gnostic expert from Swathmore, has made a plea to us in the Times to help resettle the Mandaean community in the States. As a religious minority, they are unable to survive any longer in Iraq. For more information about the Mandaeans, I have a webpage and a series of previous posts that include details on how to write letters to Congress. It is vital that as many of us as possible write to Congress again, since they are considering legislation for Iraqi refugees that has already been passed by the Senate.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Update about The Thirteenth Apostle

I just received some surprising news about the release of The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says in the US. I didn't expect it to be released until December in the States because it was going to be printed in London and released there in October. But yesterday the publisher told me that it was decided at the last minute to print it in the US, so it is coming off the press even as I write this. This means that any day now it will be available in the US. So don't believe the dates on Amazon and other catalogues. As soon as I receive notice that it is off the press and in the warehouse, I'll post again.

By the way, if you plan to attend the Unearthed Texts BAS Seminar in San Antonio, the plan is to have some of the first copies available there. There will also be copies at AAR/SBL if you are attending that conference in San Diego.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Unearthed Texts Seminar in San Antonio

Yesterday, James Tabor posted on The Jesus Dynasty a teaser for the upcoming Biblical Archaeology Society Seminar in San Antonio, October 19 and 20. He and I have created a new seminar about newly found manuscripts and what they have to say about early Christianity. The BAR webpage with all the details about hotel, lectures, schedule, etc. is here. The city itself has so much to offer, besides the great wisdom of the lecturers (smile!).

I'm going to be addressing second century Christianity over these two days with a general lecture on the usefulness of the apocrypha, second century Christianity and its variety of expressions, Sethian Gnosis and our most recently discovered manuscript the Gospel of Judas, and Valentinian Gnosis and found manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary.

James Tabor describes on his blog the wonderful array of topics he will be addressing.

All and all it looks like it will be a great time. Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Book Note: The Judas Brief (Gary Greenberg)

For those of you who are interested in the "historical" Judas, a new tradebook by Continuum has just been released on this subject: Gary Greenberg, The Judas Brief: Who Really Killed Jesus? Mr. Greenberg has his own website and blog.

Mr. Greenberg reassesses the Gospels and their sources and generously references ancient literature beyond the NT in order to recover what he has identified as the genuine story of Jesus' arrest and death from gospels that have rewritten that history. He argues from these sources (and his own re-envisioning of events) that the Jewish authorities did not want Jesus put to death, but acted to save him from the Romans, particularly from Herod Antipas and the Herodians whom Greenberg identifies as the ones who wanted Jesus' movement stopped just as they had wanted the Baptist movement stopped.

Within this larger purpose, Greenberg addresses the question, "What do we really know about Judas?" He argues that the gospel writers created the evil Judas, by rewriting his story because of his involvement in the negotiations of Jesus' voluntary transfer to a Jewish delegation which was to protect him from Rome. As Jesus' most trusted disciple, Judas negotiated his "handing over" to the Jewish authorities, a detail that later became understood in the tradition as Jesus' betrayal.

In the end, Rome had its way, and Jesus was arrested and killed by Pilate and Herod.

The book is very accessible in terms of the manner in which it reads and is well-argued, reflecting a revisionary examination of the ancient literature. It deals head-on with many of the problems that have troubled scholars for years, including the difficult and inconsistent stories of Judas Iscariot, the involvement of Jewish authorities in Jesus' death, and the increasing tendency of the gospel authors to find ways to exonerate Pilate.

The book also shows just how difficult it is to recover historical information from the gospels, since the historical memory has been so affected by the contemporary theological needs of the authors of the gospels. The bits and pieces that we can recover often don't make sense on their own, and so require that we speculate about what might have happened to make sense of the pieces. Greenberg offers in The Judas Brief one way to reassemble the pieces.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

New T & T Clark Blog

Both Jim West and Mark Goodacre have mentioned this new blog for T & T Clark publishers. I want to mention it too, for two reasons. They publish many of my books (and even featured Mark Goodacre and I on their sidebar - smile!) and I think they are the hottest publishers of academic and tradebooks in biblical studies in the market today.

The not-so-distant merger with Continuum appears to have done them well. They now are able to publish a wide array of subjects related to biblical studies, much of it cutting-edge. They have strong series (like The Library for New Testament Studies) that can be found in every good library. They have a range of price points, mainly because they have figured out how to take pricey small hardback print runs and turn them over into reprint paperbacks after a year. And they have some really smart and responsive editors. Their book display at AAR/SBL the last three years has been very impressive. If you are going to be in San Diego, I encourage you to drop by their booth and see for yourself the fantastic range of subjects they have in print now.

Anyway, I need to take some time and update my blog roll with many new additions including T & T Clark's blog. But that means that I have to remember how I did it in the first place. Maybe Wade remembers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Diary 2: Layton's Coptic Grammar

Chapter 4 is all about the adjective. But there are several items that are missing from the explanation in the chapter, but that come up in the exercises in chapter 4 and later in chapter 5.

1. In section 36, the meaning of the inverted word order is not explained. Layton believes that when the adjective precedes the noun, the adjective "expresses a special nuance." I never learned this previously, having been taught that the word order was arbitary in terms of position of the adjective. But this is not Layton's opinion. He doesn't say what the nuance is, although it pops up in the exercises since he asks students to write from English into Coptic: The big house (Ba.): pêi ennoch; The huge house (Bb.): pnoch emêi. So when orally covering section 36, the instructor may want to note that the inverted order according to Layton is for rhetorical effect and tends to emphasize the adjective ("big" becomes "huge"; "wicked" becomes "vile"; "large" becomes "gigantic" or "great"; "beautiful" becomes "gorgeous"; and so forth).

4. In section 36, an example of a full sentence using the attributive construction modifying a single article phrase should be added. If not, the students get very mixed up in the exercises where they are asked to put from English into Coptic: Ea. I am impious and wicked (aneg-ouponêros enacebês). Students missed this construction (with linking en) because it wasn't clearly stated by Layton in section 36 (last paragraph and 2 examples). See also exercises Ef., Eh., and El. which all want this construction. The only time he gives an example of this construction in a sentence is in the next chapter's exercises (chapter 5, An.): entoou hendikaios neenoch (As for them, they are big and righteous).

2. In section 37, as (old), ouôt (single), ouôbesh (white) need to be added to adjectives that can be placed immediately after the noun with no linking en.

3. I would add a "37.5 section" to cover adjectives that like to proceed the word they are modifying. Not only is this needed to cover the adjective completely, but Layton has a series of exercises where the adjective proceeds the noun in the next chapter (chapter 5), yet he has not explained this in chapter 4 (or 5). So I'd put these words under 37.5 heading "Adjectives that can proceed the noun being modified":
noch (big), koui (small), shêm (small), shorep (first), hae (last), merit (beloved).

4. The box on p. 33 is not useful at all. It confuses the students because they do not know yet the verb "to be," er. I'm not at all sure that the material presented in the boxes is wholly appropriate for the level that the students are at. The boxed materials seem to always cause confusion and discomfort on the part of the students. Since the boxed materials have not yet been included in the exercises, I wonder what the purpose of the boxed material is?

Chapter 5: a breeze. Layton does a fine job laying out three member nominal sentences (I've always called these pe sentences).

The students will take their first Coptic exam on Wednesday, covering 1-5. So I'll return with my diary entry after a few more chapters. I have a lot to say about lesson 6 which struggles to explain what Layton calls "specifiers" but which I know of as Quantity Expressions. Until then...