Friday, March 27, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-26-09

"There are two ways: one to life and one to death, but the difference between the two ways is great. The way to life is this: First, you shall love God, who has created you; second, your neighbor as yourself. Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to another."

Didache 1.1-2 (liturgical handbook; 90 CE, although contains very early traditions from the Jerusalem church)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Upcoming Lecture by David Frankfurter on Imagining Evil as Conspiracy

David Frankfurter (University of New Hampshire) will be speaking at Rice on Monday, March 30, 5-6 pm in Humanities 119. His lecture, "Imagining Evil Conspiracy: From Early Christian Cannibalism to Satanic Ritual Abuse" addresses issues that he has raised in his newest award-winning book, Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History.

The Spirit of Jerusalem Photo Exhibit

The photography of Shai Ginott - The Spirit of Jerusalem - will be exhibited at Rice University in the Farnsworth Pavilion, Ley Student Center. The Opening Reception will be held on March 30, 6-9 pm. It is sponsored by Hillel, Owls for Israel, and the Israeli Consulate.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The fresco is in St. Jacobus, Urschalling

Thanks again to Mac who was most helpful in pointing me in the right direction!

The church where the fresco is located (pictured in my previous post) is St. Jacobus in Urschalling, in the Alps. I came across an article in the travel section of the New York Times which gives details about visiting the town HERE. I want to see this in person!

I have been analyzing early Christian texts and manuscripts as I have been writing a chapter on the holy spirit for my new book, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. This artwork adds new dimension to my argument that the original Christian Trinity was the Father, Mother Spirit, and Son. Here is a 12th century fresco in a European church that commemorates this!

That this was covered up by other frescos and now is being interpreted as the three angels that appeared to Abraham (because we all know the mother spirit is not part of the Trinity!) is in line with what I have found in the ancient manuscript and hermeneutical tradition.

Later religious thinkers in traditions obscure those earlier scriptures and art which no longer support their present theology or practice. This was done in manuscript copying, where sentences were altered or deleted to fit current beliefs as the scribe made the new copy of the old text. So the old tradition was erased from the manuscripts just as the old art was covered by new art in St. Jacobus. It was also done hermeneutically, by providing the correct way to read and understand the text just as is now being done by the church who wants the fresco to be seen as Abraham's 3 angelic visitors since it is impossible for their forefathers and foremothers to have a painting of the Trinity with a female holy spirit in their church.

I could go on, but I have to get back to the things on my desk that are pressing me.

Do you know the origins of this painting?

Do you know where this painting is from? Its date? provenance? Is this depicting the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the female in the middle)?

Update: A reader (alias "Mac") has left these links for which I am very grateful. Now I need to track down this fresco. I'm assuming it is in a church? Any more leads?

I believe you will find the answer at this link (in German I think)
And at another link in Hungarian:

The Trinity:
The Holy Ghost as a Woman

Fresko, Urschalling, Oberbayern
Fresco, Urschalling, Upper Bavaria
12. Jh. / 12th c.

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-25-09

O soul, backslider,
sober up and shake off your drunkenness
which is the work of ignorance!

If you backslide and are governed by the body,
you dwell in savageness.

When you descended,
when you were embodied,
you were born.

Come into being inside the bridal chamber.
Be enlightened in the mind.

Teachings of Silvanus 94.19-29 (Alexandrian Christian text, late second century)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Link to Revised paperback edition of The Thirteenth Apostle

Amazon has a link up to the new paperback revised edition of The Thirteenth Apostle. It is only available for pre-order at this point. But it should come off the presses any day now.

Transtheism it is

I have continued to ponder this terminology, and I have fallen in love with it. What it will allow me to do in terms of analysis is truly astonishing. I wish I had thought about this earlier in my career. To name the type of theism that these ancient thinkers were involved in allows me to cross boundaries and open up discussions of their ideology. I am not going to be restrained by previous research and definitions! The limits are gone.

So who is our first transtheist? Plato may be the one, although I need to do some more reading in early Greek philosophy. It might go back to Pythagorus, but I need to study him more. Anyone out there who knows, chime in. Now Plato was not worshiping the God-Beyond, but he postulated that such a god existed. It was not a personal god, but the abstract Good. Nonetheless, this Good was outside the kosmos. And it was the goal of the pious life to encounter him.

Our first worshipers of the God-Beyond appear to be the Hermetics. And then this combines with Judaism and then with Christianity, and we get quite diverse systems of transtheism, with different combinations on how the God-Beyond forms the God-World-Beyond, and then how a creator god comes into being, who he is identified with (Abrasax? IAO? Samael?), what his characteristics are, how he creates the kosmos (heavens, earth, human being), and how he rules. The systems develop very interesting figures who descend from the God-World-Beyond to aid humans trapped under his rule. And they develop practices (magic/ritual) to aid the person's return to the God-World-Beyond.

So what I am working on now is seeing chunks of the systems. What I have noticed over the years is that these chunks are clusters of traditions that roam about together from system to system. Moreover, they are made of single traditions that change out. So the language I'm pondering to identify and talk about this comes from the word "modular". A single tradition that can be interchanged with another like-tradition I am calling a "modeme". I am not using "meme" because I do not want to bring into my discussion the evolutionary theory that meme scholarship brings with it. I have my own ideas about how and why these modular units develop in the way that they do.

So a modeme is a modular unit of tradition, the simpliest form a tradition can have. Modemes don't usually circulate on their own. They are clustered into a complex. So these I will call modeplexes. A bunch of modeplexes form a religious system.

I am hoping that this type of language will aid my analysis of the transtheistic systems by breaking them down into smaller tradition complexes and then identifing the modular units themselves. A modeplex might be "astral architecture". The modemes in astral architecture might be "astral ruler"; "subordinate rulers"; "heavens"; "planets"; "fixed stars"; etc. The modeplex will usually contain all of these elements, although the particular modeme might switch out. For instance, in one system, the astral ruler is Abrasax, in another he is IAO, in another he is Samael. When this modeme switches out, what does it do to the rest of modeplex? And then the rest of the system?

At any rate, this is where my thinking is going, the direction I am heading. There is so much to do - even more than before!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Transtheism/Supratheism follow up

Comment on the comments to my last post:

Rebecca Lesses: "at the beginning of an article just state - this is what I mean by gnostic, gnosticism, and if you want to know more, see such and such an article that I wrote that explains this exactly with all the details"

Rebecca, I have been doing this. But it doesn't work well. It also limits what I can do or say.

But if I create a category that everyone knows is a modern heuristic device, my analysis will be more transparent. I will be able to identify family relationships better. For instance, take Hermetic materials. There is a genetic link between the religiosity of these lodges and the gnostics. But they aren't gnostics because their creator god isn't oppositional. What they are though are transtheists who are linked to other transtheists (the gnostics) who have taken the hermetic tradition and worked in jewish and samaritan (and eventually christian) exegetical traditions.

Of course I will continue discussing different groups by name when we might know a group. But these groups are not unconnected varieties. Almost every one of them is from Alexandria with some connections with Antioch and Rome and Edessa and Carthage and Lyons. There are genetic connections that need to be worked out, and we need overarching language to be able to identify those characteristics - and the characteristics that uniquely develop with different groups.

Marcion is also a transtheist, but I wouldn't call him a traditional gnostic. Why? Because he is not genetically connected to the Alexandrian group. His Unknown alien god has no connection to the ruler of this world. He just looks down here one day and feels sorry for the plight of humans under the rule of the Yah god and decides to intervene by sending the adult Jesus to save us. He is a god of love and mercy afterall - at least that is Maricon's argument. But his system is a very interesting transtheistic one. If it is studied from that perspective it won't get mixed up with the gnostic systems.

Jared Calaway: "On a somewhat related note, when does the second edition of your Thirteenth Apostle come out? I am slated to teach a class next fall on gospels--using the genre as a lens to discuss, as you say, polydoxy--and I think the second edition of the book could be a great help for undergrads in conceptualizing this."

The second edition of the Thirteenth Apostle is due out by the end of the month as far as I have been told. I still don't see it on Amazon, but it is in press as I write. I can't wait to see the gem. It will be on the back cover in full color, and on the inside in the gem chapter. I made some drawings of other gems for the book which I am also looking forward to seeing. I love visuals, and it is not often that our books get to contain them. So this is extra special.

As for "no biblical demiurgical traditions?!"....that is just what I mean to avoid. I want to open up the discussion of these systems beyond the narrower confines - to explode our expectations. What would happen if we cleared the table? If we started the analysis fresh? If we got away from framing the picture the way it has always been done beginning with the church fathers who were all contorted over the fact that the creator god from the OT was perceived negatively. But when you study these systems, you discover that the thing that is important to these gnostics is that they know a God who is above the fray, and this is a God of pure love, mercy, truth, perfection, etc. And they belong to him-her. The rest of their systems will vary, including their perceptions of the biblical god (if they have one).

Transtheism or Supratheism?

I am giving serious thought to letting go of the category "gnostic and gnosticism" (just as I did with "orthodoxy" and "heresy" in my period, turning instead to "polydoxy" or multiple competing self-defining orthodoxies). My reason for this is not that I do not think that gnosticism existed in the ancient world - in fact I do. But the categories have become so abused, that they have become heuristically meaningless for me as an historian of religion. I can't use them without running into walls.

The category is a huge mess and people use these words whatever-which-way they see fit for whatever argument they want to make. If they don't want a particular text to be gnostic, they will say that it doesn't have this-that-or-the-other characteristic that is gnostic. If they want the text to be gnostic, they will say that it has such-and-such characteristic which is gnostic. And then there is proto-gnostic, which means there are elements of gnosticism here, but not enough to make it gnostic yet. And then when it comes to those who make the claim to be gnostics, like Clement of Alexandria, well, he can't be a gnostic because he is a famous church father who is considered "orthodox".

The biggest gripe I have is the claim to doceticism that so many people want to make - as if all or even most gnostics were! Marcion was docetic. For him, Jesus appeared on earth one day as an adult "appearance". But for most of the other Christian gnostics, Jesus was born and had a physical body (including the Eastern Valentinians).

"The snake is always the good guy." No, not in all gnostic systems. And even in those systems where he is "good", he sometimes becomes "evil" as in the case of the Ophians described by Irenaeus.

"The gnostics hated the body and lived encratic lifestyles." Some did. But not all by any means. The Valentinians and the Simonians enjoyed sex and considered it a sacred activity within the confines of monogamous marriage. Who knows what Carpocrates was up to or the Archontics.

"The creator god has to be evil." In some cases he is, in some cases he is just foolish, or trying the best he can - but because he is ignorant, he has a hard time. He is rash. He is arrogant. He is even repentant as in the case of Western Valentinianism. For Basilides, Abrasax is "psyche" and the best that psyche can be (if we believe Hippolytus' account). In all cases, he is powerful and must be reckoned with because he owns the soul within which lives the spirit from above him.

"The creator is singular." Most of the time he isn't. He is often helped by the archons or angels in the heavens to create Adam. Sometimes it is a collective of angels who create and a single angel name is not identified.

I could go on and on with all the misconceptions and nonsense that have been heaped on this category, smothering it to death.

So I am about to retire it because I cannot continue my work if I have to constantly be fighting the category's baggage. I am going to set it aside and work to develop new language so that I can create a map of what was going on in the first, second, third and fourth centuries with these communities. I want to know their histories, their relationships to each other, their relationships to other religious movements, their multiplicity of beliefs and practices, their scriptures, their hermeneutics, their geographical locations, etc.

My proposal is to name descriptively the phenonemon I want to study. What I want to study are those groups of religious people in the ancient world that worship a god who is spatially beyond our universe and who is not identified as the immediate creator and ruler of our universe. Instead, these roles are attributed to subordinate powers who are not being worshiped.

I'm considering two names for this phenonemon. Transtheism or Supratheism. I like Transtheism because "trans" has two connotations: across and above/beyond. This is nice because it suggests that the believers could understand that a cross-over between our universe and the otherworld is possible, in terms of the spilling over of the otherworldly god into our universe (as our spirits) and/or the sending of an emissary from the otherworld to assist with salvation and/or our journey "home" to the otherworld. Supratheism is also possible, although it may indicate too much of a complete transcendence and separation of the God, as if the otherworldly God has no contact with this world (which is not the case in these systems).

This may mean that I will have to subtitle my book: The Gnostics and Their Gospels: An Introduction to Ancient Transtheism, the Worship of the God-Beyond our World.

What are your preferences? Transtheism or Supratheism?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-11-09

Wade reminded me that it has been almost a week since I have posted. Yikes! Has it been that long?

What have I been doing? Worrying now about the Gospel of John. More on that to come...

"A beloved son comes...He comes with the illumination of life."

Right Ginza 91.11ff (a Mandaean text)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Golb Arrest

Last night Wade mentioned the piece in the NYT that there had been an arrest of Golb. Jim Davila has the scoop HERE. In January I think that I too received a series of emails from this person. The emails were very inflammatory about the fact that the Houston Museum of Natural Science has a Dead Sea Scroll on display and that I should be ashamed of myself for promoting the overturned theory that there was a Qumran community responsible for the scrolls. He used some scholars' names as if he were representing them. I knew that these scholars would never support or say such things, so I trashed the e-mails. I would have kept them had I known that an investigation was going on!

This goes to show that we all need to be careful and keep our wits about us. Anyone can write anything, attach our names to it, and publish it on the web or via e-mail. So if it looks harmful, inflammatory, or just doesn't sit right, we probably should contact the scholar directly and give warning that something may be amiss.

The Curse of 13

NT Wrong came back for a chat and left this intriguing comment:
And then there's the apocryphal Gospel of Luke, with its angelic messengers, and mention of the missing 13th 'aeon' from Adam ("Cainan").

What do you make of 'The Curse of Cainan (Jub. 8.1-5): Genealogies in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 and a Mathematical Pattern' by Helen R. Jacobus in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18.3 (2009): 207-232?

Actually, I came back just for a little chat. (And what better to chat about than the number 13?)
This is strange stuff, isn't it? Am I correct to infer from Helen's article that there was a curse on the number 13 as far back as the composition of the stories about the patriarchs? That the ancient Israelites (priests?) believed that the 13th generation from Adam, and each one to follow, was cursed to die unless a righteous man intervened to ameliorate the curse? In some cases this was accomplished according to the narrative cycles, and in others it wasn't, and when it wasn't the cursed person of that generation died? Is this what she is suggesting?

If so, well then there may be another layer of folk-tradition piled on top of Judas Iscariot, the 13th demon in the Gospel of Judas, who asks Jesus to intervene on his behalf, but who is told by Jesus (at least in the extant leaves of the Gospel that is so far published - who knows what new fragments might tell us if ever they are released to us) that he won't intervene, that Judas is the apostate Ialdabaoth-Nebro who will sacrifice Jesus and become the ruler-archon of the 13th realm and eventually be destroyed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-5-09

The Father reveals his bosom. His bosom is the Holy Spirit. He reveals through it what is hidden. What is hidden through it is his Son. So through the mercies of the Father, the aeons may know him and cease laboring in search of the Father, resting there in him, knowing that this is rest.

Gospel of Truth 24.10-20 (early Valentinian sermon)

Commentary: This passage is commenting on John 1:18 : "No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has brought forth that one." Irenaeus says in Adv. Haer. 3.11.9 that the Gospel of Truth was written by the Valentinians who had more gospels than Irenaeus' church did, and at his time was a "comparatively recent" composition. Since he is writing between 180 and 190 CE, this would place the text's composition early to mid-second century at a time when Valentinus was still alive and teaching and writing. Pseudo-Tertullian reports that Valentinus had "a gospel of his own" (Adv. Haer. 4). Since the style of the Gospel of Truth reflects the style of the fragments of writing attributed to Valentinus, I am of the opinion that this Gospel was likely written by him as well and used as part of their catechism.

In the case of exegesis, note how the Prologue of John is understood to refer to the creation of the Godhead itself - the Pleroma - that the Son is hidden in God's bosom, the Holy Spirit, and is revealed to the aeons by the Holy Spirit. The revelation of the Son is the revelation of the Father, so the aeons can rest peacefully rather than continuing to be disturbed by Sophia's aborted attempt to know the unknown God.

And so our thinking about the Gospel of John continues.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Apocryphote of the Day: 3-3-09

Jesus said, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

Where does this saying of Jesus come from? I've decided to present a paper on it at SBL in New Orleans.