Monday, June 28, 2010

SBL and AAR remarry

I can not tell you how thrilled I was today to receive a letter from Kent Richards announcing the reintegration of SBL and AAR from 2011 and beyond. This is such a big relief to me. I was one of the members that opposed the original divorce, and I have been unhappy with our separate meetings since they began two years ago. I wish to THANK Kent Richards and everyone behind the scenes for making our remerger a reality!

Here is the letter I received:

Dear Member,

We are pleased to announce that on June 10, 2010, the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion signed a Letter of Intent that outlines an agreement to hold concurrent Annual Meetings beginning in San Francisco in the fall of 2011. These meetings will

Occur in the same city—though the venue will change from year to year;
Occur at the same time—the weekend before the US Thanksgiving holiday;
Feature a single, jointly managed Publishers/Software/Book Exhibit;
Feature a single, jointly managed Employment Center;
Feature distinct and separate AAR and SBL programs planned with open communication between the organizations;
Encourage the organizations’ members to attend each other’s programs and events at no additional cost;
Allow the organizations to pursue their unique, if sometimes overlapping, missions;
Enhance cooperation, not competition, between the organizations.

The advertising for these conventions will use the city name, the year, and will identify the SBL and AAR as hosts. For example, the first of these meetings will be known as “Annual Meetings 2011 San Francisco, hosted by the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.” This name will appear on the registration gateway, on signage at the meetings, on promotional materials, and on other common elements.

A Conventions Management Committee, consisting of the Executive Directors and staff members from each organization, is developing operating policies and procedures that expand on the considerable detail that already exists in the Letter of Intent. Each year the Committee will review the most recent meetings with an eye toward making improvements in subsequent gatherings. Nine concurrent meetings are being planned for 2011 through 2019. Beginning in 2013 the organizations will begin operating on a seven-year planning horizon that includes a mechanism by which the organizations can, on an annual basis, extend the seven-year agreement for an additional year. Dates and venues of the first three concurrent Annual Meetings are as follows:

November 19-22, 2011 San Francisco
November 17-20, 2012 Chicago
November 23-26, 2013 Baltimore

We believe that concurrent meetings will serve the interests of our members, will help to advance the many disciplines and areas of study we represent, and will maintain and advance the critical inquiry that characterizes the work of our societies. We invite you to join us in building this exciting new future.


Jack Fitzmier Kent Richards American Academy of Religion Society of Biblical Literature

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thecla Catacomb gets a laser treatment

I meant to post this yesterday when I saw it in the morning paper, but the day escaped me.

Lasers help restore Thecla Catacomb paintings and uncover our earliest representations of Peter and Paul...and John and Andrew as young men. The technology is astonishing! Just like laser surgery removing the top layer of skin, the years of calcium build-up (5 inches worth!) were removed to reveal these beautiful fourth century paintings in the tomb of a Roman woman and dedicated to Thecla (!) and the (other) apostles...

If you haven't seen pictures yet, check out these posted on NPR's website.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Is marriage salvation?

That is the title of chapter 6 of the manuscript I am preparing for publication: Sex and the Serpent. I begin the chapter with this observation:
But renunciation of marriage and procreation was not the only lifestyle embraced by Gnostic groups. The double-feature theology raised serious questions for some Gnostics. How could the spirit be saved if its incarnation was stopped? How could the spirit be returned to the transcomic realm if it was never birthed in a child? If procreation and birth ceased, the spirit would never be exposed to the secret rituals and the holy gnosis that was necessary for its release from the lesser god's dominion.

The Gnostics who asked these sorts of questions found themselves in a precarious position, posed on a razor's edge. How could they justify procreation and birthing children so that the spirit could be incarnated and receive instruction when the sex act itself was an act of corruption and trickery instituted by an arrogant god they desired to defy?
So this morning I have been outlining the chapter and going back through the primary sources and having a blast doing so. I am still not sure about Epiphanius' account of "The Gnostics" in book 26 of Panarion - how much of this is genuine and how much of it is politically motivated and how much of it is just mixed up by Epiphanius. I imagine there is a little of all three operating in that chapter. I find myself hesitant to accept Epiphanius' accounts since he mixed up the Cainites with the Gospel of Judas in such a bad way. He has become less trustworthy in my eyes. Whenever I compare his accounts to Irenaeus, which was one of his sources, I find that he gets some things accurately, but others not so much. He tends to misread Irenaeus in places, and dump together sources that really are unrelated.

In terms of chapter 26, his story is associated with something that happened to him in his youth which he explains as the seduction of Gnostic women who wanted to have sex with him to collect his seed and save the spirit in it from the demiurge. I can't imagine that he was the innocent bystander he claims, not with all the information he appears to know from their books and lessons. He was deeply involved in this group for a time. The fact that he turns in eighty people from the Gnostic community to the church authorities to be punished tells me that his story is slanted and exaggerated to his own benefit. He brought down eighty Gnostics with what appears to me to be sexual slander. I hope as I write this section of the chapter that I will be able to reflect on this and "solve" it for myself.

The other piece I want to solve is the testimony about Carpocrates. I'm not sure what was going on in this community because the testimony from the church fathers about their behaviors do not mesh with their testimonies about Jesus and his behavior. I am wondering if there was a shift in this community's behaviors when Epiphanes became prominent, something which shifted the behavior for a new reason to be more libertine than what I think Carpocrates may have taught.

So there are a lot of questions I am trying to resolve for myself as I write this chapter, many mysteries to 'unsecret'.

After a day's reflection, my chapter subtitles look this this right now:
  • Sacred Sex
  • The Law has passed away
  • Spirit Collectors
  • You will be pardoned
  • The Lover Mary

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Congratulations to James McGrath!

Check THIS out: the Mandaean Book of John will be translated into English!

Mary in Encratic traditions

So I'm almost done with chapter 5 "Is Marriage a Sin?" Today I am putting the finishing touches on the last section which deals with portraits of Mary Magdalene in encratic literature. Not surprisingly the prominent image of Mary in the encratic literature is the "male" Mary who is the Apostle to the Apostles.

Photo: St. Albans Psalter; Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


So today I am thinking and writing about encratism, a severe form of asceticism that did not even allow for marriage since it was conceived to be a state of sin. It is a strange phenomenon in the early church, and it looks to me like it was there from as early as we can track the church because the Corinthian correspondence lends me to believe that Paul was addressing these issues already. I hope to explore Tatian today.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer writing

I can't believe it, but I have cleared my desk of those lingering commitments that have diverted so much of my time and energy this past year. The lesson I have learned from this is to start saying "no" to projects that cannot be accommodated within my own research agenda. Otherwise what I research and write about begins to be what everyone else wants me to write about and not necessarily what I want to write about.

So this summer I return to my own research and writing schedule. First on my agenda is to finish Sex and the Serpent: Why the Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter.

Second is to turn my attention to my Mellon Seminar which I will be leading the next academic year. It is called Mapping Death: Religious Preparations for the Afterlife Journey. I plan to study the Gnostic movements from the perspective of initiatory cults in the ancient world, and see what happens. I have five students working with me, each preparing his or her own project. I want to build a web page for the seminar with abstracts of each of our projects. So watch for that as September nears.

Third, I want to organize my thoughts and develop my book on the Gospel of John. I have tentatively named it John Interrupted: Reconceptualizing the Origins of Christianity and Gnosticism.

So that is my summer...and my next year.