Friday, November 18, 2011

On my way to San Francisco

AAR/SBL are back together and in San Francisco.  Off to the meeting in a few minutes.  So glad to be able to see friends from AAR that I haven't seen in years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

News about Holy Misogyny

Wow this semester has really gotten away from me.  So sorry.  A couple of items to bring to your attention.  First, the Kindle version of Holy Misogyny is now out HERE.  I know that several of my readers were hoping for the e-version, so here it is.  I still haven't any response from Barnes & Noble, so if you want it in Nook format, please let Barnes & Noble know.  Honestly, this is about you and what you want.  These companies are listening to you because things are so much in turmoil in the publishing world right now. 

Second, my Tolle Lege talk on Holy Misogyny has been rescheduled for February 21, 7-8:30 pm in the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library, Rice campus.  Sorry that we had to reschedule, but I was very ill and unable to make the Nov 1 presentation.

The Houston Chronicle has just posted a story on our Tolle Lege series HERE.  Hope you like it!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Get Sparked by the Humanities

For years I have been listening to the critique of the Humanities and watching its erosion.  I have noticed a couple of things contributing to its demise.  The first, in my opinion, has been the direct result of post-modern thought, which has emptied texts and other cultural productions of authorship and meaning.  It takes my breath away when I think of what this single claim (and it is nothing more than a claim that so many have bought into) has done to the Humanities.  When credit is no longer given to an author and meaning is derivative only of the reader, why bother studying the culture that produced the text or object?  Why bother learning the language that the text was produced in?  Why bother spending years training in a field when there can be no expert knowledge of or about the text or object, but only perceptions of those who read it and view it?  We are critiquing ourselves out of fields of knowledge.

The second is tied to the first.  If there are no expert fields of knowledge, then what are we supposed to do?  If the disciplines are perceived to be useless, then we better work across disciplines.  So the call for interdisciplinary knowledge arose in the universities and has taken center stage, even to the point that interdisciplinarity has been argued to be the next step.  There should be no more departments.  We should all work together and eliminate the limitations and constructed boundaries of departmentalized knowledge.  We are critiquing ourselves out of departments.

The third is tied to the second.   If we aren't experts in a particular field of knowledge anymore, and departments dissolve, then what?  What purpose can we have?  What use?  When I look around, I see a fast scramble now to the sciences and social sciences (whose professors, by the way, have never bought into the postmodern critique and have maintained strongly expert fields of knowledge and disciplinary boundaries).  How can the humanities make use of the sciences?  Terms like Medical Humanities are becoming the rage.  Environmental Humanities.  Emerging Humanities.  We are critiquing ourselves into the sciences.  

Now you might think that my post is about the need for we in the Humanities to resist these things.  But this would be a false impression.  Critique is good for us, as long as it is constructive.  While the Medical Humanities may turn out to be a fascinating field of study, this does not mean in my opinion that traditional Humanities disciplines should receive any less attention.  In fact, I think we are doing ourselves a real disservice by not highlighting traditional disciplines too.

I think that we have to look at this for what it is.  I think we need to take the discourse back to a healthy constructive place.  I think interdisciplinarity is healthy, as long as we have real disciplines that are interacting and sharing knowledge.  I think that disciplines and departments are not only necessary, but foundational.  You need strong healthy disciplines in order to work across them successfully.

I don't buy into the postmodern argument that has killed the author, authorial intent, or meaning, because I realize (this insight is from the sciences) that humans are embodied, and the things that we produce leave our cognitive imprints, and these imprints are bound to cognitive maps from cultural worlds in which the productions were made.  There is no mind, no knowledge, that floats around out there.  Knowledge is made in us and we make it from within the webs of knowledge culturally shared by us in very specific locations.  I will post more on these ideas in later posts.

For now, what I would like to do is to think about Humanities as a spark.  Those of us who became Humanities professors did so because something was sparked in us when we read a poem, saw a vase, studied a text, listened to a piece of music.  Something happened to us when we read Plato, or Josephus, or the Gospel of Thomas, or Dante, or Blake, or Shakespeare.  What?  What sparked you?

For me, whatever it was, and I have yet to name it, was totally absolutely life-changing.  When I first read Plato, it was nothing less than an epiphany.  When I first started to think, I mean really think about what makes us human, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  When my first philosophy professor showed us a film about what a fire storm would be like if a nuclear explosion went off, and he asked us, would you push the button given this circumstance and that circumstance, well I was shaken to the depths of my very being.  When my religion professor examined biblical texts without preferential treatment, but as cultural productions that had left the imprint of their societies on them, I was so upset I didn't want to go back into his classroom.  Who did he think he was?  Obviously I went back, my curiosity winning my private battle of faith.  I understand fully why curiosity is framed as demonic by so many faith traditions and is proverbial in our culture (curiosity killed the cat).  For all that the sciences had to offer me at the time (I was headed to medical school, and had been in nursing school initially), the call to the Humanities would not leave me alone.  I had been changed by the encounter.  My life had been transformed by its spark.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Byzantine Icons from the Menil Collection

I am excited to pass this information on to you.  The Menil Collection here in Houston (my favorite museum ever) is putting on an exhibit of their rare Byzantine and Russian icons.  The Menil's collection of icons is considered one of the most important in the U.S. with rare pieces from the 6th to the 18th centuries.  The name of the exhibit is Imprinting the Divine (MORE...)

PHOTO: Saint Marina, Lebanon, possibly Tripoli, 13th century, Tempera and metal leaf on wood, 8-1/2  x 6-3/8 x 7/8 inches. The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Paul Hester

This is how they describe the exhibit:
Orthodox Christianity developed in the Near East during the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, and Bulgarian Orthodox churches maintained a tradition of icon painting rooted in Byzantium but each expressed it in distinctive ways. Transcending time and place through a delicate balance of tradition and innovation, these images of saintly figures and divine events were designed to imprint their holy subjects on the human mind. Though largely overlooked by Western audiences for much of their history, icons captured the imagination of early modernist painters and their distinct qualities were appreciated by contemporary audiences.
An icon, whether in an ancient or modern context, is a sign or likeness of something of greater significance. Throughout history religious icons have been used to instruct, adorn and inspire worship. To be an effective conduit to the sacred, an icon must achieve fidelity to the subject it represents, be accessible enough to be easily remembered, and blend new messages with familiar elements. The icons of Imprinting the Divine reveal a variety of visual strategies that repeat figures and scenes but that also refresh, revise and renew the various elements that go into their creation. As Carr writes in the exhibition’s catalogue, “The art form evolved in both meaning and technique, yet maintained the continuity and fidelity to type so crucial to its purpose. Even now, centuries later…icons have lost none of their power to intrigue and impress.” (p. 33)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A first review of Holy Misogyny

I want to thank Ms. Jasmine Wilson for her thoughtful review of Holy Misogyny on the Englewood Review of Books website.   This is a very interesting and brave website I think.  It is written for a Christian-centered audience, but its reviewers comment on books that are not necessarily written from that same perspective.  I especially appreciated what she had to say toward the end of the review, which I quote here:
It seemed she was writing to a wider audience of those interested in gender studies, not just Christians who were interested in redeeming their own muddled history toward women. Because of that, she does not take at face value that the Scriptures have any sort of spiritual identity, and might make some Christians uncomfortable because of that. However, if readers recognize that she is writing toward a wider audience, I do think her account is appropriately dangerous, and can hopefully jar Christians into action to reverse the long tradition of misogynistic interpretation of Scripture and misogynistic action in the church.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Valentinian Inscription

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

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

Network Criticism

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

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

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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Planning for Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Digital Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Menil Collection to send back Cyprus Frescoes

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Holy Misogyny lecture series

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Holy Misogyny is out!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's talk technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A prayer in memory of 9/11

May it never happen again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kindle Edition of Holy Misogyny

For those of you who are asking, yes, Holy Misogyny, will be available in Kindle Edition.  I had this conversation with my editor on a couple of occasions, and this week he confirmed that the copy was sent out to be processed in electronic format as well as traditional hardcover. 

Another endorsement:

"April DeConick, a world class scholar, has written a must-read book for those interested in gender issues in relationship to God.  By integrating her vast knowledge of extracanonical and canonical texts, she expansively analyzes the effect of misogyny on conceptions of the female body and the profound difference such marginalization has made, even today, for women's ecclesiastical leadership and ordination."  Ann Graham Brock, Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Iliff School of Theology, USA

Monday, August 29, 2011

Starting up the new academic year with a new book

Welcome to the new religious studies PhD students at Rice!  We started classes and advising last week, so I am getting back into the swing of things here on campus. 

This semester I am teaching Coptic to a class of seven, including two undergraduates.  I am looking forward to returning to teaching the language that opens Pandora's Box.  I am returning to using Lambdin since I have found that there are two important elements to teaching this language: 1. lots of exercises; 2. breaking down the system into small details and delivering it in pieces.  Lambdin does this very well.  Lambdin doesn't present Coptic as a whole system very well though.  For that Layton's 20 Lessons and Brankaer's Learning Grammar are much better.  So I will supplement next semester by using Layton and Brankaer to show the students the bigger picture, once they have been through the details.

I am also pleased that our Mellon seminar, Mapping Death, was so successful last year, that we are continuing it this year as a Writing Workshop.  We will be meeting regularly to assess and critique our individual work projects.  I need to get my paper on the Ophians ready for publication, write a piece on the Naassenes, and get going on my next book called The Ancient New Age: Gnostic Spirituality and the Beginnings of Christianity.

The biggest news for me is that my book Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter is slated to come off the presses at the end of September.  I am thrilled that this project is on its way to a physical reality with a book jacket and all that!

Advanced copies were sent to readers and here is some of the feedback the book received:

The near-programmatic downgrading and degrading of women is one of the most shameful aspect of traditional Christianity.  In this powerful book, DeConick rejects conventional theological and hermeneutical attempts to soften the absence of the divine and human female by challenging head-on the vilification of women and the othering of their bodies in early Christianity.  This bold discussion makes for uncomfortable but essential reading - and rightly so. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible, University of Exeter, UK.

more advanced reviews of the book in my next post...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

On vacation

I'm on back to regular posts in September.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Note: The Apocryphal Gospels (Ehrman and Plese)

Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Plese (eds.), The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 

This is a brand new book and an incredibly useful one at that.  A big "THANKS" to Ehrman and Plese for putting this book together!

It is a collection of apocryphal gospels (Infancy Gospels; Ministry Gospels; Sayings Gospels; Passion, Resurrection and Post-Resurrection Gospels).  The book does not include the Coptic gospels from Nag Hammadi or the Berlin Codex, with the exceptions of the Gospels of Thomas and Mary.  The editors also have included the Gospel of Judas from the Tchacos Codex, but the translation is based only on the Kasser-Wurst critical edition.  So it does not yet take into account Ohio fragments whose translation and photographs have been released by Wurst on his website HERE. So this translation (like all of them that have been published so far, including my own) needs to be corrected and updated already.

What is great about the volume?  The primary language texts are on the face pages, with translations on the opposite pages.  There are brief introductions to each text, which help orient the readers to some of the main issues for each text. 

There are very few footnotes on critical textual issues, however, so this will not replace the critical editions for researchers.  But it will be very handy to have all these primary texts in one neat handbook for quick reference and use in graduate courses. 

My main criticism is that the bibliographies are uneven and too selective.  They target certain resources, while leaving out other crucial materials on these texts.  This means that the bibliographies are so selective that they are not targeted for the public or for graduate students and researchers who appear to be the volume's targeted audience.  I wonder why the bibliographies are so selective, given that this is a volume of 611 pages, and the bibliographical pages usually take up less than half a page with lots of white space left.  Another page of bibliography on each of the gospels would have made the volume that much better and would have added very little in terms of additional pages.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Note: The Gnostic 4

I haven't received my copy yet, but I noticed that The Gnostic Journal is out in its fourth volume.  I have enjoyed the other volumes, so look forward to getting mine from Amazon.  Here is the LINK if you want to check it out on Amazon.

The fourth issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Alan Moore's Fossil Angels, an investigation into the contemporary occult scene. Interviews with Stephan Hoeller and Miguel Conner. Anthony Peake on the Quantum Pleroma. Sean Martin tells a Gnostic sci-fi tale. Robert M.Price on the Gnostic Gospel of John. Bill Darlison on the zodiac in the Gospel of Mark. Gnostic influences on Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. The plight of the Mandaeans. The gematria of Marcus the Magician. The Gospel of Thomas, a translation and Fourth Way interpretation. Gnostic politics. John Cowper Powys. The complete text of the Gnosis of the Light--a book within a magazine! Egyptian cat mummies and more. And we review enough books to fill a whole shelf. Cover and interior illustrations by Laurence Caruana.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Note: Anthony LeDonne, Historical Jesus

This is a must-read book, whether you are persuaded or not. I don't say that about many books, let alone books about the historical Jesus which has become a cottage-industry these days. But LeDonne's book, Historical Jesus, is different because he pushes the historical approach by responsibly bringing in research on human perception and memory.

He makes a case that by analyzing patterns in the way Jesus was remembered by his contemporaries, we can make some plausible claims about his life and teaching as a "historical" figure. Now "historical" is in scare quotes for a reason. It is because LeDonne doesn't understand his job to be to reconstruct what happened in the past, but to explain why the past was remembered as it was. So consider his definition of history: "History, as a discipline of knowledge, is not what happened in the past, it is an accounting of how the past was remembered and why. To confuse these is to confuse the very nature of the historian's task" (p. 34). And "History includes only the past that has been interpreted through memory. That which has not been remembered is not history" (p. 34). And this memory is ongoing, forged with each new generation in order to make sense of the current situation.

The real job of the historian is "to measure and compare interpretations in order to explain the most plausible interpretation of the story" (p. 78). He "doesn't attempt to peel away interpretation in order to find facts" (p. 78). Why? Because "the postmodern mind knows that no facts are available for analysis that have not been preceded, followed, and mediated by interpretation" (p. 78).

So LeDonne begins with the premises that the storytellers behind the gospels are interpreters by discipline, and that what they have written is exactly what history ought to look like, and our job is to explain why history was written to look like this. What the gospel writers produced were creatively constructed interpretations that began during Jesus' lifetime. Why during his lifetime? Because if he would not have been interpreted by his contemporaries, he would not have been remembered at all (p. 40).

LeDonne's approach is laid out and applied as the book progresses. LeDonne concludes that Jesus had a complex relationship with his mother and their dysfunctional family, that he saw himself as an exorcist and healer, that he took on John's massive following and began to preach nonviolence and the establishment of God's political reign on earth. This revolutionary message led to a final confrontation with the temple priesthood in Jerusalem and his death.

While I am impressed by LeDonne's approach and persuaded by his application of theories on human perception and memory, I remain a modernist too (postmodernism is the extreme of modernity). I think that our job is to provide plausible explanation for what happened from records that are interpretations of what was perceived to have happened. To me, this argument for plausibility is still tied to fact. I can't seem to detach it and am not sure I would want to anyway.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's just like ancient times

A vivid example of "holy misogyny" at work in the modern world. It's just like ancient times when women were erased from memory. Hilary Clinton literally erased from photo in a religious newspaper (story and photo reported here). Why?
Brooklyn-based Di-Tzeitung, which never runs pictures of women because they might be "sexually suggestive," also removed the only other woman in the room, Counterterrorism Director Audrey Tomason.
The paper's response to our outrage? A contradiction to common sense (of course this relegates women to a lower status - it eliminates them!), but I guess if it is said enough by religious authorities we buy it as true:
In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Digital images of Nag Hammadi collection

Here is the link to the digital images of the Nag Hammadi collection in case you need access. They are uploaded on the web at Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

Photo from CCDL Claremont Libraries.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SBL has received NEH Award

Congratulations to all involved in this wonderful project that will now be funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities:
SBL has been awarded an NEH grant for a new website that will showcase the work of SBL members and communicate the value that biblical scholars bring to the study of the Bible and to the humanities. More information >>

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Misogyny cover

I just received the cover art for my new book, Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter. I am very excited about the book and its name change. I am lucky to have a great editor who goes to bat for me. Name changes can be hard to do at this late stage, but this new name came to me in a moment of epiphany and it really encapsulates what the book is about. The book is supposed to be published in September.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:

In Holy Misogyny, bible scholar April DeConick wants real answers to the questions that are rarely whispered from the pulpits of the contemporary Christian churches. Why is God male? Why are women associated with sin? Why can’t women be priests? Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the early Christian literature, she seeks to understand the conflicts over sex and gender in the early church – what they were and what was at stake. She explains how these ancient conflicts have shaped contemporary Christianity and its promotion of male exclusivity and superiority in terms of God, church leadership, and the bed.

DeConick’s detective work uncovers old aspects of Christianity before later doctrines and dogmas were imposed upon the churches, and the earlier teachings about the female were distorted. Holy Misogyny shows how the female was systematically erased from the Christian tradition, and why. She concludes that the distortion and erasure of the female is the result of ancient misogyny made divine writ, a holy misogyny that remains with us today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

End-of-the-Year Symposium

Mapping Death

The Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Research Seminar



Keynote Speaker

Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Traumatic Secret

Bataille and the Eros of Death


April 23, 9 am-5pm

Fondren Library

Kyle Morrow Room

Master of Ceremonies


Graduate Student in Religious Studies: Bible and Beyond

Order of Events

9 am-9:55 am Welcome and Opening Address

APRIL D. DECONICK, Rice University

Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies

Death Journey as Star Journey: The Ophian Crux Resolved

Q & A

10 am -10:55 am FRANKLIN TRAMMELL, Rice University

PhD Candidate in Religious Studies: Bible and Beyond

Death, Ascension, & (Re)building in the Shepherd of Hermas

Q & A

11 am-11:55am GRANT ADAMSON, Rice University

Graduate Student in Religious Studies: Bible and Beyond

Dressed for Death: What do Genesis and Plato have to do with the Vehicle of the Soul?

Q & A

12 pm- 1 pm Lunch break

1 pm-1:55 pm Keynote Address

JEFFREY J. KRIPAL, Rice University

J. Newton Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought

The Traumatic Secret: Bataille and the Eros of Death

Q & A

2 pm-2:55 pm MATTHEW J. DILLON, Rice University

Graduate Student in Religious Studies: Gnosticism, Esotericism & Mysticism

Initiation by Imagination: Death and Rebirth in Carl Jung’s Red Book

Q & A

3 pm-3:55 pm ADRIANA UMANA-HOSSMAN, Rice University

PhD Candidate in French Studies

Death and Afterlife: Nomadic Wanderings in French Caribbean Literature

Q & A

4 pm-4:55 pm REBECCA GIMBEL, Rice University

Graduate Studies in Anthropology

Memory, Fear, and Resistance: Death as a Life Force in Contemporary Haiti

Q & A

4:55 pm- 5pm Adjournment

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rescheduling Mithraism lecture

Please note, if you were planning to attend Roger Beck's talk on Mithraism scheduled for April 13, it has been canceled.

We will be rescheduling this event for Fall 2011. I will post about the date, time, and place once that information is known.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Evidence is building that the Lead Tablets are forgeries

Jim Davila has posted an excellent analysis of one of the Tablets, figured out by Peter Throneman. The evidence is building that these are forgeries.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lead Tablets? Come on.

I was so hoping that I could avoid posting on the Jordanian Lead Tablet discovery. But, I keep getting people sending me links and asking me about what I think. So here it goes.

Sensationalism? It is the right time of year. It is nearing Easter, so what else should we expect from the media?

The minute I saw the first posts about it, my eyebrows raised. Lead tablets? We have examples of copper tablets, bronze tablets, and gold tablets from the period of early Christianity, but I don't know about lead tablets. This seems fishy to me.

"70 or so" books? That also is fishy, especially when I discovered through a little internet research that the original news release said 20. Is it 70 or 20? How many books are in this horde?

What else am I skeptical about? Where do they come from? The original news release says these books were in the family for 100 years. "The objects belong to Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family's possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago." The latest news story claims that they were found five years ago. I might note that this five-year window was simultaneous with the James ossuary trial. Coincidence? Or not?

They were written in a code? This is feeling more and more like popular fiction (or forgery?).

The lead scholar is David Elkington? Check out this website for his book In the Name of the Gods: "Everything that exists does so because of vibration." Is this really a summary of his book? And what is this about a book he published last year called The Lead Codices? Then I discovered that he has a literary agent and a book on these lead tablets already in production. Read all about it HERE. These are Elkington's credentials that I found on the website announcing his book In the Name of the Gods:

David Elkington was born in England in 1962 but spent his formative years travelling and exploring the Southern Hemisphere with his parents. His childhood in Australia was supplemented by sojourns in Polynesia, New Zealand and Indonesia. It was in these places that he first developed an interest in Sacred Sites and ancient traditions.

He trained as an artist at the Bath Academy of Art where an interest in the relationship between Christian myth and sacred sites was fuelled. Research for 'In the Name of the Gods' began in earnest in the early 1980s when he walked through Europe and the Middle East on a quest to understand and appreciate the mind of Ancient Man and his relationship with particular sites upon the Earth. For 20 years David has been led on a revelatory trail through world mythology, linguistics and philology into geophysics, architecture, acoustics, music, neuro-physiology, theology and still further into the all-encompassing, resonant atmosphere of the planet. As his research continued, surprising results emerged. For several years, David has been working with Dr Keith Hearne, the 'father of lucid dream research', on a new area of psychology - Geolinguistics - which sees the development of language as a direct result of the Earth's physical environment.

David began to introduce his work to the public in 1996 when he presented a major lecture on 'Acoustic Resonance, Life and Consciousness' at the Quest for Knowledge Conference in London. He lectures in England and Europe, has co-hosted a tour of the major ancient sites of Egypt and is a member of the Egypt Exploration Society and Palestine Exploration Fund. He has been a consultant to the government of Sierra Leone, to the BBC, ITV, and to NASA.

These are all red flags for me. There is a lot of explaining that needs to be done before we can determine what these books are. At this point in the analysis we certainly shouldn't be claiming that they are going to revolutionize our understanding of early Christianity. Come on. No one has even been able to read them yet!

Other posts and opinions on the subject:

Photo from BBC release HERE.

UPDATE: Jim Davila has posted an excellent analysis of one of the Tablets, figured out by Peter Throneman. This is very strong evidence that these are forgeries and we need to be very cautious.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Note: David Halperin has just published a novel

It is called The Journal of a UFO Investigator. An intriguing title for a novel written by a professor of Jewish Mysticism. Does the merkavah come into play? I have to read the book to find out.

What's it about? According to Jonathan Fullmer, "Religion scholar Halperin’s rollicking first novel set amid the turbulent 1960s recounts the story of Danny Shapiro, an imaginative teenage loner and self-proclaimed UFO investigator from a small town near Philadelphia. While his ailing Jewish mother and bitter Baptist father struggle to get along, Danny’s got his own problems. He and his best friend love the same girl, and while Danny continues to believe in the unexplained, his friends have become increasingly skeptical. But when someone breaks into the Shapiro house and steals Danny’s book about his encounter with the Three Men in Black, his fantastical world becomes very real. His investigations lead him to a small group of paranormal researchers, including fanatical Julian and lovely but dangerous Rochelle, and an exciting world where everyone, whether his good friends or the airport security guards, become dubious. A thrilling romp through the domain of aliens and spacecraft, Halperin’s highly entertaining coming-of-age tale poses questions about the real and the imagined and suggests that fusing the two might be the only way to survive adolescence." From Amazon.

Stuart Schoffman begins his review:

“I sat swaying over the book, poring over its words. I could make out nearly all that the Gypsies had written if I stuck with it long enough. The meaning was something else again. But that’s the way of a scripture: it’s often not meant to be understood.” So writes Danny Shapiro, the narrator-protagonist of David Halperin’s startling first novel.

“Journal of a UFO Investigator” is intricate and subversive, a book not easily understood. On the manifest level — peshat, in the Jewish interpretative tradition — it is a touching and engrossing coming-of-age novel composed in a simple style, a voyage of discovery starring an unhappy teenager named Danny Shapiro who finds refuge in UFO research and flights of fantasy: sightings, abductions, conspiracies, the whole generic megillah. (His mantra is a line from “The Book of the Damned,” a classic American study of paranormal phenomena: “Science is a turtle that says that its own shell encloses all things.”) Danny’s mother is an invalid with a heart condition. His father seethes with quiet anger, often directed at Danny, his only child. The book is set in a Philadelphia suburb between 1963 and 1966 — the “distant days,” as the author reveals in his acknowledgments, “when I was myself a teenage UFO investigator.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A warm welcome to Mark Turner

Professor Mark Turner from Case Western Reserve is with us today. Turner is a cognitive scientist who works on the problem of how we think. He argues that even though we are constrained by our biological evolution, our mind works in such a way that allows for new emergent structures to arise and culture to form. This can occur because humans have evolved in such a way that we are capable of double-scope blending, taking two known metaphoric structures and blending them in a new way.

It is a fascinating concept for someone like me who is interested in tracking the creation and recreation of t/Traditions that support cultures. I am looking forward to our seminar this morning and to Turner's lecture this noon: How to Have an Afterlife. If you are in town and would like to attend the lecture, it will be in HUMA 226 at noon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Forging ahead: Leaving the Middle of Nowhere

It seems to me that we need a new introduction to biblical methodology that reflects what we have learned from postmodern philosophy. I envision chapters dedicated to complete revisions of our old tools, explaining where and why they went wrong, and then rebuilding the method from the ground up. I also envision chapters dedicated to newer methods that have entered our toolbox in the last twenty years. This would be an edited volume, written by various scholars dedicated to the project of revisioning our field and the way in which we approach the materials. It would not be a postmodern handbook which conceives of itself as "critical" and everything else as "non-critical". It would be a handbook that considers our field in the wake of postmodern critique in order to move us out of the Middle of Nowhere.

Leaving the Middle of Nowhere
A New Vision of Biblical Methods in the Wake of Postmodernity

Monday, February 28, 2011

Transtradition Criticism

If you have been following my blog over the years, you know that one of my keen interests is becoming aware of how we read texts and the assumptions we make as biblical scholars. Although I think that postmodern critique has been useful in highlighting problems of authorial intent, monolithic hermeneutics, and the politics of power, we must bear in mind that these problems were known to scholars of modernity already. The difference that I see between the modern and the postmodern discourses is that the postmodern critique has moved the conversations out of historical time into disembodied discourse without attachment to the empirical. This has left us in the Middle of Nowhere. It is suffocating the Humanities more broadly. It is isolating biblical scholars more and more from history, while supporting the growth of contemporary theological readings instead.

It is this move that haunts us now, and requires us, in my opinion, to re-examine our old tools and refashion them, rather than abandon them. We are in a crisis. The moment to act is now. We must return to a more pragmatic approach that takes seriously the empirical. Theory comes and goes, but the manuscripts, stones and bones remain. There are texts and there are authors and there are readers. And we need to deal with them as realities.

I have no desire to create some new grand theory. What I want to do is return to the old tools and identify why they failed. I want to remodel them in such a way that they work in a transmodern academic discourse, a discourse that moves us beyond the postmodern suffocation and the Middle of Nowhere.

I am stepping out here by beginning to talk about refashioning Tradition Criticism. I have finally settled on a name for the updated approach: Transtradition Criticism.

Transtradition Criticism is an approach to texts, artifacts, and other cultural productions, which seeks to expose, explain and understand the production, meaning, use and transmission of t/Traditions within their historical fields of conversation. This approach is interested in investigating the dynamic interstitial spaces and networks between and across t/Traditions, exposing the politics of power and conceptions of the Other that support the structures of the t/Traditions. Transtradition Criticism is grounded in a pragmatic and embodied view of human beings as personal and social agents who actively and constantly (re)shape the t/Traditions to align with their experiences of themselves and their world. They are participants in personal and social conversations that support, create, modify and destroy t/Traditions.

I will post more as the remodeling continues.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hooray for SBL and AAR

Here is what we have all been waiting for. Thank you to all of you who helped make this happen!

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature have selected concurrent Annual Meeting sites for the next several years. With anticipated attendance of more than 10,000 members, the gathering requires over 150 concurrent session rooms and 5,000 available hotel rooms. We are delighted to have secured premium meeting space and competitive accommodation rates at several of the most requested destinations for our attendees. We have generated a good deal of savings by booking meetings at the same venue for two separate years in advance. The meeting locations and dates are as follows:

2011 San Francisco, CA November 19-22

2012 Chicago, IL November 17-20

2013 Baltimore, MD November 23-26

2014 San Diego, CA November 22-25

2015 Atlanta, GA November 21-24

2016 San Antonio, TX November 19-22

2017 Boston, MA November 18-21

2018 Denver, CO November 17-20

2019 San Diego, CA November 23-26

2020 Boston, MA November 21-24

2021 San Antonio, TX November 20-23

These meetings will:

Feature a single, jointly managed Exhibit Hall;
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 AAR and SBL;
Encourage participation among other organizations such as AAR’s Related Scholarly Organizations and SBL’s Affiliate Organizations.

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.


John F. Kutsko Jack Fitzmier

Executive Director Executive Director
Society of Biblical Literature American Academy of Religion

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mellon Seminar Reflection 13: Embodiment and the Humanities

As we begin to prepare for the visit of Professor Mark Turner, a professor of Cognitive Science from Case Western Reserve, we have discussing the field of cognitive psychology. One book that particularly grabbed my attention this week is Edward Slingerland (PHOTO from his webpage HERE), What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture (2008).

I can't imagine writing a more courageous book than this, especially as a professor of ancient Chinese religion which is where Slingerland's training is. I was taken by the book for many reasons (and I am still processing it), but what struck me immediately was fact that he sees some of the same problems with postmodern theory that I do, and responds in ways similar to my own responses, responses which I have been recording on this blog, as I go about trying to develop a new sort of historical approach to the study of my texts. What I have come to realize over the course of this year is that I refuse to-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water. What is happening in my mind and through my pen (yes I still write with a pen) is a major remodeling and rebuilding of Tradition Criticism, in light of its postmodern crucifixion. I am developing an approach I am calling Transtradition Criticism. I will post more about this development later.

To return to Slingerland. He argues that postmodern theory has swept through the Academy, leaving us suspicious of any truth-claim and with "a conviction that the distinguishing mark of sophisticated scholarship is an ability to engage with a prescribed pantheon of theorists" rather than serious study of primary texts. What was fun at first "has left us with an intellectual hangover" (2008, 1), luxuriating in language for language's sake.

I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, we are stranded in a place of nowhere, immobilized by disembodied discourses, authorless and textless, outside of history. With nothing empirical, with no sameness, we are lost in a jumble of difference. We are left to describe what we see as ours, with no power to interpret beyond this. Even these meager descriptions are left in an ethical vacuum to be siphoned off and co-opted to support nefarious purposes.

The Humanities are dying and we are the ones who are responsible to save them.

The big question is HOW? Slingerland offers a solid solution. He says that we need to get our act together and learn from scientists how human beings operate, particularly as embodied cognitive beings. He demonstrates how humanists operate within outdated models of anthropology, and need to come to terms with the fact that science has discovered fundamental things about the human being. That we need to take embodiment seriously or be doomed to spinning tales inside of tales.

In Slingerland's words: "The fact that these body-minds are, have always been, and will always continue to be part of the world of things effectively short-circuits the epistemological skepticism that permeates postmodern thinking. A nondualistic approach to the person promises no privileged access to eternal, objective truths, but is based upon the belief that commonalities of human embodiment in the world can result in a stable body of shared knowledge, verified (at least provisionally) by proofs based on common perceptual access. By breaching the mind-body divide - by bringing the human mind back into contact with a rich and meaningful world of things - this approach to the humanities starts from an embodied mind that is always in touch with the world, as well as a pragmatic mode of truth or verification that takes the body and the physical world seriously" (2008, 8).