Monday, April 21, 2014

Site Has Moved to aprildeconick.com

Go to aprildeconick.com to read about Grant Adamson who just received his Ph.D.  You will automatically be forwarded to the new address where you can subscribe to continue to receive my new posts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Forbidden Gospels is moving

Well I finally made the decision to integrate the Forbidden Gospels blog into my personal website.  You will automatically be redirected to the location of the Forbidden Gospels blog in 5 seconds.  If you are a subscriber, please change the address to www.aprildeconick.com.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Performance of Easter in Memory of Her, Saturday April 19

I am thrilled to announce that "Easter in Memory of Her" will be performed again this year, on April 19, 4-5 pm, at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston.  This is a musical and meditative performance that I co-authored with Rev. Betty Adams last year.  It remembers the women disciples of Jesus who remained at the foot of his cross while he died.  Jesus is seen through their eyes and their memories and their emotions.  Please join us if you are in town.  Share this link.  Last year we had over 300 people attend.  I would like to double that this year if possible.

More information about the performance can be found HERE in the Houston Chronicle.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What do we do with religious experience?

In the last week, there has been a handful of well-placed pieces on the subject of religious experiences and how we go about explaining them (away).  I point you to these links in case you missed them:

Jeff Kripal, "Visions of the Impossible"
Jeff Kripal, "Embracing the Unexplained 2"
Jerry Coyne, "Science is Being Bashed by Academics Who Should Know Better"
Barbara Ehrenreich, "A Rationalist's Mystical Moment"
Ross Douthat, "How to Study the Numinous"

For my entire career I have been studying the written records of ancient religious people about their experiences of the divine.  Historians have typically shied away from penetrating these descriptions of ecstasy because, heck, what are you supposed to do with ecstasy, especially in a modern world where God is (supposedly) dead and reality has been restricted to what we can observe and verify about the material universe? 

Usually these ecstatic events reported in the ancient texts I study are declared by historians of religion to be hallucinatory or exegetical - either a record of a psychotic episode or a form of imaginative plagiarism where a person copies old texts about ecstatic experiences and gives them a new context.  Or, did I fail to mention it?, a trip on drugs. 

I have always been frustrated with this paradigm because it fails on so many levels.  First, the ecstatic experiences I study in early Christian and Gnostic texts are more often than not connected to ritual and body-mind practices. In other words, the ecstatic experience has a religious context that is lived. People are doing things to prompt or achieve these states, to make them accessible to more people than those who have the occasional rapture experience, when ecstasy comes unbidden.  These religious practices are not about trying to have psychotic hallucinations.  Nor are these practices about the ingestion of drugs, although there are plenty examples of religious ceremonies that use drugs to induce ecstasy.  I think it is fair to say that religions have become very good at developing certain practices to prompt experiences that people perceive to be religious, to be ecstatic and often unitive.

Second, the brain is involved in a major way, as it should be.  The brain is involved in all of our typical forms of consciousness whether we are talking about being awake and alert, being in REM dream sleep, or deep sleep.  Why shouldn't it also be implemented in ecstasy?  Cognitive scientists have a very good idea now about the brain circuit involved when people are having ecstatic experiences.  They have a very good idea about the shifts in serotonin and dopamine levels that take place in brains when people are having ecstatic experiences.  They also have a very good idea about how the autonomic nervous system shows signs of being hyperstimulated when people are having ecstatic experiences.  So the scientific lab has been revealing important information to us about the physical platform of ecstasy.

Some people want to leave the religious experience here, reducing it to neurons firing in a circuit, as if this explains the experience.  But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that this reduction doesn't explain the experience and its reality, anymore than this type of reduction explains our experience of the color red, or our experience of a glass of wine, or our experience of love for another person (and not someone else).

Where does this leave us?  It leaves us with the reality of ecstasy as a form of consciousness that involves specific areas of the brain. It is a form of consciousness that a large portion of the human population experiences, even without drugs.  How do we evaluate this form of consciousness given its subjective nature?  People generally frame the answer as either a reference to a reality "out there" that is being experienced, or a reality that we have constructed inside our heads.  In the first case, the brain is thought to work like a filter or a gateway through which another reality is tapped.  In the second case, the brain is thought to construct the reality as its own personal fantasy.

I wonder if there might be a third option.  When we consider the human acquisition of language, we know how much this acquisition transformed our reality as a species.  Our ability to create and use language opened up for us realities that we could never have perceived had we continued being restricted to making a few animal sounds and following our instincts.  Our brain made it possible for us to talk and think using language, and reality got a whole lot bigger for us because of this.  Might the same thing be going on with ecstatic states of consciousness?  Is our brain circuitry making it possible for us to expand our reality yet again?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Very exciting news about the Jesus Wife fragment

It is very exciting news that the scientific tests have come back with a thumbs up for the antiquity of the papyrus fragment that mentions Jesus' wife and her discipleship. 

The fragment is now dated between the 4th and 8th centuries according to the latest reports. 

When it first came out, I suggested that it was a fragment indicative of Valentinian Gnostic theology where Jesus and Mary Magdalene were spouses, and she was his disciple.  I see no reason to alter this opinion now that the reports have come back on the document's antiquity. 

There is more to read about this in the New York Times HERE.  Now that its antiquity has been authenticated, Karen King's article on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is finally being released in the Harvard Theological Review HERE  

This whole "event" has impressed upon me again the problems that we have with our traditional forms of biblical analysis which rely on outdated concepts of "sources" and "redaction" and "dependence."  It brings home that we should be cautious and humble about what we can really know and what we can't.  Sometimes history can surprise us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dr. Franklin Trammell

I am very proud of Franklin Trammell, my first student to finish his thesis and graduate from the Bible and Beyond program at Rice.   Yesterday he defended his dissertation on the Shepherd of Hermas.  His thesis is called (Re)growing the Tree: Early Christian Mysticism, Angelomorphic Identity, and the Shepherd of Hermas.  He has illuminated the religious landscape of Roman Christianity, reconstructing a very old form of Christianity that is not only mystically-oriented, but from Jerusalem.  He has done what no one has been able to do.  Outstanding.  Congratulations Dr. Trammell!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Roman Soldier's plight

My student, Grant Adamson, recently has published a reconstruction of a letter from Roman solider.  Interest in the letter got picked up Owen Jarus on Live Science. 

It is a great story that you can read HERE.  Photo is reproduced from the Live Science.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Gnostics Were Intellectuals

Larry Hurtado has posted his opinion of the Gnostics, that they were not intellectuals, but esoterics who taught a bunch of "mumble-gumble", such as a read of the Nag Hammadi texts reveal; that they were not engaged with reasonable arguments such as we find in the writings of the church fathers; and that pagans never engaged them, proving that they were not an important part of the intellectual scene. The only real intellectuals were the catholic Christians.

Now Larry is a good friend of mine - we have been members of the early high christology club since its inception, which is a good number of years.  But that does not mean that we do not disagree, and on this topic we disagree.  Larry is taking a standard position espoused by many biblical scholars (he is in very good company), that the Gnostics are non-consequential to Christianity and that their ideas and practices were irrational and secretive.  Some biblical scholars would add to this description, perverse and exploitative.

I remember about ten years ago when I visited Oxford to work in the library, I was invited to dine at the table in one of the colleges.  One of the biblical studies professors sat next to me and asked me what I was working on.  When I told him the Gnostics and the Nag Hammadi texts, his immediate reaction was, "Why are you wasting your time on them?  When I read the Nag Hammadi texts it was clear to me that it is all craziness.  Nonsense.  Go back to the New Testament where it matters."

So I have been working upstream most of my career, swimming against a current that is much stronger than I am.  I guess I like the challenge, or I wouldn't keep doing it.  I have spent a lot of time within the Nag Hammadi texts, reconstructing the worlds of the authors, which are not crazy once you learn their references and points of view.  The Gnostics from antiquity were anything but crazy, inconsequential or irrational.  But they were different.  And difference often leads to misunderstanding.

So let's clear up some of the misunderstanding:

1. Basilides was a philosopher who converted to Christianity as a Gnostic.  This was sometime between 110 and 120 CE.  He wrote some of the first commentaries on New Testament texts, that is before they were part of any New Testament.  He appears to have been our earliest biblical theologian.  He was also a mathematician and astronomer.

2. Valentinus was a contemporary to Basilides.  Tertullian, who dislikes him with a passion, admits that people at the time thought he was a "genuis" because of his command of the biblical materials and his exegetical abilities.  He was also a poet.  There was even a moment when some thought he would be the next bishop of Rome.  When he was not elected, he felt a big mistake had been made so  started his own church school to train Christians correctly.

3. We have a letter that Ptolemy writes to Flora (yes a woman convert) which is every bit a rational and reasonable interpretation of biblical texts that supports his view of the world as anything we have from the catholic Christians.

4. The Sethians participated in Plotinus' classes, much to his dismay.  While he disagreed with them on several points, we are coming to find out that Plotinus and the Gnostics were in dialogue with each other and the influence of each other's philosophical doctrines went both ways.

5. Heracleon wrote one of the first, if not the first, commentary on the Gospel of John.  Origen engages it thoroughly and from this engagement we can see that Heracleon was an astute philosopher and biblical theologian with very reasonable arguments for his positions.

6. Celsus engaged the Gnostics, although he called them Christians and knew of them only as Christians.   It is because of his extensive engagement with these Christians that we know so much about a group that Origen calls the Ophians.  Origen in fact is furious with Celsus, that Celsus thought the Ophians were Christians.  Origen tries desperately to distance catholic Christianity from Celsus' description of (Ophian) Christianity.  By the way, one of Celsus' arguments against them is that they were simply Platonists who had nothing new to say because Plato had said it already.

7. The Gnostics were engaged in actual debates with catholic Christians.  For instance, Origen debated the Gnostic Christian Candidus in Athens.  Archelaus debated Mani.  This debate is recorded by Epiphanius and it is extremely learned and rational.  We should also add here that there is a solid tradition that Simon and Peter debated, some of which is recorded in the Ps-Clem literature.  Even if the records of these debates are not actual transcripts (they probably aren't), they do not portray the Gnostic opponents as irrational dunces.  In fact, the Gnostics come across as very learned and articulate opponents.

What does this all mean?  

1. The Gnostics were extremely rational and educated people.  They were intellectuals and their study of biblical texts was as astute as (and sometimes they read the Greek better, as in John 8:44) the catholic Christians. They were engaged in a two-way debate with catholic Christians, a debate that was consequential to the birth of the catholic landscape, as well as the generation of a new form of spirituality: Gnostic spirituality.

2. The Gnostics turned the tables on religion in antiquity.  They really revolutionized conventional religion.  While they based their world views on profound philosophical insights and reasoned biblical exegesis, they felt that reason could not get us all the way to God.  Reason was step one.  But step two was another matter.  God, for the Gnostics, was beyond our comprehension, ineffable, unknowable by conventional means.  The Gnostic felt that God had to be experienced.  Ultimately it was the experience of God (which was had through intense ritual events) that mattered.  This was the pinnacle of knowledge.  This was step two, and it is what they thought other Jews and Christians missed.  The Gnostics felt that other Jews and Christians had mistaken lower gods for the real God who was beyond all the images and forms we can make of him-her.

3. The consequence of their form of religiosity was enormous, as I am writing about now in The Ancient New Age, where I argue that Gnostic spirituality which emerged in antiquity has won the day and now forms the basis of modern American religion. The book will be published with Columbia University Press.

I go now to keep writing my chapter on Gnostic ritual: "Helltreks and Skywalks"...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Note: Histories of the Hidden God (DeConick and Adamson)

Click to find book on Amazon
Very excited about this new edited volume in the Gnostica Series published by Acumen.  This volume came out of a very special conference that we held here at Rice in April 2010.  At Rice we have a wonderful program we call GEM (Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism) which is an approach to religious literature and practices that takes seriously the marginalized and forbidden, what I like to call the "edges of religion".  We think it is essential to understand and incorporate the edges of religion into our histories and analyses of religion, rather than focus only on what became over time the center of religious traditions and the authoritative literature.

So the book comes out of the first international GEM conference.  Histories of the Hidden God: Concealment and Revelation in Western Gnostic, Esoteric, and Mystical Traditions, edited by myself and Grant Adamson.

The papers deal with the fact that even though Western religious traditions typically portray God as a humanlike creator, lawgiver, and king, both accessible and actively present in history, there is another concurrent tradition that God hides.  This has led to a tension in the traditions.  It is the Gnostic and the mystic who capitalize on the hidden and hiding God.  It is the sage and the artist who try to make accessible to humans the God who is secreted away.  This book explores the secret God from antiquity to the present day.  The book is organized around three themes: the concealment of the hidden God; the human quest for the hidden God; and revelations of the hidden God.

In this book I have published one of my papers on the Gospel of John and Gnostic origins: "Who is hiding in the Gospel of John?  Reconceptualizing Johannine theology and the roots of Gnosticism."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Note: Practicing Gnosis (eds. April DeConick, Gregory Shaw and John Turner)

I  promised to get some book notes out this week, and lo and behold, it is already Friday and I haven't had a chance to get to my blog until now.

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The big news for me is that the festschrift that we have been putting together for Professor Birger A. Pearson has been published by Brill.  Gregory Shaw, John Turner and I have been gathering contributions and editing this project for two years, and it feels so wonderful to see the book published in honor of such a great scholar in the field of early Christian studies and Gnosticism.

Although I was not a graduate student of Professor Pearson, I have always considered myself his student, so essential has been his research to my own.  When I was new to the field in the late 80s and early 90s, his work on Gnosticism helped to orient me and inspire me, especially his classic pieces on Philo, the Jewish nature of Gnosticism, and its Egyptian roots.  So it is with great pleasure that I joined forces with Greg Shaw and John Turner to honor Professor Pearson.

We choose to create a volume around a specific theme, Gnostic rituals and practices, because there is such a gap in our knowledge when it comes to what the Gnostics were actually doing and why they were doing it.  While the book is not comprehensive - how could it be? - we were able to cover five main areas of practice in the volume: initiatory, recurrent, therapeutic, ecstatic, and philosophic practices.

This is the volume in which I have published my paper on the Ophian Diagram, and I am particularly proud of it because I believe that I have actually solved its mystery.

List of articles:

--> Initiatory Practices

April D. DeConick, The Road for the Souls is through the Planets: The Mysteries of the Ophians Mapped
Roger Beck, Ecstatic Religion in the Roman Cult of Mithras
Bas van Os, Gospel of Philip as Gnostic Initiatory Discourse
Elliot Wolfson, Becoming Invisible: Rending the Veil and the Hermeneutic of Secrecy in the Gospel of Philip
Erin Evans, Ritual in the Second Book of Jeu
Nicola Denzey Lewis, Death on the Nile: Egyptian Codices, Gnosticism, and Early Christian Books of the Dead

Recurrent Pratices

Einar Thomassen, Going to Church with the Valentinians
Madeleine Scopello, Practicing ‘Repentance’ on the Path to Gnosis in Exegesis on the Soul
Edward Butler, Opening the Way of Writing: Semiotic Metaphysics in the Book of Thoth
Fernando Bermejo Rubio, “I Worship and Glorify”: Manichaean Liturgy and Piety in Kellis’ Prayer of the Emanations
Jason BeDuhn, The Manichaean Weekly Confessional Ritual
Jorunn Buckley, Ritual Ingenuity in the Mandaean Scroll of Exalted Kingship

Therapeutic Practices

Naomi Janowitz, Natural, Magical, Scientific or Religious? A Guide to Theories of Healing
Grant Adamson, Astrological Medicine in Gnostic Traditions
Marvin Meyer, The Persistence of Ritual in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels: P. Heid. Inv. Kopt. 685
Rebecca Lesses, Image and Word: Performative Ritual and Material Culture in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls

Ecstatic Practices

John D. Turner, From Baptismal Vision to Mystical Union with the One: The Case of the Sethian Gnostics
Niclas Förster, Marcosian Rituals for Prophecy and Apolytrosis
James Davila, Ritual Praxis in the Hekhalot Literature

Philosophic Practices

Zeke Mazur, The Platonizing Sethian Gnostic Interpretation of Plato’s Sophist
Michael Williams, Did Plotinus’ “Friends” Still Go to Church? Communal Rituals and Ascent Apocalypses

Kevin Corrigan, The Meaning of “One”: Plurality and Unity in Plotinus and Later Neoplatonism
Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Platonist’s Luminous Body

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Note: Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Adam

I have several new books that have come across my desk recently, but not enough time to get notices out to you about them.  I will try to catch up over the next week or so.

Let's get started with the beautiful new volume written by Andrei Orlov, Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University.  The book is called Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham and it is published by Cambridge University Press.

Professor Orlov continues his exploration of apocalypticism and mysticism in this book, arguing that soon after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Apocalypse of Abraham was written in order to demonstrate that the true place of worship is heaven (not Jerusalem).  It depicts Abraham as the primary example of an initiate of the celestial priesthood.   Orlov focuses his analysis on the scapegoat ritual, which is the central rite of the story.  It is reinterpreted within an eschatological context.  Orlov thinks that this reinterpretation represents a transition from Jewish apocalyptic thought to the symbols of early Jewish mysticism.

Congratulations to Professor Orlov for the publication of another superb study of early Jewish and Christian mysticism, following up his other recent study, Dark Mirrors (2011).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Humanities and Science

This semester I am teaching a course on cognitive science and religion.  It is called The Bible and the Brain, and I am writing a book under the same title.  The course is exploring ways that religion can be better understood when we take into consideration the cognitive abilities and limitations of human beings.  More on these ideas as the semester progresses.

As I am teaching this course, I am aware that there continues to be an uproar about whether the humanities should be in dialogue with the sciences and if so to what degree.  Steven Pinker has written for the New Republic an impassioned plea for humanities' scholars to get with it and engage the sciences HERE. He articulates in this piece a call for humanities scholars to show more interest in science, especially in the downward spiral that is strangling us in the wake of post-modern critique.  There have been many responses, most like Leon Wieseltier, also published by New Republic, HERE. The title of his piece summarizes pages of his own impassioned plea which he calls "Crimes Against Humanities: How Science Wants to Invade the Liberal Arts. Don't let it happen."

There was a time in my life when I was very content to go along teaching and writing what I would call strictly humanities content.  I saw very little connect between anything scientists did and my own work and interests.  That is until I married a physicist.  I realized three things very quickly.

First, the scientific understanding of the world is our reality.  We live it everyday.  We have no choice but to engage it.

Second, scientists are studying the universe and human beings, the same subjects that I study as a humanist, and they have information that is essential to how we all understand ourselves and our world today.  This information is so essential that it will likely alter the way we have been perceiving our academic disciplines.  I see this particularly in terms of cognitive studies and embodiment which can help us reformulate the way we "do" history and understand religion.

Third, if we as humanists don't jump into the conversation that scientists are engaging in very public ways, we will be leaving the interpretation of knowledge about humans and the world to them.  Frankly I think we have been so slow on the uptake that this has already happened. In other words, scientists (and social scientists for that matter) are going to continue to run well-funded experiments on our subjects, subjects that we as humanists hold near and dear.  And then they are going to control its interpretation, when in fact, they know very little about the subjects we study, like religion, for instance.

A case in point.  I read a fascinating book this week by Drs. Andrew Newberg and Eugene D'Aquili, called Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief.  I couldn't put it down, riveted to the results of their SPECT scans on Tibetan monks and Catholic nuns during meditatively induced states of Unitary Being.  Since I study mysticism, their findings really caught my attention.  But what also caught my attention was the fact that their understanding of religion is under the weather so to speak.  They equated religion with a form of mysticism that is relatively recent in human history (derivative of Underhill and James) and tried to overlay that on Neanderthal burial and cult practices.  They argue that all religion originates from someone's mystical experience and that the purpose of religion is to perpetuate those experiences of unitary being.  So here we have scientists with really good experiments, but with little knowledge of the field of religious studies in which to make good sense of them.  But their views are popular and well-cited in the literature.

If we don't engage the sciences as humanists, we are not just doing ourselves a disfavor, but the public too.  We are leaving the interpretation and popularization of our field open to scientists like Richard Dawkins, rather than doing it ourselves and doing it better.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Note: Who Do People Say That I Am? (Vernon K. Robbins)

There is a fantastic new book just published that covers Jesus and the gospels, canonical as well as extracanonical.  Vernon Robbins, Who Do People Say I Am? Rewriting Gospel in Emerging Christianity.

Professor Robbins' book is the best there is on the market in my opinion.  I highly recommend it to you, especially if you are looking for a book to teach this subject.

Robbins sets the more commonly known representations of Jesus in the Bible alongside lesser-well-known portraits of him found in texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas, and the Acts of John.  He does this, not simply as a rehash of general knowledge, but applying all of his years of accumulated knowledge of orality, rhetoric, cognition and the social fabric of Christianity to the material.  You are face-to-face with Robbins the veteran professor sharing generously his knowledge.

The book is very accessible in terms of style and yet very careful in terms of historical detail.  A perfect match for the non-specialist reader, and specialists from other areas of New Testament study who want to get a handle on the extracanonical material.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Welcome to our students at Rice

The academic year for us starts on Monday.  Things are different for me this year because I have become the Chair of the Religious Studies Department after a year long leave.  The summer was spent traveling and moving my office, which turned out to be a bigger chore than I was prepared for.

I want to extend a warm welcome to our incoming and returning students into our very special intellectual community here at Rice.  I have taken this opportunity to write more about our program and post it on our departmental website: "The motto of Rice University is strikingly bold.  'Unconventional Wisdom.'  It is a motto that we love to own because it describes the kind of intellectual community that we create and foster in the Department of Religious Studies. To study here means to challenge the status quo, to investigate what is not obvious, to reimagine what was, is and can be when it comes to religion.  To study here means to enter an intellectual community where critical thought, disciplined training, and innovation intersect with religion." To read the rest of my message, click HERE.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Humanities and technology

Working in the trenches of humanities in face of the rise in the last decades of the internet and the overwhelming belief that knowledge is about information and data and number crunching, that everything about being human can be reduced to scientific investigation, I have been very concerned about where we are going as a people.

It is as if utilitarianism and efficiency and speed are all the driving forces behind anything we now consider most valuable.  Everything is short and sweet and public.  If it doesn't make us richer, faster, or easier, we don't want it.  We don't think it is worth pursuing.

We are becoming thin and instant like our devices.  We are remaking ourselves in the images of our devices.

We are scattering our attention.  Like our devices, we do two or three things at once.  We watch TV and check our email, giving neither full attention, while ignoring the other people in the room.  Screens intersect and offset us from others as we type away behind them.

At restaurants, in classrooms, in cars we are on the internet, uploading pictures to Facebook to get instant feedback about where we are or what we are doing.  Nothing seems to wait.  Gaming draws us in and keeps us coming back, psychologically preying on our desire for instant feedback and success. 

We mistake computer intelligence for the human mind.  We are held in the grips of our iPhones, iPads, our Facebooks, Twitters, and Texts, as if they were lifelines that plug our brains into other brains.  Some of us have become so addicted to technology that to unplug, even for a day, is traumatic.

I am not against technology.  I have a laptop, iPhone, iPad, a digital camera and all the rest.  And I love them.  What I worry about is what this is all doing to us so quickly.  What are our lives becoming?  How has it changed the way we think about things?  Interact with others?  Value things?

Where is our humanity in all this? What is happening to us spiritually and intellectually as we disengage and devalue the pursuit of knowledge which we have mistaken for information?  When we are convinced that we can reduce everything about us to scientific answers?

Leon Wieselttier gives us something to think about in his commencement address published by Republic HERE.  He argues that humanities and its pursuit has suddenly become countercultural.  Take a look.  It is worth the read.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

David Capes' Blog

I was just on Facebook and noticed that Professor Capes of Houston Baptist University has been keeping a blog on all things religion.  Check it out HERE.http://davidbcapes.com/

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Symposium on Apocrypha

Tony Burke is holding a symposium on the Christian Apocrypha.  He writes:

"The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, “Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier: The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives,” will take place at York University September 26–28, 2013.

The event is organized by Tony Burke (York University) in consultation with Brent Landau (University of Oklahoma). It brings together 22 Canadian and U.S. scholars to share their work and discuss present and future collaborative projects."

For more information, go HERE.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Another woman biblioblogger

Welcome to Candida Moss, another woman biblioblogger.  Happy to see you in the bibliosphere!

Here is a link to her new blog.  Professor Moss is a New Testament specialist at Notre Dame.  She has written two books on early Christian martyrdom and other topics.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A wild thought about scripture

One of the things that has deeply struck me as I have been rereading the ancient sources like John and Paul as I am writing chapters for my book The Ancient New Age, is that our assumptions make all the difference to our understanding of what a text says. 

Now this is not a new revelation for me.  I have known this since I was an undergraduate.  But knowing it intellectually is very different from really experiencing it.  Scholars know this.  But, by and large, we don't do anything about it.  We continue to read texts as we have been trained to read them (as orthodox Christians have read them for centuries), and there is great turmoil if someone suggests otherwise. 

We assume that the orthodox Christian reading of scriptural texts is the author's intent.  We gloss and harmonize what doesn't fit.  We do it unconsciously so that the text fits our preconceived mental frames.

With the work I have been doing (some of it in cognitive studies), I have come to see that the assumption that the orthodox Christian reading of scriptural texts is the author's intent is simply wrong.  The authors of the New Testament texts were not orthodox.  They were not even proto-orthodox.  They had their own ideas, many of which were innovative, revolutionary, and wild.

What makes the text orthodox is its interpretation, one that is imposed upon it by later readers who had a stake in how the Christian tradition was unfolding.  We simply have inherited this interpretation and consider it authorial.

There was a war over these texts and their meaning, a war that continues today.  It was an early war too.  This is not about Gnosticism at the end of the second century that somehow got the interpretation of the texts all wrong.  This is about the first century.  It is about Palestine and Samaria.  It is at the root of the Christian faith. 

Paul of the letters is far removed from the author of the Pastorals who tries desperately to tame Paul's wildness, or Luther's Paul who is further excised of any charisma.  John of the Gospel is far removed from the domestication that the Elder in the Johannine letters imposed on John and later orthodox church leaders picked up and developed. 

Once I was able to dislocate myself from my orthodox training, I have come to see that both Paul and John were impacted by Gnostic spirituality.  It forms the center of their concept of the Christian faith.  Both were reacting to Judaism, which they saw as a religion that did not really know the true God or what he actually wanted.  Both preached liberation from the old forms of Servant spirituality that was the cradle of all the Near Eastern religions.  Both believed that the experience of God, the revelation of God, was what mattered, and it was to be experienced by everyone through initiation.  Both were transgressors who understood the old Jewish scriptures in ways that subverted its accepted meanings.  And on and on.

I guess what I am saying is that I think there is more work that needs to be done on Christian origins, work that demands we set aside our assumptions about orthodoxy, and come to see the wild innovative nature of the early Christian communities.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Who was Paul really?

I have been making quite a bit of good progress on The Ancient New Age book.  I just finished chapter 4 on the Gospel of John and the letters of John called "The Dark Cosmos."  It was thrilling to write this chapter and finally get down my reading of the Fourth Gospel and its Gnostic predisposition.  Yes.  I really find in the fabric of that text Gnostic spirituality merging with Jewish scriptures and nascent Christianity. It is not just later Gnostic interpretation imposed on an orthodox gospel.  It is there in the soul of the Gospel.

My next chapter is on Paul, so I am now immersed in Pauline literature and just got the chance to read James Tabor's newest book on the subject, Paul and Jesus.  The Paul that Tabor speaks about (and his relationship to the Jerusalem church and other apostles) dovetails nicely with the ways that I have come to understand Paul over the years.

I remember as a young woman really disliking Paul.  What I didn't know then is that what I disliked was not Paul but Luther's Paul.  That is when I discovered Paul the mystic.  I read Albert Schweitzer's book and then Alan Segal's book, both on Paul the mystic.  Suddenly Paul made sense to me.  But he wasn't anyone that contemporary Christians could relate to.  What he was saying was way out there.  Undomesticated.  Wild.  He was a visionary who realized union with Christ whom he saw as the manifestation of God.  He developed rituals that helped democratize this experience so that all converts could similarly be united.

One of the features that I really like about Tabor's book is that he starts from the position that Paul was a mystic.  Tabor then breaks down Paul's message into five understandable chunks.  This makes Paul the mystic more accessible rather than wild.  Tabor's book is written around these chunks:
  • The resurrection body is a new spiritual body that believers attain.
  • Baptism gives the believer the Christ/Holy Spirit with unites with his/her own spirit and makes him/her a child of God, part of a new genus of Spirit-beings who will inherit God's Kingdom.
  • The believer achieves a mystical union with Christ due to this Spirit infusion, a gradual process that is transformative involving also the sacred meal where Christ is taken within as food.
  • The world is in the last throes of its existence, and life would soon be transformed. 
  • Paul turned his back on the Torah and abandoned Judaism, replacing it with the new Torah of Christ.
Of course as I am thinking about Paul the mystic, I am also wondering about Paul the Gnostic.  Have we worked so hard over the centuries to domesticate Paul that we have lost touch with his Gnostic aspects too, like with the Fourth Gospel?  Anyway, these are my thoughts right now as I am in the reading and thinking phases of writing this chapter.