Thursday, May 31, 2007

Synoptic Problem Poll

I am a little concerned with some of what I'm reading across the blogworld tonight regarding the results of the Synoptic Problem Poll on Novum Testamentum. Although it is fun to see what the blogging world thinks about this, it would be completely inaccurate to interpret the results of the poll to mean that the Two/Four-Source Hypothesis is losing ground in the Academy, or that the Academy is flirting with the Augustinian model, or that it has found the Farrer hypothesis convincing. Although this might be happening in the blogging world, it is not happening in the Academy. Quelle still reigns there.

New Testament Manuscripts

I'm wondering if it bothers anyone else that as historians (in order to illuminate the first and second centuries of Christianity) we are using an eclectic version of our manuscripts of the New Testament created by a modern committee?

The Nestle-Aland text not only doesn't exist in manuscript form, it certainly does not represent any version of NT texts from the first or second centuries. If you think about it, according to the manuscripts we do possess, a Christian living in Alexandria will have knowledge of different version of the texts from those Christians living in Syria, Asia Minor, Rome, or Gaul.

What does this mean for historians studying early Christianity and using the eclectic text as our foundation? Are we operating under false impressions? - that we know exactly what the Gospel of Mark read in the first century, and that this was the same everywhere geographically?

Certainly there is the critical apparatus to consult. But this doesn't give us an actual reading of the Alexandrian text, for instance.

What I'm asking is this, shouldn't we create a synopsis of our manuscript families, so that we can read the Alexandrian text side-by-side with the Western text, and so forth? I know that we still won't be able to know what the manuscript tradition actually looked like in the first century, but at least we can begin to talk about the text basis for variant forms of Christianity in different geographical locations.

If you know of a synopsis like this that already exists, please share that information with me. I am ignorant on this subject.

If not, are there any textual scholars among us who might be interested in producing such a synopsis? I think it would revolutionize our field.

Thanks to Michael Bird and Nicholas Perrin

I wish to thank Michael Bird for hosting Nicholas Perrin, and to Perrin for his responses (#1 and #2) to my cautions about his portrayal of my own work in his new book, Thomas, The Other Gospel.

I want to reiterate that I do not regard my cautions (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5) as a review of his work, which will be taken up in formal published peer reviews (although Mark Goodacre has begun this review process already on his own blog, presenting a very detailed and thoughtful comment on Perrin's book). My only intent in my own postings was to safeguard the integrity of my work and its argument, so that the misunderstandings surfacing in Perrin's work are not appropriated into the secondary literature as my actual positions.

I want to also mention that I just discovered that Nicholas Perrin is publishing a two-part bibliographical article on Gospel of Thomas studies between the years 1991-2006. The first part of the series ("Recent Trends in Gospel of Thomas Research [1991-2006]: Part I, The Historical Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels") has just been published by Currents in Biblical Research 5.2 (2007) pages 183-206. I believe the second part will be published in the next volume of CBR.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Thirteenth Apostle available for pre-orders on UK Amazon

My book on the Gospel of Judas is now posted on UK Amazon. It is called The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.

In 2006, National Geographic released the first English translation of the "Gospel of Judas", a second-century text discovered in Egypt in the 1970s. The translation caused a sensation because it seemed to overturn the popular image of Judas the betrayer and instead presented a benevolent Judas who was a friend of Jesus. In "The Thirteenth Apostle", April DeConick offers a new translation of the "Gospel of Judas" which seriously challenges the National Geographic interpretation of a good Judas. Inspired by the efforts of the National Geographic team to piece together this ancient manuscript, DeConick sought out the original Coptic text and began her own translation. "I didn't find the sublime Judas, at least not in Coptic. What I found were a series of English translation choices made by the National Geographic team, choices that permitted a different Judas to emerge in the English translation than in the Coptic original. Judas was not only not sublime, he was far more demonic than any Judas I know in any other piece of early Christian literature, Gnostic or otherwise." DeConick contends that the "Gospel of Judas" is not about a "good" Judas, or even a "poor old" Judas. It is a gospel parody about a "demon" Judas written by a particular group of Gnostic Christians known as the Sethians who lived in the second century CE. The purpose of the text was to criticize "mainstream" or apostolic Christianity from the point of view of these Gnostic Christians, especially their doctrine of atonement, their Eucharistic practices, and their creedal faith which they claimed to have inherited from the twelve disciples. Professor DeConick provides her English translation and interpretation of this newly recovered gospel within the previously overlooked context of a Christianity in the second century that was sectarian and conflicted. The first book to challenge the National Geographic version of the Gospel of Judas, "The Thirteenth Apostle" is sure to inspire to fresh debate around this most infamous of biblical figures.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Apostolic Tradition as "living literature"

I love it when I come across the work of scholars in entirely different areas that intersect with my own. That has happened today as I am beginning an intensive period studying Valentinian practices in order to prepare a paper for the International Theological Conference on the Orthodox Teaching on Sacraments to be convened by the Russian Orthodox Church to take place on November 13-16th, 2007 in Moscow.

I have come across the work of Marcel Metzger on The Apostolic Tradition. He develops an idea put forward earlier by Jean Magne and by Alexandre Faivre that this ancient church order is not only not authored by Hippolyptus, but that it is not the work of a single author or editor. Rather it is a piece of "living literature." Why? Its lack of unity, its lack of logical progression, the presence of many incoherences, doublets, and contradictions. The work is a composite work according to Metzger and later Paul Bradshaw, a collection of community rules from different traditions, probably not even representing a single Christian community. The only way to really understand the text is to examine the various individual elements and layers of which the text is made up.

Well, here we are, back to the type of model that I have been promoting for the composition of the Gospel of Thomas. I love the phrase "living literature" and wish I had known about it when I wrote Recovering, for surely I would have used it!

By the way, being invited to present a paper on gnostic ritual by the Russian Orthodox Church is very much an honor for me. I am delighted that there is enough interest in the Orthodox Church about these old gnostic traditions that an invitation was even sent to me in the first place. Since I can't be in San Diego at SBL/AAR and Russia at the same time, my paper will be distributed in my absence. But I hope to show in that paper how important gnostic witnesses are to ancient Christian ritual patterns and practices.

Article Note: "The Transmission of early Christian thought: Toward a cognitive psychological model" (István Czachesz)

In the mail this morning, I received a copy of volume 36:1 (2007) of Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses and was delighted to see one of Czachesz's articles on cognitive psychology among the others articles. (Update: Wade Greiner has posted a link to a pre-publication version of this article).

Czachesz does a fine job introducing the reader to some of the current major theories in cognitive psychology as they may pertain to the study of Christian Origins, including ritual theories, memory research, and studies in orality and transmission.

One question that immediately occurred to me while reading was how much the language of cognitive science is going to burden and/or offput scholars of religion? For instance, the transmission of ideas is called the "epidemic of beliefs" (p. 68).

I particularly was appreciative for the distinctions Czachesz drew between how one understands the transmission of traditions from a cognitive approach and the form-critical (pp. 66-68). Like my own analysis of the Gospel of Thomas, Czachesz highlights the fact that the ancient world of the early Christians was not purely oral, but included various degrees of literacy, and all of this acted together to create the environment in which our texts arose. This is what I and others call "rhetorical culture," a term that I did not notice Czachesz using. In rhetorical cultures, even though orality dominates the scene in terms of transmission and consciousness, the written word is also present, and oral text and written text interact in lively fashions.

Czachesz thinks that cognitive psychology can help us understand why early Christian tradition developed in the ways it did. He considers reasons beyond the daily needs of the congregrations, beyond the social or economic motivations. He says that their success is due to their universal appeal to the human mind - that is, "certain ideas especially appeal to us because our minds can work with them in particularly efficient ways...Religious ideas survive only if they adapt themselves to the structure of the human mind" (p. 68).

Since I am not a cognitive psychologist and am not yet familiar with the studies he references (Atran 2002; Barrett 2004; Boyer 2001; Pyysiäinen 2003), I'm not sure what specific items within the Christian tradition Czachesz sees as appealing to the structures of our minds, or how we would differentiate these from those that are/were unappealing (and therefore not transmitted?). I would like to know more though, and hope that he will address this type of question in future publications.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hector Avalos on the End of Biblical Studies

Professor Avalos is publishing a new book due out in July, The End of Biblical Studies. I have already pre-ordered Professor Avalos' book. I will post a report on it after I have had a chance to read it and digest his opinions.

The description of it appears to follow his tough critique of our society and biblical studies in general. There are many points on which I agree with him (and am very glad to hear him voicing these points in the SBL open forum), and some which I do not (i.e., I do not see our work as necessarily elitist, completely irrelevant, nor do I think that none of us in the discipline is concerned for the poor - my husband in fact is a poverty lawyer).

The one point that continues to resound for me, however, is his statement,

"The fact is that biblical studies is still functioning as a handmaiden to theology and faith communities rather than as a discipline relevant to those outside of faith communities."

This is a point that I myself have been very concerned about in the past, and continue to be so. I am not sure how the field of biblical studies can ever be a serious field of historical study as long as it remains tied to and controlled by faith communities and their needs.

I think that the first step in the creation and survival of the discipline as a historical discipline in the humanities is to develop an uncompromising and unapologetic historical methodology (see sidebar for past posts on this topic). I don't think we have successfully done this yet because too many in our field are too concerned about the theological consequences of our findings. But theology has to be separated from historical studies. These are two separate disciplines, period.

The second thing we have to do is change the name of our discipline. We should not be a discipline that studies Biblical Literature. We should be a discipline that studies Religion in Antiquity (subsets including: Ancient Israel, Early Judaism, Early Christianity, and so on). We have been chained to the canon, and its preservation, because of faith concerns, not historical ones. It is time to make the change.

How different would our association look if we were to rename ourselves the Society for the Study of Religion in Antiquity or some comparable name? If so named, we would have to take seriously critical historical scholarship, and stop worrying about being caretakers of the Bible and the contemporary faith traditions that rely on it.

Monday Call For Theses

If you have finished an M.A., Ph.D., or Th.D. thesis recently and would like some exposure, reply to this post in the comments with:

Name of Thesis
Date of Acceptance or Defense
University Affiliation
Brief Abstract (500 words)
Personal Comment (if any)

For postings of earlier theses, see sidebar.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Codex Judas Congress funded by Rice Faculty Initiative Grant

Rice University just announced that it will fund the Codex Judas Congress, a colloquium to be held in March 2008. I will post more details as the event is organized over the summer. But here is the grant announcement and description which I copy below too.

I want to say that I am extremely appreciative of the support that Rice University has shown to me and to Religious Studies with this very generous award, one that will allow me to bring twenty scholars to campus for the event.

From Rice News:
DeConick, the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, will use her funding to gather 20 of the world's leading experts on early Christianity and Gnosticism at Rice for The Codex Judas Congress.

The two-day conference will examine the newly discovered ancient Christian papyrus book known as the Tchacos Codex or the Judas Codex. The book includes the Gospel of Judas, which was first made public in 2006.

"It is extremely important for scholars to come together as a community and share their insights and training, to examine this ‘new’ ancient book collectively. This congress will give us an opportunity to do so and move forward the study of early Christianity and Gnosticism," DeConick said. "It is one of those events that puts Rice on the cutting edge of research in early Christianity."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Urgent! Bill 2265 to Help Iraqi Immigrants including Mandaeans

It has come to my attention that Bill 2265 which would confer immigration status to the U.S. for many religious minorities in Iraq, including Mandaeans, is going to the House of Representatives soon for a vote. This is the time (ASAP) to send a(nother) letter to our legislators urging them to vote in favor of 2265. Let's swamp them with letters and e-mails!

The following is a possible letter which you can use or alter as you see fit. For addresses, see my previous post.

Dear _______________________:

I would like to alert you to the suffering of the Iraqi Mandaeans, who desperately need immigrant status in western nations, and urge you to vote for bill 2265.

The Mandaeans, or Sabian-Mandaeans, are an ethnic group whose monotheistic religion is one of the oldest in the Middle East. They are followers of John the Baptist. Baptism is their main form of religious activity. The Mandaean religion began at the time of Jesus and has historical connections to ancient Gnostic movements.

The traditional homeland of the Mandaeans is in Iraq and Iran, but recent persecutions have greatly decreased their numbers in those areas. The precise total number of Mandaeans worldwide is not known but approximates 70,000. But at present only five to seven thousand
remain in Iraq, with many having fled to Syria, Jordan, and Sweden as well as other countries. Mandaeans in Iraq are targeted for killing, kidnapping, and confiscation of property.

Unlike other victims of sectarian violence in Iraq, Mandaeans cannot flee to a protective enclave within the country, nor can they defend themselves with their own militia. Their religion being strictly pacifist, Mandaeans carry no weapons. The spread of extremist ideology has resulted in the targeting of "infidels" and especially the defenseless, pacifist group the Mandaeans. The police often refuse to intervene. Since Mandaeans have no voice in the Iraqi parliament and no direct connection to any member of government, the government has taken little action to protect them.

Although many Mandaeans have taken refuge in Syria and Jordan, these countries are not able to accommodate the huge influx of Iraqi refugees on a permanent basis. Normally, a refugee from Iraq is granted a three-month visa with an extension of up to six months in certain cases, after which time they are living in the country illegally if they continue to stay, even though a Mandaean's returning to Iraq is fraught with danger.

Please see the Mandaean Human Rights report for 2007:
Thank you very much for your attention to this urgent matter.


Book Note: The Earliest Christian Artifacts (Larry Hurtado)

Professor Larry Hurtado has written a helpful guide to the manuscript tradition in early Christianity. The book is called The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. He gives an outline of our earliest manuscripts in chapter one. Then he discusses the rise of the Codex and its desirability among Christians. He asks why the Codex became an early Christian convention. He suggests that one of the main reasons was its portability, that modest-sized codices may have been attractive and serviceable for itinerant Christian teachers and evangelists, perhaps even as early as the first century. But that this factor becomes less of an issue in the second and third centuries when Hurtado argues that books were being prepared for Christians in residence (p. 67). He includes chapters on the Nomina Sacra and the Staurogram, subjects which he has explored in earlier publications and presentations. His final chapter describes other scribal features such as Codex size, use of columns, margins, lines per page, reader's aids, and corrections.

His work is highly interpretative, since one of the main goals of the work appears to me to understand why the Christian scribes used the Codex, why they used the abbreviations they did, what the size of the manuscript means, and so forth. His conclusions suggest that these can tell us something significant about their faith and its performance, that the specific nature of the manuscript is an artifact of early Christian usage and religious life (p. 189).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Public High School Bible Classes in Texas

The Houston Chronicle reported today that the Texas Senate "easily passed and sent to the governor" a bill to teach Bible classes to high school students. The claim is that young people need to know about the Bible. This class is supposed to provide a forum for students to discuss religion's role in history. The class will be taught if 15 students want it taught.

This makes me very concerned because we all know that there is no one trained in our secondary educational system to teach these courses from a religious studies or historical perspective. When untrained people think about 'Bible' classes, they think this means 'Bible Study' and further that this means 'Christian Bible Study,' which at best is comparable to 'adult education' on sunday mornings at church, at worse a prayer circle. I know this from years of experience teaching the Introduction to the Bible courses at various universities. I agree that it is a crying shame how illiterate Americans are when it comes to religious education, but I do not trust for a moment our secondary educational system to consistently provide non-faith-based religious education.

I am afraid that this bill is nothing more than another attempt to get bible study into the public curriculum. The language is more sophisticated, and given the aura of "historical" study, but what this means is let's teach our kids in the public schools that the bible is history. We are on the edge of the slippery slope.

Academic Rankings

Yesterday, my husband came across this rankings system for academic graduate programs. I'm wondering if any of you are familiar with it? I wasn't aware of it before now, but it appears to be a new rankings system. Here are the top ten graduate programs in Religious Studies in alphabetical order according to Academic Analytics. The highlighting is mine.

Religious Studies & Theology

  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Harvard University
  • Marquette University
  • New York University
  • Rice University
  • Union Theological Seminary - New York
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Westminster Theological Seminary
  • Yale University

  • Update 5-25-07: Patrick McCullough sent this information and links to other articles about this ranking system.

    "But here I see that it measures these schools on the Academic output of its faculty (they call it the "Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index"). Here's a Chronicle article about their method and how they came to be."

    Cautionary Note 5: DeConick on Methodology

    In Perrin's chapter on my work, there is one criticism lodged by Perrin that raises a good question (pp. 65-66). Have I inconsistently applied my methodology in terms of sayings that contain characteristic vocabulary since there is language in the accretions that I don't identify as characteristic?

    The goal of my method was to identify later material (accretions) that entered the Gospel of Thomas and worked to reinterpret older sayings. Here are two older posts about this. Post 1 and Post 2.

    It is accurate that there is language in the accretions that I didn't (and don't) identify as characteristic. And for good reason. If we were to identify all language as characteristic, then we would reduce our argument to nonsense - words like "the" and "and" would have to be identified. This is why I use the word "characteristic" to the Gospel of Thomas, excluding plain language or overly general ideas.

    Moreover, the presence of the word or phrase in the accretion is not enough to identify it as characteristic. To identify characteristic terminology on this basis would be nothing more than parallelmania. The terms and phrases that I identified were done so with explicit reference to the pattern of there usage (Recovering pp. 72-77). For instance the word petonh ("the one who is living") is understood as characteristic vocabulary when it is used as a Name of God or as a cognate designation for the believer. The word alone can never be enough, because meanings for words vary depending upon context and community hermeneutics. We must always be conscious of this.

    For these reasons, I did not (and would not) identify as characteristic the terms that Perrin himself suggests. Let me take each one in turn.

    Perrin: Inside/outside contrast (Gos. Thom. 3.3, 22.4, 89.2). Not only are these words common words but their usage across these sayings is not the same, and the terminology in Coptic is not the same in all three cases identified by Perrin. 3.3 (sempetenhoun auo sempetenbal) speaks of the Kingdom being inside and outside a person. 22.4 (psa nhoun enthe empsa nbol) talks about making the exterior person like the interior person. 89.2 (empsa nhoun...empsa nbol) addresses the purity laws in terms of the inside of the cup and the outside of the cup. According to Jesus, the inside of the utensil determined the purity standards of the whole cup (against the Pharisaic position of the school of Shammai who argued that the vessel should be immersed to remove any contaminants prior to use).

    Perrin: "one and the same" (Gos. Thom. 4.1, 22.5 and 23.2) are accretions. "But this makes it hard to explain why the only other use of the phrase (Gos. Thom. 4.3) occurs in Stage 1 [Perrin's word for my Kernel designation]" (Perrin, p. 65). On this point Perrin errors completely since indeed I have clearly designated this phrase as an accretion, not a Kernel saying (as Perrin states) (Recovering pp. 70-71). I have also clearly identified this portion of the saying as 4.4 in order to include in the numbering system 3.3 from the Greek papyrus "and the last will be first."

    Perrin: "There will be days" (79.3, 38.2). This was (and is) taken by me to be plain language. Its usage does not suggest anything that would qualify it as "characteristic" to the Gospel of Thomas. If Perrin wishes this to be so, then he needs to make a case for it.

    Perrin: "entering the kingdom" (22.5, 3, 114.3=accretions). What about 39.2, 99.3 and 64.12, Perrin asks? First, the sayings he identified do not contain this expression. Saying 3 does not contain the phrase "entering the kingdom," at all in the Coptic, and only in a lacunae in the Greek does it have "will enter it." 22.7 has "will enter the Kingdom" where Kingdom is in the lacunae; 22.3 has "Will we enter the Kingdom as little babies?". 114.2 has "will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Second, 64.12 is also an accretion, and it too does not have the expression "entering the Kingdom", but "entering the places of my Father." 39.2 is in the Kernel but does not have the expression "entering the Kingdom." In fact the word Kingdom never even occurs in this saying. Here Perrin's memory of the Matthean version appears to be bleeding over into the Thomasine. 99.3 contains the expression "will enter the Kingdom of my Father." In my opinion, there is no characteristic phrase to identify across the sayings Perrin lays out. If we were to argue it on terms of a characteristic theme, I think here we would falter as well since the idea of "entering the Kingdom" is so common to early Christian literature generally it would be hard to maintain an argument that it represents secondary development in the Gospel of Thomas.

    Perrin: "The poetic 'taste death' occupies two separate stages of composition (Gos. Thom. 18.3=Stage 3; Gos. Thom. 1.1, 19.4, 85.2=Stage 4)" (p. 66). Both of Perrin's "Stages" are accretions. So there is no inconsistency. 18.3 may be our earliest accretion of the lot Perrin identifies, but this doesn't mean that I have applied my methodology inconsistently. Certainly we would expect characteristic vocabulary to accrue gradually over time in this gospel. It is not at all clear to me why Perrin demands that all sayings with similar vocabulary must enter the gospel at exactly the same moment. According to my hypothesis, this is a document being preserved by particular Christians with particular theology and language that accumulates in an ongoing fashion.

    Perrin: "as does the typically Syrian metaphor 'bridal chamber' (Gos. Thom. 104.3=Stage 1; Gos. Thom. 75.1=Stage 4)" (p. 66). The usage of the metaphor, however, is not consistent in these two sayings. 104.3 (Kernel) uses the metaphor to refer to the Jewish custom that weddings are days of feasting, not fasting. Jesus may have been identified as the bridegroom who leaves the bridal chamber (= the world); in Jesus' absence Christians now fast. 75.1 (Accretion) says that the celibate person is the one who will enter the bridal chamber (=Kingdom).

    Perrin: there are marcarisms in both Kernel and the accretions. True. But again this appears to me to be such common language attributed to Jesus in early Christianity, it would be impossible to maintain that it represents secondary development in the Gospel of Thomas.

    Perrin: the language of "worth" and "being worthy" (Gos. Thom. 56.2, 85.1, 114.1=accretions), but also in Gos. Thom. 55.2 and 62.1=Kernel. Perrin's remark misses entirely the actual phrase I identified which is "the world does not deserve" (or "the world is not worthy"), a phrase that does not occur in 55.2 and 62.1 (Recovering pp. 72-73).

    Perrin: as for Perrin's statement that the "rest" sayings were split between the Kernel (86.2, 90.1, 61.1) and the accretions (50.3, 51.1, 60.6). First, the sayings that Perrin identifies do not use consistent terminology in the Coptic to refer to "rest" which is the English translation. Nor do these sayings understand the concept consistently. In 61.1 and 86.2 emton is used to indicate being satisfied, relieved, at ease, perhaps even drifting off to sleep. In 90.2 (Perrin wrongly has 90.1) anapausis is used to indicate relaxation from labor. It is only in the accretions 50.3, 51.1, and 60.6 that anapausis is found and used in a Hermetic sense, although 50.3 speaks of this rest in cosmic terms while 60.6 in interiorized personal terms. 51.1 is problematic because anapausis probably was not the original word at all, but more likely anastasis (=resurrection). Scribal error may have been responsible for the slight change in word. At any rate, for these reasons, I did not identify anapausis as "characteristic" nor use it as a factor to determine the accretions. It is interesting, however, if I had done this, the accretions that I had already identified would be the ones that contain anapausis with a Hermetic usage of that word!

    The long and short of this is that I was very consistent in my application of method. I did not, as Perrin accuses me, lead us where I wanted us to go (p. 66). I had no idea where the method was going to go. Once I was finished I was as surprised as anyone given the Koester-Robinson model, that the earliest sayings in the Gospel of Thomas were apocalyptic and imminently eschatological with a Jerusalem orientation, while the accretions represented a form of mystical and encratic Christianity common to Syria in the second century. Quite honestly, I was hoping that the mystical form was our earliest Thomas, given my prior work on Thomas. But once I worked consistently through the text identifying the secondary material, this turned out to be wrong. Although there was an early mystical dimension to Jesus' teaching, the early apocalypticism in Thomas did not focus on it, but instead on the eschatological and the coming of the Kingdom and judgment. It only shifted to the mystical later, once the Kingdom didn't come as expected.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    Cautionary Note 4: DeConick on Accretions

    Perrin (p. 55): "At the end of the day, DeConick shows us four stages (for lack of a better term)." He then assigns certain sayings to Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4, apparently referencing my chart on pages 97-98 but with no citation.

    Perrin's description is not the model I have argued for. My chart is labeled "The Gradual Accrual of Logia," not stages or layers (words which I consciously avoided). In fact I wrote in the paragraph immediately proceeding the chart (Recovering, p. 97):

    "The first [chart] outlines the approximate dates for the accrual of the accretions in the gospel between the years 50 and 120 CE. The chart should not be read as representing three stages of 'redaction' (literary or oral) of Thomas. Such a reading would represent a complete misunderstanding of my argument. The accrual occurred mainly within the field of oral performance and was gradual."

    I think that the creation of the Gospel of Thomas was a complex, organic and gradual process, and I do not want my hypothesis to be rewritten by my critics into the exact type of model I am trying to replace, and then criticized on these terms.

    The method I put into place was to identify later material from earlier material, and then to offer an explanation for how and why the later material came into the Gospel. It is not an explanation that involves redactionary layering or stages or phases. It is a hypothesis that sees later material accruing within older material in order to shift the meaning and provide a new hermeneutic once the older material became a liability or required a new interpretation. This is why I use the image "rolling corpus." The three overlapping time periods that I offer for the accrual of the later material is my best estimate based on what we know about similar material and ideas in other early Christian texts which we date to these times.

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Cautionary Note 3: DeConick on the Historical Jesus

    Perrin (p. 57): "DeConick believes that as long as Jesus was present in spirit among his first followers, they felt little compulsion to inquire after the facts of his life." I do not believe this nor have I written this. I wrote (Recovering, p. 249) that the Thomasine Christians understood the historical Jesus to be the charismatic Jesus who lived in their presence. I have said nothing about whether or not they asked after the facts of his life. I am confident that they did, but am also confident that they made no distinction between that person and the one who lived in their presence, just as most practicing Christians today make no such distinction.

    Perrin (p. 57): "She [DeConick] sees the life and ministry of Jesus as having no measurable relevance to Christian beginnings." This is Perrin's voice, not mine. He misappropriates a quotation from my book (Recovering p. 247; Perrin, 57-58) in order to state that I do not think that Jesus of Nazareth mattered. This is Perrin's agenda, and I wish to distance myself from it as far as I possibly can. I, in fact, use the expression "remembering" Jesus to indicate that there was an historical figure whom the Christians were remembering. How accurate those memories were and their later interpretations is another question altogether. It is a given to me that early Christianity is not a religion based on a Jesus Myth, but a real person who said things and did things. I wrote (and Perrin misappropriated) (Recovering, pp. 244-248) that the quest for Christian origins in terms of spontaneous initial diversity is not maintainable from the evidence. Rather Christianity began in Jerusalem and quickly diversified given indigenous conditions. However, I do not find one event or idea as the moment Christianity crystallized. Rather a complex of forces including the teachings of Jesus as they were remembered, the impulse to give meaning to Jesus' death, and religious experience.

    Perrin (p. 66) writes about "DeConick's proposal that Jesus' followers, precisely in their interest as a philosophical school to remain faithful to Jesus, thought up sayings and in good conscience attributed them to Jesus." No citation provided. This is not my position. I never refer to the Thomasine Christians, or any other Christians, as a philosophical school. Nor do I say that they "thought up sayings" to attribute to Jesus. My understanding of the Thomasine Christians is that of a body of faithful Christians living in Edessa, who add to their collection words of the living Jesus whom they believed spoke to them through revelation.

    Perrin (pp. 67-68) offers a hypothetical Lenin analogy as a way to show his readers my understanding of the development of the Jesus traditions. This analogy disregards what interdisciplinary studies have demonstrated to us, and lacks understanding of my argument. When we are dealing with charismatic communities, today's revelation of something Jesus says has no less authority or authenticity than yesterday's or the day before that. There is no disjuncture between Jesus the Prophet and the living presence of his spirit. There is no disregard for what Jesus actually said, as Perrin appears to want his readers to believe is my position.

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    Cautionary Note 2: DeConick on Orality and Literacy

    Yesterday, I posted a caution about the misrepresentation of my work in Nicholas Perrin's new book, Thomas, The Other Gospel. I have already been asked why I think Perrin has done this. I do not know. It may be an honest misreading of my work. I remember a scholar-friend a long time ago telling me that her worst fear in publication was that her work who be misunderstood by others. I never really understood this fear on a personal level until I read Perrin's chapter.

    So my comments here have nothing to do with reviewing his book. I leave that to the journals. My purpose in my next three or four posts is to clear up his errors about my position before they become assumed into the secondary literature.

    My first post will deal with my understanding of orality and literacy, which has been misunderstood by Perrin.

    Perrin (p. 62) states that I understand the composition of the Gospel of Thomas entirely in terms of orality, leaving no room for written sources to enter the text especially at later dates. These are his words, not mine, and there is no citation. I write entirely the opposite (Recovering p. 64):

    "The agglutinative process through which the Gospel of Thomas evolved was a process within the oral registry. The traditions were not mainly developed by a redactor with a pen in hand. Rather, oral and written traditions which they collected were gathered and adapted mainly in the process of the oral performance and recreation of the words of Jesus over the entire life of the community."

    Perrin (p. 63): "Our author's [DeConick's] position that the earliest post-Easter community had little more use for scrolls than they did for doorstops in the end seems to rely rather heavily on unsubstantiated and largely theoretical assumptions." This is Perrin's hyperbole, his own language, and his own conclusion which he attributes to me without citation. This is exactly the opposite the position I lay out in Recovering, where I describe the ancient Christian world in terms of a rhetorical culture, one engaged in writing but priviledged by an oral consciousness (Recovering, pp. 24-37). I write (pp. 31-32):

    "The writing down of traditions in cultures dominated by orality is of enormous significance because it marks either the point of loss of the 'communicative memory,' the 'eyewitness' or 'living' memory, through the death of the actual people involved in the formation and emergence of the group, or a moment of historical crisis or upheaval. Under these conditions, communities relying heavily on oral consciousness are confronted with the potential loss of their memories. So they will turn to writing as a way to ensure the survival of the traditions and to provide meaning to their past, reconnecting with it amidst drastically changing historical circumstances...In the formative years of early Christianity, there was great fluidity between oral performances and texts so that traditions moved in and out of these contexts while always being subject to the effects of oral consciousness...The model we should be operating from is that of an oral-literatecontinuum where there is a great interaction between orality and literacy."

    Perrin (p. 65): "according to DeConick, the Thomas community orally perpetuated its memory of Jesus for a century or so" but no citation. This is not my position which is clearly laid out several times in Recovering. So I will state it again. Thomas began as a written Kernel, a notebook of speeches. This text was used by orators to preach and instruct, and so it moved into the oral environment where it was adapted each time it was performed. It was a text that moved in and out of oral and written environments. I write (pp. 62-63):

    "We can imagine that the developing traditions were rescribed at crucial moments in the history of the community when members feared the loss of their traditions or when pressure within the group demanded significant reinterpretation." This process lasted for 60 to 70 years.

    Perrin (p. 59) misappropriates a quotation from Recovering (p. 57). In reference to Papias and Luke, I suggest that the Christians were more confident relying on their own memories than copying written sources because they could ask questions of the witnesses (such as we do today in a court of law). Perrin says that I mean by this that Christians who never came within a hundred feet of Jesus were oblivious to the weight of eyewitness testimony (Perrin, pp. 59-60). These are not my words, nor are they my meaning. What I write is that Papias and Luke knew other written sources, but make a point that they prefer oral testimony from people they know for veracity's sake.

    Perrin (p. 61): DeConick has reduced "the Jesus tradition into catechetical speeches" and this "necessitates the assumption that those who preserved Jesus' memory, while duly impressed with at least some of his words, found nothing about his life or actions worth remembering. And if it is really the case that the memory of Jesus was preserved only in speeches, if remains for DeConick to explain why the Thomas community only preserved the words of Jesus but the canonical gospel writers attributed to Jesus both words and actions." Perrin offers no citation to my work, This not a position I ever entertain let alone maintain. Recovering is an investigation of the Gospel of Thomas, which suggests that this text started as a speech collection. I never state that the early Christians were only interested in the sayings of Jesus. In fact, I think that the narrative tradition is just as early, and this is one of the reasons in my methodology chapter that I include a discussion of the referential horizon (pp. 8-10). The sayings, when orated, would have evoked a bigger story or narrative complex for the audience.

    Perrin (p. 61): "She [DeConick] does not clarify how and why such speeches eventually gave rise to the narrative gospels." I cannot clarify something that I do not address in my book. Recovering is not a book about how speech gospels became narrative gospels. It is a book attempting to understand a particular case - the compositional history of the Gospel of Thomas. For what it might be worth, in fact, I don't think that speech gospels turned into narrative gospels at all. I think that speech gospels rose alongside oral narrative cycles, cycles that evidently led to Mark. Speech gospels like the Kernel or Q later were incorporated into the narrative gospels, as is the case with Matthew and Luke. But the speech gospel did not generate the narrative gospel as Perrin leads his readers to think is my position.

    Tomorrow I will post on my position about the historical Jesus.

    Saturday, May 19, 2007

    Cautionary Note 1: Nick Perrin, Thomas, The Other Gospel

    Over on Euangelion, Michael Bird posted on Nick Perrin's new book, Thomas, The Other Gospel. I too have seen this book, and since my work is one of the main books that Perrin interacts with, I send out a caution to those who read his book.

    My work (Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas) has been grossly misappropriated and misrepresented by Perrin. His descriptions of what I say are not accurate or trustworthy. I wish to distance myself as much as I possibly can from his complete disregard for my actual speech. I have never before found myself in the awkward position of reading someone's else's work and wondering why the author found it necessary to so thoroughly misrepresent my actual speech, putting words and positions into my mouth that I have never and would never hold.

    I do know that my compositional hypothesis makes his (dependence on Tatian) untenable, as do Stephen Patterson's and Elaine Pagel's own hypotheses which he also critiques. But I find highly unusual and unprofessional the way in which Perrin attempts to critique my work, by critiquing his own caricature of my work rather than the work itself.

    I am considering, over the next few days, posting all details, because I want to immediately set the record straight and provide some distance between his bizarre rhetoric and my actual positions.

    Update: see now
    Nick Perrin's response
    Mark Goodacre's review

    Friends of Near Eastern Studies Lecture

    I am in Michigan today with my son Alexander. We flew into Detroit yesterday. Margorie Fisher invited me to give a lecture on the Gospel of Judas as a benefit for the Near Eastern Studies department at the University of Michigan. Since this is the program from which I graduated, I was enthusiastic to take part. The lecture was followed by a wonderful dinner hosted by Dr. Fisher. Thank you to all who helped make this evening so memorable.

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Expository Times producing an important series of books

    Paul Foster just mentioned to me that last year's articles on the apostolic fathers published in Expository Times 117, have been put into a book. It is available for under $30 from Continuum. This is fantastic, especially for purposes of teaching.

    He also mentioned that it is possible that the other gospel articles from Expository Times 118 (I mentioned them in yesterday's post) will be collected into a similar volume with a few extra entries. What a great idea!

    Here is the table of contents for the apostolic fathers edition:
    Apostolic Fathers and the Struggle for Christian Identity (Helmut Koester)
    The Didache (Jonathon Draper)
    1 Clement (Andrew Gregory)
    2 Clement (Paul Parvis)
    Fragments of Papias (Charles Hill)
    The Apology of Quadratus (Paul Foster)
    The Shepherd of Hermas (Joseph Verheyden)
    The Epistle of Barnabas (James Carleton Paget)
    The Epistles of Ignatius (Paul Foster)
    The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (Michael Holmes)
    The Martyrdom of Polycarp (Sara Parvis)
    The Epistle to Diognetus (Paul Foster)

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Top Four Frustrations About Academic Writing

    I'd like to join the blog discussion about academic writing. What frustrates me most as a writer and as a reader:

    1. When an author has forgotten who the audience is. It is not so much that technical language should be avoided (or long sentences, or complicated strings of words), but that it should be avoided when writing for certain audiences. So what should be first on our minds when writing is our audience. The language and sentence structure should support that. This doesn't mean that we should over-complicate things though. I must admit that I dislike reading most philosophical writers because I hate to muddle through the language.

    2. When an author has misappropriated quotations, misunderstood a person's work, or put words in a person's mouth that are not that person's words or thoughts at all. We should be very concerned about fair use and honest representation of another person's work. It is my personal opinion that we all must be more careful when we write that so-and-so thinks/believes/says something. Does that person really think/believe/say this, or are we as authors creating a position for another person that is not really his or her own, in order to push our own agenda?

    3. When an author casts his or her criticism as polemic. If you won't say something face to face to a person, or in a public venue with the person sitting there, you shouldn't say it in writing. Mark Goodacre's advice is seconded here.

    4. When I finish reading an article or a book chapter and I have to stop and figure out what it was about or why what I read was important. It is up to the author to tell the reader this very clearly, in the opening and closing of the piece, and often in between. I always ask my students, undergraduate and graduate, to boldface their theses. Why? So that they make sure that they have one!

    Other blogs in this discussion:
    Mark Goodacre
    Loren Rossen
    Angela Erisman

    New Series on the Other Gospels in Expository Times

    I want to draw your attention to a fantastic new series that Expository Times is publishing on the extracanonical gospels. These articles are written to present coherent accessible summaries of these gospels - the history of their interpretation, their provenance, and their meaning. Bibliographies of some of the major works are included at the end of each article.

    I highly recommend these articles as a starting place if you are looking for information about any of these texts. They will make very good readings for classes, if you teach any of these gospels in your curriculum (whether university or church).

    I plan to order hard copies of the journal for my personal library, but you can access this journal on-line. If your university has a subscription to the journal, you can print out a copy from your computer. If not, you can purchase individual articles on the website and print them from your computer.

    My thanks to the editor, Paul Foster, who kindly sent me the details about the articles.

    Expository Times 118 (2007)
    Feb Gospel of Judas Simon Gathercole (Aberdeen) Exp Times 118.5 pp 209-215
    Mar Papyrus Egerton 2 Tobias Nicklas (Nijmegen) Exp Times 118.6 pp 261-266
    Apr Gospel of Peter Paul Foster (Edinburgh) Exp Times 118.7 pp 318-325
    May Gospel of Mary Christopher Tuckett (Oxford) Exp Times 118.8 pp 365-371
    Jun Gospel of Philip Paul Foster (Edinburgh) Exp Times 118.9 pp 417-427
    July Gospel of Thomas April DeConick (Rice) Exp Times 118.10 pp. 469-479
    Aug Jewish Christian Gospels Andrew Gregory (Oxford) ExpTimes 118.11
    Sept Protevangelium of James Paul Foster (Edinburgh) Exp Times 118.12

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Book Note: Das Thomas-Evangelium. Einleitung - Zur Frage des historischen Jesus - Kommentierung aller 114 Logien (Reinhard Nordsieck)

    I received a wonderful gift in the mail yesterday. Mr. Nordsieck kindly sent me a copy of his new book, a commentary on the Gospel of Thomas. The publication of my own two volumes on Thomas occurred simultaneously, so we did not know about each other's take on the Gospel.

    Mr. Nordsieck relies heavily on redaction-, form-, and tradition-criticism and argues against the current in German scholarship to perceive the Gospel of Thomas as a Gnostic text. He thinks that the text represents a form of Jewish Christianity. He also says that the Gospel of Thomas potentially can tell us about the historical Jesus, and should not be dismissed in these discussions. In fact, he doesn't think that a good reconstruction of the historical Jesus or New Testament theology is possible without reference to Thomas.

    His book starts with a bibliographical introduction (27 pages), a short discussion of the historical Jesus (8 pages), and ends with a substantial saying-by-saying commentary (361 pages).

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Call for Theses

    Each Monday, I am going to put out a Call for Theses. I will begin archiving them on my sidebar by the author's name under the heading NEW THESES. This is an opportunity for graduate students to begin to become connected to ideas and texts in the public sphere (that is, beyond your university).

    So if you have finished an M.A., Ph.D., or Th.D. thesis recently and would like some exposure, reply to this post in the comments with:

    Name of Thesis
    Date of Acceptance or Defense
    University Affiliation
    Brief Abstract (500 words)
    Personal Comment (if any)

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    Happy Mother's Day

    Here is a memory of the earliest Trinity in Christianity, before the Holy Spirit, the Mother, was neutered.

    From the Apocryphon of John (ca. 125-150 CE)
    Jesus said to me, "John, John, why do you doubt, or why are you afraid? You are not unfamiliar with this image, are you? - that is, do not be timid! - I am the one who is with you (pl.) always. I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son. I am the undefiled and incorruptible one."

    Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Book Note: The Misunderstood Jew (A.J. Levine)

    Most of you are probably already aware of Amy-Jill Levine's book, The Misunderstood Jew, published in 2006. But as always I am behind, and the book just arrived today, so this is my first glance at it. It reflects that call for a Jewish Jesus that I have been harping about lately, so I thought I would post a few lines from Levine's book that jumped out at me (perhaps because they sound similar to my own voice in my classroom). I recommend the book, especially in terms of helping to negotitate interfaith dialogue between Jewish and Christian communities. But the book also has a lot to contribute in terms of re-evaluating biblical scholarship which has largely been an enterprise influenced, and even controlled, by the Christian perspective.

    Selections from Levine's book
    "Recognize that Jewish sources and Christian sources both contain ugly, misogynistic, intolerant, and hateful material" (p. 216).

    "Avoid comments that create the picture of a Jesus divorced from his own people. Jesus is not speaking against Jews and Judaism; he is speaking to Jews from within Judaism. However, also recognize that his words, put into the literary context of the Gospels and then put into the canon of the New Testament, may well take on problematic connotations" (pp. 216-217).

    "Recognize that history is a messy business, and religious competition makes it even messier. The Gospels are products of this process. They are not objective reports; rather, they are the stories passed down from the eyewitnesses to the later followers. The Gospel writers adapted the received traditions to fit the needs of their congregrations, just as priests and pastors adapt the stories of the New Testament to address congregrational concerns today" (p. 217).

    "As the church grew increasingly gentile, the Jewish followers of Jesus became a minority, and their practices eventually marked them as heretics" (p. 218).

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    More About the Kernel Thomas

    Mark Goodacre has posted a series of fabulous questions about the Kernel Thomas that I would like to respond to in this post.

    Mark Goodacre
    In what way is "Kernel Thomas" appropriately labelled Kernel Thomas? In other words, what is it about this hypothetical collection of sayings that makes it Thomasine? The character Thomas appears in the Incipit and Logion 13, but both of these are among DeConick's accretions. Looking at the character of the accretions, it is also clear that Kernel Thomas is a different kind of entity from the Gospel of Thomas, which focuses the question further.
    My response
    I use the expression Kernel Thomas only in practical terms, to refer to that text which became the Gospel of Thomas. It is not used by me to indicate a theological orientation that we call "Thomasine." By the way, I do not understand the Thomasine theological orientation to be unique or derivative of a church who only uses the Gospel of Thomas. The theology represents early Syrian Christianity, and is most likely associated with Edessian Christians. They did not just produce the Gospel of Thomas, or know only it. They produced and knew many other pieces of early Christian literature including other gospels.
    Mark Goodacre
    How do we know that the author or community producing the Gospel of Thomas was directly continuous with the author or community who used Kernel Thomas as their storage site for Jesus' sayings? Could it be that the Gospel of Thomas author or community had no direct relationship with the author or community behind Kernel Thomas?
    My response
    My analysis of the content of the earliest sayings, the Kernel, suggests to me that the Kernel came from the Jerusalem mission. I don't ever argue for a continuity of communities - that the Kernel and the Gospel of Thomas were created by the same group of people. The Kernel looks to me to have been produced in Jerusalem. Somehow it got to Edessa. I think this most likely happened as the result of mission work from Jerusalem, but there may be other possibilities. The Christians in Edessa develop the text. The text reflects shifts in Christianity there, so it reflects an ever-changing community of Christians and the issues that they faced. This is what I mean by dynamic growth. One group of people have not controlled everything that happened to this text. Even within the Thomasine (or better?: Edessian) community there were shifts and changes in membership and orientation. I tried to get this across in terms of the gradual accrual of the accretions, and the shift in hermeneutics that I see taking place in this accretive material.
    Mark Goodacre
    Is Kernel Thomas the core of the Gospel of Thomas in the same way that the Gospel of Mark is the core of the Gospel of Matthew? Or to put it another way, would we be content with thinking of the Gospel of Mark as "Kernel Matthew"?
    My response
    I rather like this comparison, although I would be afraid that the analogy would be taken too far by other scholars, especially in terms of what the consensus view is about the composition of Matthew as a literary assimilation and redaction of written sources. This is exactly the model of production that I am arguing against. My model is one in which oral consciousness dominated the production - which is not the same thing as saying that I think its creation relied solely on oral sources or orality. This would be a total misunderstanding of my position. I argue quite loudly for a rhetorical model, for an organic process of written and oral texts moving in and out of oration, and for the setting down of what was significant in writing so that it could be preserved.

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    The Proof is in the Pudding

    John Shuck's comments on several of the method posts has generated some more thought on my part. When it comes right down to it, how is it that we evaluate methodology if as Paula Fredrikson insightfully says, "Once method determines our perspective on our sources, how we see is really what we get" (p. 7 of Jesus of Nazareth)?

    To use an old proverb, "The proof is in the pudding." This is really a shortened version of the even older proverb, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." What both mean is that the true value or quality of something can only be judged when it is put to use. When we use the phrase, we mean something like "the results are what count."

    When I think of this in terms of the historical Jesus, or my own work on the Gospel of Thomas, what this means is that a methodology has done its job well if the results make sense given everything else we know about Second Temple religiosity and the formation of early Christianity. For me, this means that if Jesus doesn't look Jewish, then there is probably a problem with the method, and it needs to be adjusted.

    In terms of the Gospel of Thomas, if my method yields information about the text and its theology that is in accord with what we can know about other early Christian texts and their theologies, then my method has done a satisfactory job.

    It is like my algebra teacher in high school used to tell us. If your answer looks off, you probably made a mistake.

    Article Note: "The Gospel of Judas" (Simon Gathercole)

    There was released in the February edition of Expository Times [118 (2007) 209-215]
    a summary article of the Gospel of Judas by Simon Gathercole. Gathercole has a book in press with Oxford on this subject as well.

    Abstract from the article (p. 209)
    "This article gives a brief account of the literature already produced on the recently published Gospel of Judas, and of the manuscript's character and contents. A discussion of the work's historical and theological relevance shows that while this new 'Gospel' does not provide any reliable information about the historical figures of Jesus and Judas, it does nevertheless afford a fascinating glimpse into the conflicts between Christianity and Gnosticism in the second century."
    Gathercole maintains the interpretative trajectory of the National Geographic Team and Bart Ehrman, although he appears to me to add a new nuance. Judas' sacrificial act is explained as the opposite of the horrible sacrifices of the other disciples, because Judas shows himself to be "a true priest of the Great Invisible Spirit" (p. 212).

    This is another bibliographical reference to add to those I started in another post. This position is the opposite my own which will be released in October in Europe, and in December in North America.

    Wednesday, May 9, 2007

    What is the Kernel Thomas?

    I have been discussing the Kernel Thomas with my students this semester and also with some of my readers. The feedback I have been getting has been quite fascinating, but there has also been the tendency for some to simplify my hypothesis in such a manner that I cannot support.

    The Kernel Thomas is a name that I use to indicate the earliest material in the Gospel of Thomas. I suggest that this early material was an early collection of sayings in a speech format and that it was used by the Thomasine Christians as a storage cite for Jesus' sayings. Preachers and teachers used it as a platform for their orations. However, as I write on page 113 of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas:
    "My translation and analysis, in this monograph and in the companion volume The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, should not be mistaken to suggest that I understand the Kernel sayings I have isolated to be a complete coherent document."
    Accretions is the name I use to indicate later material in the Gospel of Thomas, material that accrued due to a range of forces that impacted early Christianity generally (as we can see from other early Christian writings) and specifically for this community of Christians living in Edessa.

    I resist describing this text in terms of layering and stages and phases. If my work is described or deconstructed as such by others, it is not representative of my position. I am arguing the opposite position, that this text was created in a dynamic and organic environment. For the sake of convenience only, I included in Recovering a chart to show how and when I understand the accretions to have come into the Gospel of Thomas (pp. 97-98). But I label the chart "Gradual Accural of Logia," and I introduce the chart by writing:
    "The chart should not be read as representing three stages of 'redaction' (literary or oral) of Thomas. Such a reading would represent a complete misunderstanding of my argument. The accrual occurred mainly within the field of oral performance and was gradual."
    The goal of my method was simple: to identify the later material, the accretions. I worked conservatively, and I worked backwards, beginning with the identification of the sayings I was 100% convinced were secondary.

    Once I did this, I could examine the earlier material to see what it generally looked like, and to analyze how it had been reinterpreted by the accretive material which had their own concerns and hermeneutics.

    What I found was quite similar to what had happened to earlier traditions in other late first and early second century literature - the early apocalyptic material had been reinterpreted to handle the fact that the End did not come as had been expected; the Jewish material had been reinterpreted under the pressure of Gentile concerns; the understanding of Jesus shifted from that of a Prophet and the coming Angel of Judgment, to Yahweh incarnate; an encratic lifestyle developed; and so forth.

    If you wish for a straightforward summary of my hypothesis, I have written one for Expository Times. I believe is comes out in June or July.

    Update 5-10-07: other posts on other blogs (with my comment)
    Mark Goodacre

    Tuesday, May 8, 2007

    Sympathy and Empathy

    Phil has asked me in one of the comments on a Gnosticism post to explain the difference between sympathy and empathy. This distinction is very important for scholars of religious studies, and helps curb not only apologetic tendencies, but also claims that anything outside our sympathies is our opposite or opponent.

    As a historian of religion, I maintain the position that it is essential to be empathetic toward that which we study, but not sympathetic. Sympathy is defined as "fellow feeling," it is the sharing of emotion, interest, and desire. sun is Greek for "together with" while pathos is Greek for "feeling."

    Empathy is defined as "intellectual" understanding, it is an appreciation of the Other without being the Other. en is Greek for "in" while pathos is Greek for "feeling."

    Sympathy means that one shares his/her identity with those being studied. The researcher is emotionally connected to his/her subject, and therefore unable to maintain enough of a distance from the subject to be able to critically study it. Sympathy also causes trouble for the researcher when s/he wishes to study the Other, because the Other looks very different. When this happens, the Other often is characterized by the researcher as bad, evil, silly, scary, even crazy. Why? Because his/her sympathy for the one thing makes it difficult to understand the Other without doing so in terms of the heretic, the lunatic, or the devil.

    Too often this is how the study of Gnosticism is approached by those in the Academy. I can not tell you the number of times scholars have come up to me and said, "Oh you study those crazy texts." "Why do you bother? They were loonies anyway." Or how often Gnosticism is characterized in writing as totally foreign, heretical, that they thought the body is totally negative and that this world is a nasty place. First this is a caricature of the Gnostics; it is not what they actually say. Second the same caricature can be made of the early apostolic or mainstream Christians who for the most part hated the body and sex, and tried to escape the fate of the world and its demons through baptism. Hence the strong traditions of martyrdom and erasure of the body (have you ever really read Ignatius' letter to the Romans?) and monasticism (the deprived and starved body was the exalted heavenly body!). I could go on at length, but won't given the need for brevity in blogs.

    Empathy, however, allows the researcher to appreciate his/her subject, in an attempt to understand the subject for the subject's sake. There is an attempt to try to figure out how the subject works from the outside in. The goal is to understand the subject fairly, without personally becoming the subject. This means for the Gnostics that they are treated with respect, their positions are mapped as accurately as they can be, so that their voices can become part of the conversation that was early Christianity. Once this is done, we will learn a lot more than we now know. The inclusion of their voices will benefit the whole. But this can only be accomplished with empathy.

    Methodology Query

    David asked me in the comments on the last post, to highlight a couple of books that I like on methodology, and to ask the rest of you for suggestions as well. What a good idea. Please include your favorites in the comments, and I will move them to the main post.

    My personal favorites
    Favorite methodological study
    • Rudolph Bultmann, "What is Form Criticism?" in R. Bultmann and K. Kundsin, Form Criticism: Two Essays on New Testament Research (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1934/1962).
    Favorite overviews
    • The series put out by Fortress Press, "What is ...?"
    • John Hayes and Carl Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook (Atlanta: John Knox, revised edition1987).
    Favorite methods to use
    • New Tradition-Historical Criticism
    • Interdisciplinary methods, particularly from Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology
    • Oral-Rhetorical methods
    A Favorite quote about method
    • Paula Fredriksen in Jesus of Nazareth (p. 7): "Once method determines our perspective on our sources, how we see is really what we get."

    Monday, May 7, 2007

    Methodology and Academic Integrity

    As I grade book reviews on the subject of the historical Jesus, method is on my mind. Well, method is always on my mind, but particularly so this afternoon. I see in the papers my students have written references to scholarly review after scholarly review of the books they have read, reviews in which book after book is damned if it did and damned if it didn't. If the author has a method, s/he is criticized for creating it in such a way that the Jesus s/he wants to emerge really emerges from the texts. If the author doesn't have a method, s/he is criticized for not having a method, which allows for the Jesus s/he wants to emerge really emerging from the texts.

    It is a quandrey, to have a method or not. Since the criticism from scholarly opponents is the same, it's far easier not to have a method. So should we give it up?

    I don't think so. Ease is not at issue. Nor do I think that the criticism lodged against those who implement method is necessarily fair. What is at issue is that the scholar's thinking be visible, consistent as possible, reasonable given the evidence, verifiable by other scholars, and controlled so that the amount of subjectivity that creeps in is minimalized. For me this means that a well-thought out method must be put into place, and perhaps the Jesus that emerges doesn't so much look like the author as he looks like the author's interpretation of the evidence. In other words, I wonder if I were to take the same evidence, put it through Crossan's method, and write it up in a book, would my Jesus be the same as Crossan's? There would be strong resemblances, I'm sure, but there would be differences too. My categories and language would be different. Jesus would emerge in the language of my own interpretation.

    This musing has set me to thinking about my own application of method to the Gospel of Thomas in Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. Now that my book has been "out there" for a couple of years, I see this same stock criticism emerging among my own detractors. Does my method lead us where I want us to go?

    My response is this. I put my method into place to maintain academic integrity and minimalize subjectivity. However, this does not mean that my method is without interpretation. It is not just a bunch of data gained through a questionnaire survey or poll. It is a careful method developed to explain the compositional history of the Gospel of Thomas, which I understand to be that of a rolling corpus (which I argue makes the most sense given what we know about the oral-rhetorical culture of the ancient people).

    Given the theoretical model that the Gospel of Thomas began as a smaller collection of sayings that expanded over time, how might we go about separating the earlier sayings from the later? Using a conservative and cautious approach, I began by identifying only those units in the Gospel of Thomas that I was 100% convinced represented secondary development. These units were sayings that had been given contexts (dialogues, question-and-answer units) and interpretative clauses (tacked onto an older saying usually at the end). These questions and interpretative clauses are clearly secondary to the saying, not only in terms of retrospective content, but also because versions of the same sayings circulated in other imaginary contexts without the interpretative clauses in early Christian literature. It is also helpful that these secondary units appealed to issues of late first and early second century Christianity, and appeared to be adapting an earlier saying to a later hermeneutic.

    So I conservatively worked backwards. When I examined these secondary units as a whole, and I made a strictly literary-critical analysis of them, I noted consistency across them in terms of characteristic vocabulary and themes. How did I identify these items? The items I identified had to be characteristic of the Gospel of Thomas, not simply plain language similarities or terminology common to many other early Christian sources of Jesus' sayings (like the words "God," or "inside," or "blessed are," etc.). More importantly, the mere presence of a word or phrase or theme was not enough. To identify characteristic terminology or themes on this basis would be nothing more than parallelmania. So their identification was bound up for me with explicit references to the pattern of their usage. For instance, the word "living" was identified as characteristic in the sense that it is used as a Name of God and as a cognate designation for the believer.

    Someone has asked me why didn't I identify "rest" as one of those characteristics since it emerges in the secondary sayings 50.3, 51.1, and 60.6? All of them appear to refer to some kind of final state of rest for the soul, although 50.3 is coupled with "movement" while the other two are not. In the case of 51.1, it appeared to me that the Greek anapausis probably was a scribal shift, originally reading anastasis "resurrection of the dead" rather than "rest of the dead." So I was concerned that the usage of the word "rest" was not consistent. In addition, the only saying in the Kernel that also has anapausis is 90.2, and this saying clearly uses the word to refer to relaxation from labor, not a final eschatological state. By the way, 61.1 and 86.2 also translate "rest" but this is not from anapausis, but the Coptic emton which in both of these cases refers to sleep.

    At any rate, this post is getting far too long. My point is this. Method is necessary to maintain academic integrity. But this does not mean that method is not an interpretative process, and it is this interpretative nature of method that provides us with a variety of understandings of our texts.

    If there is interest, I will post more on this subject in the future.

    Sunday, May 6, 2007

    Bauckham on Vridar

    Over on Vridar, Neil Godfrey writes a post that cuts to the chase of the main problem with Bauckham's new thesis about eyewitness testimony. Thanks to Mr. Godfrey for his comment.

    Saturday, May 5, 2007

    No more limbo! Is this heresy?

    As I was sitting with my husband Wade and son Alexander eating breakfast at the outdoor French bakery across the street, I noticed in the morning newspaper that the Catholic leadership has decided that limbo isn't necessarily where unbaptised babies go when they die. There are good reasons to believe instead that the child will go to heaven to be with God instead because God is merciful. This is a "prayerful hope" they say, "but not grounds for sure knowledge." The Pope when he was a Cardinal said that he would abandon limbo since it was only a theological hypothesis.

    I am glad to see this small step to bring Catholicism into the modern period theologically, especially for all those parents who have lost children through miscarriage and still births. Maybe now their babies can be buried in consecrated ground? At least this will bring relief to some.

    It doesn't surprise me however, that the reaction of Catholics to this is divided. The Houston Chronicle reported that a columnist named Kenneth Wolfe from the Remnant, a Catholic newspaper, said that the Vatican is suggesting that salvation is possible without baptism and that this is heresy. But what really seems to be at stake is the Church's position on abortion. There is the fear that this position will be weakened because it was always taught that the aborted child would go to limbo, not heaven.

    So there we go. It is a modern heresy to say that an unbaptised child might go to live with God in heaven because God has compassion. Why? Not for any sins that s/he might have committed, but because of the stain of original sin. Thank you Augustine and all those men who have never born a child from their womb.

    Update 5-7-07: Gdelassu provides this link to the official Catholic declaration.

    Friday, May 4, 2007

    Bon Voyage to Judy Redman

    I can't believe it, but Judy's time at Rice has come to an end already. She is headed back to Australia this weekend. I am very pleased with the progress she has made on her dissertation (examining the Kingdom parables in the Gospel of Thomas). She has been hard at work on her chapter on method and approach, which is quite evident from her own blog where she has been posting about her progress. Her visit to Rice has been mutually fruitful, since she also helped me edit a couple of my own pieces. And I have gained much from our conversations about the Gospel of Thomas and other subjects. She tells me that she will be working on her project for several more years. So I wish her the very best in that process, and hope that she finds as much joy in writing as I do. Farewell!

    Update 5-5-07: For Judy's own farewell see her own post.

    Is Gnosticism a dangerous error?

    Mark Goodacre has pointed out a review on two books on the Gospel of Judas (Ehrman and Wright) written by Robin Griffith-Jones. What surprised me about the otherwise historically-sensitive and critical review was the last paragraph where Griffith-Jones writes,
    Gnosticism is a dangerous error and must be fought — on that Dr Wright and I are at one. But such a campaign must surely do more than satisfy the hawks at home; and, regretfully, I am not sure that with this book Dr Wright will win over the hearts and minds of those he hopes to liberate.
    Why is Gnosticism considered a dangerous error that must be fought? This is certainly not the position of a historian of religion, but appears to represent the sentiments of some theologians today. But even from the position of contemporary theology I have a difficult time understanding why Gnosticism is so threatening. In fact, I think that Christianity today might benefit from listening again to the Gnostic voices which have so much to say about spirituality.

    Thursday, May 3, 2007

    Canonism and Anti-Apocrypha Apologetic

    Tony Chartrand-Burke of Apocryphicity has raised some very good questions in a book review of Ben Witherington's release What Have They Done With Jesus: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (San Francisco: Harper, 2006). Thank you for this post!

    Professor Chartrand-Burke points to several assumptions that mark this book, the dominant one being the common apologetic attitude that the New Testament texts report the truth and anything that does not agree with these texts is erroneous and/or heretical. This position cannot be maintained academically anymore, at least in terms of historical integrity. Like the dissimilarity principle, it has to go. It is dishonest historically and is nothing less than Christian apology declaring itself history.

    The other major assumption is that orthodoxy and heresy were actual borders, instead of inventions of the mid- and late second century Church Fathers. To accept the boundaries that one group created to control the Christian landscape as historical boundaries (rather than polemical boundaries) shows very little understanding of the process of normation. Orthodoxy and heresy, I like to say, are only relative terms. One cannot exist without reference to the other. And who is orthodox and who is heretical depends only upon where you are standing. Let us never forget that Valentinus was lauded as a bible genius even by Tertullian who hated him, and he was only narrowly defeated in the mid-second century election for Bishop of Rome.

    Back to Professor Chartrand-Burke's analysis, I appreciate his concluding remarks:
    The aim of this post and the larger study of the anti-CA apologetics is not attack to Witherington and his ilk but to bring attention to their technique. What aspects of the texts and the scholarship do they find objectionable? Are they motivated purely by the desire to present history accurately? or are they concerned more about defending Christianity from what they perceive as a demonic attack on its integrity? Are they honest in their assessments of the material? or are they trying to sway the opinion of their readers by intentional deception? In the end I would hope that readers would place more stock in scholarship that holds itself to a high standard of intellectual honesty rather than apologetics that sacrifices honesty in its rush to rescue Christianity from its critics.
    Again, thanks for giving us these questions to consider.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007

    What is your thesis?

    Are you finishing your MA or PhD or ThD thesis this semester? If so, share the news in the comments. Don't be shy. Share your joy with the rest of us and let us know what your academic passion has been (or: is)!

    Please include your name, the title, the university, the advisor, and a brief description.
    Trey Gilliam,
    "The Gospel of Mark and The Gospel of John: Complementary Christological Compositions"

    M.A. thesis at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Under the supervision of Dr. James Tabor.
    I am on my way to the University of Edinburgh to write a PhD dissertation under the supervision of Prof. Larry Hurtado.

    Abstract. The scholarly consensus holds that the Christology of the Gospel of Mark is fundamentally different from the Christology of the Gospel of John. This thesis argues against that consensus. I argue that the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John contain complementary Christological compositions. My argument falls within a larger Christological debate. This debate is: when and how did early Christians come to reverence Jesus as divine and worthy of worship alongside God? My thesis builds on the work of Larry Hurtado and other scholars who contend that the understanding of Jesus as a divine figure who is to receive the worship of the gathered community developed within the earliest phases of the burgeoning Christian movement. My goal is to strike the same point with the earliest Christian narratives – the New Testament Gospels – that Hurtado and others have struck with the even earlier Pauline letters. In other words, I demonstrate that there is no major Christological evolutionary development between Mark’s gospel (dated sometime around 70 C.E.) and John’s gospel (dated sometime around 90-100 C.E.). After making this demonstration, I then ask: if the presentation of Jesus in Mark’s gospel and John’s gospel is complementary then why do many scholars continue to view John’s Christology as significantly more exalted than Mark’s Christology? I show how this manner of reading John’s gospel developed during the debates surrounding the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. I contend that this legacy of Nicaea continues in modern scholarship.
    Update 5-1-07: I began moving the descriptions from the comments to the main blog.