Saturday, June 28, 2008

Teaching About Islam in Public Schools: The Friendswood Incident

The Houston controversy about an incident at Friendswood Junior High where the principal Robin Lowe allowed a special event to take place to teach students about Islam has taken a new turn. Ms. Lowe responded to an incident in her school when a Muslim student was dumped head first into a trash can by holding a forum in the gym to teach students about the rudimentaries of Islam. Enough parents went berserk that she was removed from her position and put into central administration. I wrote earlier about this incident and my views about religious illiteracy in America. The blog entry is HERE <<<

Well today the Houston Chronicle reported that Ms. Lowe has taken a new job as principal of Pershing Junior High in Houston, which just happens to be the Junior High that my son is zoned to once he finishes grade school. I couldn't be more thrilled to think that we in this area of Houston got so lucky to have this forward-thinking woman as the principal of our school.

At the same time I am appalled at the response of David Welch, the executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, who was the one who called for her ouster as principal of Friendswood in the first place. It is reported in the newspaper that he said, "While we are encouraged that she's no longer the principal at Friendswood Junior High, we hope that she has learned from this experience and will be cautious and follow school policies appropriately this time." To remove her from her job, he used the argument that she didn't notify parents before the event so that they could remove their children. Was this used as an excuse by a Christian constituency to control public education for what they understand to be their own benefit?

For the record, Ms. Lowe did not break any school policies. Texas State law does not require written parental permission or notification before potentially controversial lessons. I completely support what she did, and I hope that she learned form this just how important it is to educate our youth about other religions. Please keep it up!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-27-08

Be watchful over your life. Never let your lamps go out or your loins be ungirded, but keep yourselves always in readiness. For you can never be sure the hour when the Lord may be coming.

Didache 16.1 (ca. 90-100 CE)

Commentary: This old text is an early Christian handbook that contains traditions about as old as any we can recover from surviving Christian documents. The first Christians were very millenarian.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Finishing the Male-Female Apocryphote Series

On 6-3-08, I started a series of apocryphotes that were related to saying 22 in the Gospel of Thomas. I have been trying to post a new one each day (minus the weekends). I finished yesterday.

What have we learned? That versions of this saying were very popular, going back to our oldest extant source - the letters of Paul. It was well-known probably because it was part of the early baptismal liturgy in Antioch and probably also in Jerusalem. Most of the sources where we find versions of it preserved are from Syria, and even more, eastern Syria. Hermeneutically it was connected to Genesis 1-5, and rectifying the separation of the androgynous man into male and female beings. Either celibacy (Syrian encratites) or marriage (Valentinian Gnostics) were thought to restore, in practical terms, the primal androgynous man.

Hermeneutically this saying also became intertwined with bits of other Jesus sayings, particularly those in which he spoke of the coming together of opposites like the inside and the outside, the right and the left, and the above and the below. All of these bits meant to explain how the primal human could be restored. So we also see bits about a new man or a new creature being formed, eyes in place of eyes, hand in place of hand, and foot in place of foot. The image of little children amalgamates because the person is being rebirthed and is again a child in the Garden. These sayings, along with their early hermetic equivalents, become very important for the later Hermetic and Alchemical movements which were all about the birthing or transformation of materials into some perfected or divine substance.

How difficult it becomes to speak of intertextuality and literary dependence. The model I prefer is that of intertraditions, where these ideas and practices are a well-known part of the Christian landscape, and they erupt in the literature not because one person is copying from another person, but because our authors are part of this common landscape. The sayings of Jesus remain important jumping off points hermeneutically. But not any hermeneutic was permitted. The hermeneutic had to make sense to the already existing landscape, and what was already known to be true about that particular saying. Bits and pieces of other saying were intertwined from memory, as the person worked to explain and teach within this landscape.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-26-08

Jesus said, "You are the lamp that illuminates the world."

Gospel of the Savior 97.20-22 (mid-second century gospel, probably Syrian provenance)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-24-08

"If two of you gather together": the "two" are the interior man and the exterior man which unite in observance of precepts...For the inside man is not different from the outside, nor the outside from the inside.

The Book of Steps (Liber Graduum) 792.17-22, 253.23-25 (fourth century Syrian handbook)

Woodcut in M. Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, 1617, Emblem 1: Pregnant man going through alchemical transformation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-24-08

When Eve was still in Adam, death did not exist. When she was separated from him, death came into being. If he enters again and attains his former self, there will be no death...Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation and unite them. The woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated.

Gospel of Philip 68.23-26, 70.13-20

Film production for Erotic Mysticism Documentary

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing with Zeke Mazur who is going around interviewing scholars and practicioners of mysticism in order to put together a documentary on erotic mysticism. So I got to talk all afternoon to a captivated audience about one of my favorite subjects - the Valentinians and sacred marriage. You can find information about Zeke's film HERE <<<

Zeke, who is a Plotinian graduate student at University of Chicago, also has a personal webpage HERE <<<

Gnosis and sacred marriage is also the subject of one of the chapters I am planning to write for my Sex and the Serpent in Ancient Christianity: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. By the way, I have now finished two chapters of this book (Chapter 1: Where did the Mother God Go?; Chapter 2: Why was the Spirit Neutered?). I am going to start writing the third chapter this week: Chapter 3: Is Sex a Sin? - all about Jesus and Paul on this subject).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-23-08

"The Kingdom of Heaven, look, it is inside of us. Look, it is outside of us. If we believe in it, we shall live in it forever."

Manichaean Psalm Book 160.20-21

Mandaeans in Detroit

In order to manage the fact that there are so few priests in the States to baptize Mandaeans, the community has been holding baptism camps and conventions in cities with large Mandaean populations.

What a great solution. The next convention will be held in Detroit, Michigan (where I was born) in the first week of July. For more information, go to the Mandaean Union website HERE <<<

Friday, June 20, 2008

Is there evidence for an Aramaic substratum for the Gospel of Thomas

As many of you know who have read my two books on the Gospel of Thomas (Recovering, and The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation), I have spoken about the fact that over many years several scholars have published references to Semitisms in the Gospel of Thomas. I went about collecting them in my commentary and in the end came up with quite a list. In some cases the Semitisms are explained as references to Syriac, in other cases as references to Aramaic, and in other cases as either. So scholars have been reluctant to accept an Aramaic substratum because linguistics alone is inconclusive, because many times the Semitisms can be explained with reference to either Aramaic or Syriac since Syriac and Aramaic are related.

Is there any way to figure this out? This is the question that I faced as I looked at all the evidence I gathered in my commentary. I had the thought to lay out the Semitisms and compare them with the accretions and the Kernel sayings. So I followed through, not really expecting anything. What I found surprised me. With the exception of two, the sayings in which scholars had identified Aramaisms as possible were all located in the Kernel sayings, including those sayings that may point to a pre-synoptic Aramaic substratum.

Now some people might find this to be coincidence, but I found it compelling, especially when paired with the fact that the content of the Kernel sayings points to a Jerusalem origin. So I concluded based on the big picture that a plausible scenario was that the Kernel was from Jerusalem, written in Aramaic. It was brought to Edessa, Syria, where it moved into Syriac as the Syriac-speaking Christians used it, reperformed it, and added to it. I don't doubt for a minute that in this compositional process sayings in the Gospel of Thomas took on some of the form and vocabulary of Syriac versions of those sayings from other circulating gospel literature. In other words, in the "real" environment of antiquity where orality and memory dominant, what might have begun as an independent version of a saying may not end up that way sixty years later. In fact, we must expect the sayings to take on the character of other circulating materials.

This is the argument that I set forth in both my books.

Unfortunately, this argument seems to have been lost in Nicholas Perrin's recent paper (it is in the poorly edited volume on Thomas that I mentioned in my previous post which also includes my mysticism paper) in which Perrin criticizes me for suggesting a possible Aramaic substratum when Syriac can explain some of these sayings as well and the linguistic evidence is inconclusive. Since he is trying to defend an argument for Thomas being a Diatessaron-dependent gospel, he concludes that the evidence although inconclusive linguistically (the Aramaisms could still be possible he says) points to Syriac.

But I never made the argument that Thomas has an Aramaic substratum because there are possible Aramaisms in Thomas. Professor Quispel and Guillamont were criticized for this back in the 60s. My analysis included much more than linguistic evidence, trying to get us out of this deadlock by looking at the document from a different perspective. For some reason it seems that scholars who try to get out of the box are constantly being shoved back into the box and all the old arguments that they are trying to transcend. This is frustrating to say the least.

My argument was and remains that the vast majority of possible Aramaisms lie in the Kernel sayings, and this suggests to me that it is quite likely from Palestine. This argument is part of a bigger analysis of the Kernel whose content in terms of eschatology and christology also points us to an early form of Jerusalem Christianity.

There are many reasons why Diatessaron-dependence has not been convincing. I am not going to rehearse them all here. The biggest hurdle is our physical manuscript evidence. I am not going to even begin to sort out here the problems of reconstructing the Diatessaron. It is worse than Q. Scholars can't even agree if the original language was Syriac or Greek.

But I can speak briefly to the Greek manuscript evidence for the Gospel of Thomas. P. Oxy. 1 has been determined on paleographic analysis to a date no later than 200 CE. Let's say that this was the autograph, the original manuscript written of Thomas, then that means that it is written as almost as a contemporary to the composition of the Diatessaron (150-170 CE). But remember this copy is in Greek and it is not the original. Perrin says the gospel was composed in Syriac. So this pushes Thomas' composition back even a bit earlier, unless one were to argue that a translation into Greek was almost immediately done in Egypt which is highly unlikely since it takes some time for gospels to become celebrities enough to merit copy and translation and distribution.

Furthermore, P. Oxy. 1's composition was dated by Grenfell and Hunt to no later than 140 CE because the internal evidence for such a dating is compelling. I know that Perrin does not like this argument having said in his first book that most scholars haven't bothered to probe this issue. This is a false statement. Grenfell and Hunt's dating has been generally accepted by scholars because it is compelling based on comparison with other early Christian literature which puts the form and content of this text in the early second century.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-20-08

Thomas says: "The inside I have made outside and the outside (inside), and all your fullness has been fulfilled in me. I have not turned back to the things behind, but have gone forward to the things before, so that I might not become a reproach."

Acts of Thomas 147 (Greek recension)

Thomas says: "The internal I have made external, and the external internal. Let your will be fulfilled in me. I have not turned back, and I have not stretched forward. Let me not be a wonder and a sign."

Acts of Thomas 147 (Syriac recension)

Commentary: The Greek recension relies on an older manuscript than the Syriac translation. Notice how the old Jesus saying has taken on new meanings in both these performances of it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-19-08

Concerning these things, the Lord said in a mystery, "Unless you make the things on the right as those on the left and the things on the left as those on the right and the things above as those below and the things behind as those before, you will not recognize the kingdom."

Acts of Peter 38

Commentary: more bits and pieces of various sayings of Jesus threaded together in a way that signals oral transmission. Compare this to saying 22 in the Gospel of Thomas.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Note: Das Thomas-Evangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (ed. Frey, Popkes, and Schröter)

This morning a surprise book came in the mail to me. A couple of years ago, I participated in a conference on the Gospel of Thomas in Eisenach, Germany. I remember turning in my paper to the conference organizers, but never received proofs for any volume nor information to expect its publication.

Well this morning the mystery is solved. Here is the conference volume, and here is my paper in it. As I read it over I am disappointed with the amount of printing errors including the loss of some indentations at the beginning of a few paragraphs. Apparently the editors weren't able to catch them, and I certainly didn't because I never had any proofs to make corrections and had no idea it was being published! This has never happened to me before, and I find it disconcerting. It is terribly upsetting when an author's work is published without allowances for the author to read and correct the typeset version which always contains mistakes due to the transfer process from the author's files to the press's files. I'm just grateful that this particular piece does not include extensive Coptic or Greek!

The book details: Jörg Frey, Enno Edzard Popkes, and Jens Schröter (eds.), Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (BZNW 157; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008).

Anyway, it is an interesting mixture of papers from both authors who gave papers at the conference and authors who didn't. Most are very standard form- and redaction-critical papers mainly written by the German contributors. But then there are some papers that move forward the discussion methodologically.

My paper is called "Mysticism and the Gospel of Thomas."

UPDATE 6-19-08: Well I have received a response from Jens who says that files were e-mailed to the authors last year. When I didn't turn in any corrections, he assumed that I didn't have any. It has always been my experience as a book editor (and I have edited many) that if I don't hear back from an author with corrections, something is wrong. Either the author didn't receive the proof, or has been on vacation, or has been ill. I am extremely upset about this because it makes me look careless, when in fact I never received a proof to correct nor any correspondence from the editors. We should never assume that authors receive things we sent electronically, especially since university systems have tough SPAM filters, and servers go down.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-17-08

"Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will not be as you were before you sinned."

Liber Graduum or The Book of Steps 341.21-24 (fourth century, Syrian handbook to spiritual life)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Judas Note

I have been getting a few e-mails already from my readers who have now purchased the new revised version of the National Geographic Society's The Gospel of Judas. So I thought it might quicker to address their issues in a short post on the blog.

They are telling me how disappointed they are that I did not contribute a chapter to NGS's revised version of The Gospel of Judas, or that the team editors did not interact more with The Thirteenth Apostle.

My response is that although The Thirteenth Apostle is marginalized (I didn't expect otherwise), I am happy that NGS at least included Gesine Schenke Robinson's chapter which presents the revisionist stance. Gesine is another scholar, along with John Turner, Louis Painchaud, Birger Pearson, Einar Thomassen, H.G.-Bethge, and Johannes Brankaer who have all already published in support of the demon Judas. Their publications have been in scholarly venues rather than in general audience books like mine. It should be recognized that all of these scholars came to this conclusion INDEPENDENT of other scholars.

If anyone knows of other scholars who have published on the demon Judas in the Gospel of Judas, please send along that information. I may have missed someone!

At any rate, if you are going to buy their publication, make sure that you purchase the second edition of The Gospel of Judas published by NGS. The covers look almost identical except for a small blue "Second Edition" below the title.

Mary Platt on Gospel of Judas

Over the weekend Jim West posted his response to Mary Platt's comments about the Gospel of Judas. Mary Platt is the communications director at Marvin Meyer's college and this appears to be Chapman's response to Tim Bartlett's article in the Chronicle for Higher Education. Jim is correct to raise the questions and issues that he does. I would have raised similar questions, but Jim beat me to it.

UPDATE: A correction - Mary Platt was not responding to Tom Bartlett's article, but to another blogger who made a post HERE<<<

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-16-08

"In that place there is 'neither male nor female, slave nor free' for all are being transformed into a divine nature, being made noble and gods and children of God."

Macarius, Homily 34.2 (Syrian church father, fourth century)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-13-08

"When the Apostle says, 'Put off the old man', he refers to the entire man, having new eyes in place of the old, ears replacing ears, hands for hands, feet for feet."

Macarius of Syria, Homily 2.2 (fourth century Syrian father)

Commentary: More variations on various parts of Jesus sayings such as recorded in Gospel of Thomas 22.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A nice blog review of The Thirteenth Apostle

Does anyone know who authors the blog "Pokey Finger of God"? S/he has put up a very sensitive review of The Thirteenth Apostle, and I want to extend my thanks. The author of this review really got at what I was trying to accomplish, which was making the Gospel of Judas sensible as part of the bigger picture of early Christianity. Here's the last paragraph of the review and the LINK <<< to the rest.
I didn’t really get anything out of the original translation of GosJud. I had really low expectations for this book, expecting another dry recitation of ancient prose. Boy, was I surprised! Not only is this an interesting book, it’s got a lot of really clear analysis of some fairly complex material. Just for its coverage of the early Church, this book is a keeper.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-12-08

If the woman had not separated from the man, she would not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. There Christ came to correct the separation which was from the beginning and to unite the two again and to give life to those who died in the separation and to unite them.

Gospel of Philip 70.10-17

Book Note: Escape by Carolyn Jessop

I have never posted on a non-academic book, but I just finished reading Carolyn Jessop's book, Escape, and I am so traumatized by it that I have to say a few words about it.

The book is not an outstanding literary work. What makes it "good" is the story that it tells and its relationship with everything that has now been going on in Texas with the Zion Ranch. The word "good" is relative. What the book really is is harrowing. I know no other word to describe it, other than perhaps "unbelievable." Immediately in the first chapter I felt like I had entered a surreal realm. But knowing now what I do about Warren Jeffs and the Zion Ranch because of some research that I have done in the aftermath of the Texas CPS case, this book brought me face to face with the reality of a living horror.

Carolyn Jessop was the fourth wife of Merrill Jessop who eventually moved to the Zion Ranch with a dozen wives and his children with these wives. Carolyn is the first women to escape the FLDS with all of her children and actually get custody. She fled just as Warren Jeffs became the prophet and the Zion Ranch was set up. So she never lived there. But her ex-husband Merrill, according to the press reports I have been able to find, is thought to be the head of the Zion Ranch compound.

Carolyn's book tells her whole story, from the time she was a child, to her marriage to Merrill, her years in the polygamous relationship, the births of each of her eight children, and how she fled in a van almost out of gas. She was only saved because she was able to secure overnight a protective order against Merrill, who went after her and the children to discipline and force them back into his home and obedience to him their "priest head." Women in this tradition are taught to be completely obedient to their husband who is the one who gets to decide whether or not the wife will go onto the afterlife with rewards or be thrown into hell. If a woman does something that is not in obedience to her husband, she is disciplined - beaten, starved, humiliated - in order to punish her (or one of her children is so that she will come into line). She is also taught that all illnesses - her own or her children - are due to her disobedience and are punishments from God. Medical care at hospitals and doctors can only be sought with permission from the husband, who often withholds this in order to force his wife and children to be obedient to him in everything. Children are regularly abused - actually routinely would be more to the point - often by step-siblings and wives in the family who have more favor with the husband than the real mother does. Sex is the only commodity of exchange that allows the wives to control what happens to them and their children. As long as she stays in sexual favor with her husband, she and her children have some sort of protection from abuse by step-siblings and the other wives because the husband might be willing to stand up for her.

Carolyn Jessop also talks about Warren Jeffs and his rise to power since Merrill's family was a power family in the FLDS close to Jeffs and the two prophets prior to him. Jeffs is portrayed as a person as bad as one can get, tearing families apart, arbitrarily taking wives away from husbands and remarrying them to others, committing sodomy and rape, allowing the sacrifice of live animals by cutting off their heads in front of school children in order to teach about blood atonement, beating children and women, and the list goes on. According to Carolyn, Jeffs has been grooming the FLDS community to commit mass suicide. There was a running joke among the women in Carolyn's circles that they shouldn't drink the punch.

Carolyn's testimony before the Attorney General of Utah was what launched a state-wide investigation and response. Jeffs is now behind bars after he was hunted down by the officials. He was put on the top-ten most wanted list, and this is what brought him in at last.

Carolyn published this book in October 2007. I praise her for the courage that it must have taken for her to not only escape, but write this book. Her story is about what is happening now. And it is a nightmare. My hope is that the CPS raid on the Zion compound has broken up the community enough to allow others to escape. The reports we are getting in the paper here in Houston is that most of the families are not returning to the Zion Ranch, that CPS is monitoring the families, and that criminal cases are being investigated at least with the men who have fathered children with the underage girls. I hope and pray that this is enough.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Do Unitarian Universalists have a creed?

Wade has written a series of posts already on Unitarian Universalism, what he likes about the tradition HERE and what he doesn't like about it HERE and HERE. I have talked to him about these things often, and have joked with him and other UU members, especially those who claim to have no creed or no belief. I came to Unitarian Universalism through Wade who was already a member of a congregration when I met him.

As a historian of religion looking at the congregrations I have attended, I have to smile. Because they do have a creed, and they do have a belief system that holds them together, although this does not appear to me to be a common theology.

As for the creed and the belief system, it is embodied in their value system, seven values that they hold in common. These values under gird the UU congregrations. It is what holds the religion together, and it is what is so exciting about the tradition. Here is a group of people who are inclusive, having major religious differences, and yet remain as a community because of their core values. What I miss in UU congregrations is the continuity of story and liturgy, although I find it refreshing that each and every person is supported in his or her own personal spiritual journey.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-11-08

Jesus said, "I came to make [what is below] like what is [above and what is] outside like what is [inside. I came to unite] them."

Gospel of Philip 67.30-34

Commentary: Here are more fragments of sayings of Jesus twined together.

Friendswood Junior High and Teaching About Religion

I am very concerned with an incident that has happened in Friendswood, a junior high school in the Houston area. A principle, Ms. Robin Lowe, has lost her job because she brought in speakers to teach the students the basics about Islam. I have seen the powerpoint presentation, and there was nothing in that presentation expect the bare minimum basics of Muslim belief and practices. Ms. Lowe did this in response to a racial incident in the school which the Council on American Islamic Relations was planning to report as a hate crime to the FBI. The community's response was vicious outrage that their children would be taught about Islam without notifying the parents first so that they could pull their children out of the lecture. The principle has been fired.

What a pity it is that Americans are so uneducated about the subject of religion. Since we live in an international environment, where the globe is our home, we ought to be following Ms. Lowe's example and educating ourselves in terms of basic religious literacy. In fact, I not only think that we should be educating our children in the public schools about world religions, I think that the parents should come along and learn something too, especially the difference between teaching about religion versus teaching how to be religious.

The separation of church and state has to do with devotional practices - keeping public schools from teaching children how to be religious. This is very different from teaching children about the major teachings and practices and history of various world religions. Parents at Friendswood were up in arms because the speakers said in their presentation that Allah was the name of God. Allah is the Arabic word for "God." Why the ruckus? Teaching children that God has different names in different languages and different faith traditions is just a basic fact. It has nothing to do with teaching devotional religion.

Most people believe that teaching religion and teaching about religion are the same thing because all most Americans have ever encountered in their lives is religious instruction that teaches us how to be religious in a particular faith tradition. Religious education has been left to our families and religious institutions - our churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques - because, in our attempt to remain faithful to the separation of church and state, we have tended to keep all religious education out of the public schools, whether devotional or not.

As a society, we have not been able to distinguish between learning how to practice a religion and learning about the history, beliefs, and practices of a given religion. Our children are not even taught the basics of their own faith traditions, let alone those of the major world religions. It is not until a child reaches college and elects to take a Religious Studies course that such subjects are even broached. When students start to take my courses, they do not even know the basic historical facts about Christianity, information that children in sixth grade should know.

Has Texas recognized this, since the state has recently agreed to allow for the creation of an elective course about the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments in the public schools? I have my doubts, and they are becoming more serious every day. With all I have said in this post, you might expect me to support Texas' decision. But instead, I am tremendously worried because I am not convinced that the people who will be teaching such a course have had training in Religious Studies to know the difference between teaching the Bible and teaching about it. I worry that such courses, unless this distinction is understood, will degenerate into little more than bible study gatherings promoting contemporary Christian interpretation of the texts they will read.

In this new Texas state-authorized Bible class, there is also no provision for teaching about other religions, which makes me even more concerned. And now, in the Friendswood incident, I have noticed that this state-authorized class is already being used against the teaching of other religions. Mr. David Bradley, a State Board of Education member, said that the class about Islam that Ms. Lowe put together can't be justified by comparing it to teaching the state-authorized Bible class, calling it "a fallacious argument."

Why, Mr. Bradley? Teaching about religion should be the same no matter what religion we are talking about. Or is Mr. David Bradley privileging the Bible, by which he means the Christian Bible? Is there a hidden Christian agenda behind the new state-authorized Bible class? What Ms. Robin Lowe did should be held up as an example for our community to follow, not a reason for her to be fired. What is happening in Friendswood today is a disgrace to the public school system in Texas.

Why do we continue to foster illiteracy when it comes to religion? What are we scared of? Becoming religiously tolerant? Understanding each other and ourselves better?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-10-08

His disciples said, "When will you appear to us? When will we see you?"

Jesus said, "When you strip naked without shame, take your garments, put them under your feet like little children, and trample on them. Then [you will see] the Son of the Living One and you will not be afraid."

Gospel of Thomas 37

Commentary: Want a complete analysis of this saying? Go to this page on my website HERE<<<, scroll down to 1991 and click the pdf file of my older article "Stripped Before God." There's a lot about mysticism in this saying, and it was the investigation that launched my dissertation which was published in 1996 with Brill, Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas.

What is the relationship of the versions of the male-female saying of Jesus?

Richard has brought up in his comment to my last Apocryphote on the Gospel of the Egyptians the question what was the relationship of the versions to each other? The problem has traditionally been approached from source, form, and redaction critical methods. And it has essentially got us no closer to a good answer.

My approach to the problem is broader and based on the movement of traditions around early Christian communities. First, some version of this saying was an oral teaching that became a liturgical prayer at baptism long before it was written down. So we don't have any "originals" in terms of the originating version, but we have four "originals" in terms of the moment that they were written down. None of them appear to be literary copies of the other. So there is no literary dependence going on. In fact, what we see is a very "oral" consciousness here, with bits of different sayings that have twined together on different occasions and for different reasons.

Compare for instance saying 37 of the Gospel of Thomas which I have put up as the Apocryphote today. See how pieces of that saying are also in the Gospel of Egyptians version of the male-female saying? This is what happens when materials pass around in oral environments or environments where human memory is the operating mechanism (not literary copying). Pieces of sayings get confused because they become attached to other sayings in people's memories. So when they are recalled from memory, particularly orally where there is no opportunity to correct or revise, they become mixed up.

So what can we know about the transmission history of the male-female saying? Gal. 3 is our oldest version. It is liturgical, which means it is being used as part of the baptism ceremonies in Antioch and probably has been for a long time prior to Paul's arrival. The saying pops up in the accretions of the Gospel of Thomas in Syria in the late first century probably because it was being used in liturgy there too. The saying is known also in Alexandria to both Clement of Alexandria in the late second century and in the Gospel of the Egyptians from the early or mid-second century. And the saying is known to 2 Clement, a mid-second century Roman (?) homily written on for a baptismal service (?).

Tracking this as a tradition, what is the common denominator? It is an early liturgy that Paul knows was being used in Antioch where he learned it. My best critical guess is that this saying and the liturgy upon which it was based was from Jerusalem which had a mission to Antioch, Edessa (Gospel of Thomas), Alexandria (Gospel of the Egyptians), and Rome (2 Clement). So the saying and liturgy were well-distributed from an early time. I want to also note that Jerusalem sits on the road between Edessa and Alexandria. So there is a major connection in the early Christian traditions between Syrian and Alexandrian Christianity which develop quite independent of Rome for a couple of centuries.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-9-08

When Salome asked when the things would be known that she asked about, the Lord said, "When you have trampled on the garment of shame and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female."

Gospel of the Egyptians, quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.13.92

Friday, June 6, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-6-08

For when the Lord himself was asked by someone when his Kingdom would come, he said, "When the two will be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female."

2 Clement 12.2

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rhetorical Cultures and orality

Both Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson have posted today on rhetorical cultures. I wonder what they are studying this summer at Duke? I want to interact with a few of the points that they raise.

I really must emphasize again that secondary orality in our literate culture has nothing to do with orality in a rhetorical or transition culture. They are different beasts entirely. Dunn is not wrong to make the emphasis he does. Orality in our culture (=secondary orality) is completely dependent on literacy and the literate mind or consciousness. This is not the case in rhetorical cultures which are dependent on the oral mind.

Rhetorical cultures are not the same as literate cultures like ours. They are transitional cultures. They are cultures where almost everyone is illiterate, except for a minority. Even the minority who are literate, are not literate like we are literate. They have a different consciousness. They retain an oral consciousness. They handle written texts like they handle oral texts, and they handle writing like they do speaking. If you want a good example of what this means, I recommend reading Amin Sweeney, A Full Hearing: Orality and Literacy in the Malay World. I posted a full BOOK NOTE HERE<<< on this last year, and discussed how this might help us to think through the Synoptic Problem.

The literate people in oral cultures do tend to end up the leaders, although this does not mean that all leaders were literate, or that all missionaries were literate. But it does mean that the people who were literate had more power, were seen as "magical," and they controlled the traditions for future generations.

"According to the scriptures" doesn't mean they were reading. Most of the time they were remembering what the scripture said - what they had heard read or recited to them, or what they may have read at some point.

Marvin Meyer speaks out about the Gospel of Judas

Marv contacted me this morning and asked me to post a comment on my blog on his behalf. I am happy to do so.
"How I regret this firestorm of hostility that is surrounding the Gospel of Judas! I refuse to add any fuel to the fire. This should be a time when we celebrate the appearance of a fascinating text and apply our collective wisdom to study it. As I told Tom Bartlett of The Chronicle, whatever else we might wish to say about the National Geographic Society, we should note that without the work of National Geographic and the Maecenas Foundation, Codex Tchacos and the Gospel of Judas might today be little more than a pile of papyrus dust in a box. My friend and colleague April DeConick invited Gregor Wurst and myself to give a public presentation at Rice University on the occasion of the recent Judas conference, and we did so. I attempted to indicate, in a clear and candid manner, the issues that arise when we scholars deal with the media and with other organizations. These issues are real issues, and they go far beyond the particular policies of the National Geographic Society. I said this in Houston, and I say it again: we need to move on in order to apply our scholarly energy to the Gospel of Judas and the rest of Codex Tchacos. And we need to discuss together how we may cooperate with organizations which have resources that may be applied to the examination and preservation of our cultural heritage, and how we may communicate our insights appropriately to our fellow scholars as well as to the interested public."

Marvin Meyer
Chapman University
I want to support Marv's statement with my own observations. I have watched Marvin Meyer and Gregor Wurst work hard the last few months in response to the criticism of scholars, including me, to revise their original publication of the Gospel of Judas. I have been impressed with their response to the criticism and their dedication to make corrections. I have come to understand what extraordinary pressure they were under when they "resurrected" this gospel.

This could have turned into a scholarly war zone, with none of us talking to each other, and everyone marking turf. But this is NOT what has happened, because it is not what any of us involved wanted to happen. This is one of the reasons we held the Codex Judas Congress as a working group or think tank. At the Codex Judas Congress, there wasn't anyone in the room that wasn't working together and listening to each other in order for us to make progress on the Gospel of Judas in terms of translation issues and interpretation issues. I asked Tom Bartlett to emphasize the fact that the Codex Judas Congress was a terrific example of how good scholarship is done, that it was a time of healing, and that the scholars involved were ready to move forward. Tom did mention this in his article, and I am grateful to him for doing so. But this seems to have gotten lost in the fray of on-line discussions, so I want to highlight this here.

I have been working on revising and updating The Thirteenth Apostle. I have written a second preface in which I discuss what has happened this year, and have included a new chapter which covers the material I presented at the Codex Judas Congress. I believe that the revised edition of my book will be published in the fall.

Marv and Gregor's revised popular edition of the Gospel of Judas should be released any day, and it is a much more "neutral" translation. Marv and Gregor asked each of us at the Codex Judas Congress to take a look at it and give input. Of course, they made the final decisions on what was changed and what was not, and there is not unanimous agreement. But their willingness to ask other scholars to be involved is exactly how the best scholarship is accomplished. It is too bad that the NGS policy did not allow for this the first time around, but that is water under the bridge now. Marv is right that we have to figure out as a collective group how to work with the media and organizations that fund projects in order to preserve these antiquities, while at the same time being able to work in the academic model or environment where things like non-disclosure statements and exclusive publication are more of a hindrance than a help. If any of you has suggestions for how this might be done in the future when another codex pops up on the market, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tom Bartlett responds to National Geographic's Press Release

Tom Bartlett e-mailed me with his response to National Geographic's "sloppy bewildering" press release. He asked me to distribute his response. So here it is:
Tom Bartlett:
The press release that National Geographic issued in response to my article
"The Betrayal of Judas" is filled with errors and nonsense. Below are a few
of the more egregious inaccuracies:

-- "Contrary to the article's assertion, the translation took years (not
months) to complete."

Here's what the article actually says:

"It all happened in record time. In the cases of other newly discovered
ancient texts, the process of translation and interpretation has dragged on
for years. But it was only about eight months from the time Marvin Meyer was
brought on that the gospel was announced to the public."

Meyer confirmed this timeline to me in an e-mail. Meyer was the primary
English translator and it was his translation that other scholars, like Bart
Ehrman, used as the basis for their own critical essays. This part of the
project did not take years; it took months.

-- "This was an enormously complex project, but hardly a 'secret' in
biblical circles."

My article does not say that the existence of the Gospel of Judas was a
secret in biblical circles. I make it clear that other scholars knew of its
existence for decades. The article does say that other scholars complained
about the "secrecy" of the project, i.e., that the material wasn't shared
with scholars outside of the National Geographic team. There is a

-- "Virtually all issues your article raises about translation choices are
addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions
of the gospel. Unfortunately, Thomas Bartlett chose to ignore that fact ..."

I did not ignore that fact. I mention both the second edition and the
critical edition of the Judas book and note that some errors have since been
corrected and that alternate readings are now included. I even quote from
those footnotes. (For the record, the best-selling first edition of the book
and the television documentary watched by millions do not include these

-- "What Bartlett doesn't tell the reader is that DeConick's criticisms,
which appeared in an op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2007,
were timed to coincide with the release of her own book about the Gospel of

Wrong. Her book came out two months before the NY Times op-ed. Regardless,
I mention both her book and the op-ed in my article and I include the
publication dates for both.

I understand that National Geographic must be reeling from criticism of its
Judas project by biblical scholars. But your sloppy, bewildering response to
my article doesn't help your case.

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-4-08

Jesus said, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single being with the result that the male is not male nor the female female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom."

Gospel of Thomas 22.4-7

Commentary: It appears that the Galatians passage quoted yesterday was based on words of Jesus similar to what we find in the Gospel of Thomas. They were used in liturgy, at baptism, if Paul's testimony is correct, which I think it is. This was an extremely popular saying among the first Christians, and some version of it predates Paul and had become part of the baptismal liturgy at Antioch. The saying has been developed in the Gospel of Thomas to support encratic ideals. Over the next few days, we will explore just how popular this saying was, and what some of its perforations were.

Check out my husband's new blog

Wade Greiner, my husband, has started his own blog. I want to welcome him to the religion blog world! He will be a regular blogger, so be sure to check back frequently, and if you will include him in your blog rolls, that would be wonderful.

His blog is called "The Evolution of the Mystery" and it is about religion and...well I'll let him tell you in his own words.

To learn more, go HERE<<<

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 6-3-08

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus...For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation."

Galatians 3:28-29, 6:15

Commentary: Okay, so this is canonical. But I post it for the Vatican. I hope the Pope reads this.

What about women priests?

I have to respond to José's comments on my earlier post about the Catholic church recently criminalizing women priests, excommunicating them (as heretics?). I have to respond because José presents us with the party line, which is about as uncritical and ill-informed as can be. It is a party line that we have accepted only because it has been beaten into us over the centuries, and sounds "normal" when in fact it is insidious sexism. Why is it that inequality in gender is considered normal, when inequality on other levels is fought tooth and nail? Why do we allow this to continue? We are the ones who are in control of our thoughts and our actions. It is time to step up to the plate and demand that gender not matter to the priesthood. We do not have to accept the Vatican's decision.

Consider this. We can't allow women to be priests because Jesus only selected men as his apostles. How silly is this? Let's move to another issue. What about race, age, and religion? Are men who are Asian, African-American, or Native American denied priesthood on the basis that Jesus only selected "caucasian" Middle Eastern men as his apostles? Are men who are older than forty denied the priesthood on the basis that Jesus only selected young men as his apostles? If we really were to get serious, shouldn't the priesthood be confined to young Jewish male converts who speak Aramaic, on the basis that these were the men that Jesus selected as apostles and are the only people who can represent him on earth? As soon as we move the discussion to a different issue, it is clear how silly and meaningless it is!

Besides, there is the other issue I haven't raised, and that is the issue of whether or not Jesus actually selected only twelve male disciples as his followers, or whether this is a contrivance of the later tradition which worked to eliminate women from positions of leadership which they held in the early movement.

As for José's statement: "If I were a Catholic I would be allowed to discuss and debate these views, and many other issues, but I couldn’t simply defy church teaching imagining that the church will simply capitulate to my defiance or that I’m setting some sort of good example to incite greater defiance. Not even the entire Protestant Reformation has been able to alter any of the major Catholic and Orthodox doctrines. We must marvel at their consistency and dedication while Protestantism continues to splinter and fall deeper into heretical teachings and practices." If we were to list all of the people that the Catholic Church has considered a heretic, excommunicated, tortured and killed, I think it would put things into perspective. It would also show that some of the greatest minds in our culture, the ones that have moved us forward in our knowledge of ourselves and our world, have been official heretics like Galileo. If it weren't for the heretics, we would never advance in our knowledge because no one would challenge the status quo or think beyond what they have received.

Yes, women can and should be priests. This issue is vital to us, more than ever now that the Catholic Church has criminalized us! It is the reason that I am writing Sex and the Serpent in Ancient Christianity: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. I'm going to now close so I can go to work on the second chapter, "Why was the Spirit neutered?"

UPDATE: Jared Calaway from Antiquitopia has posted a similar discussion HERE<<<

Monday, June 2, 2008

Was the National Geographic's Gospel of Judas footnoted so that it should not be criticized?

The National Geographic Society keeps trying to defend itself by insisting that the translation choices the team made were addressed in their extensive footnotes and therefore I cannot, or should not, be critical of them.
From NGS HERE<<< "Virtually all issues your article raises about translation choices are addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions of the gospel. Unfortunately, Thomas Bartlett chose to ignore that fact and instead gives much prominence to criticisms advanced by April DeConick." From NGS HERE<<< "Virtually all issues Professor DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions. As is the case in any translation, there can be differences of interpretation, word selection and nuance, and the Gospel of Judas is no exception."
Is this true? Let's have a look. Keep in mind that my work was written BEFORE the critical edition was released in June 2007. It was reacting to the initial publication of the Gospel of Judas by the NGS in April 2006 and the extensive media hype that went along with it.

1. p. 44.21: "O Thirteenth Demon" : I am critical of their choice "thirteenth spirit"
p. 31 NGS's Gospel of Judas, n. 74 "Or, 'thirteenth demon' (Coptic, from Greek, daimon). Judas is thirteenth because he is the disciple excluded from the circle of the twelve, and he is a demon (or daemon) because his true identity is spiritual. Compare tales of Socrates and his daimon or daimonion, in Plato Symposium 202e-203a."

Okay, here is a footnote. But does it help the reader understand that "daimon" in Gnostic texts means "demon", a negative entity? Is there any reference here to the fact that the Sethians used the number 13 to indicate the demiurge, Ialdabaoth-Saklas-Samael-Nebruel, who is the highest demon and archon living in the 13th realm of the cosmos (where the decan stars were)? This has been my criticism, and remains it. I see nothing in this footnote that is indicative of this discussion.

Note: in NGS's critical edition, and in the second edition of this popular book slated to be released this month, "spirit" has vanished and been replaced by "daimon."
2. p. 46.17. "separate from" : I am critical of NGS's choice "set apart for"
p. 32 NGS's Gospel of Judas, no note at all.

This is very serious because "set apart for" is not a meaning found in Coptic lexical aids, nor have I been able to find the Coptic expression used to mean this in any Coptic text I have examined yet.

Note: in NGS's critical edition, they added a note that "separate from" can be an alternative. Now in their second edition, this reads: "set apart from."
3. p. 46.5-46.7. "Teacher, enough! At no time may my seed control the Archons!" : I am critical of NGS's choice of phrasing it as a question instead of an emphatic, "could it be that my seed is under the control of the rulers?"
p. 32 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote indicating that this is an emphatic construction. There is no footnote about this in the critical edition either.
4. p. 46.24-47.1. "you will not ascent to the holy [generation]." : I am critical of their emendation which alters the meaning of the sentence so that the negative is changed to "they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]."
p. 33 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote or textual mark in the translation indicating that the editors had emended the Coptic in their translation. This is very serious because it is standard practice that emendations are marked clearly even in the translation so readers will know that the editors have altered the original text. The editors did mark the emendation in the on-line Coptic transcription, which was how I figured it out, because the photos still hadn't been released at that time.

Note: in NGS's critical edition and in the second revised edition of the popular book, this emendation has been removed, and the translation reads similarly to what I have argued it should read.
5. p. 56.18. "you will do worse than all of them" : I am critical of their translation, "you will exceed all of them", since it doesn't take into account the negative context which demands that the comparative be translated "worse than".
p. 43 NGS's Gospel of Judas. There is no footnote to indicate the problems with the context, or that "exceed" should be understood in a negative sense. There is a footnote, n. 137, and it reads: "Literally, 'that bears me' (Coptic, from Greek, etrphorei emmoei). Judas is instructed by Jesus to help him by sacrificing the fleshly body ("the man") that clothes or bears the true spiritual self of Jesus. The death of Jesus, with the assistance of Judas, is taken to be the liberation of the spiritual person within."

NOTE: the NGS critical edition still does not have a footnote about this.
6. p. 56.23. "your star has ascended" : I am critical of their translation, "shone brightly" which I still cannot determine how they came up with.
The only footnote here, p. 43 NGS's Gospel of Judas, note 138, reads: "On the poetic lines depicting how Judas is prepared for his act of salvific betrayal, cf. passages from the Psalms. The last line may be restored to read, "[become strong]," or the like." So again, there is no footnote indicating that the Coptic means "to pass by" or "to reach" or that it denotes ascendancy.

NOTE: the NGS critical edition now reads "your star has passed by".
The evidence is very clear for anyone who cares to actually look at it. NGS is open to criticism. They cannot hide behind "a footnote strategy" to deflect the criticism, because the footnotes just are not there, at least in terms of my criticisms.

What I find so strange about all of this, is that the scholars on the NGS team have been very responsive to the criticisms of other scholars, and have improved their translation in the NGS critical edition and now in the second edition of the popular book. And the NGS has been responsive in that it finally released high resolution photos on their website (mid Jan 2008). So why the NGS puts out these press releases defending the faults of its initial publication is confusing to me.

The fact remains that the NGS DVD on the Gospel of Judas is still around, and will be for decades. I doubt any revisions to it are in the works. And the impression that their first faulty translation left in the media and among the public - that Judas is a hero - is still around, and will be for decades. The faults in that initial translation are not minor interpretative differences, but major translational errors that, when fixed, present us with a Judas who is a gnostic demon, not a historical hero.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

National Geographic comes after Tom Bartlett now

I am totally shocked that the National Geographic Society has written and posted on their website a long critical response to Tom Bartlett's article on the Gospel of Judas in the Chronicle for Higher Education this month. HERE<<< is NGS's response.

If the Society wishes to criticize me and the other scholars who are raising issues about the handling of the Gospel of Judas, that is one thing, but to strike out against a journalist who was covering a story appears to me to be another thing altogether. What is going on here?

The entire NGS response is strange to me since in a couple of weeks, a second revised edition of their book is going to be released in which the mistakes are acknowledged in the foreword, and the translation is corrected, and the commentary is rewritten to reflect the scholarly progress that we have made on this text, a progress that has happened due to the criticism that myself and others have raised in the last year and a half. So I am at odds frankly to understand the Society's continued defense of its initial publication.