Thursday, December 13, 2012

Campus Conversations on Judas

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to President Leebron of Rice University about my research.  A video was produced from that conversation by our media department and was posted as part of a series of talks that President Leebron is doing with our faculty: Campus Conversations with the President.  Hope you like it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Is Jesus is "too holy" for sex?

Thus is the title ("Too holy" for Sex? The problem of a married Jesus) of Becky Bratu's just-published piece (NBC News) on public reactions to the idea of "Jesus' wife".  She too sees how communally we are struggling with the problem of a sexual Jesus and how this transgresses our commonly (and cherished) Christian view of the Holy as male and celibate. 

Whether authentic or not (yet to be determined), our discussion of the Jesus' Wife papyrus is fascinating.  It shows us the faultlines, the borders, the limits of our theological views.  It shows how they were constructed hundreds of years ago, and have become "natural" for us.  They are part of our internal selves.  God is male and celibate.  Sexual desire is sin. 

Even after the counter-cultural sexual revolution of the 1960s, these parameters still grip our religious views.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Who's afraid of the married Jesus?

The recent announcement of a papyrus fragment in which Jesus refers to his wife has brought us face to face with the sexual Jesus again.  And there are many people who do not like this image.  Something sacred feels threatened.  Corrupted.  The married Jesus is inconceivable.  It is impossible.  Maybe the text is a fake?  Or heresy.  Yes, that is it.  We dismiss it as heresy and feel relieved. 

Why is the idea of a married and sexual Jesus so inconceivable to us? Why do we see it as a corruption of the sacred?

If it is authenticated, then we have a second piece of evidence from an ancient Christian gospel that someone in the ancient world didn't have a problem with the married Jesus.  The first piece of evidence comes from the Gospel of Philip where Mary Magdalene is identified as Jesus' spouse.  The word used in that context has definitive sexual connotations (koinonos).  It means his consort, the woman he is yoked to sexually, his spousal partner.  Thus he kisses Mary in the Gospel of Philip, and is said to have three Marys in his life: his mother, his sister, and his spouse.  In the new fragment, the generic word (shime) is used.  It means "woman, wife". 

So no doubt about it.  There is a solid tradition in the ancient world that Jesus was married.  The tradition appears to come from the Valentinian Gnostics who envisioned marriage and sex as the greatest of sacred mysteries.  Their view of God reflected this.  The Godhead consisted of aspects of God like Truth, Life, Church, etc.  These aspects existed as married partners, and it was their sexual activities that generate the divine world and life.  Human marriages were believed to reflect the pattern of the divine marriages.  In the afterlife, one's spiritual self or angelic twin would continue to live as an married entity in a blissful state of eros.  So the Valentinians remembered Jesus as a married man with a sexual life.

Now it is true that this early Christian tradition did not survive.  It was identified as heresy by the Christians who did become dominant and eventually created the orthodox catholic view of Jesus. We wouldn't even know about it had it not been for these accidental discoveries of old papyrus that survived buried in Egyptian graves. 

My question is why did the sexual Jesus become the heretical Jesus while the glorification of the celibate male become the dominant orthodox view? 

We can't seem to get away from it.  We are back to sex and gender, and the distorted picture of the female body that Christianity has maintained.  We are confronting holy misogyny.

We are looking directly through the eyes of the ancient male who valorized the male body while vulgarizing the female.

We are facing the fact that our Christian tradition made this ancient male hatred of women and their bodies sacred.  This hatred is embedded in biblical texts starting with the Genesis story.  It continued to be the foundation for all theology built by the catholic Christians, including Augustine's ideas.  The worldview of Christianity sees the female body and sex through Augustine's distorted lens and his doctrine of original sin.

As long as the female body is viewed as substandard, subhuman, and naturally deficient as stories like Genesis reflect, as long as sexual desire is perceived to be the penalty for sin as Augustine taught, there is no way we can conceive of Jesus as married or partaking in the pleasures of sex.  Our distorted views of human sexuality and the female body will not give us permission to consider the possibility.

The truth is that the sources we have do not permit us to know whether Jesus of Nazareth was a married or celibate man.  Both views of Jesus were constructed by different groups of ancient people to reflect their understanding of God and the human condition.  It just so happens that the Christian tradition that we have inherited as our own is the one that created the glorified male celibate as its view of the ideal human and god.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Upcoming conference on historical Jesus

Speaking of how difficult it is to recover the historical Jesus, there is a conference on October 4 and 5 put together to critique the "Third Quest of the Historical Jesus". 

Here is information about the conference and the LINK to details about registration and how to do it. 

United Theological Seminary and The University of Dayton (Dayton, OH) are co-hosting a two-day conference to critique the assumptions and methods of the so called "Third Quest of the Historical Jesus" on October 4 and 5, 2012.   The conference will be held at Southpark United Methodist Church, 140 Stonemill Road, Dayton, OH 45409.

Bringing together world-class authors and speakers, this conference will discuss "authenticity" and "criteria" as these concepts have been traditionally understood and employed in New Testament studies. 
Speakers include Dale C. Allison Jr., Mark Goodacre, Chris Keith, Anthony Le Donne, Loren Stuckenbruck, Jens Shroeter, Barry Swartz, Dagmar Winter, and Rafael Rodrígue.

It is my understanding that the conference will focus on Keith and Le Donne's newest book: Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.  

You can read more about this on Keith and Le Donne's new blog: The Jesus Blog HERE. 

It should be a great conference.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

Kilmore Church, Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1906
So many of you have been e-mailing me, wondering about the significance of the new gospel fragment recently published on the internet by Karen King of Harvard University.  Many are expressing amazement that there is a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is exciting to see the words "My wife" in bold Coptic scrawl.

But let's keep in mind that we actually already have a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is the Gospel of Philip.  We already know that there were some early Christians, in particular the Valentinian Gnostics, who taught that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' consort or wife.  They wrote about it in the Gospel of Philip.

The reason that their tradition remembered Mary in this way is because they believed that marriage was the sacred creative activity of God and God's manifestations or Aeons.  They also believed that their own human marriages were reflections - what they called "an image" - of the eternal marriages of the Aeons.  Jesus' human marriage to Mary Magdalene was believed to reflect the sacred marriage of the Aeons Jesus and Sophia.   Furthermore, the Aeons Jesus and Sophia were the spiritual twins or angelic dopplegangers of the human Jesus and Mary.  If you are interested in learning more about this practice and its sexual implications, I have written a chapter about it in Holy Misogyny, called "Is Marriage Salvation?" along with a chapter on Mary, called "How do we solve a problem like Maria?"

The new gospel fragment supports this Valentinian picture.  If it turns out to be an authentic gospel fragment from antiquity, it likely came from a page of yet another Valentinian gospel that contained sayings of Jesus.  Valentinian Christians were very prolific and they preserved an entire sayings tradition of counter-memories that supported their creative metaphysical outlook and Gnostic spirituality.

But does this mean that Jesus had a wife?  It depends on who you ask.  If you asked a Valentinian Christian, the answer would have been a definitive "yes".  If you asked an early Catholic Christian, the answer would have been "no".  If you ask a scholar today, depending on the methods they use to reconstruct the historical Jesus, you will get "yeses" and "noes'.

What do I think?  I think that it is next to impossible to reconstruct the historical Jesus from the theological portraits of him in any of the gospels, the New Testament included.  Aside from a few broad strokes, the historical Jesus remains shrouded in theology, including his sex life and marital status.  I continue to emphasize how necessary it is for us to think critically about these old texts and not take their statements as simple statements of historical facts, at least without first reasoning carefully through them.

Was Jesus married?  I like to think so.  But this has more to do with my own view of the blessedness of marriage than it does with any historical argument I might make.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gospel of Jesus' Wife

Intriguing name that Karen King has given this fragment.  My initial read of the fragment is thus:

The fragment reads very much like a paraphrase of sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip.  In the Gospel of Thomas 101, Jesus says that his true mother (probably a reference to the Spirit) gave him life, while his birth mother gave him death.  At the end of the Gospel of Thomas 114, there is a saying that indicates conflict between Jesus and Peter over Mary, whether women are worth to have life.  Jesus says yes that he will guide Mary so that she can become a living spirit.  In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is referenced as Jesus' wife in the context of a discussion about discipleship which is what we seem to have here too in this gospel fragment.  But here marriage is referenced rather than singlehood or maleness.

So what is the fragment about?  Jesus is talking to his disciples about discipleship and life.  Jesus connects life with his mother, who he says gave it to him.  If other texts can help us, the disciples are probably responding, how can this be?  Women don't have life or aren't worthy of life.  Then Jesus tells them that Mary is worthy, and that his wife (probably Mary) will be able to be his disciple.  He says that he is with her because of something (text is fragmented).  If the reference in the next line (8) to "an image" is connected to the "because of" clause in line 7 (which I think is highly likely), then we might have evidence of a Valentinian Gnostic worldview where Jesus and Mary's earthly marriage is an image of their future aeonic marriage.

I would translate line 7 thusly: "I am with her because..." and the because has something to do with an "image".

I am thinking that the fragment is from a Valentinian text, like the Gospel of Philip, whose author is aware of the alternative sayings traditions that we find also embedded in Gospel of Thomas.  It makes perfect sense in this context and is consistent with what we already know about ideology in early Valentinian Gnostic Christianity.

My initial translation based on the photograph published on King's Harvard website is: " mother gave me li[fe...] The disciples said to Jesus [...] deny. Mary is worthy of it [...] Jesus said to them, "My wife [and...] Let men who are wicked [...] I am with her because [...] an image [...]"


A reference to Jesus' wife?

Karen King, professor at Harvard University, has announced today that she has been working on a new Coptic fragment from an unknown gospel which she is calling the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, because Jesus makes reference to having a wife.  While this reference may have nothing to do with the historical Jesus, she says, it certainly tells us that issues of celibacy and marriage of clergy were being debated among the Christians.  This should remind us that the Gospel of Philip has a similar reference, there to Mary Magdalene as Jesus' wife.

The reference to "my wife" occurs in line 4 on the right hand side.

Read more HERE.  Photo is from Boston Globe's story. 

And HERE is Karen King's transcription and translation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spaying the Mother God

Biblical Archaeology Review 38:05, Sep/Oct 2012 just published a short piece of mine about the feminine and God.

"Is God gendered as a male in the Bible? What about Jesus’ words in John 4:23–24 where he says that “God is spirit”? In the same passage, however, Jesus calls God “Father.” Does he do so in reference to an actual masculinity of God? Is this a manifestation of male domination and patriarchy? Ben Witherington doesn’t think so. According to him, Jesus calls God “Father” and not “Mother” only because he did not have a human father, while he did have a human mother. Witherington thinks that, at least in the New Testament, God is not perceived to be male, but a genderless divine essence. He says that we are too quick to read into the Bible our own over-sexed and gender-language-sensitive culture. But are we? Or are we trying to apologize for the misogyny in the Bible because of our religious belief in the sacred nature of the Bible?"

To subscribe to BAR, follow this LINK.  I love this magazine and fondly remember buying it on the newstand when I was a teenager. So I am proud to be able to write a column for it occasionally.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Another book review for Holy Misogyny

Kristin Morris has published a review of Holy Misogyny in ForeWord Reviews HERE.  It was published in Winter 2012 section.  I must have missed it when it came out.  So am happy to have come across it this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sabbatical Post 5: The Erasure of Gnostic(ism)

As you might imagine, I have been thinking lately about the meaning of Gnostic(ism).  I remain unconvinced by arguments of difference and polemics which are serving scholars in the erasure the Gnostic(ism) from western history, as if Gnostic(ism) has not made an enormous contribution to our culture and society (and I am arguing, still does).  Scholarship today, however unintentional, is accomplishing what the church fathers started.  The complete eradication of Gnostic(ism). 

Gnostics were not just different Christians in a laundry list of assorted Christianities.  And just because Christianity was diverse in the beginning does not mean that there were not normative elements within Christianity from the beginning.  There were boundaries in which the difference operated.  When a group transgressed these boundaries, the limits were exposed and the creeds were formulated.  Then polemics flashed back and forth, igniting a battle and further entrenching the boundaries and reconfigurating categories.  The Gnostics found themselves in hostile territory outside the wall, no longer welcome in the synagogues and churches where they had once worshiped.

It is a total misrepresentation of history to say that Gnosticism or Gnostic Religion did not exist.  It most certainly did, and I might add, it did so early on.  By the early third century, Manichaeism was born and quickly spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific, becoming the first world religion.  Who gets taught that in World Religions courses?  The Mandaeans (=The Knowers) also were around in the third century, and have their roots in the first century.   Mandaeism still exists as a Gnostic religion today.  Both of these Gnostic religions, while combining elements from other religions were distinctly their own independent religions.  They were neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Buddhist.  They were Gnostic.

As for the first and second centuries, well this is my goal.  To try to make sense of how Gnostic spirituality emerged as a new religiosity and interacted with religions and philosophies that were contemporaneous to it, and also struggling to emerge themselves.  Somehow there emerged three discrete religions by the third century: Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism.  It is telling this story that will capture my attention in the first half of my book The Ancient New Age.

Image: Rock crystal seal engraved with three profile busts of Mani and two priests; inscription reads: “Mani, the Apostle of Jesus Christ”. Bibliothèque nationale de France, INT 1384BIS. Via Zenobia and Encyclopaedia Iranica

Friday, April 27, 2012

Memorial service for Jane Schaberg

The Memorial Service for Jane Schaberg will be held at Christ Church, 960 East Jefferson Ave. Detroit, MI 48207, on May 19th at 1:00 p.m.  
Photo: © Rick Lieder - All Rights Reserved from

Dear Jane,
Your passing is so difficult for me.  You took me under your wing when I was a graduate student struggling to make ends meet and write my dissertation.  You welcomed me to teach at the University of Detroit during your sabbatical and were a guiding light when I decided to pull together my first course on Sexuality and Christianity.  Without you, I might have never become a feminist.  Without you, I might never have learned to read against the grain.  Without you, I might never have struggled with holy misogyny.  
I have always admired your courage and your conviction that the search for truth lies beneath, sometimes even in contradiction to the patriarchal storyline.  You taught me that feminist reading is about fairness, about giving voice to what was marginalized, covered up, or forgotten.  You taught me that feminism is about living with conviction and purpose even when the odds are stacked against you and what you have to say, as honest as it is, provokes disdain and anger and ugliness and suppression.
You were so brave in the face of fire when you set forth an interpretation of the virgin birth stories that rocked both the academic and church communities, when you said, look, there is something deeply disturbing going on with these stories, and I think it points to the illegitimacy of Jesus.  You were so courageous when you brought the Magdalene out of the attic, when you took on Mary and re-envisioned her through Virgina Woolf and the non-canonical sources, when you saw her as Jesus' Elisha and revealed how women like Mary are silenced who question the patriarchal order of our world. 
You dared to transgress the boundaries of tradition, and in so doing, you showed us a brave new world through your eyes.  It is a world of radical transformation for women and men, where sexism, racism, and poverty, where all the distinctions that keep us apart, dissolve.  I admire deeply how you were convicted that scholarship on the bible was not worth doing if it did not result in political and religious justice and the renewal of humanity. 
You wrote your last book even while undergoing chemotherapy.  You saw your own suffering and fear of death in light of Golgotha and the injustice of Jesus' crucifixion.  You said: "Mary Magdalene of the Christian Testament is the one who stands by the dying...Each of us wishes for one like the Magdalene to go down with us into death, to stay with us to the end.  I say this with cancer on my mind, and remembering those I did not stay with until the end, those I loved who died alone.  More than that: she is the one who did not cease to love the dead, who remembered" (15-16).  
With love and in your memory, April

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sabbatical Post 4: Starting to think about transgression

I am starting to read more deeply into explanations and descriptions of transgression in various fields.  It is a topic with a good amount of literature.  While waiting for some sociological and anthropological studies to arrive from Amazon, I delved into Foucault's "A Preface to Transgression" written in 1963.

Foucault uses transgression as a new type of sacralness, representing the modern zone of human experience where the sacred has collapsed into the profane.   With the death of God, Foucault sees the goal of human experience to be constant transgression of our limits.  Every time we cross the limits, we see the limits, and we move the limit until we find ourselves face to face with the limit of our own being, in the experience of emptiness.  For Foucault, sexuality represents the totality of human experience and it is in its transgression that God is replaced. 

Is it just me, or is this a redeployment of traditional Christian mystical eroticism in a post-modern philosophical guise?  Maybe I am misunderstanding what Foucault is saying, but I seem to hear the echoes of the Christian mystics for whom the crossing of the ultimate boundary of being was sex with God or his/her representative. 

Some quotes I found intriguing for my work on the Gnostics and their transgressive esotericism.
"The limit and transgression depend on each other for whatever density of being they possess: a limit could not exist if it were absolutely uncrossable and, reciprocally, transgression would be pointless if it merely crossed a limit composed of illusions and shadows.  But can the limit have a life of its own outside the act that gloriously passes through it and negates it?  What becomes of it after this act and what might it have been before?" (Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice; edited by Donald F. Bouchard, 1977, 34).

"Transgression forces the limit to face the fact of its imminent disappearance, to find itself in what it excludes (perhaps, to be more exact, to recognize itself for the first time), to experience its positive truth in its downward fall?  And yet, toward what is transgression unleashed in its movement of pure violence, if not that which imprisons it, toward the limit and those elements it contains?  What bears the brunt of its aggression and to what void does it owe the unrestrained fullness of its being, if not that which it crosses in its violent act and which, as its destiny, it crosses out in the line it effaces?" (34-35).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sabbatical Post 3: Why Mushrooms?

So your comments continue to inspire me.  The art of Adam and Eve and the mushrooms is suggestive on so many levels.  As I study these pictures, I am drawn into the moment.  Are we seeing Adam and Eve just before they eat the forbidden fruit, during, or after?  Is the forbidden fruit the mushroom, a hallucinogen that opens their eyes to a new reality?  Or does it represent the decay of the tree after they have eaten?  Or poison that killed them?  Or does the mushroom represent the diversification of knowledge, its continual dispersal through spores nourished by the forbidden tree?  Is the representation suggesting that what Eve started cannot be stopped?  Does the image represent the salve or healing properties of the mushroom, the mercy granted by God who did not actually kill them for their trespass but set in motion the act of redemption instead? 

The mushroom as a metaphor is very apt for me and my understanding of Gnostic spirituality, because of its multivalency.  Irenaeus uses the image in reference to Gnostics as harmful fungi that grow popping up here and there and everywhere with no sustained root.  But what of other valencies?  Not all mushrooms are poisonous.  Some are medicinal.  Some are hallucinogenic.  Some are just good to eat (as long as you aren't allergic to them as I am!).  The image of their growth through spore is wonderful.  The lack of centrality and organization in their growth patterns.  Their growth in rich soil or compost.  Their need for constant damp and low exposure to sun. 

Why is this multivalency important?  My understanding of Gnostic spirituality is characterized by the transgressive.  My definition of the Gnostic sees the Gnostic as transgressive in terms of his or her metaphysics and practices.  Now you may call be to task on this, wondering who do they transgress?  Early Christianity was diverse, as was early Judaism.  So we can not talk about a dominant tradition or interpretative strategy.  Doesn't transgression imply perversion?  Aren't you being polemical like Irenaeus?

First, I would say we need to pay attention to the sociologists and the anthropologists who have studied transgression for decades.  To transgress is not the same as being different or diverse.  There is still the normative even within diversity.  Or better, diversity can represent the norm and the status quo.  It doesn't have to be transgressive.  Every culture has its norms, and religious expressions are no different.  Religions in fact are conservative and tend to renew themselves by maintaining whatever is normative for them at all costs.  According to sociological studies, the transgressor is only known as a transgressor because he or she is labeled such by others in the community.  In other words, we only know what is transgressive through the response of the community to the one who transgresses.  This response helps us to identify the norm and the parameters of the acceptable, as well as the unacceptable.  What can be acceptable in one period, may become unacceptable in another time period, even periods as short as decades.

In modern terms, let me suggest an example.  Next time you are in an elevator turn around and face everyone else and stare at someone.  Watch the reaction of others in the elevator.  You will quickly know that you have transgressed the public norm for properly riding in elevators. 

The same is true of the ancient world.  It did not take long for Christians to begin to get kicked out of synagogues, and if Paul is correct, even captured and dragged before the Jewish religious authorities.  Why?  Because they were Jews who had transgressed what were considered commonly accepted Jewish norms of the time.  We can argue about what those norms were, but they were transgressed and the Jewish community responded by expelling the unacceptable and consolidating what it perceived as normative.  We might even say that the Christian transgression assisted the Jewish community in marking its boundaries even clearer.

How the Gnostics fit into this, well, that is one of the main goals of my book.

Image from The Canterbury Psalter

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sabbatical Post 2: Creating an Image

This morning I felt creative and so I played around with some images to represent the ideas I have forming in my mind about my new book.  So here is what I came up with.

I love the central image.  What is going on here?  Adam and Eve are parading before the tree of knowledge whose limb appears to be cut off and mushrooms have taken root from the central stem.  Eve is not eating an apple here, but a mushroom?

Mural painting from the apse of Sant Sadurní in Osormort
Second quarter of the 12th century
Museu Episcopal de Vic

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sabbatical Blog 1: Mushrooms

So my sabbatical project is to write as much of my book The Ancient New Age: The Birth of Christianity and the Triumph of Gnostic Spirituality as possible.  At the moment, I have been working on honing my abstract and table of contents.  So I want to share the abstract with you in this first post on the sabbatical.

Since I am going to be making my old subject contemporary with the analogy to the New Age, I have been thinking deeply about Gnostic(ism) and about its re-insurgence in the modern period.  I keep going back to Irenaeus' description of the Gnostics as mushrooms popping up from the terrain.  I rather like this metaphor and am thinking about structuring the book around it.  Besides there is great mushroom art from the medieval Christians.  Take a look at this Eden with the mushroom as the tree of knowledge (Plaincourault Fresco).
Abstract: Early Christianity was very radical in its approach to perennial questions about God and humanity because, DeConick explains, the Christian tradition was seeded with a Gnostic spirituality from the start. DeConick argues that Gnostic spirituality itself was a brand new concept in the ancient world, a new way of being religious that emerged in 1st c. Alexandria, and quickly was dispersed across the Mediterranean.  It reflected a subversive metaphysical outlook and included an understanding of humanity as divine.  Unlike early catholic Christianity which developed traditional Jewish teachings about the mortality of the human being created in God's image and subject to sin, the Gnostics framed their teaching along Platonic lines, understanding the essential human being to be an uncreated piece of God living in exile and suffering on account of this separation.  These 2 metaphysical outlooks were diametrically opposed to each other, competing for dominance from the start of Christian history to today.  While the catholic churches were able to sustain mass conversion and the western Gnostic churches ultimately perished, Gnostic spirituality did not die.  It survived as an underground religious current.  It remains today at the root of New Age and Self-help movements, and at odds with traditional forms of Christianity just as it was in the ancient world. The Ancient New Age focuses on the way in which Gnostic spirituality has triumphed.  Not only did it foster countercultural metaphysical or “New Age” movements in past, but it continues to do so in the present, where its message of the divine human thrives.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Patio Tomb Box and the Fish

It appears that the fish controversy may have a productive "end".  Professor James Charlesworth and Robert Deutsch (an Israeli epigrapher) have found an overlooked inscription in the nose of the fish that reads in Hebrew "JONH" or Jonah.  The lines of the stick figure form an inscription according to a new report that can be found HERE

I continue to agree that the figure on the box is a fish.  And now with this inscription and photos of it, I find the evidence convincing that the artist was depicting Jonah.  Further, given that this pictorial is on a bone box from first-century Jerusalem, it is plausible that the reference is to resurrection. 

With this find, we have some type of Jew in the first century for whom the Jonah story made sense within the context of death. So I am moving in the direction that we may be seeing here evidence of an early Christian-Jewish tomb.   

The Bart Ehrman Blog

Congratulations to Bart Ehrman for creating a new blog on the early Christian world. Welcome to the world of blogging! See his blog HERE.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Pope and non-canonical sayings

Michael Peppard (Fordham University) has written a fun piece in the online Commonwealth Magazine on the Pope's recent reference to a non-canonical saying.  Take a look HERE.
Thanks to Fr. Imbelli for drawing our attention to the Pope’s homily from Easter Vigil (full text here). I am always enriched by Pope Benedict’s utilization of early Christian texts and traditions in his explication of Catholic faith and practice. The Vigil is the perfect time to recall the centrality of “illumination” (photismos) in the early Church. For contemporary listeners, ideas of illumination or enlightenment might sound more at home in Buddhism or even “new age” spirituality, but in fact, they were at the heart of early Christian initiation, especially in the east (Egypt, Palestine, and Syria). For example, when Cyril of Jerusalem describes those preparing for initiation, he often calls them “those about to be illuminated/enlightened” (photizomenoi). Moreover, the “light from light” image was so indispensable as a symbol of the idea of undiminished giving that it can rightly be thought of as the foundational image of Nicene Christology (cf. Jaroslav Pelikan’s little gem of a book, The Light of the World: A Basic Image in Early Christian Thought, 1962). 

But what caught my attention even more is the quotation of Jesus with which Fr. Imbelli’s excerpt concludes. The Pope said: “‘Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,’ as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said.” It’s true that this is one of the so-called agrapha from the early Church, things which early Christian writers said that Jesus said, but which the New Testament does not record. And it’s true that Origen said that Jesus said this, and Jesus certainly might have said this.

But another true way of reporting the quote would be: “‘Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,’ as Jesus is reported by the Gospel of Thomas to have said.” (It’s logion #82, for those interested.) MORE...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Sabbatical Blog?

Well I am finally making it to my second sabbatical in my career.  Once I turn my grades in in May, I am considering myself to officially be on sabbatical.  It is much needed, believe me, and it will be for the entire next academic year thanks to the success of a Rice Individual Faculty Fellowship generously granted to me by the Humanities Research Center at Rice University which is funding the second semester.  My project?  You guessed it.  I will be writing my book The Ancient New Age: The Triumph of Gnostic Spirituality and the Birth of Christianity.

So I was wondering whether or not to start blogging about what I am doing while on Sabbatical?  It might be interesting to log my progress.  It might help me think through the tough spots, the blind spots and the discouraging spots.  And it would be a boon to get feedback from you on some of my ideas as I am in the process of writing.

Is this something that you would be interested in following?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nightline on the Patio Tomb

Here is a link to the Nightline featuring James Tabor and Mark Goodacre last night.  I don't have cable so I had to watch this on the internet this morning.  The link is HERE.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

"Un"Convention at Rice

This year has flown by.  Or at least it seems like it.  I have been busier than ever (in case you haven't noticed that I nearly abandoned my blog because I couldn't keep up with the blogging world, my office, my students, my research, and my home this year).

I am in the last weeks of courses here at Rice and this week Rice is having an "Un"Convention to open up the campus to Houstonians and other visitors to see what we are all up to here on the most beautiful campus in the world.  Our logo at Rice is the Owl (it is Athena's bird, the symbol of wisdom) and we pride ourselves as those who seek and teach innovative thinking, what we call "Unconventional Wisdom".

There are many activities planned over the next few days and you can find a link to them HERE.  I invite you to come to campus and enjoy some of these activities if you are in town.

An explanation from the media:
For 100 years, Rice faculty, researchers and students have believed that anything is possible — that drive, devotion and innovative thinking can turn ideas into achievements. We call it unconventional wisdom. Help us celebrate an unconventional century at the UnConvention, a campuswide open house April 12–14. As we move towards our Centennial Celebration in October, we’re inviting all of Houston to venture inside the hedges and explore Rice through tours, demonstrations, concerts, lectures, athletic events, art exhibits and more.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Book Review of The Jesus Discovery

This just published in the Winnipeg Free Press on The Jesus Discovery by Bill Rambo (link sent to me by John McGinley):
Sensational discoveries and unconventional interpretations of religious art and archeology got a black eye in the last decade with the success and backlash surrounding Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, and its prequels and sequels.

Much less glitzy, but much better researched and presented, The Jesus Discovery by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici is sensational, unconventional and thought-provoking.  MORE...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On my way to Groningen

I am getting on a plane in a few hours to make the trek across the Atlantic to Amsterdam and then by train to Groningen.  I am speaking at the University of Groningen on the subject of the Gnostics and the Ancient New Age.  This is a first peek at the research I am currently conducting as I write my latest book, The Ancient New Age: The Birth of Christianity and the Triumph of Gnostic Spirituality.  I will be sharing the initial work I have done on recovering the Gnostic from the ancient testimonies.  My approach is quite different from what has gone on before.  I am looking at the question from the angle of the cognitive, in other words, how did the ancients understand and use the concept Gnostic?  This allows me to get at a new type of religiosity that I argue emerges in the first century: Gnostic spirituality.  You heard it first here!

Frustrations about the fish

I know that people are frustrated with the Patio tomb ossuary.  It is okay that there are differing opinions emerging.  This is how scholarship works.  Whenever there is a new find, it is important for us as a community to weigh all the options and decide which opinions best support the evidence so that a hypothesis or two can emerge and some consensus reached.  This may take some years.  The start of this is what is going on right now. 

At this point, there is no single solution.  There are a number of solutions that must be vetted and more investigation is likely going to be necessary.  At this point we have a reading of the ossuary that has been put forth by Simcha and Tabor, and others are now weighing in and presenting their views since this is all new information for all of us. 

I hope that we don't make a war out of this, but can proceed with caution, logic, collegiality and professionalism. 

Let's get all the options out on the table, and talk them through.  The Jonah option is one.  The vase is another.  I think these are the two most logical options at this moment.  What do the ossuary experts say when this image is compared to ossuary art?  We need funerary context to figure this out. 

James Tabor writes in the comments to my previous post on this subject:
Yuval...has said of all the ossuaries in the Bet Shemesh/Rockefeller collection (upwards of 1500 now I think--as Rahmani only goes back to 1989), with at least 350 inscribed (estimate based on Cotton, CIIP) he has never seen anything like our image, that it is definitely not a nephesh or a vessel of any time known on ossuaries. He thinks the fish/Jonah suggestion is the most convincing yet.
Tabor also writes about the image in the same comment on my blog:
What I have said is that none of our photos have been altered, doctored, or photoshopped in any way. They are precisely the images the camera produced taken from the hundreds of hours of video tape and freeze frames taken during the actual process. That is what is false, plus the charge/implication that we are dishonest and manipulate evidence to try to fit a theory. Nothing has been touched. There is no single photo showing the entire image, however, by moving the robotic arm in all positions the complete image is visible. In addition to the photos, to allow people to see the entire image at once, there are CGI images produced by GE Information Technologies. These are clearly labeled as such (see
Tom Verenna continues to think it is a vase of some sort and posted a second round of evidence HERE.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Note: Revelations by Elaine Pagel

Elaine Pagels has published a new book on Revelation and revelations in early Christianity.  There was a terrific review of it in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik HERE

I must confess that if Mr. Gopnik ever needs a book to review, I would be completely beside myself with joy if he were to review one of mine.  Wow can he write!  Give him a raise!

There is another review of the book in The Washington Post HERE.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It looks like a fish to me

I don't know what to make of the ossuary in the Patio tomb because I haven't had a chance to study it as thoroughly as others, and really I'm not that keen on the fact that the tomb hasn't been physically excavated yet, so there is no telling what contextual information we are missing.  But from the pictures in Tabor's and Jacobovici's book, I see a fish too.  Either the fish has really big lips, or it is eating something, or it is coughing something out of its mouth. But it looks like a fish to me.  What do you think it is?

UPDATE: Bob Cargill examines the digital enhancement of the photograph in detail HERE. It is a very detailed post, suggesting that the pictures in the book have been manipulated so that the image is viewed straight on instead of from an angle.  This change of perspective makes the image look more like a fish than the original photograph, he argues.

All of this leaves me puzzled.  I am not sure what to make of any of this.  I don't see a tower because it would have to be upside down on the ossuary if it were a tower.  Nor do I see a vase because vases do not have a small round knob as a base.  If it is a vase, it is one that would not be able to stand on its own.  I think we need to entertain as many options as we can.  What else could it be?

UPDATE 2: James Tabor left this in the comments:
The charges of manipulation and alteration are simply false. There are no doctored photos and the "fish," no matter how it is positioned, is a fish... Those who have objected that a fish would not be nose down have missed the main point--the notion of Jonah being vomited on the land. Fish don't swim in tail first...again, see my latest blog post. The perfume bottle will not fly. We know what those flasks looked like in that time and culture, and even the Persian examples that Tom and others site do not look like fish. Lots of comments on the ASOR blog.
UPDATE 3: Tom Verenna's link to a discussion of vases can be found HERE.  Some very interesting comparisons, although the top part of the figure looks more like a tail fin to me than the top of a vase.  What I would really like to see is more examples of artwork on ossuaries.  What are the common patterns?  How does this ossuary compare to others?  Are vases common drawings on ossuaries?  If so, do they look like this figure?  

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Book Review of Holy Misogyny

This nice write up on my book, Holy Misogyny, was just published by Midwest Book Review:
The earliest decades of the Christian movement saw the beginnings of gender role conflicts exemplified by Paul's exhortation against women preaching in church gatherings. The suppression of women's roles in favor of male ecclesiastical privilege continued to strengthen in the succeeding early centuries and still have immense ramifications in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant congregations and churches today. "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a superbly researched 200-page compendium by April D. DeConick (Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University) presenting the origins of such Christian doctrinal issues as to why God is male, the association of women with sin, the denial of priesthood to females, and more. Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a strongly recommended read for anyone concerned with the origin of gender equality issues within the contemporary Christian community.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Note: Esotericism and the Academy (Wouter J. Hanegraaff)

This is just a quick note to let you know that Hanegraaff's newest book on esotericism has been published by Cambridge.  The book studies the Academy's marginalization of esotericism in the modern era. Hanegraaff puts forward a convincing argument that esotericism has had an incredible impact on western thought since the Renaissance, and the time has come to acknowledge and study this.  It is about time!

Wouter J. Hanegraaff,  Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture

The Table of Contents:

Introduction: Hic sunt dracones
1. The History of Truth: Recovering Ancient Wisdom
Competing Macrohistories – Platonic Orientalism – The Christian Apologists – The Wise Man from
the East: Gemistos Plethon – The Platonic Theologian: Marsilio Ficino – Secret Moses: Giovanni Pico
della Mirandola and Christian Kabbalah – The Universal Catholic: Agostino Steuco – The End of a

2. The History of Error: Exorcizing Paganism
Against the Pagans – Against the Fathers – The Anti‐Apologist: Jacob Thomasius – The
Heresiologist: Ehregott Daniel Colberg – The Pietist Reaction – The Birth of Religionism: Gottfried
Arnold –Enlightenment and Eclipse – The Historian: Jacob Brucker – The Parting of the Ways

3. The Error of History: Imagining the Occult
Tainted Terminologies 1: Superstition – Tainted Terminologies 2: Magic – Tainted Terminologies 3:
Occult – Alchemy between Science and Religion – The Organization of Secrecy – The Occult
Marketplace – Elemental Fiction – Compendia of Rejected Knowledge – Secret Traditions and
Hidden Histories – The Waste Land

4. The Truth of History: Entering the Academy
Magnetic Historiography: German Romantic Mesmerism and Evolutionism – The Archetype of
Eranos: Carl Gustav Jung and the Western Unconscious – Eranos and Religionism: Scholem, Corbin,
Eliade – The Return of the Historians: From Peuckert and Thorndike to Frances Yates – Antoine
Faivre and Western Esotericism – Esotericism in the Academy
Conclusion: Restoring Memory
Here is the publisher's description:
Academics tend to look on 'esoteric', 'occult' or 'magical' beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of 'pagan' ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Note: Dark Mirrors by Andrei A. Orlov

Andrei Orlov presents us with a new book on a wicked subject: the origins and development of the demons Azazel and Satanael in early Judaism and Christianity. 

I remember when, a few years ago, Professor Orlov was working on the temptation narratives in the gospels and presented a paper in the New Testament Mysticism Project on Satan.  He noted that the narrative of Satan was an upside down version of patterns of ascent of heroes in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  I recall how this insight was met with enthusiasm among the group, and it appears to have become the impetus for Professor Orlov to explore this symmetry more fully.  Now he gives us the results of that exploration in a wonderful book just published by SUNY.  It is called Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology

The book takes up the correspondence of inverse symmetry, when the antagonist or protagonist of the story takes the place of his opponent by acquiring peculiar attributes and conditions of his counterpart. He notes that in the Book of the Watchers, the fallen angels and the hero Enoch mirror each other in the exchange of offices, roles, attributes, and even wardrobes (5).  Professor Orlov traces this pattern in two traditions, one involving Satan as the source of evil, the other Azazel.  His study plays close attention to the sacerdotal dimension of this demonology, showing that the peculiar transformations of the adversaries have cultic signficance within the liturgical settings of the Jewish tradition (7).

The book is written along these chapter lines:
1: "The Likeness of Heaven": Kavod of Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham
2: Eschatological Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham: The Scapegoat Ritual
3: The Garment of Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham
4: The Watchers of Satanael: The Fallen Angels Traditions in 2 Slavonic Enoch
5: Satan and the Visionary: Apocalyptic Roles of the Adversary in the Temptation Narrative of the Gospel of Matthew
6: The Flooded Arboretums: The Garden Traditions in the Slavonic Version of 3 Baruch and the Book of Giants
It is wonderful to see this book come into being from its glowing inception during our seminar to its book form.  And wow! SUNY finally made a gorgeous cover.

I leave you with a verse that opens his book, which leaves me to ponder the power of the deep and dark which the Gnostics I study also knew:

Come and see: There are chariots of the left in the mystery of the Other Side and chariots of the right in the mystery of the supernal Holiness, and they match one another...(Zohar I.211b).