Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Qumran Institute and Conference

Professor Mladen Popovic asked me to post information about the website for the Groningen Qumran Institute which will be hosting a conference on scripture in Ancient Judaism.

Honoring Professor Florentino García Martínez’s great achievements for the Groningen Qumran Institute and Dead Sea Scrolls studies and initiating a new series of biennial conferences, the Qumran Institute announces

The Authoritativeness of Scriptures in Ancient Judaism:

The Contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature

A Symposium at the Groningen Qumran Institute, 28–29 April 2008

Organization: Mladen Popović (m.popovic@rug.nl)


Monday, 28 April 2008

9.15-9.30 Opening

9.30-10.15 Ed Noort (University of Groningen): The Need of Authority: From Joshua the Successor to the Joshua Apocryphon

10.15-11.00 Julio Trebolle Barrera (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain): Authoritative Scripture as Reflected in the Textual Transmission of the Biblical Books

11.00-11.30 Break

11.30-12.15 Arie van der Kooij (University of Leiden): Authoritative Scriptures and Scribal Culture

12.15-13.00 Émile Puech (École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem, Israel): Quelques observations sur le canon des Écrits

13.15-14.15 Lunch

14.30-15.15 George van Kooten (University of Groningen): The Authority of David and Christ’s Davidic Lineage in Paul (Romans 1.3, 4.6, 11.9)

15.15-16.00 Tobias Nicklas (Universität Regensburg, Germany): “The words of the book of this prophecy” (Rev 22.19): Playing with Authority in the Book of Revelation

16.00-16.30 Break

16.30-17.15 Michael Knibb (King’s College, London, UK): “The Mosaic Torah is Conspicuously Absent in the Early Enochic Literature”: Reflections on the Status of 1 Enoch

17.15-18.00 Hindy Najman (University of Toronto, Canada): Exile, Exemplarity and Revelation in 4 Ezra

18.00-19.00 George Brooke (University of Manchester, UK): The Apocalyptic Community and Rewriting Scripture

19.30 Dinner

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

9.15-10.00 Jacques van Ruiten (University of Groningen): Rewritten Bible and the Authoritativeness of Scriptures

10.00-10.45 Emanuel Tov (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel): From 4QReworked Pentateuch to 4QPentateuch

10.45-11.15 Break

11.15-12.00 Mladen Popović (Qumran Institute, University of Groningen): Ezekiel and Pseudo-Ezekiel in the Dead Sea Scrolls

12.00-12.45 Eibert Tigchelaar (Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA): Aramaic Texts from Qumran and the Authoritativeness of Hebrew Scripture

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.15-15.00 Charlotte Hempel (University of Birmingham, UK): Pluralism and Authoritativeness: The Case of the S Tradition

15.00-15.45 John Collins (Yale University, New Haven, USA): Prophecy and the Authority of History in the Pesharim

15.45-16.30 Jan Bremmer (University of Groningen): How Holy are Holy Books? A Comparison of Greece, Rome, Early Judaism and Early Christianity

16.30-17.00 Break

17.00-18.15 Keynote address: Florentino García Martínez (University of Groningen/Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium): Rethinking the Bible: Sixty Years of Dead Sea Scrolls Research and Beyond

18.15 Reception

19.30 Dinner

Saturday, January 26, 2008

26th International ARAM Conference: The Mandaeans

This just in my mailbox, on the upcoming Mandaean Conference: Last Call for Papers

From: Aram Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies [aram@aramsociety.org]
Subject: Mandaean Conference: Last Call for Papers
ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies is organizing its Twenty Sixth International Conference on the theme of The Mandaeans, to held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 08-10September 2008.

The conference aims to study Mandaeism and its relationship to Near Eastern religions and Gnostic movements, and it will start on Monday 08 September at9am, finishing on Wednesday 10 September at 6pm. Each speaker’s paper is limited to 30 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for discussion.

If you wish to participate in the conference, please send your answer to the above ARAM e-mail address before March 2008. If you know of colleagues who might like to contribute to the conference, please forward this message to them or send us their names and email addresses. Yet, we would like to remind our colleagues that only academics are allowed to present a paper atan ARAM conference.

All papers given at the conference will be considered for publication in a future edition of the ARAM Periodical, subject to editorial review. If you wish to know more about our ARAM Society and its academic activities,please open our website: www.aramsociety.org

If you have any questions or comments at any time, I am always happy to receive them.

Yours sincerely, Shafiq Abouzayd (Dr.) Aram Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Society The Oriental Institute University of Oxford Pusey Lane Oxford OX1 2LE shafiq.abouzayd@orinst.ox.ac.uk

Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Note: Judaism and the Gentiles. Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE) by Terence L. Donaldson

Baylor Press had just released a book by Terence L. Donaldson called Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE). It is 563 pages. The thesis, that Judaism was not a particularistic religion, but was as inclusive and open to other nations as was Christianity, is not only discussed across the literature, but also physical evidence weighs in. Four main patterns of universalism are argued: (1) that there was a spectrum of Gentile sympathizers who engaged in activity that appears to imply some measure of sympathy for Jews and Judaism; (2) that there were converts, both proselytes and those Gentiles who fully adopted a Jewish life and community; (3) that there were ethical monotheists, who saw the Torah and Greek philosophy as parallel paths to the same end, a universal deity and a life of virtue; (4) that there was a belief in eschatological redemption for the Gentiles who would abandon idols and turn to Yahweh in worship.

The book is set up in a way that allows for a case-by-case examination of each piece of evidence. This is a wonderful procedure because it allows for each passage, document or inscription to be evidence for its own time and place, leaving open sociological and geographical variations. All the texts are recorded in full in the first half of the book. Each is introduced by a handy guide, telling where the original is published, what translation is used, date, provenance, original language, and short bibliography. What follows each text is Donaldson's commentary. The texts are grouped in these categories: Scripture/LXX/Apocrypha; Pseudepigrapha; Qumran; Philo; Josephus; Greco-Roman Literature; Early Christian Literature; Inscriptions.

Part 2 is a dedicated discussion of the evidence culled from Part 1. So Donaldson has a chapter each on Sympathization; Conversion; Ethical Monotheism; Participation in Eschatological Salvation.

In the end, Donaldson argues that Christianity's globalization of its religion is not a unique development of Christianity. It is firmly based in a universalism already at work in Judaism.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Official Statement from PTS on Talpiot Conference

The steering committee for the Talpiot Conference in Jerusalem has just issued an official statement about the results of the conference HERE.

Collecting Talpiot Reactions

The editor at Biblical Archaeology Review is collecting on-line reactions to the Talpiot conference HERE. It's a nice site if you want to get a general overview of a number of scholars' reactions. Thanks to BAS for this good idea.

Abstracts and Schedule for Codex Judas Congress

The Codex Judas Congress is right around the corner. I have begun uploading abstracts of the papers and have compiled a tentative schedule of events. Check back to these pages occasionally because I am going to updating them as we get closer to the Congress. Please circulate this information, and if you are in town, please join us.

Also NOTE that I have put this logo on my left sidebar with direct links to the pages for the abstracts and the schedule of events. This should make it simple to find this information in the future.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Tomb that Won't Close: More Reflections on the Talpiot Conference

Some have asked my opinion of the Duke letter that is now circulating with signatures from several scholars who attended the Talpiot conference. Mark Goodacre has posted it on his blog.

First let me say up front that I do not have a dog in this fight. I find the discussion interesting, mostly imaginative, but very contentious. I went to the conference a skeptic and I have returned home a skeptic, although a much more informed one.

What I learned at the conference is that Mary Magdalene is the linchpin. Without the Mariamne inscription factored into the stats, the stats are insignificant statistically. Since the Mariamne inscription should be read, "Mariam(e) kai Mara", this means that the stats as they have been run with Mariamne are not compelling proof.

The statisticians, however, were very clear that a different set of assumptions would mean a different result. What if we were to change the assumptions and run a different set of names, Mariame instead of Mariamne? What if we get rid of Jesus' sisters' names which were part of the original equation? Since we don't actually know his sisters' names (and how they got on the statistician's list is a mystery to me), Joanna and Salome can't be on the list of possibilities for those who might belong in the tomb. So the conference discussion did not result in a definitive dismissal. Rather the suggestion was made by more than one participant, including Stephen Pfann, that the statisticians might try a different range of names as the assumptions for the problem.

The same is true about the DNA tests. They were contaminated. So they are inconclusive. The DNA specialist, however, told us exactly what has to be done to do the tests correctly. But the tests are very expensive and no one at the conference seemed compelled to take up the charge to go and do it right, although it was suggested that this should be something to pursue.

I found the Duke letter arresting because it takes at historical face value the canonical stories, with little appreciation for critical textual methods. The proof that the Talpiot Tomb can't be Jesus' tomb is because the canonical stories relate that Joseph buried him in a new cut tomb of his own?

Finally, and perhaps the most compelling reason that I did not sign this letter is the marginalization of Gat's widow, which I find offensive. Her treatment is appalling to me, especially with no proof given that we shouldn't trust her words. What benefit is there to discredit her memory of her husband and his work? It makes absolutely no difference to the Talpiot Tomb discussion whether or not Professor Gat thought this was or wasn't the Jesus family tomb. So why would a handful of archaeologists feel so compelled to argue that she doesn't know what she is talking about because Gat didn't read the inscriptions? I assume that he could read Hebrew fluently.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Response (7) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

This is my final response, covering his material on Pistis Sophia. I found this part of his paper to be very interesting, although I think that it shows a Valentinian Gnostic pattern quite distinct from the Sethian. So it is not going to be as helpful illuminating the Gospel of Judas' pattern than Meyer might think. This is only my initial reaction. I need to study these patterns more closely, which I'm actually doing for the Codex Judas Congress. I have been researching patterns of 12 and 13, especially as they relate to the apostles and the cosmic structures and claims to authority.

So perhaps I will leave this whole discussion to that conference, and Meyer and I can have some common ground to discuss when he comes to town. Personally I would like to move the conversation on the Judas gospel and the Tchacos Codex beyond the deadlock we have been engaged in the last few months.

By the way, don't forget that Meyer and Wurst are going to be giving a public lecture (March 13, 7-8 p.m., Rice University) on how they restored the codex from a box of fragments, and what media involvement and corporations means for scholarship.

Response (6) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

6. The 13th. Numerology is especially important for the Gnostics. Their cosmos is built on different enumerations of the aeonic and cosmic realms. The early Sethian enumeration of the cosmic realm is based on the seven planets and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The number five (12 minus 7) is attributed to the hells. Above these twelve realms is another realm of fixed stars where the demiurge lives, in the 13th.

In the Gospel of Judas, Judas isn’t simply the 13th Demon, his star is attached to the 13th realm which means that the 13th realm in the Gospel of Judas is a cosmic one, not one of the pleromic realms above the cosmos. Stars are fixtures of this universe and govern it. There are no stars in the pleroma. Furthermore, the Gospel of Judas says that Nebro(el)-Ialdabaoth and Saklas lived in clouds and with their six assistants generated twelve angels in the heavens and gave them to the twelve angels for dwelling places. This means that Nebro(el)-Ialdabaoth and Saklas live above the 12th heaven in the 13th realm of fixed stars that is referred as the 13th realm in which Judas' star dwells. This isn't the cosmology just in this text, but is also found in other Sethian texts as I explain in my book.

The reference to thirteen “seals” in Marsanes, is not the same reference. We shouldn't be mixing them up. The seals do not represent 13 cosmic realms, but refer to the fact that the initiate must be sealed 13 times in a ritual activity. Furthermore in this late text, the first three seals are associated with the cosmos and ascending beyond it. The fourth and fifth seals concern the place of disembodied souls and repentant souls. The sixth seal is the seal that belongs to the self-generated aeons. And so forth.

Response (5) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

5. Transcription problems are another thing entirely. There are two transcription errors that NGS has corrected from the time it published the first popular book to the Critical Edition. These have been corrected, so why are they still important to point out? Because the public doesn’t know about them and because the corrected transcription makes for completely opposite readings in vital interpretative areas. The original wrong readings have affected the way that this text was initially interpreted and presented to the public.

Bottom p. 46 of manuscript. How did I see that the original NGS publication had emended this text and translated it: “they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]”? I compared this reading to their Coptic transcription which had been posted on-line. An [n] appeared in brackets in front of nekktê. This reads nekktê as a noun rather than an emphatic negative future verb. Through this emendation (when the n was added), the negative is no longer present in the sentence. When we met in the Sorbonne, several of us raised this point quite loudly, and then we were given another provisional transcription that would form the basis for the Critical Edition. In that edition, the emendation was gone and ktê was replaced with bôk. Now it reads: “they […] to you, and you shall not ascend to the holy generation.” The negative emphatic future is back, but with a different verb.

By the way, there is no footnote in the popular edition to indicate that the team had altered the text and that their translation was based on that alteration. There isn’t even a bracket around [your ascent]. The footnote arrived in the Critical Edition when two outside scholars, Nagel and Funk, pushed the issue.

My point is that emendations are very dangerous and often wrong because they are conscious decisions. No matter how innocent they may seem, they should be avoided except where there is no better explanation. This is especially true when we are dealing with emendations that change the sentence from negative to positive or positive to negative.

I have not made any damning, slanderous, or defamatory charges against Meyer or anyone else on the NGS team. What I have said is that the text was altered by the team when this emendation was made. This is a fact that can easily be observed. I also go on in my Op. Ed. piece to say that I do not know why this mistake (and the others) were made, but it is a question that I would like answered. I think that the emendation of this text was a mistake, that consequently the altered reading of this text has led the public and other scholars to believe that Judas ascends to the holy generation when he does not.

I have not made any statement of intentionality. I have left this as an open question in the Op. Ed. piece, wondering about two possibilities: that the task of reconstruction was difficult and that the scholars were working under conditions abnormal and harmful for the academic process. Meyer has now answered that question in his response to me: the text was a nightmare; that they kept working on it after the popular translation was published; that they got feedback from external scholars which made them put away the emendation.

Response (4.2) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

4.2 daimon I agree that there are contexts where daimon can be translated as “a divinity” a point I did make in my book. But the conventional translation of this word in Gnostic texts is “demon” because the realms around the world are filled with beings that are created by the demiurge and work for him against the high god. When these archonic beings are called “angels” (angeloi) it is not in the sense of good angels, but the fallen angels who rape women, bring sinful things to humans, and war against the high god (Enoch; Gen 6).

This is why Meyer correctly translates in his new edited volume, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, daimon as “demon” in all instances that I have been able to locate (except the one in question in the Gospel of Judas). If someone finds a case where daimon isn't translated demon in this new edition of the NHS, please let me know.

One passage that Meyer translates with both daimon and pneuma is sufficient to demonstrate my point: “For…all…among the [dominions and] these authorities and archangels and powers and the whole generations of demons (daimôn)…Awaken your mind, Paul, and notice that this mountain where you are standing is the mountain of Jericho, so that you may come to know the things hidden in what is visible. You will meet the twelve apostles, for they are chosen spirits (pneuma), and they will welcome you.”

Response (4.1) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

4.1 porj e- As for Meyer’s insistence that I “must know, these are not ‘mistranslations’ at all, but rather they represent alternative ways of understanding a difficult text” and that he has footnoted the alternatives, I think we need to be very clear here. When is an alternative “erroneous”?

Let’s look at porj e- (separate from) which Meyer is still insisting can be translated “set apart for.” There was no footnote with another translation in the popular edition, but one can be found in the Critical Edition now which understands “separate from” to be an alternative. But is it an alternative? Crum (271b-272a) says that the expression means a) “divide from” in transitive sense and “be divided from” in intransitive sense; b) “divide into” in transitive sense and “be divided into” in intransitive sense. Now when one examines actual Coptic sentences that are translations of Greek originals, it is clear that a) is used to mean to divide or separate one thing from another and b) is used to mean to divide into separate things. It is not used to mean “to set apart for” (such as Rom. 1:1), an expression that must contain ebol (porj ebol e-) and is used regularly in Coptic literature. This is its correct usage and Kasser appears to know it because that is how he translates this passage in the French. This should be the translation maintained in the English as well. “Separate from” is not an alternative translation. It is the correct translation. I am glad to read that Meyer is “increasingly inclined to translate this difficult Coptic phrase as ‘set apart from.’”

While we are on this subject, I might also point out that on page 159 of the Critical Edition (James 29.2) is also incorrect. Here is the expression porj ebol e- which has wrongly been translated “these three are separated from a place of faith.” It should read “these three are set apart for a place of faith.” Who are the three? Sapphira, Susanna and Joanna who are three of the seven women disciples who receive esoteric teaching. By the way, there is no footnote in the Critical Edition indicating “set apart for” as an “alternative” reading in James 29.2.

Response (4) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

4. The popular book which was released to the public was based on a provisional Coptic translation that now turns out to be flawed. Some of these errors have been acknowledged and corrected in The Critical Edition put out by NGS a year later. Others have not. Now we have the problem of going about correcting the errors after the fact and in a public forum, which is uncomfortable for all involved. But this is what happens when our work is not vetted through the normal channels of blind peer review before publication. This academic procedure allows for errors to be corrected before the text is published. This helps to avoid the perpetuation of the errors by other scholars who rely on the publication for their own work. All of us make errors. Hopefully they are caught before publication.

Response (3) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

3. This text is not good news about Judas, just as the gospel of Matthew in not good news about Matthew. It is good news about Jesus from the perspective of the Sethian Gnostic Christians – that they are the holy generation taught by Jesus and possessors of his secrets. Because of this, they are saved. The rest of Christians are ignorant and worship Ialdabaoth. Because of this, they remain under the influence of Fate, and probably will be destroyed along with the cosmos. Because of the fragmentary nature of the gospel, it is uncertain whether or not this situation is predestined.

Response (2) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

2. Gnostic texts use parody and satire quite frequently. This is found, for instance, in the Testimony of Truth, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Acts of John, which take aim at apostolic Christians and their practices and beliefs. The Sethians were particularly good at making fun of traditional biblical beliefs, especially when it came to the Genesis story and their use of traditional verses like “Besides me there is no god” by applying it to Ialdabaoth and implying that this is the god that other Christians ignorantly are worshiping. I do not think of the Gospel of Judas as a parody in terms of a modern comic skit or genre. I have never used it this way, nor would I.

Response (1) to Marvin Meyer: The Thirteenth Daimon

I am happy to see Professor Meyer offer his reflections on the Gospel of Judas, responding critically to me. You can find his response "The Thirteenth Daimon," on his new website. Let me take the points he raises and reflect upon each one. I will post separately on each issue as time permits. This means that you might have to read them in ascending order.

1. A small but important point. My interpretation is not revisionist. There was never an opportunity granted to scholars worldwide to discuss this text and settle on a consensus. What happened is that National Geographic had a monopoly on the text, published their interpretation, had a media machine that made it appear that their reading of the text was and should be it. Once other scholars had the opportunity to study the text this last year and begin to get their opinions into print (which normally takes a year) we are seeing that the NGS interpretation is NOT the consensus, and the type of interpretation I am in favor of is supported by a growing number of scholars who are initially publishing their takes on this text. It will be several years before we can determine what (if any) will be the consensus let alone what is revisionist.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Reflections on the Talpiot Tomb Princeton Theological Seminary Conference

I flew back into Houston a few hours ago. Sorry that I was unable to blog while in Jerusalem, but the computer connections weren't fast enough to be able to get my observations posted in a timely fashion.

If you have any questions about the conference, ask and I will do my best to answer them. If you attended the conference too and want to add something to my list, or correct me if you had a different take, let me know in the comments and I'll flip your comment up to the main page.

This was one of the most extra-ordinary conferences I have had the privilege of participating in. I learned an enormous amount of information about disciplines I normally don't interact with, including statistics. The conference had so many high moments - and high emotions with many conference members yelling and becoming agitated, especially the archaeologists who seem to have very contrary opinions among themselves and about the involvement of the media in their discipline. At one point, Professor Charlesworth had to intervene and call for order.

What did I learn?

1. There were two stats professors on the panel: Andrey Feuerverger (who had to create a new methodology to deal with the problem and is now publishing his 100 page result in a refereed stats journal) and his very vocal critic, Camil Fuchs (who was one of the referees for Feuerverger's article). The stats are fascinating, and everything is dependent on Mary Magdalene according to both professors - whether Mariamenou kai Mara refers to her. If she is "in" the equation, the stats are astounding, double what had been previously aired in The Lost Tomb film. If she's out of the equation, then the numbers are not statistically meaningful. Many participants wanted Feuerverger to run different scenarios with different assumptions, but he was hesitant because the paper that he has written has already taken so much out of him in terms of time and commitment.

2. So everything is dependent on Mary Magdalene, a woman. The panel on Mary included myself, Jane Schaberg, and Ann Grahman Brock. My own conclusions about Mary:

2.1 Mariamenou kai Mara can't be maintained as the best reading of the inscription in my opinion. There are major problems with Mariame[noue]Mara, as Steven Pfann and Jonathan Price have pointed out. The inscription ought to be read: MARIAMEKAIMARA. This translates either "Mariame and Mara (=Martha)" (if the second part of the inscription KAIMARA were added at a later date with new bones of a new person were put in the ossuary) or "Mariam, who is also Mara" (if the inscription was written at the same time). Some at the conference wanted to play around with the inscription IDs and wondered if "Mariam, who is also Mara" might refer to Mary the mother, while the other "Maria" ossuary might refer to one of Jesus' sisters (according to the Gospel of Philip, Mary is the name of his mother, his sister, and his partner) or Mary Magdalene.

2.2 It is questionable in my opinion whether Mariamene (which is what Rahmani said Mariamenou derived from) is even a name for Mary Magdalene. The "E" has to drop out to get Mariamne which occurs in the Acts of Philip. But Mariamne in the Acts of Philip isn't distinctively identified with Mary Magdalene; she appears to have been understood in some of the manuscripts as Mary of Bethany sister of Martha. Mary Magdalene in fact has a plethora of names attached to her from the very early sources: Mariam, Maria, Mariamme, Mariammen, Mariamne, Maria he Magdalene (but not Mariamene, as far as I know - please correct me if I'm wrong).

2.3 The Magdalenes in our literature are memorial Maries rather than historical Maries. I contrasted the encratic Mary (female-become-male celibate) with the Valentinian gnostic Mary (wife of Jesus). I explained how these Maries are the result of communal memory functioning within different socio-religious environments. The earlier knowledge of Mary that they seem to be developing is the tradition that Mary Magdalene was a single woman, who was a disciple of Jesus, and an important Christian leader. This is plausible historical information about her.

3. On the final day of the conference, I asked if only family members could be in these tombs. I got "yes" from some of the archaeologists and "no" from others. When they were pushed, I got "we don't know." Why? because not all ossuaries are marked with information about relationships that the deceased had with each other. On average there is buried 4-6 people in one bone box, and sometimes the box only has one name on it. The period of ossuary burial in these "family" tombs is very brief. By the second century, catacomb burial arrived full force, probably influenced by Roman practice.

4. The KEY moment at the conference was when the widow of Joseph Gat (the man who originally excavated the tomb) accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award given by Princeton for her husband. She gave a moving speech in which she shocked us all. It has been said over and over by the archaeologists that there isn't anything particularly stirring about the cluster of names on these ossuaries, and no one seemed to notice them including Professor Gat. Mrs. Gat told us that when he salvaged the tomb contents her husband thought that this tomb was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and because he was a Holocaust survivor, he kept silent. He was afraid that a wave of anti-semitism would erupt if he said anything.

5. The patina expert (I am forgetting his name because he sat in the audience rather than up front on the panel floor) said that it could be significant that the James ossuary and the others in the Talpiot tomb had the same patina, especially since the Talpiot ossuaries were half covered with earth and the tomb had been breached. He said that the random sample that was tested wasn't high enough - another 50 ossuaries would need to be tested, and other tombs in the immediate proximity of the Talpiot tomb would need to be tested too. So there is more work that would need to be done to link the James ossuary to the Talpiot tomb. But it is not the 10th ossuary that Gat found. The 10th one was plain, uninscribed and broken. The archaeologists were very verbal and very committed to this. Could there have been another ossuary looted from this tomb before Gat got there? Who knows. More tests would need to be run to figure this out. We found out that these tests are very costly and time consuming, so who knows if they will be conducted.

6. The DNA test that was run on the Mariame ossuary was so contaminated that the results have to be thrown out.

7. The results. We didn't take a vote, or anything like that. There seemed to me to be an enormous range of opinions, many of which were connected into theology and why theologically it can't be the tomb of Jesus and his family. There were some that said "No way" for other reasons. Most people I polled during the reception said that there wasn't enough evidence to make a positive identification (for various reasons), so they said they were "very skeptical" or "skeptical." A few people, however, did find it likely if not probable. There were a number of scholars who thought that this might be an early Christian tomb or what Professor Charlesworth called a "clan" tomb, rather than a "family" tomb.

Here are the High Resolution Photos for Tchacos Codex

I was e-mailed this link last week but asked to wait until this week to post it, once National Geographic Society had uploaded the files. These are the high resolution photographs of the Tchacos Codex finally.

Garrett Brown, the editor for NGS writes:
" National Geographic sincerely hopes that these images will facilitate the proper study and evaluation of the manuscript pages."

I want to thank the NGS for making these available to the scholarly world so that all have equal access to the manuscripts.

Tchacos Codex high resolution photographs from National Geographic Society

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Off to Jerusalem

I'm heading to the airport. Next stop Newark, then Jerusalem for the Talpiot conference. Still don't have a final agenda to post, but I will try to find a computer in Jerusalem and send along updates on the conference and proceedings.

Codex Judas Congress Poster Presentations

If you are a graduate student and would like to contribute a poster and a paper to the Codex Judas Congress, I've extended the deadline since I'm going to be out-of-town until the 17th. So get me your application by the end of January. Keep in mind that your papers will be uploaded with the others for the participants to read, and will be considered for publication in the conference volume. Thanks to those who have already submitted. It looks to me like it will be a very good conference!

Registration for Lodging for Codex Judas Congress

I was able to secure a block of rooms at a reduced rate ($159 per night) for out-of-town attendees of the Codex Judas Congress. The hotel is the Marriott near the university campus. It is a short walk, one-stop train ride, or free shuttle ride from the hotel to campus. Here is a link to their website if you want to check it out.

If you plan to attend, you will need to register at the hotel for your stay. In order for the hotel to give you the reduced rate in this block of rooms, you need to go to its website link and register by Friday, February 15. In GROUP CODE BOX put: CJDO. And fill out the rest of your registration request. Or call 1-800-228-9290, and use the same code for registering (CJDO).

By the way, there is no charge to attend the Congress sessions themselves, when the slated scholars will be discussing their papers.

The rodeo is in town that weekend, so other hotels, especially in this vicinity and rate, may not be easy to secure.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Disappearing Mandaeans

The personal story of the Mandaean Wini family can be heard by clicking the icon in the upper right corner of the screen. It is a radio interview. From America Public Media:

Reports of sectarian strife in Iraq automatically connote the factions of Sunni and Shia. They don't usually mention people like Walaa Wini. Walaa practices an ancient faith that now faces both persecution and extinction within Iraq. Walaa is Mandaean....

Walaa himself was threatened by masked gunmen who came to the store he operated with his brother. They later killed his brother, and in another incident, shot and wounded another brother. Walaa talks to Dick Gordon about being Mandaean in Iraq and the uncertainty he and his family now face since their recent arrival in the US.
Please remember to pass on the petition for the Mandaeans. We have gathered now 544 supporters. We need 1000, so we are a little over half way there.

Article Note: "A Critical Note on the Meaning of APOPHASIS in the Gospel of Judas

André Gagné from the University of Sudbury has just published a brief but hefty article in Laval théologique et philosophique 63:2 (2007) 377-383: "A Critical Note on the Meaning of APOPHASIS in Gospel of Judas."

Abstract: "This paper focuses on the meaning of the Greco-Coptic word APOPHASIS in Gospel of Judas 33:1. The most common way of translating this noun is 'declaration,' 'explanation' or 'revelation.' Experts often refer to Simon Magus' Apophasis megalê to legitimize this manner of translation. But in light of the use of plogos ethêp in the immediate context, this choice of words is difficult to support. Scholars seem to have overlooked another possible way of translating APOPHASIS. This paper proposes that we understand APOPHASIS as 'denial,' 'negation' or 'exclusion.' This primary meaning is coherent with the narrative role of Judas and with this gospel as a whole."

Professor Gagné has made his argument based on the use of APOPHASIS as a noun from apophêmi. The word APOPHASIS is defined by Aristotle as "denial" or "negation." In some Patristic texts it is used in negative theology - Apophatic theology describes God in negative terms. This means that the opening should read:

"The secret word of the denial by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot" (Gagné, p. 382).

This would make the Gospel of Judas about Jesus' denial of Judas, not his revelation!

By the way, Professor Gagné makes some of the same points I made in The Thirteenth Apostle: problems with translation of daimon as spirit; separate for really must be translated separate from; that Judas' sacrifice is not good, but an evil act and must be translated that Judas will do "more evil than" the others. More and more scholars are making very good arguments against NGS initial interpretation.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

What is a biblioblog and who is a biblioblogger?

I have been thinking about this question for a couple of days now as I have been working to clean up my sidebar and going back through the year looking over other people's blog templates and older posts, including carnivals. Since I am especially attuned to the issues of canonicity controlling biblical studies' academic discourse, I began to notice the same marginalization of apocrypha blogs in the biblioblogsphere. Should they be included in carnivals? Should they be mentioned in roundups? Should they be listed under "biblioblogs" on websites?

This observation has made me wonder what the parameters are for biblioblogging if indeed there are any? Does a blog have to be focused on one of the testaments? Or can it deal with ancient Israel, Judaism, and Christianity on a broader scale? Does it have to be a so-called "conservative" blog? Or a so-called "liberal" one? Does it need to be "academic" or "theological" to be included?

My opinion? It is not too difficult to guess. If the apocrypha isn't taken seriously, we will never be able to understand the development of early Christianity fully, nor fully appreciate the traditions and texts that eventually were canonized in the NT.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Gotta love Amazon

Just got this e-mail from Amazon. I got a laugh out of it since I'm one of the co-editors with David Capes, Helen Bond, and Troy Miller. Anyway, this is a great collection of articles in honor of Larry Hurtado and Alan Segal. And this is a great price. It is over 600 pp. and hardcover. Many new insights on the development of Christology and issues of community in early Christianity.
Dear Amazon.com Customer,

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Israel's God and Rebecca's Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity

David B. Capes

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To learn more about Israel's God and Rebecca's Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, please visit the following page at Amazon.com:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iraq's pacifist sect stuck in refugee limbo

Reported in The Australian:

THE Aedan family is stuck. Nine months ago they fled violence and persecution in Iraq to join an estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. But life over the border is bleak; they are unable to work, unable to pay for basic supplies, and unable to imagine an end to their ordeal.

Last month, the family was one of a lucky few. They were advised by the International Organisation for Migration they had a place in the US.

But for the Aedans, it was the beginning of a new nightmare. After losing their father to a brutal attack and their eldest son to a kidnapping in Baghdad, the family had dreamed of nothing but coming to Australia.

In Sydney, members of their family live in a thriving community of their little-known sect, Sabian Mandaean. They practise a pacifist religion thought to pre-date Christianity, with prophets including Adam and John the Baptist. Until 2003, most of the estimated 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide lived in Iraq. But many have since fled to Syria and Jordan, hoping for resettlement in a third country. Only about 5000 remain in Iraq.

Eschewing violence, even in self-defence, Mandaeans have been easy targets of the sectarian violence that erupted after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

For complete article go here.

Dating the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas

Jordan has asked me in the comments to address the dating issues for the Gospel of Mary, and also to speak to the point that Pagel's raises regarding John's dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Mary is a distinctively Valentinian text. This has not been addressed by many commentators, but the fact is if you know the Valentinian traditions, it is evident that this gospel is part of that exegetical strand of early Christianity. It is particularly interested in the concept of "grace" that is granted when the Son of Man descends, and how humans are redeemed and ascend through the various realms in order to return to the upper aeons. It is heavily liturgical, and appears to me to contain a eucharist homily. I am going to be writing about this at some length in the paper I am preparing for the Talpiot conference and volume. At any rate, this means that the text cannot date before 130 CE - Valentinus himself did not begin teaching until about 120 CE. I would actually date the text in the mid-second century.

As for the dependence of the Gospel of John on the Gospel of Thomas, this is something that I have written about at length in The Voices of the Mystics. It was published a couple of years prior to Pagels' popular book Beyond Belief. Pagels actually reviewed Voices in a SBL session the year Voices was published.

What I argue is that the "faith" mysticism in the Gospel of John is responding to a form of vision and ascent mysticism that the Gospel of Thomas has preserved. I don't think that the Johannine author necessarily had a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. But he was aware of mystical traditions that are associated with the disciple Judas Thomas, and he disapproves of them. What John argues is that God has come to earth so that we don't have to journey to heaven to see him and be transformed as the mystics in Syria were claiming. Rather, after Jesus' death, God becomes accessible to us through the Paraclete, God's spirit which is sent in Jesus' absence. This spirit is attained through baptism and eucharist, and through it we experience God immediately and directly.

So I understand the traditions to be engaged in discourse, a discourse which becomes part of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. Thomas is a text that comes to completion around 120. The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other, but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete. I think that we have to begin to become more nuanced in our discussions of dependence and texts, which is why I wrote chapter one of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. I try to lay out a new methodology to get us beyond all the either/or categories that have stunted our past discussions. I recommend that chapter even if you are not interested in the Gospel of Thomas.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The New Year Ahead

The year ahead looks like it is going to be busy, and hopefully, productive. In January, I will be attending the Talpiot conference in Jerusalem organized by Professor Charlesworth as a Princeton symposium. My role is to address traditions about Mary Magdalene in the early literature. I plan to focus on the Valentinian portrait of Mary Magdalene, contrasting that with the encratic. The result will be an attempt to see if we can say anything determinative about Mary as a historical figure from this literature. A full length paper will be published later in a conference volume that is planned. I still haven't received the final agenda for the meeting, with all participants. As soon as I do, I'll post it here.

Looking forward to spring, there will be the Codex Judas Congress, March 13-16. I am receiving abstracts from the participants now. I will get those posted mid-January. I am in the process of preparing my own contribution to the Congress on issues of authority in the Gospel of Judas, the First Apocalypse of James, and other early Christian literature. I am particularly interested on how appeals to the Twelve were being used by the Christian leaders of the second century. After the Congress, full length papers will be collected and edited into a conference volume. So keep your eyes out for that book.

Over the summer, I have several articles to prepare for various projects. One will be about sexual practices among Gnostics. This is for an edited volume that Paul Foster is putting together. I also am preparing a paper on angels in Valentinian traditions for a conference in Tours which will take place in September. I will likely focus on the Jesus Aeon-Angel as the microPleroma descending to earth and incarnating.

Also in September is the Coptic Association's meeting - this year in Cairo. I hope to be part of a session on (re)defining Gnosticism.

As for the Boston SBL in November, that is too far ahead for me to know exactly what I will be preparing for, although I know that the New Testament Mysticism Project will be continuing. So I will at least be preparing an entry for that.

I am also going to begin writing my second book for the general audience. I'm trying to decide - should it be a book on the Gospel of Thomas, making my scholarly work more accessible to a broader audience, or should I begin work on a book about how I think the early Christians (as Jews) began to worship Jesus?

In terms of teaching, this semester Coptic continues. We will finish the last five chapters of Layton's book and then move on to read the Tchacos Codex to prepare for the Congress in March. I also have a lecture class, Christian Controversies and Creeds, that covers the growth of Christian thought from the bible to Chalcedon.

So in the upcoming year, this blog will probably continue to feature the newest and latest on the Tchacos Codex, the Gospel of Judas, the Valentinian literature, and the controversies between various factions of Christians in the second and third centuries. I also want your suggestions as my readers. Is there anything that you would like to see me address in the coming year? Let me know via comments or e-mail.