Thursday, July 31, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-31-08

Jesus said, "Gaze upon the Living One while you are alive, in case you die and then seek to see him, and you will not be able to see (him)."

Gospel of Thomas 59

Illustration by Hildegard von Bingen

Accommodation to society in Gnosticism

I have been working on a little-known text, the Paraphrase of Shem, while doing research for an article I'm writing called "After the Gospel of Judas: Reassessing what we have known to be true about Cain and Judas." What has struck home for me about this text is just how "weird" it is to modern readers, myself included, yet how "advanced" it must have been at the time it was written.

This text is what I'm calling "wombic Gnosticism" since it relies on a mythology of three divine principles and a Womb which births everything - angels, demons, the cosmos. The text is very erotic, with sexual images everywhere, used to explain how this cosmos came into being.

What is so fascinating about this text is that its mythology is based on second century scientific knowledge about embryology. What the author is doing is taking the most advanced scientific knowledge about conception and the formation of embryos and he is using it to explain religious questions. This is a person who was on the cutting edge of science and religion in the second century.

So the Gnostics appear to me to be the ones who were trying to combine "secular" knowledge of the second century - whether it be middle Platonic philosophy or Soranus' embryology - with Judaism and Christianity. In sociological terms this is interesting because what it means is that they were not forming sects or cults. Rather they were taking a religious "sect" (i.e. Christianity) which was defining itself by removing itself from society's ways, and reforming it so that it was more friendly to society, so it fit in to society's ways. This is a tendency that sociologists track. Often sects and cults define themselves against society. But overtime, this erodes and there are people within the movement that want to belong to society again. So the movement is reformed. This appears to me to be what was happening with the ancient Gnostics.

At any rate, this is a topic that I am collecting evidence for to write another paper about the origins and growth of Gnosticism.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-30-08

Cast you anxiety on God alone.
Do not become desirous of gold and silver which are profitless,
but clothe yourself with wisdom like a robe,
put knowledge on yourself like a crown,
and be seated upon a throne of perception...
For a foolish person usually puts on folly like a robe,
and like a garment of sorrow,
he puts on shame.
He crowns himself in ignorance
and takes his seat upon a throne of nescience.
For since he lacks reason,
he leads only himself astray,
for he is guided by ignorance.

Teachings of Silvanus 89.15-90.2 (second century Alexandrian text, containing many Jewish-Christian traditions)

Sculpture is the Throne of Wisdom 1280-1300, Northeast Spain, The Cloisters, New York City

Those exclusive Gnostics?!

The Gnostics have been characterized as elitists and exclusivists - a characterization begun by the church fathers and kept in our common knowledge about what Gnostics are supposed to be. But were they?

This is a good question and since I've been dealing with all the children of Eve texts lately, I have had to re-evaluate this common knowledge. Yes, the texts say that the Sethians thought they were the carefully preserved race of Seth, that they even had a heavenly pre-existence. There were other races descended from Eve's other children, but the seed of Seth was elect.

Now this sounds elitist and exclusive at first glance. Until you ask the question, how do you become a Sethian? The answer is that you convert. In other words the Sethians, like the Valentinians, thought that your response to the religious message - i.e. you choose to become one of us - is what signaled that you were an elect. Certainly the Valentinians at least were concerned about proper sex so that an elect might be conceived, but one only knew if the child was elect if the child responded instantly in a positive way to the Valentinian message.

I haven't figured out how the Mandaean (modern Gnostics) notion that only children born to Mandaean fathers and mothers could be Mandaean, but I imagine that this was a later development and had to do with social issues. As the community moved and settled into new locations, intermarriage was probably a natural response to keep the faith "pure".

At any rate, the ancient Gnostic Christians look to be every bit as much like any other Christian tradition at the time. If you converted, you became part of the saved. If not, you were doomed. They were no more elitist or exclusive in terms of salvation than the standard Christians in that period (or many Christians today).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Apoocryphote of the Day: 7-29-08

Jesus said to the apostles: "When you strip off what is corrupted, then you will become radiant bodies in the midst of human mortals."

The Letter of Peter to Philip 137.6-9 (Gnostic Christian text; third century?)

Who was in Noah's Ark? A Gnostic perspective

Since many of us are familiar with Christian traditions that have "exclusives" on knowledge and on hermeneutics - i.e. there are few acceptable ways (usually only one) interpret any given scriptural passage according to most churches today - it is sometimes difficult for us when we confront ancient materials to face the huge (and often contradictory) variety of explanations of given scriptures. This is even the case in the study of the gnostic literature, where I have seen us more than once want to talk about "the" Valentinian or "the" Sethian interpretation of a scripture. If a new text doesn't read that scripture in our pre-determined Valentinian or Sethian way, than it can't be Valentinian or it can't be Sethian.

This is dangerous business indeed, because we are assuming that the ancient gnostic Christians had exclusive interpretations of passages. My reading of the gnostic literature reveals to me that this was not the case. That any given tradition - be it Valentinian or Sethian or whatever - had a wide range of acceptable hermeneutical possibilities for any given scripture. And that a particular community in fact may have held contradictory views comfortably.

The gnostic literature isn't about exclusive views as many of us have been taught. The gnostic literature is about uncovering a range of subversive interpretations of scriptures (that is, reading meanings out of the scripture that were not the traditional acceptable interpretations). Both the knowledge of the scripture and the manner of interpretation reminds me more of rabbis arguing and writing midrash, than it does Christian teachers trained in Hellenistic philosophy and apologetics trying to persuade a reader to "the" right view.

I have been studying carefully the Sethian exegesis of the flood story and the Sodom story, and I am finding that their literature doesn't have a consensus view, other than an agreement that the flood story and the Sodom story was about the rescue of the children of Seth from the wrath of the biblical god. But what actually happened and who belonged to who and who tricked who, etc., are all up in the air as possible ways to read the story.

Noah can be good in one text, and bad in another. Was he righteous, serving the supreme God, or the demiurge, the lower biblical god? Who was "hidden in the ark" (cf. 1 Enoch 10.2). In the Apocryphon of John, Noah is an enlightened gnostic (Epinoia comes to his rescue and gives him gnosis) and he and the children of Seth are hidden in a luminous cloud. So the children of Seth are directly his ancestors. But in the Hypostasis of the Archons, Noah is the father of non-Gnostic Jews and Christians, while the children of Seth are traced only through Norea the daughter of Eve. Noah serves Ialdabaoth. So when Norea wants to join Noah in the ark, he refuses her, so she sets it on fire and destroys it. Noah has to make it a second time. Norea is rescued by the angel Eleleth. In the Apocalypse of Adam, angels transport the children of Seth to the light realms where they live until they can be transported back after the flood and join Noah's descendants tricking the Demiurge.

The gnostic writers were not forging an exclusive consensus view on scripture. What they were doing was acting like rabbis, exploring many possibilities, while trying to uncover the hidden meaning of the scripture. It appears that these communities thrived on hermeneutical problems and a wide range of solutions.

Illustration from medieval illuminated bible: Jean Bondol, Bible historial. Paris, 1372.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-28-08

The kind of person who can be saved is the one who seeks the self and the intellect. How much power this person has!...whenever this person [wants], he parts from all matters and withdraws into himself. For this person becomes divine, having withdrawn into god.

Zostrianos 44.1-4, 17-22 (third century Sethian texts)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-26-08

Jesus said, "That I may redeem you from death and annihilation, I will give you what you have not seen with the eye nor heard with the ears nor grasped with the hand."

Turfan Manichaean Fragment M 789

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baylor Board fires university's president

Today the Houston Chronicle reported on the goings-on at Baylor.

Baylor University's board of regents fired the Baptist school's president on Thursday, saying they had lost confidence in his ability to "unite various Baylor constituencies."

John M. Lilley, on the job less than three years, rejected an offer to serve out his five-year contract as regents searched for a replacement.

Lilley's relatively brief tenure was marked by disputes over tenure and even over the university's logo. But how best to achieve Baylor's goal of becoming a major research university without sacrificing its strong Christian character appears to have been an issue, as well.


I do not have inside information about this firing, but from what I have read (the written news report was more detailed than this on-line version seems to be!), it appears to me that Baylor has a dual agenda. By 2012 it wants to be a top-tier research institution, but it also wants to be a faith institution.

To become a top-tier research university, drastic things have to happen in an institution, and one of them is secularization and a move to reward research above teaching in the tenure process. Apparently Lilley denied a dozen faculty tenure because he felt that their research contributions were not up to these standards, while the promotion and tenure committee disagreed. Teaching must come first. What this represents to me is not a call to rid of tenure, but a call to raise the bar in terms of research at a university whose goal is to enter the top-tier.

I think what we are witnessing is just the kind of conflict that can be expected when such a goal is put into place, especially at a faith-based university. There will be resistance to what needs to be done to meet such a goal, especially among those faculty who have devoted their lives to teaching rather than research, and who feel that the faith of the institution is threatened. I can't imagine that the next president is going to have it any easier.

I for one hope that Baylor sticks to their plan to move the university into the top-tier of research institutions.

UPDATE: Rebecca Lesses left this comment which is very good so I have moved it here to the main text.
Without knowing anything about this particular case, it seems to me that there is not only a conflict over the university's faith identity, but over the expectations for faculty trying to gain tenure. If they were hired and were explicitly told that teaching was more important than research, and poured their energy into improving their teaching, then I believe it is extremely unfair to those faculty members to deny them tenure on the basis of a requirement they were not informed of at an early stage of their employment at Baylor. It seems to me that this sort of change has to be introduced slowly, over a period of several years, so that incoming faculty know what the expectations are that they must fulfill. I can see why the tenure and promotion committee disagreed with the president, if this is something that he did in only three years. I teach at an institution that places a higher priority on teaching than research in gaining tenure. If over the period of three years a dozen junior faculty were denied tenure by the president because they didn't have sufficient publications, there would be howls of protest.

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-25-08

Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor," that is, you who are seeking the truth and not finding it. And also he said, "My sheep hear my voice." And also, "Seek and find," since the truth does not lie on the surface.

Pseudo-Clementines, Homily 3.53 (third century; Syrian text that contains old traditions from Jerusalem)

Commentary: Even though this esoteric perspective was quite common in early Christianity, I think that this comment on Jesus' sayings was the type of perspective that the Sethian authors of the Gospel of Judas would have agreed with whole-heartily, and which formed the basis for their ability to rewrite the Judas story in the way they did. For them, the truth about Judas was not on the surface. It was subversive and had to be revealed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus maybe tomorrow?

Well if you want to see the Codex Sinaiticus on line, you may have to wait until tomorrow. There are over 100,000 viewers right now, and the system can't support any more. Who says that people aren't interested in ancient manuscripts?! HERE is the link. I will keep it on my sidebar under Internet Resources too.

Robin Parry's new blog and review of Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas

Robin Parry has started his own blog on theological musings called "Theological Scribbles." Welcome to the blog world! He is the editor for Pasternoster, a theological press in the UK. His says that his blog is his own, not affiliated with the press he runs.

I learned about his blog because several people have written me with a link to a review that he posted of my book, Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas. His review is very kind! He writes:
Whilst I have read the enigmatic, so-called 'Gospel' of Thomas I have not read many books about it. It is most certainly a topic WAY out of my zone of knowledge. But one of the books that I did read I found to be absolutely exhilarating. It was April D. DeConnick's Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas: A History of the Gospel and its Growth (T&T CLark, 2005).

I love the sheer iconoclasm of her work. Almost everyone seems to think that Thomas was an early, non-eschatological document from a proto-Gnostic Christian group that saw Jesus in the mode of a philosophical Sage. But DeConnick says, in brief, "Rubbish! It is rooted in the mission of the early Jerusalem Church and, in its earliest versions, it was thoroughly eschatological!"
Continued HERE

Stephan Witetschek's review of The Thirteenth Apostle

HERE is a link to the RBL review by Stephen Witetschek of my book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.

I want to say a few words in response because he raises a couple of questions. First he raises the question of this book's audience. This book was written for a broad general audience. Its title was created for that audience by my publisher. I wanted to call it something entirely different, but was vetoed, and with good reason. A book's title has to capture the thesis while also being of interest to the audience you hope will read want to read it.

Second, my academic work, upon which this book is based, contains many more details (as it should), details that will only be of interest to other scholars. These academic articles are just now beginning to see the light of day in terms of publishing. Why the lag time? Because academic presses take FOREVER to move articles through the process of publication. What is now being published on the Gospel of Judas in academic venues is already outdated, having been written in mid-2006! This is one of the reasons why I published The Thirteenth Apostle. I felt that I needed to get the information out in a timely manner to the public because I felt we were wrongly informed about what this gospel really says.

Third, the translation that I was criticizing was the original English translation, not the French.

Fourth, the book was in press long before The Critical Edition by the National Geographic team was released, an edition that cleaned up some of the problems in the original release. The NGS has since also released a new popular edition - the second edition of The Gospel of Judas - in which the clean-up work continues. The areas that were modified overlap with the areas of my criticisms, as well as the criticisms of other scholars. There wouldn't be any reason for concern IF these problems were not crucial spots in the texts for interpretation. But they are. So we need to address them, which is what I did and continue to do.

Fifth, I was surprised to read in the review Witetschek's statement that "a question remains that DeConick's book does not answer: If Judas is such a demonic villain in this text, why is he at the same time the hero of the text?" I wonder why my academic reviewer missed the main point of the book which my public reviewers articulate clearly? The point of my book: Judas isn't a hero in this text. He is a villian who learns about his fate from Jesus in a gnostic parody of the apostolic church. Here are some of the public reviewers' remarks taken right off the Amazon website:
Neil Godfrey
"For most of us who have read the National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas, be prepared for a radical re-think of what we have read there. The National Geographic translation depicts Judas as the only true saint; DeConick's, as the arch demon himself -- or at least destined to join with him in the end. Which immediately raises the question: Why would a gospel make the central character a demon? DeConick shows how the apparent structure and thematic development of the gospel aligns it with an agenda opposing that Christianity that traced its genealogy back to the Twelve Apostles...the Gospel of Judas was a parody and attack on apostolic Christianity and its doctrine of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus."

"Judas, the good guy? No, indeed! He is even worse than previously thought. A closer translation and a thorough knowledge of gnostic mythology, derived partially from Plato, shows him to be a secret agent of the devil. The Gospel of Judas is a parody, written by someone from the Sethian subgroup of Gnostic Christians - to make mainstream Christians of the second century look asinine for relying on a demon ruler (Judas) and his minions (the twelve) for their teachings and practices. A more specific goal of the Gospel of Judas, according to DeConick, is to blast the doctrine of atonement and the effectiveness of the eucharist, on account of Judas's involvement."

Steve Esser
"According to DeConick, while Judas does have greater understanding than the other apostles (who are completely misguided), he is nonetheless a doomed and (literally) demonic figure. So while the text is still very much in opposition to apostolic Christianity (indeed she views it as a parody of sorts), the figure of Judas is still to be seen as a bad guy, not the good guy put forth by the National Geographic team."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-23-08

"I left father and mother and brother and sister.
I became a stranger because of your Name.
I took up my cross. I followed you.
I left the things of the body for the things if the Spirit.
I despised the glory of the world because of your glory which does not pass away."

Manichaean Psalm-Book 175.25-30

Texas grand jury indicts polygamist sect members

This is the headline on the front page of the Houston Chronicle this morning. Here is the story:
ELDORADO, Texas — A Texas grand jury indicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and four of his followers Tuesday on charges of felony sexual assault of a child. Another was indicted for failing to report child abuse.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said the five men are charged with one count of sexually assaulting girls under age 17. One of them, but not the 52-year-old Jeffs, faces an additional charge of bigamy.

Abbott said a sixth member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse.

Jeffs, already convicted of being accomplice to rape in Utah and awaiting trial in Arizona on other charges related to underage marriages, is accused of assaulting a girl in Texas in January 2005, according to the indictment issued Tuesday.

"Our investigation in this matter is not concluded," said Abbott, whose office is acting as the special prosecutor in the case.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blessings on this feast day for Mary Magdalene!

I feel particularly close to Mary Magdalene this feast day since I just finished writing an article on her for the forthcoming Talpiot Tomb volume edited by James Charlesworth. The article is called "The Memorial Mary Meets the Historical Mary: The Many Faces of the Magdalene in Ancient Christianity". In the paper, I cover the foundational memories of Mary, counter memories of the encratite Mary, counter memories of the gnostic Mary, and the master narratives of the apostolic Mary.

I finally discuss what emerges from these memories as likely historical memories. What are they? Our oldest recoverable memories know her to be a single woman and an important woman disciple of Jesus' movement who was a public Christian leader after his death. The public nature of her mission and the authority that she commandeered as a woman disciple of Jesus became a real liability for her memory in a movement that was initially unconventional and that gradually conformed to the norms of its society, norms which often stereotyped public women as prostitutes and closed public offices to women.

Illustration: "Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene" (anon., early 15th c.; AMICO Library Image)

Did the miracle of the resurrection happen?

Wade has a mathematical post on the subject HERE. Check it out, with a link to an earlier post he wrote on the subject of Craig and Ehrman's debate.

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-22-08

He who is indigent and poor and a beggar in the world cannot acquire anything. His destitution restrains him. But he who possesses the treasure easily acquires whatever possessions he wishes without much effort. The soul that is naked and stripped of the fellowship of the spirit and lives under the terrible poverty of sin is unable, even it it wished to do so, to produce the fruit of the spirit of righteousness in truth, unless it becomes a companion of the spirit.

Macarius, Homily 18.2 (fourth century Syrian father)

What does a dinosaur tooth have to do with the New Testament?

In an article about a big dinosaur tooth HERE, the editors of the Houston Chronicle put a box called "more rarities" and in it this blurb about the Codex Sinaiticus:
An old New Testament: The oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, a 4th century version that had its Gospels and epistles spread across the world, is being made whole again — online. The British Library says the full text of the Codex Sinaiticus will be available to Web users by next July.
What an odd placement! It would have been nice to have the full story, but then the Houston Chronicle's coverage of anything having to do with religious studies has been inadequate (at least in the last two years while I've lived in Houston and have read the paper). Here's a link to the full AP story HERE. Jim Davila is featured in it. And HERE is the link to the forthcoming Sinaiticus website with a few photos already available. Beautiful! I will put the link on my sidebar for future reference. The British Library has its own article about it HERE.

At any rate, I am looking forward to this web site. Finally we can begin checking the manuscripts of the New Testament from our office computers!

Photo: leaf of Codex Sinaiticus, 2005

Monday, July 21, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-21-08

Jesus said, "A person can bring forth only what is within him."

`Abdallah ibn Qutayba, `Uyun 2.370 (from the Muslim Jesus)

Commentary: In terms of spirituality and humanity, I find this saying of Jesus to be particularly intense. In a few words, everything is captured. I will post parallels to this saying in the next few apocryphotes.

Illumination is Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in Persian Shi'a miniature

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-20-08

All things will become light. All are immersed in light and fire and are indeed changed...

Macarius, Homily 15.10 (Syrian father, fourth century)

Criminal Probe into FLDS continues

Another report in the Houston Chronicle focused on the criminal probe that is ongoing as the state looks into the activities of the FLDS.

Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the nation's largest polygamist sect now under investigation for sex with underage girls, married off his own 15-year-old daughter to the 34-year-old son of his chief deputy, according to pictures, diaries and a marriage record obtained Friday by the Houston Chronicle.

In May, a series of similar scrapbook photos of young girls surfaced in court, showing very young girls in romantic kissing embraces with Jeffs, including a girl he married, who documents now indicate was 11 years old at the time.

The teen girl was one of the children taken into state custody from the Zion Ranch. This is an excerpt from her diary:
"The Lord blessed me to go forward in marriage July 27, 2006, the day after I turned 15 years old."
Next week the Texas Attorney General's Office will begin laying out a criminal case against the sect to grand jurors next week.

Texas School Board approves Bible class but not a curriculum

The Houston Chronicle has reported that "local school districts got a green light Friday to offer high school students an elective Bible course without the specific state standards that some contend are necessary to guide well-intentioned teachers from straying into religious proselytizing."

This is just as I expected and wrote in earlier posts. It appears that the State Board didn't know what kind of curriculum would be appropriate to put into place, and figured that if it did so, they would face litigation. Well, they are going to face litigation no matter what they do, but to give no guidelines is asking for major trouble. How many education majors ever take a religious studies course? How many have any idea how to teach a religious studies curriculum? How many even are aware that there is a difference between teaching about religion and teaching religion?

But even this difference won't matter because there are going to be lawsuits no matter what kind of course is run. Consider the parents who will take the school to court if the teacher were to teach about religion? What will happen when the students begin to learn that the historical, literary, and social history of the Bible is not what they have been taught in church? The parents will scream that their children are being taught against their religion, and will sue or kick out the teacher just as we saw in the Friendswood incident. If the teacher teaches religion, that is proselytises and turns the class into a prayer bible study, then other parents will sue that the separation of church and state has been infringed upon.

What a mess!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Index of links on the Apocalypse of Gabriel

I'm feeling overwhelmed with the coverage of this stone. So I'm putting together an index with links. I'll update it as needed. You can easily find it in the future by clicking "Apocalypse of Gabriel" under LABELS in my sidebar.

Original publication of text
Ada Yardeni, Hebrew transcription, Cathedra
Ada Yardeni, "A New Dead Sea Scrolls in Stone?" Biblical Archaeology Review
Ada Yardeni, BAR, transcription HERE
Ada Yardeni, BAR, English translation HERE
Drawing of the inscription HERE
Israel Knohl's publication of text
Israel Knohl, "By Three Days, Live: Messiahs, Resurrection and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel," Journal of Religion
Israel Knohl's Hebrew transcription and English translation HERE
"The Messiah Son of Joseph," Biblical Archaeological Review HERE
Media Coverage
Ethan Bronner, "Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection," The New York Times
BAR Special Report, Biblical Archaeology Review
Donald Macintyre, "Hebrew tablets 'predates Bible on resurrection," The Independent
Ari Rabinovitch, "Ancient text sheds light on Jewish-Christian links," Reuters
David van Biema and Tim McGirk, "Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?" Times
"Tablet stirs resurrection debate," BBC
Hillel Hawkin, "Blurry 'Vision of Gabriel," New York Sun
"Dead Sea tablet casts doubt on death and resurrection of Jesus," The London Times
"Scholars divided on interpretation of 'Gabriel's Revelation' tablet," Catholic News Agency
Archaeology and the Bible," Baptist Press
If you know of a link I don't have, please post it in the comments.

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-18-08

"Do not think partially, Rheginos, nor live in conformity with this flesh for the sake of unanimity. But flee from the divisions and fetters, and already you have the resurrection. For if we who are going to die, know that we will die - even if we spend many years in this life, we are brought to this - why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this?"

Treatise on the Resurrection 49.9-25 (second century Valentinian text)

Commentary: I moved the second sentence into first person ("we") instead of third person ("he") to have a gender inclusive reading. Here is a group of Christians who thought that in Christ they had already obtained the resurrection. Does their discussion seems to imply a more general Christian resurrection expectation at personal death (not just eschatological, on the last day)? I wonder.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-16-08

Jesus said, "The Spirit draws all souls together and takes them to the place of light. Because of this, I have said to you, 'I have come to cast fire upon the earth.' That is, I have come to purify the sins of the whole world with fire."

Pistis Sophia 4.141 (fourth century Gnostic handbook, a relic of a new religious movement that we can call 'Gnosticism')

Commentary: Here we see the Gnostic reliance on the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In order for the souls to be able to return to the origin, according to Platonic teaching, they must be freed from the passions, lust, greed, evil. So Jesus functions by removing the sins from the souls through some kind of communal cleansing which was done when he came to earth and cast fire upon it.

Sculpture is from Orvieto Cathedral, fourth pillar, Last Judgment. This scene depicts the resurrection from the dead. Lorenzo Maitani 1310-1330 CE.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-15-08

"The resurrection of the souls of the dead takes place even now in the time of death. But the resurrection of the bodies will take place in that (last) day."

Macarius, Homily 36.1 (Syrian father from fourth century)

Commentary: this quotation represents the problem that one faces when the Jewish concept of bodily resurrection (that is, the resurrection of the whole person) encounters the dualistic Platonic anthropology (that is, the soul and body). Pagans believed in the immortality of the soul, that it could be released to return to its divine origins at death if the person had been pious. So what benefit was Jesus' death, the pagans asked? Part of that answer appears to be that Jesus' body was restored, and so will yours if you become Christian. Eventually the type of view develops that Macarius suggests: that at personal death, the soul journeys onward, and at the last day the body will follow.

The illustration depicts Ezekiel 37, 3rd-century fresco, Dura Europas synagogue in Syria.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hosea 6:1-3 and the Apocalypse of Gabriel

Although I remain skeptical about the authenticity of the Apocalypse of Gabriel because we do not know its provenance, and ink on stone for a literary text seems odd, I am very curious about the three day resurrection reference found on the stone.

The stone tablet and its owner, David Jeselsohn

There is a hymn embedded in Hosea (6:1-3) that has relevance to this discussion:
Come, let us return to Yahweh,
for he has torn, and he will heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up,
will preserve our life.
After two days, on the third day
he will raise us up, that we may
live in his presence.
Let us know, yes, let us strive,
to know Yahweh.
As the dawn (breaks, so) certain is
his going forth.
He comes to us as surely as the rain,
as the spring rain that waters the land.
Originally this priestly (?) poem from 8th c. BCE or earlier, addresses Israel's expectations that the nation has become ill but that God will heal it in as shortest time as possible. It was similar in content with the priestly psalms in which the wounded are raised up from their sickbeds (cf. Ps. 41:3, 10) and statements that God wounds and heals, kills and enlivens (Deut. 23:39; Ezek. 30:21; Job 5:18). In this old context, it had nothing to do with resurrection from the dead.

However, once resurrection doctrines came into existence in the Maccabean period, could Hosea 6:1-3 have been read as a post-mortem expectation, that the dead would be raised by God on the third day after their deaths? Could the Christians have understood or framed Jesus' resurrection along these expectations?

The earliest blatant reference to this is made by Tertullian (Against Marcion 4.43.1ff.; An Answer to the Jews 13.23). There is an old scholarly article written on the scriptural basis for the three day expectation in the Journal of Biblical Literature 48 (1929) pp. 124-137, by S.V. McCarland, "The Scripture Basis of 'On the Third Day.'"

So it is quite possible, that in Judaism at the time of Jesus there was an expectation that after death, God would resurrect those who died "on the third day" after they had died, using Hosea 6:1-3 as the proof-text. I can imagine the first Christian Jews relying on this expectation as they told stories about Jesus' resurrection. This expectation happened to get connected with Messianic beliefs through association with the Jesus stories.

But what the Apocalypse of Gabriel suggests, if it is authentic and should be read in the way that Knobl insists, is that in Judaism there was also the expectation that the MESSIAH would die and be raised on the third day. Again, I am very hesitant about this since so much of the early Christian literature is open apology for the Messiah's death (and suffering and resurrection) which Jews apparently did not expect. I'm not sure how to reconcile this with the Apocalypse of Gabriel.

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-14-08

Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, God will not leave one stone of this mosque upon another but will destroy it utterly because of the sins of its people. God does nothing with gold, silver, or these stones. More dear to God than all these are the pure in heart. Through them, God builds up the earth, or else destroys it if these hearts are other than pure."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, p. 146 (no. 486) - a Muslim source

Commentary: Notice the shift from temple to mosque as Jesus' sayings enter a new religious environment. This is a sign of oral traditioning, when the tradent speaks to a new audience and updates the old material so that it continues to be relevant. This sort of shift is very common, even in the Christian materials which also continued to accommodate Jesus' sayings to different Christian environments.

Mosiac is famous portrait of Jesus in the mosque, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Muslim Jesus

In response to your comments about wishing to know more about Jesus in Islamic tradition and your surprise at how revered he is, I thought it might be fun to post a few givens about Jesus in Islam.

The Muslim tradition reveres Jesus as a prophet but rejects his divinity. His sayings are found scattered throughout Arabic works on ethics, popular devotion in Islam, Sufi mysticism, collections of wisdom, and the histories of Muslim prophets and saints. The date for these sources ranges from 8th to 12th centuries.

Where do these sayings come from? Many of them echo the gospels, canonical and non-canonical, but not all. Most are deeply ascetic, as we know the Christian tradition was in eastern Syria which would have been the form of Christianity most well-known to Muslims. The Muslim Jesus speaks out to support Muslim definitions of piety. He is an advocate for religious responsibility.

It is important for us in the west to recognize that the Muslim Jesus and his sayings are the Jesus and his sayings that Muslims are familiar with - not the Christian Jesus. The prophets in Islam are men who set out to warn a proud or ignorant community, but whose messages are rejected. Yet God vindicates them in the form of some type of retribution. Jesus is a prophet involved in polemic: he wishes to cleanse his followers (i.e. the Christians) of their wrong beliefs. He denies tritheism (i.e. the trinity doctrine). His crucifixion is also denied, while his ascension becomes his vindication. He is a prophet with disciples around him. He is humble and pious, honoring his mother who is a virgin. His message is about God's unity or monotheism. There is no incarnation of a divine being, no crucifixion, and no redemptive death. His crucifixion is either portrayed as an event that only appeared to have happened, or someone like Simon the Cyrene or Judas Iscariot was made to look like Jesus and was crucified in his place.

This latter tradition has always been curious to me because it sounds like a received gnostic tradition such as has been attributed to Basilides by the heresiologists. The original gnostic teaching about this can be found in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth 55.19-20. What the teaching was is a development of Paul's idea that Jesus' crucifixion overcame the archons and powers (1 Cor 2:6-8; Col 2:8-15; Eph 6:12): Jesus could not be killed like other human beings because his spirit was incorruptible and without error. So "I did not die in reality but in appearance," Jesus says. His death actually happened to the archons and powers who nailed his body to the cross. Everything they did to Jesus, the archons and powers really did to themselves. They were tricked into defeating themselves by crucifying Jesus. Even Jesus didn't carry his own cross, the gnostics noted. Simon the Cyrene bore his cross in his place. I think that this tradition got mixed up (intentionally?) in the heresiologists' reports to credit the gnostics with saying that Simon and Jesus traded places, and Simon was even killed in Jesus' stead. This is the teaching that appears to have made its way into Islamic sources.

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-10-08

Jesus said, "If you do a good deed, try to forget it, for it abides with Him who will not forget it."

`Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd, p. 101 (no. 301).

Commentary: another quotation of Jesus preserved in Muslim sources.

Jesus delivering the sermon on the mount in Islamic art.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-8-08

Jesus said, "O disciples, do not seek the world by destroying yourselves. Seek salvation by abandoning what is in the world. Naked you came into the world and naked you shall depart."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Zuhd, p. 146 (no. 488)

Commentary: the words of Jesus as remembered by a medieval Islamic scholar. You can find these and other words of Jesus in T. Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2001).

Questions about the Apocalypse of Gabriel

What are your thoughts about the Apocalypse of Gabriel? I'm just wondering what to think of it.

I am tending to be skeptical mainly because I haven't seen photos of the text or stone yet to be able to see the problem areas of the text for myself. I also wonder how sure other scholars are that the text is authentic (not forged or tampered with) and really from the first century BCE. Jim Davila is keeping track of the media attention HERE.

I am very cautious because of what has happened with the James ossuary and the Gospel of Judas. The ossuary is highly suspect as a forgery and the Gospel of Judas was so badly misread.

I think that we need to approach this newest discovery with caution, and sort things out. One of the things that keeps nagging at me is the fact that the early Christians had to explain again and again that the messiah was meant to suffer and die, to Jews who thought otherwise. If the Apocalypse of Gabriel is authentic, then its messianic ideology must not have been very well known among the Jews.

Anyway, I'd like to collect some initial reactions and thoughts about the Apocalypse of Gabriel.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-7-08

Matthew said, "Tell me Lord, how the dead die and how the living live."
The Lord said, "I say to you, when what invigorates a person is removed, that person will be called 'dead.' And when what is alive leaves what is dead, what is alive will be called upon."

Dialogue of the Savior 56-57

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 7-2-08

Speaking waters touch my lips,
from the fountain of the Lord generously.
So I drank and became drunk,
from the living water that does not die.

Odes of Solomon 11.6-7 (late second or early third century Syrian baptismal poem)

Commentary: Illustration is from Basilica di S. Clemente, Rome. 12th cent. Cf. Psalm 42(LXX 41): 1: As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. Here the hart is drinking from the living water that flows from the foot of the cross. Notice the serpent above the waters. This is probably the cosmic serpent, the pole serpent.