Sunday, November 30, 2008

SBL Memories 1: The Judas Section

The start of the holidays have been a whirlwind following a whirlwind SBL conference. If the AAR-SBL split was felt in Chicago, it was not in Boston, although I missed running into my AAR friends. The SBL conference was huge - 5,100 attendees. There were more sections and events than ever before, and the book exhibit was as huge as ever. The only downside was the cold weather. The Boston wind was bitter, and I was very grateful for the hotels connected to the conference center and mall.

We kicked off the conference well at 9 am on Saturday morning, at least those of us who attended the Judas section hosted by Claremont. We were in a good-sized room and I estimate that about 200 people found their way there - it was hard to find the room. Bart Erhman started us off with an interesting thesis about who the historical Judas was. I was intrigued by his speculation that Jesus was crucified by the Romans for political sedition as the King of the Jews, although we have no public record of Jesus teaching any such thing. Jesus did teach publically about a Kingdom, and that the 12 disciples would be enthroned as rulers over the 12 tribes in Jesus' Kingdom. So Ehrman wonders if Jesus privately taught that he himself was the King, and that Judas reported him once the going started to get tough. Marvin Meyer took the podium after Ehrman and spoke about three portraits of Judas: the hero Judas as the Gospel of Judas was originally interpreted, the demon Judas that I have interpreted from the Gospel of Judas, and the more sensible (according to Meyer! not me) middle-of-the-road tragic Judas that Meyer now interprets from the Gospel of Judas. Dennis MacDonald lectured about his opinion that Judas is a complete fiction, created out of Homeric myths by the author of Mark. He thinks that Matthew is completely dependent on Mark for his Judas story, and Luke is dependent on Mark, and Matthew. He dates Luke to 135 CE, but also thinks that Quelle existed, and so posits that Luke also has a version of Quelle. In my opinion, this dating is too late for Luke because Luke is already being used by Marcion between 110 and 125 CE.

What did I do? Well I revealed the mysteries - where my research has gone since I published The Thirteenth Apostle. There were three things I discussed -all of which will be included in the revised edition of The Thirteenth Apostle coming out in March (two new full chapters - "Judas the Star", and "The Magical Judas") plus corrections of errors and a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on the second century landscape of early Christianity.

First, I discovered that the portraits of the lion-headed serpent Ialdabaoth were largely influenced by a popular decan god in Greco-Egyptian magic and astrology. His name was Chnoubis and in the Hellenistic lists of 36 decans he appears as the 13th! I need to say no more.

Second, I discussed the scene where Jesus tells the strongest of the disciples to lead forward the Perfect Man, and Judas accepts. I asked the question, who is the Perfect Man in Sethianism? The answer: Autogenes or his Son, the Son of Man; who is the Christ in Sethian Christianity. If this is the case, then Judas is accepting the role of leading forward Jesus as the Son of Man. This is essentially a Gnostic exegesis of Mark's last supper scene when Jesus says that the Son of Man will go forward as it is written of him. Then he predicts that one of the twelve will betray him. There is much more to the exegesis, but it is all I have time to write tonight.

Third, I showed an antique gem (ca. first or second c. CE) that my student Grant Adamson had come across in a catalogue he was working through for his own research on Gnostic magic. The gem shows the lion-headed astral god on one side with the hidden angel names in coded anagrams: Michael and Elieli. This lion-headed astral god goes by various names on these gems: IAO, Abrasax, Michael, Chnoubis, and Ialdabaoth. The idea behind the gem is that the owner possesses the god's names and can command the god to do whatever he desires for the god to do for him. The most secret and important name of the god often shows up on the back of the gem, in the center of the gem's face. At the end of my presentation - I made the audience wait until the last minute of my 30-minute talk to discover the name that has been hidden for 2000 years - to flip over the gem. And on the back centered in the gem's face is the name JUDAS. So now we have material evidence that there were people in the ancient world who identified Judas with Ialdabaoth the demon astral ruler, just as the Gospel of Judas says. This appears to have been a well-kept Gnostic secret that was believed to be very powerful. Knowing the demon's real name meant that the amulet-wearer could control the highest of the archons in this life and the afterlife!

Because I don't have copyright, I cannot post a photo of the gem. But I am working on buying copyright to have it in the revised edition of the paperback edition of my book. It is something to see! When Grant showed it to me, I almost fell out of my chair. The audience audibly gasped when they saw it.

So that's my story. Will post more on SBL 2008 when I get a chance. These next few weeks are going to be very busy. But I will do my best.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

In the wake of SBL comes Thanksgiving, and for my family, the beginning of the Christmas season. Wade is preparing turkey for the meat-eaters (I'm allergic to turkey, if you can believe that!), and I have a veggie turk'y roast for the vegetarians. I've decided to try quail myself to see if this is a poultry I might actually not be allergic to. I put together a traditional stuffing that my mom taught me a long time ago when I was a child, and a ironed my grandma's table cloth in memory of her. We will have mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, cranberry sauce, broccoli and baby leaf salad. Apple pie for dessert since Wade is not a fan of pumpkin. The one dish that I cannot make even though it was traditional for me growing up is jello salad with fruit. Sorry Jello Inc. but days of jello salads (and casseroles) are over for me. Some of my students and their families will be joining us for dinner.

And as a special treat, Alexander has learned a table grace that he will sing (to the tune of "On Top of Spaghetti"):

"The month of November,
has Thanksgiving Day,
we gather for dinner,
watch football and play.
With turkey and stuffing,
and cranberries too,
we are thankful for family
and friends just like you."

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Apocryphote of the Day: 11-17-08

Hear me, you who hear,
and learn my words, you who know me.
I am the hearing that attains everything,
and I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name.

Many are the pleasantries of numerous sins...and fleeting pleasures
which are embraced until you become sober
and go up to your resting place.
And you will find me there,
and you will live, and not die again.

The Thunder: Perfect Mind 20.27-34 and 21.20, 25-32 (Sethian ? gnostic poem from second century)

Commentary: I moved the second stanza from third person to second person to maintain consistency with the first stanza. The speaker is the female aspect of the Godhead, called by different names such as the Mother Spirit or Sophia.

Illustration: Sophia by Hildegaard von Bingen (1098-1179) according to some websites I toured. Can anyone confirm that this is indeed one of Hildegaard's paintings?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some new endorsements for The Thirteenth Apostle

A couple of new endorsements for my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, just came to my attention. They are nice, so I thought it would be fun to share them with you.
"DeConick is not nearly so well known to the reading public as other Gospel of Judas scholars, such as Ehrman, King, and Pagels...but DeConick's volume, offering as it does a substantial revision of the current consensus, deserves as much attention...her book contains a vast amount of useful information, placing the Gospel in its historical and theological context in a manner that is very accessible to the general public. Additionally, many readers will appreciate her autobiographical sections, her analysis of contemporary Jesus films, and her annotated bibliography. As such, her book deserves a place in libraries along with other essential Judas publications. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/ researchers; general readers." -- L. J. Greenspoon, CHOICE, May 2008

"This fascinating new book from April DeConick...takes issue with the recent translation and offers a wholly different interpretation, one that focuses on the various distinct sects of second and third century Christians but has much to say about our modern view of this infamous character." -- The Good Book Guide

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Name of the Lord and its significance

In the last post, a question was raised that I would like to address:
This isn't about the election. I've just been enjoying your ORIGINAL GOSPEL OF THOMAS IN TRANSLATION. As someone who got interested in the Jerusalem Church, James, and offshoots of that community while taking a course on the gospels at Davidson College years ago, it's interesting and good to see the Thomas material less thru the Gnostic frame and more as what it is/was. I've always been curious as to at what point early believers started to think of Jesus as God or equate him with God, so the material relating to the NAME Angel was especially interesting because out of all of the material, it was completely new to me. Would you, perhaps, point me to some additional articles and/or early texts where the NAME Angel theology is expressed or implied. If so, I'd be very grateful.


William Madden, Instructor
Dept. of Humanities
Georgia Perimeter College
Atlanta GA
The classic comprehensive study is Jarl Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord (Tübingen, 1985). This is the book of my own teacher, from whom I learned these ideas. I apply them to everything I do, but I wrote a piece recently in which I tried to incorporate them into my discussion of the origin and development of Christology. This article is April DeConick, "How we talk about Christology matters," in David Capes, April DeConick, Helen Bond and Troy Miller (eds.), Israel's God and Rebecca's Children (Waco, 2007) pp. 1-24. One of Fossum's other students, Charles Gieschen, has written significant pieces on the subject. The most accessible is an overview article published in my favorite early Christian studies journal, which I highly recommend: Charles Gieschen, "The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology," Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003) pp. 115-158. See also Gieschen's book, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden, 1998). Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We did it!

Congratulations to Barack Obama! This is a moment I will always remember.



Saturday, November 1, 2008

SBL sessions: Memory and Textuality

I think that the study of human memory is the future of biblical studies. The people that are giving papers in the memory sessions are really on the cutting edge of future methodology. They are setting us on a new course. At least I think so.


Mapping Memory: Tradition, Texts, and Identity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Meeting Room 313 - CC

Theme: Memory and Textuality

Chris Keith, University of Edinburgh, Presiding
Thomas Vollmer, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Social Memory and the Dead Sea Scrolls (25 min)
Whitney Shiner, George Mason University
Other People's Texts in the Memory of Non-Judean Participants in the Cult of Jesus (25 min)
Jason T. Larson, Syracuse University
The Gospels as Sites of Memory (25 min)
Sandra Huebenthal, Aachen University
Luke 24:13–35 and Social Memory in Luke (25 min)
Break (5 min)
April Deconick, Rice University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

SBL sessions: New consultation on Christian Origins

I agreed to respond to Mark Goodacre's paper which he is giving in this new consultation. I believe that Mark has been posting some of his thoughts already on his blog. Because I have been so bogged down rewriting my own presentation for the Judas Iscariot section (see previous post), I have not yet been able to turn my attention to this topic. But I will shortly.

My understanding is that this consultation wishes to rethink entirely the picture of Christian Origins that has been developed in the last couple of decades. I'm not on the steering committee or very knowledgeable about this group's identity or agenda, so I hope to discover more once I attend. Will follow up with an after-post containing more information.


Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity Consultation
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Beacon B - SH

Theme: Sources and Methods in Early Christian History

John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, Presiding
Mark Goodacre, Duke University
Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (30 min)
April DeConick, Rice University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)
Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge
The Gospel of Thomas as a Source for Early Christian History (30 min)
Stephen Patterson, Eden Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)

SBL sessions: Judas Iscariot

I am going to post a few sessions that I am going to be participating in while at Boston in a few weeks. This one is first thing Saturday morning (9 am).

I had my presentation written several months ago, but then a couple of weeks ago, I realized something major about the Gospel of Judas which makes a huge difference for its interpretation. Then a week ago, I ran into something else. So now I am scrambling to put together a new presentation, complete with PowerPoint (my first time for a SBL paper! so I'm holding my breath hoping that the technology is going to come through for me). Anyway, I'm not saying anything else, not even giving hints, until after the presentation so that I won't spoil it.


Future of the Past: Biblical and Cognate Studies for the Twenty-First Century
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Commonwealth - SH

Theme: What Biblical Scholars Should Know about Judas Iscariot

Linden Youngquist, Iowa Wesleyan College, Presiding
Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Historical Figure of Judas (30 min)
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University
Three Figures of Judas (after Borges) (30 min)
April D. DeConick, Rice University
What Can the Gospel of Judas Tell Us about Judas and Why Is This Important? (30 min)
Dennis R. MacDonald, Claremont School of Theology
Mark's Creation of Judas “Into-the-City” and Pseudo-Histories of Pseudo-Judas (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)