Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Review of My Book (The Sabbath and the Sanctuary) in JTS

I just saw via Brian Small that there is a new review (see here) of my book, The Sabbath and the Sanctuary, published by Nicholas Moore of Keble College, Oxford in the Journal of Theological Studies.  I, unfortunately, am not a subscriber, so I do not know what is praised and what is criticized, but am happy to see that my book continues to attract attention.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

So-Called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Testing Findings

Harvard Theological Review 107 is entirely dedicated to the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife."  While Karen King's article is the lead one, the more important ones would be those dedicated to the testing of papyrus and ink samples to determine whether their composition is ancient or modern.  One can read a press release here, which also contains links to the HTR 107.

The basic gist of the testing is that the papyrus and ink are consistent with 6th to 9th century CE, which removes them from "ancient" into the borderlands between late antique and early medieval.  I have yet to read the actual articles, but hopefully will have a chance in the next few days and be able to weigh in.

Larry Hurtado has some helpful initial comments based upon a cursory reading of the HTR 107.  I especially appreciate his comment that we should NOT call this the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife," since there is no evidence that this was part of such a broader work, but the "Jesus' Wife Fragment."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tertullian on Religious Freedom

I was reading through some of Tertullian this morning, and ran across this gem:
However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion - to which free will and not force should lead us - the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. (To Scapula 2; ANF translation)
Tertullian is speaking here of Christians being forced to offer sacrifice to Roman gods, but, as a member of a minority religion in the Roman Empire, develops this broader principle of religious freedom.  It reminds me a bit of the Quranic passage that "there is no compulsion in religion." 

Hurtado - DeConick Debate on (Gnostic) Christian Intellectuals

If anyone who reads this blog has somehow does not also read Larry Hurtado's or April DeConick's blogs, please check into the discussion they're having about Gnostics as Christian Intellectuals.

Hurtado's first post; DeConick's response; Hurtado's response to DeConick's response.

Hurtado's posts predominantly raise the question of definition: what is an intellectual (and, by the way, most scholars would not fall under his definition because you have to be public - and therefore counts only those engaged in apologetics or who can draw a Greco-Roman response)?  This definition of intellectual, relying on the old distinction between a scholar and an intellectual, raises some questions for early Christian thinkers (a term I will use to cover both scholars and intellectuals).

So was Origen merely a scholar - not an intellectual - until he wrote Contra Celsum?  How truly "public" are apologetic writings?  Though Justin's apologies are addressed to the emperor, they very unlikely met their addressee - so to whom was he actually writing?  Was Dialogue with Trypho meant to be read to Jews?  Or was all of this predominantly internally distributed?  That is, were they really more public than other writings?  At this point, the difference between Justin and Apocryphon of John is its distribution network.  Nonetheless, "Gnostics" weren't very good at keeping these texts esoteric if that is what they meant to do, since it seems Irenaeus was able to get copies of it and other documents with relative ease - and if he could get copies, couldn't others?  Origen clearly had a copy of Heracleon's Commentary on John.  So, again, if meant to be esoteric, they kept falling into other people's hands if those people wanted them.  Though Larry is unsure if Valentinians count as Gnostic.

Perhaps it is not a matter of actual distribution - since it is conceivable that the Apocryphon of John and Justin's Second Apology both had relatively similar levels of distribution - but perhaps it is a matter of intention.  But I think all members of the debate would stop at this point and say we cannot reconstruct such intentions.  All we have are texts, and we tend to find Justin's apologies clear - though quite pedestrian in their quality of thinking - and Hypostasis of the Archons unclear.  Is this a matter of esotericism? Or just the distance of modern and ancient modes of thinking?  Or - put another way - how strongly does one divide the line between pseudo-philosophical inquiry of the earliest apologists and mythopoetic inquiry of the Gnostics (since Plato himself - undoubtedly an intellectual, right? - dabbled in both in Timaeus).  Relevance for other periods: are Kabbalists intellectuals?

It is an important question not just for ancient Christians, but for today: what constitutes an intellectual?

The second main question that has arisen in Hurtado's most recent post is: What is a "Gnostic" (using Michael Williams's critique from Rethinking Gnosticism)?  Michael Williams and Karen King have both written books to critique the concept of Gnostic/Gnosticism.  It is still an open debate with others defending the category (e.g., Birger Pearson and April DeConick herself) or others restricting the term to those typically designated as Sethians (e.g., Bentley Layton and David Brakke).  I doubt there will be much out of this particular definitional impasse anytime soon.

DeConick's post predominantly raises the issue of evidence, listing several traditionally Gnostic texts / figures as proof of their intellectual vibrancy - as well as the evidence of Greco-Roman responses from Plotinus/Porphyry and Celsus.  Hurtado's response to her recognizes several of these figures as, indeed, intellectuals but questions whether they count as Gnostic.  She also notes an institutional bias in modern scholarship that re-marginalizes these ancient marginalized group.

Be sure to read the posts - and let's see if they continue or if others join the chorus.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Son Has Been Born to Naomi

Here is a quick question to everyone out in cyberspace.  This past week I was teaching my "Sex, Gender, and the Bible" course and we were reading Ruth (among other things).

One of the things that caught a student's eye (but which did not catch mine) was Ruth 4:17, where the women of Bethlehem proclaim that the baby boy that Ruth gives birth to is Naomi's: "A son has been born to Naomi."

So, some thoughts that I had that I think are all wrong:
1. This has something to do with the levirate marriage.  The problem is that the point of the levirate is that the child continues the name of the dead husband (Mahlon); not the name of the living mother-in-law.  One might argue that the levirate law has already been stretched a bit in Ruth (since it is being used for a non-Israelite), but this interpretation seems really pushing it to me.

2. This is adoption.  But the text says that Naomi becomes his nurse - and I am unaware of such "adoptions" occurring for nurses elsewhere, but perhaps this is my ignorance?  There is no real adoption formula; Naomi does not directly claim the child as her own - the declaration is in the mouths of the women.

My student noted - and I see it more and more every time I read the passage (and the earlier covenant that Ruth makes with Naomi [1:16-17]) - that Naomi is almost acting like the child's father and Ruth's husband.

What do you think is going on here?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Honest Business Cards

Anthony LeDonne has compiled a hilarious stack of honest business cards, one including yours truly.  Check them out here.  Though, I think with mine Anthony was self-projecting a bit. ;)

The Symbol of Manhood

Perhaps I am finding early Christian writings funnier than they are supposed to be, but they are quite funny.  Anyway, as I was reading some Clement of Alexandria today, he warns against men shaving...anything.  He writes:

"It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood: hairiness." (Paed. 3.4)

He further writes:

"'But the very hairs of your head are all numbers,' says the Lord; those on the chin, too, are numbered, and those on the whole body.  There must be therefore no plucking out, contrary to God's appointment, which has counted them in according to His will."

Where else are you going to read page after page the importance of hairiness, from facial to body hair?  Never, therefore, shave!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Divine Flautist

I've been reading a lot of second and third century literature - right now focused predominantly on the second - for my newest project on "The Christian Moses."  I rather enjoyed the following from Athenagoras (Plea for Christians 9):

"...for I think you also...cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the divine spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute..." (ANF trans)

Irenaeus, too, at one point refers to the prophets as God's instruments (though I think he meant more in terms of general instrumentality rather than musical instruments).  So, there you go: the prophets are flutes into which the divine spirit blows.  

Spring Courses for University of Mississippi - Desoto

If you are a University of Mississippi student and looking around for some courses to take as classes start up on Wednesday (and happened to stumble onto my blog), check out the following, both of which the first class is Thursday, Jan 23:

Rel 395: Sacred Road-Tripping: Pilgrimage from Mecca to Memphis
Meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 3-4:15 p.m.


As a practice, pilgrimage stands at many intersections, crisscrossing the complex topographies of a multi-religious world.  It ties together sacred place, sacred time, and myths and legends of heroes, saints, and gods.  As one traverses a landscape, one may try to connect to the past, while providing another link for future travelers.  A pilgrimage may be a religious requirement or an individual quest.  It blurs the line between a religious journey and tourism.  Its destination may be a physical place, but also may be within oneself.  In this class we will explore this multi-faceted phenomenon from antiquity to modernity and across several religious traditions.

Rel 366: Sex, Gender, and the Bible
Meets Thursdays 6-8:30 p.m.

This course will critically examine images of women, gender, and sexuality in biblical sources, including the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the Apocrypha, and the New Testament, which biblical readers throughout the centuries have reinterpreted to changing circumstances to reconstruct “normative” views and values of gender, sex, and the body for each new generation.  Our investigations will make these values explicit, and will help us explore what different groups of people think ought to be the case.  In order to do this, we will expose the value issues to alternative theories and systematic analysis.  In this course, the normative values that we are interested in are attitudes toward sexuality and the body prevalent in Christian societies.  Historical Biblical Criticism, Feminist Biblical Criticism, and Queer Theory will be some of the perspectives used to explore these values, exposing for us the values and opening up for us alternative worldviews.

I also have an Introduction to New Testament course that will meet Tuesday nights 6-8:30:  here is a short description for it as well:

The Bible has been one of the most influential collections of literature on religion, other literature, politics, society, and culture.  Jesus and Paul are immediately recognizable figures, popularly invoked in daily life and even public policy.  From the Gospels to Revelation, the books of the New Testament saturate our culture from popular films and novels to shaping people’s behavior and national politics.  Despite the New Testament’s seeming familiarity in religious institutions and public life, however, it can be very strange and disorienting.  In this class we will recover the strangeness of the New Testament in order to read it anew in their ancient Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern contexts.  To do this we will critically examine their transmission, development, historical contexts, and literary aspects.    

Bart Ehrman Good for the Church?

On why Bart Ehrman is good for the church - or, at least, evangelical Christians (by Greg Monette, himself an evangelical Christian): here.

Review of My Book!

Mike Kibbe, a student at Wheaton, has reviewed my monograph here.  I would like to thank him for giving it some attention!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Melons of Valentinus

I am re-reading Irenaeus's Against Heresies, and came across one of my favorite passages of the book - his reductio ad absurdum discussion of Valentinus's aeonic realms:

But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus. (AH 1.11.4; ANF translation)

Say what you want about Irenaeus, he is funny!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Touching Mary's Breasts: A Forgotten Aspect of Marian Devotion?

Reading ancient Christian materials can, I hate to admit, become monotonous at times.  At other times, between all of the sermonizing and exhortations and apologies, one reads something that catches you off-guard.

I was reading through some of the spurious letters of Ignatius, and found this one allegedly addressed to  John the Presbyter, who according to tradition was Mary's (mother of Jesus - not Mary Magdalene) protector.  In any case, "Ignatius" writes to John the following that made me do a double-take:
There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.
I have never heard of such a desire/request in terms of devotion before.  Perhaps medievalists have?  Of course, paintings of Mary from much later often picture her breastfeeding and it becomes a significant part of Marian devotion then.  Perhaps its roots are here in some way?  Nonetheless, definitely out of the ordinary after reading so much about obeying your bishop.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Jesus' Wife Fragment (Non)-Inquiries

Larry Hurtado continues to raise questions about the utter silence on the so-called Jesus' Wife Fragment, which begins to elaborate a sad state of scholarship in which scholars do not read those who take a different perspective than they do nor admit (alleged) fault.

See further comments by Mark Goodacre.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reminiscing on Alan Segal

Anthony LeDonne and Chris Keith asked me to offer some memories of Alan as his final Ph.D. student that he saw to completion in honor of their book giveaway of Two Powers in Heaven.  I thought I would reproduce what I wrote for them for my readers here.
My reflections of Alan Segal as his final Ph.D. student. 
Alan was a brilliant man. He was the stereotypical absent-minded professor with his head in the clouds. Often I would walk into his office to discuss my research projects with him, and he seemed to be in another world. Nonetheless, months later he could quote what I said to him back to me verbatim. Who knows how many languages he knew!? He could recite poetry and/or order a meal in most of them. As an advisor, he let his students develop their own ideas and follow them wherever they led. That is, one thing I really appreciated was that he was not trying to create carbon copies of himself or make us elaborate his ideas, but was there to guide our very different projects to develop as independent scholars. Perhaps the greatest quality he inculcated in each of us is to develop an insatiable curiosity and if that meant that for our research we had to transverse usually disparate fields of Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, Rabbinics, Early Christianity, etc., so be it. 
That is, in my opinion, one of the greatest legacies of his own research. From Two Powers to Rebecca's Children to Paul the Convert, he pursued his research with little regard to traditional scholarly boundaries. For him, to focus exclusively on Christianity or Judaism in antiquity was at best a simple anachronism; at worst, bad history. In an era of scholarship in which are projects are increasingly smaller, focusing on our little boxes (NT, DSS, etc.), he taught us to think big. I only hope I can carry on that legacy as best I can.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Two Powers in Heaven

Anthony LeDonne and Chris Keith are giving away a copy of my late advisor, Alan Segal's first book, Two Powers in Heaven here.  Three and a half decades after it was first published by Brill, it remains a foundational book that discusses intermediation, Christology, and the interrelationships between the emergent Rabbis and emergent Christians.  A seminal work, Baylor University Press has now republished it in a far more affordable form.  So now we can actually assign it in a graduate course!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Mysterious Disappearance of Jesus' Wife

Larry Hurtado asks an important question: What has happened to the Jesus' Wife Fragment?  Perhaps as Anthony Le Donne's newest book, The Wife of Jesus, gets more circulation, scholars will continue to want to know (even if - or especially because - the popular hype has subsided). (I have just started reading this book, by the way.  Thought it would be some good, light reading.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Because Britney Spears and Jesus are Pretty Much the Same

We have been begging for this for years now.  We have all noticed the similarities.  "Hit me, baby, one more time" is basically the same message as "turn the other cheek."  "I'm a slave for you" is clearly about being a servant (as Jesus was in the Last Supper in the Gospel of John).  "Oops, I did it again," is really about all of the mysterious repetitions of miracles in Mark's gospel.  

Finally, someone has done it.  Look out Jesus Christ Superstar.  Watch it Godspell.  Someone has turned Britney Spears music into a story--an opera no less--about Jesus called SPEARS: The Gospel according to Britney.  See the information here.  Here is the official website.

It appears that the creator developed this originally for Columbia University!

From the creator, Pat Blute:

So many of the heartaches, loneliness, and miscommunications that we feel are direct results of not listening. We don’t listen to the pleas for help. We don’t hear the desperations of family and friends. But we will eavesdrop. We will infiltrate the personal space of others to get some type of satisfaction. To take context out of consideration through images. Through materialism. Through greed. So listen. These are Britney’s lyrics. These are Jesus Christ’s images. The Britney Spears you see is not Britney Spears. Remember that. The Jesus Christ you read is not Jesus Christ. These are manifestations. Accounts through the media, through the words of followers, of friends, of foes, of villains, of heroes, of liars, of biases. It’s a falsehood that people believe fame and fortune create happiness. That all ‘deaths’ receive a resurrection. I hope this project will show you otherwise through the power of listening and the power of forgiveness. Special thanks to all involved in this production. Much love.

Will I see it if I get a chance?  Oh yeah!