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!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Real Exorcist

Coming from the St. Louis area, I always knew that the movie the Exorcist was based upon events that occurred in St. Louis.  Recently, a group of Jesuit scholars at St. Louis University gave a public presentation discussing those events to a packed house.  You can read about it here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christopher Skinner on Anthony LeDonne's Newest Book

Christopher Skinner has a review of Anthony LeDonne's newest book, The Wife of Jesus, on his blog Peje Iesous.  Check it out here.

Dorothy King on "Vampires" in Archaeology

Dorothy King of PhDiva has written an extensive post on the European burials of "vampires" and/or "zombies" (the differentiation of which she repeatedly notes is a more modern invention) for this holiday season.  Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Embodying the Ancestors" and Late Antiquity

Jim Davila posts about an upcoming paper by Seth Sanders from a talk he gave a few years ago.

Seth writes (from 2009):

"I am Adapa, Sage of Eridu" How and Why did Mesopotamian Exorcists Embody their Ancestors?
Rencontre Assyriologique paper, coming to Paris this summer!
The modern “Friday Apostolics” of Zimbabwe actually embody their revealers, speaking as Moses and St. Paul; by contrast, ancient Jews did not directly embody Moses in performance. But did Mesopotamian exorcists become the mythical fish-man who revealed their secrets? The semi-human sage Adapa might be considered the patron saint of Mesopotamian ritual. He also became the mediator of privileged knowledge par excellence—a culture hero for the scribes who managed writing and ritual for Mesopotamian courts. But ritual experts were not satisfied to inherit his knowledge—in certain texts they claim to not just be descended from him but to be him. Beginning with its roots in archaic Sumerian art and ritual, this paper will examine narratives, images, and ritual performances in which Mesopotamian scholars embodied their mythical ancestor. Taking a cue from linguistic anthropology, we will ask on what planes this embodiment was accomplished and what its effects were.
Jim notes that there might be some application of this type of embodiment for the later Pseudepigraphical writings.  Maybe so, but I began to wonder if a closer application occurs in the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri, where the practitioner does claim to become an ancestor or even divine being through certain ritualized actions and speech.

For example, calling upon the sun, one says, “I am Adam the forefather; my name is Adam.  Perform for me the NN deed, because I conjure you by the god IAO, by the god Abaoth, by the god Adonai, by the god Michael…” (PGM II.145-149).  Perhaps the most interesting example comes from a series of “I am" statements that resemble the Gospel of John or Thunder:  Perfect Mind:  “I am an outflow of blood from the tomb o the great One [between] the palm trees; I am the faith found in men, and am he who declares the holy names, who [is] always alike, who came forth from the abyss.  I am CHRATES who came forth from the eye [of the sun].  I am the god whom no one sees or rashly names….” (PGM XII.227-230).  The passage continues in the same manner, equating the speaker with Krates, Helios, Aphrodites, Kronos, the Mother of the Gods, Osiris, Isis, etc. 

At this point, the speaker appears to become the avatar of the God on earth, of the ancestor in the present.  Or, as Sanders questions, on what planes does this occur?  Perhaps one steps out of normal space and time in this ritual event of embodiment.

I, moreover, begin to wonder the significance of such a study of embodiment for the performance The Thunder: Perfect Mind from the Nag Hammadi Codices.  When one recites the litany of "I am" statements, does one, in fact, become those things, or, better put, embody those things through the series of speech-acts?  While Seth Sanders's work focuses on a far earlier period than mine, I do wonder if his insights into Adapa might persist through the millennia unto late antiquity.
 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Green Pumpkin

Again, a painting I finished just before moving to Mississippi: Green Pumpkin.  Appropriate for the upcoming fall season.


Sunburst

One of the latest studies I did before moving to Mississippi: Sunburst.


Ladybug

My latest painting, for my newly born niece, Jaryn.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Course Offerings for Spring 2014

2014!  I am starting to feel old!

Anyway, I have turned in my course offerings to my chair (who will eventually turn them over to the registrar) for Spring 2014.  If you are taking courses at the University of Mississippi in Desoto county, and, for some reason you happened upon this website, take these courses into consideration for next semester:

REL 312: The New Testament and Early Christianity

REL 356: Women in the Judeo-Christian Bible (I hear we are petitioning to change this to something like Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible, but, alas, not for next semester).  This is an adaptation of my older Sexuality and Christianity course, but focused more on biblical texts.

REL 395: Special Topics: Sacred Road-Tripping: Pilgrimage from Mecca to Memphis

Course descriptions to come.

Does 1 Maccabees Critique the Hasmoneans?

Last week we were reading 1 Maccabees in one of my classes.  We began to discuss the work's bias.  As anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the text knows, it is highly pro-Hasmonean.  It constantly praises the activities--and, at times, the excesses--of Judah Maccabee and his brothers.  But we also began to discuss some underlying critiques.  Or, if one is writing a history of the Maccabean Revolt while under Hasmonean rule, perhaps as the court historian, how could one possibly offer a critique?  It would have to be in allusions and hints throughout.  For example, throughout the text, the Hasmoneans are likened to Phinehas from Numbers 25:1-15 for their zeal, which is often how some rather excessively violent episodes are justified.  In response to his zeal, Phinehas receives a perpetual priesthood (Num. 25:13).  Likewise, so does Simon, the brother of Judah Maccabee,

"The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise." (1 Macc. 14:41 NRSV)

The difference, however, is that Phinehas receives a perpetual priesthood without qualification.  There is the slightest twinge of doubt for Simon's with the qualification of the rise of a prophet who may confirm or may nullify this pronouncement.

This, however, is quite a small qualification, a small twinge of doubt.  There is, I think, a much stronger undercurrent in the text.  But one needs to look deeper for it.

In addition to becoming high priest, commander, etc., Simon also wears the purple (14:43).  Before him, Jonathan also received the purple (10:20).

All this comes just after over the top, lavish praise of the Romans.  Speaking of their prowess in conquering others, how loyal they are to their allies, etc., the description of the Romans wraps up with this praise:

"Yet for all this not one of them has put on a crown or worn purple as a mark of pride, but they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred twenty senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well.  They trust one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them." (1 Macc. 8:14-16)

As I said, a bit over the top--as well as inaccurate.  Nonetheless, part of the lavish praise is the fact that, as of yet, no one among the Romans had been so proud as to put on the purple (or a crown); they are, in the author's perspective, to be highly commended for such restraint.  And, while the author never states anything explicitly positively or negatively when Jonathan in chapter 10 or Simon in chapter 12 put on the purple and a crown, the hint has already been planted in chapter 8 that putting on the purple and a crown is a negative thing to do, a mark of pride.  It is an undercurrent of critique, buried under the cresting waves of seemingly constant praise.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Book by Andrei Orlov: "Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham"


Andrei Orlov, one of the few scholars working on Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, just asked me to forward this information to publicize his newest book.  

Based on the price, it looks like something to order for your institution's library.
By the way, we need more scholars learning, studying, and publishing on the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha!
Andrei A. Orlov, Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham(Cambridge University Press, 2013) 224 pages. ISBN: 110703907X, 9781107039070.Description from the publisher: The Apocalypse of Abraham is a vital source for understanding both Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism. Written anonymously soon after the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, the text envisions heaven as the true place of worship and depicts Abraham as an initiate of celestial priesthood. Andrei A. Orlov focuses on the central rite of the Abraham story - the scapegoat ritual that receives a striking eschatological reinterpretation in the text. He demonstrates that the development of the sacerdotal traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham, along with a cluster of Jewish mystical motifs, represents an important transition from Jewish apocalypticism to the symbols of early Jewish mysticism. In this way, Orlov offers unique insight into the complex world of the Jewish sacerdotal debates in the early centuries of the Common Era. The book will be of interest to scholars of early Judaism and Christianity, Old Testament studies, and Jewish mysticism and magic. 
About the author from the publisher: Andrei A. Orlov is Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University. His recent publications include Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Selected Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Concealed Writings: Jewish Mysticism in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2011) and Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (2011). 
http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/religion/biblical-studies-old-testament-hebrew-bible/heavenly-priesthood-apocalypse-abraham 
http://books.google.com/books?id=CdIhbyNAENcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=orlov+heavenly+priesthood&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EUc_Up-VJvXK4APD-ICYDA&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=orlov%20heavenly%20priesthood&f=false 
http://www.amazon.com/Heavenly-Priesthood-Apocalypse-Abraham-Andrei/dp/110703907X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1379878595&sr=8-2&keywords=andrei+orlov

Friday, September 20, 2013

Caroline Schroeder's Monastic Bodies

I just finished reading Caroline Schroeder's Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe, which I recommend to anyone studying late antique Egypt, ancient monasticism, or uses the body as a critical lens of analysis.  I do not offer a comprehensive review here, but a series of impressions as I now step away from the book.

There is, indeed, too little scholarship on Shenoute, and Caroline Schroeder, through some close analyses of key documents, draws out Shenoute's concept of the body. She relies upon much similar work done on the body and how it relates to larger groups (Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger; Peter Brown, The Body and Society; Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body) as well as Foucault's analyses on discipline and discourse (e.g., Discipline and Punish, and I believe some History of Sexuality was involved as well), as a broader lens by which to read Shenoute's writings.

If I read Schroeder correctly, Shenoute makes a series of correspondences between the body of the monk, the "body" of all the monks (with Shenoute providing the head of the body), and the body of the space of the monastery.   Since the individual monk, the collectivity of monks, and the space they inhabit are all inherently connected, sin acts as a contagion for the body--threatening not only the individual monk, but the entire body of monks as well. Thus the sinful body must be chastened and disciplined, and the source of sin removed.

I found the chapter on how this relates to the space of the monastery especially interesting, as Shenoute develops the Pauline concept of the community as temple, eliding the difference between people and brick, spirit and flesh, identifying the spiritual community with the physical building they inhabit. (I wonder if Jacob Milgrom's discussions of sin, contagion, and purgation of the temple might be relevant here? Is Shenoute, in any way, also drawing upon Levitical understandings of the people and their sacred spaces from the Old Testament?  Or might Jonathan Klawans's Sin and Impurity be relevant, if even just for a point of comparison?)

And lest one think the Shenoute has only negative things to say about the body, its weakness, and temptations, the chapter on resurrection reveals a deeper ambivalence within Shenoute's writings on the body: it is not just a vessel for sin, but for transformation.

Whether one likes Shenoute or not, whether one finds his strictness off-putting or not, Schroeder shines a small light on this very important but rarely studied figure, illuminating the need for more study.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Ignorant to Inspired: Moses in Gnostic Literature

I will be giving a public talk about some of the research I worked on this summer sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Mississippi a week from today (September 18).  If anyone is around Oxford, MS, please come by!

Here are the details:

From Ignorant to Inspired: Moses in Gnostic Literature

Abstract:

How did various early Christians groups understand Moses?  How did they interpret his prophetic authority and his divine visions?   Why did it matter?  Of all Christian groups, Gnostic Christians supposedly have at first glance the most negative view of Moses, treating him as the ignorant prophet of his equally ignorant master, the Demiurge or Creator of this world.  A closer look at the evidence produced by both Gnostics themselves and their enemies, however, demonstrates a much greater diversity of perspectives.  Far from always being the puppet of the ignorant Demiurge, some Gnostics portrayed Moses as the revealer of hidden, spiritual realities, as a prototypical Gnostic himself.  This paper will trace the shift from ignorance to inspiration, demonstrating how Gnostic groups interpreted Moses can be used as an index for how they viewed themselves vis-à-vis other Christian groups. 

When: Wednesday, 18 September 2013, 4:15-6:00 p.m.
Where: 111 Bryant Hall

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nicola Denzey Lewis's "Gnosticism"

Christopher Skinner offers a brief review of Nicola Denzey Lewis's new introductory textbook, Introduction to "Gnosticism": Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds (OUP, 2013) on his blog Peje Iesous.  It is quite a glowing review for the book's potential usefulness in a classroom setting.  I have been thinking I need to read (and order) the book for my "Forbidden Scriptures" course for a while now.  I recently read her monograph, Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity: Under Pitiless Skies (Brill, 2013), which I thought was a very good study of pronoia and heimarmene (and shockingly short).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Rosh Hashanah

Evidently in a tweet, current Iranian President has surprised everyone by wishing a blessed Rosh Hashanah to Jews, particularly Iranian Jews.  Still processing this one.  Read more about it here.

Shanah Tovah!

Rosh Hashanah starts at sundown tonight.  Shanah Tovah to all those celebrating!  Have a sweet new year.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Antithetical, Vague, and Pompous

I am reviewing (looking over, not writing an official review) of Morton Smith's book, Jesus the Magician, for a project on Magic, Popular Religion, and the New Testament I am working on.  Whatever you think of Smith, you have to admit that he can be a hoot to read.

Commenting on a saying attributed to Jesus by the Rabbis ("From filth they came and to filth they shall return"), Smith writes,

"The saying may be early--it resembles many of the Q sayings in being antithetical, vague, and pompous...." (Smith, Jesus the Magician, 46)

If anyone wanted a primer on what Morton Smith thought of Q, one could not be any more succinct!

Quote of the Day: Morton Smith on Jesus

Morton Smith wrote a controversial book on Jesus:  Jesus the Magician.  I don't want to go into the details of his argument, which, ultimately, teaches one a lot of interesting and important things about the terminology of magic, and how magic was perceived and understood in the ancient world, though perhaps rarely discussed anymore for "historical Jesus" studies.  Perhaps it is more important for understanding the nachleben of stories of Jesus, how Jesus was perceived by friends and enemies in the second century onwards in Jewish, Christian, and other sources (such as the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri, etc.), though Smith wouldn't see it the same way.  

Anyway, to get to an insightful quote about Jesus in ancient Galilee, and the quests for the historical Jesus that divide the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith, and place all of the "mythological material"--not just myths about Christ, but mythological presuppositions that Jesus may make in the Gospels--in the Christ of faith category, Smith writes:

"Where in ancient Palestine would one find a man whose understanding of the world and of himself was not mythological?" (Smith, Jesus the Magician, 4)

Where indeed?!

Ancient Jewish Manuscripts, Texts, and Translations

As you can see by my sidebar, I have added numerous ancient (and some medieval) Jewish manuscripts, texts, and translations.  Because of the sheer number and range of materials, I have not placed them in my typical order of digitized manuscripts, original language texts, and then translations, but largely in Chronological order and by collection: see ancient Jewish materials (Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, and Josephus) and then Rabbinic Materials (Mishnah, Talmud, etc.).

There is plenty here, but if you know of any good websites, especially having digitized manuscripts or original language materials, please pass along the information.

Moreover, check out the earlier sections (Biblical and early Christian), because I have added some materials to those as well.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Quote of the Day: Pelikan on Jesus

"Jesus is far too important a figure to be left only to the theologians and the church." (Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries, xv)

I'll be thinking on that as I go to my Jesus and the Gospels class today.

Early Christian Texts and Translations

I have posted a special section for Early Christian texts more generally.  This includes apocryphal works as well as what we used to call "patristics."

For texts, I have PG Migne and PL Migne.  For translations, the websites of Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) and Early Christian Writings.  There is also a little link to gospels.net that has a translation to a few extra-canonical gospels.

I didn't notice any high resolution photographs for original manuscripts for this section, but would love to hear of any website that has them.

I will put more up as I find more or as people send links to me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nag Hammadi and Related Literature--manuscripts and translations

For my second installment of updating my sidebar to make it more useful for those seeking to find online resources for ancient manuscripts, texts, and translations, I have now added a section for Nag Hammadi and Relate Literature.  For manuscripts, all I have are the Tchacos Codex high resolution photographs.  If the digitized manuscripts Nag Hammadi Codices, Berlin Codex, etc., are also online, I am unaware of it.

I didn't see anything for the Coptic text itself online.  But there are a couple online translations.  I have a link to both English and French translations of the Nag Hammadi Literature.

If anyone has any other links for texts or translations for Nag Hammadi and related works, please send them to me and I will add them to my website.

Schiffman "Outside the Bible"

Larry Schiffman has a brief post on the significance of extra-canonical books for the study of ancient Judaism.  It is extremely relevant for my current course, "Forbidden Scriptures," in which we read several of the texts he discusses there.  Check it out!

Biblical Manuscripts, Texts, and Translations Online

In an effort to make my blog not merely a place where I offer occasional news or offer up an initial essay (in Montaigne's sense) of my thoughts on an ancient text from time to time, but a place that can be useful for students of the ancient world, I have begun to organize my sidebar to be a database for online resources for ancient manuscripts, texts, and translations.

My first category is, naturally enough, Biblical Manuscripts, Texts, and Translations.  I have a few listed toward the top of my sidebar.

Perhaps the most significant digitized manuscripts for the Bible I have come across are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Aleppo Codex.  This summer, Trinity College of Dublin also made their famous Book of Kells available online.  If anyone knows of any other biblical manuscripts available in high resolution photographs online, please let me know, and I will create a link to it here.

I have also placed Nestle-Aland's 28 for the New Testament text.  Unfortunately, the critical apparatus is not online.  I have not found an equivalent for the Hebrew Bible (e.g., BHS), LXX, or Vulgate as of yet.

I have also posted some translations, most of which can be found on the University of Michigan's website: King James, Luther's, Rheims, and RSV.

I hope this can be of use for everyone out there.  Next I will begin two separate link lists for Jewish and Christian manuscripts, texts, and translations respectively.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blackboard versus Blog (Review)

I posted several years ago an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on the relative merits of using blackboard versus using blogs.  I had, at the time, never used blackboard as an instructor, but now I am at an institution that does use Blackboard.  I have, nonetheless, been toying around with creating a blog for some of my courses for students to present material to one another, comment on each other's work, and ultimately present it in a format that is accessible outside of the university in a public (hyper)space.

For disseminating course materials, I think one would have to supplement a blog with dropbox or google docs, but I think it is worth reconsidering.

Here is the old link.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fall Semester Offerings

Today is the first day of class for the University of Mississippi.  Here are the courses I am offering this semester.  Have a great semester everyone!


Hebrew Bible/OT
The Bible has been one of the most influential collections of literature on religion, other literature, society, and culture.  The stories of Abraham and Moses and the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah have had a profound impact on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures from popular films to politics.  Despite this apparent familiarity, the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a., the Old Testament) can often be very strange and disorienting for modern readers.  In this class we will recover Hebrew Bible’s strangeness by reading it anew in its ancient Near Eastern context.  To do this we will critically examine the biblical books’ transmission, development, historical contexts, and literary aspects. 

Jesus and the Gospels
“He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:29). 

In addition to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, more than 50 gospels were written by early Christians in antiquity, such as the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary, and even Judas.  Each gospel has its own distinctive view of Jesus.  Why do these gospels portray Jesus in the way they did?  What do these portrayals tell us about Jesus, and what do they tell us about the gospel writers themselves?  In this class we will learn how various scholarly methods can illuminate the gospels, using the different views of Jesus as a vital lens to study and understand the variety of emergent Christian groups.

Forbidden Scriptures
The books of the Bible are only the tip of an iceberg of a vast collection of ancient literature produced by ancient Jews and Christians, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, and the Gospel of Thomas.   Why were these books excluded from the Bible?  Why have they been lost, forgotten, or even banned?  In this class, we will examine several ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were omitted from the Bible, placing them in their historical contexts and in dialogue with canonical texts in order to gain a more complete understanding of ancient Jewish and Christian cultures.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hebrews 9:23 Really Bothers Me

After publishing my recent book, I am of course in need of a hiatus from Hebrews and am off to different research projects, particularly my Christian Moses stuff.  But when I return to Hebrews--and I shall return--it will likely be because of Hebrews 9:23, a line that has bothered me every time I've read it.  Quoting from the RSV:

"Thus it was necessary for copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these."

Before this in chapter 9, there is a conflation of several sacrificial rites from the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) to the blood used to establish the covenant (Exod. 24:6-8), etc.  These rites established and purified the earthly sanctuary (the copies of heavenly things).  But that is not the part that bothers me; it is the second phrase.  While the better sacrifices refers to Jesus', why, oh why, would the heavenly things / heavenly sanctuary need to be purified at all?  Is it impure, defiled in some way?  If so, how might one defile the heavenly sanctuary?  Is it due to human defilement?  Or, perhaps, angelic defilement?

One could argue that it is inaugural purification (inaugurating the new covenant in the way Moses did the old); I am not remembering off the top of my head, but I think this position is favored by Erich Gräßer and several of his followers; it does, indeed, have some benefits.  Its simplicity is attractive.  On the other hand, Hebrews still seems to associate the inaugural blood with purgative rites, ridding one of sin.  Moreover, it seems to me that this phrase is encapsulating: that is, it is referring to all the rites just mentioned and not just the inaugural one.

Or one could argue that it somehow relies upon what Jacob Milgrom has pointed out in his famous article "The Priestly Picture of Dorian Gray": the magnetic character of sin and how the Day of Atonement and other ceremonies have a predominate function to purge the sanctuary of people's sin.  Could the people's sins be, likewise, affecting the heavenly sanctuary, which, as the heavenly sanctuary, needs a greater sacrifice to purge it?

Or, a combination of both.

Or...something else.  Indeed, while I address this verse in my book, I don't think I've found an adequate answer.

I at least see a conference paper in my future on this question, and then we'll see from there.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sabbath and Sanctuary Available!



My book, The Sabbath and the Sanctuary: Access to God in the Letter to the Hebrews and Its Priestly Context, is now printed, published, and available for purchase from Mohr Siebeck!  Check it out here and order it for your libraries today!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Elizabeth Castelli Weighs in on Aslan's Zealot

In a Nation piece full of gems, Elizabeth Castelli summarizes many of the critiques Bible scholars have been making of Reza Aslan's new book, Zealot.  The final paragraph is worth reproducing:
Simply put, Zealot does not break new ground in the history of early Christianity. It isn’t clear that any book framed as a “the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” could, in fact, do so. Indeed, if it had not been thrust into the limelight by an aggressive marketing plan, the painfully offensive Fox News interview, and Aslan’s own considerable gifts for self-promotion, Zealot would likely have simply been shelved next to myriad other examples of its genre, and everyone could get back to their lives. As it is, the whole spectacle has been painful to watch. And as it is with so many spectacles, perhaps the best advice one might take is this: Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Historical Jesus and Reza Aslan Roundup at Paleojudaica

I haven't wanted to wade into the fray of Reza Aslan that I have seen raging online, on television, and by all my scholarly friends on facebook for two reasons: (1) I haven't read the book; (2) I have been busy moving from Illinois to Mississippi for my new job at the University of Mississippi.  But Jim Davila has a nice roundup of relevant and interesting posts, ranging from positive to negative views of Reza Aslan's book.

Gospel of the Grateful Dead

It has been long observed that Deadheads have the makings of a religious movement.  I remember as an undergraduate reading Catherine Albanese's America: Religion and Religions, in which she included the Grateful Dead.  Evidently, at the moment, we are in the most important part of the Deadhead liturgical year: the Days Between.  Named after a Grateful Dead song, it is the days between August 1 (Jerry Garcia's birth) and August 9 (his death).  So, there is a short article in the Huffington Post reminding us of this enduring movement:
Every religion struggles to redefine itself after the death of its charismatic founder. Often times, this process takes the form of establishing and edifying the authoritative scriptures and commentaries of the tradition. For Jerry Garcia, evangelizing did not happen through sermons or speeches, but rather through his concert performances. Accordingly, Garcia's numerous concert recordings endure as the foundational texts of the Grateful Dead canon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book of Kells Online

James McGrath has noted that Trinity College Dublin has digitized and placed the Book of Kells online.  You can see it here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Making the Chronicle's Honor Roll

The Chronicle of Higher Education has released its "Great Colleges to Work For 2013" guide, and my new institution this fall, University of Mississippi, made their "Honor Roll," that is, the top ten in its category (as a large 4-year university).  They received the honor roll for good ratings in the following categories: Collaborative Governance; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Facilities, Workspace, and Security; Job Satisfaction; Professional/Career Development Programs; Respect and Appreciation; Supervisor or Department Chair Relationship; Tenure Clarity and Process; Work/Life Balance.

Areas where they did not score as highly include:  Compensation and Benefits; Diversity; Teaching Environment.

Congratulations to Ole Miss for doing so well.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Exorcism Business is Booming

Evidently, anyway.  According to a Huffington Post article focusing on how Polish exorcists have been worried about Madonna, it mentions that requests for exorcists and, evidently, for Catholic clergy to receive exorcism training is on the rise not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the U.S.  I wonder why there is such an upsurge in interest?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Two Powers in Heaven (Now Affordably Priced)

Larry Hurtado notes here that my late advisor's first book, Two Powers in Heaven, is now being re-printed by Baylor University Press at an affordable cost.

Here is the blurb on BUP's site:
In his now classic Two Powers in Heaven, Alan Segal examines rabbinic evidence about early manifestations of the "two powers" heresy within Judaism. Segal sheds light upon the development of and relationships among early Christianity, Gnosticism, and Merkabah mysticism and demonstrates that belief in the "two powers in heaven" was widespread by the first century, and may have been a catalyst for the Jewish rejection of early Christianity. An important addition to New Testament and Gnostic scholarship by this much revered scholar, Segal's Two Powers in Heaven is made available once again for a new generation.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Updated Biblioblog List

There is a new, updated list of biblioblogs.  You can find Antiquitopia listed as New Testament / Early Christianity with an emphasis on Greco-Roman Culture (in its categorization "3d").  The site also lists which blogs are "Top 20" and which are "Top 50."  Antiquitopia, finally, has made the cut for Top 50!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

SBL Program Book Online

The SBL Annual Meeting program book is now available online.

Here is the section in which I am giving a paper, scheduled for Sunday evening of the conference.  Looks like Jim Davila will be responding.

Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
11/24/2013
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Holiday 2 - HiltonTheme: Religious Practices that (Trans)form
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College, Presiding
Jonathan A. Draper, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Spiritual Temple and Prophetic-Priestly Revelation of Divine Mysteries in the Didache Community (25 min)
Tyson Putthoff, University of Durham
“To Die Saturated in His Glory”: Initiatory Death and Ontological Reconstruction in Hekhalot Zutarti (25 min)
Joseph E. Sanzo, University of California-Los Angeles
Making “Christian Magic”: Themes of Christian Identity Formation on Textual Amulets from Late Antiquity (25 min)
Jared C. Calaway, Illinois Wesleyan University
God and the Senses: Smelling, Tasting, and Touching God in Early Christianity (25 min)
William Hamblin, Brigham Young University
The Pseudepigrapha and Visionary Books (25 min)
James Davila, University of St. Andrews, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (10 min)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God and the Senses (9): The Gospel of Truth


“For when they saw and heard him, he let them taste him and smell him and touch  the beloved Son” (30,23-31,35; trans. Marvin Meyer in Nag Hammadi Scriptures: International Edition). 

I have been reading a lot of the Nag Hammadi Codices lately, since many of my current research projects seem to intersect there.  While re-reading the Gospel of Truth, I found that it was full of multi-sensory language.  The Gospel of Truth, a profoundly original Valentinian homily (some even think it derives from Valentinus himself), effectively engages all five senses.  Indeed, in some ways, this one line encapsulates one’s relationship with the divine in this text: once you see and hear (initial steps), one then came come closer and taste, smell, and touch the divine, all indicating intimacy if not union.

Throughout the entire sermon, the speaker/author invokes sensory language.  There is, of course, a lot of visionary and auditory language, but there is also strong tasting/smelling and touching language as well.  Different types of senses seem to cluster around different types of ideas relating to salvation and ways of experiencing the divine.

Vision and Knowledge:  Seeing and failing to see serves primarily as a metaphor for understanding and knowledge (17,4-18,11; 28,32-30,23).  "Appearance" has ambivalent meaning: “mere appearance” can stand for the deficiency of the world (23,17-25,25), but there is also the positive appearance of truth (26,27-28,32).   Son is seen, but his name is invisible (as well as unheard, unpronounced, but uttered by whom the Name belongs) (38,6-41,3).

Hearing and Salvation:  the unutterable and unhearable name leads to issues of hearing.  There is some terminology of proclamation, but not much (19,34-21,25).  There is, again, great importance placed upon uttered and unuttered names.  Unlike the discussion of what can be uttered, this discussion is quite different.  Uttered and unuttered names (and "letters") refer to people who are called and those who are not called; hearing, therefore, serves as a metaphor for salvation.  This, in fact, sounds a lot like Paul in Romans 8:28-30.  The “letters” in this section suggest the names of those, who are called and lead to knowledge of the Father.

There is, moreover, the embodiment of the Word that was spoken (25,25-26,27)

Tasting (and Smelling):  Language of the Father:  Much of Valentinian theology surrounding the Father is basically apophatic, the via negativa.  Nonetheless, some more positive language occurs in smelling and tasting language.  Indeed, one finds in this text and throughout the Tripartite Tractate the fact that the Father is “sweet.”  Jesus is also sweet (23,17-25,25).  Smelling and tasting, in fact, are to the Gospel of Truth, the spiritual senses par excellence, far surpassing seeing and hearing:
           
“For the Father is sweet, and goodness is in his will.  He knows what is yours, in which you find rest.  By the fruit one knows what is yours.  For the Father’s children are his fragrance; they are from the beauty of his face.  The Father loves his fragrance and disperses it everywhere, and when it mixes with matter, it gives his fragrance to the light.  Through his quietness he makes his fragrance superior in every way to every sound.  For it is not ears that smell the fragrance, but it is the spirit that possesses the sense of smell, draws the fragrance to itself, and immerses itself in the Father’s fragrance.” (33,33-34,34; Trans. Marvin Meyer)

The superiority of smell over sound has a few advantages.  It seems to rely, firstly, upon a relationship between the concept of “spirit” and “breath,” which in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, etc., are the same word or from the same root word.  Breathing in is how you smell, and breath is spirit; therefore, smell is the sense of the spirit.  Hearing, moreover, is a response to sound; while obvious, hearing discernable sounds in communication would violate the principle that the Father is ineffable; smelling, however, is difficult to describe (except, in this case, as sweet).  It approaches ineffability in a way that hearing and seeing do not.

If one smells the Father, one tastes the “place of rest” (41,3-43,24).  Tasting is associated with the experience of salvation; and, moreover, tasting largely in biblically-derived sources seems to largely be equivalent with “experiencing” something: tasting death; tasting the heavenly gift (Hebrews), etc. 

Touching the Father’s Mouth:  Smelling is an especially intimate act, but touching is, at least in the Gospel of Truth, more so.  “Whoever loves truth, whoever touches truth, touches the Father’s mouth, because truth is the Father’s mouth.  His tongue is the Holy Spirit, and fro his tongue one will receive the Holy Spirit” (26,27ff).  While mouth and tongue connected with truth would, most of the time, be associated with hearing; in this case, it is touching.  It is more intimate; touching a mouth and tongue evokes a scene of kissing.  It, in that sense, resembles Origen’s spiritually erotic interpretation of “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song of Songs 1:1) as the intimate messages given between Christ and the soul, combining kissing with the conveyance of truth, perhaps a truth that surpasses discursive thought.  

In short, vision relates to knowledge and understanding; hearing relates to calling; but things that surpass understanding, things that surpass language, are best expressed in terms of smelling, tasting, and touching.  I think the most startling aspect of the Gospel of Truth is its reservation of smelling as the highest or most spiritual sense, if not the only sense that is truly spiritual.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking the Bible Seriously (As Literature)

There is a nice review of Robert Alter's newest installment of his translation of the Hebrew Bible in the Tablet.
In Ancient Israel, Alter has reached the part of the Bible with the most to say about history. The Pentateuch begins in myth and ends in moral exhortation; its most famous legends are precisely that, legends, which can only be accepted as true by an act of faith. Adam eating the apple, Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Moses parting the Red Sea—these are not the kinds of things that can be corroborated with outside evidence. Starting with the Book of Joshua, however, Ancient Israel moves into a more recognizable world of power politics, in which the main events are wars between tribes, states, and empires, and the intrigues of kings and courtiers. Toward the end of Kings, when we read of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire and the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, we are dealing with events that also appear in extra-biblical inscriptions and documents. Somewhere along the line, the Israelites have evolved from a holy family into a political entity, with all the compromises and disappointments that entails.
Be sure to read the rest of it here, especially the bit about David.

How Did Protestants Lose the Apocrypha?

It is a few days old, but Philip Jenkins has an interesting informative post (definitely worth the read) on Protestants and "Apocrypha."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Really Old Torah Scroll at University of Bologna

Reported in BBC News: 

The University of Bologna in Italy has found what it says may be the oldest complete scroll of Judaism's most important text, the Torah.
The scroll was in the university library but had been mislabelled, a professor at the university says.
It was previously thought the scroll was no more that a few hundred years old.
However, after carbon dating tests, the university has said the text may have been written more than 850 years ago.
The university's Professor of Hebrew Mauro Perani says this would make it the oldest complete text of the Torah known to exist, and an object of extraordinary worth.
The university says that in 1889 one of its librarians, Leonello Modona, had examined the scroll and dated it to the 17th Century.
However, when Mr Perani recently re-examined the scroll, he realised the script used was that of the oriental Babylonian tradition, meaning that the scroll must be extremely old.
Another reason for the dating is that the text has many features forbidden in later copies under rules laid down by the scholar Maimonides in the 12th Century, the university says.
Ah, the importance of proper labeling.  Of course, the Leningrad and Aleppo Codices are still older, but they are codices and not Torah scrolls.

Monday, May 20, 2013

News of a New New Testament

There have been several discussions of the project spearheaded by Hal Taussig called A New New Testament.  See the description here:
It is time for a new New Testament. 
Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these scriptures are rarely read in contemporary churches; they are discussed nearly only by scholars or within a context only of gnostic gospels. Why should these books be set aside? Why should they continue to be lost to most of us? And don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians? 
To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in A New New Testament. Reading the traditional scriptures alongside these new texts—the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of Mary, Paul’s letters with The Letter of Peter to Philip, The Revelation to John with The Secret Revelation to John—offers the exciting possibility of understanding both the new and the old better. This new reading, and the accompanying commentary in this volume, promises to reinvigorate a centuries-old conversation and to bring new relevance to a dynamic tradition.
There have been a series of contributions to the Huffington Post on this new publication:

There are at least two posts directly discussing or written by Hal Taussig, the general editor:  see here (for an interview) and here for a more recent piece by Taussig himself posted today (5/20/2013).

There are two pieces (here and here) written from a Jewish, Rabbinic perspective, both of which seem to be particularly fond of The Thunder: Perfect Mind.  And then a more general discussion here.

Jim Davila has noted that it sounds a bit gimmicky (and it does), but anything to give attention to apocrypha.

The council that voted on which texts to include consisted on 19 members; they added 10 texts.

The ten texts are: Prayer of Thanksgiving, Gospel of Thomas (no surprise here), Odes of Solomon, The Thunder: Perfect Mind, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Truth, Prayer of Apostle Paul, Acts of Paul & Thecla, Letter of Peter to Philip, Secret Revelation of John.

The council included:

  • Margaret Aymer -- Associate professor of New Testament and area chair of biblical studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga., and a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Geoffrey Black -- General minister and president of United Church of Christ.
  • Sister Margaret Brennan -- Member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
  • Lisa Bridge -- Program manager for children and youth ministries at Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church in New York City and an expert in yogic and Buddhist traditions.
  • John Dominic Crossan -- Professor emeritus in religious studies at DePaul University and former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar.
  • Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer -- Editor of a forthcoming collection of spiritual essays by female Jewish scholars.
  • Bishop Susan Wolfe Hassinger -- Retired bishop of the United Methodist Church and the bishop-in-residence and a lecturer at Boston University School of Theology.
  • Bishop Alfred Johnson -- Retired bishop in the United Methodist Church and pastor of (United Methodist) Church of the Village in New York City.
  • Chebon Kernell -- Pastor of First American United Methodist Church in Norman, Okla.
  • Karen L. King -- Professor of divinity at Harvard University.
  • Celene Lillie -- Doctoral candidate in New Testament studies at Union Theological Seminary.
  • Stephen D. Moore -- Professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School.
  • J. Paul Rajashekar -- Professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
  • Bruce Reyes-Chow -- Social media consultant and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Mark Singleton -- Professor at St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., and an expert on yoga.
  • Sister Nancy Sylvester -- Member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
  • Barbara Brown Taylor -- A professor of religion at Piedmont College, author and Episcopal priest.
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow -- Director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and a leader in Jewish renewal and peace movements.
It raises the question, though:  if you were to add anything to the New Testament (or if you were to recommend an ancient Christian text for people today to read that is not in the current NT), what would it be?  (And, though not addressed in this project, if there were any books in the NT you would like to see removed, what would it be?)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

DNA of Minoans

New studies have traced the mitochondrial DNA, which traces maternal lineage, of Minoan remains to determine their racial background, at least partially so. And, of the bones and teeth that they could get a sample, it has a stronger correlation to European DNA than others.  See this article by a person with a spectacular last name.

Hanging Gardens of Nineveh?

According to Stephanie Dalley of Oxford, whom most of us know from her Myths from Mesopotamia, the hanging gardens belong to an engineering feat of the Assyrian King Sennacherib rather than the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar.  From the Guardian:
She [Dalley] was astonished to find Sennacherib's own description of an "unrivalled palace" and a "wonder for all peoples". He describes the marvel of a water-raising screw made using a new method of casting bronze – and predating the invention of Archimedes' screw by some four centuries.
Dalley said this was part of a complex system of canals, dams and aqueducts to bring mountain water from streams 50 miles away to the citadel of Nineveh and the hanging garden. The script records water being drawn up "all day".
Recent excavations have found traces of aqueducts. One near Nineveh was so vast that Dalley said its remains looked like a stretch of motorway from the air, and it bore a crucial inscription: "Sennacherib king of the world … Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh …"
She basically re-translates old Assryian and Babylonian tablets that she claims were mistranslated when they were discovered, and she traces the later Greek and Roman sources and their confusion about the Hanging Gardens.  Her newest book is coming out on the topic.