Friday, December 28, 2012

Cult Place and Objects at Tel Motza

I am sure most people have noticed this, but for those who haven't, evidence of a shrine and cult objects including figurines of human heads and horses from Iron Age IIA at Tel Motza outside of Jerusalem.  See further information here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nestle-Aland 28 Online

You can now read the newest Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (number 28) online here.  The only problem is that it does not show the critical apparatus on the bottom of each page nor the cross-references in the margins.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hurtado on Early High Christology

As it seems with most bibliobloggers, I haven't had time to post in quite a while between the SBL conference, teaching, research, and other academic duties.  Nonetheless, I just noticed Larry Hurtado is talking about his hobby horse of early high Christology on his blog.  He lengthily and substantively engages with an article by Andrew Chester on the topic, and it is well worth the read to see a rather comprehensive survey of the issue.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: Baudelaire's "Vampire"

So last year to wish all a happy All Hallow's Eve, I posted the earliest reference to a zombie in the world.  So this year I thought I would post on a rather recent poem on my favorite undead creature, the vampire:

The Vampire
Sudden as a knife you thrust
into my sorry heart
and strong as a host of demons come,
gaudy and libertine,

to make in my corrupted mind
your bed and bedlam there;
--Beast, who bind me to you close
as convict to his chains,

as gambler to his winning streak,
as drunkard to his wine,
close as the carrion to its worms--
I curse you!  Be accursed!

I begged the sword by one swift stroke
to grant me liberty;
nor did my cowardice disdain
less clear-cut remedies.

Poison and steel, as with one voice,
contemptuously refused;
"You are not worthy to be free
of your enslavement, fool!

Suppose we saved you, even now,
from her supremacy--
your kisses would resuscitate
your vampire's waiting corpse!"

(Baudelaire, "The Vampire," The Flowers of Evil; trans. Richard Howard; Photo: 19th Century Engraving)

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Smelling as Superior Discernment in Hebrew Bible: God and the Senses (8)

I am thinking of compiling some bibliography for my "God and the Senses" series.  And to start things off, I just read the following article:  Arie Shifman, "'A Scent' of the Spirit:  Exegesis of an Enigmatic Verse (Isaiah 11:3)," JBL 131:2 (2012):  241-9.  In it, he discusses whether an enigmatic word should be read as "spirit" (רוח) or "scent" (ריח), noting that though most commentators either omit translating completely to avoid the issue or prefer "spirit," while "scent" would complete a highly sensual passage that also refers to sight and sound.  If "spirit," it is noteworthy that this word actually appears in verb form as a hiphil, and that would make it a hapax legomenon.  On the other hand, the hiphil of "scent" is well-attested. 

In any case, whether or not breath/spirit or inhalation through the nose is what is being captured in this verse, what caught my attention in the reading was how smelling was often used as the higher sense of discernment over sight and sound: 

"Why should the sense of smell be superior to sight and sound?  Once explanation is that in the Bible divine reaction to human behavior is often described in terms of acceptance of the "sweet savor" (ריח ניחוח; e.g., Gen. 8:21; Lev 4:31; Ezek 6:13; 16:19; 20:41).  Other interpretations relate to the odor of anointing oil, which symbolizes kingship (e.g. 1 Sam 10:1; 16:13; 1 kgs 1:39; 2 Kgs 9:3) or wisdom.  Talmudic lore teaches that, unlike the other senses, smelling a pleasant fragrance deserves a prayer of thanksgiving:  'What is it that the soul enjoys but the body does not?  It is the sense of smell" (b. ber. 43b)."

And he keeps going on with further examples all the way to W.H. Auden.  I should note that smelliness seems to pervade much of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, I think due to the mixture of spices mentioned in Exodus 30:34-36.  I refer to this in my work as the scent of the most holy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

RIP Frank Moore Cross

I just saw the Frank Moore Cross died.  As anyone even barely acquainted with biblical studies knows, he was a giant in the field.  While he specialized in Hebrew Bible, his influence rippled and reverberated throughout biblical studies.  My copy of Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, which has become a classic in the field, is so worn out that the cover has fallen off.  I remember the first time I read his analysis of the "Song at the Sea," I was mesmerized.

Jim Davila, who was Cross's student, has a nice reminiscence here.

The New York Times also has an obituary here.

Photo from HDS.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Death of "Rabbinics"?

Michael Satlow has an interesting idea for those who study Rabbinics:  to kill it.  He writes:
The fundamental problem is that “rabbinics” implies both a body of literature and a distinctive methodology or approach to that literature.  In some quarters in Israel this perhaps accurately describes, for good or bad, how rabbinic literature is studied (e.g., philologically in a “department” of Talmud).  In the American academy, however, “rabbinics” is not a discipline.  Those of us who primarily use rabbinic literature are situated in departments of religious studies (most frequently), language and culture, and history.  We are scholars trained in a particular discipline who use rabbinic texts for our data.  I do not “do rabbinics.”  I “do” Jewish history in antiquity, using rabbinic texts as one (even if it is the primary) set of sources.
From there, he thinks Rabbinics scholars could take a lesson from scholars of Christianity in late antiquity--that is, those who used to call themselves "Patristics."  Check out his full discussion here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More on the Recent Coptic Fragment

There may be more evidence pointing to the Coptic fragment concerning "Jesus' wife," that it is a forgery.  And what gave it away?  I rare transcription error found in the first line that otherwise only occurs in a modern interlinear edition of the Gospel of Thomas.  See discussion by Mark Goodacre here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Codex Tchacos Fragments

Alin Suciu reports on newly found Coptic fragments that appear to belong to Codex Tchacos, especially its Allogenes!  (or the "other" Allogenes).  This is exciting because, in my opinion, that treatise is by far the most interesting from Codex Tchacos.  The Gospel of Judas is ok, but when I first read the published codex, I was enthralled by this Book of Allogenes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Nestle-Aland (28)

Larry Hurtado has posted that he has received the newest Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament--now the 28th edition.  While, it seems, the number of textual emendations are minimal except for the catholic epistles, the critical textual apparatus and the marginal cross-references have been revised.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bibliothèque Copte de Nag Hammadi

I just saw this website by Laval in Quebec for the study of the Nag Hammadi Library. 
Begun in 1974 at Université Laval (Quebec, Canada), the project of editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library is the only important francophone initiative devoted to these manuscripts; its goal is to produce critical editions of these texts, accompanied with French translations and explanatory commentaries. The manuscripts, which are kept at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, are available in a photographic edition produced under the authority of UNESCO and of the Antiquities Service of the Arab Republic of Egypt; this edition reproduces the papyrus leaves as they are. In order for these texts to be used with profit, specialists must first provide critical editions of them, where possible restoring damaged passages, as well as providing a translation into a modern language accompanied with an explanatory commentary.
I have also posted this resource on the side column under "Coptic Resources." 

Tasting the Heavenly Gift in Hebrews: God and the Senses (7)

While I will return, as promised, to the full exposition of the sensuous language in the Gospel of Philip, I just came across this rather succinct note on the sensuous language in the Epistle to the Hebrews by Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on Hebrews:

Readers quickly become aware of Hebrews' appeal to the senses of readers/auditors.  The smell of sacrifices is only implied (13:16), touch appears by way of contrast (12:18, 20), and taste is metaphorical (6:5).  But the author constantly appeals to the hearing of his listeners (2:1; 3:7; 4:7; 5:11; 12:19).  Most of all, the sense of sight is invoked, as the readers are asked to "behold," "consider,"  and "see" what the author seeks to convey (2:9; 3:1; 7:4; 12:3; 12:21).  Using oral discourse to portray visual scenes (in "word-pictures") is a common rhetorical technique (ekphrasis), and Hebrews uses it effectively, especially in 9:1-5 and 12:18-24. (8-9)
I had been slowly compiling a list from Hebrews for my "God and the Senses" series, but, thanks to Luke Timothy Johnson, it appears there is no need.  Tasting also shows up in terms of Jesus "tasting" death.  I might also note that touch works almost in an opposite means as in Augustine (where one moves from anesthesia to full feeling), since the contrast is that we have come not to something that can be touched (Sinai) but to the heavenly Jerusalem (which transcends touch--and sight, as many commentators note).  Taste, however metaphorical, works the other way:  one tastes the heavenly gift (6:4-5)--that which is transcendent.  Taste is transcendent, while touch and sight are transcended.  Speech works differently, however, since creation and destruction of the world occur through divine speech and and voice respectively.  Orality is the glue that holds it all together, quite appropriately for such a highly rhetorical work.  Overall, the activation of the senses whether literally or metaphorically, important for engaging one's audience in rhetorical performances, has not seemed to have gotten its due for Hebrews, even if Hebrews engages the senses only to transcend them in the end.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Transformation in the Gospel of Philip: God and the Senses (6a: Sources)

In my next installment(s) of the God and the Senses series, I will be taking a look at the emergent Christian text, the Gospel of Philip.  I do not have the time, at the moment, to work through all of it because emphases on different senses and using the senses as a means of spiritual transformation, permeates throughout the Gospel.  For now, therefore, I will list the sources where you can find them if anyone would like to look them up, and I will begin to work through the different senses as I find time. 

1.  Taste and Transformation (Sayings 21, 73, 81, 82)

2.  Vision and Transformation (Sayings 23, 38; cf. 59, 90, 107)

3.  Touching/Kissing (27, 48)

4.  Smelling (94)

5  Hearing (and Naming?) (7, 8, 9, 17, 29, 40, 42, 46, 51)

From the listing, at least, it appears that hearing receives the most attention of all of the senses in Philip.  The passages on vision are themselves also quite stunning--which would come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the text.  Smelling and Touching receive rather momentary glances.  But perhaps the biggest surprise is the number of mentions of tasting.  It is with taste that I plan to begin in the next installment.  If anyone finds an additional sensuous saying not covered, please send it along.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Painting: Fairy Discovery

Here is my newest painting, "Discovery."  I just put on the last touches tonight.  It is a gift for my niece, who loves fairies and who turns four very soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Origen's Sensuous Songs: God and the Senses (5)

It has been a while since I have written a bit on God and the Senses; that is, a turning from the typical focus on divine vision and audition to a fuller expression through all five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.  I have discussed the multiple sensations in an inset hymn in the Acts of Thomas, Hekhalot Rabbati, a fascinating occurrence of "synesthesia" or seeing speech in Philo's writings, and the coming to the (spiritual senses) or overcoming spiritual anesthesia in Augustine's prose poem from the Confessions.  This, then, is the fifth installment. 

Much like our previous authors, Origen in his Homilies on the Song of Songs, uses the sensual language allegorically (in fact, Origen strictly forbids the literal senses).  Nonetheless, especially his first homily engages all five senses, overwhelms them with inviting, exciting, embracing language.  When I teach this work, I call this section the "parade of the senses." 

Firstly, the entire sensual indulging begins with hearing.  Following the Lawson translation, Origen sets up the dramatis personae of this great drama of love:

"We have thus four groups:  the two individuals, the Bridegroom and the Bride; two choirs answering each other--the Bride singing with her maidens, and the Bridegroom with His companions" (268). 

The Bridegroom in the allegory is Christ; the Bride is the Church (or the soul).  The Bride's companions are prophets and other Christians; the Bridegroom's companions are the angels and those who have been made perfect.  They are in perpetual song, antiphonally singing to one another an endless song of love. 

Nonetheless, the senses become increasingly engaged and more intimately stimulated when Origen turns to interpreting the line "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth."  Origen, in fact, has already enjoined the audience to identify with the Bride (and, if still immature in the faith, then at least the Bride's companions).  These are the words that one is to take upon one's own lips, calling upon Christ to kiss.  Origen writes:

"How long is my Bridegroom going to send me kisses by Moses and kisses by the prophets?  It is His own mouth that I desire now to touch" (269). 

One seeks to touch, lip on lip, the Lord's mouth.  Touch, indeed, is one of the most intimate of the senses (second, perhaps, to taste).  The kisses of the prophets and Moses refer to their revelations, their words; yet now one seeks kissing without mediation--directly from the revealer.  Later, Origen speaks of these kisses in terms of the Lord's Prayer (p. 271).

Origen moves quickly to smell, interpreting the line, "They breasts are better than wine, and the odour of thy perfumes better than all spices."  Firstly, Origen is nearly obsessed with this concept of Christ's breasts, to which we will return with the discussion of taste.  Before getting to tasting the divine breastmilk, Origen dwells on smell.  Mostly, noting that Christ's perfume, when one gains proximity, transfers to the Bride, the Christian seeker.  One tries to overcome the "stink" of vices and sins, and take on Christ's smell of stacte, onyx, galbanum, etc.--the special combination of incense used inside the sanctuary (Exod 30:34).

Origen, having kissed, having gotten close enough to smell, returns to the most intimate of tactile events:  the embrace.  Interpreting "Love her, and she will keep thee safe; enfold her, and she will exalt thee; render her honour, that she may embrace thee," Origen writes, "For there is a certain spiritual embrace, and O that the Bridegroom's more perfect embrace may enfold my Bride!  Then I too shall be able to say what is written in this same book:  'His left hand is under my head, and His right hand will embrace me'" (270-271).  Think of the posture this creates: it is a full embrace, but not just a hug, but the embrace between sexual lovers.  Though, of course, for Origen all sexual elements are redirected toward spiritual energies. 

We have moved from touch to smell back to a full embrace, yet the smell wafts back into the Origen's perfumed discourse as he returns to Christ's sweet smelling breasts:  "Fragrant with sweet oils He comes; and He could not otherwise approach the Bride....  He has anointed Him with divers perfumes, He has made Him the Christ, who comes breathing sweet odours and hears the Bride declare:  'Thy breasts are better than wine'" (271).  Origen takes the basic element of Christ--that he is the Christ because he has been anointed--and shifts its political connotation to the sensual one:  the perfumed oils used to excite one's lover's senses. 

So, touch, smell, embrace, smell, and finally we move to taste (itself a combination of touching and smelling).  Trying to understand the phrase--"For they breasts are better than wine"--Origen moves to the most obvious place in the Christian tradition where one "tastes" Christ as wine:  the Eucharist.  He writes, "Be you of one mind with the Bridegroom, like the Bride, and you will know that thoughts of this kind do inebriate and make the spirit glad.  Wherefore, as 'the inebriating chalice of the Lord, how surpassing good it is!'--so are the breasts of the Bridegroom better than any wine" (271).  In the Lawson edition, on p. 275, Origen even speaks of Christ's breastmilk.  By contrast, in the second homily, Origen stops this gender bending and speaks of the Bride's (that is our) breasts as we embrace him between our "paps," as the imagery of breasts and embracing gets reversed (see p. 287; cf. 297).

Origen does speak of sight, but not seeing Christ, but for the Bride (us) to become fair "to draw Him down from heaven to herself, to cause Him to come down to earth, that He may visit His beloved one!  With what beauty must she be adorned, with what love must she burn that He may say to her the things which He said to the perfect Bride, about 'thy neck, thine eyes, thy cheeks, thy hands, thy body,' thy shoulders, thy feet!'"  One must make oneself--one's soul--attractive to Christ, so he will condescend and THEN one can (reiterated in the next section) smell, taste, and embrace Him.

Origen weaves the various senses throughout the homilies, especially smell, taste, and embrace.  Nonetheless, this passage contains all of them in quick succession.  Interestingly, he focuses more on the senses in the homilies than in his commentary (though they are there in more limited senses).  As he preached, he engaged his audiences senses, seeking to redirect them to eroticized spiritual realities to beautify one's soul so one could kiss Christ's lips, inhale his sweet perfumes, embrace him intimately, and taste his "wine"/breastmilk. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Demise of the Criteria of Authenticity

Let me state this baldly:  the portion of New Testament scholarship that I hate reading the most is historical Jesus scholarship.  I like most of the scholars themselves, but I came to the conclusion early on (as an undergraduate when I took a class on Jesus and the Gospels at Illinois Wesleyan University--a class I will teach next semester at the same institution) that much of the criteria used pulled themselves apart, cancelled each other out, and most scholars chose criteria based upon what Jesus they wanted to reconstruct (something noted more recently by Dale Allison that our methods bend to our predisposed wills).  I generally have operated with the view that historical Jesus research had run its course and we could focus on other things.  That's probably one reason why I like to stick to Hebrews.  Typically, I pick up a book on the historical Jesus with trepidation; I usually find that I put it down every few pages.  It is just an area of scholarship that does not hold my attention.

Yet I could barely put down the collection of essays edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T&T Clark, 2012).  I would finish one essay and then move immediately to the next (and I have a bit of intellectual attention deficit--I tend to read approximately ten to fifteen books at once, so it is rare for a book to sustain my attention like this)!  Partly, the volume confirms what I suspected but with sustained argument that the methods used by the New Quest and the Third Quest have run their course and should be dismantled to varying degrees (perhaps my reading is bending to my predisposed will?).  Some articles set about deconstructing the criteria of authenticity in general (contributions by Keith and Jens Schröter) and others critiqued, complicated, or outright dismantled individual criteria (Loren Stuckenbruck for "Semitic Influence"; LeDonne for "Coherence"; Dagmar Winter for "Dissimilarity"; Rafael Rodríguez on "Embarrassment"; and Mark Goodacre on "Multiple Attestation").  There are also retrospectives on the significance (or lack thereof) of these methods and the "demise" for the Church (Scot McKnight) and the academy (Dale Allison).  On the other hand, there were elements I did not expect:  with such a dismantling, with such a "demise" there may be room for a bit more study yet, whether LeDonne's own studies of memory refraction (The Historiographical Jesus) or something we haven't quite thought of yet.  It is a book that his vivified a further interest to read more from the contributors:  catch up on Allison's latest book, take a look at Goodacre's Case Against Q and other works.  I have already read LeDonne's books, but it is time to take up Chris Keith's two monographs on Jesus and literacy.  In short, the historical Jesus is dead; long live the historical Jesus.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I note that Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne are organizing a fall conference seemingly based upon this book with a fine selection of panels and speakers.  See the schedule of speakers and the information here.

That Other Late Antique Egyptian Language: Demotic

There is currently the major stirring around a Coptic fragment of an ancient Gospel (see my posts here, here, and here).  But most have overlooked another report that came out this week on a major undertaking of compiling a 2000-page dictionary of the other late-antique Egyptian language:  Demotic (from the Greek "Demos" meaning "of the people" or the "common speech").  I only saw it because my spouse pointed it out (in the Science Section of the New York Times).  The New York Times reports here:
Demotic was one of the three scripts inscribed on the Rosetta stone, along with Greek and hieroglyphs, enabling European scholars to decipher the royal language in the early 19th century and thus read the top-down version of a great civilization’s long history. 

Now, scholars at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago have completed almost 40 years of research and published online the final entries of a 2,000-page dictionary that more than doubles the thousands of known Demotic words. Egyptologists expect that the dictionary’s definitions and examples of how words were used in ancient texts will expedite translations of Demotic documents, more of which are unpublished than any other stage of early Egyptian writing. 

A workshop for specialists in Demotic research was held at the university last month as the dictionary section for the letter S, the last of 25 chapters to be finished, is being posted on the Oriental Institute’s Web site, where the dictionary is available free. Eventually a printed edition will be produced, mainly for research libraries, the university said.
Demotic is more difficult to read than, say, Coptic; nonetheless, if one seeks to have a grasp on the daily dealings and realities of people in Egyptian antiquity and late antiquity (for the Persian, Greek, and Roman periods), it is a must.  This is quite an accomplishment!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Huge Mosaic Found in Turkey

It is quite a week of discoveries!  First, the papyrus that has Jesus referring to a wife (should it prove to be authentic--see here) and now this very large geometric design Mosaic from an ancient bath in Turkey (discovered when a farmer started plowing his field). 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Gospel Fragment: Preliminary Notes and Hypothesis

I want to proceed with some preliminary notes.  They are basic, foundational, but lead to a working hypothesis of this fragment that, I hope, will help lead to a particular social context.   First, here is a reiteration of my translation from my previous post:

Line 1: mother gave me li[fe]...
Line 2:  ...the disciples said to Jesus...
Line 3:  ...deny.  Mary is worthy of it....
Line 4:  ..........Jesus said to them, "My wife....
Line 5:  ....... she will be my disciple and....
Line 6:  ...Let wicked people....
Line 7:  ...I dwell with her because...
Line 8: image................

The first note is literary genre (or at least micro-genre).  This is a dialogue form.  In line 2, we have the introductory formula for speech--here, the disciples' speech to Jesus.  The fourth line, then, shows Jesus' response.  This fragment, therefore, presents us with a glimpse of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples.  With the back-and-forth style, I think we can take an intuitive step and consider that before the disciples' speak in line 2, Jesus would likely be speaking beforehand; therefore, we can attribute line 1 to Jesus' speech.  I also think, though on slightly less firm grounds, that lines 5-8 are also all Jesus.  Is this a dialogue Gospel?  Or is it perhaps a sayings Gospel, like the Gospel of Thomas, with only occasional dialogue?  Or is it a narrative Gospel in which we happened to discover a dialogue portion?  I don't think we can know for sure. 

With Lines 1, 4-8 attributed to Jesus, and lines 2-3 attributed to the disciples, we can begin to unravel a few more things.  Firstly, something the disciples say prompt Jesus to affirm that "she" will be his disciple and he will dwell with her.  Such an affirmation may suggest a less-than-positive valuation in the disciples' statement.  This could, then, confirm the potential reconstruction of the negation at the end of line 3:  "Mary is not worthy of it."  What is she not worthy of?  Something Jesus was talking about beforehand.  Interestingly, the disciples' disapproval of Mary (if I am right), "not being worthy" (line 3), "Mary" (line 3), "life" (line 1), and Jesus' defense of her also shows up in Gospel of Thomas 114.  I think that having so many key terms and the dialogic structure being so close is not accidental. Indeed, it may be after Jesus is discussing "life" in line 1, that the disciples claim that Mary is not worthy of it (life, or eternal life, or aeonic life, etc.), and Jesus responds to the contrary.  On the other hand, "life" is masculine singular in line 1 and "it" in line 3 is feminine singular.  It appears to have a different antecedent that has been lost. 

This leads to another intuitive step:  Mary is to be identified with the "she" in Jesus' speech, and, likely, his "wife."  Since Thomas is more geared for celibacy, this appears to be a reuse or a re-channeling of Thomas 114 to non-celibate ends.  (I guess the opposite could be true; Thomas took a marriage saying in which Mary achieved life through divine marriage with Jesus and reworked it to fit its celibate perspective).

What about line 6?  It seems to interrupt the affirmations of Mary (if Mary is "she") in lines 5 and 7.  Let wicked people do what?  This is more of an intuitive leap, but I think it might have to do with the disciples' concerns.  Perhaps something about outsider perception.  What will other, evil, people say, do, or think?  Perhaps they are doing some of the "denying" at the beginning of line 3, which, recall, should still be part of the disciples' speech?  Jesus' response is an affirmation of Mary's inclusion in the face of outsider pressure, perceptions, etc.  Other people may think what he is doing with her is unseemly (more celibate-oriented early Christians), but he has good reasons.  (Indeed, typically linguistic signatures and narrative structures are adapted more closely by opponents to be reworked polemically to make the polemic clear:  as such, this would support that this writer is contesting the perspective of Thomas.)  Indeed, he begins to explain why he is with her, which supposedly would rebut the disciples' concerns and whatever evil people are doing--but it drops off.  Nonetheless, being with her is something done in spite of them.

Marriage, life, and image has led April DeConick to the Valentian concept of marriage, where human pneumatic marriage presages one's future marriage with one's angelic counterpart and mirrors the pleromic bridal chamber (about which she has written a few articles).  See also her follow-up post here.

Of course, we cannot know how directly it would refer to this.  It could be referring directly to an "image" of the bridal chamber, or it could be more proximately back to Genesis 1:26-27, where God made humans in his image and likeness (male and female).  Being with her, then, could be recapturing the original human image (male and female), which, then, slightly more indirectly would lead to a Valentinian concept of marriage. 

Finally, who is "my mother"? (And how lucky are we that it survives on the verso as well as the recto, though likely in a different part of the writing!)  It could be Mary, the mother of Jesus.  DeConick points to Gospel of Thomas 101, where his true mother gave him life.  If, indeed, the fragment is aware of the saying that appears in 114, perhaps it is aware of this one?  She notes that in Thomas the mother is likely a spiritual being.  One could also point to "the mother of life":  Eve, who receives quite a bit of attention in Gnostic sources, though mostly in Sethian ones.  Whoever it is, it is one who gives Jesus life:  it is likely the spiritual life that he passes along or awakens in his followers.

My preliminary hypothesis, therefore, partially agrees with DeConick's initial findings that this fragment demonstrates awareness either with Thomas 114 or at least the saying as it existed and got incorporated into Thomas (that is, may or may not know Thomas, but knows the saying).  I would push this a bit further, however.  I think the correspondences are conspicuous and likely meant to be so.  There are too many matching keywords and the literary progression is close.  It is a reference to an alternative tradition that the original audience / insiders ("disciples") and opponents ("evil people") would both be aware of, something both would be able to catch--and perhaps the opponents are the holders of the tradition referred to.  The fragment, therefore, adopts, adapts, and contests the saying we now find embedded in Thomas 114 to defend a marriage (perhaps envisioned as the Valentinian bridal chamber) against celibate, encratic Christians who would oppose it (such as the Thomas Christians).  If so, this should help us begin to locate the fragment not just within its theology and ecclesiology, but a particular social context where early Christian practices were contested and defended, particularly when focusing on issues of sex and marriage--quite hotly debated especially in the second century CE.

Again, this is a preliminary hypothesis.  As new information comes to light, as high resolution photos are released, as the debates begin to unfold, arguments will begin to sharpen and clarify, new hypotheses will arise, some will be modified, and others will be discarded.

Of course, this all also depends upon whether or not this fragment is truly ancient and not a modern forgery; see Jim Davila for all the reasons to maintain a skeptical attitude until more testing is complete.

See also Mark Goodacre's discussion; he notes, for example, that it is vaguely reminiscent of the "Three Mary's" logion in the Gospel of Philip 59 (something I had thought of when I saw it but forgot to note in my post).  

New Gospel Fragment: Photo, Transcription, Translation

Image of Papyrus:
(Photo:  Papyrus Fragment; Recto; Karen King 2012)

Coptic Transcription: (Key:  {reconstruction from corrupt letter}; [reconstruction from missing letters]); Additional Note:  I have been notified that not everyone can read the transcription--that the letters appear as boxes instead of letters.  I am not sure why this is happening since I used a unicode based font, but I'll see what I can do.

Line 1:  ⲛⲁ]ⲉⲓⲁⲛⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩⲁⲥϯⲛⲁⲉⲓⲡ{ⲱ}[ⲛϩ
Line 2:  ]{ⲥ}ⲡⲉϫⲉ︦ⲙⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ︦ⲛ︦ⲓⲥϫⲉ{ⲥ}[
Line 3:  ] ̣ ⲁⲣⲛⲁⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁⲙ︦ⲙⲡϣⲁ︦ⲙⲙⲟⲥⲁ[
Line 4:  ] ̣  ̣  ̣  ̣  ̣ ⲡⲉϫⲉ︦ⲓⲥⲛⲁⲩⲧⲁϩⲓⲙⲉⲙ{︦ⲛ}
Line 5:  ] ̣  ̣  ̣  ⲥⲛⲁϣ︦ⲣⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥⲛⲁⲉⲓⲁⲩⲱ[
Line 6:  ]{ⲓ}ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉⲉⲑⲟⲟⲩϣⲁϥⲉⲛⲉ[
Line 7:  ] ̣ ⲁⲛⲟⲕϯϣⲟⲟⲡⲛⲙⲙⲁⲥⲉⲧⲃⲉ{ⲃ}[
Line 8:                 ]ⲟⲩϩⲓⲕⲟⲛ[

The verso has far less that is legible, but notably has the word ⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩ in the first line.

Translation:  Major Note:  Because this is the first look the scholarly community outside of a select few have to glimpse this fragment, I will not place too much emphasis on reconstructed letters unless there is good reason.  One should compare this translation with the pdf download of the paper given by Karen King and note April DeConick's translation.  I should note that until more testing is done and high resolution photographs are released, all textual transcriptions (above) and therefore translations (below) are tentative.

Line 1: mother gave me li[fe]...
Line 2:  ...the disciples said to Jesus...
Line 3:  ...deny.  Mary is worthy of it....
Line 4:  ..........Jesus said to them, "My wife....
Line 5:  ....... she will be my disciple and....
Line 6:  ...Let wicked people....
Line 7:  ...I dwell with her because...
Line 8: image................

It is possible that line 3 ends with a negation (ⲁⲛ).  If so, it may have a translation of "Mary is (not) worthy of it," which would mirror Gospel of Thomas 114.

We do not know much about this fragment, and since it does not quite match any known writing, then we cannot know its literary context.  Indeed, missing letters and words could make a lot of difference in the reading (such as if there is a missing negation in line 4, etc.).

I am going to withhold any interpretations (or further interpretations since there is a certain amount of interpretation in translation and even transcription) after further consideration.

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

Breaking News:  At the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies (meets every four years), Karen King has revealed the possible existence of a new gospel, of which only a fragment (in Coptic) survives, that says, "...Jesus said to them, My wife..."  Initial testing has suggested it is, indeed, ancient.  See discussion here, which contains a further link to King's paper.

April DeConick has a short comment on it here.  See more here and here, leading to other sites.

DeConick has a fuller translation of the fragment with discussion here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Modern Gospels

As I envision it, my spring course on Jesus and the Gospels will have two (rather traditional) components and a third contemporary component.  The first part will be on methods, using the historical Jesus as sort of a coda.  (I've noticed the suggested readings for my previous post tend to be more on issues surrounding the historical Jesus.  These are important, but I would like to hear other types of gospel approaches that people have found successful in a classroom setting).  Then I want to go through different gospels, whether canonical or extra-canonical, to discuss differing portrayals of Jesus (varying Christologies) as a means to discuss the diversity of emergent Christianity.  Finally, I wanted to apply this idea (basically, Jesus as the ultimate Rorschach test) and apply it to modern portrayals of Jesus:  that is, the rewriting of the Gospels or the portrayal of Jesus in modern culture.  This could be in any medium, really:  literature, film, material culture, etc.

Some ideas I have had have been the following:

Jesus and the Modern Novel:
José Saramago's The Gospel according to Jesus Christ, though that might be a little over the top.
Kazantzakis's Last Temptation of Christ, though I personally find the novel to be a bit tedious.
Norman Mailer's The Gospel according to the Son, which I have not read but has the benefit of being short.
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (if not my absolute favorite).  There the Christology is a bit more subtle, but the novel alternates between the devil making havoc in 20th century Moscow and Jesus before Pilate in 1st century Judea.

Jesus in Film:
Here there are so many possibilities and so many films: King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Gospel of Matthew (Italian), Last Temptation of Christ, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Life of Brian, etc.

Jesus in Pop Culture:
I was thinking of Stephen Prothero's book, American Jesus.

For more general discussions, there is also the collection of essays in Burns, Jesus in Twentieth Century Literature, Art, and Movies.

Of course, I will only have time to touch on one or two of these things, but for my own background reading it is only a start.

In what ways do you see Jesus portrayed in the modern period--in what genres, media, etc., and specific titles or sources in those respective media?  What Christologies do we see coming out of these portrayals?  How have these portrayals reflected the interests of those doing the portraying? 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Call for Books: Jesus and the Gospels

I am preparing to teach a course on "Jesus and the Gospels" next Spring.  It is a course that, in the Illinois Wesleyan Curriculum, focuses on scholarly methods.  I was hoping to take a survey on the best recent books, whether for an undergraduate audience or for my own reading to make sure I am representing the latest research, on the following topics: (1) Methods and the Gospels (whether focusing on "classical" methods such as textual, form, source, etc., or contemporary methods of post-colonial, social scientific, etc.); (2) issues relating to the "historical Jesus"--recent treatments, problems, etc., including the recent spate of works on Jesus mythicism; (3) canon and extra-canonical gospels; (4) works on the perspective of particular gospels, whether canonical or extra-canonical; (5) and anything else I am missing.

What recent works are the best or most representative, in your opinion, in these categories?

If you are a reader, have a suggestion, please send it along either in the comments or to my institutional email address.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne Blog

I just noticed that Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne--both formerly of Lincoln Christian University--have started a blog dedicated to historical Jesus research, called "The Jesus Blog."  Both are smart and engaging scholars--in person and in writing--and so their posts should make for interesting, thoughtful reading.

Congratulations David Freidenreich

I just saw that a friend of mine, David Freidenreich at Colby College, received the American Academy of Religion Book Award for Textual Studies. 
Award for Excellence in Religion: Textual Studies
David M. Freidenreich, Colby College
Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law.
University of California Press, 2011.
Check out the book here.  It looks like it is available in hardback and kindle.  Congrats David!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Author of Hebrews as Mystagogue?

I just saw the following is coming out from Mohr Siebeck sometime this month via Brian Small at polumeros kai polutropos, who seems to be becoming a full-time Hebrews bibliographer.  
Exploring the Role of Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Jody A. Barnard examines the role of Jewish apocalyptic mysticism in the epistle to the Hebrews. Jewish apocalyptic mysticism is defined as a phenomenon occurring in late Second Temple Judaism (including early Christianity), which finds literary expression in the apocalypses and related literature, and exhibits a preoccupation with the realities of the heavenly realm, and the human experience of this realm and its occupants. The author demonstrates that there are numerous apocalyptic and mystical themes appropriated in Hebrews, and that there is evidence to suggest that this is not merely a conceptual and literary phenomenon, but is born out of, and informed by, mystical experience. The cosmology, Christology, and soteriology of Hebrews all belong to the world of Jewish apocalyptic mysticism and are significantly elucidated with reference to this context.
I will be very much looking forward to reading this one.  Having tried to keep up with literature (primary and secondary) on ancient Jewish and Christian mystical thought and practice, I would like to see how she makes her argument.  Many of the elements of Hebrews are consistent with earlier apocalpytic (as many many scholars have pointed out--most significantly and influentially, perhaps, being Barrett) and show similarities to later mystical works, particularly the sustained interest in the heavenly realm--depicted as rest, the heavenly homeland, the heavenly temple, and God's heavenly throne.  Both apocalyptic and mystical Jewish traditions have a sustained interest in angels as well.  There is this in Hebrews briefly at the beginning, but I have never been as impressed as some researchers that this is a major issue for the author.  My own dissertation and forthcoming monograph discuss Hebrews in light of earlier and contemporary priestly traditions of sacred space and sacred time, including the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice at Qumran, which are discussed in terms of the origins or forerunners of Jewish mysticism.  While I am more interested in priestly patterns of spatiotemporality as reflected in Hebrews, its predecessors, and its contemporaries, I have a feeling that Barnard and I would overlap in some areas.

One thing, however, that I tend to avoid is the rather vague discussion of experience in or behind texts.  It is very slippery and very difficult to demonstrate.  I wonder how she will do it.

My first inclination would be to consider the depictions of the throne--God or Jesus enthroned--that permeate the text.  Indeed, Jewish mysticism is often called "throne" mysticism (the interest in a vision of the divine throne-chariot in the heavenly sanctuary).  Most occurrences of the throne in the NT occur within visionary settings (think of Stephen's stoning or, of course, Revelation).  Does the discussion of enthronement suggest a similar visionary context?  Or does it refer to the traditions passed down by earlier visionaries?  In that context, the exhortation to "approach the throne of grace" (4:14-16) might be read as a mystagogue seeking to help initiates into the same experience. On the one hand, Hebrews is a rare place in that it does NOT depict Jesus' enthronement as a visionary experience of some sort (as other NT texts do); on the other hand, it is also rare that it exhorts you to approach the throne (which other NT texts do not).

This leads to the second place I would look--all of the exhortations to approach, draw near, and enter (entering the Sabbath rest, the sanctuary, and approaching or drawing near to the throne, God, and the heavenly Jerusalem) as well as going forth outside the camp, etc.:  do these suggest a mystagogue trying to initiate followers into a mystical experience?  Or an artful pedagogue mobilizing imagery known from apocalyptic works and actions (approaching and entering) associated with mystical works for other ends?

The third place I would look (but the first if this were any other work) is any indication of practices.  While mystical experiences are slippery, especially in a highly rhetorical ancient text, references to mystical or other practices would provide a more concrete basis of how an experience may be induced.  Unfortunately, Hebrews is pretty light in any ritual references.  There are some vague references to ablutions/washings (ch. 10), but frankly nothing much. 

I have to admit I am attracted to this thesis.  I do think Hebrews shows a great many similarities with other works that are associated with mysticism or the forerunners of Jewish mysticism and likely grew out of or at least was aware of or engaged similar social networks.  But I am not sure how much we can say about  "experience."  While Hebrews employs a great deal of important images from mystical traditions and likely has familiarity with those traditions, I have tended to read these and the exhortations to enter and engage them as mobilizations for other (non-mystical) ends:  to stay faithful even in the face of persecution and potentially martyrdom (ch. 12).  Then again, visionary abilities are also associated with martyrs.

Is the author of Hebrews a mystagogue?  Or a pedagogue who rhetorically reshapes imagery associated with mysticism for other ends (remaining faithful, enduring hardship, etc.)?  Or is such a pedagogue just another type of mystagogue?

And, Brian, keep up the good bibliographical work--it is an important service in my opinion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

R.I.P. Marvin Meyer

I have just heard of the passing of Marvin Meyer from a melanoma.  He was an influential scholar on those religious movements that so often fall through the cracks of history (most notably "Gnosticism" and "magic"), popularizing and publicizing them to make them more widely known in several scholarly and trade publications.  Several people more intimate with Marvin Meyer have noted his passing.  Please see their comments here, here, and, here

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jodi Eichler-Levine on Terror in Holy Spaces

A friend of mine from graduate school, Jodi Eichler-Levine, now assistant professor of religion at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has an op-ed piece for Religion Dispatches concerning the events of the past twenty-four hours on the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the landing of the Martian Rover, and how we use aliens and monsters to define ourselves and others.  The following lines caught my attention in particular:
Religionists can quickly rattle off myriad global, historical sites of contested holy space. But there is still something deeply nauseating, unhomed, un-everything, about attacks on vulnerable human beings at prayer, or about to pray. We want to believe in religious spaces as safe dwellings, as sanctuaries in the most literal sense of the word—but they have also long been targets for Americans who fear change.
See the entire piece here.  John Hobbins has some further discussion here

I also just saw a case of violence (this time arson) on a Joplin, Missouri, mosque here.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Wonder and Pedagogy

I just finished reading Caroline Walker Bynum's Metamorphosis and Identity.  It is a good read--I finished it in a day.  It is a smart collection of essays. Although somewhat disparate (as is typical of collections of essays), she has some especially interesting historiographical reflections when delineating the problems surrounding the endurance of the self through different forms of change from quotidian aging and social changes to Ovidian metamorphosis, given primarily through the prism of werewolves.  Yes, werewolves!  Whatever one thinks of each individual essay, it is worth taking a look to see one of the better historians of the medieval period talk about werewolves to open up important insights into the 12th and 13th centuries.  Why werewolves?  The strange, the weird, and the awe-inducing are, in fact, important historiographical and, what is more, pedagogical tools that reveal and engage us and our students:
...we write the best history when the specificity, the novelty, the awe-fulness, of what our sources render up bowls us over with its complexity and its significance.  Our research is better when we move only cautiously to understanding, when fear that we may appropriate the "other" leads us not so much to writing about ourselves and our fears as to crafting our stories with attentive, wondering care.  At our best, we strive for the "strange view of things"--not least because, as Thomas Aquinas understood, admiratio has to with teaching....  But surely our job as teachings it to puzzle, confuse, and amaze.  We must rear a new generation of students who will gaze in wonder at texts and artifacts, quick to puzzle over a translation, slow to project or to appropriate, quick to assume there is a significance, slow to generalize about it.  Not only as scholars, then, but also as teachers, we must astonish and be astonished.  For the flat, generalizing, presentist view of the past encapsulates it and makes it boring, whereas amazement yearns toward an understanding, a significance, that is always just a little beyond both our theories and our fears.  (pp. 74-75)
How much more urgent is this message for those teaching a text that is as familiar and as strange and as complex as the Bible!  It is, in fact, a very weird collection.  If we forget, ignore, paper over, smooth out its weirdness, we lose it, flatten it, make it boring.  If we embrace its strangeness, then we can delve into its complexity.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Metamorphosis and Historiography

I just picked up the now-decade-old volume by the eminent medieval historian Caroline Walker Bynum called Metamorphosis and Identity.  It is a collection of somewhat disparate essays spun together by the Ovidian thread of metamorphosis in 12th and 13th century Europe.  She uses the resurgent medieval fascination with concepts of the perduring individual identity among changes and transformations (including the quotidian aging, social changes, etc., but also the Ovidian radical changes in werewolf stories, the Eucharist, and so forth).  She uses these stories that challenge social structures and established boundaries, these stories that suggest fluidity and chaos, as a means to discuss the historian's task.  In an interesting historiographical reflection, she writes:
The history we attempt to write is always metamorphosis--a flux to which we have access only through texts and objects that bear vestiges of past lives to us from across time.  To historians as to poets, shapes carry stories.  Potsherds, tympana, illuminated manuscripts, field patterns from long ago revealed by aerial photography, and the texts themselves--texts of romances, saints' lives, chronicles, land transfers, laws--bring stories to us, changing because they have traveled through time but conveying also important vestiges of what was there.  Yet we, if we succeed in writing that past, are hybrids, monstrous combinations of past and present, paradoxically asserting through common, ordinary words such as "change" or "identity" a then and a now that may be incompatible, unknowable, inexpressible in those common, ordinary terms....  the history we write is less a synthesis and reconciliation than an assertion of opposites.  The most profound evocations and analyses of the past tend, I think, to put us in contact with the contradictory aspirations of the past and to keep us ever aware of the contradiction inherent in the arrogant effort to understand something radically other than ourselves.  In this sense, all history writing is not only comparative history but even paradoxical history.  Perhaps, then, the best we can hope for as historians is to achieve what Bernard of Clairvaux called in another context a "marvelous mixture":  a simultaneous assertion of past and present, self and other.  (Carolyn Walker Bynum, Metamorphosis and Identity, 36)
 I miss teaching Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Bible and Zombies

Well...sort least according to this Huffington Post article by Michael Gilmour.  Zombie imagery and resurrection imagery often do have quite an uncanny resemblance.  Here are three of my favorites from Gilmour's list:
2. The Book of Revelation: "the sea gave up the dead that were in it" (Revelation 20:13). John the Seer's creepy statement reminds me of a scene in George A. Romero's "Land of the Dead" (2005) that features slow-moving corpses walking out of the surf, and Max Brooks' "World War Z" with its account of the boy returning from a swim with a bite mark on his foot. He also describes the zombie hoards roaming the world's oceans: "They say there are still somewhere between twenty and thirty million of them, still washing up on beaches, or getting snagged in fisherman's nets."


5. The Gospel of Matthew: "The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After [Jesus'] resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:52-53). Unwanted persistent life is a recurring image in biblical literature and so too is language referring to the impermanence of bodily death. The dead do not stay dead. The psalmist is confident he will not "see decay" (Psalm 16:10 New International Version; cf. Acts 2:27; 13:35). We read of the physical resurrections of specific individuals (e.g., 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 8:49-56; maybe Acts 20:7-12) and expected mass revivals (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Some of these accounts of un-dying involve reference to un-burying. Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus walks out of his tomb when "they took away the stone" (John 11:41). On Easter morning, mourners find "the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back" (Mark 16:4). A second century writer describes further the events preceding Jesus' emergence from the tomb: "That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and gave way to the side, and the sepulchre was opened" (Gospel of Peter 9.35).


7. Zechariah: "their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet; their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths" (Zechariah 14:12). They seem to resemble extras in a George A. Romero film.
Is there anything to the resemblance?  Such as that modern zombie films perhaps present an inversion or subversion of the old resurrection ideas--much like modern vampire films and stories invert Christian myths?  Maybe, maybe not.  The super ancient (and pre-biblical) Mesopotamian Descent of Ishtar and the better-known Epic of Gilgamesh are credited with the most ancient zombie recounting.  Zombies are as old as civilization itself.  Perhaps the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37), etc., and later resurrection imagery (especially people coming out of their graves, from below the ground, returning form the netherworld) has origins in the much more ancient zombie lore!

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Sampson Mosaic Found

It appears that Jodi Magness's team has unearthed a high-quality Mosaic of Sampson tying torches to foxes in a late-antique synagogue.

See the news article and some initial photos here and here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Moses and Greco-Egyptian Practices: Contextualizing the Christian Moses

In an earlier post, I had noted Moses' importance in Greco-Egyptian magic, riffing off of a statement that John Gager made.  I wrote:
The Moses of the magical papyri provides another piece of the puzzle of what Jews, Christians, and others on the ground thought, what they did, and, again, reasons for his exaltation and, just as often, suppression.  It is a clear example, here, of exaltation.  I wonder, what Christians did with this view of Moses as magician?  Does his exaltation here mirror his exaltation in contemporary Christian sources of the mid-second to fourth centuries?  How does it compare with contemporary Egyptian Christian sources of different opposing parties of the hierarchy, the monks, and the traditions of Nag Hammadi?  Indeed, it is fascinating territory into which the magical Moses takes us.  It is a messy, difficult terrain, but ultimately a fruitful one.
In this post, I would like to delve a little deeper in the Moses of the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri: a Moses to be emulated; a Moses who belongs to an environment where his name had value and influence even beyond Jewish and Christian circles, and whose experiences upon the mountain provided a model to emulate as you, too, could call upon and see God on the mount.

The Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri that date from the first four centuries of the common era are prime exemplars of the religious fluidity of borrowing and exchange of religious ideas and practices to the point that one can no longer identify the religious identity of the author, audience, or immediate context of the documents.  One finds native Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian notions mingled and recombined into a religious dynamic that we have, with our paucity of language and imagination, labeled “magic.”  In the Greek and Demotic spells that comprise much of this literature (which have parallels in Hebrew, such as in the “Sword of Moses”), Jewish elements loom quite large. 
For the most part, the Jewish elements are limited to contributions in a series of nomina sacra to call upon various gods or various aspects/names of the same god.  One can almost find a spell at random and see names of Iao (Yahweh in Greek), Michael, Gabriel, Adonai, Sabaoth, etc.  Usually, Iao (Yahweh) is equated with Zeus (e.g., PGM I..300; III.212; XII.263-268 is especially telling).   It is not always clear whether the spell-caster thinks Iao (Yahweh), Adonai (Lord), and Sabaoth (Hosts) are the same deity fully equated, separate functions of that deity, or separate deities completely.  Moreover, these names typically are used to call upon another God (or the same god by a different name), such as Apollo (PGM I.298-328), and/or Helios (sometimes equated with Apollo, sometimes not) (PGM III.198ff).
Interestingly, the Jewish and Christian names are strongly associated with exorcism (PGM IV.1227-64; IV.3007-86):  “Hail, God of Abraham; hail, God of Isaac; hail, God of Jacob; Jesus Chrestos, the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father, who is above the Seven, who is within the Seven.  Bring Iao Sabaoth; may your power issue forth from him, NN, until you drive away this unclean daimon Satan, who is in him” (IV.1231-1239).  This, indeed, mirrors a great deal of the NT, where the name of Jesus was used to exorcise (you could almost pick a chapter of Acts at random).
Sometimes the practitioner will take on the personality or identity of an ancestor or even a god in order to call upon the deity or angel they seek.  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 of 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. 
            Most interesting, however, is the attribution of spells and incantations to particular figures.  The most prominent in Greco-Roman Egypt would seem to be Hermes Trismegistus in the collections of Hermetica; nonetheless, a competing tradition ascribes a great deal of instruction in these arts to Jewish figures.  For example, there is the charm of Solomon to produce a state of ecstatic seizure (PGM IV.850-929; cf. the seal of Solomon in PGM IV.3040-45). 
But Moses is peerless, except for perhaps Hermes.  Many treatises are associated with Moses and the revelation of the divine name to him—it is the name that gives him his power.  There is the Diadem of Moses, which includes an invisibility spell, but is mostly directed as a love spell (PGM VII.619-27).  The most famous, however, are the lengthy collection of spells known as the “Eighth Book of Moses” (PGM XIII.1-343; XIII.343-646) and “The Tenth Book of Moses.”  Interestingly, these spells suggest that Moses and Hermes Trismegistus may be rivals—or, more likely, that different schools (or perhaps “Lodges”) competed with one using Hermes Trismegistus as mediator and another using Moses (see PGM XIII.15 on Hermes Trismegistus as the plagiarizer of Moses; on the “Lodge” concept, see R. van der Broek, “Religious Practices in the Hermetic ‘Lodge’:  New Light from Nag Hammadi” in From Poimandres to Jacob Böhme)—though, oddly given the history of competitive religious historiography, there is a positive reference to the Egyptian priest Manetho, who, in his own writings, excoriated the Jews and Moses in particular (see PGM XIII.23).
            There are a few points of importance for the study of Moses’ visions in the Magical Papyri.  Firstly, Moses’ moment on Sinai as well as the revelation of the divine name to Moses becomes paradigmatic for any practitioner.  The Books of Moses have the same strange ambivalence found in the Bible (but also elsewhere in Late Antiquity) of the impossibility and possibility of seeing God.  That is God cannot be seen, but the spell-caster is trying to see God—or at least God in some manifest form.  
I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, you, the self-begotten, who see all and are not seen.  For you gave Helios the glory and all the power, Selene [the privilege] to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned things so that they should be equal.  For when you appeared, both order arose and light appeared.  All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see; who change into all forms.  You are invisible, Aion of Aion. 
            I call upon you, to appear to me in a good form....
            Come, lord, faultless and unflawed, who pollute no place, for I have been initiated into your name.  (PGM XIII.64-73, 90-91; cf. XIII.570-585, 621).
Moses’ God is equated, as elsewhere, with the high God.  This is the unseen seer; the uncontained container (PGM XIII.139).  This is the monad.  Helios has God’s glory—which might be an interesting combination of the Jewish tradition of the Glory as the visible fiery aspect of God (e.g., Ezekiel 1).  This being is what gives light to these celestial bodies—themselves Gods.  God’s true form, however, is unknown, unseen.  Yet, God does have form:  all forms.  God is polymorphic, adaptable (much like Jesus is in many Gnostic works; e.g., Gospel of Philip).  In this invocation, moreover, the speaker calls upon God both in the names given to God in various languages, but also because he has been initiated into the name—as Moses had been in Exodus 3:14. 
Moreover, there is much interest in the Eighth Book to call upon God as the creator God:  creative power is ultimate power.  There are two versions of the Eighth Book, and each has a cosmogony of seven parts (although with eight pairs awkwardly fit within this scheme—something that, it seems, tries to cram the eight-part Memphite Theogony into the seven-part Jewish cosmogony but using names of Greek deities/powers who look over each day (PGM XIII.162-205; XIII.472-564).  Like in Genesis, God creates through utterance, but unlike Genesis, this utterance is in the form of laughter—God laughs and it is.  I am not sure why.  Jesus laughs in some of the non-canonical gospels—most famously now the Gospel of Judas—but it is derisive laughter rather than creative laughter.
Through these incantations, one channels the power of the creator in order to invoke some of the powers of creation, to the point of identifying with the creator (which, it seems, by implication, Moses did too when he received the divine name and went on Sinai):  
To make Helios appear:  Say toward the East, “I am he on the two cherubim, between the two natures, heaven and earth, sun and moon, light and darkness, night and day, rivers and sea.  Appear to me, O archangel of those subject to the cosmos, ruler Helios, set in authority under the One and Only Himself.  The eternal and Only orders you.”  Say the Name.  (PGM XIII.255-259; cf. 335-340).
By being initiated into the Name, by invoking the Name, one takes on the power associated with that Name, becoming the rider of the cherubim, between the cherubim, as God is in the Bible (Exodus 25; Ezekiel 1; and a splattering of Psalms) identifying with the secret Name of the Monad. 
The Tenth Book also is more directly concerned with attaining a vision (PGM XIII.734-1077).  Much like the Eighth Book, through invoking the unutterable Name (764) one channels God’s own self:  “For you are I, and I, you” (795). 
Yet again, it is also about recapturing Sinai.  In the Demotic Papyri, the speaker calls himself the servant of the great God, “he who gives light exceedingly, the companion of flame, he is whose mouth is never extinguished, the great god who is seated in flame, he who is in the midst of the flame which is in the lake of heaven, in whose hand is the greatness and the power of the god:  reveal yourself to me here today in the manner of the form of revealing yourself to Moses which you made upon the mountain, before which you had already created darkness and light” (PDM 125-132).  One seeks a revelation of God (the fiery God) just as God revealed himself and information to Moses on Sinai.  Just like ancient Jews sought to do, just as some Christians would also do, these Greco-Egyptian individuals sought to recapture and reenact the revelation of God to Moses on Sinai. 
While in this last passage, one implicitly identifies with Moses:  as Moses as the great servant of God who, thereby, was allowed to see the very form of God (Num. 12:8), so too one could, as a servant of God, invoke God as Moses did.  At one point, the practitioner explicitly takes on the identity and person of Moses, just as he does Adam in another spell:  “I am Moses your prophet to whom you have transmitted your mysteries celebrated by Israel; you have revealed the most and the dry and all nourishment; hear me.  I am the messenger of Pharaoh Osonnophris; this is your true name which has been transmitted to the prophets of Israel” (PGM V.109-116).  This is, again, in order to exorcise and to control demons. 
Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain was an important event not just for Jews and Christians, who used Moses’ visions (affirming them or denying them for various purposes, and even seeking to experience Sinai for themselves), but for others seeking a divine encounter.  These texts demonstrate a fluid religious environment, a situation where the rank-and-file do not necessarily fit neat and tidy self-identifying definitions of Jewish versus Christian versus Greek versus Egyptia.  It is a situation that might be representative of other places around the Mediterranean, where we do not have the same level of evidence for non-elite religious practices, and maybe not.  Nonetheless, while Christian bishops and others used Moses, and Moses’ authority, as a means to crystallize religious boundaries and to establish their own authority; others, it appears, used Moses as the magus par excellence, used him to borrow from and polemicize against competitors (the Hermetics?).  He was invoked as a common exemplar, whose authority circulated beyond Jewish and Christian sub-cultures, becoming a cross-religious figure.  By acting as Moses did, one could even call oneself Moses, identify with him to call down God upon the mountain and to have a vision of the invisible.

Monday, June 25, 2012

God and the Senses (4): Augustine's "Beauty so old and so new"

The qualities of religious experience mirror those of poetry--and, indeed, some of the best accounts of religious experience are related through poetry (think of St. John of the Cross); as one bends and bursts beyond the typical conventions of language, so does the other.  The most engaging poetry pulls at all five senses.  So too, the expression of religious experience.  I realize that what follows may not be technically be poetry in the sense of ancient meter and verse (though it has some of those things!), but one could easily consider it "prose poetry."  Indeed, St. Augustine of Hippo, trained as a rhetor and as a professor of rhetoric, was a master of style, and his Confessions is a masterwork on many levels including its means of expression. 
Late have I loved you,
Beauty so old and so new:
Late have I loved you.

And see, you were within
And I was within the external world
And sought you there,
And in my unlovely state
I plunged into those lovely created things
which you made
The lovely things kept me far from you
Though if they did not have their existence in you
They had no existence at all.

You called and cried out loud
And shattered my deafness
You were radiant and resplendent,
You put to flight my blindness.
You were fragrant,
And I drew in my breath and now pant after you.
I tasted you,
And I feel but hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me,
And I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours. 
(Augustine, Confessions X.xxvii (38); trans. Chadwick) 
Henry Chadwick, the translator, writes concerning this passage:  "Augustine's Latin in this chapter is a work of high art, with rhymes and poetic rhythms not reproducible in translation.  He is fusing imagery from the Song of Solomon with Neoplatonic reflection on Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium, and simultaneously summarizing the central themes of the Confessions" (p. 201 n. 25).  The reader can, indeed, sense the searching of the female lover searching for her lover from the Song of Songs in the first sentence, the search that, indeed, stands at the heart of the Confessions as a whole as the soul searches for God, the Beauty so old and so new, before the foundations of the world and yet ever new and renewing the soul.  It is a search one can sense in the opening of Augustine's search:  "our heart is restless until it rests in you" (I.i (1)).  It is the journey of the wandering, erring, and restless soul through astrology, Manichaeanism, Neoplatonism to Christianity; from infancy to adolescence to early maturity to full maturity; from wordless signs to grammar to stories and literature to rhetoric to the Word.  Religious wandering mirror the stages of life and the acquisition of language.

The rising from beautiful things to the Beauty so old and so new, or Beauty in itself, is reminiscent of Plato--and, indeed, much of the ascending qualities I just mentioned with wandering, seem to be modeled on Plato's masterpiece the Symposium (for a full discussion, see Phillip Cary's Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self).

But the reason I have placed this in my "God and the Senses" series is the last bit.  It again resounds with the Song of Songs and the attainment of the goal of one's spiritual ascent of love in the Symposium.  And, as a good piece of poetry (or poetic prose) that mirrors Augustine's spiritual expression, it engages all five senses (cf. Confessions (8)).  Augustine, however, does not just saw that he hears, sees, smells, touches, and tastes God.  Instead, he compares his earlier life to a complete anesthesia.  Finding his divine lover is like hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching all for the first time.  God shatters his deafness; and drives away blindness.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, moreover, the greatest experiences of intimacy are NOT expressed as vision or hearing.  While vision and hearing are the most common expressions of proximity to God, many authors reserve the far more intimate senses of smell, taste, and touch for the highest expressions of drawing near to God.  It makes a great deal of sense.  One can see and hear from a distance.  Humans, at least, must be closer to smell something.  But tasting and touching are the most intimate expressions that exist for humans.  Augustine, I think, orders his sensual account quite purposely in an ascending order:  first one hears, and one gets a first encounter, but one that is still distant.  Secondly, one can see, a vision crystallizes in one's newly opened eyes, but it is still not a full experience.  Smell, indeed, may be an evanescent quality; yet, it also denotes a greater proximity.  Smell, moreover, has the added quality of being totally encompassing.  One can be saturated with it from without and from within:  it surrounds you, and yet, as Augustine writes, "I drew in my breath and now pant after you."  Here the language again turns erotic--as if the references to the Song of Songs were not enough.  Panting after God as lover.  Tasting has a dual quality.  It heightens the sensuality, the intimacy, the eroticism.  For a Christian, moreover, it would recall the Eucharist, where one feels the divine substance in one's mouth, one tastes the body of Christ, touching the body with one's tongue.  As one pants, one also hungers and thirsts.  This highly erotically charged moment has been primed since the beginning of the search.  Note his sexual language at the beginning of the account:  "How shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord?  Surely when I call on him, I am calling on him to come into me.  But what place is there in me where my God can enter me?" (I.ii. (2)).  After hearing, then seeing, then smelling, and even tasting, after searching, after heightening each sense, the divine lover finally touches, and with a touch sets one's entire being on fire.  One burns, seeking consummation:  peace and rest.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Beauty of Moses according to Josephus

            Continuing my pursuit of ancient quirks, I want to discuss the strange first-century interest in Moses’ beauty.  I have discussed it in Hebrews 11 and Acts 7, in Philo of Alexandria’s recounting, and now that other prominent first century Jewish writer: Josephus.
Josephus picks up on this broader first-century promotion of the fine physique of Moses, but there are some major alterations, dislocations, and expansions. 
            To briefly recap, previous traditions directly relate Moses’ beauty at birth as the reason why his parents, particularly his mother, decided to save him from infanticide.  Although Acts 7:20 merely notes that Moses at birth “was beautiful (ἀστεῖος) before God,” Hebrews 11:23 reasons that, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful (ἀστεῖον).”  Both build upon the reasoning found in the LXX Exod. 2:2:  “Seeing that he [Moses] was beautiful (ἀστεῖον) they sheltered/covered him for three months." 
Philo readily exploits the LXX rendering of Moses as ἀστεῖος (Exod. 2:2).  He uses it exegetically to explain why his parents saved him—and other parents did no such thing—and why Pharoah’s daughter took an instant liking to him:  it all came down to his appearance (Vita Mosis 1:9, 15, 18-19).  In this case, it is further amplified with synonyms of beauty and nobility as well as made “greater goodliness/beauty.”  Moreover, it mirrors Moses’ overall advanced status: it is not just of body, but of mind.  Philo, however, pushes the terminology further, looking to its Stoic resonances, when speaking of the Moses-mind:  the mind that emulates Moses’ beauty/goodliness (Confusion fo Tongues 106).  Using a term that literally means “of the city” allows Philo to transition smoothly into Moses’ virtues as a cosmopolitan, one for whom the entire cosmos is his “city.”  Moreover, as something beyond a physical quality, it interlinks with Moses’ prophetic abilities:  it is the mind of the greatest purity and, thereby, the mind that can commune with the divine (On Mating with Preliminary Studies 132).
            While every other tradition in the first century relates his beauty to his parents’ decision to save him from infanticide, Josephus does not.  In fact, Josephus totally omits this section and, instead, explains his survival to a vision vouchsafed to his father, Amram, that his child would be the great liberator (Ant. 2.205-216).  This dream-visions, interestingly, resemble the birth narratives of Jesus in Matthew and Luke than even the Exodus account.  Even while Josephus completely drops this original account of Moses’ beauty as found in Exodus and other first-century accounts, he does, in fact, promote and enhance Moses’ beautiful appearance in ways partly reminiscent of Philo, but others that appear more singular to Josephus’s telling. 
            Firstly, like Philo, Moses’ appearance is the reason why the king’s daughter (here: Thermutis) falls in love with baby Moses:  “at the sight of the little child, [she] was enchanged by its size (μεγέθους) and beauty (κάλλους)” (Ant. 2.224; trans. Whitaker).  Josephus, moreover, does not use the same terminology as Philo, who sought to emphasize its Stoic “cosmopolitan” meanings, turning instead to a more general term for “beauty.”  One might note also the concern for telling us about Moses’ size:  he is large for his age, another prodigious element to his appearance.  These two elements—his size and his beauty—are repeated.  As a toddler, he was again quite tall and beautiful (κάλλος, εὐμορφίας):  he increased in mind and in body.  In fact, Josephus writes, that people were so amazed, astonished at his abnormal beauty that they would stare! (Ant. 2:230-231).  This is, as Philo also states, becomes the reason she adopts him:  that is, both state Moses’ beauty—though using different terms—as the reasoning for a two-part process whereby Moses’ daughter is enamored enough to pull him out of the water and subsequently actually adopt him. 
            Finally, Josephus reiterates Moses’ appearance when Pharaoh’s daughter presents Moses to Pharaoh.  She recounts to him how she found him, and, giving the reason why he should be made her son and, therefore, heir to the throne of Egypt, she notes his beauty once again, but with a little twist:  he is a child of divine appearance (μορφῆ τε θεῖον καὶ φρονήματι) (Ant. 2.232).  This “divine form” is perhaps the closest one gets to Acts 7:20’s “beautiful to God.”  It may be significant that “divine form” is put into the mouth of the Egyptian for two reasons.  Firstly, it keeps Josephus from attributing a divine quality to Moses directly or by a Jew (although Josephus does call him a “man of God” or “divine man” (θεῖον ἄνδρα), but there just to his wisdom in the making of the Tabernacle and the priestly garments that have symbolic relations to the cosmos—as they also do in Philo’s account).  Secondly, keeping in mind that Josephus often has an apologetic edge to his portrayal of Moses against many circulating negative evaluations (think of Manetho), he can state that Moses’ beauty is something attested by others as well. 
            Overall, while Josephus has a tendency to mute Moses’ more supernatural qualities, particularly his visionary abilities, and prefers not to recount anything miraculous, Josephus uses the occasion of Moses’ appearance as a chance for aggrandizement above all others, but that is perhaps a bit more controlled.  The expansion of Moses’ beauty compared to the biblical account, its multiple reiterations of being beautiful, great and tall, and of divine form almost compensate for the losses we find elsewhere.  It promotes Moses above all others, but seeks not to overstep, remain at least believable to his Roman readers.  Nonetheless, he has shifted the terminology of beauty from ἀστεῖος to κάλλος, losing the more "urbane" and "cosmopolitan" associations the term had gained among the Stoics.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Antiquitopia's Five Year Blog-o-versary

Today (June 13) marks five years that I have been blogging.  My inaugural post marked the beginning of my dissertation writing--in June of 2007 I would have been working on my proposal.  2007 was an interesting year.  I went to Italy, and now realizing that it has been five years think I should go back soon!  In the fall of 2007 I met my wife.  Much has changed over the years.  Last year my academic adviser, Alan Segal, passed away.  He saw me to completion, but will never see the book that comes from my research.  There are some continuities.  I am still living with the project that I proposed then, although extraordinarily transformed from proposal to dissertation and transformed greatly again from dissertation to monograph.  I am now thinking of developing my next major project.  I have a lot of the interests I noted then:
The name of my blog reflects a combination of interests. I study antiquity, but I am also fascinated by the construction of ideal alternate realities, usually referred to as heaven or utopia, alongside their inverse, hell or dystopia. I am particularly interested in how these constructions of heaven and hell interface with claims of religious experiences, such as with religious visions and auditions and so forth. So, welcome to antiquitopia, a "no place" in time--whether it is utopic or dystopic, of course, depends upon your perspective.
After about 850 or so posts, my interests have included this, but also spread broader and deeper (as anyone who scrolls my labels might see).  I taught Literature of the Humanities for two years at Columbia University, which was an extraordinary experience, allowing me to develop a broader literary framework, closer readings of my own works through connections made in others , and strongly influencing my own readings of the Bible (it is amazing how one's reading of the Bible improves when reading such great works from Homer to Montaigne and Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf).  I have taught further at Illinois Wesleyan University for two years, courses ranging from the Religions of the World to Bible. 

I still, however, have an interest in these idealized utopic or dystopic realities and religious experiences, but anyone who been keeping up with this blog lately will see have these have developed and how, in some ways, I have been seeking a thick description of the social implications of these claims and counter-claims, suppression and affirmation, of vision--as in my new project of the Christian Moses.  How, moreover, I have come to feel that visions are not enough to discuss religious experience--how my "God and the Senses" series has been promoting a fuller understanding of how religious experience engages all five senses.