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!