Sunday, September 29, 2013

Green Pumpkin

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


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


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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Course Offerings for Spring 2014

2014!  I am starting to feel old!

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

REL 312: The New Testament and Early Christianity

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

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

Course descriptions to come.

Does 1 Maccabees Critique the Hasmoneans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

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

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

Based on the price, it looks like something to order for your institution's library.
By the way, we need more scholars learning, studying, and publishing on the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha!
Andrei A. Orlov, Heavenly Priesthood in the Apocalypse of Abraham(Cambridge University Press, 2013) 224 pages. ISBN: 110703907X, 9781107039070.Description from the publisher: The Apocalypse of Abraham is a vital source for understanding both Jewish apocalypticism and mysticism. Written anonymously soon after the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, the text envisions heaven as the true place of worship and depicts Abraham as an initiate of celestial priesthood. Andrei A. Orlov focuses on the central rite of the Abraham story - the scapegoat ritual that receives a striking eschatological reinterpretation in the text. He demonstrates that the development of the sacerdotal traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham, along with a cluster of Jewish mystical motifs, represents an important transition from Jewish apocalypticism to the symbols of early Jewish mysticism. In this way, Orlov offers unique insight into the complex world of the Jewish sacerdotal debates in the early centuries of the Common Era. The book will be of interest to scholars of early Judaism and Christianity, Old Testament studies, and Jewish mysticism and magic. 
About the author from the publisher: Andrei A. Orlov is Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University. His recent publications include Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Selected Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2009), Concealed Writings: Jewish Mysticism in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (2011) and Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (2011).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Caroline Schroeder's Monastic Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Ignorant to Inspired: Moses in Gnostic Literature

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

Here are the details:

From Ignorant to Inspired: Moses in Gnostic Literature


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

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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nicola Denzey Lewis's "Gnosticism"

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Rosh Hashanah

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

Shanah Tovah!

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Antithetical, Vague, and Pompous

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day: Morton Smith on Jesus

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

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

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

Where indeed?!

Ancient Jewish Manuscripts, Texts, and Translations

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

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

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