Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tertullian on Religious Freedom

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

Hurtado - DeConick Debate on (Gnostic) Christian Intellectuals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Son Has Been Born to Naomi

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think is going on here?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Honest Business Cards

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

The Symbol of Manhood

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

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

He further writes:

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

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