Forbidden Gospels Blog
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Toronto Journal of Theology 24/2, 2008, pp. 171–181: The Relationship of Biblical Studies to the History of Religions School, with Reference to the Scientific Study of Religion PDF
The History of Religions School of the 19th/20th century was VERY important for the development of historical critical studies. Lüdemann hopes that the piece will raise awareness among students of this highly influential school of thought.
I am happy that he wrote this piece because I have been concerned for several years about the obsession with post-modern trends that, in my opinion, are ravishing the academy and its ability to function in the next generation of scholars in terms of philology, linguistics, and historical hermeneutics.
The report indicates that the soil on the inscribed stone originated from the Dead Sea area, particularly east of the Lisan area. There is evidence of calcitic incrustation built up over part of the inscription with no visible signs of unnatural materials. This looks to be the result of the natural process of crystallisation which takes place over time. Since there is no indication of modern treatment of the surface of the stone, it will be necessary that further analyses, preferably dating of the pigment of the inscription, be done in order to conclude that the entire inscription or parts of it were created in antiquity or forged in modernity.
"The historical method, once it is applied to biblical scholarship and church history, is a leaven which transforms everything and which finally causes the form of all previous theological methods to disintegrate. Give historical method your little finger and it will take your whole hand."
Reading the opening quote again made me lament the falling away of historical methods as post-modern trends have taken control of the academy. I am worried about the training of the next generation of scholars who are shying away from the hard historical-critical work because it is not as fashionable as post-modern analyses. What will this means twenty years from now? I can't emphasize enough how essential it is to do our own work - from the manuscript up. Textual work and historical-critical work is hard work. It is slow work. But without it, we cannot be sure that we are not making the same mistakes that our predecessors did, or worse, building upon them. Furthermore, there is a new historiography emerging and it needs to be tended.
So I want to thank Lüdemann for his careful historical-critical analysis of Acts. He brings up some tough historical hermeneutic issues in this piece, including the fact that our new historiography has revealed to us that no one writes entirely objective history. What does this mean for Acts, he asks? Go HERE FOR HIS ANSWER.
Abstract: "This paper focuses on the meaning of the Greco-Coptic word APOPHASIS in Gospel of Judas 33:1. The most common way of translating this noun is 'declaration,' 'explanation' or 'revelation.' Experts often refer to Simon Magus' Apophasis megalê to legitimize this manner of translation. But in light of the use of plogos ethêp in the immediate context, this choice of words is difficult to support. Scholars seem to have overlooked another possible way of translating APOPHASIS. This paper proposes that we understand APOPHASIS as 'denial,' 'negation' or 'exclusion.' This primary meaning is coherent with the narrative role of Judas and with this gospel as a whole."
Professor Gagné has made his argument based on the use of APOPHASIS as a noun from apophêmi. The word APOPHASIS is defined by Aristotle as "denial" or "negation." In some Patristic texts it is used in negative theology - Apophatic theology describes God in negative terms. This means that the opening should read:
"The secret word of the denial by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot" (Gagné, p. 382).
This would make the Gospel of Judas about Jesus' denial of Judas, not his revelation!
By the way, Professor Gagné makes some of the same points I made in The Thirteenth Apostle: problems with translation of daimon as spirit; separate for really must be translated separate from; that Judas' sacrifice is not good, but an evil act and must be translated that Judas will do "more evil than" the others. More and more scholars are making very good arguments against NGS initial interpretation.
I also want to point out another reference if you wish for help sorting out the use of Jew/Judean in the ancient world. I recommend reading Shayne Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (1999). Cohen covers what made or did not make Jewish identity during our period. He even discusses Herod the Great as a Jew. He handles tough questions like conversion, intermarriage, martrilineal descent, etc. His conclusion is that Jewishness is a construct created by the Hasmoneans in order to try to separate the Jew from the Greek.
Dunderberg argues that the author is a Pauline exegete, although he applies the body metaphor quite differently from Paul. Paul is concerned about the weak members of the body and is trying to prove that they are indispensable and concludes that God gave greater honor to them. The author of the Valentinian Interpretation, however, is concerned that the weaker members have a wrong attitude (envy) that threatens the unity of the social body. They should change their attitude or face possible expulsion.
Why did the weaker part feel envious? The stronger members have made progress in the "Word" while the rest have not. The stronger members can "speak" while the rest of the ekklesia cannot. This situation created animosity of the weaker toward the stronger.
The author makes three arguments to resolve the issue:
1. the gifts given to the stronger members will benefit all members of the ekklesia; the weaker members benefit spiritually from the more advanced in the communityDunderberg concludes, and this I like very much, that the author of this text may be responding to Irenaeus or other critics like him who accused the Valentinians of elitism. "The author of Interpretation addresses protests, such as we find in Irenaeus, against the boundary between those who have and those who do not have the spiritual gift, and responds by portraying these protests as expressions of hatred and envy" (Dunderberg, pp. 844-845).
2. all body parts are mutually dependent
3. the inferior part should be grateful that is is not outside the body or ekklesia
The author does NOT see two separate communities - the Gnostics and the Apostolic Church - but presupposes a situation of two groups within the same church and says that the inferior can gain benefit from the gift that the advanced have. "While Irenaeus wanted to make the boundary between Valentinians and other Christians as insurmountable as possible, the vision of the Christian community in Interpretation is that, instead of separation, there should be unity between the two factions of Christians" (Dunderberg, p. 845).
He thinks, however, that the Qumran literature cannot be understood as the hidden source of what is later Merkavah or Hekhalot mysticism, because the Qumran literature should not be read in terms of ascent through the seven heavens, nor does their literature highlight a vision of God on his glorious throne. What we see in the Qumran literature is not a unio mystica, but a unio angelica and perhaps a unio liturgica. He also recognizes that this is a communal experience, not an individual one.
As you may already know from my own work on mysticism, I have my differences from the "Schäferian" approach to the study of early Jewish mysticism, particularly its emphasis on the production of this literature out of an exegetical impulse mainly, at the expense of religious experience. And I'm not convinced that there is no evidence for the type of ascent mysticism that Schäfer argues is not present in Qumran literature. Regardless, my own approach is to consider the intersection of exegesis and experience, and to take very seriously the mystical tradition as a living practiced religious tradition. So the question that was foremost in my mind when I read this new article by Schäfer was: Are we beginning to see some consolidation in the field, some sense that we absolutely must explain the liturgical, magical-theurgical and ritual aspects of it, that perhaps there is an element of the "experiential" (=my word) within it?
So there is much good to say about Schäfer's article in my opinion, because it pushes, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in a couple of directions that I think are essential for the future of our study of early Jewish and Christian mysticism. I have written about this previously in Paradise Now, where can be found my own essay ("What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?"), attempting to map this fledging field of study. The first "new" direction we must go is to recognize that mysticism to early Jews and Christians was not understood to have the characteristics of "Underhill" mysticism. The transformation usually was an angelification, not an assumption into God himself, as Schäfer notes about Qumran. Whether Schäfer thinks this a special type of mysticism or no mysticism at all was not clear to me, but I certainly define it it in terms of mysticism. As I have argued in Paradise Now, we need to define "mysticism" out of the literature rather than imposing a modern definition on the literature to see if "our" mysticism is there! If the transformation they were talking about is angelification and not union with God, then we need to acknowledge that. I did notice that Schäfer was still struggling with these old definitions of "mysticism" while also assuming them - the "Underhillian" emphasis on the "individual" and "union with God" in particular.
Second, there has been a tendency in this field of study toward perennialism and phenomenology. In other words, mystical themes like "vision of God," "ascent journey," "merkavah," etc. have been understood to represent a static concept of merkavah or hekhalot mysticism that had its origin in earlier Jewish literature or community. Christian varieties have been understood to have evolved out of this Jewish origin, but exactly how this happened has not been addressed. At any rate, there has been the tendency to see all instances of a certain theme across the literature as representative of some universal theme or practice that all groups are using the same way and inheriting from each other.
I have come to recognize over the last ten years that this paradigm is problematic, not the least of which because it is a linear model of evolution, when in fact we are dealing with a wide web or matrix of mystical views and practices, and a dynamism that is overwhelming. I think that the time is now to begin the complex process of mapping the emergence of mystical traditions within different communal settings - both in terms of belief and practice. I think that Peter Schäfer is doing this in this article, and I think that this is the type of study we need to be conducting in the future.
The members of the SBL section Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism already had a long discussion about this at our last meeting in Washington, D.C. To address it, members of the group decided to launch a new multi-year project to determine possible provenances of early mysticism in Judaism and Christianity. We are operating in rough chronological order beginning with the Ancient Near East in San Diego, 2007. We decided on this new agenda when we met as a group last November, because we wish to create a forum to discuss how, why, and in what forms mysticism emerges at various times, locations, and communities prior to 500 CE. Papers from the sessions will be collected for inclusion in series of volumes called, After Paradise Now: Essays Exploring the Provenances of Mysticism in Early Judaism and Christianity.
In 2008, we will look for papers in Hebrew Bible and Enochic literature, so those of you who are interested in submitting a paper should contact Kevin Sullivan (email@example.com) who is chairing the program unit.
S. Kent Brown's article "The Manuscript of the Gospel of Judas" was particularly interesting to me because he shared his own experience viewing the Tchacos manuscripts while it was on the market. He provides a witness independent of Stephen Emmel that the Tchacos Codex was found with three other manuscripts.
Brown writes:The big question for me - why were these four books buried together in a fourth- or fifth-century family tomb?
I later traveled to New York City where, in the company of Mr. Bernard Rosenthal, a rare-books dealer from San Francisco, I examined briefly some other texts in a hotel room. The papyrus manuscripts, which included a few damaged leaves from a very early Greek copy of the book of Exodus, two letters of the Apostle Paul in Coptic translation, and a Greek mathematical treatise, were then in very bad shape, having been wrapped in an Arabic newspaper and placed in a small box. When the owner and his agent opened first the box and then the newspaper, Mr. Rosenthal and I gazed upon a mass of documents that were disintegrating before our eyes, with tiny fragments lining the bottom of the newspaper cradle (pp. 19-20).
This volume of articles contains some photographs that I have not seen before, taken by Kenneth Garrett and published with permission by National Geographic.
The articles also give an interesting perspective on the reception history of the Gospel of Judas within the Latter Day Saints tradition, since all the articles address the issue of this text (and other Gnostic texts) from the LDS interpretative trajectory. From this perspective, the Gospel of Judas holds no relevance. In and Q&A section, the editor writes:
A few oft-quoted NT scholars with radical views claim that it overturns the record of Jesus as we know it from the traditional Bible. But for the LD Saints, the Gospel of Judas fails as a "Gospel" because it fails to recognize the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the way to salvation. Early Christian scholars rejected it as apostate in AD 150-200, and LD Saint scholars agree (p. 6).This complete rejection of the Gospel surprised me, given that so many LDS doctrines are similar to Gnostic ones. In one of the articles, Gaye Strathearn actually mentions this:
For LD Saints, a study of Gnosticism can be a valuable pursuit. For example, it is an important resource for understanding the complexity of the growth and development of the early Christian Church. In addition, it is possible that a text from the Nag Hammadi Library, the Gospel of Thomas, could contain some authentic sayings of Jesus that are not recorded in the canonical Gospels, although it would be difficult to identify them with any sense of certainty. For LD Saints in particular, a study of Gnostic groups shows that they accepted some teachings that have certain parallels with LDS doctrines: a belief that we have a premortal existence as spirits, that a number of levels of salvation are possible, that the restoration of lost knowledge is essential for salvation, and that a type of marriage, associated with the Holy of Holies in the temple, is required to return to the highest level of salvation. These types of teachings are not prominent in modern traditional Christian theology. Thus the Gnostic texts indicate that, in antiquity, these were important issues for some Christians. LD Saints, however, must be cautious. They must guard against any endeavor to study Gnostic writings with the purpose of identifying proof-texts for their own doctrine" (pp. 32-33).So there is a certain uneasiness about the Gospel of Judas found throughout these six articles, and an attempt by the LDS scholars to emphasize that this newly discovered text is not "orthodox" for their tradition, to send out cautions to their readers not to identify with it, and to distance themselves from it.
These are some highlights from this article:
It is deplorable that biblical studies has remained in the dark about the study of memory and the study of orality-scribality, especially when these are highly developed fields of study that have become completely integrated in other disciplines including history, anthropology, medieval studies, literary criticism, sociology, ethnic studies, philosophy, and so forth.So here you can see a number of items we have been discussing on this blog in the last couple of months come together in Kelber's article. This is a great summary of where our field is right now, or at least what some of the main ideas are that are fermenting in many of our publications and teaching. I have to say that I think we are witnessing the beginning of a revolution that, if pushed forward successfully, will completely overhaul our field both in terms of approach and content.
Memory in the gospel tradition is not cold memory, or passive memorizing. Rather it represents a (re)constructive remembering, with two purposes - to maintain the past but to make sense of the present. This is the function of social memory [what I call communal memory in my own publications like Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas] and explains the living traditioning within early Christianity.
The scribal evidence points away from the theory that there was an original text that became variant. The variability means that it is impossible to differentiate between primary and secondary recordings of a text. We must become comfortable with the polyphonic nature of the traditions and the fact that the recovery of a single original saying of Jesus is probably impossible.
Why do these conclusions continue to be drawn by biblical scholars, as if the canonical gospels are any more accurate (or "peerless") theologies and histories than the non-canonical gospels? All these texts are theologies, and whether or not they are "peerless" depends upon where you are standing. None of our texts are histories, let alone accurate histories. And how much historical information we can actually reap out of any of them, and the procedures for doing so, are questions more problematic than not.
As for the accuracy of the Church Fathers' descriptions. Their accuracy is not how I frame any discussion of a normative debate. The Church Fathers passed on false information, ill-informed interpretations, and fabricated stories in their struggle against those forms of Christianity that they hated. As the old saying goes, "All is fair in love and war."
As scholars, it is our job to stop buying into the normative rhetoric, and figure out what was really going on on the ground. The Gospel of Judas helps us tremendously in this venture. We can see that it was not connected with Cain or the Cainites as some of the Church Father testimony suggests. It is written by Sethians, for whom Cain was an evil Archon! The evidence from the Gospel of Judas leads me to conclude that the Cainites were a fantasy of the Church Fathers, a result of their war to become the dominant form of Christianity.
Czachesz does a fine job introducing the reader to some of the current major theories in cognitive psychology as they may pertain to the study of Christian Origins, including ritual theories, memory research, and studies in orality and transmission.
One question that immediately occurred to me while reading was how much the language of cognitive science is going to burden and/or offput scholars of religion? For instance, the transmission of ideas is called the "epidemic of beliefs" (p. 68).
I particularly was appreciative for the distinctions Czachesz drew between how one understands the transmission of traditions from a cognitive approach and the form-critical (pp. 66-68). Like my own analysis of the Gospel of Thomas, Czachesz highlights the fact that the ancient world of the early Christians was not purely oral, but included various degrees of literacy, and all of this acted together to create the environment in which our texts arose. This is what I and others call "rhetorical culture," a term that I did not notice Czachesz using. In rhetorical cultures, even though orality dominates the scene in terms of transmission and consciousness, the written word is also present, and oral text and written text interact in lively fashions.
Czachesz thinks that cognitive psychology can help us understand why early Christian tradition developed in the ways it did. He considers reasons beyond the daily needs of the congregrations, beyond the social or economic motivations. He says that their success is due to their universal appeal to the human mind - that is, "certain ideas especially appeal to us because our minds can work with them in particularly efficient ways...Religious ideas survive only if they adapt themselves to the structure of the human mind" (p. 68).
Since I am not a cognitive psychologist and am not yet familiar with the studies he references (Atran 2002; Barrett 2004; Boyer 2001; Pyysiäinen 2003), I'm not sure what specific items within the Christian tradition Czachesz sees as appealing to the structures of our minds, or how we would differentiate these from those that are/were unappealing (and therefore not transmitted?). I would like to know more though, and hope that he will address this type of question in future publications.
a summary article of the Gospel of Judas by Simon Gathercole. Gathercole has a book in press with Oxford on this subject as well.
Abstract from the article (p. 209)
"This article gives a brief account of the literature already produced on the recently published Gospel of Judas, and of the manuscript's character and contents. A discussion of the work's historical and theological relevance shows that while this new 'Gospel' does not provide any reliable information about the historical figures of Jesus and Judas, it does nevertheless afford a fascinating glimpse into the conflicts between Christianity and Gnosticism in the second century."Gathercole maintains the interpretative trajectory of the National Geographic Team and Bart Ehrman, although he appears to me to add a new nuance. Judas' sacrificial act is explained as the opposite of the horrible sacrifices of the other disciples, because Judas shows himself to be "a true priest of the Great Invisible Spirit" (p. 212).
This is another bibliographical reference to add to those I started in another post. This position is the opposite my own which will be released in October in Europe, and in December in North America.
I reproduce here the English abstract (the article is in French).
Far from presenting Judas as the perfect Christian, the faithful disciple whose assistance Jesus seeks in liberating himself from him material body, the Gospel of Judas actually turns Judas into the leading figure in a sacrificial interpretation of the crucifixion. This sacrificial interpretation, and the various ways in which it is manifested in Christian behavior (eucharist, Christian life seen as an ongoing sacrifice, martyrdom) is presented in the Gospel of Judas as a continuation of Jewish cultic practices, and as being devoted to an inferior god, who is not the Father of Jesus. Judas is thus (literally!) demonized, put under the power of the astral determinism and assimilated to the archons whom he serves. In the gospel that bears his name, Judas is indeed called to reign over others, but his power does not extend beyond the limits of the material world, and those over whom he rules will curse him.And so it begins...
I have had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy, and I highly recommend it. It is one of the best pieces I have read so far on the Gospel of Judas.