Aeon Byte Interview

Miguel Connor of Aeon Byte interviewed me recently about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. He has a website where downloads are available HERE. If you scroll down, you will find at the bottom a menu of all his shows and his many guests. This is quite a resource that Mr. Connor has put together over the years! His website contains downloads of shows featuring a variety of well-known scholars discussing their ideas about the ancient world on everything from Hermetism to Gnosticism to Mysticism. Thank you Miguel for caring so much about esotericism in the ancient world, making these interviews available to all.

Stefan Lovgren for NGS: Judas was a demon after all?

Here is the story written I was interviewed for by NGS's Stefan Lovgren. It was posted December 21st. Yes, I'm behind as ever, at home here steaming Christmas pudding on my stove and baking stollen, and so taking out a few minutes to post. The piece is called, "Judas was 'Demon' after all, new gospel reading claims." It is a more formal response to my book The Thirteenth Apostle written for NGS by one of its reporters and posted on NGS's website.

SBL Forum: More on the Gospel Truth

The Society of Biblical Literature Forum has just posted an article I wrote as a follow up to the NY Times Op. Ed. piece "Gospel Truth." It is called "More on the Gospel Truth."

I missed an article from the Canadian CBC that came out on Dec. 4th. 2006! It features Craig Evans and John Turner. It is called "Judas no hero, scholars say."

Eisenman: A Conservative DeConick?

Huffington Post is carrying an article today written by Robert Eisenman in response to my Op. Ed. in the New York Times, "Gospel Truth," and the SBL Book panel on the Gospel of Judas. It is called, "Gospel Fiction and the Redemonization of Judas."

The impression that Eisenman gives about my point of view is absolutely fascinating - and dead wrong, I'm sorry to report. In fact, any one who has been a regular reader of my blog, a student in my courses, or kept up with my scholarship will find his characterization rather amusing and ill-informed. According ot Eisenman, I have not only "redemonized" Judas, but I have done so because I am a "conservative" scholar. Because I am a "theologically-minded" person and scholar, I appear to be against the "rehabilitation" of Judas as an historical figure, the Huffington Post entry reports.

So again we see the conservative-liberal frame being put into place, and the rhetoric of historical Judas overlaying the discussion. I ask, why? especially when neither of these frames has any association with my argument, or the arguments of Louis Painchaud, John Turner, Birger Pearson, Einar Thomassen, and so forth.

Judas' portrayal in the Gospel of Judas has nothing to do with the historical Judas. If an ancient text calls him a demon, this means nothing in terms of who Judas Iscariot actually was. Texts calling him Satan, a demon, or the Thirteenth Demon, are presenting us with various ways that the early Christians interpreted Judas and his role in the death of Jesus.

I am not reading the Gospel of Judas as a religious person - conservative or otherwise. As I have said numerous times, personal theology and scholarship cannot mix if we intend to do genuine historical work. This is my motto, and I continue to criticize biblical scholarship for allowing theology to rule the day. Here is a case in point. Eisenman cannot frame this discussion of Judas beyond the theological. If I say that the text calls Judas a demon, then I must be a conservative believer who is against the rehabilitation of Judas. But the fact is, I'm about as liberal as you can get in terms of religious belief and affiliation. But this just doesn't seem to make sense to Eisenman, who seems fairly confident that I must be a conservative believer because I have said that the Gospel of Judas takes a traditional view of Judas.

What nonsense this is. As a scholar, if a text calls Judas a hero, I will advocate that characterization. But if the text does not, then I will advocate otherwise. And the Gospel of Judas says otherwise. I am not re-demonizing Judas. He never was anything but a demon in the Gospel of Judas. He was only made into a good guy by the National Geographic Society's interpretation of the Gospel of Judas which was based on a faulty transcription and problematic English translation.

National Review: "Questions about that Judas Manuscript"

John J. Miller from National Review has written a succinct article about the controversy relating to the National Geographic Society's translation and interpretation of the Gospel of Judas. He interviewed a variety of people for the story including me, Marvin Meyer, Craig Evans, Birger Pearson, and John Turner. Because the story is only available on-line to subscribers of the magazine, I was given permission to post the story on my website as a pdf file. It is published in hard copy in the December 31, 2007 issue of National Review. To view the scanned image of the article, click here. The article link is on the right hand side of my web page: "The Gospel Truth? Questions about that Judas Manuscript." Hope it is easy enough to get to.

A Move to Marginalize

Thanks to Jim West for pointing me to John Dart's write up about the SBL session about the Gospel of Judas in San Diego. It is well done and I recommend taking a moment to read it. I just want to note John Turner's observation, which John Dart records:
Another seasoned scholar in Gnostic studies, John Turner of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told the Century in San Diego after the November 17 session that he thought Pagels and King did not "take seriously" the criticisms from colleagues.
I also carried away this impression. But I wonder if it is that they genuinely don't take the criticism seriously, or that they don't want to take it seriously because they published quickly before they were aware of all the problems with the Coptic transcription they were using. For instance, Pagels noted in her talk that Judas does receive the mysteries, and therefore is enlightened, an initiate. The problem with this interpretation of Judas' reception of the mysteries is that the corrected text tells us why he receives them. Jesus tells Judas that he will teach him the mysteries "not so that you will go there, but so that you will lament greatly" what he is about to do. So the text itself tells us the opposite of Pagels' interpretation. He is not receiving the mysteries to become an initiate. He is receiving the mysteries so that he will not be ignorant of his participation in Ialdabaoth's plan to kill Jesus. And because of this, Judas will be punished with
lamentation and eventually, the text says, annihilation.

So I think that we are seeing an attempt to marginalize the criticism of Judas as hero in order to give others the impression that these criticisms are not serious enough to be considered. There is a lot at stake here. I see this happening with Marvin Meyer's response to all this as well. John Miller, a journalist for National Review, has written that Meyer told him that it is merely an interpretative matter and "These critics are just a little group of people" (National Review, December 31, 2007, p. 26).

Yikes! If Marvin Meyer wishes to make me part of "a little group of people," okay, I'm a younger scholar, not of the generation that brought in the Nag Hammadi materials. But to call my colleagues this - John Turner, Birger Pearson, Hans Gebhard-Bethge, Einar Thomassen, Louis Painchaud, Craig Evans - is truly shocking to me. There are no more prominent scholars in the field than these people. For hard criticism to be lobbied by these kinds of scholars is serious indeed. By the way, several of the scholars in this "little group of people" were the same scholars that Marvin Meyer relied on to re-edit, re-translate, and re-interpret the Nag Hammadi texts for his new international version of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

The long and short of this for me is that this language is nothing more than an attempt to marginalize the criticism, to refocus the discussion off the issues rather than on them. Because if we were to look at the actual issues, then we would have to talk about the fact that Jesus tells Judas that he is the Thirteenth Demon, that he isn't going to ascend to the Gnostic generation, that, in fact, he is separated from it. By the way, just to keep things straight. These are not interpretative matters as Meyer keeps saying. This is actually what the Coptic text says. The only interpretative matter is what this means.

Contending about Judas

Marvin Meyer told me a couple of days ago to expect letters in the NY Times in response to my op. ed. Here they are, one from Meyer and one from the National Geographic Society. You have to scroll down to see the NGS letter.

Update 12-11-08: Press releases posted on NGS's website, one by Marvin Meyer and the other by National Geographic.

Responses to New York Times Op. Ed.

I have received many communications from readers of the NY Times this weekend in response to my op. ed. piece, Gospel Truth published on Saturday. Most people are grateful to know about the controversy. One person wrote me to tell me that studying religion was a waste of my life and that I should work in another field. I guess we have different perspectives on that! There are a couple of questions that keep being asked, so let me say a few words about this here.

1. The Gospel of Judas tells us nothing about the historical Judas, if indeed he even existed. This issue seems to be very confused in the public mind. These ancient gospels were fictions in terms of what we today call "historical facts". This text wasn't written to tell us what Jesus really said to Judas. It is a theological text. In this case, we have a Sethian Gnostic writer who is using stories about Judas the demon to make a new point. He is criticizing mainstream Christianity - its doctrines (Christ's death functioned as a sin atonement) and its practices (the eucharist which reenacts Christ's sacrifice and atonement).

2. When we translate words like daimon, we should be doing so by comparing our text to texts closest to the traditions and age of the text in question. Why? Because the thought-world assumed by the text determines how words are being used. In this case we need to be looking at Gnostic texts in the second and third centuries. I have found so far about 50 instances of the word daimon in Gnostic literature. It means "demon," beings in opposition to the supreme God, and creating an imperfect world out of their rebellion and ignorance.
(1) Trimorphic Protennoia (Sethian, early 2nd c.): mentions Archons, Angels, and Demons (35.17); calls Ialdabaoth the demiurge "the great Demon" who produces the cosmic realms (40.5); mentions the "chains of the Demons of the underworld" which the redeemer broke (41.6).
(2) Apocalypse of Adam (Sethian, mid 2nd c.): refers to the Archons Solomon, Phersalo and Sauel who sent out an "army of demons" to seek out Mary the virgin to try to kill Jesus when he incarnated (79.5).
(3) Gospel of the Egyptians (Sethian, late 2nd c.): Nebruel is called the "great Demon" twice (=one of three terrifying demiurge Archons in 13th realm) (57.10-20); the demiurge Archon is said to create "defiled (seed) of the demon-begetting god which will be destroyed" (57.25).
(4) Zostrianos (Sethian, early 3rd c.): fragmentary reference to demons (43.12).
(5) Testimony of Truth (Gnostic, late 2nd c.): interprets the leaven parable to refer to the "errant desire of the angels and the demons and the stars". These figures are associated with the Pharisees and the scribes of the law who belong to the Archons who have authority over them (29.17); speaks about fighting against the Archons and the Powers and the Demons (42.25).
(6) Apocalypse of Paul (Gnostic ?, 2nd c.): speaks of principalities, authorities, archangels, Powers, and the whole race of demons.
(7) Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic, 3rd c.): in context of discussion of Archons, talk about dreams comes from a demon worthy of the person's error (75.5); the physical body is called an "abode of demons, the stone vessel in which they live" (82.53-54). The Testament of Solomon says that Solomon confined demons to these sorts of vessels.
(8) Authoritative Teaching (Gnostic ?, beginning of 3rd c.): speaks of the "force of ignorance and the Demon of Error" (34.28).
(9) Concept of Our Great Power (Gnostic, early 4th c.): refers to the dissolution of the Archons following Jesus' crucifixion. The are referred to as evil demons who will be destroyed (42.17).
(10) Paraphrase of Shem (Gnostic, 3rd c.): a series of 35 passages which speak of demons who are part of the darkness which work to create this world. For all the references, see The Thirteenth Apostle, p. 186 n. 20.
Gnostic texts use this word to mean nasty Powers, Archons, entities within the cosmic sphere, with creative and tempting powers. The Christian literature in this period, as well as the NT, uses daimon to mean demon too.

But can't daimon mean "divinity" whether for good or evil. Yes, as I write in my book The Thirteenth Apostle, in Greek philosophical literature where the cosmos is not envisioned as mostly or entirely under the rule of evil beings. If the Gospel of Judas were a Greek philosophical text, we could argue for a more generic translation. But it is not. It is a text of the Sethian Gnostic variety where the heavens surrounding this earth are populated by Archons and their nasty assistants, evil powers and demons. Here Judas is the 13th Demon, a designation for Ialdabaoth.

Conservative or Liberal Scholarship?

The past few weeks I have been interviewed by several journalists about my book The Thirteenth Apostle. There are a couple of questions that have been consistently coming up, questions which probably shouldn't have surprised me, but did nonetheless.

One question that I get asked is what religion I am. Now I don't have any difficulties with talking about this per se, except that I wonder how many classicists or historians who write books get asked this question in interviews? Why do religious studies scholars get asked this question? The assumption behind this question appears to be that if you study religion, you do so because you are religious, and your work is somehow justifying that religion.

Now this assumption is not completely wrong. There are in fact many religious studies scholars, particularly of the biblical variety, who either have a conscious task of apology, or who are doing so unaware. My readers know that I am of the opinion that historians of religion need to be very personally aware of this, and demand otherwise of their own contributions. Our apology has no place in the modern histories we are reconstructing from our ancient sources.

That said, when I answer the reporter's question, "What religion are you?", with "A liberal Christian" or "A progressive Christian", there is usually a pause as the reporter responds, "but your book is conservative."

How delightful. How fascinating. How paradoxical.

I am not a liberal or conservative scholar. I am a historian of religion whose main goal is to reconstruct the history and theology of the ancient Christians as accurately as I can. If the text had said that he was a hero, I would have supported that position. But it doesn't. So I have to follow through, maintaining academic integrity even if this means that I have to take a position opposite many scholars whom I consider to be friends. Judas is still a demon, even in the gnostic tradition. Epiphanius was wrong, as are the scholars who wish it to be otherwise.

MacLean's Article on The Thirteenth Apostle

April is in San Diego with many of you at the annual SBL meeting. She is crazy busy there and has asked me (her husband) to put up a post, or two, linking to items of interest. So here is a link to an article that April did an interview for, in MacLean's. April called home last night after arriving (safely) in her San Diego hotel and is looking forward to the conference and seeing many of you there!

Interview on Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis

I had the delight to talk to Mr. Miguel Conner who is the host of "Coffee, Cigarettes, and Gnosis," an on-line "radio" interview program about all things related to ancient Gnosis. He uploads the interviews and has them available for a week. Then the interviews get transfered to pod-casts on i-pod, and as Miguel says, become immortal. It's quite genius I think, and from the looks of his website, he has had some very interesting guests, covering very important topics. So I highly recommend his backlist to you.

Miguel and I chatted last week about The Thirteenth Apostle and the Gospel of Judas. He has uploaded the interview, and it is available to listen to on his website until Nov. 17th. Then it will become a pod-cast. Here is Miguel's website. Just scroll down until you see the link to the interview.

Baptist News story by Gregory Tomlin

Mr. Tomlin of Baptist News interviewed me over the weekend about my work on the Gospel of Judas and my concerns about the way that the National Geographic Society has handled this text and continues to leave scholars in the dark without access to the facsimiles. I thank Mr. Tomlin for writing such a great piece. If possible, please share his article with those you know. Here is his article.