Summer writing

I can't believe it, but I have cleared my desk of those lingering commitments that have diverted so much of my time and energy this past year. The lesson I have learned from this is to start saying "no" to projects that cannot be accommodated within my own research agenda. Otherwise what I research and write about begins to be what everyone else wants me to write about and not necessarily what I want to write about.

So this summer I return to my own research and writing schedule. First on my agenda is to finish Sex and the Serpent: Why the Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter.

Second is to turn my attention to my Mellon Seminar which I will be leading the next academic year. It is called Mapping Death: Religious Preparations for the Afterlife Journey. I plan to study the Gnostic movements from the perspective of initiatory cults in the ancient world, and see what happens. I have five students working with me, each preparing his or her own project. I want to build a web page for the seminar with abstracts of each of our projects. So watch for that as September nears.

Third, I want to organize my thoughts and develop my book on the Gospel of John. I have tentatively named it John Interrupted: Reconceptualizing the Origins of Christianity and Gnosticism.

So that is my summer...and my next year.

Starting off the New Year: Announcements

What is up this semester? I'm teaching two courses, my 100-level Introduction to New Testament Studies, and a graduate reading course in Coptic where we will finish up our work on the Gospel of Judas and the 1 Apocalypse of James from the Tchacos Codex.

Mark your calendars. Rice Religious Studies Department is hosting its Rockwell Symposium 2010, an international conference on April 15-18th in the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library: Hidden God, Hidden Histories.

The symposium is designed to work on two distinct but related levels. On the first level, we intend the symposium as the inaugural event of the Department's new GEM Program, an area of graduate study at Rice that focuses on the traditional scholarly categories of Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism, but also seeks to revision, renew, and move beyond them in creative and positive ways.

On the second level, the symposium will serve as a platform to bring together a set of particular studies to be published under the title, Histories of the Hidden God. Papers will address the specific topic of the Hidden God and the relationship of that God to the universe and humanity. The “thesis” of this edited volume is the exploration of religious traditions that characterize an absolute being who is “beyond” the conventional gods and our cosmos, a being who may even be conceived of as existing outside the known universe. This absolute being may be portrayed in theistic or non-theistic terms. Its relationship with the cosmos and other beings may vary from a relationship that is utterly transcendent to one that is radically immanent.

By focusing on the manner in which these ideologies describe the relationship between this god-beyond-god(s), the cosmos, and humanity, one of the main goals of this volume is to attempt to view thinkers and groups, whose traditional labels (‘gnostic’, ‘dualist’ etc) have associated them with the history of heresy, within a broader world view that connects them with others who were conceiving God and the world in similar ways. Thus another goal of this project is the hope that our studies will engage academic language and discourse in such a way that will facilitate a better understanding of this type of ideology (transtheism?, metatheism? etc) as part of a continuum of forms of belief, rather than as something sharply distinct from more normative or mainstream theologies. If this can be accomplished, it would move us in the direction of opening up the study of gnosticism, esotericism and mysticism to non-judgmental, yet critical academic categories.

A schedule of speakers and events will be posted as soon as that becomes finalized over the next month.

Lectures for BAR Fest in New Orleans

I was just sent a link to the line up for the BAR festival in New Orleans. It looks like a great three days! BAR has created individual webpages for each speaker (here is the LINK to the webpage they created for me - I'm going to present my understanding of the Gospel of Judas and an antique magical gem housed in Paris), so you can find out more information about each lecturer as well as the lecture itself. Hope to see some of you there!

Transtheism/Supratheism follow up

Comment on the comments to my last post:

Rebecca Lesses: "at the beginning of an article just state - this is what I mean by gnostic, gnosticism, and if you want to know more, see such and such an article that I wrote that explains this exactly with all the details"

Rebecca, I have been doing this. But it doesn't work well. It also limits what I can do or say.

But if I create a category that everyone knows is a modern heuristic device, my analysis will be more transparent. I will be able to identify family relationships better. For instance, take Hermetic materials. There is a genetic link between the religiosity of these lodges and the gnostics. But they aren't gnostics because their creator god isn't oppositional. What they are though are transtheists who are linked to other transtheists (the gnostics) who have taken the hermetic tradition and worked in jewish and samaritan (and eventually christian) exegetical traditions.

Of course I will continue discussing different groups by name when we might know a group. But these groups are not unconnected varieties. Almost every one of them is from Alexandria with some connections with Antioch and Rome and Edessa and Carthage and Lyons. There are genetic connections that need to be worked out, and we need overarching language to be able to identify those characteristics - and the characteristics that uniquely develop with different groups.

Marcion is also a transtheist, but I wouldn't call him a traditional gnostic. Why? Because he is not genetically connected to the Alexandrian group. His Unknown alien god has no connection to the ruler of this world. He just looks down here one day and feels sorry for the plight of humans under the rule of the Yah god and decides to intervene by sending the adult Jesus to save us. He is a god of love and mercy afterall - at least that is Maricon's argument. But his system is a very interesting transtheistic one. If it is studied from that perspective it won't get mixed up with the gnostic systems.

Jared Calaway: "On a somewhat related note, when does the second edition of your Thirteenth Apostle come out? I am slated to teach a class next fall on gospels--using the genre as a lens to discuss, as you say, polydoxy--and I think the second edition of the book could be a great help for undergrads in conceptualizing this."

The second edition of the Thirteenth Apostle is due out by the end of the month as far as I have been told. I still don't see it on Amazon, but it is in press as I write. I can't wait to see the gem. It will be on the back cover in full color, and on the inside in the gem chapter. I made some drawings of other gems for the book which I am also looking forward to seeing. I love visuals, and it is not often that our books get to contain them. So this is extra special.

As for "no biblical demiurgical traditions?!"....that is just what I mean to avoid. I want to open up the discussion of these systems beyond the narrower confines - to explode our expectations. What would happen if we cleared the table? If we started the analysis fresh? If we got away from framing the picture the way it has always been done beginning with the church fathers who were all contorted over the fact that the creator god from the OT was perceived negatively. But when you study these systems, you discover that the thing that is important to these gnostics is that they know a God who is above the fray, and this is a God of pure love, mercy, truth, perfection, etc. And they belong to him-her. The rest of their systems will vary, including their perceptions of the biblical god (if they have one).

Translation problem in opening line of the Gospel of Judas

Sorry that I haven't posted in a few days, but the days and all their activities have gotten away with me. I appreciate all your comments on my last post about theology and history. This is perpetually going to be a struggle for us because there is so much at stake in terms of faith.

Yesterday the revised proofs for The Thirteenth Apostle arrived. So I will now have the pleasure of reviewing those and being reminded of what I wrote. The book is greatly expanded. It has grown from 198 pages to 258 with the addition of my two new chapters, one on astrology and the Gospel of Judas, and the other on the Judas Gem and magic. I also have added a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on second-century types of Christianity.

I am still struggling with one translation choice and whether to change the proof on this. Perhaps you have some thoughts for me. The opening line of the Gospel of Judas reads either:

"The secret revelatory (apophêmi) discourse in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."


"The secret speech of indictment (apophainô) in which Jesus spoke with Judas Iscariot..."

The difficulty is that the word "apophasis" which occurs in the Coptic, can mean either "to refuse" or "deny" through an open revealed speech (such as apophatic theology in which God is revealed by stating what he is NOT) if it comes from apophêmi, OR if it comes from apophainô it can mean a sentence of judgment in court, as in an indictment.

I initially choose to translate it "secret revelatory discourse" in order to keep it broad and to allow for the ambiguity that is there. But this doesn't convey the fact that "apocalypse" is not the chosen word. Rather the word that is chosen has a negative implication - that Jesus is going to openly deny Judas something and/or he is going to openly indict him - both of which Jesus does in the following narrative. He denies Judas access to the holy generation, and he indicts him, telling him that he will become the thirteenth demon, the ruler of the world, who is identified by the Gnostics with Ialdabaoth.

Any recommendations on how to get this idea across in a plain English translation? I have been racking my brain for a long time with no good answer yet.

UPDATE: André Gagné has sent me a message to post that he still translates the line: "The secret word of the denial which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot." For more discussion on this and his fine article, go HERE to an earlier post on the subject.

The question for me is how to best translate this into English for a general readership. What is a "secret word of denial"? What the author is trying to say is that Jesus is going to deny Judas' requests in this secret conversation that took place between them. I just can't seem to settle on how to translate this concept in one word.

Best Value Private Colleges

David Hamilton sent me this news.

The Princeton Review's top 10 "Best Value Private Colleges for 2009" are:

1. Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.
2. Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass.
3. Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
4. Rice University, Houston, Texas
5. Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
6. Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.
7. Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.
8. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
9. Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.
10. Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Source: The Princeton Review and USA TODAY

For full story, go HERE.

PHOTO: Taken by me, just outside my office. This is an arch entering the Humanities Building courtyard. I am in love with the tree.

First day of classes

Today is the first day of classes for me this semester. I am teaching two courses. The first is an undergraduate lecture course called The Gnostics and their Gospels. This is actually my title for the general audience book I've been wanting to write for years - The Gnostics and their Gospels: An Introduction to Ancient Gnostic Spirituality. So one of my goals this semester is to record in writing as much of my lecture material as I am able, so that by the end of the semester I will have a fairly comprehensive draft of my book complete. It won't be ready to go to press, but much of the hard and detailed thinking and drafting will be done.

In conjunction with this course, I am running the Gnostic Gospels Seminar for my graduate students. We will be retranscribing and retranslating the Gospel of Judas, and we will be immersing ourselves in as much of the primary gnostic literature as we can possibly read in a semester. I have found that when I totally immerse myself in a corpus of literature - whatever the subject is - all kinds of wonderful insights happen. So I am looking forward to this opportunity to reread all the literature over the next fifteen weeks with my terrific students.

My second goal this semester is to complete the editing process of the Codex Judas Congress papers. I hope to do this by the end of February. The title will be: The Judas Codex: Proceedings of the International Congress on Codex Tchacos held at Rice University, Houston, Texas, March 13-16, 2008.

I am also writing my own academic volume on the Gospel of Judas. I have almost all the chapters complete, but I need to do some additional research and some rewriting. I believe that this will have to wait until summer, but it won't be too long before I have a draft ready to send to an academic press on Judas the Apostate. I don't have a subtitle yet.

French Edition of The Thirteenth Apostle

My thanks to Michel Valensi of "Éditions de l'éclat" who has published a French translation of The Thirteenth Apostle (Le treizième apôtre). The translation was made by Gilles Firmin to whom I wish also to extend my thanks. This edition was able to take into account a series of revisions, a second preface, and one new chapter, "Judas the Star," although I had not knowledge of the Judas gem at the time I submitted this material to be translated. So the gem chapter will become available in the forthcoming March revised English edition, along with all the other revisions that made it into the French edition.

New article on Valentinian sex

An article that I wrote several years ago has finally been published in a new volume on Western Esotericism. The title of the article is "Conceiving Spirits: The Mystery of Valentinian Sex." It is found in Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Jeffrey J. Kripal (eds.), Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2008) pp. 23-48. By the way, this is a Brill hardcover, so it is a library book unless you have $200 to drop on one volume!

I conclude in my contribution to the volume that the Valentinians believed that the end of the world and the entrance into the Pleromic Bridal Chamber would correct what Adam had perpetuated in the beginning, that is the dispersion of the spirit in immature form within the corrupted soul. Since Adam had procreated from his material aspect, he had been acting from carnality, from lust. Therefore the child he bore, Cain, had a soul inclined toward evil, one whose spiritual seed was easily overcome by the presence of powerful demons and passions. The conception of Abel, on the other hand, was believed to have taken place in such a way that he acquired a soul with a spiritual seed which was able to respond positively rather than negatively, to live righteously (as a member of the Christian church) and be redeemed. Seth's soul was endowed with an elect seed because his conception was marked by Adam's spiritual aspect, when he raised his soul to the heights of heaven as he lovingly embraced Eve. This form of lovemaking was considered by the Valentinians to be sacred, and would lead to their own redemption as well as God's.

I argue in this article that the Valentinians were not opposed to eros as long as it was not lust, that they distinguished between lovemaking and hedonism. Although they were opposed to carnality, they were not opposed to sexual pleasure between married partners. For them, sex was understood as a delightful and sacred experience when the souls of the married partners mingled with the heavenly powers, resulting in the conception of a spiritually superior child, one that would be morally-inclined and redeemable, if not elect.

This is a long way away from Augustine's reproach for eros and his notion that sex should ideally be no more than a handshake.

What would our society be like if the Valentinian understanding of sex had become our model, rather than the Augustinian?

Some new endorsements for The Thirteenth Apostle

A couple of new endorsements for my book, The Thirteenth Apostle, just came to my attention. They are nice, so I thought it would be fun to share them with you.
"DeConick is not nearly so well known to the reading public as other Gospel of Judas scholars, such as Ehrman, King, and Pagels...but DeConick's volume, offering as it does a substantial revision of the current consensus, deserves as much attention...her book contains a vast amount of useful information, placing the Gospel in its historical and theological context in a manner that is very accessible to the general public. Additionally, many readers will appreciate her autobiographical sections, her analysis of contemporary Jesus films, and her annotated bibliography. As such, her book deserves a place in libraries along with other essential Judas publications. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/ researchers; general readers." -- L. J. Greenspoon, CHOICE, May 2008

"This fascinating new book from April DeConick...takes issue with the recent translation and offers a wholly different interpretation, one that focuses on the various distinct sects of second and third century Christians but has much to say about our modern view of this infamous character." -- The Good Book Guide

Scopello's Paris conference volume on Judas is published

I just heard today that Madeleine Scopello's book which contains the proceedings from the 2006 International conference on the Gospel of Judas held in Paris has been published. It is a Brill volume, so pricey and probably a library loan book for most of us, but it is very important publication because it contains a wide range of scholarship on the Gospel of Judas - first ever glimpses at what scholars world-wide are thinking about the Gospel of Judas. The paper I wrote that inspired The Thirteenth Apostle is in this volume, as well as significant pieces by John Turner, Louis Painchaud, and many many others. I don't have the final contents list on hand, but it was a great conference with great contributions.

The book is called The Gospel of Judas in Context: Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Gospel of Judas (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies; Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Paul Foster: The Non-Canonical Gospels

Finally it is here! An affordable book ($29.95) introducing the non-canonical gospels. It is edited by Paul Foster. It is up-to-date and perfect for students in courses on the gospels. Some of the articles printed are revisions of earlier versions published in Expository Times last year, others appear in this volume for the first time. I think that this one is worth getting for your library and considering adopting for your courses.


J.K. Elliot, "The Non-Canonical Gospels and the New Testament Apocrypha: Currents in Early Christian Thought and Beyond"

April DeConick, "The Gospel of Thomas"

Paul Foster, "The Gospel of Peter"

Christopher Tuckett, "The Gospel of Mary"

Andrew Gregory, "Jewish-Christian Gospels"

Simon Gathercole, "The Gospel of Judas: An Unlikely Hero"

April DeConick, "The Gospel of Judas: A Parody of Apostolic Christianity"

Paul Foster, "The Protevangelium of James"

Tony Chartrand-Burke, "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas"

Tobias Nicklas, "Papyrus Egerton 2"

Thomas Kraus, "The Fayum Gospel"

Michael Kruger, "Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840"

Paul Foster, "Secret Mark"

Book Note: Das Thomas-Evangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (ed. Frey, Popkes, and Schröter)

This morning a surprise book came in the mail to me. A couple of years ago, I participated in a conference on the Gospel of Thomas in Eisenach, Germany. I remember turning in my paper to the conference organizers, but never received proofs for any volume nor information to expect its publication.

Well this morning the mystery is solved. Here is the conference volume, and here is my paper in it. As I read it over I am disappointed with the amount of printing errors including the loss of some indentations at the beginning of a few paragraphs. Apparently the editors weren't able to catch them, and I certainly didn't because I never had any proofs to make corrections and had no idea it was being published! This has never happened to me before, and I find it disconcerting. It is terribly upsetting when an author's work is published without allowances for the author to read and correct the typeset version which always contains mistakes due to the transfer process from the author's files to the press's files. I'm just grateful that this particular piece does not include extensive Coptic or Greek!

The book details: Jörg Frey, Enno Edzard Popkes, and Jens Schröter (eds.), Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung, Rezeption, Theologie (BZNW 157; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008).

Anyway, it is an interesting mixture of papers from both authors who gave papers at the conference and authors who didn't. Most are very standard form- and redaction-critical papers mainly written by the German contributors. But then there are some papers that move forward the discussion methodologically.

My paper is called "Mysticism and the Gospel of Thomas."

UPDATE 6-19-08: Well I have received a response from Jens who says that files were e-mailed to the authors last year. When I didn't turn in any corrections, he assumed that I didn't have any. It has always been my experience as a book editor (and I have edited many) that if I don't hear back from an author with corrections, something is wrong. Either the author didn't receive the proof, or has been on vacation, or has been ill. I am extremely upset about this because it makes me look careless, when in fact I never received a proof to correct nor any correspondence from the editors. We should never assume that authors receive things we sent electronically, especially since university systems have tough SPAM filters, and servers go down.

Thirteenth Apostle Discussion Questions

Many have written me and e-mailed me with questions and advice about my book, The Thirteenth Apostle. A woman who wrote one of the letters was concerned that she only learned about my book by accident when she came across the article that was written on it in National Review. She said she thought that information about it should be made more readily available to churches and adult education classes. So I took her good advice, and I created and posted a series of discussion questions for The Thirteenth Apostle. And my publisher put together an ad to circulate for this purpose. Check it out HERE.