Reaction to Hector Avalos by Helmut Koester

David H. brought to my attention a piece written by Helmut Koester in the most recent issue of BAR: "BAR most loved and most reviled" pp. 10 and 12 September/October vol 34/5 2008. It is unfortunate that the BAR website does not link up to this article since it is written by a scholar whose voice has shaped so much of our understanding of early Christianity and its origins.

Koester is very hard on Avalos, arguing that he reveals "a deep ignorance" of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general. I find it telling that Koester, who has always argued for scholarship beyond the canon and the legitimacy of including non-canonical materials in our histories, finds Avalos' position too far afield. Koester writes, "The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible...The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions."

Koester goes on to defend BAR (which Avalos had criticized in the May/June "First person" column) and says that "most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial...but that is the normal business of scholarship." Koester cites and discusses many cases, even Hershel Shanks's initial criticism of the National Geographic's publication of the Gospel of Judas. Koester writes: "On the contrary, he (Avalos) should have congratulated BAR for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal." He goes on to severely criticize the National Geographic Society and the translators, saying that "numerous major mistakes" have now been discovered in the translation [with reference to my work (The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says) and Birger Pearson's BAR article ("Judas Iscariot Among the Gnostics" May/June 2008)].