SBL Memories 1: The Judas Section

The start of the holidays have been a whirlwind following a whirlwind SBL conference. If the AAR-SBL split was felt in Chicago, it was not in Boston, although I missed running into my AAR friends. The SBL conference was huge - 5,100 attendees. There were more sections and events than ever before, and the book exhibit was as huge as ever. The only downside was the cold weather. The Boston wind was bitter, and I was very grateful for the hotels connected to the conference center and mall.

We kicked off the conference well at 9 am on Saturday morning, at least those of us who attended the Judas section hosted by Claremont. We were in a good-sized room and I estimate that about 200 people found their way there - it was hard to find the room. Bart Erhman started us off with an interesting thesis about who the historical Judas was. I was intrigued by his speculation that Jesus was crucified by the Romans for political sedition as the King of the Jews, although we have no public record of Jesus teaching any such thing. Jesus did teach publically about a Kingdom, and that the 12 disciples would be enthroned as rulers over the 12 tribes in Jesus' Kingdom. So Ehrman wonders if Jesus privately taught that he himself was the King, and that Judas reported him once the going started to get tough. Marvin Meyer took the podium after Ehrman and spoke about three portraits of Judas: the hero Judas as the Gospel of Judas was originally interpreted, the demon Judas that I have interpreted from the Gospel of Judas, and the more sensible (according to Meyer! not me) middle-of-the-road tragic Judas that Meyer now interprets from the Gospel of Judas. Dennis MacDonald lectured about his opinion that Judas is a complete fiction, created out of Homeric myths by the author of Mark. He thinks that Matthew is completely dependent on Mark for his Judas story, and Luke is dependent on Mark, and Matthew. He dates Luke to 135 CE, but also thinks that Quelle existed, and so posits that Luke also has a version of Quelle. In my opinion, this dating is too late for Luke because Luke is already being used by Marcion between 110 and 125 CE.

What did I do? Well I revealed the mysteries - where my research has gone since I published The Thirteenth Apostle. There were three things I discussed -all of which will be included in the revised edition of The Thirteenth Apostle coming out in March (two new full chapters - "Judas the Star", and "The Magical Judas") plus corrections of errors and a section on Thomasine Christianity in the chapter on the second century landscape of early Christianity.

First, I discovered that the portraits of the lion-headed serpent Ialdabaoth were largely influenced by a popular decan god in Greco-Egyptian magic and astrology. His name was Chnoubis and in the Hellenistic lists of 36 decans he appears as the 13th! I need to say no more.

Second, I discussed the scene where Jesus tells the strongest of the disciples to lead forward the Perfect Man, and Judas accepts. I asked the question, who is the Perfect Man in Sethianism? The answer: Autogenes or his Son, the Son of Man; who is the Christ in Sethian Christianity. If this is the case, then Judas is accepting the role of leading forward Jesus as the Son of Man. This is essentially a Gnostic exegesis of Mark's last supper scene when Jesus says that the Son of Man will go forward as it is written of him. Then he predicts that one of the twelve will betray him. There is much more to the exegesis, but it is all I have time to write tonight.

Third, I showed an antique gem (ca. first or second c. CE) that my student Grant Adamson had come across in a catalogue he was working through for his own research on Gnostic magic. The gem shows the lion-headed astral god on one side with the hidden angel names in coded anagrams: Michael and Elieli. This lion-headed astral god goes by various names on these gems: IAO, Abrasax, Michael, Chnoubis, and Ialdabaoth. The idea behind the gem is that the owner possesses the god's names and can command the god to do whatever he desires for the god to do for him. The most secret and important name of the god often shows up on the back of the gem, in the center of the gem's face. At the end of my presentation - I made the audience wait until the last minute of my 30-minute talk to discover the name that has been hidden for 2000 years - to flip over the gem. And on the back centered in the gem's face is the name JUDAS. So now we have material evidence that there were people in the ancient world who identified Judas with Ialdabaoth the demon astral ruler, just as the Gospel of Judas says. This appears to have been a well-kept Gnostic secret that was believed to be very powerful. Knowing the demon's real name meant that the amulet-wearer could control the highest of the archons in this life and the afterlife!

Because I don't have copyright, I cannot post a photo of the gem. But I am working on buying copyright to have it in the revised edition of the paperback edition of my book. It is something to see! When Grant showed it to me, I almost fell out of my chair. The audience audibly gasped when they saw it.

So that's my story. Will post more on SBL 2008 when I get a chance. These next few weeks are going to be very busy. But I will do my best.