I forgot to post the information about our Mellon Seminar Conference. It happened yesterday, but was a great event featuring Susan Palmer as our keynote.
Forbidden Gospels Blog
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Easter in Memory of Her
I am writing this morning to invite you to one of the most special events of the year. This is the fifth performance of a creative work I co-authored with Rev. Betty Adam - Easter in Memory of Her. Additional information can be found on Brigid's Place website which sponsors and organizes the event for the church.
Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017 4:00 pm, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston
What follows is the blurb about the Holy Saturday event posted on the Christ Church Cathedral website.
Once again on Holy Saturday, Brigid’s Place invites you to Easter in Memory of Her, an innovative service of music and mediation that celebrates the voices of the women who loved Jesus — Mary the Mother, the woman at the well, the woman who anointed Jesus, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene.
The service imagines the thoughts and prayers of the women surrounding Jesus and blends them with the music performed by singers from the Houston Chamber Choir and words written by Rice University professor April DeConick and Cathedral Canon Betty Adam.
Following last year’s service, DeConick commented, “The performance of Easter in Memory of Her at Christ Church Cathedral was stunningly beautiful. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the congregation including my own. The women soloists were outstanding yet again. Every time I see this performance I am taken to the cross. It has become my Easter.”
Adam shared, “Easter in Memory of Her continues to be a powerful experience for me — to confront the cross together with these beloved women, whose grief pours forth as well as their unwavering devotion. It helps me gain a deeper understanding of my own spiritual journey. I am so glad we can bring a presentation of such depth and beauty to the Houston area.”
Easter in Memory of Her will be held on Holy Saturday, April 15, at 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
I am very excited to invite you to our graduate student symposium called "In Search of the Gnostic." This symposium is being hosted by the graduate students in my Gnosticism Seminar this semester. They will be delivering the papers they have been preparing all semester.
I am very proud of them and their push into new areas of study. As you can see from the poster, they are working in all areas, from new feminist readings of classic gnostic myths to the fictionalization of gnosticism in the writings of the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges to the gnostic turn in the writings and practices of the Tibetan teacher Longchen Rabjam. We will be visiting gnosticism across the globe from the Jordan River, to China, to South America, to Colonial Pennsylvania.
The symposium will take place on Wednesday, April 19, 8am-12pm, in the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library, Rice University. It is free and open to the public. Coffee and donuts will be provided.
The Friends of the Fondren Library at Rice University have selected my book, The Gnostic New Age, to be featured at their annual Author Reception on Wednesday, 5:30 pm, in the Farnsworth Pavilion. I will be speaking briefly about my book and reading a passage that is one of my favorites. Hope you can make it.
For those of you who cannot be with us for the Gnostic Film Festival at Rice University, March 24-26, I am sharing my opening remarks and slides here on my blog. You may wish to rent the films at home and view them remotely with us. I have deeper analyses of each film in various chapters of The Gnostic New Age, if you are interested in engaging those ideas while you screen the films.
Welcome to the first every Gnostic Film Festival.
Many of you may be already asking yourselves “A Gnostic film festival?” what is that? Aren’t these science fiction and fantasy films? The short answer is, Yes they are…but, the goal of this festival isn’t about viewing these films as science fiction and fantasy adventures, but seeing them as public conduits of gnosticism, religious currents that were persecuted, and, consequently, went gone underground for two thousand years. So two big questions for us. We have to wonder why we are seeing a resurgence of gnostic ideas within modern American culture, where gnostics are celebrated as heroic rather than feared as monsters. Second, we have to wonder why it is that the science fiction and fantasy genre, and not some other genre, is so conductive to this celebration.
I began really noticing this resurgence of gnostic currents as a casual filmgoer and reader of science fiction and fantasy novels. It started to become something of a game between my husband and I, who could spot the gnostic undercurrent first. It is not that the gnostic undercurrent was in every science fiction and fantasy film we saw. It wasn’t. But when it was, it made the movie. It turned upside down our expectations. It made us sit back and think about our preconceptions about reality and what it means to be human. It made us want to question authority. It had flipped our world in some way. It had made us uncomfortable.
What is real?
Why uncomfortable? The gnostic, more than any other religious current, is transgressive. It is countercultural when it comes to interacting with conventional religions and traditional worldviews. It is this deviant religious edge that made gnostic groups in antiquity so suspicious. They generated so much suspicion among the early Christians that ancient gnostic groups were persecuted to extinction.
What made these gnostic groups so threatening to the early Christians? This is a good question and one that I wrestle with in my book, The Gnostic New Age. First of all, gnostic thinkers generated a type of spirituality that was very innovative in antiquity. Gnostics built new religious movements out of this spirituality. What made them different? Gnostics of all stripes developed religions that were oriented toward the worship of a transcendent God, a God beyond all the Gods of the traditional religions, a God beyond Zeus, beyond Baal, beyond Rê, even a God beyond YHWH the Jewish and Christian Father God of the bible who creates and rules the world. Gnostics believed that humans have been tricked into worshiping all these false Gods at the expense of knowing and worshiping the supreme God of Goodness, Love and Light, the God who transcends all, even gender. Humans, they thought, have been tricked into believing that their true selves are creatures made to serve the whims and wills of these false Gods. Even worse, these false Gods keep humans enslaved in the world the Gods created for their own benefit.
So one of the big concerns of gnostics is to try to figure out what is real? Where are we in the realms of existence? Now you might imagine that scriptures written by ancient Gnostics have some highly imaginative and speculative stories to tell. And you would be right. Gnostic mythology and stories are wildly imaginative, speculating about realities that are controlled by alien beings living in multiverses. These ancient stories are only matched by science fiction and fantasy today, which also tries to showcase possible alternative worlds, dimensions and futures of humanity. I have come to wonder whether science fiction and fantasy stories are comparable to ancient gnostic stories, in that they help us see the problems with our present world and dominant culture, and give us ways to critique and transform how we live in the world.
What is human?
There is another deep concern in gnostic writings as in science fiction films: to help us to see what it means to be human, where our boundaries are as human beings, where we might cross those boundaries or extend them and experience transformation into something bigger than we thought we were. This is something that the ancient Gnostics obsessed about. They were convinced that human beings are more than our physical bodies and our souls. They thought that human beings were born with a piece of the transcendent God buried within them. They usually call this the human spirit. But this spirit is what empowers them and makes them bigger, stronger, and better than even the false Gods who rule the world. It is what makes humans freed from the laws and rules established by these Gods.
What is the goal?
In gnostic stories, the human spirit is always portrayed as entrapped, enslaved, and subject to the authority of false Gods and rulers. The human spirit starts out in a sleep state, even unconsciousness. It came to exist within the human being through a fantastically imagined fall into the human world, where it has become trapped in a state of suffering. The goal of gnostic religions was to liberate the human spirit by awakening it ritually, and helping it return to the true world of its origin, a transcendent other world, where it would be able to reunite with the real God, the source of the human spirit, or some type of spiritual avatar or angel.
You can imagine how subversive these ideas were in the first and second centuries when gnosticism was born. The divine human. YHWH and Zeus and kings and priests to be overthrown. Real worlds beyond our own fraudulent one. These are the seeds of free-thinking and revolution. And in antiquity, they were suppressed and demonized.
So the question that begs to be answered: If Catholicism defeated gnostic religions in antiquity, how is it that gnostic currents have become so prevalent today? Here we have to thank the power of the written word. Gnostics were prolific writers and their lost texts have reemerged within modern culture starting in the 1800s. This rediscovery of ancient gnostic literature has resulted in the redistribution of gnostic ideas into American culture and has fed the growth of new religious movements like Theosophy, the psychological program of Carl Jung, and even the New Age movement. Most importantly, the huge collection of gnostic writings known as the Nag Hammadi library was found in 1945 and fully translated into English in 1978. So it is no surprise to me that the films with cutting edge gnostic themes are those produced in the 1990s, following a productive period in scholarship that made the gnostic gospels a household phrase. The gnostic gospels were heavily marketed as an alternative form of Christianity for Americans disillusioned with traditional denominations, and as a critique to traditional Christianity with its judgmental Father God and concept of original sin.
Think about the hype around films like Stigmata that featured the Gospel of Thomas and the Di Vinci Code that told stories from the Gospel of Philip. This message about the recovery of a lost form of Christianity from antiquity hit home for a large number of Americans who were disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Christianity of their parents and churches that they felt had nothing spiritual to offer. There is a synergy here, a real audience for gnosticism among Americans who view themselves as free-thinkers and people who question authorities, from the church to the government. It was practically love at first sight, and film producers used the opportunity to create some pretty awesome films that make us think about who we really are, where we are from, why we are here, and what our destiny might be.
This weekend we will be viewing six of these gnostic films: The Matrix, The Truman Show, Pleasantville, Avatar, Dark City, and Altered States. The films will be introduced by graduate students who are enrolled in my Gnosticism seminar. Following each film will be a 10-minute Q&A period also facilitated by the graduate students. To bring a close to each discussion, I will present a short reading from my book The Gnostic New Age which discusses these films in relationship to ancient gnostic ideas and practices.
I hope you are ready to meet the gnostics in these films, and to be unsettled.
You are invited to the Gnostic Film Festival at Rice Cinema, March 24-26. Admission is free! I will be doing short reading from my book, The Gnostic New Age, and the graduate students enrolled in my Gnosticism Seminar will be fielding questions from the audience following each film. We will even provide snacks! Hope to see you there.
Just a reminder that the SBL group Mysticism, Esotericism and Gnosticism in Antiquity (MEGA) invites SBL and AAR members to submit proposals for the San Antonio meeting.
This group is looking for papers on any theme or text related to direct knowledge of the divine or God for its open session.
Papers on the subject of amulets and inscribed religious objects are especially welcome for a special session on this topic that we are jointly holding with the Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds group.
An invited book review session is also planned with the following books featured: April D. DeConick. 2016. The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion From Antiquity to Today (Columbia University Press); Frances L. Flannery. 2015. Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism: Countering the Radical Mindset (Routledge); Andrei Orlov. 2015. Divine Scapegoats: Demonic Mimesis in Early Jewish Mysticism (SUNY).
Submit proposals via the SBL website.
The Annual Convention for the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion is almost here. We have great sessions lined up for the MEGA Group. I am particularly excited about the Cognitive Difference session, to be able to showcase and discuss how cognitive studies are making a difference to historians working in the area of early Christianity. We have another great session on shamanism, hermetism, and then a wonderful open session of papers. So much going on!
S21-115Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation; Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
Joint Session With: Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity, Cognitive Linguistics in Biblical Interpretation
9:00 AM to 11:45 AM
Room: 207 (Level 2) - Hilton
Theme: The Cognitive Difference
Athanasios Despotis, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Presiding
April D. DeConick, Rice University
Up, Down, In, Out and Back Again: Sensory Motor Schema and the Ascent of the Soul (25 min)
Roger Beck, University of Toronto
The Mithraeum as a Mechanism for Getting Down from Heaven and Back Up Again (25 min)
Colleen Shantz, Toronto School of Theology
"I Do Not Understand My Actions": Some Cognitive Bases for Natural Dualisms (25 min)
Vernon K. Robbins, Emory University
The Visible and Invisible in Early Christian Literature: Imagistic Story-Lines that Run Cognitive Progressions (25 min)
Robert von Thaden, Jr., Mercyhurst College
Families, Children, and Askesis: Framing Christ-Believing Bodies (25 min)
Grant Adamson, Rice University
Christology and Cognitive Science (25 min)
Discussion (15 min)
S21-336Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity; Religious Experience in Antiquity
Joint Session With: Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity, Religious Experience in Antiquity
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 404 (Level 4) - Hilton
Theme: Revisiting Shamanism
This session is dedicated to Daniel Merkur, PhD whose scholarship on mysticism and friendship has inspired and continues to inspire us.
Celia Deutsch, Barnard College, Presiding
April D. DeConick, Rice University, Introduction (5 min)
April D. DeConick, Rice University
Shamanism and Gnostic Ritual (25 min)
James R. Davila, University of St. Andrews
Hekhalot Mysticism and Jewish Shamanism: Where Do We Stand Now? (25 min)
Jeffrey Pettis, Fordham University
Shamans in the Desert: Mark 1:12-13 Jesus and the Spirit World (25 min)
Pieter F. Craffert, University of South Africa
Shamanism as a Cross-Cultural Interpretive Tool: Jesus, Paul, and Early Christianity (25 min)
Michael Winkelman, Arizona State University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (25 min)
S22-136Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity; Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
Joint Session With: Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity, Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 204 (Level 2) - Hilton
John Turner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Presiding
Jared C. Calaway, Illinois College
To See the Invisible One: Moses and Hermes in the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri (20 min)
Dylan M. Burns, Freie Universität Berlin
Alchemical Metaphor in the Paraphrase of Shem (NHC VII,1) (20 min)
Marla Segol, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Mystical Medicine: The Esoteric Genealogies of Hebrew Medical Texts (20 min)
Discussion (15 min)
M. David Litwa, University of Virginia
Self-knowledge in Monoimos and the Hermetic Corpus (20 min)
Christian H. Bull, University of Oslo
Poimandres, Kmeph, and the Laughing God: A Hermetic Scheme of Creation (20 min)
Christian Wildberg, Princeton University
The Stars of Hermes (20 min)
Discussion (15 min)
S23-233Mysticism, Esotericism, and Gnosticism in Antiquity
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 406 (Level 4) - Hilton
Theme: General Open Session
Catherine Playoust, Catholic Theological College, Presiding
Kevin Sullivan, Illinois Wesleyan University
Angelic Bodies and the Body of Christ (25 min)
William Babcock, Duke University
'Loud Snap . . . Blackness Dumped on Thetan’: Scientology and the Western Esoteric Tradition as a Comparative Model for Enochic Literature (25 min)
Paul M. Pasquesi, Marquette University
Visual and Verbal Expressions of Transformation: Olmec Were-Jaguars and Angelification in Ascension of Isaiah Compared (25 min)
Eduard Iricinschi, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
“It is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly” (Eph 12:5): The Function of Secrecy in Epiphanius’ Depiction of the Nicolaitans and the Gnostics (25 min)
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College
Esterah and Lilith: Mythical Women and Ascent (25 min)
Pieter G.R. de Villiers, University of the Free State
A Mystical Perspective on the Christophany in Revelation 1 (25 min)
I just put together the poster for the research conference that has come out of the seminar I taught this semester on Early Christian Controversies. We are looking forward to sharing our work. I will be opening the conference with a paper I developed this semester called Traumatic Mysteries: Modes of Mysticism Among the Early Christians. Franklin Trammell will be delivering his Rockwell Post-Doctoral Lecture, The Shepherd of Hermas and the Jerusalem Church. Our Keynote Address will be delivered by Kelley Coblentz Bautch (St. Edward's University, Austin), Eve and the Feminine Mystique/Mystic. Join us if you can.
I just posted HERE some photo highlights of the Gnostic CounterCultures conference that we hosted at Rice on March 26-28. It was the most wonderful conference I have ever taken part in. The papers were outstanding and the energy high. Thank you all who attended and made this such a terrific and memorable event. If you missed it, Miguel Connor created a live blog of the event, so check out his highlights HERE. We will be publishing the papers. I am aiming for next year.
The performance 2015 of Easter in Memory of Her at Christ Church Cathedral was stunningly beautiful. I don't think there was a dry eye in the congregation including my own. The women soloists were outstanding yet again. Every time I see this performance I am taken to the cross. It has become my Easter.
I was just interviewed for the audio-blog "Joyful Journeys" by Teresa Maron about the making of Easter in Memory of Her. To listen, you can tune in on your computer at any time HERE.
There is a 7-minute introduction with a GEM OF WISDOM offered by co-host Lauren Santerre. Then Teresa asks me about my inspiration for the Easter play and and its future as a new tradition.
Join us on Holy Saturday, April 4, at 4 pm, Christ Church Cathedral for an innovative Easter pageant that is becoming a Houston tradition.
The Houston Chronicle did a very nice feature of the upcoming event, Easter In Memory of Her, on Holy Saturday at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston. You might recall that this is an event that I wrote three years ago with Reverend Betty Adams to remember Jesus through the eyes of the women who were at his cross. It has been set to an original music score and this is the third year in a row that it is being performed in the traditionally silent time between the crucifixion and the resurrection.
"Easter in Memory of Her" is an innovative musical performance and meditation that imagines the thoughts and prayers of Mary the Mother, the woman at the well, the woman with nard, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene as they remember their times with Jesus and endure the sorrow of the cross.
Performance starts at 4 pm, April 4th, 1117 Texas Ave. at Fannin in downtown Houston. Please join us.
Yesterday at Rice we had what I think was the best conference I ever attended. It was called The Gnostic Spirit.
Professor Lautaro Roig Lanzillota from University of Gronignen gave a keynote speech on Gnostic anthropology, situating different systems of thought within the network of ancient philosophy. It was a fantastic paper.
I offered a paper on ancient Gnostic psychotherapy and neurology. This is a major part of the book I am writing now called The Ancient New Age.
Jeff Kripal took a biographical stance and looked at some odd stories that have yet to be explained by our current ways of thinking.
The rest of the conference was devoted to graduate student papers, which were of the highest quality. They were all cutting edge and pushing the boundaries of what we currently know. I feel so honored to have these kinds of brilliant students in our intellectual community at Rice
The discussion pushed on how we have constructed reality today. Because we understand matter to be the real world, we have a concept of our self that is confined to our material body. There is matter and nothing else. All truth is reduced to atoms.
The papers and discussion really got me wondering about where we are in our understanding of reality, and if our modern reduction to matter and the rejection of the supernatural can ever allow us to develop a scheme that can make sense of other realities we experience. I am not even sure how to talk about these other realities, because so quickly things turn to the ontological. So I want to hold off on thinking ontologically and just make a couple of suggestions.
First, I think we all experience a noetic reality. I don't think the noetic reality is material. My thoughts and feelings, my perceptions and psychological self are real, but they are not material. This doesn't mean that they are not supported by my body, produced by my body, influencing my body. They are. But this doesn't reduce my noetic reality to the material. It simply says that there is an interface between my body and the noetic. They co-exist and operate in tandem. This operation involves my brain and whole body. But it also involves my environment, both physical and noetic.
Second, I think humans experience a transcendent reality. Here I am talking about something like the numinous, something that makes us overwhelmed with its vastness and its immanence. It is a reality difficult to describe, almost refusing to be put into words. For me, it is a presence. This reality is also something that is produced and/or experienced by our brains and bodies, but it influences our brains and bodies too. It is as real as our experience of the color red or being in love.
What I am saying is that as modern people we need to sort this out for ourselves. Since Descartes and then the advent of modern science, we really have become lost in terms of having a way to really express any of this. As modern people we need to be able to talk about types of reality that are not material themselves although they interact with our material bodies, being produced and/or being experienced by our bodies, and influencing our bodies too.
Any suggestions here?
I am thrilled to announce that "Easter in Memory of Her" will be performed again this year, on April 19, 4-5 pm, at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston. This is a musical and meditative performance that I co-authored with Rev. Betty Adams last year. It remembers the women disciples of Jesus who remained at the foot of his cross while he died. Jesus is seen through their eyes and their memories and their emotions. Please join us if you are in town. Share this link. Last year we had over 300 people attend. I would like to double that this year if possible.
More information about the performance can be found
in the Houston Chronicle.
We at the Religious Studies Department at Rice University are very pleased to announce that Professor Larry Hurtado will deliver the Burkitt Lecture at Rice University on Wednesday, April 10th, 7-8 p.m. in the Kyle Morrow Room of Fondren Library on the Rice campus. The public is invited to attend.
The title of his exciting talk is
"Revelatory Experience and Religious Innovation in Earliest Christianity"
. He will talk about how powerful religious experiences came to be a major factor in producing significant religious innovations in earliest Christian circles, with special reference to the rapid emergence of the “dyadic” devotional pattern in which Jesus was reverenced along with God.
The Burkitt Foundation Lectures have been devoted to exploring issues in Catholic thought that are of interest to the university as well as to the Houston community. Founded in 1996, they have featured such distinguished speakers as
Kocku von Stuckrad
Professor Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and he now writes a blog on early Christianity called
. He has written a number of outstanding books on the devotional practices of the early Christians and their understandings of Jesus as God, all of which can be found on Amazon for reasonable prices.
Larry W. Hurtado,
God in New Testament Theology.
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-687-46545-3.
Larry W. Hurtado,
How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. xii + 234 pp. ISBN 0-8028-2861-2.
Larry W. Hurtado,
Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity
. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. (xxii+746 pp.). ISBN 0-8028-6070-2.
Larry W. Hurtado,
At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion
. The 1999 Didsbury Lectures. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999, ISBN 0-85364-992-8. US edition, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, ISBN 0-8028-4749-8. (xiii + 138 pp.).
Larry W. Hurtado,
One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism
. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988. (xiv + 178 pp.). ISBN 0-8006-2076-3. British edition by SCM Press. Second edition, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998 (xxx + 178 pp.), reprint edition, London: T&T Clark (Continuum), 2003.
So much is going on this week. If you are interested, I am going to be presenting some of the work I have been busy with this year as I have been writing my book
The Ancient New Age
. The venue will be Thursday night (yes, Maudy Thursday) at the Jung Center, Houston, Texas. Here is a
to more information including time and registration.
I am excited to invite you to a special service that will be performed at Christ Church Cathedral (Houston, Texas) on Holy Saturday (March 30th) this year.
It is a service remembering the biblical women in the life of Jesus who followed him to the cross and remained steadfast by his side as he died. The idea for this service came when Reverend Betty Adam approached me and asked me to help create a service that would feature the women followers of Jesus. I was so honored and excited to get involved in this project and within a couple of weeks Betty and I had written a script and asked local musicians to get involved in creating an original score for voice and harp.
The musical performance and meditation features five women in the life of Jesus who remember Jesus as they stand near the cross and look on. We hope that this remembrance of the women can become part of the traditional cycle of Easter services performed in Christian churches across the world. We choose Holy Saturday because it is a silent time, a time vacated and empty when churches strip their altars and when clergy only perform last rites services. We thought that this time, from 4-5 p.m., would be an appropriate time to remember the women who have been forgotten, whose voices we seldom hear, but who remained steadfast and faithful to Jesus, even to his death.