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What is mysticism in the early Christian period?
Mysticism is the solicitation and participation in a direct immediate experience of the ultimate reality. I distinguish mysticism from the mystical experience itself, which is the direct immediate experience of the ultimate reality solicited or not. To avoid the imposition of later developed views of mysticism on our earlier period, I shift the point of comparison to the study of traditions closest to the early Christian texts, to move the discussion of mysticism to the materials that were produced by the Jews and Christians during the formative years of their religions. Early Christian mysticism is distinct from early Jewish mysticism in the fact that the it featured YHWH's manifestation, the kavod or Glory (which was the object of the mystic's gaze) to be Jesus Christ. The mysticism of early Christianity is strikingly Christocentric. It focuses on the "revelation of Jesus Christ," which is understood to be the disclosure of the mystery that has been hidden with God for the ages. This mystery is Jesus Christ the Power and the Glory of God. The other unique feature of early Christian mysticism is the belief that all Christians experience this revelation through a particular set of rituals, beginning with baptism when the Christ indwelled the initiate as the Spirit. The Christ-Spirit is regularly experienced in the life of the community and the other sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, where Jesus Christ is consumed by the faithful and thus taken directly into their bodies. This revelation of Jesus Christ results in (apo)theosis, where the believer morphs into Christ as God's image and (eventually) achieves the lot of immortality.
The following publications address my work on early Christian mysticism
2016. "Introduction: Religion in the Margins." Pages xv-xxxviii in Religion: Secret Religion. Edited by April D. DeConick. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks on Religion. Farmington Hills: Gale Cengage Learning.
2011. “Mysticism Before Mysticism: Teaching Christian Mysticism as a Historian of Religion.” Pages 26-45 in Teaching Mysticism. Edited by William B. Parsons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2010. “Jesus Revealed: The Dynamics of Early Christian Mysticism.” Pages 299-324 in With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism. Edited by D.V. Arbel and A.A. Orlov. Ekstasis 2. Berlin: DeGruyter.
2008. “Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas.” Pages 206-221 in Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung-Rezeption-Theologie. Edited by Jörg Frey, et al. BZNW 157. Berlin: DeGruyter.
Abstract: This article summarizes DeConick's position on the esotericism in the Gospel of Thomas as representative of an early form of Christian mysticism growing in Syrian soil. It was a mysticism of a "paradise now," an internalization of the apocalypse that recreated Eden within the parameters of the Church, including the transformation of the faithful into Adam and Eve as they were before the Fall. This situation was opportune to develop a mysticism of vision and heavenly journey, a mysticism that represents a precursor to later Eastern Orthodoxy.
2006. “What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?” Pages 1-26 in Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism. Symposium Series 11. Edited by April D. DeConick. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Abstract: This is a programmatic essay, engaging and mapping the field of early Jewish and Christian mysticism. DeConick discusses definitions of mysticism in terms of emic and etic differences. She then covers the tradition in terms of a dynamic bilateral tradition in which the boundaries between what is Jewish and what is Christian are blurred. She moves on to point out the importance of examining the intersection of hermeneutics and religious experience, rather than excluding one of these facets. Communal identities are taken up. She emphasizes that no single social group was responsible for the practices and preservation of this tradition, but rather that various groups familiar with the mystical tradition employed it with different emphases and applications. Next, she turns to describing the "priestly" cosmology that is assumed by the mystical literature. She includes a section on the importance of the internalization of the apocalypse in terms of the development of the mystical tradition. She ends the article with a description of various communal practices within the literature.
1996. “The Dialogue of the Savior and the Mystical Sayings of Jesus.” Pages 178-199 in Vigiliae Christianae 50.
Abstract: This article addresses the process of immortalization emphasized in the Dialogue of the Savior. Like the Gospel of Thomas, this text hermeneutically attempts to offer the reader the correct interpretation of Jesus' sayings, which it claims will immortalize the reader. The author of the Dialogue reassures his reader that he or she can anticipate a transformation associated with ascent, similar to that which is promised in the Gospel of Thomas. But the difference between the two is that the Dialogue continuously instills in the reader that the immortalization will not be pre-mortem. It will only be realized after the flesh is stripped off and destroyed at the time of death.