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Archive for the ‘Early Christian literature’ Category

Christian Apocrypha – Tsalampouni reviews Klauck’s Die apokryphe Bibel

Posted by NT Wrong on December 10, 2008

klauckEkaterini G. Tsalampouni is blogging chapter summaries of H.-J. Klauck’s new book, Die apokryphe Bibel (2008). Klauck’s book deals with certain issues arising from the Christian Apocrypha (abbreviated “K.D.” on Ekaterini’s blog). Klauch:

“provides a detailed analysis of seven individual case studies and focuses on the main genres also known from the New Testament. The series of chapters begins with the gospels of Judas, Thomas and Secret Mark. The Apocryphal Acts are represented by the partly funny episodes about humans and animals. Two apocryphal apocalypses of Paul and the correspondence between Seneca and Paul follow. The author then moves on to the often neglected Pseudo-Clementine writings and discusses the magical context between Simon Peter and Simon Magus and the framing and embedded letters. The last chapter is devoted to an extended thematic study of the polymorphic saviour in early Christian writings.”
– Mohr Siebeck blurb

UPDATED – Ekaterini’s Chapter Summaries:

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Posted in Early Christian literature | Comments Off on Christian Apocrypha – Tsalampouni reviews Klauck’s Die apokryphe Bibel

Nick Cave – There is a Kingdom

Posted by NT Wrong on December 2, 2008

Nick Cave’s song, There is a Kingdom picks up on a number of Gnostic and Christian motifs. There’s the idea of the Kingdom of God being within (and, Nick Cave adds, without). He also sings of the human spark unable to be quenched in the darkness (which parallels a single bird singing up the sun in the darkness of the early morning). Cave also employs the Gnostic idea of the material world as mere appearance — but complicates it by ascribing this quality of false appearances to those signs of transcendence that Kant thought he could rely on. What Cave does seem to affirm, instead, is the ephemeral one-off never-to-return dawning day, in all its materiality and lack of transcendence that we can still love. In this way, the Christian-hymnlike qualities of the song and its mystical Gnostic motifs manage to open up a world which is both more mundane and more spirit-filled than the individual Christian and Gnostic motifs it employs.

It’s also a very nice song to listen to:

Here it is, accompanied by some still pictures by one of the videographers of Youtube (as John Lyons refers to them):

Just like a bird that sings up the sun
In a dawn so very dark
Such is my faith for you
Such is my faith
And all the world’s darkness can’t swallow up
A single spark
Such is my love for you
Such is my love

There is a kingdom
There is a king
And he lives without
And he lives within

The starry heavens above me
The moral law within
So the world appears
So the world appears
This day so sweet
It will never come again
So the world appears
Through this mist of tears

    Gospel of Thomas 3:
    Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you,

    ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’
    then the birds of the sky will precede you.
    If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’
    then the fish will precede you.
    Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

    When you know yourselves, then you will be known,
    and you will understand that you are children of the living Father.
    But if you do not know yourselves,
    then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

“Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”
– Immanuel Kant

Posted in Early Christian literature, Faith, Music | 3 Comments »

More Heresy Hunting

Posted by NT Wrong on November 8, 2008

servetusTony Burke’s ‘Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium’, on the Aug 2008 SBL Forum, has certainly lit a fire under the Defenders of Orthodoxy. And you thought it was only the Heretics that got burnt at the stake!

In the November 2008 SBL Forum, Darrell L. Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary has written what on the face of it appears to be a point-by-point rejoinder to Burke. Yes, I said “on the face of it”, because — while Darrell Bock was only one of the modern ‘heresy hunters’ discussed by Tony Burke (along with Ben Witherington, Timothy Paul Jones, J. Ed Komoszewski, Philip Jenkins, Stanley Porter, Gordon L. Heath, Craig Evans, and Bishop N.T. Wright) — Bock replies to every point made only in respect of himself. That is, even when Burke’s point was about completely different scholars, Bock only adduces evidence from his own books in reply. Bock goes so far as to pronounce that Tony Burke’s point is simply “wrong” (which is the entire content of Bock’s first sentence of rejoinder) based only on his own books — even when the point concerned completely different scholars. So, what at first glance appears to be a point-by-point rejoinder is in fact a rather strange claim of “not me!”

Yet where Darrell Bock does actually recognize that Tony Burke’s points concern quite different writings by quite different scholars, he tends to agree with Tony Burke! As the only example where Bock discusses one of the other alleged ‘heresy hunters’ (Ben Witherington), Bock agrees that Ben Witherington does in fact go “over the line” in impugning the motives of Christian Apocrypha scholars, and that Witherington is “condescending” and “judgmental”. This doesn’t stop Darrell Bock from going on, in the very next sentence, to make the same insinuation about their motives, however. After all, why waste a chance to make an apologetic point against Christian Apocrypha scholars?

So, it’s a disappointing (non-)response — failing to address the specific charges levelled by Tony Burke, missing the point by limiting himself to a defence of his own books. It doesn’t matter that this is what Darrell Bock announces he will do, because in pursuing such an inappropriate method, his attempted response simply fails to address the specific points made in Tony Burke’s original article.

See now: Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed

Posted in Academia, Early Christian literature, Fundamentalism | 19 Comments »

Christmas Comes Early – From Margaret Barker

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Available from today, October 23, 2008, is Margaret Barker‘s latest book, Christmas: The Original Story. Margaret Barker is former President of the Society for Old Testament Study and author of a number of books on Enochic Judaism and the Jewish Temple.

“I’ll be interested to see how the public reacts to it, because, the Christmas story is something that’s got a lot of emotional capital tied up in it. I think if I were to write a radical book about Obadiah, no one would worry as much. But when you’re doing a Christmas story people [say], ‘oh hands off, that’s ours, don’t touch it’. But I hope I have set it in its real historical and cultural sense, so that people can glimpse maybe what the authors were really writing…”
— Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker discusses her new book in a taped conversation over lunch with William Hamblin. You can even watch Margaret Barker eating!

It is entirely coincidental that the date of release coincides with the date the world was created, as cleverly determined by Bishop Ussher.

Posted in Books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Jesus & Christ | 2 Comments »

April DeConick answers my question: Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 15, 2008

The prolific and discerning April DeConick has kindly provided an answer to my question concerning the nature of Jewish and Christian belief in the divine in the early centuries of the Common Era.

“My point is this. Early Judaism and Christianity were not monotheistic religions, but were at best monolatrous (=worshiped one god but allowed for the existence of other gods). It was because of this that Christianity was able to be born out of Judaism as a Jewish expression of a new form of Yahwehism, and Gnosticism could become the fancy of Jewish intellectuals living in first-century Alexandria.”
– April DeConick, ‘Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?’

Have a read of her whole response here. I’m largely in agreement with her. But I like the distinctive way she has expressed it.

Is this how you have been led to understand early Jewish and Christian religions?

Posted in Divine Intermediaries, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, God, Jesus & Christ | Comments Off on April DeConick answers my question: Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?

Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium

Posted by NT Wrong on October 13, 2008

In a new article on the SBL Forum, Tony Burke looks at modern conservative Christian writers who attempt to ‘refute’ ‘enemies’ such as liberal scholars, the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, and non-canonical Christian Apocrypha. He compares them to the heresy hunters of old, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus.

As Tony Burke shows, there seem to be a number of specious and misleading techniques which are shared not only by ancient heresiologists, but also by apologists such as Ben Witherington III, Darrell Bock, Timothy Paul Jones, J. Ed Komoszewski, Philip Jenkins, Stanley Porter, Gordon L. Heath, Craig Evans, and N.T. Wright.

“A cottage industry of books has emerged in the past few years responding to apparent “attacks” on the Christian faith by such perceived enemies as the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, and the discoverers of the so-called Jesus Tomb. Targeted also in these books are the texts of the Christian Apocrypha (CA). The books are transparently apologetic with the aim of disparaging the CA and the Gnostics who (they say) wrote them so that their readers will cease being troubled by thei[r] texts’ claims. The problem with such books, at least from the perspective of those who value the CA, is that they often misrepresent the texts, their authors, and the scholars who study them. Proper research and sober argument take a back seat to the apologists’ goal of buttressing the faith.”

Full article from Tony Burke, ‘Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium’, here.

Mind you, the folk that Tony Burke exposes are perhaps just the most blatant offenders in a ‘discipline’ which is riddled with the type of apologetic reasoning which would just be laughed at in other branches of the Humanities.

See now: Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Early Christian literature, Fundamentalism | 8 Comments »

Dreams of Ascent and Resurrection: New Book from Frances Flannery et al

Posted by NT Wrong on October 3, 2008

The SBL October 2008 Newsletter announces the publication of Experientia, Volume 1: Inquiry into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity, edited by Frances Flannery, Colleen Shantz, Rodney A. Werline. Frances Flannery (aka Flannery-Dailey) is author of the masterful guide to ancient Jewish vision reports, Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (2004) and founding editor of GOLEM: Journal of Religion and Monsters. The new book looks a useful resource, especially in light of recent discussions on this blog of visionary experiences of Jesus’ resurrection.

Publisher’s blurb:

This collection investigates the phenomenon of religious experience in early Judaism and early Christianity. The essays consider such diverse phenomena as scribal inspiration, possession, illness, ascent, theurgy, and spiritual transformation wrought by reading, and recognize that the texts are reflective of the lived experiences of ancient religious peoples, which they understood to be encounters with the divine. Contributors use a variety of methodologies, including medical anthropology, neurobiology, and ritual and performance studies, to move the investigation beyond traditional historical and literary methodologies and conclusions to illuminate the importance of experience in constructions of ancient religion.

Posted in Apocalyptic, Books, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Gospels, Jesus & Christ, Judeo-Christian Practices | Comments Off on Dreams of Ascent and Resurrection: New Book from Frances Flannery et al

The Beer of Death: Samael’s Ale

Posted by NT Wrong on September 28, 2008

From June 2008, Avery Brewing, of Boulder Colorado, have offered a strong ale by the name of “Samael’s Ale”. Samael is the angel of death in early Judaism, the Demiurge according to the Gnostic Apocryphon of John, and one of the seven archangels according to Pope Gregory the Great (ca. AD 540 – 604). At 14.5% alcohol, Samael’s Ale may well live up to its name.

Samael’s Ale is one of the ales in Avery Brewing’s ‘Demons of Ale’ series, which also includes ‘The Beast’ and ‘Mephistopheles’ Stout’.

Posted in Divine Intermediaries, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature | 2 Comments »

Resurrection: From Visionary Ascent to Vision Of Ascent

Posted by NT Wrong on September 26, 2008

In many early Christian texts, there is a curiously close connection between the complex of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and heavenly exaltation on one hand and the visionary ascension experiences of the authors who describe this complex on the other. For example:

    In The Ascension of Isaiah 6, Isaiah induces a trance that results in the separation of his visionary soul from his stationary body. David Halperin describes the scene as a “vivid and realistic-sounding account of a shamanistic trance”, which most probably reflects the author’s actual visionary experience(s) (Faces of the Chariot, 1988:66). The requirement for passwords during descent, physical transformation of the visionary into angelic form, and angelic opposition to human ascent all suggest a visionary experience. The Ascension of Isaiah alternates between the ascensions and transformations of the visionary ‘Isaiah’, and the ascension of Christ – a strong indication of the influence of the author’s visionary experiences on his depiction of the ascension of Christ.

    A wide range of visionary ascent motifs is again present in the Odes of Solomon, where Christ’s descent to Hades and ascent to heaven is celebrated in hymns or odes. Likewise, the visionary or odist experiences transformation into a heavenly figure, mystical union, ascension in a merkavah, avoidance of evils and dangers in ascent, and engages with an angelus interpres figure. All of this strongly suggests that the description of Christ’s victory of evil and ascent to heaven were created from visionary experiences which themselves involved overcoming evil in an ascent to heaven.

    The Revelation of John provides yet another mixture of visionary heavenly ascent with an account of Christ’s own ascent. In Revelation 4.1, John sees a “door opened in heaven”, and for the remainder of the book is “in the spirit”, experiencing a series of visions. John’s vision of his ascent to heaven involves a vision of Christ’s descent, defeat of Satan and ascent into heaven and exaltation (Revelation 12.1-9). In Revelation 1.13-18, John’s initial vision of the One like the Son of Man makes reference to his death providing freedom from Death and Hades.

David Catchpole contends that the first Synoptic account of Christ’s ascension, in Mark 16.1-8, is itself in the genre of a vision or epiphany, suggesting its original source in a visionary experience (“The Fearful Silence of the Women at the Tomb”, 1977). I argued that this provides a sound historical-critical understanding of how Mark 16.1-8 came to be written. As Jane Schaberg points out, many of the elements of an apocalyptic vision are present: an early morning time conducive to induction of visions, report of amazement, angelic calming, angelic message, commission to tell others, and resulting terror and silence (Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, 2003: 359). In addition, Christopher Rowland argues that the baptism, temptation and transfiguration all bear the mark of autobiographical visionary reports – the last of which, the transfiguration, has often been read as a form of resurrection account (The Open Heaven, 1982: 359).

In 2 Corinthians 12.2-4, Paul claims he could receive ecstatic visions that allowed him to travel even to the highest heaven, to uncover the secrets and mysteries that laid within that realm. The account refers to visions and revelations received from the Lord on his ascension to the third heaven or “Paradise”. In that place Paul heard heavenly secrets and mysteries, or αρρητα ρήματα (with assonance, “words that cannot be spoken”) or words ουκ εξоν ανθρώπω λαλησαι (“not permitted for a person to speak”). Paul believed that the visionary appearance of the post-resurrection Christ to him vindicated his equal status as apostle. Paul claims to “see” the resurrected Christ just as Jesus’ companions had seen him. Paul uses the same word (“see”) to describe resurrection appearances to himself that he does for the appearances to Jesus’ companions (Galatians 1.1; 1 Corinthians 9.1; 15.8-9). Given that the earliest understanding was the Jesus had appeared to apostles from heaven, the use of the same vocabulary is completely understandable. Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul claims that his direct acquisition of knowledge by way of his personal visionary experiences provide a defence of his apostolic status (Galatians 1.1). Just as Jesus appeared from heaven to the other disciples, calling them to apostleship, now Paul believes that Jesus has appeared to him in the same way.

“Paul therefore does not distinguish between the kind of appearance made known to him and those made known to his forebears” (Alan Segal, Paul the Convert, 1990: 15).

Visionary experiences of ascent and descent constantly coincidence with the narrative descriptions of the ascended, victorious and exalted Christ in earliest Christianity. It is therefore very probable that such experiences greatly influenced the earliest conceptualisations of Christ’s own ascent and victory over the powers of evil.

From his examination of New Testament and other early Christian works, Timo Eskola finds that “[t]he writings of Jewish mysticism were exploited in the construction of early Christology” (Messiah and the Throne, 2001: 289). Early Jewish mysticism centred on ascension to the throne of God, that is, the merkavah. The Jewish mystical experiences can be traced back to the merkavah visions narrated in Ezekiel. For example, in the Self-Glorification Hymn from Qumran, an unidentified person relates how he ascended to heaven in order to receive instruction, boasts of his exalted position above the angels, sits down on the heavenly throne, and believes he will be vindicated against his enemies. Philip Alexander concludes that the text, which was used hymnically to induce visionary experiences, demonstrates an active and ongoing practice of ascent and heavenly transformation in Qumran (Mystical Texts, 2006: 85-90). Given the Christian theme of exaltation by heavenly enthronement at the right hand of God, which was inseparably a part of resurrection and ascension to heaven in earliest Christianity, Eskola concludes, “Merkabah speculation is a most suitable environment for the description of Christ’s heavenly enthronement”. For example, the very vision of ‘Isaiah’ in which Ascension of Isaiah 6-11 is set provides “the context to which [exaltation Christology] originally belonged” (Messiah and the Throne, 286, 288). That is, these writings about heavenly exaltation and vindication of enemies were created by visionaries who had experienced very similar mystical experiences. The first visions were of an exalted Christ who had ascended to the throne of God. It follows that there is no real ’empty tomb’ or ‘stone in front of the tomb’ at this stage. Such details were only added when the visionary story of a heavenly ascended Christ was developed into a story of an earthly resurrected Christ.

So arguably, therefore, the development of Christian traditions about Christ’s resurrection and exaltation are most explicable as developing from the imaginative visionary ascent practices of Christians who wrote about Christ’s own ascent. Beginning with passages such as Daniel 12.1-2, Jewish ascent traditions made strong links between martyrdom/suffering, resurrection, ascent, and exaltation, astral and otherwise (Segal, “Heavenly Ascent in Hellenistic Judaism”, 1980: 1369). The popular Christian apologetic — that the idea of an human ascending to heaven before the end-times is a ‘new idea’ which could only be conceived through a physical post-resurrection appearance — is therefore soundly refuted. Jesus’ claim to be the Enochic Son of Man, combined with his followers’ celebration of his death as victory over evil, and their visions of his ascension into glory all combined to produce a variant of Enochic Judaism now centred on Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian use of the martyrdom-ascension-visionary tradition involved a “real interplay” between the inherited Jewish pattern and the particular Christian visions and reflections concerning Jesus’ death and the particular claim he was the exalted Son of Man. In this way, traditional Jewish visionary practices of ascent and descent produced the Christian tradition of Christ’s own incarnational descent and ascent.

See also:
Part One: The Resurrection of Jesus as Mass Hallucination
Part Two: Women Witnesses – Visions of The Resurrection of Jesus

Posted in Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Gospels, Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 1 Comment »

Women Witnesses – Visions of The Resurrection of Jesus

Posted by NT Wrong on September 25, 2008

The canonical Gospels all include stories of women who see the resurrected Jesus. Why women? In a world in which the opinions of men were much more greatly esteemed than those of women, why all these stories about women seeing the resurrected Jesus?

The simple explanation must be that it was in fact women who had the earliest visions of Jesus. Women followers of Jesus, not men, were the first to experience visions of Jesus after his death. And it is these stories which became central to the vision reports of the resurrected Jesus which were later incorporated into the gospels.

In the first century AD, women had limited roles to play in preaching and public speaking. But when it came to visions, vision reports, and prophecy, women had a special position. In fact, visionary experiences are, across many cultures, one of the limited number of ways that a woman can express herself religiously with authority. In her study of medieval visionary experiences (Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism), Grace Jantzen considers this is the major explanatory factor for the high proportion of women visionaries. Any authority women claimed for themselves would require a very special validation in the face of male hegemony — and a prime validation was a vision of the glorified heavenly Jesus.

“Given all the other restrictions on women, along with the expectations of the time, it is not at all surprising that women might be more open than men to visionary experiences in the first place, make more of them when they occurred, and use them as the basis for their authority as teachers of authority and spirituality.”
– Grace Jantzen, 169

A study by Jerome Kroll and Bernard Bachrach, of 134 vision reports from the 8th-12th centuries, demonstrates how visionary experiences were an opportunity for the downtrodden, oppressed, poor, and women to express themselves. Some 49% of visionaries, in their large survey, were either men without rank or women, despite the literature being read by a small elite of the population. Similarly, the majority of leaders in the Nineteenth Century Spiritualist Movement were women.

Female visionaries thrived in the earliest Church. The fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2.17-18 stresses both men and women as recipients. Philip’s four daughters prophesy (Acts 21.9). In Luke 2.36-37, the prophet Anna lives in the Temple and is the first to preach about Jesus — to all in Jerusalem. In addition, the Corinthian women prophesied (1 Cor 11.5). Furthermore, a number of Gnostic sources testify that Mary Magdalene was a significant visionary in earliest Christianity (Epiphanius, Pan 26.8.1-3; Pistis Sophia; Gospel of Mary). Also, Juvenal attests to a ‘priestess’ in Jerusalem in the first century AD who acted as a dream interpreter (Satires 6.542).

So, while it was rare for women to write religious works in the first century AD, women were well represented as visionaries. The religious pattern across many cultures, as well as the particularities of the earliest Christian Church point in the same direction: if a vision report existed, there was a fair probability that women would be behind it.

What does this mean for the Gospel accounts? As the resurrection accounts are likely derived from vision reports, it was not unexpected, and in fact was quite likely that the vision reports should derive from women.

So, we should turn the popular apologetic on its head. Some popular Christian apologists have claimed that the stories of sightings of the resurrected Jesus by women must be factual:

“Given the second-class status of women in first-century Palestine and their inability to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court, it is amazing they should appear here as the discoverers and chief witnesses to the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb, for so unreliable a witness was an embarassment to the Christian proclamation.”
– William Lane Craig, Jesus’ Resurrection, 177.

The contrary conclusion should now be made. Due to the fact that visionary experiences comprised one of the few ways for women to express themselves religiously in the first century AD — they were restricted from public leadership and even giving witness in a public court — these stories probably derive from women’s visionary experiences. Paul might have been successful in removing the first, female vision accounts of the resurrection from his list of ‘post-resurrection appearances’. But the Gospel writers have preserved these accounts — even as they have attempted to make them secondary to other accounts attributed to various men in the gospels. So we see that the explanation of the gospels’ resurrection accounts in terms of vision reports has the greater historical evidence and greater explanatory power.

See also:
Part One: The Resurrection of Jesus as Mass Hallucination
Part Three: Resurrection: From Visionary Ascent to Vision Of Ascent

Posted in Early Christian literature, Gospels, Jesus & Christ | 7 Comments »