There is not a lot to say about the use of chronological markers in Acts. There aren’t many.
Since my previous post on looking at the preface to Acts in the context of contemporary prefaces, I have added a new section in that same post on the conventions of those prefaces. I have included it separately again here below.
I have also added the most obvious omission in my previous post, the preface of Acts itself. It is interesting to compare it with other prefaces to histories, and note not only Cadbury’s comments on where it fails to meet expected conventional standards, but also to observe the remarkable failure of the author to declare the purpose or contents of the work it is introducing. (Cadbury raises the possibility that the original preface may have been tampered with in order to account for this failure to match expected convention.) Continue reading “Ancient prologues: Conventions and an oddity of the Acts preface”
The radio site blurb: For Ian Bryce, Senate candidate for the Secular Party, religion causes strife, while a ‘truly secular society’ ensures the wellbeing of its citizens and the peace of the planet. He joins philosopher John Bacon and former Anglican priest Mark Vernon to explore the secular alternative.
Mark Vernon is also author of After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life.
Still accessible as a podcast download or live-streaming — perhaps to be available in transcript soon — here.
Richard Pervo (Profit with Delight) compares Acts with ancient novels and finds striking resemblances. We tend to resist finding the thrill of novelistic adventure and humour in the books of the Bible. Holy books are supposed to be read with much gravitas, after all. But Pervo’s comparison with ancient novels has persuaded him that Acts shared their particular qualities that excited and entertained his audiences. I have read many ancient novels over recent years — and many ancient historians over a longer period of time — and fully agree with him.
Roger Pearse has noted the very quiet release of the critical edition of the gospel in contrast to the sensational publicity of the initial translation.
Roger has compiled there a vast list of reports that together show the “curious backstory” to the whole saga leading to the National Geographic’s release of the gospel.
DeConick comments on the critical edition in her book:
At this time, the critical edition of the Tchacos Codex has just been released by National Geographic. Now begins the long and arduous process of critically evaluating the transcription against the photographs and the originals. So any translation remains provisional until this evaluation is completed. (p.65)
Following is an excerpt and two YouTube video clip links from a Queensland Greens notice to party members concerning the coming election:
I have been rethinking Mark’s Last Passover scene in the light of:
- the obligations guests have towards their host at a meal
- the two earlier feedings of the 5000 and the 4000
- other themes found in common between Mark’s gospel and the Gospel of Judas
- and the inclusio structure in which the eucharist is narrated
- the original meaning of the (Pauline) eucharist underlying 1 Corinthians 10-11
#3 — my recent reading of DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle — kicked me into bringing together other perspectives on the eucharist I had been playing with for some time. It was as if the Gospel of Judas as translated by DeConick is the final licence to run with my suspicions that Mark, too, was attacking the eucharist ritual as savagely as he was the Twelve themselves.
The National Geographic had a best seller on its hands when it published the Gospel of Judas that presented Judas as the hero of the Twelve rather than the villain as he is in the canonical gospels.
But the significance is not just that in one version Judas is a hero and in the other he is as bad as ever. DeConick’s translation (see previous post regarding her book) gives us a second century gospel that was ridiculing that branch of Christianity that claimed descent from the Twelve Apostles and that has bequeathed us the “orthodox” teaching about the sacrifice of Jesus.
National Geographic has bound to secrecy those scholars it hired to do the work of translation. Those scholars are unable to answer questions from other scholars about translation issues and what eventually appeared in the National Geographic publication of the gospel.
In at least one instance, however, DeConick reports that the National Geographic translators have reconsidered their translation and independently come to her view of a corrected translation (p.54 of The Thirteenth Apostle)
April DeConick has published her translation of the Coptic gospel and compared it with some of the more sensational passages in the National Geographic version. Unlike the translators for the National Geographic, she is able to discuss the issues behind her translations, and her discussions with scholarly peers in regard to the translations, both hers and those appearing in National Geographic.
Here are some of the more notable contrasts between National Geographic’s and April DeConick’s translations:
Spirit or Demon (p. 44.21 of the gospel)
And when Jesus heard this, he laughed and said to him, “You thirteenth spirit, why do you try so hard?”
When Jesus heard (this), he laughed. He said to him, “Why do you compete (with them), O Thirteenth Demon?”
DeConick further outlines the history of the word for demon (daimon), explaining that it had lost the benign meaning it held in the early classical era and had taken on the negative attributes we associate with the word in later Greek philosophical writings. More specifically, “When the word daimon is used in Gnostic sources, it is applied frequently and consistently to the rebellious Archons and their malicious assistants.”
“You will exceed all of them” or “You will do worse than all of them” (p. 56.18 of the gospel)
But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man who bears me.
Yet you will do worse than all of them. For the man that clothes me, you will sacrifice him.
The National Geographic translation implies that Judas is destined to perform the greatest and most heroic act by sacrificing Jesus for the salvation of all. But DeConick believes the context in the gospel requires another understanding: Jesus is saying that Judas will “exceed” in the sense of “do worse” than all of these by offering the body of Jesus himself for a sacrifice.
DeConick’s explanation for her disagreement with the National Geographic translation is that the critical words take their meaning from its context. The discussion preceding these lines is negative, but lines are missing from the text, so the National Geographic is able to begin the passage with a new meaning. DeConick argues that despite the missing lines the negative discussion earlier justifies her correction to the negative meaning.
How negative was the earlier passage? It speaks of offering sacrifices to Saklas (a chief Archon assisting the Demiurge or lower god of this world). The specific nature of the sacrifices described earlier were sacrifices of children and wives. These sacrifices were accompanied by homosexual acts. Jesus is saying that Judas will “exceed” in the sense of “do worse” than all of these by offering the body of Jesus himself for a sacrifice.
Other translation differences
National Geographic’s “Set me apart for” becomes “Separated me from” (p. 4617)
“Could it be that my seed is under the control of the rulers?” becomes “At no time may my seed control the archons!” (p. 46.6-7)
“They will curse your ascent to the holy [generation]” becomes “And you will not ascend to the holy [generation]” (p. 46.25)
“Your star has shone brightly” becomes “Your star has ascended” (p. 56.23) (The significance of this change is that the latter corrected translation means the fate of Judas is sealed. The meaning is negative in this context.)
Correcting the National Geographic Myths about Judas (pp. 60-61 of The Thirteenth Apostle)
April DeConick sums up the sensational but false attributes of Judas sold by the National Geographic and compares their claims with her discussions with peers about this translation, and with her own revised translation. In my paraphrase:
- Judas is the most enlightened of the gnostics — actually a demon
- Judas ascends to the holy generation — actually Judas is separated from the holy generation and will not ascend there
- Judas performs a righteous act by betraying Jesus (Jesus wants to be betrayed) — Judas does the worst thing of all by sacrificing Jesus
- Judas will be able to enter the divine realm — actually Judas cannot enter the heavenly house
- As the thirteenth, Judas surpasses the twelve disciples and is blessed — Judas does far worse than the twelve and will lament and mourn his fate
I have only sketched a barest outline of what DeConick writes here. But enough, I hope, to give the general idea that we need to move beyond the National Geographic publication of this gospel.
Related post: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says
Critical edition of the Gospel of Judas / Tchacos Codex — which includes link to Roger Pearse’s site, The Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot)
Also Mark’s attack on the eucharist draws in part on DeConick’s Gospel of Judas.
I have just finished reading April DeConick‘s new book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. So many comments need to be made directed at so many interests:
- Firstly, the book is easily accessible to the lay reader even though it discusses technical translation issues of the Coptic, as well as some of the history of the scholarship relating to the Gospel of Judas and its broader context.
- Secondly, for most of us who have read the National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas, be prepared for a radical re-think of what we have read there. The National Geographic translation depicts Judas as the only true saint; DeConick’s, as the arch demon himself — or at least destined to join with him in the end.
- Which immediately raises the question: Why would a gospel make the central character a demon? DeConick shows how the apparent structure and thematic development of the gospel aligns it with an agenda opposing that Christianity that traced its genealogy back to the Twelve Apostles. Like the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Judas was a parody and attack on apostolic Christianity and its doctrine of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
- Fourthly, April DeConick proposes several reasons to explain such oppositional translations:
- She explains in easy to read terms the condition of the text and possible variations in how the original Coptic could be read;
- She suggests with Professor Louis Painchaud that since World War 2 and the Holocaust, and the widespread anti-Semitism preceding those years, there has been a powerful cultural need to absolve our collective guilt over the treatment of the Jews. And this compulsion has led us to reappraise our portrayals of the bad Jew/Judah/Judas embedded in our foundational Christian myth. So much for Maloney and Archer’s collaboration on their fictional cum theological treatise of their Judas gospel!
- DeConick even has an interesting section that surveys the different films of Jesus before and since World War 2 and compares particularly the portrayal of Judas in those pre- and those post-Holocaust movies — in the pre-war movies he was always an evil villain through and through; in the post-war movies he has been depicted with more understanding and compassion — a well-meaning idealist who just happened not to think the same way as Jesus;
- DeConick gives enough information about the transmission of the text and the role of National Geographic in its initial public translation to alert the reader to possible motives and controls at work other than those normally associated with scholarly professionalism.
- The book gives a clear overview of the nature of the Christian world in the second century, showing that Apostolic Christianity (claiming descent from the Twelve Apostles) was only one branch; others explained are Marcionites, Ebionites, the Church of the New Prophecy (Montanism) and those diverse others traditionally labeled Gnostics.
- Sixthly, the book gives one of the most readable introductions to the intricacies of (Sethian) gnosticism I have ever read. Anyone who has started out cold and attempted to grasp the cosmology of the Sethian gnostics from the Nag Hammadi texts alone as they are presented in the most accessible translations will appreciate this the most.
- For Gospel of Mark lovers such as myself I was especially interested in DeConick’s comparisons with the theology and attitudes towards the Twelve Disciples in the Gospel of Mark. My mind cartwheeled as I read. What needs to be worked through, I was thinking, was not just the similarities between the Judas and Mark Gospels’ dismissiveness of the Twelve, but the fact that both gospels are addressing in many ways the same theological (and church genealogical) issues. Could they really be separated by as much as 100 years as orthodox datings propose?
- Also closely related to the Gospel of Mark is the way both that gospel and the Judas gospel demonstrate that it is the demons who have the superior understanding of who Jesus really was. (Even Peter’s confession appears tainted with some form of demon-possession given that Jesus calls him Satan at the same moment as his confession.) Even the demons understand more than the apostles!
- DeConick provides a clear and easy to read account of the “orthodox” reaction to the theology expressed in the Gospel of Judas. This culminated with Origen’s formulation of the doctrine of Jesus’ sacrifice as a ransom and atonement to trick the Devil and rescue humanity from his power.
- The Thirteenth Gospel was one of the very few books where I was drawn to read all the appendices:
- DeConick’s annotated bibliography of the Gospel of Judas, second-century Christianity, the New Testament Apocrypha and Gnosis and the Gnostics;
- her annotated synopsis of Sethian Gospel literature;
- her annotated citations of the testimony from the Church Fathers on the Gospel of Judas;
- and finally a Q&A section with April DeConick. This summed up some of the common questions asked about the Gospel of Judas (why is it appearing only now, why such opposing translations, what is the position of other scholars given such opposing translations, early Christianity and the role of Judas. . . .)
I can see myself returning regularly to this book in future references on this blog. (Especially in relation to my special interest in studies relating to the Gospel of Mark and Christian origins.)
Almost forgot — Yes, the book contains a complete and new translation — with commentary — of the Gospel of Judas.
NOTE: Wikipedia’s article on The Gospel of Judas is in urgent need of updating since April DeConick’s book!
The only point I did not like about the book was one that is really a matter of my own idiosyncratic taste. The offending “no no” paragraphs were an attempt to justify the relevance of the gospel to today in terms of its addressing issues of authority — does it come from without, or from our consciences within? That might appeal to those who like to immerse themselves in the minds and philosophies of the ancient and who attempt to bring them into our modern questions. But for one such as myself I find no need for justifying my interest other than the fact that the gospel helps inform us better of the origins and nature of early Christianity.
Related posts found at my Judas tag
See also Opposing translation — further discussion of one section of DeConick’s book.
Critical edition of the Gospel of Judas / Tchacos Codex — which includes link to Roger Pearse’s site, The Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot)
Why is my grief mingled with anger and not pride? And why am I continually haunted every Anzac day by the recollection of a very different Anzac day service tone so many years ago? Continue reading “myths of war, grapes of wrath”
Some churches read the zillions of verses in the Bible the way psychics read tea leaves. If those church goers compared how astrologers read horoscopes or the way ancient priests compared the entrails of a sheep with the political issues of the state, they would have to admit that despite the difference in their tools, the methods of divining the sacred will are identical.
- The first step in all three is that there has to exist a belief that there is a divine or paranormal architecture underlying the seemingly disparate signs and clues and that this divine or paranormal structure reaches out to embrace even the mind and insights of the reader. Continue reading ““scripture interpreting scripture”, a branch of the mantic and the occult”
Peter Singer is a moral philosopher currently based at Princeton University (see his Princeton homepage). He is most famous for his pioneering work on animal liberation but has advanced his utilitarian philosophy into a range of other controversial public areas as well. He has expressed disappointment that his arguments for alleviating human misery have been less influential than those he was expressed to reduce animal suffering.
The Singer Solution to World Poverty is a timeless argument, elegant in its simplicity and lacking only in suggestions that are consistent with what people have become habituated to doing and thinking. (And as “Bad” commented, it is essentially a discussion of Peter Unger’s argument in his 1996 Living High and Letting Die.)
But let’s compare relatively modern utilitarian ethics (judging an action to be right or wrong according to its consequences) with the ancient ethics of Jesus in relation to the poor. Continue reading “The ethics of Peter Singer and Jesus compared”