April DeConick has written an interesting article, Who is Hiding in the Gospel of John? Reconceptualizing Johannine Theology and the Roots of Gnosticism (published as a chapter in Histories of the Hidden God) that coincidentally ties in remarkably well with the view of Roger Parvus (posted in part here) that the Gospel of John is an orthodox redaction of the Gospel of an apostate from Marcionism, Apelles. Not that DeConick argues Parvus’s thesis. In fact she has a different explanation for the evidence she reads in the Gospel. But I think readers of Roger Parvus’s posts here may well think the doctrines April identifies in the Gospel do indeed match the teachings of Apelles the ex-Marcionite .
The Father of the Jews is the Father of the Devil
The passage that sparked April DeConick’s particular interest in the Gospel of John was the Greek working in 8:44
ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστὲ you of the father the devil are
DeConick explains (my bolding):
With the article preceding πατρός, the phrase του διαβόλου is a genitive phrase modifying the nominal phrase έκ του πατρός.. Thus: “You are from the father of the Devil.” If the statement were to mean, as the standard English translation renders it, “You are of the father, the Devil,” then ‘the article preceding πατρός would not be present.
Look at the complete verse as it is normally translated into English:
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (KJV)
“Father of it” does sound a wee awkward. Notice how Youngs Literal Translation treats that last phrase:
. . . . because he is a liar — also his father.
And that’s what April DeConick also points out is the “literal reading of John 8:44f
. . . . because he is a liar and so is his father.
In my posts last month addressing mystical visionary ascents into heaven among Second Temple Jews and early Christians, I made passing references to April DeConick’s Voices of the Mystics. In this book DeConick argues a case that the school responsible for the Fourth Gospel was writing in some form of dialogue with those following the ideology behind the Gospel of Thomas. Recall among the closing scenes in the Gospel of John that Thomas is singled out as the arch-sceptic who will not believe unless he sees. Jesus allows him to see, but then commends all Christians who believe without seeing.
One of the reasons I have been looking at the visionary ascent experiences of Jewish and Christian devotees is to expand my understanding of the nature and place of the vision of Isaiah’s ascent and all that he saw and heard in the Ascension of Isaiah. I began to look at the Ascension of Isaiah in some detail a little while back because of the use made of it by Earl Doherty in his own case for the idea of a pre-gospel Christ being entirely a spirit entity whose saving act occurred within the spirit realm and not on earth. (Paul-Louis Couchoud argued for a similar conclusion.)
Before returning to the Ascension — which describes another ascent, transformation and vision, as well as a descent of a Beloved of God to be crucified by Satan — I complete here the texts I have been looking at that help flesh out the context of such visionary ideas. I conclude with similar thoughts expressed in Paul’s letters, indicating that some of the teachings found there owe something to this form of religious experience as a way to salvation. Both the Qumran and Pauline references are from April DeConick‘s Voices of the Mystics. Continue reading “Qumran and Paul: Echoes of Mystical-Vision Salvation”
One of the reasons I am interested in this topic of visionary experiences is that they help flesh out a tangible environment, on the basis of concrete evidence, from which Christianity emerged. This is in contrast to the model of “oral traditions” being the roots of the canonical gospel narratives. The gospel narratives stand at an opposing polarity from the idea of salvation through a heavenly vision of the divine. April DeConick’s book, Voices of the Mystics, around which this and my previous posts are put together, argues that in the Gospel of John we find strong indications of a debate with Thomasine Christians who did uphold a central importance of the visionary experience. (Note, for example, the criticism of Thomas for believing only because he has seen.)
April DeConick in Voices of the Mystics seeks to expand her readers’ knowledge of vision mysticism in early first-century Christianity, in particular arguing that the Gospel of John was written to oppose the practice as it appears to be endorsed in the Gospel of Thomas. In a recent post I discussed its apparent place in Paul’s experience. DeConick comments on the distinguishing feature of this experience among Jews:
Although the notion that the vision of a god makes one divine was Greek in origin, early Jewish mystics seemed to have welded this idea into their traditions about celestial journeys. Thus, in the Second Temple period, they taught that when one ascended into heaven and gazed on God or his enthroned bodily manifestation, the kabod or ‘Glory’, one was transformed. (p. 49)
Following the publication of Alan F. Segal’s recent book, it is clear that Jewish mysticism must occupy a more central place than has previously been the case in any construction of the matrices of Paul’s experience and thought. (Morray-Jones, C. R. A. 1993, “Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12:1-12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul’s Apostolate. Part 1: The Jewish Sources”, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 86, no. 2, p. 178.)
A number of scholars have suggested that mystical visionary experiences appear to have played a foundational role in the emergence of the Christian religion. (Recently I mentioned Larry Hurtado’s proposal that visionary experiences were at the heart of early Christians coming to exalt Jesus to a divine status.) If the visionary experiences initiated Paul’s missionary work, and we find indications that there were other early apostles basing their authority on similar visions, are we really very far from suggesting that Christianity itself originated in such experiences? Continue reading “Visions that laid a foundation for Christianity?”
Some of the most interesting work I read to help expand my understanding of early Christianity comes not from traditional biblical scholarship but from classical literature and Jewish studies. Here are a few new questions about the religious world from which Christianity emerged I would like to investigate. They came to mind as I read an old article (1971) in the Jewish Quarterly Review by Dr Joseph P. Schultz, Angelic Opposition to the Ascension of Moses and the Revelation of the Law. I really do need to read a lot more from specialist Jewish studies that do not directly attempt to address New Testament literature. I feel such publications are giving me an unfiltered view of the broader context of religious thought contemporaneous with our earliest Christian records.
So what on earth led me to read a 1971 article in the JQR? Blame April DeConick for that. I was following up some footnoted articles, and footnoted articles in those articles, from her Voices of the Mystics (in which she discusses the relationship of the Gospel of John to mystic forms of Christianity), and one of those led me to the 1971 article. It is all interesting stuff when read alongside some of the New Testament epistles and the Ascension of Isaiah, too. But this post confines itself to general questions arising.
. . . . . what is coming home for me in a very real way is just how much the traditions are safe-guarded by the dominant group – be it the mainstream churches or the academy – and how far the dominant group will go to protect them. The interests and preservation of those interests often become the end-all, even at the expense of historical truth. The rationalizations, the apologies, the ‘buts’, the tortured exegesis, the negative labeling, the side-stepping, the illogical claims accumulate until they create an insurmountable wall that preserves both church and academy, which remain (uncomfortably so for me) symbiotic.
The entrenchment of the academy is particularly worrisome for me. Scholars’ works are often spun by other scholars, not to really engage in authentic critical debate or review, but to cast the works in such a way that they can be dismissed (if they don’t support the entrenchment) or engaged (if they do). . . . . The quest for historical knowledge does not appear to me to be the major concern. It usually plays back seat to other issues including the self-preservation of the ideas and traditions of the dominant parties – those who control the churches, and the academy with its long history of alliance with the churches.
I link above to April’s comments on her site, and some of the discussion (and related links) on FRDB.
Forgive me if I happen to see something of James McGrath’s recent exchanges described in the above — although April herself is certainly no “mythicist”.
I am also surprised how her publication The Thirteenth Apostle seems to have made less impact on the popular notion of the “good Judas” than I had expected.
Good grief! If this is the fate of challenging ideas within the guild, anyone with a mythical Jesus view would need rocks in his head to even touch the subject with a mainstream academic.
Not quite on the same wave, but it reminds me of how Gregory Riley’s work in Resurrection Reconsidered was not widely known although his arguments just happened to appear later (with no acknowledged link to Riley’s work, so presumably by sheer coincidence) in a work of the highly marketable author Elaine Pagels. (When Robert Price published the same observation, it was disheartening to think how things really do seem to work in the real world of academe.)
The recent National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas was not based on all the fragments. Some of these had been apparently withheld, fraudulently.
April DeConick has linked to preliminary (private use only) translations by Professor Marvin Meyer of these other Tchacos fragments of the Gospel of Judas. See her post, Ohio Fragments of the Gospel of Judas.
An excerpt on how these fragments came to be separated from the main collection and their significance by Herb Krosney:
All that changed, dramatically, on March 17th, 2008, . . . Ferrini not only admitted that he had withheld materials in 2001. He also . . . . returned to the court an hour or so later with a sort of lawyer’s briefcase with what appeared to be full page fragments inside.
These were delivered to the custody of the court-appointed receiver, . . . . No one in the know . . . . were allowed to see the photographs, . . . .
The photographs were sent to Prof. Gregor Wurst, . . . .
Gregor Wurst was amazed. What he discovered within these materials was essentially the balance of the Gospel of Judas. He could not show the photographs even to his closest colleagues – according to the obligations undertaken in good faith in Ohio.
I have discussed April DeConick’s views in outline previously, including a review of her book on the National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas. (See my Judas archive.)
April and others have given reasons for questioning the National Geographic translation that presents Judas as the hero.