York Christian Apocrypha Symposium 2015, a Retrospective

This year I had the privilege of giving a paper at the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, a conference on apocryphal literature put together by Tony Burke and Brent Landau at York University in Toronto.

The conference itself was relatively IMG_0354small —  19 presenters and a handful of others in the audience — and it was therefore a nice change from the utter enormity of the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, which has grown to the point of being almost unmanageable. Quite a few of us live-tweeted the presentations under the hashtag #YCAS2015. And James McGrath was diligent about live blogging all of the sessions, which you can access below:

Panel 1; Panel 2; Panel 3; Panel 4; Panel 5; Panel 6

Notes on Bart Ehrman’s keynote address on forgery are available here.

And an overview of the final panel on the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is available here.

IMG_0351As it turns out, this was actually the last year for the York Symposium, at least in its current form. There will be another symposium in 2017, in Ottawa, under the auspices of the newly-established North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL). The current board of this exciting new group has some fantastic ideas for future initiatives, and I would recommend joining if you are interested in the Christian Apocrypha.

*The first photo is of the last panel of the symposium, on the reception of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Pictured from left to right are Brent Landau, Carrie Schroeder, James McGrath, Mark Goodacre, and Janet Spittler. The second photo is of Tony Burke introducing Bart Ehrman before his keynote.

Recapping SBL 2013

This post is tardy, as I returned home from the SBL meeting in Baltimore a week ago. But with the Thanksgiving holiday beginning right after I got back, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit and organize my thoughts!

As usual, the conference was a healthy combination of exhilarating and exhausting: papers to see, a paper to give, friends to catch up with, crab cakes to eat (we were in Baltimore, after all), and books to buy. And speaking of books…

The book room is always one of the highlights of SBL. My approach to the spread has changed over the years. When I first started attending, I would buy anything that looked interesting to me. Then, as I began to approach the dissertation stage, I restricted myself to books that were only directly related to my dissertation research. Now, as I troll the aisles, I’m on the lookout for books that might inspire future research projects as well as resources that may be valuable in the classroom. This year I found myself talking with several publishers about their products, sharing with them what I liked and what I wished they did better. All of them, I think, were happy to listen to feedback.

Last year I left with five books and a pamphlet. This year I came away with the following:

  1. From the Accordance booth, I picked up the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha module. It was a total splurge, and slightly superfluous; the OTP aren’t really on my current research radar, but I do hope that they will be in the future. I have been really impressed with the collection so far. Like all Accordance modules, it is well done.
  2. From InterVarsity Press, I picked up Andrew Louth’s Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. Definitely not related to my research, at least not directly. This was a purchase for the classroom. I have realized lately that I have an inadequate understanding of nearly all things Orthodox, so this past weekend I was in search of a resource that would help me fix this.
  3. From Wipf & Stock, whose products I am drawn to more and more every year, I picked up two books: Margaret Ramey’s The Quest for the Fictional Jesus and Steven Walker’s Illuminating Humor of the BibleThe first is intended to inform one of my assignments for next semester, a book review of a fictional “Jesus novel.” And the second is meant to feed my interest in biblical humor, an interest that I attribute to a paper of Bruce Longenecker’s at SBL a few years ago.
  4. The award for the publisher who drew the majority of my attention goes to Eerdmans. Seriously, I spent an hour at their booth and I left wanting more. I ended up picking up Tony Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealeda new introduction to Christian Apocrypha; Vernon Robbins’s Who Do People Say I Am?another book on Christian apocrypha that is somewhat similar in aim to my own research; Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective, because I’ve heard good things; and Andrew T. Lincoln’s Born of a Virgin?because I just can’t help myself.

One of my biggest regrets is that my list of purchases from Eerdmans does not include Richard Bauckham’s much-anticipated Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical ScripturesI have been looking at pre-publication proofs of this book for what seems like two years. For some reason, it has taken a long time to complete. And for what seems like the past two years, every time I’ve seen a copy of the proofs I’ve said to myself, “The minute I can buy this book, I will.” Well, that didn’t happen, but not because it’s a bad book. To the contrary, seeing the completed product makes me want one even more. No, the problem last weekend was the size of the book — I had a terrible backache for the bulk of the conference, and I simply could not imagine adding this massive tome to my bag and trucking it through the airport. Amazon to the rescue, I suppose.

Next year in San Diego!

On Reading Apocryphal Narratives

Today, whilst reading some Jerome, I stumbled upon the following gem from his Epistulae, in which he instructs a certain Laeta on how to raise her daughter:

Let her avoid all apocryphal writings, and if she is led to read such not by the truth of the doctrines which they contain but out of respect for the miracles contained in them; let her understand that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that many faulty elements have been introduced into them, and that it requires infinite discretion to look for gold in the midst of dirt (Epist. 107.12).

Gold in the midst of dirt? Ouch, Jerome. Ouch.

Wonder what he’d say about those of us who write dissertations on apocryphal writings?

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary or, as it is known in the East, The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos [God-Bearer] into the Temple.

The earliest attestation of this tradition is in the Proto-Gospel of James (Protevangelium Jacobi):

When the child turned three, Joachim said, ‘Let us call the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews. Let each of them take a lamp, and let each stand burning so that the child might not turn back and her heart be captivated by things outside the temple of the Lord.’ This is what they did until they came up to the temple of the Lord. And the priest welcomed her, kissed her, blessed her, and said, ‘The Lord God has magnified your name among all generations. In you the Lord will manifest his redemption to the sons of Israel in the last days.’ He placed her on the third step of the altar, and God showered her with grace. She danced with her feet, and the entire house of Israel loved her (PJ 7:4-10).

From the Festal Menaion:

Having received the fruit of the promise come from the Lord, today in the temple Joachim and Ann offered the Mother of God as an acceptable sacrifice; and Zacharias the great High Priest received her with his blessing.

Into the holy places the Holy of Holies is fittingly brought to dwell, as a sacrifice acceptable to God. The virgins adorned by virtues go before her carrying torches, and offer her to God as a most sacred Vessel.

Let the gate of the temple wherein God dwells be opened: for Joachim brings within today in glory the Temple and Throne of the King of all, and he consecrates as an offering to God her whom the Lord has chosen to be his Mother.


*the image at the start of this post is a fresco from the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel in Padua, painted by Giotto.

Books at SBL

The book room at the SBL is always a highlight of the conference. For the past couple of years, I have attempted to restrict my purchases to those books that are directly related to my dissertation. Last year, I failed miserably. This year, I was more successful. Here’s what I came home with:

From the Wipf & Stock booth:

Reidar Aasgaard’s The Childhood of Jesus: Decoding the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas — As I am writing about an infancy gospel (arguably the best infancy gospel), this one was a must have. I had encountered it a few times in the early stages of my research, and after I heard it referenced a few times in the course of a single session, I decided I should pick up my own copy.

John H. Hayes’ If You Don’t Like the Possum, Enjoy the Sweet Potatoes: Some Principles for Travel Along the Road of Life — John Hayes was an OT professor at Emory while I was in seminary there. He has since retired (I believe). This, in short, is a sort of memoir: a collection of short essays covering a variety of topics. It offers, as the subtitle implies, “some principles for travel along the road of life.” One of the chapters is entitled, “Give People Enough Rope and They Will Hang You.” Obviously, not dissertation related.

D. Mark Davis’ Left Behind and Loving It: A Cheeky Look at the End Times — I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. It was an impulse buy. But, it was situated right next to what is perhaps my favorite work of theological humor, Tripp York’s The Devil Wears Nada. We shall see if Davis measures up. Also, not dissertation related.

From Baker Academic:

François Bovon’s New Testament and Christian Apocrypha — I have used this book countless times, but I have never been able to own it, as it was published previously by Mohr Siebeck. Now that it is available through Baker, I have my own copy!

From Baylor University Press:

Richard B. Hays and Stefan Alkier’s Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation — I walked by this book at the Baylor Press booth probably 15 times before I pulled the trigger. I had seen an announcement about its release somewhere, and it certainly seemed interesting. I was hesitant to purchase it, however, because although I find Revelation interesting, I have never had any real impulse to do any work in it. Then, I attended a session on Monday afternoon during which this book was reviewed. The conversation that ensued in the session brought up many points that are related to the methodology I’m developing in my dissertation, so I was convinced to add this little tome to my stash. I read pieces of it on the train ride home, and I’m now very thankful that I decided to pick it up.

From Mohr Siebeck:

A small pamphlet with details about Christoph Markschies and Jens Schröter’s Antike christliche Apokryphen in deutscher Übersetzung — An exciting revision and expansion of the long-acclaimed Hennecke-Schneemelcher Neutestamentliche Apokryphen. I had a chance to peruse one of the volumes, and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, because it is a Mohr Siebeck publication, the pamphlet is all I can afford (it was free). Hoping that the Marquette Library will be quick to add this to its collection.

Christmas in May!

What follows is I’m sure one of the dorkiest things I’ll ever write. If you don’t mind, keep reading.

As I drove to the library today, I drove with a purpose. You see, last night I received word that one of my Interlibrary Loan (ILL) items had arrived. I request quite a bit through ILL, not because Marquette’s library is somehow deficient, but because the nature of my work is such that not many people are interested in it. Anyway, because I request a lot through ILL, I generally don’t even check to see what is waiting for me at the front desk. Last night, however, I caught a glimpse of which request had been fulfilled:

“The Greek Manuscript Tradition of the Protevangelium Jacobi,” a dissertation completed at Duke University in 1956 by Boyd Lee Daniels.

Here it is, in all its glory:











I have been trying to get my hands on this thing for close to two years, and for whatever reason, my requests were continually denied. I imagine I would have had an easier time talking my way into the Pope’s personal library at the Vatican (you know, the place he keeps all the “secret books”). Needless to say, I didn’t sleep too well last night knowing that this baby was waiting for me.

Here’s where things really get dorky.

This 1,000-page dissertation is essentially a catalogue of nearly all the manuscripts known to contain a copy of the Protevangelium. I say “nearly all,” because it is not exhaustive. The remaining manuscripts were catalogued thirty years later by another Duke scholar, George Zervos (whose dissertation is also quite hefty). To my knowledge, there is only one hard copy of this thing in the world, and it is at Duke.

Why, you ask, is it necessary for me to have such a book in my possession? Well, the answer is simple. To date, no critical edition of the Protevangelium Jacobi has been produced. There are rumblings that one (or two) are in the works, but then again there have been rumblings for ten years. In the meantime, those of us interested in studying it must resort to doing some of the text-critical work ourselves.

The downside of all this, of course, is that the copy I received is on microfilm. I am lucky on one count and unlucky on another. I am lucky in that Marquette has a scanner that can transform microfilm to .pdf — slowly, page by page. I am unlucky in that I will have some free time next week.

Anyway, it would be remiss of me to not thank the ILL department at the Marquette Library. You have made one big dork extremely happy!

Super Spuds

I’ve always been slightly amused by funny looking words, especially funny looking foreign words.

This past week I was rifling through a tome that I’m fairly certain most have not heard of…Walter Bauer’s Das Leben Jesu im Zeitalter der neutestamentlichen Apokryphen…titillating, right?

Anyway, the fifth chapter of the second part of the book (confusing, I know) is entitled “Jesus als Wundertäter.” I will leave it up to you to Google Translate that, but in the meantime I leave you with a few images that are more or less what popped into my head when I first read that Jesus was a “Wundertäter.”

First, a group of “Wundertäters”:









Second, one of my favorite “Wundertäters”:









And of course, the ultimate “Wundertäter”

The Illusive Reader

Six months ago, if you would have asked me about the topic of my dissertation, I would have told you that it was a study of the Protevangelium of James. My answer today would be largely the same. If you would have asked me (six months ago) to describe for you the identity of the reader in my study of Prot. Jas., however, I would have looked at you like you were insane: I am the reader, right? Wrong.

To be sure, the question of the reader has always been in the back of my mind: interpretation of ancient texts demands an ancient perspective, after all. If one approaches Prot. Jas. (or the Bible) in terms of one’s modern sensibilities, the result is likely anachronism, at least from a historical-critical point of view. This is of course not to say that modern readers cannot rightly interpret ancient texts. Rather, it is to say that modern readers must make judgments about what an ancient text can and cannot say on its own terms. Recently, however, the issue has become fuzzier (at least in the context of my project).

Without going into too much detail, my project involves the ways in which Prot. Jas. affects the imaginations and hermeneutical sensibilities of its readers. This involves discernment of various echoes in the text, as well as the new meaning engendered by those echoes. In short, my project focuses on what is going on between Prot. Jas. and, say, the Gospel of Luke.

The specific identity of the reader in the context of this project has proven to be quite important, and increasingly more complicated. Namely, to claim that there is an echo in this or that text implies the presence of a reader who is able to hear said echo without recourse to a lexicon or electronic database of ancient texts…clearly, I am not that reader.

I have several options with respect to how I’m going to frame what I mean by reader:

  1. Implied Reader (Wolfgang Iser)
  2. Informed Reader (Stanley Fish)
  3. Intended Reader (Erwin Wolff)
  4. Model Reader (Umberto Eco)
  5. Super Reader (Michael Riffaterre)
  6. Authorial Audience (Wayne Booth)

My task is to figure out what the differences are between these different readers, many of whom do not exist and never have existed in any objective sense, as well as why those differences actually matter to my project. As this project continues to unfold, I’m hoping to dedicate some posts in the near future to each of these readers. We shall see.