“An Encomium on John the Baptist: A New Translation and Introduction,” New Testament Apocrypha: More Non-Canonical Scriptures, vol. 1, edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau, 217-46. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.
An introduction and English translation of a Coptic Encomium of John the Baptist. This is the first English translation of this tenth-century text since Budge’s translation from over a century ago. My work offers the most comprehensive analysis of the text to date along with the now standard chapter/verse citation system. The Encom. Bapt. is comprised of a homily (falsely attributed to John Chrysostom in the scribal preface) in honor of John the Baptist, an apocalypse (Apocalypse of the Third Heaven) where the disciples are given a tour of the third heaven, which has been given to John the Baptist (who functions as the ferrymen of the dead over a fiery river with a golden boat), and a few random traditions bridging these two sections (namely, commissioning of the disciples, fleeing of Elizabeth and the infant John, and the body of Adam buried by the Flood in Jerusalem). This work is part of the More New Testament Apocrypha project (MNTA).
“Violence,” in Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, edited by Kocku von Stuckrad and Robert Segal, 3:568-74. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2015.
In recent years the relationship between violence and religion has become ever more discussed. This entry presents the differing uses of “violence” in religion. Violence is variously associated with physical force, with oppressive social structures, and with processes of dehumanization. Special attention is given to both theories of religion applied to foundational myths and to social analyses of religion and violence. Violence has been seen as functioning both for directing or authenticating insider relations and for defining external relations.
“Social and Ethical Concern in the Interpretation of Knowledge (NHC XI,1): A Rhetorical Analysis of Interp. Know. 20,36-38,” Journal of Biblical Literature 134.3 (2015): 651-73.
The Interpretation of Knowledge, a Valentinian text that dates from the late second to early fourth century, addresses a social conflict within a Christian community that has resulted in factionalism between “spiritual” and “ordinary” Christians. As a sustained paraenetic address, the author exhorts both factions toward reconciliation. At the close of the tractate, the author shifts from the internal problem to themes of cosmic conflict and persecution, thereby tapping into martyrdom language. At 20,36-38 the author uses a rhetorical question and three consecutive sentences to emphasize his or her moral indignation at those in the community causing divisions. By building up to a rhetorical climax, the author discursively aligns these agitators with those cosmic forces that oppose the Christian’s soteriological status and the church’s harmony. Thus, the paraenesis warns the recipients to either accept the exhortation to unity or to be aligned as persecutors rather than as “athletes of the Logos.”
“Voluntary Martyrdom and Gnosticism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 23.1 (2015): 27-54.
Building on the recent surge of interest in early Christian martyrdom, especially with regard to voluntary martyrdom and social rhetorical processes, this article challenges the traditional view that Gnostics opposed martyrdom. A close analysis of the primary texts results in a more nuanced presentation of martyrdom in the late second and third centuries. While some early Christians may indeed have opposed martyrdom, it is far too simplistic to make such totalizing claims about Gnostic Christianity. This article argues that the debates over volunteerism are embedded within the rhetorical discourse of these texts.
“Dusting Off a Pseudo-Historical Letter: Re-thinking the Epistolary Aspects of the Apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans,” in Paul and Pseudepigraphy, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Gregory P. Fewster, 289-318. Pauline Studies, 8. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2013.
This essay offers a rhetorical and epistolary analysis of the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans. Rather than a random collection of phrases plucked from the undisputed Pauline letters, this essay demonstrates that the pseudonymous author has carefully constructed a letter in Paul’s name that has an internal logic and rhetorical situation. This essay is an abbreviated presentation of the more developed argument in my book, The Apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans: an Epistolary and Rhetorical Analysis (Brill, 2012).
“Theoretical Challenges in Studying Religious Experience in Gnosticism: A Prolegomena for Social Analysis,” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 42.1 (2013): 8-18.
Several theoretical impediments face the ancient historian who wishes to embark on the study of religious experience within ancient cultures. While many of these difficulties face other religious studies scholars, the historical quality compounds these challenges. This paper explores several of these theoretical difficulties with a specific focus on the Valentinian, Sethian, and other so-called “Gnostic” groups in late antiquity. Specifically, the study of religious experience tends to give privileged interpretative position to insiders (evoking the etic/emic problem) and psychological analyses due to the “personal” or “individual” quality of such experiences (typified by perennialist approaches) (Otto, Wach, Eliade, Smart), or, following James and Jung, focus on the initial charismatic moment’s effect upon subsequent social structures. In contrast to such tendencies I suggest, by building on Fitzgerald’s lead in the Guide to the Study of Religion and largely agreeing with constructivist approaches, that we re-direct our focus toward the external social forces at play that discursively facilitate, shape, and direct experiential moments within the confines of social identity construction. This article builds on attachment theory from social psychology. Such analysis will allow us to better appreciate the experiential aspects of “Gnosticism” while appreciating the individual, communal, and (most importantly) discursive quality of the intersection of the individual and communal. Specific examples of such social facilitation will be briefly explored from Nag Hammadi, where ritual, narrative, and mythological discourse function to enable, and thereby define, religious experience.
“How to Begin, and Why? Diverse Functions of the Pauline Prescript within a Greco-Roman Context,” Paul and the Ancient Letter Form, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Sean A. Adams, pp. 57-99. Pauline Studies, 6. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2010.
This essay contributes to the epistolary and rhetorical analysis of the undisputed Pauline letters by exploring the discursive construction of the prescript. Often glossed over in scholarship, the prescript plays an important role in establishing the tone of the letter and the relationship between the sender and recipient. Such discursive acts are evident in the expansions to the standard “A to B Greeting” formula. Extensive comparisons with ancient epistolary practices is offered along with close analysis of each undisputed Pauline letter prescript.
“‘Reading’ and ‘Re-Reading’ the Frampton Mosaics: Religious Innovation and the Construction of Cultural Identity in Roman Britain,” Meetings between Cultures in the Ancient Mediterranean: Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Rome 22-26 September 2008 (Bollettino di Archeologia on line, 1, 2010/ Volume speciale B / B7 / 7, 41-55 ).
Building on the recent proposal by Dominic Perring that the Frampton mosaics reflect a Christian dualist tendency in the fourth century (i.e., “Gnosticism”), this paper offers a reassessment of the history of the mosaics. The mosaics went through at least three stages of modifications, each reflecting levels of tolerance and intolerance of diverse religious motifs: (1) a mixture of diverse Greco-Roman mythic images, hunt scenes, and Bacchic worship; (2) a Christianization of these images, bringing together a playful engagement of Christian and Greco-Roman (especially Bacchic) mythic images; and (3) a period of religious intolerance when select panels were deliberately destroyed. Such acts of tolerance and intolerance are discursive acts of religious innovation, functioning as narrative indicators of the construction and contestation of cultural identity within Roman Britain. By appreciating the discursive quality of each stage, this paper challenges archaeologists and ancient historians to view material culture through the theoretical lens of narrativity.
“Nurslings, Milk, and Moral Development in the Greco-Roman Context: A Reappraisal of the Paraenetic Utilization of Metaphor in 1 Peter 2.1-3,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31.4 (2009): 371-400.
A scholarly tradition exists linking the nursling-milk metaphor in 1 Pet. 2.1-3 with Jewish (or Jewish-Christian) motifs from, for example, the Odes of Solomon and Qumran. This article attempts to broaden the cultural associations of this metaphor to include the broader Greco-Roman world—specifically the role of the wet nurse, the idealized mother, and formative moral development of the child through breast-feeding and childminders (nutrix and nutritor). This article will then link these cultural referents to the rhetorical strategy of this section of 1 Peter’s paraenesis.
“Sacred Violence and the Scholar of Religion as Public Intellectual,” Religion, Terror, and Violence: Religious Studies Perspectives, Bryan Rennie and Philip L. Tite, eds., 3-10. New York/London: Routledge, 2008.
This essay introduces Religion, Terror, and Violence (edited by Bryan Rennie and Philip L. Tite – SEE BOOKS). Beyond simply setting forth the reason for the project and the papers collected, my introduction touches on some key issues in the field. Specifically (and perhaps most importantly), I engage the question as to what role should a scholar of religion play within public dialogue on, especially, issues of religion and violence. The book includes a series of different answers to this topic (sometimes implicitly set forth in individual chapters). My own contribution is to challenge us to recognize that there are various public spheres within which scholars emerge, speak to, and hold accountability.
“The Two-Way Schema in Valentinian Paraenesis,” ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University 33 (2005): 197-211 (Special Issue: Essays in Honour of Frederik Wisse: Scholar, Churchman, Mentor).
As a literary indicator of paraenetic discourse, the two-way schema offers conceptual and structural contours within which moral exhortation could be given in ancient texts. Explores the presence of the two ways within the broader Greco-Roman world, in particular Jewish and Christian contexts, aiming to locate Valentinian moral exhortation within its culture and religious context, as well as to call attention to the importance of the Nag Hammadi material for those who study early Christian moral discourse. The Valentinian material suggests that the two ways circulated not simply through a series of literary relations and source dependencies, but as a conceptual framework for bringing together moral hortatory discourse. The presence of the two-way schema in the Valentinian material further suggests the presence and importance of paraenesis for these Christians.
“Naming or Defining? On the Necessity of Reduction in Religious Studies,” Culture and Religion 5.3 (2004): 339-65.
Although debate continues over the place of reductionist and non-reductionist approaches within the academic study of religion, much of the debate falters due to a failure to appreciate the necessity of “understanding” for the effectiveness of “explaining” cultural phenomena. This article addresses this very problem, reassessing the role of the insider within a methodological reductionist approach within religious studies. Assessing the delimitation of critical analysis to ‘knowable knowledge’ construction, teasing out theoretical problems with verification, and recognizing the role of data construction in first-order description prior to second-order theorization, this article will argue that the insider’s perspective is indeed an essential aspect of the critical analytical approach. Unlike phenomenological or irreductive approaches, however, the insider’s perspective is limited to the stage of data construction (‘understanding’). At the secondary level of theorization, the relative relations bringing together data within an analytical study takes precedence (“explanation”). Thus, within a methodological reductionist approach (distinguished from ontological reductionism), there can be no explanation without understanding.
“An Exploration of Valentinian Paraenesis: Rethinking Gnostic Ethics in the Interpretation of Knowledge (NHC XI, 1),” Harvard Theological Review 97.3 (2004): 275-304.
Over the past 25 years, scholars have tended to shift away from phenomenological approaches to Gnosticism, and increasingly recognized social ethics with the “Gnosticisms” of the 2nd to 4th centuries. However, little attention has been devoted to the question of how ancient rhetorical conventions shaped Gnostic ethical and moral discourse, especially as evidenced in Nag Hammadi sources. Appreciation of the generic conventions that dictate features of a text can improve understanding of the social context in which it was produced. Examines the Interpretation of Knowledge, whose genre has not been satisfactorily established. The text should be read as a sustained work of paraenesis – a moral exhortation with a persuasive intent. On the basis of that identification, reconstructs features of the social context in which it was produced.
“Teaching with Faith Crisis: A Summary of ‘On the Necessity of Crisis,’” Didache: Faithful Teaching 3.2 (2004): Online.
As part of a special symposium section on my earlier article “On the Necessity of Crisis: Pedagogical Conflict and the Academic Study of Religion” (Teaching Theology and Religion, 2003), this article offers a summary discussion of the key points in my earlier article. I advocate the need for recognizing and addresses faith crisis moments in the classroom as a type of cognitive dissonance. Such cognitive dissonance offers moments of learning rather than moments of distraction. The goal of the symposium was to extend the discussion beyond the secular university context of the original article.
“On the Necessity of Crisis: A Reflection on Pedagogical Conflict and the Academic Study of Religion.” Teaching Theology and Religion 6.2 (2003): 76-84.
A pervasive, yet under-discussed, problem in religious studies classrooms is the presence of faith crisis. Many students face a type of cognitive dissonance when faced with the critical-analytical approach in the academic study of religion. This essay, in an open and conversational tone, addresses the learning opportunity underlying such crisis moments. The discussion begins with a delimitation of what constitutes the secular university’s goals in pedagogy and research. After arguing that a reductive limitation of knowable knowledge construction is to be the focus of the university, the discussion moves to the presence of cognitive stages of development, or liminal rites of passage as analogous for explicating the learning process in which crisis moments emerge. Finally, the discussion concludes with a reflection on the coherence of reductive limitation and collaborative pedagogy.
“Reinforcing Ivory Towers Through Marginalization,” Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin 31.1 (2002): 14-17.
This article responds to a 2001 letter published in the New York Times by Dean Anthony Kronman on the topic of the unionization of teaching assistants in universities. The article argues against the apprenticeship model advocated and instead argues for full recognition of the important work of teaching assistants and non-tenure track instructors.
“The Holy Spirit’s Role in Origen’s Trinitarian System: A Comparison with Valentinian Pneumatology,” Theoforum 32.2 (2001): 131-64.
Although the Holy Spirit is discussed throughout Origen’s extant writings, the most comprehensive formulation can be found in De Principiis. For Origen the Spirit is a distinct individual within the Trinity. De Princ. 1.3 makes an apologetic case for the prominence of the Spirit within the godhead. Sketches the pneumatological presentation found in De Principiis and in other writings of Origen. A recurrent theme in Origen’s pneumatology in deed in his trinitarian thought overall is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unified in their transcendent nature, yet distinct in their soteriological function. However, this distinction in function is not so clearly maintained in Origen’s discussion (especially when dealing with the revelatory role of the Son and the Spirit).
“Categorical Designations and Methodological Reductionism: Gnosticism as Case Study,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 13.3 (2001): 269-92.
Debate continues between reductionists and non-reductionists over sui generis discourse within the academic study of religion. Explores Gnosticism as a case study for applying methodological reductionism to categorical designations. Metaphysical reductionist approaches to Gnosticism has been present in the field, rendering “Gnosticism” as a transhistorical phenomenon which is irreducible to social scientific methods. Discusses the phenomenological approach of Hans Jonas and the cognitive approach of Ioan Couliano, and rejecting both ontological and metaphysical reduction, advocates the application of methodological reductionism. Methodological reduction helps to shift classifications away from conflation with reality to be seen, instead, as analytical devices for theorizing first-order data. A relative approach to the function of classification tools enables us to explore the modes of relation within particular classification constructions.
“Textual and Redactional Aspects of the Book of Dreams (1 Enoch 83-90),” Biblical Theology Bulletin 31.3 (2001): 106-20.
The redactor of 1 Enoch 83–90 brings together two very distinct Enochian traditions: the Flood Vision and the Animal Apocalypse. Although each tradition reflects a social reaction to the threat of hellenization in the second century BCE, they offer radically different social constructions of the eschatological role of insiders and outsiders; presenting in the Flood Vision a spatial apocalyptic perspective with a strong deterministic outlook, and in the Animal Apocalypse a less deterministic perspective within a temporal apocalyptic framework. By bringing these two traditions together, the redactor creates a new text (the Book of Dreams), which reinterprets the apocalypse with the vision. Although redactional activity is not extensive in the Book of Dreams, it does indicate a later stage in the tradition history, a stage reflecting back upon the success of the Maccabean revolt.
“Gnosticism, Taxonomies and the Sui Generis Debate: A Response to the Rennie-McCutcheon Exchange,” Religion 30.1 (2000): 65-67.
This brief article responds to the debate between Bryan Rennie and Russell McCutcheon in the journal Religion. Taking a methodologically reductive position, this article raises a few methodological guidelines for studying religious phenomena at a descriptive and theoretical level. Rather than leaving the discussion at the level of abstract theory, this article applies the Rennie-McCutcheon debate to ancient Gnosticism.
“John, Apocryphon of”; “Mary, Gospel of”; “Paul, Prayer of the Apostle,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by D. N. Freedman, 722-23, 865-66, and 1020-21. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
These dictionary articles present brief overviews of three early Christian texts often classified as Gnostic writings: Gospel of Mary, Prayer of the Apostle Paul, and the Apocryphon of John. Discussion of Apocryphon of John covers the shorter and longer versions, literary structure, key themes, and scholarly debates over the text. In presenting the Gospel of Mary, both the Greek and Coptic witnesses, a literary breakdown is offered: (1) Discourse between the Savior and the disciples on nature, sin, ethics (1:1-9:5); (2) Brief transition (9:6-24); (3) Mary’s visions (10:1-17:7); (4) Challenge by Andrew and Peter (17:7-22); and (5) Peter rebuked by Levi (18:1-19:5). The Prayer of the Apostle Paul is identified as a magical invocational prayer that is primarily concerned with attaining perfection. It is suggested that the five requests parallel the five Valentinian sacraments in the Gospel of Philip.
“Princess Diana, Mythmaking and the Academic Study of Religion,” Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin 27.2 (1998): 27-30.
This article discusses the public reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 (as a form of “mythmaking”) followed by a reflection on the relevance of this public veneration for the academic study of religion. A social functionalist approach to myth is taken in this article by exploring the narrative re-presentation of a venerated figure.
“Valis and Modern Gnosis,” Religiologiques 16 (1997): 135-43.
Electronic Version: http://www.religiologiques.uqam.ca/
Gnosticism typically has been studied in its classical – ancient – forms. Modern religious sensibilities, however, include an appropriation by various groups and individuals of what is understood as Gnostic generally. Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices (1945), and the popularity of C. G. Jung’s writings, have encouraged such religious appropriation. Considers a modern author’s literary expression of Gnosticism. Philip K. Dick’s novel Valis – somewhat of a spiritual autobiography – connects Dick’s own spiritual self-understanding to Gnosticism. Looks at how Dick’s novel expresses this motif primarily through literary articulations of dualism and character development that run throughout the novel. [Abstract from Religious & Theological Abstracts]
“A Community in Conflict: A Literary and Historical Reading of John 9,” Religious Studies and Theology 15.2-3 (1997): 77-100.
A correlation between literary and historical methods is necessary to determine the socio-religious dynamic behind the Fourth Gospel, and to analyze key pericopes through which we can gain insights into the Johannine community. Explores the historical dimension of John 9. Although a demarcation between literary and historical methods of textual interpretation has emerged, a correlation of these methods is necessary for understanding an early Christian text. By exploring the literary context and historical implications of John 9, we will better understand the community in conflict to whom this gospel was addressed.
“The Compositional Function of the Petrine Prescript: A Look at 1 Pet 1:1-3,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36.1 (1996): 47-56.
Argues that the prescript (1 Peter 1:1-3) discursively functions to establish key themes in the letters. Specifically, the Petrine author addresses the recipients in such a way as to underscore the Diaspora metaphor that controls the composition of 1 Peter (here building on the work of Troy Martin). Consequently, the prescript is an essential part of the rhetoric of this letter as it is the programmatic introduction to the letter.
“Pax, Peace and the New Testament,” Religiologiques 11 (1995): 301-24.
Presents the concept of peace in the NT within the cultural concept of the Roman pax. Notes methodological difficulties in previous studies of the early Christian concept of peace, and presents six basic elements constituting the Pax Romana – based on S. Weinstock’s discussion of the Pax Cult and the Ara Pacis. Each element is compared with the NT documents; these illustrate examples of the NT concept of peace, as it correlates with the concept of pax. Discusses Greek and Jewish concepts of peace. Outlines the Pan-Mediterranean socio-cultural matrix within which the notion of peace functioned as a transcultural concept. Whereas the Roman peace was centered on the Emperor as soter, the early Christians saw Jesus Christ as the source and protector of peace. Thus, while there are significant differences between the two concepts of peace, conceptually they are parallel to each other. [Abstract from Religious & Theological Abstracts] This article was part of a special issue for the conference proceedings of the regional AAR meeting held at UQAM in Montreal.