Saturday, June 29, 2013

‘One Drop of Love’ (Theatre Review)

(Hollywood Fringe Festival)
Plans free for tomorrow evening? I recommend catching the final performance of One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Race is an uncomfortable, and often confusing, subject for us “mixies,” and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, co-founder of the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, addresses it head on in this one-woman play about identities, stereotypes, and family frustrations.

Part of the CSULA Goes to the Fringe program, featuring the work of MFA students, One Drop of Love will make you laugh and maybe even cry a little as Fanshen Cox recounts life growing up in the 1970s onward. She weaves her own personal stories with those of her “white” mother, Jamaican father, doting grandmother, and equally mixed brother, showing off some real character acting capabilities. What makes the script really powerful, though, is its open-endedness, perhaps showing that there’s still room for growth in learning how to confront issues about race.

Yesterday, we saw the second of Fanshen Cox’s three performances at the Lounge Theatres on Santa Monica Blvd. One Drop of Love will be showing one last time on Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6 pm. Because of some of the language and sensitive issues covered, no one under age 16 is permitted. Check the show’s website for future performances and the upcoming documentary film.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thoughts on the Gospel of Judas

The Last Supper (c. late 19th century)
by Carl Heinrich Bloch (Wikipedia)
Of all the Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Judas has caused probably the most controversy in recent years. The only available copy is found as part of the Codex Tchacos, dated to the late third century. Scholars are in agreement that the work divulges no new reliable information about the life of Christ. However, it has immense value as an ancient source on Gnostic beliefs. After reading the text, I’d like to propose another possible use: a source of dissenter critiques of the institutional church, accusing its members of gross immorality.

The Tchacos Gospel of Judas* is a short work, loosely covering events leading up to the crucifixion. Its Jesus criticizes his disciples’ religious acts of devotion, teaches them gnostic ideas, and interprets their dreams and visions. At the end, Judas, who has received some particular attention from Jesus, hands his teacher over to the high priests.

There’s good reason to believe that the Tchacos Gospel of Judas isn’t the same one written about by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, in his Against Heresies.* The Tchacos text features a number of elements characteristic of “Sethian” Gnosticism, and hence is categorized as such in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible. It venerates the biblical patriarch Seth (as some sort of Christ figure) and includes the names/concepts of Æon (aeon), Barbelo, Sakla, and Yaldabaoth, all common in Sethian literature.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Tchacos text bears little resemblance to Irenaeus’s discussion about the Cainites, the Gnostic group known to have a Gospel of Judas. It never mentions – let alone venerates – the likes of Cain, the Sodomites, Esau, or the sons of Korah, the “bad guys” of the Bible esteemed by that group’s adherents. In addition, it never refers to Hysteria, doesn’t promote – but actually denounces – sinful behavior, and doesn’t render itself to the most flattering portrayal of Judas. Its Jesus denounces sacrifice in a number of places, and in one place appears to denounce Judas has participating in the worst sort:
                    Judas said to Jesus, “Those
                    who have been bathed in your name,
                    what will they do?”
                              Jesus said, “Amen I say
                    to you, this bathing     in my name

                    to me. Amen I say to you, Judas,
                    those who offer sacrifices to Sakla

                              everything evil.

                    But you will surpass all of them, for you
                    will sacrifice the man who bears me.

While many scholars interpret this passage as Jesus requesting Judas’ aid in releasing his soul from his physical body, others are convinced that it’s saying – quite clearly, I believe – that Judas’ sacrifice surpasses all of the others in evil. For this and the other reasons stated above, I think that Irenaeus’ target is still missing. Considering that multiple works have been attributed to other disciples of Jesus (e.g., Matthew, Thomas), there’s little reason to assume that two couldn’t bear the name of Judas Iscariot. And this would in no way minimize the scholarship potential of the text we do have.

The main purpose of the Tchacos Gospel of Judas appears to be to delegitimize the authority of the apostles. Sacrifice and thanksgiving prayers to the creator god, along with baptism in Jesus’ name, as branded as wrong doing. In a dream that Jesus interprets for his apostles, they are priests who lead masses astray. Far from promoting the sinfulness of the Cainites, the Tchacos Gospel of Judas denounces sins in two similar lists:
  1. Fasting, or abstaining
  2. Sacrificing their children
  3. Sacrificing their wives
  4. Exhibiting false praise and humility
  5. Committing homosexual acts (lit. “sleeping with men”)
  6. Committing murder
  7. Committing a lot of other sins and lawless acts

  1. Fornicating
  2. Killing children
  3. Committing homosexual acts
  4. Fasting, or abstaining
  5. Committing other acts of lawlessness and error

These acts are noteworthy because they are all condemned in various Old Testament and New Testament passages and/or in early Church literature. Yet it appears that the Gnostic group responsible for this work is accusing the orthodox Church of participating in them. That is why I suggest reading the text as a dissenting voice on the subject of morality within the wider “Christian” community of the second or third century.

There are a number of “restoration” and “reformation” movements that have stood against one or another “established” institutional church. Most people are familiar with the English Dissenters, such as the Puritans and the Quakers, who opposed the episcopal Church of England. There’s also the famous German monk Martin Luther who challenged the authority and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Further along the spectrum is the Church of Latter-Day Saints (i.e., the Mormons) who denounced mainstream Christian denominational doctrine as untrue. Throughout history, often the arguments against the established churches included charges of immorality and corruption on the part of its leaders. It would be no surprise that Gnostic critics of the early Church might make the same charges, real or imagined.

Now some of my readers, preferring a pristine view of the early Church might take issue with my suggestion that some Gnostics might have had sound reasons to criticize orthodox Christians. Yes, it’s possible that these charges are reminiscent of the false accusations of atheism, incest, and cannibalism that plagued Christians during ancient times. It’s also possible that they are, to some extent, accurate in their charges even when inaccurate in their alternative theology.

From the Pauline, Jacobean, and Apocalyptic epistles, there’s a strong sense that the early Christians were often far from perfect. Many later non-canonical writings give the same impression. There were wild practices and strange beliefs being passed around. The Gnostic texts are strong evidence of this in and of themselves. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to believe that a Gnostic group, wrong as it could be on many points, might have been correct in its characterization of the apostles’ legacy.

We already know from the New Testament and other writings that there were disputes over observing Jewish feasts and holidays, some which might have included traditional fasting periods, and over abstaining from particular foods. Hypocrisy, fornication, and lawlessness in general are condemned in a number of passages. “Sacrificing their…wives” might be reference to the legalized wife-swapping allowed by repeated divorce and remarriage, criticized by Jesus (Matthew 5:31-32); and since the Didache forbids induced abortion and infanticide, “sacrificing their children” might be a dream depiction of those acts. As for murder and male homosexuality, considering how those acts were justified numerous times by those claiming to represent Christ throughout the medieval and modern eras, it’s entirely possible that there were excused instances in the ancient times as well.

My purpose here is not to excuse the blasphemous beliefs and writings of whatever Gnostic group produced the Tchacos Gospel of Judas. However, I am suggesting that there might be some truth behind the accusations it seems to make against those acting in Jesus’ Name and claiming religious authority from Jesus’ apostles. While the theological disputes within the early Church make for popular study, the moral sins of early Christians don’t get as much attention. I would have to look deeper into the Christian literature to know for certain, but I do have a hunch that these Gnostics might have been on to something.

*For the Gospel of Judas, I have relied on the “poetic” translation found in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, which utilizes an ellipsis-free format that preserves the text’s fragmented form. The controversial National Geographic translation (pdf) by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, in collaboration with François Gaudard, is accessible free online. Information about the Sethian and Cainite Gnostics can be found in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book I, available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) in Chapters 30 on the Sethians and 31 on the Cainites and at The Gnostic Society Library.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thoughts on Justin’s Book of Baruch

Ancient of Days (1794)
by William Blake (Wikipedia)
Hippolytus of Rome called it the worst of the heresies, yet the Book of Baruch, attributed to a gnostic leader named Justin, remains virtually unknown today. Until perhaps the next big ancient manuscript find, the text only exists in part, preserved in the Refutation of All Heresies.* Containing material obviously borrowed from the Old Testament, many scholars view it as an example of primitive Jewish Gnosticism with some later Hellenistic and Christian influences. Yet, when I read it, it seemed more fundamentally Greek, appearing to illustrate the superiority of “platonic love.”

By “platonic love,” I don’t mean amour platonique, the kind of non-sexual close friendships homeschoolers believe they can have with the opposite sex. I’m referring to amour platonicien, the pederastic master-student relationship idealized in Plato’s Symposium and other works. Although I am admittedly neither a scholar of gnosticism nor Greek philosophy, I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to look into this matter. For that reason, my point of comparison for this text is not any passage or teaching in the Bible, but opinions expressed in Plato’s Symposium, although not all necessarily held by the philosopher personally.

To begin: The Book of Baruch is essentially a creation and redemption myth, designed to enlighten its readers as to the mysteries behind Justin’s cosmology. Unlike the dyadic gnostic stories, the Justinian one introduces a trio of deities: the almighty Good, decidedly gendered as male, and two creator demiurges, one male (Elohim) and one female (Edem or Israel). These demiurges we might denominate “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth,” and each displays both gender and sexual characteristics. It is their lustful sexual union that brings about heavenly beings, mankind, and animals.

While later Gnosticisms would style the male creator god as hopelessly evil, Justin allows his to be redeemed. When the proud Elohim ventures into the heavens, he discovers Good, and is humbled. He then abandons Edem and their creation to devote himself entirely to the service of this almighty Good. The rest of the story tells of how revengeful Edem uses her angels to torment mankind, while Elohim is obliged to send, through his angel Baruch, familiar figures such as Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and even Hercules – yes, you read that correctly – to turn the people back to Good.

The connection that I believe exists to Plato’s Symposium lies with the way relationships are presented in the text. Elohim leaves his earthly sensuous relationship with his wife for a vastly superior one with his enlightened teacher. The male-male bond is intellectual and focused on achieving wisdom and virtue (i.e., “good” in the most literal sense). It is the ideal eros, represented by Aphrodite Urania (“Heavenly Aphrodite”), directing its participants’ attention to the divine. In contrast, Edem is decidedly ignorant and bestial in nature. Elohim’s love with her aims not for honorable goals but for bodily pleasures, which one could expect from Aphrodite Pandemos (“Common Aphrodite”), who represents vulgar, bisexual love.

While the union between Elohim and Edem originates out of lust and gives birth to the physical creation, we can imagine that the union of Good and Elohim would reproduce the same great intangible qualities expected of couples among the Athenian intelligentsia. To be fair, there’s no indication that Good and Elohim consummate a “chaste” erotic relationship, as the men and youths of Plato’s day were expected to do. [Update: In fact, the Book of Baruch apparently outright condemns pederasty, or even homosexuality in general, when discussing the serpent Naas leading Adam and Eve astray. However, I hope my readers recognize that my hypothesis concerns a spiritual male-male union, rather than sexual one.] In addition, the Symposium speaks of developing the soul (in contrast to the body) while Justin speaks of saving the spirit by abandoning the body and soul. However, despite these differences in the details, I believe that the Book of Baruch depicts and celebrates something akin to a particular Hellenistic ideal of love. I hope that I’ve made at least an opening case for further investigation.

*For the Book of Baruch, I have relied on the constructed text provided in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. The available material is taken from Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies, Books V and X, which can be found online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) and The Gnostic Society Library.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Christian Carnival – June 2013 Edition

Welcome to the June 2013 “Summer Time” Edition of the Christian Carnival. As always, this monthly blog carnival features a number of submitted and nominated posts on a variety of topics written from different religious perspectives. I’ve also added a few music YouTube videos to help set the mood. Enjoy!


Tony Kiar (Walking with Tony) posts “The Big Easy Lie”: The Big Easy Lie operating in the world enables people to forget history, be blind to current events and so live big easy lives of consumerism and false optimism. The fruit of THE BIG EASY LIE in secular society is insensitivity to violence, moral decay and indifference to others.

“Disciple” ( posts “Human Promises Don't Mean Much”: Have you ever had that one friend that did something so out of character that, even though it happened, you still really can't bring yourself to accept it?

Seth Osenkarski (The Geek's Guide To Christianity) posts “Popularity And The Word: The Truth of the Matter”: We have all heard somebody say, “The Bible and Christianity say one thing (insert any subject here), but I just can’t believe it in the face of such overwhelming scientific proof to the contrary.” What I want talk about today involves the reasons why people will end up compromising and why the whole idea of scientific evidence versus the Bible is ludicrous.

Mark (Ex Church of Christ Blog) posts “The Rude Guy Who Beeped at me in Traffic”: The Bible is never referred to as “the Word”. Only Jesus is referred to as “the Word.”

Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada (The Chic of Domesticity) posts “Thoughts on Colossians”: I have a conspiracy theory. Leaders in the church, consciously or subconsciously, turn every guilt-inducing “Do not be harsh towards your wife” lesson into an ego-boosting “You are Christ and she is the Church” lesson.

Jeremy Pierce (Parableman) posts “Zadok, Conspiracy Theories, and the High Priestly Line”: One common view in biblical scholarship takes Zadok to be a non-Levitical priest who was later retconned into being a descendant of Eleazar, which would undermine the biblical record, which presents him as Eleazar's heir to the high priesthood. This post looks at alternative accounts of what's going on in the texts, which admittedly has some puzzling elements, but it argues that the standard retcon approach is not the best way to handle the data.

Book Review

Jeff LeMaster (No End to Books) posts “The Air We Breathe”: The Air We Breathe is a great story. The characters are genuine and three dimensional. The plot is riveting. The struggles, the hurt, the pain, the loss are all real.


Zak Schmoll (A Chapter Per Day) posts “1 Kings 18: I Wish I Had the Courage of Elijah”: We all occasionally feel like we are alone. However, Elijah had similar problems, and he had the courage not only to stand up for what he believed in, but also had the faith that God would help him through all of it.

David Bosch (InFaith's Mission Blog) posts “Faith and Prayer”: David Bosch writes about learning to stop, pray, and listen instead of trying to do it all himself.

Ridge Burns (Ridge's Blog) posts “Point of Reference”: A week teaching in Great Britain reminded Ridge Burns about the need for a point of reference.

Kathryn C. Lang (Kathryn C. Lang) posts “Recovering My Balance”: Through some tests and trials, I am discovering (and re-discovering) my life plan. Do you have a plan?

Silas Eke (Silaroli Bookstores) posts “What Is That in Your Hand?”: Moses is like every one of us. We want to serve God in a very big and remarkable way but we do not, as we assume, have the right tools. “I wish I am better trained!”

Shearon Hurst (Refreshing Times for Women) posts “When Do You Give Up...NEVER!”: A word of encouragement to comfort and strengthen Christians in their walk with the Lord.


Chris Price (Earn Money in Pajamas) posts “Making Money from Home to Pay off Debt”: Debt is a problem that many people in America experience all too often. There are some ways that can help those who are in debt earn a bit of extra income to pay off these bills.


Ridge Burns (Ridge's Blog) posts “The Communion Table”: Maybe aluminum communion trays and plastic cups don’t do our Savior justice.

Bill Fortenberry (Increasing Learning) posts “The Conversion of Benjamin Franklin”: I was shocked to discover that this iconic figure of the Revolution had documented his own, spiritual revolution in clear detail revealing to all the world his conversion from skeptical deism to a full faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Chukwuma Okonji (IN-SIGHT) posts “A Critical View on Society”: Society, ultimately, is only a reflection of what's on our inside. And the moment that changes, I bet we will barely draw a dividing line between society and paradise, as they would be synonymous.

Elvis Navarro (christianfp) posts “Easter: A Time to Remember Jesus”: The more we think about Jesus, the more I realize what an extraordinary life He led on earth.

Robin Bremer (Kingdom Living with Robin Bremer) posts “Oh, The Blood”: The blood of Jesus made the difference from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Toni Campbell (Lakeside Lessons) posts “Totinh Baggage”: That's how I met Denise. When I offered her some free items her response was “no thank you - I just can't add to the weight of what I already have to carry around.” As she left the event to face the challenge of her burden, I wondered how many of us carry our baggage like Denise...not physically, but spiritually.

Kevin Bickel (InFaith's Mission Blog) posts “Unrealistic Thoughts”: Kevin Bickel rethinks his response to a man who told him he had unrealistic expectations for ministry.


William Bouker (Mazes) posts “Are You Being Convicted?”: What do you feel when you know you’ve done wrong? Conviction is like guilt but it is a deeper feeling. It works on our basest core.

In closing, I recommend that you check out this link by Bob MacDonald (Dust) for a visual presentation of his new book Seeing the Psalter: Patterns of Recurrence in the Poetry of the Psalms.

Thank you for joining me with another edition of the Christian Carnival. Want more? Check out the most recent edition of the Biblioblog Carnival. If you are interested in participating in our next Christian Carnival, the upcoming July edition, please submit or nominate a June post by the end of this month using the Christian Carnival Submission Form. Also, we’re always in need of hosts, so please take a look at the Hosting page for more information. Thanks again for reading (and viewing). See you next month!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Call for Blog Submissions: Christian Carnival – June 2013 Edition

It’s that time again…my turn to host the Christian Carnival, that is. If you’re a blogger with something unique to share, consider submitting a (that’s only one) May 2013 post by tomorrow, Tuesday, June 4, 5 p.m., using the Christian Carnival Submission Form. We accept devotionals, testimonies, apologetic essays, and more. There's no denominational affiliation, but the moderator and hosts will only consider posts that appear to promote a Christian perspective. Also, we’re always in need of hosts, so please take a look at the Hosting page for more information about volunteering. Thanks for participating, and look this Wednesday for the next edition of the Christian Carnival.