Tuesday, August 21, 2007

End game

After considerable reflection I have decided to terminate this blog. My main literary interest is writing books or preparing long think pieces that explore new perspectives or insights into historical issues or biblical analysis. Such a process is slow and not interactive. Blogging is not a good medium for such activity. Good biblioblogging requires lots of short fillers, some news, occasional scholarship, lots of gossip and banter, and huge amounts of time and energy. I have nothing against that per se, and I read several other biblioblogs for that kind of entertainment. But it is not what I enjoy doing.

I still hope to do some essay-length articles from time to time, but I will post them on my website, www.biblemyth.com . If and when I do such articles, I might put a notice here, but that is about all I plan to add to this site for now.

Thanks to all those who dropped by from time to time. Hope you got something out of it.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Posting slow down

Sorry for the posting slow down. I've been extremely busy at my job the last couple of weeks and probably the next week or two. Hope to catch up soon.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Did God have a wife?

Here are several reviews of William Dever's Did God have a wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. The wife in question is the Canaanite deity Asherah.

Paul and the Sopranos ending

Michael Kiehl on the SBL Forum asks: "Did Paul Get Whacked? The Endings of The Sopranos and the Acts of the Apostles." He draws parallels between the endings of Acts and the ending of the Sopranos and wonders if we can draw some conclusions about what happened to Paul after he was sent to Rome for trial.

Since in The Judas Brief I argue that Luke's Passion account goes to great lengths to exonerate the Romans for Jesus' death, I'm inclined to believe that his failure to disclose what happened to Paul at the end of Acts suggests that the Romans executed Paul and Luke didn't want to hold them responsible.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Judas Brief: First Review

LJXpress, an electronic supplement to the print version of Library Journal, an important book review source for librarians deciding on purchases, will be releasing a brief review of The Judas Brief. The review has some positive comments but in the short space managed to garble a main argument of the book, mistakenly saying I proposed a peace-keeping arrangement, brokered by Judas, between Pilate and Herod when I actually proposed an agreement between Pilate and the High Priest.

Here's some of the positive: "vigorous defense of the Palestinian Jews", "well-documented", "some interesting history", "Recommended for seminary and religion collections."

It's a start.

The Writing Life: The publicity campaign

Among the many glitches plaguing the production of The Judas Brief, is that the publication track is out of sync with the publicity track. While the book was officially release last month, the main publicity campaign was only launched today. This could create some difficulties for book sales because book stores only give a book a couple of months to prove itself before they start returning books. Anyway, I thought I would say a few words about "the publicity campaign" for a book that isn't expected to be the top of the pops.

Many want-to-be and first time authors have an unrealistic expectation of what will happen with the publicity aspects of their book's release. As the author contemplates fame and glory, he or she fantasizes about a major publicity effort on behalf of the book, a few ads i large publications with target audiences, , perhaps in the new York Times, and in biblical circles the author imagines a large ad or two in Biblical Archaeology Review. And, of course, the book should be sent out to a couple of hundred of the most likely review sources and another fifty or a hundred to the leading scholars in the field.

It ain't happenin'! The publicity budget is minuscule.

Here is how the basic campaign works. A modest print run based on minimum sales expectations is planned. If properly coordinated, a couple of months before your book is released, a couple of dozen galleys, are printed. These are semi-final copies of the book, often with uncorrected errors still to be filtered out. These "uncorrected proofs" are mailed to a handful of major publications whose reviews are highly desired, NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and so on. Hopefully at this stage a few well chosen scholars will receive galleys in the hopes of getting them to provide a blurb for the book cover. At this point, zero ads are contemplated.

While awaiting the hoped-for reviews in these few publications, the main publicity campaign is set up. How much effort is put into it may depend on whether the galleys get reviews. If significant positive reviews come out, creating a buzz, a more extensive promotion campaign will be planned, depending on the level and quality of the reviews. For the most part, for the 99% plus of books that wont get any reviews, the publishers publicity campaign will consist primarily of a press release mailed out to a selected media list, and some review copies will be sent out to a few selected sources. The publicity budget won't allow for much more than that. The press release will be little more than a book title, black and white picture of the book cover, publisher information, a restatement of the jacket copy, and, if there are any reviews or scholarly endorsements they will be incorporated into the mailing. That's about it. After that goes out, the publisher will wait to see if anything hits and if sales are generated. You generally have a four-month window to generate sales, and if it doesn't work, the book is dead.

When I did "101 Myths of the Bible," the publisher targeted the radio-television talk shows and religious oriented radio stations. The press kit included a release and proposed questions for the interviewer to ask the author. This was relatively effective. I did a large number of radio interviews (by phone) and many of the interviewers, not really knowledgeable about biblical subjects, used the proposed questions to guide them through the interview. The campaign turned out to be moderately successful and the book had/has a good run. There were several print reviews, too, but not a large number.

For The Judas Brief, things got off to a rocky start. A handful of galleys went out to the primary review targets but the book had already been late to publication because of several other glitches, and it came out almost immediately after the galleys, in early June, and the publicity campaign wasn't ready to go. I got an advance copy of the press release, prepared along the lines described above, and a fairly limited mailing list. I was quite concerned and asked for a meeting with the publicity department. (Fortunately, I only live a few blocks from the publisher's office.) In advance of the meeting, I rewrote the press release with a provocative headline ("Historian charges Gospel authors with deliberately misrepresenting role of Jews in the Passion story") and wrote some more dynamic and longer copy than that from the previous press release and the book flap. I also wrote a more publicity-oriented author biography, prepared a sample interview of myself, and listed several interesting facts about the Gospels based on my book. At the meeting I proposed a more expansive promotional mailing of the press kits and suggested revisions of the mailing list for who would also receive review copies of the book.

Ultimately, they agreed to most of my suggestions. The press kit would include my rewritten press release, incorporating a color photo of the book cover, and my author interview, biography, and interesting facts. They did some slight touch up of the copy and we were going to go with a mailing a couple of weeks ago. Then we got word that one of the galley-targeted reviewers was going to do something on the book and we decided to hold off a few days to see what they were going to say. If positive, we planned to include it in the press kit. An advance copy of the review came in yesterday, it was short but mostly positive. We added it to the press kit and everything went out today. Hopefully, the changes I worked out will have an impact, but about six weeks of my four months have already been eaten up.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mistranslating 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

In the arsenal of anti-Jewish Christian bigotry, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 holds a prominent place. Here is the NRSV translation, with a key portion underlined.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. (1 Thes 2:13-16. Emphasis added.)

Note particularly the comma following "Jews". As it now reads it would appear that Paul accuses all Jews of killing Jesus. Many NT scholars have suggested that this passage was not originally part of Paul's letter, that it was added at a later time. But Raymond Brown, in his Introduction to the New Testament says that the majority view holds that the text is original with Paul.

In The Judas Brief I suggest that this passage should be considered in the context of Petrine allegations in Acts 2:23 and 3:17. In the first verse Peter allegedly accused the Jews of killing Jesus only in the sense that they handed him over to Pilate, but Peter gives no motive or explanation for this action. In the second passage Peter says that the Jews acted out of ignorance, which should be understood as meaning that whatever responsibility the Jews had stemmed from a failure to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and not from any hostile motives. If Paul's accusation can legitimately be placed in this context, his charge against the Jews should be understood in a much less hostile manner than that exhibited by later Christians. Unfortunately, we can't really be sure what intention Paul had as he was often engaged in polemical attacks on Jews, both non-Christian and Christian.

Recently, I received a note from a prominent academic well-versed in ancient Greek who was kind enough to read The Judas Brief and give me his thoughts. In the course of his remarks he noted that the English translation of 1 Thes 2:14-15 wrongly inserts a comma after the word "Jews". The underlying Greek, he tells me, indicates a restrictive clause. This means we should eliminate the comma and the passage should then be understood as applying not to all Jews, but only to those Jews who engaged in the specific action alleged. If this is correct, then Paul only attacks some Jews, not all Jews. Although in The Judas Brief I reject the idea that any Jewish leaders had any responsibility for the death of Jesus, I do welcome this observation that undermines a major anti-Semitic argument.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Biblical character mentioned on newly deciphered tablet

The Book of Jeremiah mentions an important Babylonian official named Nebo-sarsekim, who, together with Nebuchadnezzar, was present at the seige of Jerusqlem in 587 BCE. Now, an Austrian Assyriologist, Dr Michael Jursa, has discovered a reference to that very individual on a previously undeciphered cuneiform tablet in the British museum, which apparently has a vast horde of undeciphered Babylonian tablets. The tablet dates the reference to year 10 in the reign of Nebuchannezzar, which would be about 595 BCE. An article about the find can be read here.

For an interesting commentary on this find, check out Chris Heard's note at Higgaion.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Were Matthew and Luke Monotheists?

Mark 12:28-34 tells the story of a friendly encounter between Jesus and a Jewish scribe, in which the two men discuss Gods fundamental commandments and the path to salvation. Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as a source, seem to have been highly disturbed by Mark's account, partly because it shows Jesus having a friendly respectful conversation with a knowledgeable Jew and partly because it suggests that Jesus endorsed the Jewish idea that the way to salvation was to endorse the Jewish view of one and only one God.

Here is Mark's version of the story (NRSV).

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Emphasis added.)

Jesus' answer, based on Duet 6:4-6 ("Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might"), is one of the fundamental principles of Judaism, down to this day. Orthodox Jews repeat this prayer twice a day. It is the passage placed inside the mezuzah posted on Jewish doorposts. In Mark, Jesus endorses the principle of this prayer as part of the road to salvation. Let's look at how Matthew and Luke handle this story.

Matthew's account appears at 22:32-40. Matthew, upon reading of this friendly respectful encounter between Jesus and the Jewish scribe, must have gotten his toga in a twist. Can't have Jews friendly with Jesus in Matthew. Here's his version of the story.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Note here that Matthew has eliminated all the friendly mutual respect Jesus shared with the scribe and has placed the scribe in a somewhat more hostile framework, portraying the scribe as one a group of disgruntled Pharisees. But, more importantly, notice what Matthew has left out from Mark's version of Jesus' answer. 1) 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 2) you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 3) "You are not far from the kingdom of God;" In Matthew, therefore, it would appear that God is not one, there is another beside him, and the belief that God is one has no role in reaching salvation.

While I can understand why Matthew might balk at depicting Jesus as the Jewish fundamentalist that he was, why would Matthew leave out the part about "The Lord is one" unless he had some sort of problem with that expression. This omission strongly suggests that Matthew didn't endorse that principle, that he saw Jesus as a separate deity from the God of Israel, and that he believed that Jesus and the god of Israel were two separate entities. This, of course, is not only contrary to all forms of mainstream Judaism but also to the logically impossible Trinitarian view of mainstream Christianity.

Luke, who champions the Gentile entry into Christianity, seems to have shared Matthew's concern, especially as Jesus appears to take a pro-Jewish and implicitly anti-Gentile approach to salvation. He, too, trashes Mark's version of the story and he, too, omits the phrases "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one" and "you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other.'" But, unlike Matthew, he does leave in the part about this redacted commandment playing a role in salvation. Here is the first part of Luke's version, 10:25-28.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

First, notice the role reversal here. It is Jesus who asks what is written in the law and it is the lawyer who responds and omits the phrase "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Now it's one thing when Matthew pretends that Jesus didn't endorse this fundamental Jewish principle, but it's quite another when Luke has the Jewish lawyer drop the phrase. Why would the Jewish lawyer omit this fundamental Jewish principle from his reading of the law? The reason is apparent from Jesus' reply in Luke's version. "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." Since Jesus says that the answer is correct, Luke must believe that there was something wrong with the principle "the Lord is one." Like Matthew, he probably saw Jesus as a secondary deity, separate and apart from the God of Israel. It was necessary, therefore, for Luke to remove the offensive phrase from Jesus' own theology and present a different Jesus from Mark, one more in touch with the Gentile audience of Luke.

Luke then goes on to further humiliate the Jewish lawyer. He has the fellow in a self-righteous snit ask who his neighbor is. Jesus then replies with the anecdote of the Good Samaritan.

In summary then, Matthew and Luke both felt it necessary not only to transform Mark's friendly encounter between Jesus and a Jew into a hostile one, but to also excise from Jesus' theology the Jewish principles that "the Lord our God, the Lord is one," and "besides him there is no other. 'The only reasonable explanation for this omission would seem to be that neither evangelist endorsed this view, that they thought that Jesus was a deity separate and apart from the god of Israel.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Blogging: The First Six Months

I started this blog on about January 1st of this year, so the passing of the six month mark last week seems like a good time to reflect a little on what I have experienced.

First, blogging is hard work if you want to be serious about what you write and provide scholarly commentary. For many people, I suspect, blogging is just an opportunity to rant and let off steam, hurt people they don't like, and try to prove how smart-mouthed they can be, usually evincing a mostly childish mentality and poorly informed and often dishonest commentary. This is especially true in the world of politics. Several biblioblogs occasionally cross over into political comment and I have been sorely tempted on several occasions to do so myself, but happily I have been able to restrain myself. I try mostly to stick to my blog realm, diverting from time to time to some other loosely (very loosely) related topic.

I am struck by several difficulties I face in blogging. First, this sort of blog is very time-consuming, and I have very little free time after taking care of job, home, and writing career. Second, in order to run a successful blog, you are supposed to blog frequently, as close to daily as possible, even if it's only a short post. I can't believe that more than a week has gone by since the last day I posted something. It seems like just a day or two ago that I added the entries.

Third, the essence of good blogging is generally short pithy remarks and some occasional lengthier comments or essays, sometimes broken down into multiple posts. I don't enjoy writing small comments or short essays that much. I love the challenge of large books around important themes and it can take a couple of years to do a book. But I am coping for now. (However, I am trying to decide what book to do next. Several subjects are competing for my attention, and I am having a difficult time deciding what I want to do first. At present I am thinking about working concurrently on two or three related books.) Another problem with writing short entries that read well is that they are harder to do and take more time than longer entries that are less focused. As George Bernard Shaw (I think it was) wrote to a friend once, he apologized for writing such a long letter as he didn't have the time to prepare a shorter one.

Perhaps the biggest problem is building and retaining an audience. A failure here could be quite depressing. Here it s too soon to gauge the concern. Prior to getting ready for my first post, I prepared a lengthy essay, divided into several parts, figuring that I should start off with a solid scholarly issue and that multiple parts would bring readers back. The topic was on a theoretical lost source for the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate and the Jews and Pilate in the Gospel of John. I had hoped that this would establish the biblioblog version of "street cred." I was quite disappointed at the lack of any comment or notice to the article.

In January, after I finished writing the article, I e-mailed announcements to a list of people who had read my books and corresponded with me. I also collected the names and email addresses for several related blogs and sent out notices. Several were kind enough to give me a plug

In any event, for the first month, my site counter source said I had 1000 page loads and 543 unique visitors. Of those unique visitors 79 represented return visits (some of which could have been by the same visitor on more than one occasion.) By way of contrast, my web site which had been in existence for several years but which was rarely updated unless I had a new book or article to post info on, had over 1700 page loads in January with over 900 unique visits, of which only 38 were return visits.

At the end of June I decided to look at my monthly figures for each of the first six months. From February through April, the number of page loads and unique visits on the blog began to dwindle month by month. My web site, on the other hand, continued to draw about the same numbers as I did in January, however, although there was some modest fluctuation. In May however, things started to turn around. May and June both showed significant gains in the number of hits and in June the blog had more page loads than my web site. The number of return visitors began to rise also.

At the beginning of July, I got some nice mentions in the Biblical Studies Carnival and the first couple of days in July showed significantly more traffic and return visits than my daily averages for May and June. So at the moment I'm on an upswing, and I hope I can build on the momentum. This, of course, means I have to continue to provide interesting posts on a more frequent basis. Tough order.

Biblical Studies Carnival XIX

Stephen Cook at Biblische Aus-bildung is hosting this Biblical Studies Carnival (XIX).

I'm pleased to note that some of my entries for June received attention. Thanks Stephen.

(See my sidebar for a link to the Biblical Studies Carnival archives.)

History vs. Theology: Did the resurrection happen?

For a look at the morass of difficulties that arise when historians and theologians confront each other check out James Crosslely's response to N. T. Wright's critique of Crossley. For additional perspective, also look at April DeConick's comment on the Crossley-Wright exchange.

There is simply no point in engaging in these sort of debates except for the entertainment value of watching witty people go at each other. Unfortunately, they are at cross-purposes. Nothing productive is likely to come out of it if by productive you mean adherents to one side of the debate being swayed by a proponent on the other side. On the other hand, lots of people like circuses. So there might be some non-educational value.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Son of Jesus?

In the wake of The da Vinci code and claims about a Jesus family tomb including a reference to the son of Jesus, some people actually think there is some merit to the idea that Jesus was married and had a child. That there is not a shred of tradition or evidence in any ancient Christian writings for the existence of a wife and child seems to be beside the point.

Consider what would be the case if Jesus had a son. Most of his followers considered Jesus the Son of God and a deity himself. Any child would then also have been thought of as the Son of God and a deity and would have been a chief figure and icon in Christian circles. He would have been given a central role in the Church movement and been widely revered as his father's successor. Yet, despite the efforts of early Christians to know everything they could about Jesus, with many mythological fabrications and other writings circulating alongside accepted Church writings, none reference a son of Jesus.

One person who would most likely have known about any alleged son of Jesus would have been the Church historian Eusebius who attempted to write as thorough a history as he could of the Christian movement down to this time in the fourth century. He cited numerous traditions that had been handed down and one topic of concern for him was the family of Jesus.

So, what did Eusebius have to say after investigating all the written sources and traditions he knew about?

When James, the brother of Jesus and first head of the Church (over Peter and Paul), was martyred (in Year 62, per Josephus) and after the fall of Jerusalem (Year 70), there was a conclave of all the living Apostles and disciples "together with those who, humanly speaking, were kinsman of the Lord-for most of them were still living." They selected "Symeon, son of the Clopas mentioned in the Gospels" to serve on the throne of Jerusalem, and become successor of James. (EH 3.11.1.)

As Clopas was apparently a brother of Jesus' father, Symeon was Jesus' cousin. If ever there was a time when a tradition about a son and a wife of Jesus would arise, if either existed, surely this convocation of living family members and apostles would have been such an occasion. But apparently, a cousin was the closest they could come up with to serve as leader of the Church.

Now, whether this story is true or not is not the issue. What mattersis that there is not the slightest hint here of any tradition concerning a son or wife of Jesus.

In a further investigation of Jesus' surviving family members, apparently the most Eusebius could come up with, for all practical purposes, was that Jesus had a brother named Jude (attested in the Gospels) and this Jude had some grandchildren, and towards the end of the first century, under the Emperor Domitian, they were questioned as possible descendants of David and, therefore, potential enemies of Rome. Domitian decided they represented no threat and let them go. On their release, they became leaders of the Church. (EH 3.20.)

So, all our earliest traditions can come up with are a couple of nephews and a cousin, with what strikes me as an overwhelming circumstantial case that Jesus had no son.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gospel of Judas: Two Book Reviews

In my previous post I mentioned my light encounter with the Gospel of Judas. For that purpose I made use of two books, Reading Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King, and The Gospel of Judas, edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, with additional commentary by Bart Ehrman.

Although the two have similar translations (I didn't do any detailed comparisons) each has some strengths not present in the other. The Gospel of Judas, the ancient manuscript, is a gnostic text from the Sethian branch of Gnosticism. Surprisingly, though Pagels and King are both well-known for their Gnostic scholarship, the treatment of Gnosticism and its Sethian branch seems to be more detailed and extensive in the Kasser book. On the other hand, Pagels and King had a wider and more substantial discussion on conflicting ideas in early Christianity that goes beyond the Gnostic-orthodox split.

One difference between the two translations that annoyed me is the different numbering systems for the text. The Kasser book numbered each line consecutively and inserted the folio page numbers where the manuscript page changed, while the Pagels book broke the text into chapters, and numbered the lines within each chapter, beginning with 1 for each opening verse. So, you can't cite both texts with the same standard reference.

The Gospel of Judas, the book, has an introduction, a translation, and four essays. Footnotes provide line by line commentary on the translation and manuscript. Bart Ehrman's commentary provides his typically well-done overview of the historical background to the manuscript and the issues affecting the New Testament and the developement of early Christian history. Rodolphe Kasser provides a full review of the manuscript's history. (Pagels and King chose not to include such a discussion in their own book.) Gregor Wurst discusses the relationship of this manuscript to the Gospel of Judas mentioned by Irenaus. Marvin Meyer discusses the relationship between Judas and Gnosticism.

Reading Judas has Four essays by Pagels and King, written jointly, a translation, and a commentary on the translation. The commentary appears after the translation, so, unlike the footnoted Gospel of Judas, you have to keep jumping back and forth if you want to look at notes simultaneously with the commentary. However, several of the comments are lengthy and wouldn't work in a footnoted format very well.

Either book is good enough for the casual reader who wants to be familiar with the text but doesn't need to chase down every Gnostic rabbit-hole. For a more detailed study you should probably check out both books as there is interesting material in each that you won't find in the other.

On a separate note, April deConick will be releasing The Thirteenth Apostle later this year, which will challenge some of the conventional translations and interpretations of the Gospel of Judas. She has a very different take on the idea that this Gospel presents Judas in a heroic light.

The Gospel of Judas as an enhancement to the Gospel of Mark

I was thumb-wrestling with the Gospel of Judas for much of the day and it occurred to me that this Gospel seems to take the Gospel of Mark as a primary source of information. The most telling clue seems to be the treatment of the Twelve Disciples, but there are others.

The primary theme of Mark's Gospel appears to be that while Jesus was alive, no human truly knew the nature of Jesus, that the true identity of Jesus was only made clear in his death. This is contrary to the other canonical Gospels. For Mark, Jesus is the "Son of God, so-declared in the very first verse of his Gospel, but no human knows that this is the case. Even the disciples remain ignorant of who Jesus really is. The closest any human comes is when Peter identifies Jesus as the messiah, but even this identification turns out to be wrong, because Peter sees the messiah as a human figure and Jesus chastises him for that understanding.

"Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (Mark 8:30.)

In the Gospel of Judas, again, no human knows who Jesus really is and here, too, the disciples are again singled out for their ignorance.

"How do you know me? Truly [I] say to you no generation of the people that are among you will know me." (Line 16.)

And in contrast to Peter, who flunked Jesus' pop quiz on identification, in the Gospel of Judas only Judas gets the answer right, by saying that Jesus comes from a different non-earthly realm (referred to in this Gospel as "the immortal realm of Barbelo," a Gnostic term for one of the higher plains of existence.) This builds up directly from Mark's charge that Peter thinks of Jesus only in earthly terms.

Another parallel suggesting that Mark served as a source work is the placement of this particular incident in the Gospel of Judas. The conversation between Jesus and the disciples about the identity of Jesus follows in the wake of a discussion about a ritual involving bread, in which Jesus says that the disciples don't understand the true meaning of the ceremony and that they are making an improper sacrifice. In the Gospel of Mark, the story about the disciples being unaware of Jesus' true nature also follows in the wake of the disciples misunderstanding a bread metaphor. In Mark, the disciples had only a single loaf of bread and complained, and Jesus criticized them for not comprehending the meaning of the earlier incident involving the multiplication of the loaves of bread. With just a short diversion in which Jesus heals a blind man, Mark's story moves from the chastisement about the bread to the question of Jesus' identity, the same pattern as in the Gospel of Judas.

A particularly interesting clue concerns the treatment of Judas when he goes to the priests. Mark mysteriously fails to explain what motivated Judas to go to the priests, leaving open the opportunity for an explanation. Also in Mark, Judas does not ask for any money and only after the fact do the priests offer him payment. (Mark 14:10-11.) In Matthew Judas bargains for money and in Luke and John, Satan induces Judas to act, although John adds the motive of greed to the indictment. In the Gospel of Judas, however, the author seizes on the lack of explanation in Mark and has Jesus request that Judas go to the priests. Then after Judas goes through a spiritual elevation in the presence of Jesus, he suddenly finds himself in front of the priests, and, as in Mark, is offered money only after the fact.

Here is another important clue. In the shorter version of Mark, ending at 16:8, which most scholars believe is where the Gospel originally ended, there is an empty tomb but no actual post-crucifixion appearance of Jesus in human form. This plays into the Gnostic vision, which saw Jesus escaping his human body and ascending to the higher realm. In the Gospel of Judas the story also ends in sudden fashion, immediately after the priests handed Judas the money. There is no post-crucifixion appearance of a human Jesus, an ending consistent with the shorter version of Mark.

Finally, I would note one additional matter, which by itself wouldn't mean much, but in concert with the above evidence, further suggests that the author of the Gospel of Judas used the Gospel of Mark as a source. Mark introduces the parable of the sower (4:1-20), which is followed by Matthew and Luke. In this parable, Jesus teaches that you can't raise plants on a rocky base. In the Gospel of Judas Jesus teaches "It is impossible to sow seed on [rock] and harvest its fruit.