Friday, March 15, 2013

Judas kisses a shape-changing Jesus

No, really!

A newly-deciphered Coptic gospel-type text tells us exactly like that, and should reignite discussions about whose interpretation of the recently translated and interpreted Gospel of Judas is correct.

Here's the nut graf:
(T)he ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus' crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text.
Note TWO bizarro things there.

One is a shape-shifting Jesus, which is actually the less bizarre of the two.

The more notable one is Pilate offering his own son in place of Jesus.

First, why is the shape-shifting less bizarre?

In canonical gospels, in post-resurrection appearances, Jesus appears to have powers at least vaguely similar. In Luke, the Emmaus disciples don't recognize Jesus until he seemingly allows it. And in John 20, in the "upper room appearance," he pops in out of nowhere. And in the apocryphal, but early, Gospel of Peter, Jesus becomes mega-giant sized.

Here's the specifics of the shape changing here:
"Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat coloured, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man ..."  
That said, the story notes that this idea goes back at least to the Egyptian Christian Origen, who died in 254. So, even if the text is "newer," the tradition is not THAT new. That said, as the story notes, the text is written pseudepigraphally in the name of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril  lived during the fourth century, so this text is surely at least 100 years later than Origin's death. That said, it may have a "history," beyond the Judas kiss, that goes back earlier.

More on this, and the Pilate offer, after I mention it.

As for Pilate?
"Without further ado, Pilate prepared a table and he ate with Jesus on the fifth day of the week. And Jesus blessed Pilate and his whole house," reads part of the text in translation. Pilate later tells Jesus, "well then, behold, the night has come, rise and withdraw, and when the morning comes and they accuse me because of you, I shall give them the only son I have so that they can kill him in your place."
That said, in the story about this text, a scholar notes Pilate had higher, even much higher, standing in early Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian Christianity than elsewhere, even being regarded as a saint.

As for the tie-ins with the Gospel of Judas and its interpretation? It may bear some light as to whether that Gospel should be interpreted as Judas being Jesus' enemy rather than a being, a person, specially enlightened by Jesus. The fact that at least one quasi-semi-Gnosticizing text, the one at hand, points to Judas as an enemy means that this interpretation of the Gospel of Judas, contra a Bart Ehrman, is more likely.

As for the reality of the existence of Judas (operating on the assumption of the existence of Jesus) and Jesus' betrayal by Judas?

That's below the fold.

Monday, March 11, 2013

This is your brain on #spirituality? Well ....

A human brain allegedly hooked on "spirituality."
Ocean/Corbis photo via Daily Mail
Not totally. Perhaps not even close to totally.

The only parts of this research that I would accept as true are:
1. That, however "spirituality" is defined, it is driven by more parts of the brain than previously believed;
2. That, speaking of the above, there are all sorts of experiences we might define as "spiritual."

Here's where the over-hyped rubber hits the road, though.
1. Various electronically-driven brain scans, whether fMRI, CAT, or SPECT, are still, to use a Photoshop word, very "bitmappy" in terms of low spatial resolution, and quite time delayed to boot.
2. This particular study, even with the allowance it was specifically designed to focus on people with parietal lobe injury, only studied 20 people. Wayyyy too small of a sampling sizes.

And, that's just on "measurement error" problems.

We haven't even talked about research bias problems. Like this, from University of Missouri researcher Brick Johnstone:
He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan. 
Johnstone later tries to claim that the non-religious also experience "spirituality." But, since he's definining spirituality in metaphyiscal terms, religious ones if we count New Ageism, 12-Steppism and "atheistic" varieties of Buddhism as religion, then he's skewing his research.

That means this statement by the reporter:
The research indicated that there are all kinds of spiritual experiences that Christians might call closeness to God and atheists might call an awareness of themselves.
Simply isn't true; or at least, it's only "true" in a question-begging light. 

And, since it's bylined only as "Daily Mail Reporter," I don't even know who to blame.

But, it's simply not true.