Forbidden Gospels Blog
If you subscribe, my new posts will automatically be sent to you.
Wow this semester has really gotten away from me. So sorry. A couple of items to bring to your attention. First, the Kindle version of
is now out
. I know that several of my readers were hoping for the e-version, so here it is. I still haven't any response from Barnes & Noble, so if you want it in Nook format, please let Barnes & Noble know. Honestly, this is about you and what you want. These companies are listening to you because things are so much in turmoil in the publishing world right now.
has been rescheduled for February 21, 7-8:30 pm in the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library, Rice campus. Sorry that we had to reschedule, but I was very ill and unable to make the Nov 1 presentation.
The Houston Chronicle has just posted a story on our Tolle Lege series
. Hope you like it!
For years I have been listening to the critique of the Humanities and watching its erosion. I have noticed a couple of things contributing to its demise. The first, in my opinion, has been the direct result of post-modern thought, which has emptied texts and other cultural productions of authorship and meaning. It takes my breath away when I think of what this single claim (and it is nothing more than a claim that so many have bought into) has done to the Humanities. When credit is no longer given to an author and meaning is derivative only of the reader, why bother studying the culture that produced the text or object? Why bother learning the language that the text was produced in? Why bother spending years training in a field when there can be no expert knowledge of or about the text or object, but only perceptions of those who read it and view it? We are critiquing ourselves out of fields of knowledge.
The second is tied to the first. If there are no expert fields of knowledge, then what are we supposed to do? If the disciplines are perceived to be useless, then we better work across disciplines. So the call for interdisciplinary knowledge arose in the universities and has taken center stage, even to the point that interdisciplinarity has been argued to be the next step. There should be no more departments. We should all work together and eliminate the limitations and constructed boundaries of departmentalized knowledge. We are critiquing ourselves out of departments.
The third is tied to the second. If we aren't experts in a particular field of knowledge anymore, and departments dissolve, then what? What purpose can we have? What use? When I look around, I see a fast scramble now to the sciences and social sciences (whose professors, by the way, have never bought into the postmodern critique and have maintained strongly expert fields of knowledge and disciplinary boundaries). How can the humanities make use of the sciences? Terms like Medical Humanities are becoming the rage. Environmental Humanities. Emerging Humanities. We are critiquing ourselves into the sciences.
Now you might think that my post is about the need for we in the Humanities to resist these things. But this would be a false impression. Critique is good for us, as long as it is constructive. While the Medical Humanities may turn out to be a fascinating field of study, this does not mean in my opinion that traditional Humanities disciplines should receive any less attention. In fact, I think we are doing ourselves a real disservice by not highlighting traditional disciplines too.
I think that we have to look at this for what it is. I think we need to take the discourse back to a healthy constructive place. I think interdisciplinarity is healthy, as long as we have real disciplines that are interacting and sharing knowledge. I think that disciplines and departments are not only necessary, but foundational. You need strong healthy disciplines in order to work across them successfully.
I don't buy into the postmodern argument that has killed the author, authorial intent, or meaning, because I realize (this insight is from the sciences) that humans are embodied, and the things that we produce leave our cognitive imprints, and these imprints are bound to cognitive maps from cultural worlds in which the productions were made. There is no mind, no knowledge, that floats around out there. Knowledge is made in us and we make it from within the webs of knowledge culturally shared by us in very specific locations. I will post more on these ideas in later posts.
For now, what I would like to do is to think about Humanities as a spark. Those of us who became Humanities professors did so because something was sparked in us when we read a poem, saw a vase, studied a text, listened to a piece of music. Something happened to us when we read Plato, or Josephus, or the Gospel of Thomas, or Dante, or Blake, or Shakespeare. What? What sparked you?
For me, whatever it was, and I have yet to name it, was totally absolutely life-changing. When I first read Plato, it was nothing less than an epiphany. When I first started to think, I mean really think about what makes us human, I couldn't stop thinking about it. When my first philosophy professor showed us a film about what a fire storm would be like if a nuclear explosion went off, and he asked us, would you push the button given this circumstance and that circumstance, well I was shaken to the depths of my very being. When my religion professor examined biblical texts without preferential treatment, but as cultural productions that had left the imprint of their societies on them, I was so upset I didn't want to go back into his classroom. Who did he think he was? Obviously I went back, my curiosity winning my private battle of faith. I understand fully why curiosity is framed as demonic by so many faith traditions and is proverbial in our culture (curiosity killed the cat). For all that the sciences had to offer me at the time (I was headed to medical school, and had been in nursing school initially), the call to the Humanities would not leave me alone. I had been changed by the encounter. My life had been transformed by its spark.
PHOTO: Saint Marina, Lebanon, possibly Tripoli, 13th century, Tempera and metal leaf on wood, 8-1/2 x 6-3/8 x 7/8 inches. The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo: Paul Hester
This is how they describe the exhibit:
Orthodox Christianity developed in the Near East during the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, and Bulgarian Orthodox churches maintained a tradition of icon painting rooted in Byzantium but each expressed it in distinctive ways. Transcending time and place through a delicate balance of tradition and innovation, these images of saintly figures and divine events were designed to imprint their holy subjects on the human mind. Though largely overlooked by Western audiences for much of their history, icons captured the imagination of early modernist painters and their distinct qualities were appreciated by contemporary audiences.
An icon, whether in an ancient or modern context, is a sign or likeness of something of greater significance. Throughout history religious icons have been used to instruct, adorn and inspire worship. To be an effective conduit to the sacred, an icon must achieve fidelity to the subject it represents, be accessible enough to be easily remembered, and blend new messages with familiar elements. The icons of Imprinting the Divine reveal a variety of visual strategies that repeat figures and scenes but that also refresh, revise and renew the various elements that go into their creation. As Carr writes in the exhibition’s catalogue, “The art form evolved in both meaning and technique, yet maintained the continuity and fidelity to type so crucial to its purpose. Even now, centuries later…icons have lost none of their power to intrigue and impress.” (p. 33)
I want to thank Ms. Jasmine Wilson for her thoughtful
. This is a very interesting and brave website I think. It is written for a Christian-centered audience, but its reviewers comment on books that are not necessarily written from that same perspective. I especially appreciated what she had to say toward the end of the review, which I quote here:
It seemed she was writing to a wider audience of those interested in gender studies, not just Christians who were interested in redeeming their own muddled history toward women. Because of that, she does not take at face value that the Scriptures have any sort of spiritual identity, and might make some Christians uncomfortable because of that. However, if readers recognize that she is writing toward a wider audience, I do think her account is appropriately dangerous, and can hopefully jar Christians into action to reverse the long tradition of misogynistic interpretation of Scripture and misogynistic action in the church.
To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,Synder, according to CBS, thinks that it is the oldest Christian object we possess.
[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.
Professor Synder is working on series of articles on Christian teachers and their schools in Rome. He plans to publish a book on the subject. Looking forward to it.
Last year, I was involved in a wonderful seminar made possible by an Andrew W. Mellon grant to lead a graduate research seminar, Mapping Death. One of the stipulations of the seminar was that it had to be interdisciplinary. The question that arose for me is how do I run a seminar on a topic - in this case Mapping Death - when the individual fellows weren't going to be working on the same project or be in the same field? I resolved this problem by making method and theory our common ground - to share how our different fields approach our subjects.
This turned out to be very rewarding as I hope the
I put up last year showed. I worked very hard to critique the historical approach I was trained in, and to try to develop some kind of approach that would allow movement out of the postmodern no man's land where the author is dead and texts relate to texts as the reader fancies.
In this post, I want to lay out some of the serious questions I have about historical critical studies as I look to move forward with my approach which I am calling Network Criticism:
- What does it mean to the historical enterprise when texts are forced to fit the logic of a modern person, when modern logic is privileged at the expense of the logic of the subjects themselves?
- What does it mean to the historical enterprise when historians snag what they can from the sources to construct systems of backgrounds, influences and linear causal developments that may never have existed in history?
- What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we construct an author’s intent, and then understand this construction as primary and authoritative?
- What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we understand the message of the text to be separate from the extended conversation that the text was part of and fueled?
- What does it mean to the historical enterprise when we treat texts as disembodied discourses, as intellectual histories with no real connection to the material human beings who produced them – to their tangible material bodies or to the material culture they inhabited?
I can't believe it, but the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting is fast approaching, and hurray! it is a joint meeting with the American Academy of Religion again. I am a member of both organizations, and so I am so pleased that the two societies are together again.
There have been some big changes for those of us who are involved in the
Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section
. We came up for renewal this year, and we sent out a survey to our members. Based on the results of that survey, we decided to change the name of the section to
Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
, and to broaden our mission statement: "This unit critically investigates religious currents of secrecy/secrets (esotericism) and/or their revelation through praxis (mysticism) in the formative period of Judaism and Christianity (ca. 500 BCE-500 CE)."
We have two great sessions scheduled for November, one of them a joint session with The Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity group. Please join us if you can.
Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
2011 - Convention CenterTheme:
Reconstructing Practice from Texts
The annual banquet dinner for this group will be held at a local restaurant on Saturday evening. Contact April DeConick (firstname.lastname@example.org) for reservations and information.
Kelley Coblentz Bautch, University of St. Edwards, Presiding
Jeff Pettis, New Brunswick Theological Seminary
April D. DeConick, Rice University
Cordula Bandt, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Break (5 min)
Grant Adamson, Rice University
Ellen Muehlberger, University of Michigan
Brent Landau, University of Oklahoma
Discussion (25 min)
Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity
Joint Session With:
Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
2018 - Convention CenterTheme:
Praxis and Experience in Ancient Jewish and Christian Mysticism
This session is dedicated to the memory of Alan F. Segal
April Deconick, Rice University, Presiding (5 min)
James R. Davila, University of St. Andrews
Istvan Czachesz, University of Heidelberg
Break (10 min)
Frances Flannery, James Madison University
Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College, Respondent (15 min)
Pieter Craffert, University of South Africa, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (30 min)
I posted last week about the trouble that technology can cause in the classroom, in terms of students who insist on surfing the internet, reading Facebook, tweeting, and so on while class is in session. This, however, does not mean that technology is a bad thing. It means that we need to develop expectations in our classrooms for digital etiquette.
It is also true that the use of technology to teach and research in the Humanities is in full swing, and we need to catch up with this in our classrooms and become more savvy in terms of how we can use technology to help us with our research.
So I'm wondering what ideas you have, as students and as teachers. What are some of the things that can be done to help us integrate our study of the Humanities and digital technology? Express your opinion in the comments.
Today the Digital Humanities was featured in the news when 60 NEH grants were given for those with projects that integrated technology and the Humanities. Here's the story:
WASHINGTON — “Secret plan to replace human scholars with robots,” read Brett Bobley's first slide.
“Oops!” exclaimed Bobley, director of the office of the digital humanities for the National Endowment of the Humanities, feigning embarrassment. The audience, made up mostly of NEH grantees, laughed. They were here at the endowment’s headquarters on Tuesday to celebrate their roles in forging a new frontier for the humanities -- a category of academic fields at risk of turning fallow for lack of public support.
Humanities research is often derided as gauzy and esoteric, and therefore undeserving of tax dollars. Amid financial crises, humanities departments at many public universities have been razed. But even amid cuts, there has been a surge in interest in the digital humanities -- a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it the study of history, language, and culture.
“While we have been anguishing over the fate of the humanities, the humanities have been busily moving into, and even colonizing, the fields that were supposedly displacing them,” wrote Stanley Fish, the outspoken professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, on his New York Times blog in June.
Here is the letter from the Menil Director Josef Helfenstein distributed to Friends of the Menil Collection:
After more than two decades in Houston, the beloved Byzantine frescoes will go back to Cyprus in 2012. While this moment is bittersweet, the story of these frescoes—from their rescue, to their long-term loan to us, and now to their return—very much reflects the essence of the Menil Collection, its focus on the aesthetic and the spiritual, and our responsible stewardship of works from other nations and cultures.
In 1983, Dominique de Menil, founder of the Menil Collection, was presented with an extraordinary prospect: to acquire two 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. Mrs. de Menil was struck by their beauty and understood immediately their art historical significance. However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus.
That knowledge led to an act of extraordinary generosity—in fact, a series of generous actions that eventually engaged many other people. First, the frescoes were acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Then, the Menil Foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 pieces when they were stolen. In gratitude, the Church lent the frescoes to the Menil on a long-term basis, for presentation in a consecrated chapel in Houston. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened to the public in 1997, with support for its construction provided by donors in Houston and across the country.Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experienced the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion. Moreover, the frescoes’ installation in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel—a consecrated space that simultaneously honors their sacred origins and the tragic history of their looting from their true home church in Lysi—includes a profound, sacred dimension and is therefore different from traditional museum presentations of antiquities.
While the loan of the frescoes formally concludes in February 2012, this will not be the end of their story—or the story of the building. We are exploring how best to use it in the future, in ways that carry forward our mission. We will also be organizing a number of public programs focused on the frescoes over the next few months, and I hope you will join us for these events.
Thank you for your interest and support. We look forward to seeing you at the Menil Collection soon.
is published. I just received a couple of author copies in my mailbox. So if you pre-ordered my book, it should be arriving at your home or office very soon. I don't yet see the Kindle button activated, so please, if you want to purchase my book in e-form, click the "we want this in Kindle" button. I was told that it will be available electronically, but I figure that it never hurts to keep reminding the powers that be that we would like this asap.
I am really pleased with the book. It is a book that began 25 years ago when I agreed to teach a class on gender and the bible at Albion College. That was a long time ago. Back then I didn't have the faintest idea that I would want to write a book on gender, let alone do it. I did not study gender in graduate school. This only became an interest of mine when I began teaching. Each time I taught the class and revised it, I became more and more shocked at what I was finding in the early Christian literature, and was frustrated that this material was not being covered in books authored about early Christianity. I couldn't understand why because the material was so important. So eventually I overcame my own anxieties about not having been formally trained in gender studies, and wrote the book myself.
I hope you like it, or at least, I hope it gives you something to think about.
"An intriguing, important, and appropriately dangerous book. DeConick brings her study of the difficult canonical and apocryphal texts into conversation with contemporary concerns in a satisfying and accessible way. Her style is both technical and easy-going. This is a book for the general public as well as the academic classroom. I learned a great deal from it and am left with many questions to chew on happily and to discuss. The reader is aided in the search for 'Lady God,' and in the struggle to create societies that abhor and reject violence to the female body." — Jane Schaberg, Professor of Biblical Studies and Gender/Women’s Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, USA
I think about technology a LOT. It is around me all day, every day. When I'm not in my classroom, I am in my office sitting in front of my computer working. Email dominates my space and time. It is everywhere, on my phone, on my ipad, on my computers. All correspondence with students, colleagues, administrators takes place via email and texting. Blogging is an extended classroom. I have become addicted to Dropbox (and no one has paid me to say that). How did I ever work before I installed it? Shared folders, updated files, multiple computers. Wow. Research articles come to me across the internet from libraries everywhere, in pdf format that I can read, search, and highlight on my iPad and my AirBook. I no longer buy hard cover books when I can get the e-version and have my library on my iPad and carry it around with me. It used to be that computer technology was mainly associated with my workplace and writing articles and books, but not anymore. Now it dominates home and entertainment space too. An Apple TV. How fantastic is that gadget? Ipods. Netflix. Hulu. I am in love with my iPad which is the ultimate toy, especially for those of us who like to doodle, edit and filter photographs, keep track of Facebook, read novels, and what about Flipboard to keep track of news and my blog reader? I draw my personal line at gaming, but my son loves Angry Birds and Webkinz World.
And I wonder why I am worn out? Why my life feels like there isn't a moment of down time? There isn't. Technology, with all its bright lights and fast pace, has seeped into my life everywhere. I am watching as the fascination with it - and it is fascinating - begins to disrupt traditional modes of communication in my life, like face to face conversations. And my classroom. No longer is it a place of focused conversation between my students and myself. It is a place with computer screens bisecting desks, and students busy pushing buttons and playing on Facebook and Wikipedia, and texting on cell phones.
I guess what I am saying is that technology is ahead of us. We are enthralled with it. It has become essential to how we live and work. But we have yet to figure out how to control it. We are like that kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory who loves chocolate so much he jumps into the chocolate sea and nearly drowns.
I hope you don't think I have the answers to this dilemma, because I don't. Of course, there are personal decisions that we all have to make, things we can do to create non-technology time in our days and weeks. A sabbath day away from it all. A sabbath time of day every day so families can see each other face to face. The dilemma I am talking about is taking place in larger communities (like our high schools and universities) with lots and lots of implications. One aspect of this communal dilemma that I think needs immediate attention is our classrooms, and how to
recreate classroom etiquette
. I don't mean to sound like Emily Post, but my gosh, we need some etiquette here. I am not harping on how rude these behaviors are becoming, or how disruptive (they
both these things). What I'm harping on is that these behaviors have already destroyed our classrooms. There can be no classroom when twenty students are sitting there on Facebook and Flipboard and their phones. I don't know what it is, but it isn't a classroom. No learning is going on.
The internet has allowed for an interesting yet destructive blending of mental spaces. Want to know something? Look it up on Wiki. Learning something and entertainment have been blended. Learning is no longer viewed as healthy hard work, something that our minds should have to struggle to do. If it is not entertaining in the classroom, well then, let's surf the internet. I think that this is due in part to the fact that because of the internet and sites like Wiki, all forms of knowledge have been blended into each other, so that popular opinion and popular ways of knowing (what is called plain style knowledge) have been given equivalent weight with critical engagement and critical ways of knowing that require years of training and professionalization in particular fields (what we teach in our classrooms and write about in our publications).
So I put this out into cyberspace as a kind of call, especially to other teachers. We need to get caught up with the technology and establish technology boundaries in our classrooms. We need to take back the classroom.
For those of you who are asking, yes,
, will be available in Kindle Edition. I had this conversation with my editor on a couple of occasions, and this week he confirmed that the copy was sent out to be processed in electronic format as well as traditional hardcover.
"April DeConick, a world class scholar, has written a must-read book for those interested in gender issues in relationship to God. By integrating her vast knowledge of extracanonical and canonical texts, she expansively analyzes the effect of misogyny on conceptions of the female body and the profound difference such marginalization has made, even today, for women's ecclesiastical leadership and ordination." Ann Graham Brock, Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Iliff School of Theology, USA
Welcome to the new religious studies PhD students at Rice! We started classes and advising last week, so I am getting back into the swing of things here on campus.
This semester I am teaching Coptic to a class of seven, including two undergraduates. I am looking forward to returning to teaching the language that opens Pandora's Box. I am returning to using Lambdin since I have found that there are two important elements to teaching this language: 1. lots of exercises; 2. breaking down the system into small details and delivering it in pieces. Lambdin does this very well. Lambdin doesn't present Coptic as a whole system very well though. For that Layton's
are much better. So I will supplement next semester by using Layton and Brankaer to show the students the bigger picture, once they have been through the details.
I am also pleased that our Mellon seminar,
, was so successful last year, that we are continuing it this year as a Writing Workshop. We will be meeting regularly to assess and critique our individual work projects. I need to get my paper on the Ophians ready for publication, write a piece on the Naassenes, and get going on my next book called
The Ancient New Age: Gnostic Spirituality and the Beginnings of Christianity.
The biggest news for me is that my book
Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter
is slated to come off the presses at the end of September. I am thrilled that this project is on its way to a physical reality with a book jacket and all that!
Advanced copies were sent to readers and here is some of the feedback the book received:
The near-programmatic downgrading and degrading of women is one of the most shameful aspect of traditional Christianity. In this powerful book, DeConick rejects conventional theological and hermeneutical attempts to soften the absence of the divine and human female by challenging head-on the vilification of women and the othering of their bodies in early Christianity. This bold discussion makes for uncomfortable but essential reading - and rightly so.
Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible, University of Exeter, UK.
more advanced reviews of the book in my next post...
Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Plese (eds.),
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
This is a brand new book and an incredibly useful one at that. A big "THANKS" to Ehrman and Plese for putting this book together!
It is a collection of apocryphal gospels (Infancy Gospels; Ministry Gospels; Sayings Gospels; Passion, Resurrection and Post-Resurrection Gospels). The book does not include the Coptic gospels from Nag Hammadi or the Berlin Codex, with the exceptions of the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. The editors also have included the Gospel of Judas from the Tchacos Codex, but the translation is based only on the Kasser-Wurst critical edition. So it does not yet take into account Ohio fragments whose translation and photographs have been released by Wurst on his website
. So this translation (like all of them that have been published so far, including my own) needs to be corrected and updated already.
What is great about the volume? The primary language texts are on the face pages, with translations on the opposite pages. There are brief introductions to each text, which help orient the readers to some of the main issues for each text.
There are very few footnotes on critical textual issues, however, so this will not replace the critical editions for researchers. But it will be very handy to have all these primary texts in one neat handbook for quick reference and use in graduate courses.
My main criticism is that the bibliographies are uneven and too selective. They target certain resources, while leaving out other crucial materials on these texts. This means that the bibliographies are so selective that they are not targeted for the public or for graduate students and researchers who appear to be the volume's targeted audience. I wonder why the bibliographies are so selective, given that this is a volume of 611 pages, and the bibliographical pages usually take up less than half a page with lots of white space left. Another page of bibliography on each of the gospels would have made the volume that much better and would have added very little in terms of additional pages.
I haven't received my copy yet, but I noticed that
The Gnostic Journal
is out in its fourth volume. I have enjoyed the other volumes, so look forward to getting mine from Amazon. Here is the
if you want to check it out on Amazon.
The fourth issue of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality. Alan Moore's Fossil Angels, an investigation into the contemporary occult scene. Interviews with Stephan Hoeller and Miguel Conner. Anthony Peake on the Quantum Pleroma. Sean Martin tells a Gnostic sci-fi tale. Robert M.Price on the Gnostic Gospel of John. Bill Darlison on the zodiac in the Gospel of Mark. Gnostic influences on Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. The plight of the Mandaeans. The gematria of Marcus the Magician. The Gospel of Thomas, a translation and Fourth Way interpretation. Gnostic politics. John Cowper Powys. The complete text of the Gnosis of the Light--a book within a magazine! Egyptian cat mummies and more. And we review enough books to fill a whole shelf. Cover and interior illustrations by Laurence Caruana.
This is a must-read book, whether you are persuaded or not. I don't say that about many books, let alone books about the historical Jesus which has become a cottage-industry these days. But
, is different because he pushes the historical approach by responsibly bringing in research on
He makes a case that by analyzing patterns in the way Jesus was remembered by his contemporaries, we can make some plausible claims about his life and teaching as a "historical" figure. Now "historical" is in scare quotes for a reason. It is because LeDonne doesn't understand his job to be to reconstruct what happened in the past, but to explain why the past was remembered as it was. So consider his definition of history: "History, as a discipline of knowledge, is not what happened in the past, it is an accounting of how the past was remembered and why. To confuse these is to confuse the very nature of the historian's task" (p. 34). And "History includes only the past that has been interpreted through memory. That which has not been remembered is not history" (p. 34). And this memory is ongoing, forged with each new generation in order to make sense of the current situation.
The real job of the historian is "to measure and compare interpretations in order to explain the most plausible interpretation of the story" (p. 78). He "doesn't attempt to peel away interpretation in order to find facts" (p. 78). Why? Because "the postmodern mind knows that no facts are available for analysis that have not been preceded, followed, and mediated by interpretation" (p. 78).
So LeDonne begins with the premises that the storytellers behind the gospels are interpreters by discipline, and that what they have written is exactly what history ought to look like, and our job is to explain why history was written to look like this. What the gospel writers produced were creatively constructed interpretations that began during Jesus' lifetime. Why during his lifetime? Because if he would not have been interpreted by his contemporaries, he would not have been remembered at all (p. 40).
LeDonne's approach is laid out and applied as the book progresses. LeDonne concludes that Jesus had a complex relationship with his mother and their dysfunctional family, that he saw himself as an exorcist and healer, that he took on John's massive following and began to preach nonviolence and the establishment of God's political reign on earth. This revolutionary message led to a final confrontation with the temple priesthood in Jerusalem and his death.
While I am impressed by LeDonne's approach and persuaded by his application of theories on human perception and memory, I remain a modernist too (postmodernism is the extreme of modernity).
I think that our job is to provide plausible explanation for what happened from records that are interpretations of what was perceived to have happened.
To me, this argument for plausibility is still tied to fact. I can't seem to detach it and am not sure I would want to anyway.