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Reviving Silenced Traditions


Books like The Da Vinci Code present readers with mystifying theories--and it's often hard for some to remember which aspects of these historical-fiction works are true, and which ones are made up. And then there are works like the Bible, which have been through many rounds of editing and translation in their centuries of existence. Dr. J. Edward Wright explores these ideas and examines how certain beliefs became marginalized over time by churches and synagogues as they developed traditions. Wright is a professor and director of the UA Center for Judaic Studies, teaching the Hebrew Bible and early Judaism. He received his doctorate from Brandeis University and did graduate work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Harvard Divinity School. Wright is also president of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. He is the Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker for April and will be giving a lecture titled "The Secret and Lost Books of the Bible."

Dr. Wright seeks to answer several questions regarding who, exactly, selected the books and teachings that were included in the Bible long ago. He also is eager to address the teachings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Judas. Wright believes that over many years, the meanings behind these writings have been lost, diverting the religious believer who reads and follows them.

He supports this main idea by saying that the meaning of the Bible was altered when copyists changed languages over time. In the last book of the New Testament, Wright explains, Revelation 22 actually includes a warning that anyone who changed the words of the New Testament or followed the changed words would be cursed.

That's reason enough for Dr. Wright to question the Bible's current condition.

"Stating that warning shows us that people were actually changing the words of the Bible," he says. "That's all the evidence you need right there."

Of course, the language used in the Bible and other ancient religious texts long ago would be impossible for the average person to understand today--but it's important to remember that the translated versions may not necessarily match the original versions.

In his lecture, Dr. Wright wants to explain the idea that traditions were created by the churches and synagogues in order to promote orthodoxy and correct behavior. He thinks that many texts and traditions were suppressed over time to promote certain religious behaviors among followers--and thus are lost.

"People will see the vibrant diversity of early Judaism and early Christianity and how it addressed the social needs of people in that day and have been marginalized over time," he says. "We are now looking at new images of Jesus and Judaism."

Dr. J. Edward Wright will give his UA Distinguished Speaker Lecture on "The Secret and Lost Books of the Bible" at the Arizona Inn at noon on Wednesday, April 18. The Arizona Inn is located at 2200 E. Elm St. The lecture is $25 and includes lunch. Please RSVP by Monday, April 16, by calling 626-3445.

Wright's lecture will also explain why everyone seems to get so carried away with movies and books like The Da Vinci Code--and why some actually take them as truth without any questioning.

"Those kinds of books have elements of truth to them, but are really mostly false. (The Da Vinci Code author) Dan Brown did a good job doing research for it, so it has a ring of authenticity to it. These types of books and movies have elements of truth and fact, and they are strung together in creative ways that are entertaining. That's why they're so popular."

Wright believes that presentations of books and movies like The Da Vinci Code, as well as the marginalization of beliefs over time through translation of religious texts like the Bible, stifle the religious imagination.

In his lecture, Dr. Wright says, he will attempt to resurrect that religious imagination, by urging listeners to recognize these suppressed traditions and texts that hold great relevance today.

"I want to give voice to the beliefs and traditions that were silenced," he says.

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