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FSU Graduate Religion Symposium

Thomas Whitley

The Florida State University Religion Department is hosting our 11th annual Graduate Student Religion Symposium this weekend. This is my first symposium with FSU and am quite excited. The symposium has a national reach with graduate students from as far away as UC-Riverside, Princeton, and my alma mater UNC-Charlotte. Our keynote speaker is Dr. Manuel Vasquez from the University of Florida. Along with many of my FSU colleagues, I will be presenting a paper at the symposium. Come out Sunday morning if you're in Tallahassee.

The title of my paper is "Identity Formation Through Laughter: The Laughter of Jesus in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter and the Second Treatise of the Great Seth." Here's my abstract:

The idea of a laughing Jesus was particularly offensive to some early christians. John Chrysostom, for instance, remarked, “Christ himself wept . . . We can often observe him doing so, but never laughing - nor even smiling gently; none of the evangelists states that he did so.” Nevertheless, some texts do depict Jesus laughing. Little scholarly work has been done on this theme, though, with most of the work apparently being spurred on by the recent discovery of, and media interest in, the Gospel of Judas. Contrary to the idea put forth by Herbert Krosney that a laughing Jesus in these texts is an example of Jesus being a "more joyful figure than in the canonical Gospels," and that he is "a friendly and benevolent teacher with a sense of humor," the use of a laughing Jesus in these 2nd and 3rd century gnostic texts often serves a polemical purpose. This paper investigates the rhetorical use of the laughter of Jesus in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter and the Second Treatise of the Great Seth.

These texts employ various rhetorical strategies through their uses of Jesus’ laughter. For the purposes of this paper, though, only one will be examined: how Jesus’ laughter is used to build and maintain group identity. By emphasizing Jesus’ detachment from the world and by providing a means for the authors of the texts to mock their opponents, rhetorically polemicizing the Other, a laughing Jesus is discursively engaged in identity formation. Through Jesus’ laughter, these texts work polemically to push back against the real or perceived threat to the identity that this author is working to construct and validate. Beyond simply portraying an emotion of Jesus that is not recorded in the canonical gospels, these 2nd and 3rd century gnostic texts use Jesus’ laughter rhetorically to accomplish specific social goals.