Episode 189

Celene Lillie - The Thunder Perfect Mind: Defying Conventional Gender Rules to Embrace Union & Divinity


November 8th, 2023

1 hr 25 mins 38 secs

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About this Episode

What would it mean if the voice of God were a woman?

Many of you are familiar with my beloved returning guest and Scholar, Dr. Celene Lillie, from our episode together about her book The Rape of Eve an episode that continues to be one of my most popular.

Today she joins me for an inspiring, evocative, gender-bending, and ever-twisting exploration of an ancient text known as The Thunder Perfect Mind, the self-portrait of a divine feminine being.

In this episode we discuss this ancient text which sustains itself for some nine pages of papyrus - sometimes commanding the scene like a goddess, other times disdained and thrown down in the dirt, she keeps challenging those around her. Still other times, she shape-shifts into a masculine form or intentionally contradicts conventional expectations of her previous utterance.

Like many other important ancient scripts, The Thunder: Perfect Mind was discovered in rural Egypt, where the dry air inhibits decay of ancient material. Thunder belongs to the increasingly famous Nag Hammadi collection of what appear to be mostly early Christian documents, all found in the same jar in the hills above the Nile. It is likely that the Nag Hammadi documents had been collected by an early desert monastic community. Found in the mid-twentieth century and translated within several decades afterward, these documents were initially published in English in 1977, but only accessible to the general public within the last generation. Thunder was one of 52 Nag Hammadi documents.

Thunder has nevertheless already distinguished itself in public consciousness and has captured the imaginations of many. It stands vigil at the beginning of award-winning novelist Toni Morrison’s works Jazz and Paradise. Umberto Eco also cited it in his novel Foucault’s Pendulum. Julie Dash’s award-winning 1991 feature film, Daughters of the Dust, opens with a long citation fromThunder. Its text also anchors a 2005 film by Jordon and Ridley Scott, whose shortened version has appeared widely as a commercial for Prada women’s fashions.

More in this episode:

  • Why you can not utter the name of God in Hebrew and how it can be spoken through the breath
  • Learn how women once occupied a huge range of possibilities before patriarchal rule
  • Hear the deeper meanings of THUNDER and why these texts have been considered “seminal”
  • Learn why this piece pushes against our contemporary notions of what is possible and inspires our imaginations
  • Why the word “occupy” can be so problematic and how we can bring more nuance to our understanding of embodiment
  • How the poem THE THUNDER PERFECT MIND invites us to claim all of our “stuff” and be with the messiness of our lives without being diminished by them
  • How Human Design and The Gene Keys give us freedom from being “all things to all people”
  • Why The Thunder Perfect Mind is medicine for what is happening in the world at this time

Celene Lillie is Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder; an Adjunct Professor at the University of Oklahoma and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology; and the Dean of the Westar Institute's forthcoming Academy (launching this Fall). Her scholarly work focuses the New Testament, the Nag Hammadi Codices, and other early literature of the Jesus movement, with a particular interest in gender and violence. She is the author of The Rape of Eve: The Transformation of Roman Ideology in Three Early Retellings of Genesis; co-author (with Jaeda Calloway, Maia Kotrosits, Justin Lasser, and Hal Taussig) of The Thunder: Perfect Mind: A New Translation and Introduction; and Director of Translations for A New New Testament (edited by Hal Taussig).
If I were to name one connected specifically to my work, I'm interested in bringing forth voices that are typically marginalized or hidden in early Christian literature.

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