Dr. Earl Babbie, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, has always had the answer when research methods are in question but for the first time in his career he has undertaken a new challenge that has, in his words, “no real answer”. After years of writing college textbooks, with more than a million copies in print, his newest publication, “The Kingdom” was released in July.
Babbie’s “first real attempt at fiction” was inspired by his friend, Professor Marvin Meyer’s “Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus”. A much-beloved professor of Religious Studies, Meyer held the Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies and was Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and was a nationally-renowned expert on Gnosticism. He passed away from melanoma in 2012 at the age of 64. The Marvin W. Meyer Faculty Athenaeum on campus bears his name, and Babbie’s book offers another memorial to Meyer’s lasting impact.
In this work of historical fiction, Babbie focuses on the biblical figure of St. Jerome and re-imagines his role at the Council of Carthage (the historical event in which the canon for the Bible was set). In St. Jerome’s fictionalized appearance at the synod he receives a copy of the Gospel of Thomas and becomes taken with it. As the Bible shows, the Gospel does not make the final cut but St. Jerome wants to have it protected for prosperity so he has it sent away to be hidden in Egypt. This plot development cleverly leads to a perfect compilation between fiction and reality because the gospel was eventually found in the Nag Hammadi located in an Upper Egytptian cave in 1945.
Babbie is well aware that his conceptualization of events recounted in the ancient biblical texts will not sit well with all readers, a risk deemed imperative, in order to impart an inspiring and powerful story. He believes that it is “necessary to go through some discomfort in dealing with ideas like the ones in [his] book” and his view is unorthodox but ultimately sympathetic. Babbie believes that Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Thomas addresses this notion, “Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled. When one is troubled, one will marvel and will rule over all.”
Translating that sentiment into more modern language, Babbie jokedly admits he prefers the modern bumper sticker phrase to the original, “The truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off.”