Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Parallels to the Mar Saba Letter - Crazy Monks Would Write Texts Anywhere Part 2473


the Homily of Evodius of Rome c. 12th century CE
Monastery Old Dongola

There is a well established tradition of monks writing on plastered walls.  At the school of Amheida we see the Greek Classics written on the wall of the school.  Also the Balaam Inscription of Tel Days Alla (in the pre-Common Era period).  


Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Story of Christianity as the Story of a Failed Art Project

Grappling with the origins of Christianity has been the struggle of my life.  Unlike most people in the field (and with publication of a couple of peer reviewed papers I am part of the field) I don't start with the usual starting point.  I am not a Christian.  I didn't begin life as 'part of the fold' only to start 'thinking about' my faith later in life.  I began as a failed artist and the question that always dogged me was - how did art become history, how did interpretation become literal fact?

That shouldn't be taken to mean that I am a 'mythicist' - that I deny that there was any fact or history behind the story of Jesus.  It's just that any facts or historical details were really of secondary detail - if there were any.  Christianity seems to emerge 'out of the box' as a spiritual phenomenon.  What's more, it wasn't as if just one myth 'won out' quite early.

The more I look at early Christianity you see dozens if not hundreds of myths competing with one another from the second century onward.  What won out was a 'factual religion' defined by the early creeds where the baptized were interrogated about their 'right belief.'  Do you believe that Jesus was crucified under Pilate?  Fact. Do you believe he was born to the virgin Mary?  Fact.

If art was forced to become 'realistic,' if a story about demons and superheroes gave way to ordinary concerns and ultimately 'right belief' - what were 'powers of the world' so frightened of?  Why did it matter if there were dozens and hundreds and hundreds of dozens of kooky sects putting forward stories of a heavenly hall of justice, a 'secret plan' hatched before the creation of the world to avenge the work of demons who brought down the world's Creator?  Why did the worldly powers take on artists, forcing them to abandon doing what they do best - making up stories?

It's easy to see things in terms of 'spiritual truths' - i.e. seeing the world rulers controlled by demons and the innocent 'creative minds' channeling the holy spirit from its source in the heavens.  This is how these artists framed their own situation and it is natural for even modern artists to tell the story this way.  But as I said at the beginning, I started life being a failed artist.  I 'failed' because I could never summon the conviction to 'believe in myself' or believe in my art.

Even as I worked the clay into something 'real' I could never ignore that my creations were little more than mere clay.  Soon I stopped enjoying listening to the music I from each previous stage of my life.  I actually find myself envious of old people who wax with nostalgia from 'the sounds of their lives.'  I never did a slow dance to Stairway to Heaven at my school prom.  I never even attended a single dance at school - although I must admit my wife and I met at club with a massive video screen playing Careless Whisper.   It doesn't get much cheesier than that.

But my point is I believe in art even though I don't read, consume, partake in any real art.  The closest I get nowadays is football (soccer) and training my son to be a 'creative midfielder.'  If it makes any sense to anyone, I worship the process of creativity even though - or perhaps especially because - I know that whatever ends up getting produced is really at bottom, indistinguishable from garbage.

I never wanted to be a father because I thought I my mental attitude was quite unsuitable for being a father.  I grew up in an age where fathers were still towering figures of certainty.  While I spend more time with my son in a month than my father ever did in his entire life with me, I always confess to my beloved companion that I don't have a clue whether I am right or wrong about anything.  I happened to have stored an endless number of half-truths from my voracious reading of ancient books into my memory banks which I readily bring up if I feel it is relevant to the flow of the discussion.

Why exactly my son needs to know that the ancients conceived of heaven as an iron dome I don't know.  I think it's merely because I enjoy having someone to share all these silly facts and bits of information with.  When I come to think of it I think my approach to early Christianity and religion developed from my inability to get rid of garbage.  I am the worst kind of hoarder - a hoarder of facts and ideas.  I love seeing the history of humanity as the story of failed ideas because I think it's the truest thing you can say about us - at bottom we are all failed artists.  It's what binds us and makes us human even if we don't recognize that about ourselves individually or collectively.

To that end, I start with the assumption that Christianity - and even Judaism for that matter - is nothing but a never ending string of failed art projects.  We're all just making up shit.  But the main question for me - and it's the one I can never quite solve - is how did this entire creative enterprise get its start?  What was the original 'germ' of an idea that gave rise to later 'failed experiments' like Marcion and Valentinus?

In my head of course I have sketches of what I think was at the beginning of Christianity.  I can't get over the fact that as an 'art project' it couldn't have gotten off the ground with some powerful patron who financed the whole enterprise.  With everyone scribbling in every corner of the Empire, what was it that put the scribble that was the first germ of Christianity 'over the top'?  My guess is that the first Christian must have been a powerful dude.  It's just a hunch.  It's not like uncovered some document somewhere which gives me an edge over everyone else.

I don't believe in Acts.  I think 'Luke' was a late second century writer who had some connection with Irenaeus and might well have been Irenaeus himself.  Irenaeus, the late second century Church Father helped shape my view of what came before him.  Irenaeus can be summed up as someone who had some association with libraries in antiquity and helped define the Christianity which came after him by nailing down the names of the first disciples, apostles, 'apostolics,' bishops and 'fathers' of the Church down to the end of the second century.  In short Irenaeus was a master forger.

Of course there were dozens of other individuals who worked in the same manner as Irenaeus.  Julius Africanus was a near contemporary.  But my point in bringing this up is to reinforce that a forger is really another kind of artist.  It takes a great deal of creativity to pull off the publication of a terrible literary work like 'the Acts of Paul,' 'the Dialogue of Jason and Pascipus,' 'the Pastoral Epistles' and the like.  No one thinks of any of these books as 'art' because we have been trained to think of religion as the domain of God and truth and everything holy.

But as I said, I see early Christianity through the eyes of a failed artist ...


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

Parallels Between Clement's Initiation in Alexandria by Barnabas in the Homilies and Secret Mark

Clementine Homilies (Clement and Barnabas in Alexandria after hearing an unnamed preacher in Rome): I left all my affairs as they were, and sped to Portus; and coming to the harbour, and being taken on board a ship, I was borne by adverse winds to Alexandria instead of Judæa ... And when I said that I wished I could meet with some one of those who had seen Him, they immediately brought me to one, saying, “There is one here who not only is acquainted with Him, but is also of that country, a Hebrew, by name Barnabas, who says that he himself is one of His disciples; and hereabouts he resides, and readily announces to those who will the terms of His promise.” Then I went with them; and when I came, I stood listening to his words with the crowd that stood round him; and I perceived that he was speaking the truth not with dialectic art, but was setting forth simply and without preparation what he had heard and seen the manifested Son of God do and say.

I took Barnabas by the hand, and by force conducted him, against his will, to my lodging, and constrained him to remain there ... And having spent several days, and instructed me briefly in the true doctrine he said that he should hasten into Judæa 
Clementine Recognitions (Clement and in Rome):
But as the day was declining to evening, I laid hold of Barnabas by the right hand, and led him away, although reluctantly, to my house; and there I made him remain, lest perchance any one of the rude rabble should lay hands upon him. While we were thus placed in contact for a few days, I gladly heard him discoursing the word of truth yet he hastened his departure, saying that he must by all means celebrate at Judæa 
Secret Mark:
he [Jesus] stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan [to Judea]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who Was Irenaeus Writing For or Writing To?

Irenaeus's massive tome, Adversus Haereses, survives only in Latin.  It is the oldest surviving heresiological work.  While we use terms like 'heretic' and 'heresy' to mean something like 'dissenting voices' Irenaeus's purpose was in fact quite different from this.  His point was to argue that 'the sects' (= heresies) were properly identified as belonging to his Church, albeit under the influence of various 'inventive personalities' who - through their cunning - distanced themselves from the true Church.
"These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretence of knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe."  
While Irenaeus's tome now appears as something of a 'bird watching guide' - i.e. a listing of various 'types' of sectarians, there are clear signs that the work itself developed into its present form.  A work principally directed against the Valentinians (and now preserved by Tertullian in Latin as Adversus Valentinianos) is at the core of Book One of Irenaeus's tome.  But on top of this lost work the list of 'all the other heresies' was added at a later date and perhaps from earlier sources.

Of course the exact history of how this present work - Adversus Haereses - was formed is clouded by the general tendency of the Church Fathers to plagiarize one another at will.  There are at least a half dozen variations of Adversus Haereses ascribed to different authors - some older, most later - than Irenaeus.  The depth of dishonesty among the first Church Fathers should convince us to hold off on saying for instance that Justin really did write a lost 'syntagma' or pamphlet against the heresies which forms the basis to much of the additional material in Adversus Haereses.  This too might have been a forgery written in the name of Justin as indeed additions to Justin's existing works have been identified by even conservative scholars made around the time of Irenaeus.

In short there was a flood of forged and reforged 'compilations' or lists of heresies that seem to have been channeled through Irenaeus.  They exists and do not exist any longer in the names of virtually everyone associated with Irenaeus so we can't get a clear picture of where and when Irenaeus's influence begins and ends.  It seems as if there was an orthodox 'factory' of heresiological literature associated with this one Church Father at the end of the second century.  Why was this obsession with listing heresies so prevalent in the period?  The short answer seems to be that it was part of the orthodox myth making exercises epitomized by fake histories like the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul.

In other words, at the same time that for instance the orthodox Church was making up a story of its origins from the first apostles, it was also actively promulgating the argument 'the sects' were really reprobate members of their community.  Even though the heresies themselves clearly pitched the idea that they too had a chain of transmission from Jesus through 'alternative distribution channels' - i.e. hearers of Paul who were ignored or condemned by their rivals works like Adversus Haereses succeeded in effectively ignoring these 'alternative histories.'  Why so?  Because the point of Irenaeus's efforts was to say, the heretics stole our books, the heretics came to our churches - we were already established when these men appeared, mostly in the middle of the second century.

The curious thing about these fake histories is that they are always willing to argue for some sort of association between the 'true Church' and the heresies.  Marcion it is claimed, once belonged to the community, Valentinus and others 'came to Rome' to join the community at some date.  If the counterclaims were at all respected of course the 'story of the Church' would be told from a completely different perspective.  The story would have been of 'rival' communities.  But this was not the path that Irenaeus took and the answer for this quite clear when you look at the sources themselves.  Irenaeus was ultimately making the case that the orthodox had the right to the property of the heretics.  Irenaeus was making the case that the orthodox bishops should be the overseers of Christians generally and the only people that such a message could be appealed to would be members of the Imperial court ultimately.
 
Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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