Saturday, January 31, 2015

More On Lies and Religion

To continue my last post.  When you really think about it any belief in God demands that we ignore the reality which can be touched in favor of a 'second reality' which is non-existential.  That's the bottom line.  Now in all fairness to the other side, that's true for all 'ideal' conceptions - i.e. liberty, justice etc.  The only reality which doesn't demand belief in things which can't be touched is the so-called the 'animal world' - that is, the 'natural law' of the jungle.

Language itself emerged from the 'non-existential' other world.  Instead of needing to a horse standing in front of us in order to acknowledge awareness of 'horseness' (i.e. the idea of a horse) along came the word 'horse' (or the early linguistic equivalent in whatever language primitive men spoke).  Suddenly we be in the presence of 'horseness' without actually seeing a horse.  That isn't possible in the 'jungle.'

Once you can reference 'horseness' without needing a horse, 'woman' without having a woman stand in the room, it's not long to suppose that the other world, the world of ideas is an integral part of 'the real world.'  Indeed one could make the case that with Plato and later Christianity, the 'ideal world' is 'more real' - even the only true world.  This world becomes little more than a shitty lie.

It is difficult to draw the line with respect to the world of thought.  For it is downright funny to think of absurdities that couldn't possibly happen in 'this (real) world.' It is, as I said, the essence of comedy.  Atheists want to pretend often times that God and religion is 'the problem' but the reality is that they are the tree which gave birth to world in which we prefer to live.  It was a belief in God and religion which made it possible to declare that sexual and physical abuse are 'wrong', that cars have to obey red lights, anything that makes justice possible.

It's like God and religion were 'good enough' to act as a brace to establish the 'world of ideas' for society, but now it is 'time for them to go.'  We no longer have any need for these lies and instead we want to exchange them for a belief that people matter, that individuals have 'rights.'  But it is not difficult to see how quickly all of this will crumble.  For humanity is not getting better.  All the interesting individuals lived in the past.  I doubt anyone would disagree that the present generation are tiresome.  Children aren't even allowed to stray 10 feet from their overseers (their parents).  Imagine how dull all the babies born this year will be when they reach twenty two or even forty.

The bottom line for me is that it is not enough to say that 'God doesn't exist' therefore 'let's return to the so-called real world.'  The so-called real world is more of a lie than the grand lie of religion.  Yes a brick in the head 'really' hurts.  That much is true.  But is it wrong to throw a brick at someone's head.  You need God to establish that and the ultimate consequence of that belief - the lie that we as members of a society 'care' for one another, look out for one another.  It is simply madness to expect a 'natural' society which beliefs in nothing but 'the real world' to function in a caring way for one another unless of course there is some external enemy without which unites the community against it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lies My Son's Father Told Him

I finally have a few moments to myself so let me share something with you.  My son had a trying week.  He wants to be a professional soccer player so badly - and he just missed being picked by the elite 'A team' at the soccer academy where we live.  His best friend, however, really was so lucky - so fortunate that he made the grade and joined the team.

You can imagine how much fun this week was for me.

I love my boy more than anything and I knew how sad he would be when it finally unfolded.  But what could I do?  Well, if you happen to be a parent you already know what I did.  I followed every good parent before me and lied.  What else could I have done?

The truth is that I was really proud of my boy.  To think that he managed to get to be eleventh best in his age group at one of the best soccer academy in the country having played the sport for less than seven months.  That was good enough for me.  But I know that for my son, that wasn't going to be enough.  So I made up a story.

The truth is that my attitude toward lying is a rather complex one.  I assure myself often (when I catch others telling untruths) that I 'hate' dishonesty.  I don't like people pretending to be one thing but demonstrating themselves to be something else.

Yet when it comes down to it, when I had to face my son's dashed expectations I saw a different side to myself.  I had to acknowledge now that 'sometimes there simply is no other way.'

I tell myself that even in the Bible, the Patriarchs lie.  They say 'this is my sister' when standing there was really their wife.  Jesus doesn't tell people who he was.  In the heretical narrative he leads his enemies to a cliff knowing that they are going to try to push him over the edge.  You can imagine what happens next in the original Coyote and Roadrunner conclusion to that pericope.

Indeed the older I get, the enigmatic my relationship with dishonesty gets.  On the one hand, I am tired all the time so I am too lazy to actively tell untruths.  A young liar is an active fraud.  I lie to avoid problems.  Call it preventative dishonesty.

But I think dishonesty is far more common in society than most people are wont to admit.  It's not just that 'everyone is a hypocrite.'  That's the revelation that comes to teenagers and college students.

It's not just that we are always lying to ourselves - or as Nietzsche more eloquently put it - 'few of us have the strength for what we really know.'

I think faith is a necessary lie - 'the belief in yourself' or 'the belief in truth,' 'the belief in rules,' 'the belief in God' - whatever.

There are so many 'mythicists' on the internet, at least in the circles I 'hang.'  They are so interested in the question about 'whether Jesus existed' or not.  My son the other day asked me why it is that the Bible is filled with so many miraculous stories but miracles no longer happen in the world - or in his words 'magic is fake.'

Surely the ancients who read the gospel or the Pentateuch must have recognized that the enchanted world described therein - filled with angels and talking animals and wondrous demonstrations of power - wasn't the world they lived in.  None of them had ever witnessed the sea parting or a man raising the dead.  Was it just the rich and the educated who figured out that these things the rabble held to be so sacred were 'full of shit'?

I think there comes a time where every young adolescent wakes up and realizes that love is nothing more than willing self-narcotizing; that this person for whom you longed so deeply is no better than you are - is just another person.

If nothing is true and everything is self-deception then lies strangely take on a new meaning.  In an inverted world black becomes light and light black.  If all is 'vanity, vanity' then truth isn't possible.  Yes 'science' can measure and quantify the physical world - but none of it has any set meaning.  I wonder sometimes whether climate skeptics are simply unable to acknowledge the nihilistic revelation that came upon them.  Nothing matters, not even life on the planet earth because everything is a lie - or at least none of us can escape the self-narcotizing lie that is human consciousness and human existence.

In such a world - and we can only presume that this was the nihilistic social landscape that gave birth to Judaism and Christianity - it isn't a matter of telling a truth but of making up a holy lie, a lie that empowers people, that gives them hope.  This is the real building block of the Bible.  It isn't that Jesus never existed or God is unknowable but that existence was simply the greatest of mistakes without faith - or if you will 'the holy lie.'

Isn't that what comedians do?  Is that the reason why people become entertainers?  Why does it matter that you make people laugh?  It really doesn't.  The same piece of garbage you were cursing at for cutting you off on the highway is now in the audience watching your show or sitting in the movie theater watching your film.  The same shitty world is still shitty, but the lie - or 'art' as only most beautiful lying gets to call itself - succeeds at makes life worth living.

Why?  Because lying is the most holiest of acts.  Faith is nothing more than lying.  Magic is a lie, entertainment is the art of lying and life, my friends, is nothing more than a series of lies strung together on the wisps of angels wings.

So it was that when my son didn't make the elite soccer team and instead had to settle for 'the next best thing' I did what all people do.  I uttered to him the holiest of holy truths - I breathed upon him the all powerful spirit which heals, sustains and creates - I lied ...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Evidence is There that the Marcionites Believed in a Resurrection After Passover?

We all know the familiar story.  But what is the evidence about the contents of the Marcionite gospel?  Irenaeus and Tertullian may well say things like 'how was a phantom crucified?'  But where is the direct evidence for what the Marcionites believed with regards to a 'Passion narrative?'  Could their resurrection narrative have been different?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Another 'Mythicist' Observation (From Someone Who Doesn't Identify Himself as a Mythicist)

According to the two powers tradition there were two powers in the Deuteronomy narrative's account of the Sinai theophany - the god whose voice was heard from heaven and Eeshu, 'his fire.'  I've taken the incredibly audacious step of identifying the being whose name 'Eesu' in Greek but spelled Iesous (the pronunciation attributed to itacism = ἰωτακισμός).  I have also argued that the spelling of the 'Jesus' in the actual manuscripts of the early Church ΙΣ (the manuscripts never identify the Christian Lord as Ἰησοῦς. Indeed Irenaeus in the second century explicitly denies that Ἰησοῦς is the proper name of the Lord arguing instead for yeshu (and demonstrating that with an acronym YSU 'the Lord of heaven and earth' perhaps from Genesis chapter 2).

Here's my observation.  Eeshu creates Moses in his image (as his earthly 'twin') - that is bringing him into his presence and impressing his 'image' or 'likeness' upon his person.  Doesn't the early Christian tradition argue for the same practice?  There are so many 'twins' (Thomas) and 'brothers' (James) and 'brothers of brothers' (James and John, Peter and Andrew).  There is also a clear 'adoption rite' where individuals are baptized and made a brother of Jesus, 'the firstborn of many brothers.'  There is even the Islamic pseudepigraphal notion of Judas (or 'Simon' in the Basilidean tradition) literally taking on the appearance of Jesus.  Note also the parody in the Pseudo-Clementines where Faustus 'takes on' Simon's image and is hunted down by the authorities who want the Magus. 

The author of Deuteronomy declares that when the Israelites were terrified of the two powers (i.e. the voice in heaven and his fiery presence on earth) the Lord promises to send 'one like Moses' - a prophet - who will instruct them.  Doesn't this sound like the heretical understanding of the paraclete especially when applied to 'Paul' by the Marcionites, the Valentinians and the 'orthodoxy' (Archelaus) in the Marcionite stronghold of Osroene (locked in a battle with Mani who says he is the Paraclete, the twin of Jesus)?  Why do the heretics always resemble Jewish sectarianism against their orthodox adversaries (who 'confess' a belief in the monarchia but do not act, think or believe like any Jews known to anyone in history but nonetheless claim to be the 'true Israel'). 

Did the Two Powers Tradition Prefer Deuteronomy's Account of the Sinai Theophany? Who Do the Orthodox Use Exodus Against Deuteronomy in the Mekilta Against Their Interest in Deuteronomy?

From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you Ishu (his fire) great, and you heard his words from out of the fire. [Deut 4:36]  

Has anyone ever argued that Deuteronomy is older than Exodus? It's not just the retelling of the Ten Commandments. There are two other factors to consider (1) the two powers controversy in the late first, early second century and (2) the fact that someone in the fifth century had to have assumed thr role of prophet like Moses (Deut 18) in order to write the story of Moses' birth and death. The two powers controversy makes clear the Ten Commandments existed independently and before the Torah.

Moses received ten utterances written with fire by God's fire (so the Samaritans) and also added laws ny his own authority which weren't from heaven. There were clearly two powers (one in the fire =ishu, one in heaven = the voice) at Sinai. The rabbanites essentially argued from Exodus against Deuteronomy to demonstrate that there was one rather than two powers or at least that there was monarchia in heaven.

The fact that Exodus is used in the anti-two powers literature against Deuteronomy is only half the story. Deuteronomy not only references two powers in the Sinai theophany but also records God as promising "one like Moses" when the Israelites beg for the two powers to go away "lest they die." Deuteronomy writes:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
But the parallel passage in Exodus not only corrects the two powers reference (by saying there was only one power) but also fails to mention the Ezra-like figure to come:
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.  If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’
Indeed the Exodus narrative proceeds to introduce a series of new laws on top of the ten commandments which the two powers tradition (and Christians) originally rejected as not being from heaven but established only on the authority of Moses.

But let's look carefully. The Deuteronomy narrative seems to have a whole different understanding. Notice the two powers reference - "Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore or we will die." The two powers heresy discussion consistently utilizes these texts - Exodus and Deuteronomy - and the differences between them. Whereas Exodus is only interested in establishing the fact that God gave Moses a series of laws above and beyond the familiar ten commandments (familiar before Ezra's introduction of the narrative Torah) Deuteronomy curiously seems to prepare for Ezra coming the name of Moses to write the Law.

I can't help but feel that Deuteronomy in some way either preserves information about a source before Exodus or is more original, closer to the 'excuse' that Ezra used to write the Torah (i.e. that he was the second Moses). In other words, not only does Exodus only mention the 'voice from heaven' (and not 'His fire' = Ishu) but goes out of its way to correct the implications of that 'original' passage in Deuteronomy adding in bold:
‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me."
Instead of the two power theology at the heart of Deuteronomy:
Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire (= Ishu) anymore
In other words, Exodus knows that 'Jesus' (viz. Ishu) is present in the original narrative and corrects the understanding by precluding the possibility of a second power. This is probably why the mekhilta juxtapose Exodus against Deuteronomy. Indeed a mekhilta is properly defined as the rules of interpreting the Book of Exodus. But what did the heretics believe? Could it be they developed their opinions exclusively from Deuteronomy? Now to research whether there are any traditions or scholarly studies which argue that Deuteronomy is older than Exodus.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Creation of Locusts in Exodus: What Did the Marcionites Really Believe?

We have been examining the statement of the anonymous Marcionites in Tertullian's Against Marcion Book One Chapter 17:
one work is sufficient for our god ; he has delivered man by his supreme and most excellent goodness, which is preferable to [the creation of] all the locusts.
Almost everyone who has ever studied this statement has taken it for granted that the Marcionites 'must' be juxtaposing 'their' god - Chrestos, the good god - against 'the Jewish god,' the god of justice.  The reason for this is that the statement happens to come in the context of a consistent juxtaposition between the 'two gods' of the Marcionite system.

Yet there is a difficulty here that not even I had considered before.  The LXX, the Greek translation of the Pentateuch, differs from the surviving Hebrew text in assigning the creation of locusts in the Book of Exodus to Moses rather than 'God.'  The situation is confirmed by Philo in the first century who notes:
Such, they say, were the punishments inflicted by the agency of Moses alone, the plague, namely, of hail and thunderstorms, the plague of locusts, and the plague of darkness, which rejected every imaginable description of light. Then he himself and his brother brought on one together, which I shall proceed to relate ... The remaining punishments are three in number, and they were inflicted by God himself without any agency or ministration of man, each of which I will now proceed to relate as well I can. [Vita Mos 1.126, 130]
The question then emerges - if indeed the original Marcionite reference is to the Exodus narrative and not to 'locusts' in general (which in my mind seems certain) - how accurate is Tertullian's implicit assumptions about the Marcionites juxtaposition 'the just god' or the 'god of the Jews' creation of locusts with the salvation of the Christian god or - if you will - 'the good god'?

If Marcion used the LXX he could have assumed that the 'just god' was still behind the locusts.  Indeed Philo assumes as much in his narrative.  Yet could there have been a Moses vs Jesus dynamic in the original statement?  This seems at least to be confirmed by the lengthy statement in the Acts of Archelaus - a work written during a time of Marcionite ascendance in Osroene (modern southern Turkey/Iraq/Syria/ISIS land).  Indeed already in the earliest Samaritan literature there is a tendency to view Moses as living substitute for Yahweh. He is for instance called 'the man of God' in a manner that I have supposed 'Jesus' represents for his god, the Father.

In other words, was the original argument of the Marcionites more sophisticated than previously recognized?  Was the Marcionite point that Moses was to his god 'Yahweh' what Jesus was to 'Elohim' or the Father?  This seems at least to be implied by another statement in Tertullian's anti-Marcionite work:
On that other occasion also God made himself little even in the midst of his fierce anger, when in his wrath against the people because of the consecration of the (golden) calf he demanded of his servant Moses, Let me alone, and I will wax hot in wrath and destroy them, and I will make thee into a great nation. On this you are in the habit of insisting that Moses was a better person than his own God—deprecating, yes and even forbidding, his wrath: for he says, Thou shalt not do this: or else destroy me along with them. Greatly to be pitied are you, as well as the Israelites, for not realizing that in the person of Moses there is a prefiguring of Christ, who intercedes with the Father, and offers his own soul for the saving of the people. But for the present it is enough that the people were granted even to Moses in his own person. Also, so that the servant might be in a position to make this re- quest of his Lord, the Lord made that request of himself. That is why he said to his servant, Let me alone and I will destroy them, so that the servant might forestall this by his prayer and his offering of himself, and so that you by this might learn how much is permitted to one who has faith, and is a prophet, in the presence of God.
In this manner then, if the argument holds up, Moses being the living representation of Yahweh finds a parallel in Jesus's embodiment of Elohim/the Father.  More significantly perhaps, Moses's ignorance of the god above him, is paralleled by Yahweh in the gnostic lore.

I wonder then whether it was argued that Moses - like Yahweh before him - encountered his divine twin (= Elohim) - but strangely assumed that 'he was the only one' (allegedly because of his 'arrogance).  Indeed it is important to note that if Irenaeus's assumption that Ezra rather than Moses wrote the Pentateuch was widespread in early Christianity, then we would escape the 'trap' of assuming that Moses 'knew' of two powers in heaven while he was engaged in the Exodus.  He simply encountered a serious of divine manifestations unaware of the exact nature of the beings manifest before his eyes.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Alan Segal, the Two Powers Tradition and Marcion

Continuing with our discussion of the Exodus as a manifestation of the two powers which regulated the affairs of Israel - i.e. one a 'just god' and the other a 'kind god' - it is worth citing Alan Segal's study of the Mekhilta (מכילתא, a collection of rules of interpretation viz. a halakhic midrash to the Book of Exodus) de Rabbi Ishmael (= MRI) and the Mekhilta de-R. Simeon b. Yoḥai (= MRSbY):
First, one has to notice that the exegetical root of the tradition is the repetition of the name of God, YHWH, and the problems which arise from that. In this case, the dangerous doctrine is the idea that there are two different manifestations of God — one, a young man, appearing at the Sea; the other, an old man, appearing at Sinai. As we have it, the tradition is centered around the Exodus theophanies. Dan. 7:9 is ostensibly a proof-text but is also the locus of the same heretical traditions, since two different figures are mentioned there as well. Of course, the rabbis objected to this tradition, saying that the repetition of the divine name was not to identify "two powers" but to emphasize God's unity, since the Israelites would also have to recognize God in another form. In attempting to identify the heretics, we should look for a doctrine which did associate "two powers" with the names for God in the Exodus theophany and in Dan. 7. Obviously, from the rabbinic perspective, but not necessarily at the earliest stage of the tradition itself, this dangerous exegesis became subsumed under the unfavorable category of "two powers in heaven." This text gives us no description of the persons holding such a doctrine.

At the end of the section there is a peroration which articulates implications present already in the designation "two powers in heaven," by directly stating that the doctrine is a threat to monotheism and condemning it roundly with the appropriate biblical texts from Isaiah and Deuteronomy. In fact the verses are so useful as a defense against the heresy as to characterize the opposition to "two powers" throughout its entire history and will be important in the attempt to identify the heretics. The midrash is saying that, though scripture allows for the interpretation that God may be viewed in various aspects, there is a limit to how far one may go in ascribing independent motives to the different hypostases. Not only is there only one God, but there is no possibility of ever deriving a second deity. It was the same God in Egypt who was at the Sea; the same in this world as He will be in the world to come; the same in the past who will be in the future. These descriptions are later rhetorical fluorishes, embellishing and emphasizing an argument whose assumption has been laid down previously. MRSbY even introduces the thoughts as "another interpretation." However, one may ask whether the embellishments are purely arbitrary. In view of the importance of the name of God in this midrash it is not unlikely that the midrash is relying on the mysterious name of God which was revealed to Moses at the burning bush. "I am that I am" is being interpreted with past and future implications of the Hebrew verb forms and is being understood to be an eternal pledge to remain with Israel.

The text in MRI is even more complex and obviously the result of a long history of redaction. Neither MRI nor MRSbY can itself be the ancient tradition. Rather the most ancient layer, which later appear to be tannaitic, must be carefully uncovered in comparing them. The basic structure is similar to the argument in MRSbY and appears to be based on an exegesis of the name of God as well. In MRI the rabbis acknowledge that God manifested Himself in two ways in the Bible. They derive this contention not merely from the repetition of "YHWH" in scripture, as MRSbY did, but from the contrast between the Hebrew name, "YHWH," used to describe the Lord at the sea, and the other Hebrew name for divinity, "Elohim," used to describe God at Sinai. At least one possible conclusion based on the two different names of the deity — namely, that two different divinities, God and Lord, were being described — is condemned as dangerous. Instead, the rabbis suggest that the solution to the paradox will be found at Ex. 20:2, the first of the Ten Commandments, which contains both names of God and declares His unity. Hence, the editor of MRI, by introducing the orthodox solution based on Ex. 20:2, in his commentary to one of the dangerous passages, Ex. 15:3, allowed no opportunity for the orthodox opinion to be compromised. He has also added Ex. 20:2 to the list of effective scriptural defense against heresy.

Though the major thrust of the passage seems evident, it contains many elaborations missing from the MRSbY version, while some parts of its argument remain obscure. For one thing, a new theme of justice and mercy, corresponding to young and old manifestations of God, has been emphasized. This is facilitated by bringing in more proof- texts. Ex. 15:3 is taken only as a proof of God's justice. Ex. 24:10 f. which is part of the Sinai theophany, is introduced as the proof of God's mercy. 5 These two seemingly contradictory biblical verses are compared by the midrash, which then uses Ex. 20:2, the first line of the Ten Commandments, as the third, decisive text with which to harmonize the other two.

MRI in comparison with MRSbY has developed an elegant argument based on the unstated rabbinic doctrine of the Two Attributes of God. 7 This rabbinic doctrine derives two different aspects of God — one merciful (MDT HRHMYM) and the other, just (MDT HDYN)— from the two Hebrew names of God, YHWH and Elohim. » Ex. 20:2, the first line of the Ten Commandments, since it contains both Hebrew names, proves not only that one God was present, but that He was present on Sinai in both His just and His merciful manifestations. The complete argument allows that God can appear in different manifestations — either as a just or as a merciful God or as both — but that it is always the same God and that He was present in both His manifestations when He gave the Torah to Israel.

Although this elaboration is quite sophisticated, there are some difficult aspects to it. For one thing, the two locations adduced in scripture for the doctrine of God's two attributes are puzzling. They imply that YHWH should be seen as the just attribute, while Elohim should be the merciful attribute, which is exactly the opposite of the standard rabbinic identification. [Two Powers in Heaven p. 37 - 39]

The reason why 'Yahweh' is the just god and 'Elohim' the good god here rather than the later rabbinic formulation because the heretics themselves - i.e. the Marcionites and Philo - already testify to this situation.  
Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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