Monday, January 11, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Well after that incident with that unnamed professor, his girlfriend and their tendency to expose the details of their personal life on my blog and in personal emails to my various addresses let's do something completely different.

Let's talk why it is that scholars always take for granted that Iesous was a real human being like the rest of us.

Seriously folks.

The only person whose historic reality is assured is the author of the original gospel. There must have been a real person who wrote down a narrative which prominently featured a figure named Iesous.

The historical reality of whoever or whatever Iesous was is not guaranteed. Indeed the fact that the Alexandrians, the Marcionite and the various heretical groups ALWAYS emphasized Iesous' divine nature often at the expense of his humanity necessarily calls into question the certainty that most scholars have that Iesous was a 'real historical figure.'

Take the writings of Maurice Casey for example.

If you read one of Casey's books you wouldn't even know that the Marcionite exegesis even existed. In his From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God for instance he spends a great deal of time probing the origin of the use of the title 'the Son' without so much as referencing the fact that the Marcionites - a group considered by Celsus of Rome to be among the largest and most influential Christian communities - were absolutely emphatic that their gospel made absolutely certain that Iesous was speaking about someone other than himself as the Son and someone other than himself as the Christ.

Let's take these points one by one. We should begin with Casey's explanation of the term 'the Son' in Mark 5:7 in order to demonstrate what happens when you utterly ignore the Marcionites. Casey writes:

At Mark 5:7 a very difficult demoniac declares, "what have you to do with me, Iesous son of God Most High? I adjure you by God do not torment me." Here the demonic term for Iesous "son of God Most High" fits perfectly well into the use of terms such as "son of God" for wise and righteous individuals.(p. 46)

Well that certainly sounds like a plausible explanation and given the fact that he is a well respected theologian and I am regarded as something of a jackass you'd have to think 'well, the respected theologian probably has it right here.'

Nevertheless, where people inevitably get distracted of course is by not scrutinizing the original sources - and in particular - the evidence which emerges about the earliest Christian traditions OUTSIDE of the familiar beliefs of the circle of Irenaeus of Rome.

The Marcionites for instance can be demonstrated to have a consistent pattern of interpreting passages which feature the term 'the Son' which absolutely contradicts the seeming authoritative interpretation of Casey. As such the question isn't whether you have to decide between the arguments of a jackass or an emeritus professor. The real question is whether the clever interpretations of an emeritus professor should be able to discount the plain meaning of how the Marcionites interpreted the 'Son' passages in their gospel.

I happen to think that even a jackass with the backing of ancient sources trumps the cleverness of an emeritus professor, but then again I am a jackass let's not forget.

To this end, let's systematically go through Tertullian's many statements about the Marcionite interpretation of the various passages with the term 'the Son' in the Marcionite gospel (a gospel which Hippolytus and other ancient sources infer was claimed by Marcionites to be a Gospel of Mark).

The Marcionites consistently argue that you can't just take the various titles that people in the gospel apply to Iesous and infer that these were proper names associated with his identity. No the Marcionite say that the original author of the gospel goes out of his way to demonstrate what Iesous WASN'T by having the Lord rebuke and reject those who identify him as something he was not.

The first such story which appears in the gospel according to the Marcionites is that which paralleled Mark 1:22 where 'the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.' Tertullian tells us that the Marcionites thought that "they were all astonished at his doctrine" because his teaching was "not as the teachers of the law" - exactly what we read in Mark. In other words, whereas the traditional Palestinian religious form was based on the power of seven, Iesous represented the power of 8 (i.e. one higher than the God who gave the law).

We can see the emphasis of the principle of the ogdoad in the deliberate preservation of the name of the Lord as Iesous instead of Yeshu. We can see that the Marcionites preserved the original Greek form of the name in their Isu (i.e. with a samek rather than shin) in order to emphasize the connection with the number 8.

Irenaeus by contrast emphasizes that Iesous's actual name was Yeshu in order to distance Christianity from the heretical implications of venerating Iesous as the ogdoad. One might even suspect that the interest in eighthness among the earliest Palestinian sects explains the origins of 'Simon' and the 'Simonian' sect too.

In any event before we get ahead of ourselves let us notice that Tertullian also points to a similar Marcionite exegesis in what follows:

On the same occasion the spirit of the demon cries out, What have we to do with thee, Iesous? Thou art come to destroy us. I know who thou art, the Holy One of God. Here I shall not discuss whether even this appellation was at all appropriate to one who had no right even to the name of Christ unless he belonged to the Creator (as the Marcionites claim).

Tertullian begins by citing an interpretation of the passage that Casey would agree with:

As then he had no means of recognizing that one whom he had no knowledge of was Iesous and the Holy One of God, it follows that this recognition was of one whom he did know: for he remembered , that the prophet had prophesied of the Holy One of God, and that Iesous was God's name in the son of Nun. [Tert. AM iv.7]

For someone like Casey this argument put forward by Tertullian 'settles' the proper meaning of the passage. The heretics were jackasses essentially and only a jackass like me would 'waste his time' trying to figure out how they interpreted a given passage or many such passages.

Nevertheless it is my opinion that the Marcionite interpretation better explains this particular narrative and why there is a sameness to many such gospel narratives. The Marcionites according to Tertullian paid special attention to the fact that Iesous 'rebuked' the various people whom he encountered who happened to give him false titles as we read:

For he began by asking, What have we to do with thee, Iesous?, not as though addressing a stranger, but as one whose concern the Creator's spirits are ... With what purpose have I begun with this episode? To show you that Iesous was acknowledged by the demon, and affirmed by himself, to belong to none other than the Creator. But still, you (Marcionites) object, Iesous rebuked him. Of course he did: he was an embarrassment: even in that acknowledgement he was impertinent, and submissive in the wrong way ... Else why (do Marcionites say that) He did rebuke him? If because he was wholly a liar, then he himself was neither Iesous nor in any sense holy: if because he was partly a liar, in having rightly thought him to be Iesous and the Holy One of God, but to belong to the Creator, it was most unjust of him to rebuke one who took the view which he knew he must take, and did not entertain the idea which he did not know he needed to entertain, that he was a different Iesous, and the holy one of a different god.

The point is that even though this particular passage doesn't feature the use of the term 'the Son' it sets up the pattern for the Marcionite exegesis of various passages that do contain that term.

For instance in the section that follows Tertullian emphasizes again the Catholic interpretation of a similar passage:

And so the wicked spirits, as if following the precedent of the previous instance, bore witness to him as they went out, by crying aloud, Thou art the Son of God. Which God, let it even here be evident. [AM iv. 8]

However in the words that immediately follow he gives insight into the continued Marcionite interest in the specific rebuking of those who called him 'the Son':

'But they were rebuked, and ordered to be silent.' Quite so: because Christ wished himself to be acknowledged as the Son of God by men, not by unclean spirits—that Christ at all events who had the right to expect this, because he had sent before him those preachers, worthier preachers beyond question, through whose agency recognition might be possible.

The point is that the Marcionites were older than Irenaeus, older than Polycarp so their tradition necessarily represents a very old - if not the oldest - form of gospel exegesis. Why hasn't Casey mentioned any of their interpretation in his study?

Of course all of this will lead us back to Bultmann and the understanding that Iesous WASN'T talking about himself when using the term 'Son of Man.' Indeed even my three year old son stopped referring to himself in the third person a while back.

Let's continue with Tertullian's preservation of Marcionite readings here. And so let's use what we read in Against Marcion Book iv Chapter 10 to slam both Casey and Bultman in another regard. Tertullian writes against the Marcionites that:

On the expression Son of man my postulates are two: first that Christ was incapable of lying, so as to declare himself the Son of man if he was not really so: and that no one can be accepted as Son of man who is not of human birth, either on the father's side or the mother's: and this will call for discussion, on what side his human birth must be taken to be, the father's or the mother's.

The point again is that the Marcionite knew that Iesous was an angel rather than a person. The argument that later Church figures 'falsely' developed Iesous into a god is Protestant nonsense. The earliest Church traditions - i.e. the Marcionites, the Alexandrians - saw the development of Iesous' humanity as the heresy.

Indeed when you really think of it Bultmann's (at least initial) recognition that Iesous WASN'T speaking of himself as the Son of Man only makes sense when you realize that it was part of an effort to also deny that he was the Christ. The Marcionites (and the Alexandrians see Origen Comm. Matthew) took special interest in Iesous' rebuke of Peter when identifying him as the Christ. The Marcionites also argued that Iesous was pointing to someone else as the one who was to come when approached by the disciples of John. And then of course there is the Marcionite interpretation of the blind man Bartimaeus:

When then that blind man had been told that he was passing by, why did he cry out, Iesous thou son of David, have mercy on me, except that he was with good reason regarded as the son of David, which means, of the family of David, in consideration of his mother and his brethren, who had in fact on one occasion because of people's knowledge of them, been reported to him as being present? But they that went before rebuked the blind man, that he should hold his peace. Quite properly: because he was making a noise, not because he was wrong about the son of David. Or else you must prove that those who rebuked were convinced that Iesous was not the son of David, if you wish me to believe that that was their reason for putting the blind man to silence. [AM iv.36]

Of course I could go on and on demonstrating that the Marcionites interpreted Iesous' actions in front of the Sanhedrian as proving that someone other than himself was the 'real messiah,' 'the son, the Son of Man or the Son of God. But I have gone way beyond my original purposes.

I just wanted to make clear that as clever and intelligent as modern scholars are they should never be allowed to supplant the tradition ascribed to the ancients. For some reason - perhaps in order to make themselves seem more wise - these men IGNORE the ancient testimony of the Marcionites. I think they do this because they want their teachings about Iesous and early Christianity to be 'functional' - i.e. to help people walk with God rather than be confused by the obvious contradictions to all the beliefs we have taken for granted to be true.

Where we end up of course is what should be the central question in Christianity - whether Iesous ever meant to be taken as the Christ. The Marcionites certainly said no, Iesous was the angel of the presence of the Father who came to earth to reveal a power above the seventh heaven that had never before been revealed. This revelation would be accomplished through his messiah, who I happen to take to be the author of the gospel itself (how much more 'like Moses' can you get than that especially when Mark is a numerological equivalent of Moses at least according to its Samaritan Aramaic spelling).

Nevertheless let me close this discussion with some perspective on this question.

The two words Messiah and Christ only mean Anointed and the usual referent is a secular king. The Queen was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland at her coronation. There is no Greek word Christos unambiguously meaning what Christian theology uses it to mean. The altar was “christos” when olive oil was poured on it. Flour is “christos” when olive oil is poured on it. Grass is “christos” when the sprinkler is turned on. If it means someone special, then it means any king of any country at any time.

Aside from this, there is no Hebrew or Aramaic word “Messiah”. This is an ARTIFICIAL word only existing in late modern English. There is the Hebrew word משיח Mashiach (approximate pronunciation) and the Aramaic Meshiach (approximate pronunciation) and definite Meshicha (approximate pronunciation) and the Greek phonetic transcription Messias (where the 's' is a Greek suffix). French correctly renders both Mashiach and Messias as “Messie”. German has “Messias” for both.

A source of confusion is that the Aramaic and Greek forms also render the Hebrew Kohen Mashuach, an anointed High Priest. Another source of confusion is that although the word Mashiach = Christos in the Psalms usually refers to any earthly temporal king, in some places it refers to a heavenly figure known from Canaanite mythology and from contemporary writings about Melchizedek, seen as manifestation of a heavenly figure. (King of Salem = King of Peace. Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, as in the Christmas carol “Hark the Heavenly Angels Sing”, which says “Hail the King of Righteousness”. The phrase in the carol is a conscious translation of Melchizedek [Malki-tsedek in modern transcription]). A further difficulty is that some occurrences of Mashiach = Christos have both the earthly and the heavenly meanings.

Iesous NEVER EVER ONCE used the term Mashiach = Christos = Anointed for himself. One could argue I suppose that he did this because the term had too many meanings, some badly misleading.

All the references to Isaiah at the start of Luke DON’T refer to a heavenly figure. In the context in Isaiah, it is a child already born or about to be born in 700 B.C. What was miraculous then 700 B.C. was the sign of divine intervention in history, symbolised by the birth and the change in political circumstances coinciding. The Prince of Peace etc. is in the first instance this child in 700 B.C. The angel says or Luke says the same power is to act again, more powerfully, in the birth of Iesous.

Let's make this clear. Iesous always rejected the term Mashiach (Hebrew) or Meshicha (Aramaic) or “Christos” (Greek). All these words mean exactly the same thing, someone or something anointed. He rejected the term was because the PRIMARY CONNOTATION is “legitimate TEMPORAL or SECULAR king”. This is its meaning in Daniel IX: 25 and 26.

ALL EARLY CHRISTIAN COMMENTATORS AGREE THAT THIS ANOINTED IN DANIEL IS ONLY A TEMPORAL KING. (All early Christian commentators agree with the mainstream Jewish interpretation, that it is meant to refer to Marcus Agrippa). In the contemporary Jewish context, Anointed = Mashiach = Christos meant a new secular king descended from David.

Iesous’s alleged descent from David is of about one percent of importance in defining his status in traditional Christianity. American Evangelicalism is close to heresy in this respect. The traditional model is Moses.

AGAIN THERE IS NOT ONE BIT OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHRISTOS AND MASHIACH. THEY ARE THE SAME WORD IN TWO DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. Daniel IX says Marcus Agrippa was Christos in one meaning, the usual meaning, a secular king. Iesous and Paul would have agreed. This is a rare meaning of the term in the Psalms, hardly found anywhere else in the O.T. (Yes, I mean this). Actually the verb is usually used to carry this meaning, not the noun. (“He has been anointed”, not “He is the Anointed”).

Iesous didn’t use the word Christos at all, because the first meaning was wrong in his case and the second meaning would not be relevant or applicable till after the Resurrection and Ascension.

Iesous never repudiated the title Mashiach: he just discouraged the use of it when applied to himself.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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