Thursday, April 29, 2010

Liberating Mark from the Surviving Copies of Irenaeus [Part One]

When Jeffrey recently challenged those who accept the authenticity of the Letter to Theodore to put the text in a late second century context, I think he felt quite confident that he and his fellow 'hoaxers' know what the true context of the period was. There really are only two Church Fathers whose writings have survived in any great number - Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. As I have noted many times at this site, Clement is a complete mystery to us. Even someone as close as Origen never references his name or his writings.

My guess is that Clement's reputation was already associated with controversy and heresy in this early period. So his name became 'unspeakable' in the third century.

I am not even sure that 'Titus Flavius Clemens' was even his real name. This appellation seems to get recycled in every period of 'Christian history' and going back to a real historical Roman senator who seems to have converted to Judaism in the late first century.

Looking at the surviving manuscripts of Clement of Alexandria, I can't help but notice that the first pages of most of the material - the one where the name of the author would normally appear - have a tendency to go missing or omit the name of the author. I have always struggled with the collection called Excerpta Ex Theodoto that just get thrown into the middle of a collection of writings attributed to 'Clement.'

I wonder whether Theodotus was Clement's real name and the Excerpta Ex Theodoto unmask his true 'heretical' beliefs. But that's another story ...

The point is that you can't just accept what 'tradition' tells us about the historical individuals that make up the 'Ante Nicene Church Fathers,' their beliefs or their writings. I love Roger Pearse's site, I really do because he provides people like me with useful English translations of texts I wouldn't otherwise know. I always find it disappointing when he displays a rather uncritical (and ultimately disinterested) attitude toward the contradictions and blind spots of our knowledge of Patristic texts.

I don't know Peter Jeffrey or Craig Evans or Larry Hurtado personally in the way that I wake up each day to the thoughts and musings of Roger Pearse. Nevertheless I imagine - perhaps naively - that they share a basic sameness in their attitude towards these 'blind spots.' I imagine that they ultimately believe that it doesn't matter how little we know about Clement or Irenaeus. What matters is that we believe that they were 'connected at the hip' as it were to the same holy Catholic tradition.

The problem with this view in my mind is that it is totally stupid. I don't have a problem with stupidity of course. I find stupidity quite liberating and indulge in its glory whenever I have the opportunity. Yet for me, thinking about the Church Fathers and the origins of Christianity is my one chance to take something serious so I do it with real intensity.

The bottom line for me is that I can't possibly see how these conservative scholars can argue that we know ANYTHING about Irenaeus or Clement with any degree of certainty. Sure, THEY HAVE CERTAINTY. But their certainty about the late second century comes from an inherited assumption about fairy tales involving a 'holy Catholic Church,' the Holy Spirit acting as a conduit for God and his Church and other ludicrous things.

If you want to believe in this stuff, you are all entitled to do so. There just isn't any evidence to support these beliefs.

Take Irenaeus for example. There is a whole inherited tradition about him being a bishop of Lyons who suffers martyrdom in a certain period and the like but it's all unsupported from Irenaeus's writings.

At the same time there are other reports - including statements from Irenaeus' own hand (AH iv.30.1) which place Irenaeus in Rome very close to the Emperor Commodus. I think that the pattern of the age in which Irenaeus lived and the period which follows suggests Imperial involvement in the development of Roman Catholic tradition. There are those who are going to disagree with me of course and put forward the official position of the Church. The point is that there are arguments to be made from Irenaeus' own writings which challenge the basic assumptions of people like Jeffrey, Evans and Hurtado which rarely get heard because no one is really that interest in Irenaeus quite frankly.

I would argue with my readership that THEY SHOULD get interested in Irenaeus in a hurry. The future battle lines over the Mar Saba document will be fought in the trenches of the Patristic writings. The underlying motivation of all the conservative scholars who argue against the authenticity of To Theodore is anger that it dares to challenge the idea of the supremacy of the Episcopal See of Rome.

These men believe in the Holy Spirit. They hope that they are connected to it and the tradition of their ancestors dating back to Irenaeus and they - unconsciously or otherwise - wage war against a text which says that the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of all gospel traditions, derived from Alexandria rather than Rome. Yes they bring up homosexuality and all sorts of other nonsense that are used to 'inflame the troops' but the real issue at the heart of this debate is that some text has dared to challenge to their inherited weltanschauung. For this reason Morton Smith is a devil and the text his 'counter gospel.'

I don't even think they know why they hate this text so much. It is the 'Holy Spirit' which connects them to Irenaeus which 'causes them' to want to refute and destroy this knowledge falsely so called.

I would argue that this arena offers people like us a chance to 'even the score' with the Patristic tradition which demonized the alternative forms of Christianity. Let's take the time to study the writings of the Church Fathers and do what Irenaeus claims to have done against the representatives of the Alexandrian tradition namely that we "shall also endeavour, according to our moderate abilities, furnish the means of overthrowing these inherited assumptions, by showing how absurd and inconsistent with the truth are their statements. Not that we are practised either in composition or eloquence; but our feelings of affection for truth will prompt us to make known to everyone those doctrines which have been kept in concealment until now, but which are at last, through the goodness of God, brought to light. "For there is nothing hidden which shall not be revealed, nor secret that shall not be made known." [AH i.Preface 4 adapted]

I don't think most of my readers realize how paper thin our knowledge of the period actually is. It's like when Jeffrey and Carlson argue that homosexuality in the late second century was 'totally different' than the form that was current at the time of Morton Smith. Leaving aside the emptiness of the claims that either Morton Smith or the Mar Saba document are 'gay,' has anyone even taken these men to task for their expertise on homosexuality in the Alexandria in the late second century, let alone the period when Morton Smith was writing.

The point is that they like to intimidate people with their expertise in various subjects related to the period but the reality is that what they excel in is the promotion of a few cherished 'assumptions' about 'the truth of Christianity' which can be refuted and destroyed by someone with the intellectual capacity of a five year old IF THEY BOTHERED TO CRITICALLY EXAMINE THE WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT.

That is why I spend so much time going back to the idea that our fundamental assumption about Irenaeus are flawed. There is no reason to accept all the claims about him being from Lyons. These are a development I think from two points which emerge in Book One of his Against All Heresies.

The first is when he writes in the preface that:

Thou wilt not expect from me, who am resident among the Keltae, and am accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous dialect, any display of rhetoric, which I have never learned, or any excellence of composition, which I have never practised, or any beauty and persuasiveness of style, to which I make no pretensions.

This is drawn from the corrected Greek and Latin texts but it should be noted that our oldest witness, Epiphanius, has something else here:

Thou wilt not expect from me, who am resident among the Delphois, and am accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous dialect, any display of rhetoric, which I have never learned, or any excellence of composition, which I have never practised, or any beauty and persuasiveness of style, to which I make no pretensions.

The other supposedly 'explicit' reference to Irenaeus' connection with Lyons is that which appears in the section which deals with Marcus. We read:

Such are the words and deeds by which, in our own district of the Rhone, they have deluded many women, who have their consciences seared as with a hot iron. [AH i.13.5]

Of course scholars take this statement at face value not recognizing (a) the corrupt state of the manuscripts and far more importantly (b) the fact that other readings of Irenaeus' original report identify the local as Spain rather than France.

How could a reference to a region called Ῥοδανουσίασ in the surviving Greek copies of Irenaeus' work explain the confusion? Well let's admit that this is the ONE geographic reference in the whole report from which Jerome, Sulpicius Severus and Hieronymus all derive their understanding that report about Marcus being in Spain.

What scholars have failed to notice is that there is a common confusion over the length of a river alternatively called Rhodanus or Eridanos which runs through ALL of the places identified as 'going over to Mark' - viz. the Rhone valley, Spain and northern Italy. I think that Irenaeus originally referenced ONE OF THESE PLACES with an original reference to Rhodanus or Eridanos which caused all the subsequent confusion.

Let's start with the error of Jerome and other sources who place Mark in Spain. There can be no doubt that it is the identification of the river as 'Eridanos' which caused the confusion.

The myth of Phaeton has it that Helios's sun tried to ride the solar chariot for a day. Phaeton was unable to control the fierce horses that drew the chariot as they sensed a weaker hand. First it veered too high, so that the earth grew chill. Then it dipped too close, and the vegetation dried and burned. He accidentally turned most of Africa into desert; burning the skin of the Ethiopians black. Rivers and lakes began to dry up, Poseidon rose out of the sea and waved his trident in anger at the sun, but soon the heat became even too great for him and he dove to the bottom of the sea.

Eventually, Zeus was forced to intervene by striking the runaway chariot with a lightning bolt to stop it, and Phaëthon plunged into the river Eridanos. Helios, stricken with grief, refused to drive his chariot for days. Finally the gods persuaded him to not leave the world in darkness. Helios blamed Zeus for killing his son, but Zeus told him there was no other way.

The point here is that Pliny and others long noted the confusion over this river which was thought to flow from Italy into France and finally into Spain. As one source notes:

The Greeks erroneously spoke of the river Rhodanus, or Eridanos, in connection with the tale about the Heliades. They placed it in Iberia - that is Spain; sometimes wrongly asserting even, according to Pliny, that both this Iberian Rhodanos or Eridanos, and the river called by the Romans the Padus or the Po, discharged themselves by one common mouth on the shores of the Adriatic. Pliny adds: "They (the Greeks) may be all the more easily forgiven for knowing nothing about amber, as they are so very ignorant of geography."

 Ἠριδανός was the name for the Po river and the ambiguity inherent in surviving copies of Irenaeus work makes it quite possible that Irenaeus was writing at Rome and speaking about the heretics associated with Mark congregating in 'our region of Eridanos' - i.e. in northern Italy.

This hypothesis is confirmed by another source which notes in its article on the Rhone:

Cluverius in his ancient geography may be consulted respecting the confusion of names incident to the Greek writers. The gross mistake, of saying the Rhone meets the Po and flows, with one of its branches or arms to the Adriatic sea, while the other disembogues itself in the Sardinian Sea ... It is remarkable that the Greek scholiast of Apollonius, who is very sensible, and in general a well-informed writer, conspires with his author in this gross error and says "the Rhone a river belonging to the country of the Celtes, mixing his water with the Eridanus, and then dividing, proceeds in two channels to the sea: with one he flows into the Ionian gulf, with the other, into the Sardinian sea. A strange description this of the Rhone ... It is evident that the poet confounds with the Rhone other rivers of Italy, as the Ticinus and the Addua which irrigate Piedmont and Lombardy and fall into the Po; and some of them, as the Atiso, which fall into the lake of Garda pretty near approach the Rhone. It is probable that he confounds the Arno which flows by Florence and meets the Tuscan sea with that branch of the Rhone which (according to him) passes into the Sardinian sea [p. 118]

What is especially interesting about this possibility is the connection back to St. Mark. For there are always persistent traditions 'remembered' by the Venetians regarding the presence of St. Mark in the Po Valley. The most prominent ancient city in the region was Aquileia (2 Tim iv.10), which was Venice's precursor in the region (120 km distance).

The story of course is that Peter sent Mark to convert the population and he established Hermagoras as the first bishop. Hermagoras duly took up his office, and ruled the church at Aquileia with great distinction until he was captured by infidels and crowned with martyrdom. Rufinus the great translator of Origen was also from Aquileia.

The question then that stands before is whether Irenaeus was writing from Rome referencing activity of 'followers of Mark' in the Po Valley or the Rhone valley in France or - as Jerome and others note - Spain. I tend to think the Italian locale is the correct one. Birger Pearson for one notes that Hippolytus' report demonstrates that there were Marcosians in Rome. The tenth century historian Agapius confirms Rome as the locale of Marcus from an independent ancient source. There are scholars such as Foerster who accept the idea that Rome and Italy might well have been the place of Marcus' activity.

The bottom line is that readers have one of two choices. They can continue to believe that some heretical boogeyman named 'Marcus' came and went in the late second century, not leaving a trace anywhere in souther France, or that the reports have something to do with a tradition associated with St. Mark EXACTLY WHERE modern Italians identify it to have lasted today - viz. the modern 'republic of St. Mark' Venice.

It is worth noting that not all legendary tales are without foundation ...

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