Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Was There Something 'Queer' About the Alexandrian Tradition in the Second Century?

This is the one post that I have avoiding writing for some time.  I almost started writing this blog to say outlandish things.  Since that time the blog has morphed into a chance to share some ideas with people before die.  Nevertheless I have always wanted to tackle this idea that there is 'something queer' about To Theodore and that this 'causes' all sorts of conservative scholars to question it's authenticity.  

For Jeffrey that something queer is ... well, that the text has a number of homoerotic references, and what's more, they can only be allusions to the homosexual lifestyle which was current at the time Morton Smith found the manuscript.

Now I admit, I am not as nuanced as I should be on the difference between ancient and modern homosexuality.  I have this remarkably stereotypical notion of the gay male as a constant throughout recorded history.  Maybe I should re-read the Satyricon sometime in the future or better yet watch the Fellini film.

The point however is that I don't think that Jeffrey is any more of an expert on this subject than I am.  Nevertheless I do take issue with with the claims of his study right at the outset when he writes in the Secret Gospel Unveiled:

I emphasize that the writings I discuss are about homosexual behavior, not about the condition of being homosexual. (p. 155)

The problem I have is that I don't see any 'homosexual behavior' in the Letter to Theodore.  There are insinuations of 'something going on' between 'naked man and naked man' but as I noted at someone else's blog, the way the idea is presented in the document it amounts to being little more than a game of broken telephone.

Clement is - we assume - responding to Theodore's reporting of something that the Carpocratians have said about Secret Mark.  I have never been able to figure out the original context.  Is it that:

(a) the Carpocratians have honestly misunderstood the contents of the Alexandrian 'secret' Gospel of Mark?
(b) the Carpocratians are deliberately misrepresenting the contents of the Alexandrian 'secret' Gospel of Mark?
(c) the Carpocratians are reporting the contents of their own Gospel of Mark?

There are endless possibilities here and I really don't know which one is the right one because there really isn't much to go on.  I don't understand how people like Jeffrey and Watson can just limit themselves to Morton Smith's interpretation of the material.  That would seem to me to unnecessarily steer the discussion toward the forgery proposition without any tangible proof that the text is actually a forgery.

In any event, my real purpose for writing this blog was to argue the unthinkable - maybe there was just something 'queer' about the Alexandrian tradition that was causing the Carpocratians to ridicule the contents of LGM 1 (the first addition to Secret Mark mentioned in the Letter to Theodore)?  I know this sounds outlandish.  We always tend to think of 'Christianity' as a monolithic concept and I will admit there is nothing gay about the Roman Church.

Well, let's just stop there for a moment.  Couldn't the 'naked man and naked man' comment coming from the Carpocratians be nothing more than a slam against the Alexandrian Church much in the way all sorts of people have been slandering the Roman Catholic Church in modern times?

Now I have already pointed to a parallel Jewish gay slur against Jesus in the Toledoth Jeshu and the Tractate Gittin, the former alleging that one of Jesus's disciples 'descended' into him.  Irenaeus develops the same language against the heretics who claim that Christ descended into Jesus or vice versa (the Latin descendo as I have noted can mean 'to penetrate' sexually).

The whole argument that the Mar Saba document references actual homosexual practices in ancient Alexandria never made sense to me.  What I see instead is the idea that the Carpocratians were ridiculing  a general 'queerness' in the appearance of Alexandrians.

What do I mean by that?

Well let's get back to Jeffrey's main point.  He tells us that he's going to deal with 'homosexual behavior' but what does that really mean?   There is no explicit reference to homosexuality in the text.  No one ever managed to catch Morton Smith having sex with another man or admitting that he carried on this way.  So a book which promises to only deal with 'homosexual behavior' can't deal with its original promise.

The reality however is that when someone points out an individual as being 'gay' they rarely have a photo of this person demonstrating 'homosexual behavior.'  What passes as 'homosexual behavior' in the real world is appearance.  Do they look 'queer'?  Do they act 'queer'?   This determines who is gay and who isn't on the cover of the National Enquirer at least.

Now what about a man wearing a dress?  Is that 'homosexual behavior' in Jeffrey's book?  Or what about castration?  Maybe not in contemporary homosexuality but - as I have learned from using the Google search engine tonight - eunuchs had a reputation for often being male prostitutes in antiquity.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I think it is far more plausible to argue that the 'naked man and naked man' reference from the Carpocratians that Theodore reports to Clement is much more plausibly understood to be a gay slur against a tradition so intimately associated with ritual castration.

Origen was not the only Alexandrian engaged in this sort of thing.  His patron Ambrosius was supposedly a 'converted' Marcionite but it is interesting that Marcionitism is always connected with ritual castration too.  Let's make a list of Christians identified as eunuchs before the third century:

1. Jesus (Tertullian Monogamy 5. 6)
2. St. Mark ("Philosophumena", VII, xxx)
3. St. Paul (Tertullian Monogamy 3)
4. St John (ibid Monogamy 17; Jerome vol. vii. p. 655; cf. Leucius Acts of John)
5. 'Marcion' (Tertullian AM 1)
6. The Marcionite priesthood (ibid)
7. the Egyptian contemporaries of the unnamed Alexandrian in Justin's report (Justin I Apol. XXIX)
8. Julius Cassianus (c. 165 - 185 CE)
9. Hyacinthus (fl 180 CE) described by Hippolytus (Philosophumena 5.7) 'a presbyter, though an eunuch rather advanced in life.' He was a trusted agent of Marcia, the official concubine of the Emperor Commodus. I suspect he came over from Alexandria.
10. Pope Demetrius of Alexandria (189 - 234 CE)
11. Origen of Alexandria (fl 220 CE)

Now we know very little about the private lives of ANY Christians in the second century. Isn't it strange that we should have so many confirmed eunuchs on the list already?

So let me restate my main point. I think that the Carpocratians are acting here like high school boys when they accused their rivals of possessing a gospel narrative which referenced 'naked man with naked man.' I think they were ridiculing the ritual castration practices in contemporary Alexandria.

Yes, that sounds crazy to many but I bet they haven't read Severus of Al'Ashmunein's account of the contemporary Alexandrian Church.

Demetrius, who is universally acknowledged to have been the head of the church at the time of Clement is reported to have been married but puts away his wife and agrees to castrate himself. The problem for some was that Demetrius wasn't a virgin before being made a eunuch. So it is that the report that Severus cites tells us that Denetrius had to demonstrate his 'disinterest' in women, eventually putting aside his wife.

Severus begins by assuming that everyone reading the story has already heard the information in another source. He goes on to tell us that the Alexandrian population was scandalized by having Demetrius as their Patriarch. He somehow has to prove that he is a eunuch but decides it would be impolite for him to display his castrated member.

As such Demetrius has a plan. He decides instead to perform a miracle which would make clear to all that his flesh had been transformed by ritual castration (perhaps this is the same reason Origen is called 'Adamantius').

We are told that the church gathered around the throne of St. Mark and Demetrius stood up and arranged for a fire to be built and he placed himself in the flames:

You have now heard, my friends, this great wonder. This man had made himself an eunuch of his own free will, so that he was more glorious than those that are born eunuchs; and therefore the fire had no effect upon this saint, nor upon his garments, nor upon those of his wife, because he had extinguished the flames of lust. But now let us abridge our discourse upon this subject, and return to the history, glorifying God for ever and ever. So when the clergy had prayed, they said to the patriarch : «We beg of thy Holiness to explain to us this wonderful mystery.» And he replied : «Attend, all of you, to what I say. Know that I have not done this seeking glory from men. My age is now sixty-three years. My wife who stands before you is my cousin. Her parents died and left her when she was a child. My father brought her to me, for he had no other child than me, and she was the only child of my uncle. So I grew up with her in my father's house, and we dwelt together. When she was fifteen, my parents resolved to many me to her, in order that their possessions might not pass to a stranger, but that we might inherit them. So the wedding was performed, as men do such things for their children; and I went in to her. And when they had left us alone, she said to me : «How could they give me to thee, seeing that I am thy sister?» So I said to her : «Listen to what I say. We must of necessity remain together in this chamber without being separated all our lives, but there must be no further connexion between us, until death shall part us; and, if we remain thus in purity, we shall meet in the heavenly Jerusalem, and enjoy one another's company in eternal bliss.» And when she heard this, she accepted my proposal; and her body remained inviolate. But my parents knew nothing of our compact. Then the wedding-guests demanded the customary proof of the consummation of the marriage, as you know is done by foolish men; but my mother said to them : 'These two are young, and the days before them are many.' Thus we kept our purity; and when my parents as well as her parents were dead, we remained orphans together. It is now forty-eight years since I married my wife, and we sleep on one bed and one mattress and beneath one coverlet; and the Lord, who knows and judges the living and the dead, and understands the secrets of all hearts, knows that I have never learnt that she is a woman, nor has she learnt that I am a man; but we see one another's face and no more. We sleep together, but the embraces of this world are unknown to us. And when we fall asleep, we see a form with eagle's wings, which comes flying and alights upon our bed between her and me, and stretches its right wing over me, and its left wing over her, until the morning, when it departs; and we behold it until it goes. Do not think, my brethren and ye people who love God, that I have disclosed this secret to you to gain the glory of this world which passes away, nor that I have told you this of my own will; but it is the command of the Lord, who bade me do it, for he desires the good of all men, and he is Christ our Saviour."

When Demetrius had finished this discourse, the people all fell upon their faces on the earth, saying : «Verily, our father, thou art more excellent than many of the saints; and God has shewn his mercy towards us in making thee head over us." And they gave thanks to him, and besought him to forgive their evil thoughts of him. Then he gave them his blessing, and prayed for them; and they dispersed to their own homes, praising God. And after this, Demetrius bade his wife depart to her house
.[History of the Coptic Patriarchs Book One]

The narrative continues with Demetrius giving a lengthy oration about how he found his wife and women generally repulsive. It ends with the claim that Demetrius remained patriarch forty-three years. In his time there was a disturbance at Alexandria, and the emperor Severus banished him to a place called the quarter of the Museum; and there he died on the 12th. day of Barmahat, which, I believe, was the day of the manifestation of his virginity." The manifestation of his virginity I assume means that only when he died could people behold his nakedness and see that he had underwent castration.

That Severus would cite from a source that argued that the head of the contemporary Alexandrian Church needed to be castrated is very telling. I think it provides grounds for understanding why the Carpocratians would ridicule the initiation described in LGM 1. The Alexandrians looked queer and so their gospel must also contain gay references.

It is interesting also that it can be inferred that Severus also describes Clement in similar language (though not quite exactly):

Among the holy men of this time was Serapion also, who was patriarch of Antioch; and when he died Asclepiades, the confessor, was appointed, and his degree was exalted. And Alexander wrote to the people of Antioch with regard to Asclepiades, saying thus : «Alexander, the servant of God, and believer in Jesus Christ, addresses the holy church in Antioch, in the Lord, with joy, by the hand of the chaste priest Clement.

The bottom line is that having Demetrius associated with this strange characteristic of the Alexandrian tradition is enough. It makes more sense to interpret LGM 1 as a Carpocratian jibe against the 'girly-men' of the Alexandrian church than it does think Morton Smith forged the text. I don't even think that Morton Smith was gay, let alone that LGM 1 is a reference to 'homosexual behavior.'

The Alexandrian tradition just happened to look 'queer' and the Carpocratians just happened to have exploited that characteristic.

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