Monday, May 10, 2010

Elaine Pagels on Irenaeus's War Against the Rituals of Apolutrosis

Pagels was an early influence on my development as a scholar of early Christianity.  I particularly liked her Gnostic Paul.  She is a particularly gifted scholar.  I always think that having 'good instincts' separates the good from the great and in some ways she is on the right track with her relatively recent article 'Irenaeus, the 'Canon of Truth' and the Gospel of John 'Making a Difference' Through Hermeneutics and Ritual (Vigiliae Christianae 56, 339 - 371)  - catchy title, I know!  Yet I did find her sloppiness - not distinguishing for instance whom Irenaeus was actually referencing in her citations - very annoying and caused the article to fall very short of the mark in my mind.  

We have been treading much the same ground in our recent posts so it goes without saying that - which I think she is on the right track - her analysis suffers from two incredible oversights which effect her conclusions.  The first is that she identifies the material in chapters 8 and 9 of Book One of Irenaeus's Refutation as concerned with 'followers of Ptolemy' even though this identification only appears in the late Latin copies of the work.  The Greek does not identify which group is making these arguments.

I suspect that the mistake developed from carelessness in her youth (undoubtedly not employing a critical edition of Irenaeus).  She always had an interest in developing an understanding for the beliefs and practices of 'the Valentinians' and given the limitations associated with this sect (Tertullian's source in Against the Valentinians acknowledges that so-called Valentinians deny the existence of such a tradition or - we might assume - the existence of Valentinus as a historical figure) she has a tendency throughout her work to haphazardly blur the distinction between so-called 'Valentinians' and so-called 'Marcosians.'

Indeed among the most egregious of her 'sins' is to continue promoting the idea of the 'Valentinian apolutrosis ritual.'  I can't believe that other scholars don't take her to task for this when the author of the Philosophumena goes out of his way to correct this misunderstanding.  The author (who MIGHT be Hippolytus) writes:

(And it appears that some of the Marcosians,) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate apolutrosis. But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny). For these opinions (i.e. about the apolutrosis), however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school. [Philosophumena vi.37]

It is utterly scandalous that a scholar can promote the existence of a 'Valentinian apolutrosis ritual' without referencing Hippolytus's words.  Pagels silence allows for her to develop a totally impossible thesis that Irenaeus was writing against the Valentinians when in fact the only possibility is that he is attacking a ritual associated with 'the followers of Mark.'

Indeed, absolutely independent of her study, I have argued that a critical section of text for Pagels - chapters 8 and 9 - were actually MOVED from their original location i.e. the conclusion of the attack against the Marcosians - to the location where they appear now (i.e. in the middle of the attack 'against the Valentinians).

Pagels doesn't even realize that Harvey has changed an apolutrosis reading confirmed in BOTH the Greek and Latin texts of Irenaeus to apolusis.  Of course, given the fact that she has been active promoting the untenable idea that Valentinians were engaged in apolutrosis rituals this likely wouldn't have slowed her down.  Nevertheless her identification of the heretics described in this section as 'followers of Ptolemy' is even more questionable based as they are on only the Latin texts of Irenaeus.

I have noted on several occasions that neither Tertullian nor Hippolytus reference this section as being present in the original Irenaean work 'against the Valentinians' is even more problematic for Pagel's thesis.  Here again is the corresponding parallels between Tertullian's Against the Valentinians and our surviving texts of Book One of what passes as 'Irenaeus's Five Books Against All Heresies':

CHAPTER XIII -- Begins with material from Iren. 1.3.1 and continues with Iren.1.4.1.

As the reader can plainly see Tertullian (or his source) did not copy any of the section Pagels has determined deals with 'the followers of Ptolemy' (based again on late Latin manuscripts).

I have just argued that the material was actually TAKEN OUT of the original treatise written 'against the followers of Mark' by Irenaeus by a later Latin editor. The apolutrosis reference at the end of chapter nine is decisive in this regard. I have just shown in my last post that the material perfectly bridges the gap between chapters twenty and twenty one against the Marcosians.

What all of this will demonstrate is that Pagels original arguments can be turned around to demonstrate that Irenaeus was ACTUALLY WRITING against the rituals of the Alexandrian community using 'John' - i.e. the invented John associated with Polycarp - to correct the native claims of Alexandria and its original patron Mark who was also called John.

The other thing that Pagels overlooks is the relationship between the apolutrosis rite and the traditional Jewish ge'ullah and their common context in the crossing of the sea. I think all of that would open new doors for her understanding of the origins of the 'gnostics.' But then again I have a suspicion that she has little interest connecting the 'heretics' back to Judaism.

In any event let's go back now to Pagels's original article. She begins by announcing that:

Irenaeus set out to make a difference between Christians in order to demonstrate that he calls 'followers of Ptolemy' while commonly accepted as fellow believers, were in fact, apostates and heretics. This article suggests that what concerned Irenaeus was not so much that they held beliefs and ideas different than his own, but that they engaged in practices intended to affect apolutrosis ('redemption' sometimes called 'second baptism'). Second this article shows how Irenaeus, determined to develop a practice antidote to this heretical 'poison,' used language he found in the Gospel of John to radically revise what he called 'the canon of truth received in baptism' [AH i.9.4] to establish the efficacy of 'ecclesiastical' practices of baptism and eucharist. [p. 339, 340]

I have already dealt with her first niaiserie - namely that Irenaeus DID NOT identify the sect in question as 'the followers of Ptolemy.' Pagels doesn't even provide a footnote for the quote which is already sign that something is up. As noted earlier she is referencing a late Latin manuscript where an editor has ASSIGNED the material to the followers in Ptolemy. The earliest surviving material from Irenaeus in Greek DO NOT specify a group. As already noted, only the Marcosians can be meant.

Pagels immediately goes on to take Le Boullec to task for a similar slip - i.e. blurring the distinction between 'heretics' and 'gnostics' - but adds importantly that Irenaeus represents a departure from Justin in that:

we need to consider what constitutes 'heresy' not so much, as we have traditionally, in terms of people holding different beliefs and ideas, but in terms of people involved in different forms of practice both hermeneutical and ritual. [p. 340]

I agree full heartedly with Pagels idetification of Irenaeus's purpose as well as the general understanding for how Irenaeus's treatise 'against all heresies' developed. She writes:

If we follow the critical consensus that Irenaeus has borrowed the material he presents in this section from Justin's lost Syntagma ... [where] he traces Marcion's diabolical heritage from 'Simon the Samaritan' and Menander, Cerinthus, and Cerdo ... Irenaeus apparently has inserted this entire section from Justin's Syntagma into his own Refutation and Overthrow of Falsely So-Called Gnosis - and is aiming his entire polemic against Valentinian 'the disciples of Ptolemy.' [ibid]

My response is to say that regardless of 'critical consensus' might say today, Photius clearly witnesses that this is NOT how Irenaeus's work was developed. A critical reading of his entries for Irenaeus and Hippolytus make clear that later editors assembled various 'lectures' that Irenaeus gave on TWO 'heretical subgroups' - i.e. one 'against the Valentinians,' another 'against the Marcosians' (the former being developed further by Tertullian into his 'Against the Valentinians' - AND THEN a later editor at the time of Hippolytus, perhaps Hippolytus himself, assembled the two treatises PLUS Justin's Syntagma into a single volume.

I have developed the individual arguments in favor of this proposition in posts all this month and last.

Pagels's does her best to argue that ALL of the first twenty first chapters should be taken to denote 'followers of Ptolemy' INCLUDING THE MARCOSIANS. Again, the only reason she does this is because she wants to appropriate the apolutrosis baptism as a Valentinian sacrament - something the author of the Philosophumena explicitly disallows.

It seems impossible further more to imagine that Tertullian would have curtailed his treatise - a treaty called 'Against the Valentinians' JUST BEFORE the section which now deals with the Marcosians if the Marcosians were meant to be identified as 'followers of Valentinus.'

For whatever reason Pagels has a 'thing' for the Valentinians - and the 'followers of Ptolemy' in particular - and tries to manipulate the existing material so that she can 'defend them.' I will simply transfer her original argument to the ACTUAL GROUP which employed apolutrosis baptism - viz. 'the followers of Mark' - and leave Pagels point about Irenaeus's war against 'heretical rituals' intact.

Let's go on and follow what happens next in her analysis:

Irenaeus's case against them makes clear that what constitutes heresy, for him, involves more than 'heterodoxy' (in the simplest sense of accepting 'other beliefs or opinions'). For as he sought to endorse and embrace the wide range of tradition he included as 'apostolic' - traditions that already spanned a century and a half, and, he claimed, were shared by Christians ranging from Germany to Spain, Gaul to Asia, and from Italy to Lybia, Egypt and Palestine - Irenaeus was aware that the traditions he accepted, to say nothing of the many he sought to exclude, included considerable diversity of beliefs and opinions about God, about Jesus and his teachings, as well as diversity of practice. [p. 347]

I couldn't stop laughing as I read this. Is Pagels reading the same Irenaeus as the rest of us? Here is the original section being cited in Irenaeus. You be the judge if Pagels is accurately representing what is written on the page:

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.[AH i.10.2]

If Pagels were handing this essay into for a grade I would certainly fail the paper. There can be no greater misrepresentation of Irenaeus than this even when she goes on to claim that "nor did Irenaeus deplore such diversity; on the contrary, he seems to regard it as evidence of the 'catholicity' he claimed for 'the church ... scattered throughout the whole world.'

I honestly can't say enough about how wretched this analysis of Irenaeus is.

Pagels next goes on to misrepresent Irenaeus's argument on behalf of four witnesses to the gospel as proof that he loved diversity. She identifies Irenaeus as "Justin's other student" (Tatian being the other) even though there is no evidence to suggest that Irenaeus ever studied under Justin.

I will pass over the rest of her understanding of Irenaeus who, according to Pagels was "determined to strengthen these threatened believers and join them into a worldwide network - what Polycarp had envisioned as a 'catholic' church." [p. 349] Her main point is that "what Irenaeus identified as 'heresy' among Valentinian Christians was hermeneutical teaching communicated in ritual - and specifically any form of initiation ritual that could constitute distinct groups within Christian congregations."[ibid]

Again, we should only agree with this claim if she means MARCOSIAN Christians for as Hippolytus already noted "For these opinions [regarding the apolutrosis], however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school" because they did not practice them!!!!!!

Pagels again:

Let us investigate, then the grounds on which he [Irenaeus] objects to their hermeneutical practice, which, as he demonstrates, is inextricably involved with apolutrosis - initiation ritual he says they often enact as a kind of second - and 'spiritual' - baptism. Following that, we shall see that the antidote that Irenaeus prescribes for this heretical 'poison' simultaneously involves hermeneutics and ritual as well." [ibid] She goes on to note that "Irenaeus presents, as his primary evidence of such 'evil' exegesis, an extended quotation from an anonymous Commentary on the Gospel of John (often attributed to Ptolemy himself, but without sufficient evidence, as Christopher Markschies shows)." [p. 350]

Pagels then concentrates on chapters eight and nine of Book One - which we have already demonstrated was originally a continuation of the narrative on the Marcosians. Even without our analysis the discussion of what John meant by THIS passage is a continuation of a long section of commentary on 'the gospel.'

I can't believe how superficial Pagels analysis of this section is again. The heretics Irenaeus is addressing CANNOT be identified as employing our canonical gospels. There can be no doubt of that because he says over and over again in the material which precedes the citation from what Pagels calls 'a Commentary on the Gospel of John' that the heretics had a single gospel with a very different narrative order.

As I already noted in my last post Irenaeus begins what is now chapter eight with the words:

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives' fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma. [AH i.8.1]

It is simply astounding that someone of Pagels's stature can simply pluck the exegesis of WHAT WE WOULD CALL 'the opening lines of the canonical Gospel of John' even though LITERALLY THREE PARAGRAPHS earlier there is this CLEAR AND UNMISTAKABLE STATEMENT that indeed the heretics had a single gospel with a 'falsified order' but which began with the opening words of our canonical John and which was attributed to 'John, the disciple of the Lord.'

What is the solution to this mystery? There is only one - especially when chapter eight and nine are restored to their original context. The opponents of Irenaeus have a single, long gospel - a kind of Diatessaron which wasn't a 'harmony of four gospels' - but rather a continuous narrative featuring material spread across all four of the texts that we have learned to think make up a single gospel according to Irenaeus.

That text already has a witness in the Coptic Epistle to the Apostles. The Epistle does not actually preserve this variant gospel according to John but rather acknowledges that "Jesus Christ revealed the book for the company of the apostles, the disciples of Jesus Christ, even the book which is for all men ... (a book that was written) that ye may be steadfast and not flinch nor be troubled, and depart not from the word of the Gospel which ye have heard. Like as we heard it, we keep it in remembrance and have written it for the whole world."[Ep. Apostle 1]

There can be no doubt that this gospel was 'according to John' as the aforementioned 'company of apostles' is headed by this 'disciple of the Lord - viz:

We, John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathanael, Judas Zelotes, and Cephas, write unto the churches of the east and the west, of the north and the south declaring and imparting unto you that which concerneth our Lord Jesus Christ: we do write according as we have seen and heard and touched him, after that he was risen from the dead: and how that he revealed unto us things mighty and wonderful and true.[ibid 2]

The contents of this gospel not only (a) begin with the first lines of our canonical John but (b) include one of the apocryphal narratives attributed to the Marcosian gospel and (c) have a completely different order to the scenes that make up the narrative exactly conforming to what we just read in Irenaeus.

For those who are interested the citations in the Epistle to the Apostles from the variant gospel appear as follows:

This know we: that our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ is God the Son of God ... In God, the Lord, the Son of God, do we believe, that he is the word become flesh: that of Mary the holy virgin he took a body, begotten of the Holy Ghost, not of the will (lust) of the flesh, but by the will of God: that he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem and made manifest, and grew up and came to ripe age, when also we beheld it.

This did our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by Joseph and Mary his mother to be taught. [And] when he that taught him said unto him: Say Alpha: then answered he and said: Tell thou me first what is Beta. This thing which then came to pass Is true and of verity.

Thereafter was there a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and they bade him with his mother and his brethren, and he changed water into wine. He raised the dead, he caused the lame to walk: him whose hand was withered he caused to stretch it out, and the woman which had suffered an issue of blood twelve years touched the hem of his garment and was healed in the same hour. And when we marvelled at the miracle which was done, he said: Who touched me? Then said we: Lord, the press of men hath touched thee. But he answered and said unto us: I perceive that a virtue is gone out of me. Straightway that woman came before him, and answered and said unto him: Lord, I touched thee. And he answered and said unto her: Go, thy faith hath made thee whole. Thereafter he made the deaf to hear and the blind to see; out of them that were possessed he cast out the unclean spirits, and cleansed the lepers. The spirit which dwelt in a man, whereof the name was Legion, cried out against Jesus, saying: Before the time of our destruction is come, thou art come to drive us out. But the Lord Jesus rebuked him, saying: Go out of this man and do him no hurt. And he entered into the swine and drowned them in the water and they were choked.

Thereafter he did walk upon the sea, and the winds blew, and he cried out against them (rebuked them), and the waves of the sea were made calm. And when we his disciples had no money, we asked him: What shall we do because of the tax-gatherer? And he answered and told us: Let one of you cast an hook into the deep, and take out a fish, and he shall find therein a penny: that give unto the tax-gatherer for me and you. And thereafter when we had no bread, but only five loaves and two fishes, he commanded the people to sit them down, and the number of them was five thousand, besides children and women. We did set pieces of bread before them, and they ate and were filled, and there remained over, and we filled twelve baskets full of the fragments, asking one another and saying: What mean these five loaves? They are the symbol of our faith in the Lord of the Christians (in the great christendom), even in the Father, the Lord Almighty, and in Jesus Christ our redeemer, in the Holy Ghost the comforter, in the holy church, and in the remission of sins.

These things did our Lord and Saviour reveal unto us and teach us. And we do even as he, that ye may become partakers in the grace of our Lord and in our ministry and our giving of thanks (glory), and think upon life eternal. Be ye steadfast and waver not in the knowledge and confidence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will have mercy on you and save you everlastingly, world without end.
[ibid 3 - 6]

If the reader spends the time to examine the order of this narrative he will see that it is completely unlike the Diatessaron or any canonical gospel.

The point then is that her analysis of Irenaeus's argument is everywhere unnecessarily sloppy and cannot possibly be made to fit with what is being expressed in chapters eight and nine. The same community which Irenaeus accuses of chopping up and moving around stories which appear in ALL FOUR CANONICAL GOSPELS is the same community which uses that same allegedly chopped up and rearranged gospel to support the system of Aeons in the Pleroma. This community is properly defined as 'those of Mark' not 'those of Ptolemy.' The presence of the 'alpha, beta' story in the Epistle to the Apostles not only confirms the launching point for the system of Aeons in the Pleroma, it confirms that the sect was based in Egypt as almost all of the manuscripts are Coptic.

Let's continue on with Pagels's exegesis. She writes:

How then can one tell truth from falsehood? Irenaeus explains that the only way to be safe from error is to 'hold unmoving in (one's) heart the kanon tes aletheias which (one) received in baptism." (AH i.9.4). Irenaeus refers to what he apparently assumes his audience knows. He recalls for them 'this faith' which 'the church, even when scattered throughout the whole world ... received from the apostles.' This he says includes a faith in "... one God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and the seas ... and in one Christ Jesus, the son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit ... and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the fleshly ascension into heaven ... of our beloved Christ Jesus." All genuine believers throughout the world, he says, hold to this faith unanimously. But he charges, that those who follow Valentinus all say different things. [p. 351, 352]

Pagels goes on to note that "what such seekers are not doing, however, is what Irenaeus now demands: that they 'hold unmoving in (their) heart(s) the canon of truth ... received in baptism.' On the contrary, those who go on to join circles of 'spiritual Christians' have become convinced that the catechetical teaching and baptism which they have received in common is only the preliminary first step in the life of faith. [They] explain to their 'ecclesiastical' brethren that those who are baptized nevertheless remain subject to the cosmic powers. Thus they still stand in need of the second baptism - the sacrament (mysterion cf. AH II, Praef) called 'redemption,' apolutrosis (a term which connotes release from captivity, or manumission from slavery." [ibid]

Pagels of course is only interested in advancing the kind of antinomian gnosticism likely because she has little sensitivity for the manner in which the apolutrosis ritual clearly developed from the Jewish ge'ullah.

Most of what follows is a word by word retelling of Irenaeus's account of the Marcosian apolutrosis from chapter twenty one. Of course none of us should now be surprised that Pagels avoids mentioning that Irenaeus is EXPLICITLY referencing a completely different sect who are clearly 'followers of Mark.' Her deliberate sloppiness allows her to keep her premise that Irenaeus is imposing the Catholic baptism ritual on 'Valentinians.' And again:

Irenaeus charges that what apolutrosis really means is something very different (from what the heretics claim): namely, that Satan has inspired these so-called 'spiritual teachers' to 'deny that baptism is rebirth unto God, and to renounce the whole faith." [AH i.21.1] By depreciating what they hold in common with other believers, and by 'initiating' people into various subgroups, such Christians may create potentially innumerable schisms throughout Christian groups worldwide, as well as in each congregation. For, Irenaeus continues "they call those who belong to the church 'common,' and 'ecclesiastic' ... and if anyone goes himself up to them like a little sheep, and follows out their practice and their apolutrosis, such a person is so elated that he imagines he ... has already entered within the 'fullness of the God' ... and goes strutting with a superior expression on his face, with all the pomposity of a cock." [AH iii.15.2 p. 358]

I have already noted in many of my posts that there are uncanny parallels between Irenaeus's attack against this twofold notion of the Church and the witness of Clement of Alexandria in To Theodore. It is as if Clement, the crypto-Marcosian has finally taken off his orthodox mask and allows us to peer into the mechanics of salvation in Alexandria. While there is no explicit attempt to belittle orthodox baptism there is a clear allusion to a twofold revelation where what was written for Peter was of subordinate value to what Mark wrote 'for those being perfected.' The Alexandrian baptism liturgy develops from the latter; one may safely assume that the familiar Roman baptism is a product of the inferior revelation of/for Peter.

For the moment however I would like to stick with Pagels conclusions about the manner in which Irenaeus introduces the canonical Gospel of John to correct the beliefs of the aforementioned heretics who promote 'apolutrosis' - i.e. 'spiritual baptism.' It is for the most part very childish. Pagels has but a superficial knowledge of the many differing theories for how the canon was assembled. Nevertheless she is on to something with her observations about Irenaeus's methodology.

Pagels writes again:

How then, could [Irenaeus] persuade believers that their 'common' baptism, far from being merely the preliminary step, actually effects, in his words, 'rebirth to God,' and conveys not just elementary teaching but, indeed, the 'whole faith'?

To accomplish this, Irenaeus sets out to reformulate the 'canon of truth' and so to reestablish the truth of the faith received in baptism ... Irenaeus intends first of all, to limit the sources of revelation by outruling recourse to what he calls 'innumerable apocryphal and illegitimate writings" [AH i.20.1] that his opponents often invoke along with their alleged access to 'secret revelation' orally transmitted by Paul (or any of the apostles).[AH iii.3.2f] Then in order to control which of many Christian writings legitimately convey 'the gospel' [AH ii.11.9] - that is the living, oral preaching which the apostles conveyed in common - Irenaeus takes the bold step of defining the 'fourformed gospel' as the whole constellation of truth supported by the four 'pillars' which are, he explains, the written gospel accounts attributed to Matthew, Luke, Mark and John.

But Irenaeus is well aware that taking this step - so crucial to the development of what Christians in later generations would call the 'New Testament canon' - would not suffice to curb Valentinian Christians' 'heretical' practices of exegesis and apolutrosis ... Irenaeus may have realized, too, that many of his fellow believers might regard the Gospel of John as problematic, even suspect ... What then impels Irenaeus to join the Gospel of John with the much more widely accepted synoptics and to claim it as an indispensable elements of what he calls the 'fourformed gospel'? And while he admits that John was written only after Matthew, Mark and Luke (and so has the least claim to antiquity) who does he place it not (as Christians did later) as the fourth gospel, but instead as the first and foremost pillar of 'the church's gospel'? [AH iii.11.8] Irenaeus says that this gospel deserves its exalted position because John - and John alone - proclaims Christ's "... original powerful and glorious revelation from the Father, thus declaring, 'In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God (Jn i.1.2).' Also 'all things were made through him and without him nothing was made (Jn.i.3).'

Astonishingly, Irenaeus declares that it is the Gospel of John - and especially the prologue - that establishes the canon of truth. Irenaeus identifies himself with 'John, the disciple of the Lord' in whom he attributes this gospel, when he says that John actually wrote his gospel for the same purpose that he himself now writes his own treatise - namely to expose 'heretics,' to confound those who propagate 'falsely so-called gnosis' and above all 'to establish the canon of truth in the church.'
[p. 259 - 262]

The problem of course with Pagels analysis is that it is completely based on a false premise - namely that the canonical books of Matthew, Mark and Luke each embodied a 'gospel' and had communities develop around the exact form they now take.

David Trobisch has demonstrated convincingly I think that the canon was designed to be used as a set. In other words, the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke - let alone John - had no independent life AS THEY ARE NOW CONSTITUTED outside of the Catholic Church.

In other words, Pagels trips herself up again with her intellectual sloppiness. Because she thinks that the heretical commentary cited by Irenaeus in Book 8 is a commentary on 'canonical John' she wonders how it was that the heretical gospel was turned around to destroy the heresies. What has really happened as we have already noted is that a single, long gospel - the one referenced undoubtedly in the Epistle to the Apostles - attributed to John has essentially been overcome by Irenaeus through bring forward four witnesses who 'confound' the one claim of the single heretical gospel.

It is worth noting again that because Pagels hasn't specified that the apolutrosis ritual is limited to the Marcosians that John is understood only to attack the beliefs of the followers of Mark. Pagels mentions the verse of 'the elder' (who is either John or one of his followers) condemning Mark at the end of chapter fourteen. Yet the only claim that Irenaeus makes that John condemned any of the sects mentioned in Book One appears in the account of the Marcosians. I call my readers attention to the apocryphal 'Alpha, Beta' story (featured in the variant gospel of the Epistle to the Apostles) as Irenaeus writes:

those men are really worthy of being mourned over, who promulgate such a kind of religion, and who so frigidly and perversely pull to pieces the greatness of the truly unspeakable power, and the dispensations of God in themselves so striking, by means of Alpha and Beta, and through the aid of numbers. But as many as separate from the Church, and give heed to such old wives' fables as these, are truly self-condemned; and these men Paul commands us, "after a first and second admonition, to avoid." And John, the disciple of the Lord, has intensified their condemnation, when he desires us not even to address to them the salutation of "good-speed;" for, says he, "He that bids them be of good-speed is a partaker with their evil deeds;" and that with reason, "for there is no good-speed to the ungodly," saith the Lord. Impious indeed, beyond all impiety, are these men, who assert that the Maker of heaven and earth, the only God Almighty, besides whom there is no God, was produced by means of a defect, which itself sprang from another defect, so that, according to them, He was the product of the third defect. Such an opinion we should detest and execrate, while we ought everywhere to flee far apart from those that hold it; and in proportion as they vehemently maintain and rejoice in their fictitious doctrines, so much the more should we be convinced that they are under the influence of the wicked spirits of the Ogdoad,--just as those persons who fall into a fit of frenzy, the more they laugh, and imagine themselves to be well, and do all things as if they were in good health [both of body and mind], yea, some things better than those who really are so, are only thus shown to be the more seriously diseased.[AH i.16.3]

Now this cannot be coincidence - the fact that the followers of Mark, those who promote another baptism of apolutrosis are consistently condemned by John. Indeed owing to Pagels sloppiness again she THINKS she is developing an argument to demonstrate how the Valentinian gospel - i.e. the gospel of John - was turned around by Irenaeus to condemn them. The reality is that the canonical Gospel of John is being used to condemn the Alexandrian tradition who identify Mark as also being called John.

Why so?  Let me get some sleep.  I will explain tomorrow.  More to follow ...

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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