Saturday, May 8, 2010

How Alexandrian Judaism Developed into Christianity [Part Three]

We are making headway towards our goal of understanding the unique theological climate of ancient Jewish Alexandria.  It all comes down to this.  Judaism presupposes a redemption from Egypt.  But what do you do when Jews find themselves back in Egypt still awaiting redemption?  I have reason to believe that the Alexandrian Jews of Philo's age WEREN'T waiting for their redemption into the Promised Land in the Roman province of Judea.

I will bring forward the basis for my assumptions in an upcoming post in this series.  For the moment it is enough to say that I have never been able to dismiss Eusebius's claims that Christianity in Egypt developed from Philo's description of the ascetic sect called the Therapeutae.  I have never been able to square the writings of Paul for instance with any tradition in Palestinian Judaism, let alone the opening words of the gospel with its reference to the Logos.

I see connections between Philo's Therapeutae and the rituals of the early Alexandrian Christianity.  There i good reason to believe that Christians in Egypt baptized their catechumen on the evening of the 21st of Nisan (the 'going out' into the eighth day of Passover).  As we demonstrated in our last post, the Therapeutae also seem to have 'reenacted' the mystery associated with the 'crossing of the sea' which occurred on the same day.

Those experts who have written on the subject tend to acknowledged that the Alexandrian practice is 'one step' away from the variant tradition in the Church.  Nevertheless there simply is not enough evidence to prove that one developed from the other.  Some examples are here.

It's as if we are almost there.  We have 'almost found' the link between the ritual prayers in the semneia of the Therapeutae as the forty ninth day went out into the fiftieth called 'the apolutrosis' and the ritual practice of baptism as the seventh day of Passover went out into the eighth in other ancient literary sources.

Alexandrian Judaism must have been the ground out of which the Christian mystery of baptism developed.  The connection is the common association with the 'crossing of the sea.'  The specific point of contact in my mind is the common association between the practice of Philo's Therapeutae and the Marcosians of Alexandria to call the commemoration of the crossing, the apolutrosis.

In my opinion, it isn't necessary to argue that the Therapeutae were ALREADY baptizing as part of their apolutrosis service.  I would make the case that 'heretical' Christianity is structured around the idea that Christ came to introduce a 'mystery' to the existing worship.  I think Clement of Alexandria, a man who had a much better idea of the original relationship between Jewish and Christian traditions in his city writes makes clear that ritual water immersion was the thing that Mark introduced to the apolutrosis of the Therapeutae.

Of course, as I noted in a previous blog last week, scholars are going to pretend that because Clement never EXPLICITLY identifies baptism as the mysterion tes basileias tou theou that the idea was unknown to him. This is simply idiotic given the nature of mystery religions in the ancient world.  One wouldn't expect that Clement or anyone else from the Alexandrian tradition would just announce the connection to those who hadn't been initiated into the tradition.

Instead when we examine the writings of Clement are a series of cryptic statements - like the one which concludes the Exhortation to the Heathens - where he speaks in such a way that 'the initiated' realize at once that he is referencing baptism as the central mysterion of the tradition.  So we read:

The Word of truth, the Word of incorruption, that regenerates man by bringing him back to the truth — the goad that urges to salvation — He who expels destruction and pursues death — He who builds up the temple of God in men, that He may cause God to take up His abode in men. Cleanse the temple; and pleasures and amusements abandon to the winds and the fire, as a fading flower; but wisely cultivate the fruits of self-command, and present thyself to God as an offering of first-fruits, that there may be not the work alone, but also the grace of God; and both are requisite, that the friend of Christ may be rendered worthy of the kingdom, and be counted worthy of the kingdom ... Then shalt thou see my God, and be initiated into the sacred mysteries, and come to the fruition of those things which are laid up in heaven reserved for me, which "ear hath not heard, nor have they entered into the heart of any." [Exhort 11.12]

There is no more common metaphor in the writing of contemporary Church Fathers to describe baptism than as a 'regeneration' to God, the truth or the like. Yet it appears with especial frequency in Irenaeus's description of the apolutrosis baptism of 'those of Mark.'

In his most explicit statement about the heretical baptism being connected with the material in Mark chapter 10, Irenaeus says that the followers of Mark:

have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole faith. They maintain that those who have attained to perfect knowledge must of necessity be regenerated into that power which is above all. For it is otherwise impossible to find admittance within the Pleroma ... For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins, but the redemption brought in by that Christ who descended upon Him, was for perfection; and they allege that the former is animal, but the latter spiritual. [AH i.21.1,2]

The point is that Irenaeus, Clement and 'those of Mark' have inherited an understanding that baptism is both a 'regeneration' and the great mystery of the Church. The sticking point is clearly (a) identifying the mystery of baptism as 'redemption' and (b) connecting that 'other baptism' to a section of the gospel of Mark just before the request of Salome for her sons to sit beside Jesus [ibid].

Let's take each of these points in order.

Pagels wrote a very interesting article in 2002 arguing that "Irenaeus set out to make a difference between Christians in order to demonstrate that [the heretics] while commonly accepted as fellow believers, were in fact, apostates and heretics ... 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')." I will come back to this article but I think Pagels is on the right track but misses the mark ultimately.

Irenaeus simply stripped Christian baptism away from its roots in the Jewish mystical interest in the crossing of the Sea by the ancient Israelites as the seventh day went out into the eighth.

Indeed if we scrutinize Irenaeus's description of the Marcosians I think we can find a confirmation of the basic idea that Mark introduced the concept of the 'mystery of the kingdom of God' AS BAPTISM into the Alexandrian community. It all goes back to their parallel interest in numerology that we also find in the writings of Philo and in particular the idea that mystical interest in the numbers six, seven and eight WERE ALREADY PRESENT IN THE GOSPEL.

Irenaeus writes that Mark:

asserts that the fruit of this arrangement and analogy [i.e. the conjunction of letters and numbers in heaven] has been manifested in the likeness of an image, namely, Him who, after six days, ascended into the mountain along with three others, and then became one of six (the sixth), in which character He descended and was contained in the Hebdomad, since He was the illustrious Ogdoad, and contained in Himself the entire number of the elements ... And for this reason did Moses declare that man was formed on the sixth day; and then, again, according to arrangement, it was on the sixth day, which is the preparation, that the last man appeared, for the regeneration of the first, Of this arrangement, both the beginning and the end were formed at that sixth hour, at which He was nailed to the tree. For that perfect being Nous, knowing that the number six had the power both of formation and regeneration, declared to the children of light, that regeneration which has been wrought out by Him who appeared as the Episemon in regard to that number.[AH i.14.6]

For those who have read my arguments on behalf of the idea that 'Secret Mark' was the 'apocryphal' gospel [AH i.20.1] of the Marcosians, I am very drawn to the idea that the reference:

And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God.[To Theodore III.7 - 10]

is yet another example of a reference to the mystery of the six ('after six days'), seven (it's the seventh day of the initiation) and eight (when the evening becomes night it's 'the eight').

Indeed notice that the words Irenaeus uses would perfectly fit the context of Secret Mark representing 'the redemption baptism' - viz. "it was on the sixth day, which is the preparation, that the last man appeared, for the regeneration of the first .. [because] the number six had the power both of formation and regeneration."

For those who would like argue that Irenaeus never says that the Marcosians used a gospel which had 'extra material' than our canonical text(s), this is plainly refuted in the section which deals with the Marcosian gospel. Irenaeus identifies material which did not appear in his gospel (such as Jesus instructing his teacher on the mystical significance of the alphabet) and then seeming to accept or acknowledge sayings that are unknown to our canon such as the one where Jesus:

when He said, "I have often desired to hear one of these words, and I had no one who could utter it," they maintain, that by this expression "one" He set forth the one true God whom they knew not.

Irenaeus not only seems to treat this saying as if it were already known to his audience but elsewhere in the five books he seems to think Matthew 11:27 was also found in Mark.

The reason I bring this up is that we have already established that the scriptural basis for the Marcosian apolutrosis baptism is identified by Irenaeus as appearing just before Mark 10:35 - the exact place that we find the first 'addition' to the Alexandrian Gospel of Mark in to Theodore.

Now to those who say that there is no direct reference to the followers of Mark ADDING new material to the gospel in the writings of Irenaeus, I say that they should read the five books again with a critical eye.

About a week ago I tirelessly demonstrated that there are in fact THREE surviving reworked versions of Irenaeus's original 'lecture' on the Valentinians. Most people over look Tertullian's preservation of the same material. I noted that the most puzzling feature of that work is that chapters eight, nine and ten of what is now called Irenaeus's Five Books Against All Heresies is not found in Tertullian. Tertullian's work 'jumps' from chapter seven to chapter eleven, clearly demonstrating that chapters eight, nine and ten were unknown to his original source.

Why does this matter? Because this section of text has a reference to the apolutrosis which Harvey and others changed to apulosis because they couldn't understand the actual reading in its original context. As Hippolytus notes, only the Marcosians employed a baptism called 'apolutrosis.' The Valentinians were rightly excluded from this heretical ritual.

I would argue that like most of Against All Heresies (especially Book 2), this represents an original 'lecture' against the Marcosians which a later editor placed in the middle of a continuous section of Valentinian material. The section begins with a clear statement that the heretics employed a gospel with 'additional' material to support their ideas about apolutrosis:

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.[AH i.8.1]

Irenaeus immediately goes on to explain the manner in which they 'transform scripture' with the example of 'rearranging gems':

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.[ibid]

After going through a number of examples Irenaeus concludes the section with a clear understanding that it is the variant form of baptism - apolutrosis - which is at the heart of the issue. We read:

he who retains unchangeable [ακλινη] in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognise the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures, but will by no means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them. For, though he will acknowledge the gems, he will certainly not receive the fox instead of the likeness of the king. But when he has restored every one of the expressions quoted to its proper position, and has fitted it to the body of the truth, he will lay bare, and prove to be without any foundation, the figment of these heretics.

But since what may prove an apolutrosis to this scene [skene] is wanting, so that any one, on following out their imitation [μῖμος] to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.
[AH i.9.4,5]

It is my guess that the section which has been placed in chapters eight, nine and ten in Book One originally appeared immediately following chapter twenty and just before chapter twenty one (if the reader looks he will see how abrupt the change of subjects is and how perfectly the new material fits the gap).

To this end I propose that immediately following the words just cited the following words from chapter twenty one appeared:

And on this account, since it is fluctuating, it is impossible simply and all at once to make known its nature, for every one of them hands it down just as his own inclination prompts. Thus there are as many schemes of "redemption" as there are teachers of these mystical opinions. And when we come to refute them, we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole faith.[AH i.21.1]

In other words, the material which Tertullian cites as being in Irenaeus's original account written against the Valentinians is older and more correct than the existing manuscripts of Irenaeus. The reader should read the work I have already laid down on this subject in previous posts.

The bottom line here is that when restored to its proper context, Irenaeus's argument originally was that the apolutrosis baptism was based on a 'rearrangement' of gospel material with 'false narratives' added to support the claims for its existence. There is so much more work for us to do here. But at this moment I think that there is a growing case to be made that Irenaeus did indeed know of something like 'Secret Mark' and its alternative baptism narrative with later editors of Irenaeus's material effectively wiping the slate clean of the original reference(s).

More to follow.  I wrote this while watching Yentl ...

Email with comments or questions.

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