Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More on Elaine Pagels (Relatively) Recent Article on Apolutrosis

I could just as easily have called this post - why I did not end up becoming a scholar.  But then to tell that story I'd have to introduce my wife and I tend to shy away from personal details.

The bottom line is that when I read the abstract for Pagels relatively article - 'Irenaeus, the 'Canon of Truth' and the Gospel of John 'Making a Difference' Through Hermeneutics and Ritual (Vigiliae Christianae 56, 339 - 371) - I was absolutely thrilled. It really sounded like something that I might enjoy. Pagels has a real gift in making complex ideas readable for 'regular folks.'

I remember when I was 'regular folk.' It was great to have her insight to simplifying and explain many of the complexities in a way I could understand.

Yet there is a danger in this kind of oversimplifying. Because Pagels is such a media darling, anything she says immediately gets picked up on Google and immediately finds its way into print.

Her claim that the followers of Ptolemy engaged in an apoltrosis ritual will go viral even though we have the author of the Philosophumena GOING OUT OF HIS WAY TO SAY 'no that's not true.'

Now some people might say, why does it matter? Why do we have to go out of our way to say that only the followers of Mark engaged in this 'other baptism'?

Well, I will tell you why. This should require an explanation really but because we live in an age of sloppy scholarship I will make it explicit. The truth matters. It has to matter because if truth goes out the window then all the people studying things like early Christianity are no better than government bureaucrats.

I am telling you the truth. I spend three to four hours a night writing things here on my blog because I think the truth matters. I certainly makes a difference to me that ONLY THE MARCOSIANS had this 'other baptism' ritual. I think it has everything to do with the mysterion or baptism ritual of the followers of St. Mark in the Letter to Theodore but that is another story.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because I think we all live in a very unique period in history. I think that regardless of what Agamemnon Tselikas will say about his discovery of eighteenth century handwriting samples from other monasteries which resemble the writing of the Mar Saba document, we have found eighteenth century handwriting samples from other monasteries which resemble to the Mar Saba document.

I don't know how you are going to prove that the Mar Saba handwriting samples are copies of those other samples when there are no clear signs of forgery in that document as it stands now.

The argument that Morton Smith imitated a handwriting style that he found in some other monastery he might have visited still needs to cross the hurdle that the handwriting of the Mar Saba document on its own looks quite natural.

In the end, the world will scramble to find a late second century context for the rituals described in the text and the apolutrosis baptism ritual of Mark reported by Irenaeus is the only answer that makes any sense.

There is no doubt that it is difficult to pinpoint EXACTLY what was going in late second century Christianity. We have two principal witnesses to the period - 'Irenaeus' and 'Clement' (I am not even sure if these names are historically accurate).  With the discovery of the Mar Saba document latent traits of the latter's 'accepted works' (i.e. his crypto-Marcosian tendencies) become more pronounced.

I really don't see how people like Hurtado, Jeffrey and Evans can argue that To Theodore is 'out of place' in the period.  The ideas are clearly connected with the battle of apolutrosis in the writings of Irenaeus at least.  In To Theodore you have a witness for how THE OTHER SIDE - i.e. 'the heretics' were coping with Irenaeus's onslaught.

Irenaeus was saying in no unmistakable terms that there was ONLY ONE baptism which came from the apostles.  He was saying that EVERYWHERE in the Empire the understanding headed by Peter was flourishing AT ONE TIME.  Then beginning in the reign of Hadrian all sorts of 'heresies' were corrupting the truth.  Polycarp appeared as a kind of savior to rescue the truth from these evil men.  Irenaeus claimed that he was only continuing to witness for the true tradition originally established in the 'John, the disciple of the Lord' who ended up being buried in Ephesus.

While Alexandria is not specifically named the tradition that Irenaeus opposed was clearly associated with that  city.  The almost complete absence of any reference to Alexandria in the canonical Acts of the Apostles reinforces Alexandria's alienation from the truth.  Irenaeus doesn't even reference St. Mark establishing the Alexandrian tradition.  This doesn't mean that he doesn't know the story.  It means that the story was problematic for Irenaeus.

I have endeavored to demonstrate that while there is never a clear statement like 'St. Mark is the source of all the Alexandrian heresies' or 'the Alexandrian tradition is heretical by its very nature' once the Letter to Theodore is accepted as authentic it is absolutely unmistakable that it is nothing short of the 'missing link' which connects Clement, St. Mark and the Alexandrian tradition as the 'heretical school' which Irenaeus was attacking in his various 'lectures' which were later assembled into the Five Books of the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called by a third century Roman editor.

To Theodore explicitly references the key idea in the Letter to Theodore - viz. that the revelation made to Peter and the apostles was imperfect.  It was only to help establish 'the faith.'  Something better came along later in Mark which was 'for perfection' and 'perfect knowledge.'

I know that most scholars have a very limited knowledge of traditions outside of their area of expertise.  Pagels is an expert on the Nag Hammadi literature and so she develops her theories in order to emphasize the significance of that discovery.  To this end she DELIBERATELY blurs the distinctions between the various sects in the first part of Book One of Irenaeus's treatise.  She wants to connect the Nag Hammadi corpus to the controversies in the late second century.  But I think she is misguided.  She is acting like a lover who desperately wants to explain away the disinterest of her beloved.

The Nag Hammadi library just isn't that important . We have no real context for most of the material.  Most of it doesn't get referenced in any meaningful way by the Church Fathers.

I have never heard her weigh in on the To Theodore 'controversy' but given the selfish nature of scholars I imagine that as she has no vested interest in promoting Smith's discovery (i.e. she didn't have a part in the understanding of the text) it gets consistently left out of her analysis (I should also mention that scholars are by nature cowards and the potential to be 'wrong' about something scares them away from taking a stand).

The bottom line is that when you clear away all the damage she has done to our understanding about the apolutrosis ritual (damage because reckless writers and researchers will cite her claims about the use of the second baptism ritual among the 'followers of the Valentinian teacher Ptolemy' without having scrutinized the primary material) it becomes readily apparent that Irenaeus was specifically attacking 'another baptism' developed among the 'followers of Mark.'

Once the reader takes the time to examine the THREE surviving sources for Irenaeus's lecture against the Valentinians (Tertullian, Hippolytus and the assembled corpus of Irenaeus's lectures called Five Books Against All Heresies) it becomes readily apparent that Book One is really a composite work.  Three separate lectures were bound together and passed off as a single work outlining NOT ONLY the beliefs and practices of the Valentinians (chapters 1 - 7, 11 - 12), the Marcosians (chapters 13 - 20, 8 - 9, 21) and a reworking of Justin's Syntagma (chapters 22 - the first paragraph of 31) but thanks to the third century editor's compilation effort, HOW THE HERESIES apparently developed from 'Simon.'

I STRONGLY SUSPECT that material from Book Two originally belonged to the first two 'lectures' of Irenaeus.  For instance I see chapter 10 - 25 was also directed against the Marcosians specifically.  I say this, not only because of parallels with the writings of Clement of Alexandria (whom Schaff and others have identified as employing Marcosian texts) but because this section also contains information which Agapius seems to have in front of him from Irenaeus's report on the heresies. Look especially at Book Two Chapter Twenty Four which is given the title 'folly of the arguments derived by the heretics from numbers, letters and symbols.' This is certainly Marcosian even though the name 'Mark' never once appears anywhere in the discussion.

The point is again that the surviving material from Irenaeus IS DELIBERATELY AMBIGUOUS. The third century Roman editors have deliberately assembled the collection of Five Books Against All Heresies IN THE EXACT SAME MANNER as the Five Books Against Marcion were established - i.e. a mix of material from Irenaeus, Justin and others with A PRONOUNCED EDITORIAL PURPOSE.

Notice for example that in the Five Books Against Marcion the third book undoubtedly goes back to Justin and is called Against the Jews in another treatise of Tertullian. I have always puzzled over this 'double appropriation.' On some level 'the Jews' and the 'Marcionites' were understood to be related to one another in the same way that the Alexandrian tradition (i.e. those of Mark) were similarly accused of borrowing too much from Judaism.

In any event, I think that the Five Books Against All Heresies and the Five Books Against Marcion were created around the same time. The former was eventually attributed to Irenaeus but it clearly has some contact with Hippolytus too. The latter is attributed to Tertullian but the author himself acknowledges in his opening paragraph that the text used to pass under another name.

The thing I want the reader to walk away from this post understanding is that in each case that there is a little Justin and a lot of Irenaeus being mixed up and rewritten by a Latin editor into a five volume tome. I can't account for where, who or how these works were being produced but there seems to be some uncanny parallels here that have not been noticed before.

I also see parallels with the four-faced gospel too (a concept that Pagels doesn't seem to understand). Even though we can look at the four texts and see them as 'four gospels' this goes against the original editorial concept. The gospel is 'of four.' Each of the individual texts is not 'the gospel' or 'a gospel' in its own right. Only when all four are present is there 'a gospel' or 'the gospel.'

It is a strange way of thinking but in the West at least Irenaeus's tome Against All Heresies seems to become 'the final word' on heresies as such. The Philosophumena is merely an early variant of that tradition. The Five Books are meant to stand up as a testimony from the first Golden Age of Christianity - i.e. the Commodian rule (which was for everyone else one of the darkest periods in Roman history).

Nevertheless Christians flourished in that age and Christians from the third and fourth centuries who were sitting in the courts of the late Severan Emperors and the post Nicene period could look back at Irenaeus as a precursor of that eventual coziness with Caesar.

Photius says quite explicitly that Irenaeus's original essays were filled with monstrous statements. Someone from the third century undoubtedly 'cleaned them up' and packaged them in a neat five volume set. The same thing is undoubtedly witnessed by the Five Books Against Marcion. There were countless lost texts from the late second century called 'Against Marcion.' Our present five volume set represents a corrected 'best of' from the period attributed to Tertullian (perhaps because he ultimately translated the set into Latin).

The bottom line is that it is imperative that we begin the process of see that Book One of Irenaeus's Againat All Heresies has THREE separate 'lectures' contained within it. Irenaeus wrote one essay 'against the followers of Valentinus' and another 'against the followers of Mark.' It is only because of the way the material was arranged by the third century editor that we think that the Marcosians were an offshoot of the Valentinians or that both derived their origins from Simon Magus.

When we start to see that it is a third century Roman editor which has obscured what was originally two independent reports about two wholly separate traditions, only then will we begin to see that 'Mark' - the leader of the Marcosians - is St. Mark, that the report against the Marcosians is an exaggerated diatribe against Clement's contemporary Alexandrian See and - most importantly - that the secret mysterion in Clement's Letter to Theodore is one and the same with the mysterion referenced by the opening words of Book Two of Irenaeus's (now muddled) diatribe against the Marcosians - viz. that they "have introduced impious and irreligious doctrines (dogmata) ... and we set forth that their apulutrosis (redemptionem) and in what way they initiate those whom they 'perfect,' as well as their invocations and their sacraments (mysteria)." [AH ii.Pref]

And Scott Brown claims that the mysterion tes basileias tou theou of the Letter to Theodore CAN'T MEAN 'baptism.' Well maybe he's right. It doesn't mean 'our familiar - Jesus went naked into the Jordan - baptism' but clearly parallels the apolutrosis baptism of the followers of Mark in Irenaeus ...

Irenaeus was attacking the Alexandrian tradition in order to establish Rome as the center of the Christian world.  Make no mistake about it.

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