Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reader Mail

I received a great number of emails today. I even had someone ask me questions on my Facebook account (which I never use because I think Facebook is the SECOND stupidest invention in history; Twitter getting first place). I thought I would attempt to answer one of the emails which came to me


I just found your blog today. I'm very interested in your comments below:

Acts, it should be seen, is complete nonsense developed for political purposes alone (i.e. to develop an alternative theory to the reality of the Alexandrian origins of Christianity).

I'm wondering how your fairly clear statement can be supported by other sources. I think that what you are saying (please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the emphasis on Antioch is being blown out of proportion (by tradition) and that you are not questioning the events reported in Acts.

I'm sure I'll have other questions as I continue reading but I'd like to get your understanding of this first. Thanks for the time and effort you have put into this body of research. Blessings to you.

This was cited from my recent post 'How Alexandrian Judaism Developed into Christianity.' I don't think I need to prove that the author of Acts had Antioch in his mind as the true home of Christianity. The problem is that some people JUST ASSUME that Antioch really was the home of Christianity just because Acts says it was.

I think it is important to keep in mind that OTHER sects at the time Acts was being introduced said it was complete garbage. We should pay very close attention to this. The community called 'the Marcionites' (more on them later) said from the very beginning that the two letters to Timothy and Titus were not authentically Pauline. They turned out to be right about them (remember the Catholics swore up and down that 'Paul' wrote the texts. They also said - against Catholic opposition - that the Epistle to the Hebrews was not authentically Pauline. They were right again.

So it is that when the Marcionites call the Acts of the Apostles 'deceptive' and 'spurious' their opinions should be taken very seriously. According to my way of thinking, their tradition seems to be the most accurate of all the ancient Christian traditions.

Am I questioning the events in Acts? No, I am absolutely rejecting the events of Acts. Most of the reason for this is again the original Marcionite rejection. However there are a number of other factors too including the obvious employment of Josephus which - I believe - only trickled down to Christian sources in the second century.

If I could go one step further I have always found the language of Acts very reminiscent of the Pastorals. I follow von Campenhausen's original suggestion that the same man who wrote the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians wrote the Pastorals. I think the same editor who 'fixed' the Ignatian canon, the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians and the Pastorals also 'corrected' Acts adding in the bit about the rejection of John Mark and the 'we' section. I think that person was Irenaeus and I support my assertion by the manner in which Irenaeus draws his readers to these two sections in Book Three Chapter 15 and 16.

In other words, these sections WERE NOT KNOWN to previous generations. They were deliberately added to introduce Luke as the author of the text rather than - as I suppose - John Mark, who is after all the real 'glue' that holds the first half (i.e. the one that deals with Peter) and the second half (i.e. the one that deals with Paul) of the work together.

Now let me just leave it there and continue with to explain the only part of the citation he doesn't have questions about - i.e. whether the author of Acts had an anti-Alexandrian agenda.

I see the anti-Alexandrian agenda as self-evident. But let me develop my point gingerly so as not to alienate too many of my readers.

Somewhere out there in the world right now there is someone reading Philo of Alexandria for the first time. She might be a first year undergraduate. He might be a tradesman or the president of a multinational corporation. But whoever that person is, he or she is undoubtedly having a thought going through his or her mind, something like - 'gee, this sounds proto-Christian.'

Of course there have been people in almost every part of the world having thoughts like this for as long as the works of Philo of Alexandria have been in circulation. They might have this idea swimming around in their head for a while. However as soon as they come face to face with the 'official story' of Christianity they will quickly discard this observation .

For it is at that time they will 'know' that Christianity DID NOT start in Alexandria. They will learn from the canonical Acts of the Apostles that there was a primitive Church which eventually established itself in Antioch which reconciled the formerly hostile factions of 'Peter' and 'Paul.'

As soon as they become comfortable with this understanding they will have to learn to 'switch gears' and accept the idea that the Roman See was actually also the joint See of 'Peter and Paul.'

I don't know how you reconcile Acts and Irenaeus. But then again I have stopped expecting miracles from uncritical minds. The truth is that while we call Rome 'the See of St. Peter' it was in fact a kind of 'new Antioch' for Irenaeus, that is - a joint see of 'Peter and Paul.'

Irenaeus basically transfers the Antiochene history of Acts to Rome. So if it was at Antioch that Paul became reconciled to Peter, then it was at Rome their union as a kind of latter day Dioscuri was everywhere confirmed.

Irenaeus ALWAYS pairs the two in any reference to Rome.  So we read:

Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church [AH iii.1.1]

and that the:

tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops [ibid iii.3.2]

and again that:

with regard to those who allege that Paul alone knew the truth, and that to him the mystery was manifested by revelation, let Paul himself convict them, when he says, that one and the same God wrought in Peter for the apostolate of the circumcision, and in himself for the Gentiles. Peter, therefore, was an apostle of that very God whose was also Paul; and Him whom Peter preached as God among those of the circumcision, and likewise the Son of God, did Paul also among the Gentiles. For our Lord never came to save Paul alone, nor is God so limited in means, that He should have but one apostle who knew the dispensation of His Son." [ibid iii.13.1]

I know it is difficult for scholars WHO WANT to be experts on the subject matter they study but the reality is that most of what is used to develop our 'histories' of the period - including Irenaeus - is utterly unhistorical.

We should see that all Irenaeus did was INHERIT a Antiochene paradigm of a reconciled 'Peter and Paul' and transfered that pairing to Rome.  There is no history here.  There was no actual unity.  Acts was developed as a reaction against an EARLIER but lost historical understanding that all that was 'Peter' was opposed and 'condemned' (Gal 2:11) by another orthodoxy.   Irenaeus was merely consolidating, strengthening and 'relocating' this mid-second century reactionary movement to Rome as a prepackaged unit - i.e. 'Peter and Paul.'  

I hesitate to USE the specific terminology employed by Irenaeus such as 'the apostle Paul' in the same way that I never get mixed up in the arguments of married couples.  I once heard of a man in Trinidad who saw a man slapping his wife and when he stepped into save her they both ended up hitting him over the head with bottles.

I prefer to employ the ambiguous term 'the Apostle' which seems to be quite pronounced in Alexandrian circles.  In other words, I don't know who or what this 'other tradition' which opposed Peter was actually called.  There are a number of names floating around in antiquity for the group - viz. Marcionite, Marcosian - and a number of names for the apostle - Paul, Mark. Hippolytus establishes the confusion by reporting that the Marcionites blurred the distinction between Mark and Paul [Ref. vii.17]  Irenaeus also specifically references the same heretics [cf. AH iii.14.4 end] as refusing to acknowledge an apostle called 'Paul' [ibid iii.15.1]

Again, I am certain that you can't walk in to long standing argument and throw your entire support to one of the participants.  Yet this is exactly what scholars have been perpetuating for over two hundred years.  There has been a deliberate effort on the part of atheist and agnostics to question all sorts of things related to the gospel. Was there a Passion?  Was there a 'historical Jesus'?   Yet for me the real battlefield isn't the gospel but the Patristic writings.

Where is there any evidence for a 'Marcionite' sect? As I noted in a post a few months ago, I scoured through ALL the surviving legal sources from the Roman Empire and - while a great number of sects are mentioned, each having their own distinct legal status in the Empire - there isn't so much as a single reference to a 'Marcionite' sect - this even though we know the sect survived into the fifth or sixth centuries.

I am not saying that all the reports 'against the Marcionites' were invented out of thin air.  There was some kind of sect which was known by this name.  The Muratorian Canon's reference to ''nouu psalmorum librum marcioni' is one of the earliest and fits the general pattern for my argument that 'Marcioni' is actually a Semitic gentilic plural meaning 'those of Mark.'

I do not know how many of you buy into my theory about the falseness of the term 'Marcionites.' All that I can tell you is that the earliest sources for the 'Marcionites' - Polycarp and Justin - undoubtedly had Aramaic as their mother tongue. Tertullian's Adversus Marcionem borrows heavily from these Aramaic sources (the only way to explain the anomalies in Book Four for instance is to assume that Tertullian's source used a Diatessaron for instance).

All of this would fit a general pattern of imaginary heretical boogeyman being created by the third century Fathers - viz. 'Ebion' of the Ebionites, Elxai of the Elxasites etc. Indeed most of those write endless pages on the subject of the Valentinians usually fail to mention Tertullian's note that those called 'Valentinians' by the Church Fathers actually denied that there ever was a 'Valentinus.'

To this end, once we accept that the Roman claim to Episcopal primacy was only developed in the late second century by Irenaeus (undoubtedly owing to Commodus' involvement in the Church) we are left with only three possible centers to the Christian universe - Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria.

I know that there certainly is a tradition that James was associated with a 'Jerusalem church.' I also know that Robert Eisenman and others have made a career developing theories about these things, but as far as I am concerned whatever truth there is to these things they all but vanished a long time ago.

Acts claims that there was a natural transition from the Jerusalem community to the Antioch Church. I have a great many difficulties with believing ANYTHING IN ACTS. These include the fact that Acts is ignorant of the Pauline letters, which is difficult to explain given that the author claims to be an authority on Paul. Given that the Marcionites attack against BOTH the Pastorals and Acts, the fact that they agree on so many fundamental points and the fact that the Pastorals are indeed spurious lends me again to suspect that they were developed as a kind of parallel canon against the Marcionite equivalent which - as of yet - had not fallen into the hands of the Catholics.

I will develop a post outlining other arguments Acts in due time. What I am more interested in here is to scrutinize the absolute lack of any reference to an Alexandrian Church. We must remember that the Marcionites did indeed have an Epistle to the Alexandrians written by the Apostle. This, when taken together with the Marcionite rejection of Acts (which is our sole independent source telling us that the Apostle's name was 'Paul' and various other details we now take for granted about him) implies that the Marcionite portrait of the Apostle must have radically different from our own.

I think that the disappearance of Alexandria in one canon and the rejection of Acts in the other (which as we have noted argues for an Antiochene origin to organized Christianity) displays the situation in churches BEFORE Irenaeus. In other words, the Marcionite Church MUST have been connected with Alexandria (Aramaic Marqione = 'those of Mark) in the same way that the Catholic Church BEFORE Irenaeus must have been attempting to establish itself in Antioch before Polycarp's death in 161 CE.

To this end, when we attempt to reconstruct the history of the Catholic Church (I won't reference my radical ideas about Alexandria in this post) we have about fifteen years between Polycarp's death and the beginning of the 'redemption' of the Roman Church at the beginning of the Commodian period. I even suspect of course that Polycarp wrote the original text of Acts to Theophilus of Antioch ('Theophilus' is the addressee of the original correspondence and the 'Church of Antioch' is the clear beneficiary of all of the author's labors).

While I am still making guesses I also suspect that Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus the original husband of Marcia before her relationship with Commodus might have been the 'Quadratus' the proconsul of Asia mentioned in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. It may however be premature to develop sweeping judgments about what is 'real history' from documents which have little historical worth.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.