Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why the REAL History of the Gnostics of Alexandria has NEVER Been Written [Part One]

It all comes down to a lack of language skills. What do I mean? Well to be certain there are a great number of scholars who are quite proficient at translating Coptic, Greek, Latin and even Arabic into English. That's the big reason of course why the rest of us can read the Nag Hammadi texts. But if we look at the second century Alexandrian CONTEXT out of which the later 'gnostics' developed their literature, it is BEYOND QUESTION that almost none of these scholars lacks Sprachgefühl for Aramaic.

This is why there has been absolutely no headway made into understanding what the context of Mark, the Marcosians and all the crazy sounding terminology that Irenaeus is referencing in his lectures that eventually made their way into books one and two of Against All Heresies.

I mean no disrespect to Pagels, Meyer and the rest of their ilk but there seems to be a kind of 'imagination gone wild' when approaching the gnostics because these people just don't get kabbalah, the basic principles of Jewish mysticism and Aramaic.

You have to start out with the fact that Irenaeus's original lectures against (a) 'those of Valentinus' and (b) 'those of Mark' were bound together and - as we have just demonstrated diced and sliced so as to make the two sects indistinguishable from one another.

Then you have to note Tertullian's statement that those who are called 'Valentinians' either deny that there ever was a Valentinus influencing them. The Marcosians on the other hand never deny Mark but deny Irenaeus's description of their teachings. [Philos. vi.37]

So the likelihood is that Mark is real and Valentinus is less real, perhaps developed as yet another heretical boogeyman like Ebion of the Ebionites and Elxai of the Elxasites (I suspect it is derived from the Aramaic falatinus 'of the Palatine' see Jastrow entry to describe the great number of adherents of Polycarp in the royal court in the late second century viz. Irenaeus, Florinus etc. but it's just a working hypothesis right now).

In any event, it has to be understood and accepted that we are dealing with two separate 'cultures' here (which is why Tertullian's copy of Irenaeus's original lecture 'against the Valentinians' does not include go beyond chapter 12 of Irenaeus (the conclusion of the description of the Valentinians). In short, the Marcosians were not originally understood to be a Valentinian sect.

Once we stop perpetuating the sloppiness in lumping in ALL the sects which Irenaeus described in Book One (chapters 22 - chapter 31 come from Justin's lost Syntagma) it has to be recognized that it is ONLY the followers of Marcus who develop this now almost incomprehensible theory about a 'defect' (ὑστέρημα[τ], -ατος, τό) and a fullness (πλήρωμα) separating this world from the world to come.

There has quite simply been TOO MUCH written by TOO MANY EXPERTS with TOO LITTLE in the way of proper insight about what was originally being expressed here. As I said the specific term 'defect' only occurs when Irenaeus describes the followers of Marcus. It is appears throughout the description of the kabbalah associated with the Marcosians involving the numbers twelve, thirty and one hundred. So we read in chapter sixteen that:

because an error occurred in connection with the twelfth number, the sheep frisked off, and went astray; for they assert that an apostasin took place from the Duodecad. In the same way they oracularly declare, that one power having apostasin from the Duodecad, has perished; and this was represented by the woman who lost the drachma, and, lighting a lamp, again found it. Thus, therefore, the numbers that were left, viz., nine, as respects the pieces of money, and eleven in regard to the sheep, when multiplied together, give birth to the number ninety-nine, for nine times eleven are ninety-nine. [AH i.16.1]

All that we need to keep our eyes on for the moment is that there are a series of numbers which are 'one less' than the complete numbers 10, 12, and 100. Indeed the number ninety nine is explained to be a result of 10 - 1 being multiplied by 12 - 1.

It is clear from Irenaeus's testimony that the Marcosians are hinting that there was some kind of cosmic principle being described here. That our universe was 'defective' because it was missing 'one thing' which - when restored - would bring things back to perfection.

This cosmic principle is identified as ὑστέρημα or 'defect' throughout what follows as we read:

Wherefore also they, by means of their "knowledge," avoid the place of ninety-nine, that is, the ὑστέρημα--a type of the left hand,--but endeavour to secure one more, which, when added to the ninety and nine, has the effect of changing their reckoning to the right hand. [ibid i.16.2]

Once again one hundred represents the πλήρωμα and ninety nine the ὑστέρημα. Similarly twenty nine is the ὑστέρημα and thirty the πλήρωμα. The specific 'whole numbers' don't matter. What is being described is the described is the principle of 'fullness' and 'defect,' where 'defect' is always 'one less' than perfection.

Follow me so far?

Well, the reason why previous 'experts' have never been able to understand the Marcosians BEYOND THE FACT THAT THEY WERE MUDDYING THE WATERS BY LUMPING THEM TOGETHER WITH THE VALENTINIANS is because they don't understand kabbalah. What kabbalah is going after is 'cosmic principles' DESCRIBED THROUGH the relations of numbers. So the fact that the letters of the word 'messiah' for instance adds up to the same number as the word for 'snake' HINTS AT SOMETHING SPECIFIC and limited to the oral teaching of the community.

In the case of the followers of Mark and their kabbalah involving the principle ὑστέρημα and πλήρωμα THE SPECIFIC NUMBERS 10, 12, 30, 100 and the like DON'T REALLY MATTER. They are merely poetic examples for a COSMIC PRINCIPLE THAT RUNS THROUGH ALL THINGS, a cosmic principle which separates our world from the world to come.

You can't imagine how aggravating it is for me - a Jew who happens to be well versed in these matters - to read all the idiotic nonsense that gets generated by supposed 'experts' in this regard. I hate to say it but 'European thinking' has to be ejected here. There is an inherent ambiguity to Aramaic which allows and even encourages this poetic expression which defies our traditional assumptions about 'real being.'

There never were any 'thirty' powers in heaven. The Marcosians instead are speaking about the principle of ὑστέρημα IN RELATION TO THE CONCEPT of thirty as the πλήρωμα. Do you get that? Yes numbers add up to other numbers and they are in turn related to letters and other meta-principles but you can't go around imagining that there really is this 'thirty' in heaven made up of other BEINGS of 'eight,' 'ten' and 'twelve' and so on.

No wonder Irenaeus tries to make fun of all this craziness. He's DELIBERATELY playing upon our Western prejudices about 'being' shaped by our Indo-European languages. 'God' and the divine powers are just lumped together with other 'beings' like the coffee mug sitting on the table in front of you:

I well know, my dear friend, that when thou hast read through all this, thou wilt indulge in a hearty laugh over this their inflated wise folly! But 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 ὑστέρηματος, which itself sprang from another ὑστέρηματος, so that, according to them, He was the product of the third ὑστέρηματος. 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 [ibid i.16.3]

As long as we think like Europeans we will never understand what the heck the followers of Marcus were on about. I am sure for a great many scholars of early Christianity that would be a good thing. The only thing that we need to know about is the 'truth' of the apostolic tradition of Rome headed by Peter.

Nevertheless because I happen to be alive on the earth today and have a few moments to impart some instruction to these hapless souls, I thought it might be worth their while to take a crash course in the original language of the followers of Mark at the time Irenaeus was writing - viz. Aramaic. The word which is being translated as ὑστέρημα in Greek is actually חֶסְר in Aramaic. It is consistently translated as such in the LXX as we read:

διεστραμμένον οὐ δυνήσεται τοῦ ἐπικοσμηθῆναι καὶ ὑστέρημα οὐ δυνήσεται τοῦ ἀριθμηθῆναι [Eccl. 15]

מְעֻוָּת, לֹא-יוּכַל לִתְקֹן; וְחֶסְרוֹן, לֹא-יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת. [ibid]

The list of translations where חֶסְר has been translated as ὑστέρημα is made available here.

The point is that once you get beyond all this STUPIDITY that the Marcosians believed in this 'crazy' world of numbers, letters and powers - a kind of endless and incomprehensible scribble on the blackboard that you might see if Elaine Pagels or Marvin Meyer were to draw out for you all the formulas that Irenaeus lays out for us - the restoration of the original Aramaic makes the whole context suddenly comprehensible.

Just go to Jastrow's Aramaic dictionary here and look up the entry for חֶסְר (that's chet-samek-resh for those at home) and you can follow the argument that follows.

When you look at the meaning of this word you will see that on the surface it least it means the same thing as ὑστέρημα -i.e. 'less,' 'wanting' or 'defective.' Some examples Jastrow provides includes 'forty less one' [Sabb VII.2] but then notice that it is especially used with regards to calendars which is especially significant for the Marcosians and early Christianity generally.

As Jastrow notes it was common usage in Jewish Aramaic to identify the months which had twenty nine days as חֶסְר and thirty as מָלֵא or 'full.' There can be no doubt that the Marcosian distinction between 'defect' and 'fullness' arises because of the technical terminology related to these Aramaic terms. Irenaeus makes this quite explicit at the end of his discussion of this term noting that:

In addition to these things, they declare that the Demiurge, desiring to imitate the infinitude, and eternity, and immensity, and freedom from all measurement by time of the Ogdoad above, but, as he was the fruit of ὑστέρημα, being unable to express its permanence and eternity, had recourse to the expedient of spreading out its eternity into times, and seasons, and vast numbers of years, imagining, that by the multitude of such times he might imitate its immensity. They declare further, that the truth having escaped him, he followed that which was false, and that, for this reason, when the times are fulfilled, his work shah perish.[ibid i.17.2]

The point of course is that we know that the Marcosians and the early Alexandrians of St. Mark developed a solar calendar of exactly 360 days (12 months x 30 days). The Montanists continued this tradition according to Socrates. Yet as Dorigo (1989) the very episcopal throne of St. Mark (now in Venice) designed as a solar merkavah which reinforces this principle being built to dimensions which reinforce the number 360 (p. 134).

The point I want to emphasize for my European readers is that they shouldn't get tied up in knots trying to keep track of the various letters or numbers. The point was originally developed through poetic language of Aramaic and was clearly thought to be at the heart of what the Apostle was getting at when he declared "do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." [Col 2:16,17]

The old system of Jewish calculation was 'defective' because it was based on 'defective months' of thirty. I have to reinforce again that the principle of ὑστέρημα is only ascribed to the Marcosians in Book One so when I turn to Book Two and see a lengthy chapter there entitled "The Thirty of the Heretics Errs Both by ὑστέρημα and Excess I know that my understanding is superior to the so-called 'modern experts of gnostics.'

Here is the beginning of that chapter for those who are not convinced:

We may remark, in the first place, regarding their Triacontad (i.e. thirty), that the whole of it marvellously falls to ruin on both sides, that is, both as respects defect and excess. They say that to indicate it the Lord came to be baptized at the age of thirty years. But this assertion really amounts to a manifest subversion of their entire argument. As to ὑστέρημα, this happens as follows: first of all, because they reckon the Propator among the other AEons. For the Father of all ought not to be counted with other productions; He who was not produced with that which was produced; He who was unbegotten with that which was born; He whom no one comprehends with that which is comprehended by Him, and who is on this account [Himself] incomprehensible; and He who is without figure with that which has a definite shape. For inasmuch as He is superior to the rest, He ought not to be numbered with them, and that so that He who is impassible and not in error should be reckoned with an AEon subject to passion, and actually in error. For I have shown in the book which immediately precedes this, that, beginning with Bythus, they reckon up the Tricontad to Sophia, whom they describe as the erring AEon; and I have also there set forth the names of their [AEons]; but if He be not reckoned, there are no longer, on their own showing, thirty productions of AEons, but these then become only twenty- nine.[AH ii.7.1]

And the section concludes with the words:

Since, therefore, their Triacontad is thus brought to nought, as I have shown, both with respect to defect and excess (for in dealing with such a number, either excess or ὑστέρημα will render the number untenable, and how much more so great variations?), it follows that what they maintain respecting their Ogdoad and Duodecad is a mere fable which cannot stand. Their whole system, moreover, falls to the ground, when their very foundation is destroyed and dissolved into depth that is, into what has no existence. Let them, then, henceforth seek to set forth some other reasons why the Lord came to be baptized at the age of thirty years, and [explain in some other way] the Duodecad of the apostles; and [the fact stated regarding] her who suffered from an issue of blood; and all the other points respecting which they so madly labour in vain. [ibid 7.8]

The reason why Irenaeus wants to argue that Jesus should be placed in the thirty is because he knows that they are sensitive about the number twenty nine. The difference between twenty nine and thirty and the relationship between the traditional Jewish lunar calendar and the new messianic solar calendar of 360 days is the CONTEXT by which the original reference to 'defect' and 'fullness' was developed.

The point was that the world wasn't perfect, it was defective. How do we know it was defective? Well just look at the calendar and its the uneven number of days in the year. It couldn't have been developed according to 'perfect' mathematic principles, thus it was 'defective' springing forth from a defective power - i.e. the Creator. So we read again a little later:

For they maintain that those things [above] were not made on account of creation, but creation on account of them; and that the former are not images of the latter, but the latter of the former ... [T]hey render a reason for the images, by saying that the month has thirty days on account of the thirty AEons, and the day twelve hours, and the year twelve months, on account of the twelve AEons which are within the Pleroma, with other such nonsense of the same kind [ibid ii.15.1]

The point of course is that I am absolutely certain that these are being described here belong to the Marcosians and not any other sect. I suspect that the long section from Book Two is the original continuation of the argument against the Marcosians which fills the gap between chapter seventeen (whose conclusion we just cited above) and chapter eighteen in Book One which makes a remarkably sudden break to another subject. I will develop this further in a subsequent post.

For the moment however the important thing is to see how EXACTLY the description of the importance of the number thirty ONCE AGAIN demonstrates Clement of Alexandria's connection to the Marcosians which has been repeatedly demonstrated here. The thing the reader has to do, however, is to give up our European predisposition to fixate on 'being' - i.e. the individual numbers 8, 10, 12 and 30 and instead see how each of these numbers is understood to embody the superiority of Christianity over Judaism through the mysteries of baptism.

In short our present discussion will take us right back again to the Secret Gospel of Mark in Alexandria and its apolutrosis baptism. One step at a time, though. I hope the readers can at least see the superiority of my approach to the mysteries of Alexandrian Christianity.

But then again I am a Jew. The reason why all the experts make up silly nonsense to explain these principles is because THEY ARE NOT.

More to follow ...

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