Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Marcus the Gnostic King

In most of the studies of gnosticism we see a thoroughly modern understanding of 'gnosticism' creep into the discussion which ultimately distracts us from the original meaning of the term properly summed up by Morton Smith:

the ideal king, the only man capable of knowing God, who would therefore act as the mediator between God and man; he would be, in effect, the Nous [the divine intellect] of his subjects, in whom he would restore their lost contact with the heavenly world from which he came. [Studies in the Cult of Yahweh p. 186]

There is no more perfect expression of this Platonic ideal than what appears in Irenaeus's description of Mark as:

a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him (προσέχειν αὐτῶ), as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge (γνωστικωτάτω) and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above. [AH i.13.1]

Yet we have already demonstrated that Clement was a crypto-Marcosian. We have shown this time and time again and it has been confirmed by the greatest scholars of the last century.

How then can we understand that Clement secretly has St. Mark - or indeed those who sit in his seat of authority - the Patriarchs of Alexandria - when he says things like:

He is the Gnostic, who is after the image and likeness of God, who imitates God as far as possible, deficient in none of the things which contribute to the likeness as far as compatible [Stromata ii.19]

The Gnostic will never then have the chief end placed in life, but in being always happy and blessed, and a kingly friend of God. [ibid iv.7]

As appears, then, righteousness is quadrangular; on all sides equal and like in word, in deed, in abstinence from evils, in beneficence, in gnostic perfection; nowhere, and in no respect halting, so that he does not appear unjust and unequal. As one, then, is righteous, so certainly is he a believer. [ibid vi.12]

Thence assimilation to God the Saviour arises to the Gnostic, as far as permitted to human nature, he being made perfect "as the Father who is in heaven." [ibid]

As I see it the very manner in which Clement POSITIVELY identifies Mark as a "mystagogue" developing a mystical text which "makes for progress toward knowledge" and "for the use of those who were being perfected." Clearly the contemporary Alexandrian community cleaved to St. Mark in the same way that the Marcosians are described 'joining themselves to Mark.'

This is why I find the idea of an original Aramaic text of Irenaeus so appealing. I look at the exaggerations or misunderstandings that make their way into Irenaeus's material in the first part of the section on Mark and realize that it all comes down to חבר which means both 'charmer, magician' as well as the sense of 'to join, to associate.'

As such when Irenaeus speaks of Mark's disciples wanting to 'join him' and Mark's 'magical impostures' these are all various meanings associated with the root חבר.

As we go down the description we see these references continue leading me to believe that the section was originally written in Aramaic.

I think Irenaeus was clearly trying to twist an original application of the term חבר among the Alexandrian Christians of St. Mark into something dirty, sinister and foreboding. After reflecting on matters for a while I suspect that the original Aramaic term for 'Church' among the Alexandrians was חבר.

Jastrow notes that among its meanings is that of a 'member of a religious or charitable organization esp. member of the order for the observance of levitical laws in daily intercourse.'

Some examples he pulls from the rabbinic literation include:

[so and so] is accepted as member of the order [Dem. II.3. Tosef. ib. II.2]

in the presence of the members of the order [Bekh 30b]

Then in the example which follows he notes that with the same letters and slightly different diacritical marks חבר means 'assembly or congregation (for divine services)' OR 'charms' and with slightly different diacritical marks (again which weren't used until the 5th century CE) we have a word which means both 'charmer' or Farsi (i.e. Iranian).

In other words, I think that the Alexandrians may well have called their church a חבר or some such derivation (see the frequent attack against Origen and the Origenist Patriarchs - later Arians - that they were too close to Judaism) and then turned this around to make them into magicians and - in effect - enemies of the Roman Empire in the late second and third centuries.

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