Thursday, June 3, 2010

Morton Smith, Jesus the γόης and Mark the Μάγος

Morton Smith is and was one of my favorite Biblical scholars. I must have read his Jesus the Magician a dozen times when I was in my twenties. I have been looking everywhere for my copy of the book and can't find it but I remember that Smith's argument is mostly derived from the repeated identification of Jesus as a γόης in the writings of Celsus.

I am not so convinced that γόης and Μάγος were interchangeable terms. Again, my memory seems to recall that Smith paid special attention to the fact that the term γόης was reserved for the lowest class of magic workers. I think Celsus deliberately chose this term to make Jesus seem like a lowly street performer.

Yet the question that stands before us in this blog is whether Irenaeus's specific and repeated identification of Mark as a Μάγος is noteworthy as meaning the same thing as Celsus's identification of Jesus as a γόης?

I don't think so. I don't think that γόης and Μάγος meant the same thing in the late second century.

Morton Smith and others have already observed, the paucity of literary evidence outside the New Testament regarding exorcism prior to the second century CE almost certainly says less about how familiar exorcistic practices were to the masses of the Mediterranean world in the immediately preceding centuries than about the elitism of the surviving literature from this period.

Yet why did Irenaeus identify Mark as a Μάγος? If I am correct and Mark the Gnostic was one and the same as St Mark of the Alexandrian tradition (which is described as 'gnostic' by Clement of Alexandria) then I cannot get around the idea that the term was DELIBERATELY chosen to raise suspicions about the Alexandrian faith.

The ultimate question before us is who was it that Irenaeus was addressing the material in his five volume work?

I have never heard a definitive answer to this question. The writings of Irenaeus certainly were distributed to every corner of the Empire. Yet no one has ever determined who Irenaeus's addressee was for the work as a whole.

I have developed a theory here at my blog, that there was a three step process before our five volume Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called was completed. First there were a number of lectures undoubtedly now delivered IN ARAMAIC to a number of DIFFERENT addressees. We see that the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching was directed to a certain Marcian. We hear another work was directed to Florinus his rival disciple of Polycarp and fellow Christian in the Imperial court of Commodus. Yet another text was directed to Victor.

As such a safe bet would be to assume that the material that made its way into the Five Books of the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called was addressed to all sorts of different people originally and then it was 'bundled together' by a later editor with a clear chronological sense to the unfolding of the original 'lectures.'

I think I have made a fairly good case for this. So let's look a little closer at the work we are most interested in from the surviving five volume collection of Irenaeus's writings - Against the Marcosians. To whom was THAT WORK addressed?

I don't think that Irenaeus addressed this text to the Alexandrian See. There would be no point telling the Patriarch of Alexandria that Mark was a heretic. One might argue that the 'Marcian' that the Apostolic Preaching was directed was a generic addressee where Marcian = Mark + -ianus or Latin: suffix form of -an from -ianus, a modifier of the main word to which it is attached: belonging to, coming from, being involved in, or being like something.

In other words, Irenaeus was making a case to converts from the faith of Mark that what was being preached from Rome was true orthodoxy.

Of course it has to be acknowledged that nowhere in the Five Books Against All Heresies (or the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called) is there any indication of the name of the addressee. But in spite of this admission let me try instead to offer an explanation as to why Mark was identified as a Μάγος rather than a γόης.

I wonder whether the repeated reference to Mark as a Μαγικός can be tied to recent events at the time Commodus assumed joint rule with his father Marcus Aurelius.

Of course most of us just read the description of Mark as a 'magician' and lump it together with Simon Magus. Yet we can't lose sight of the fact that Simon Magus is entirely absent in Irenaeus's original report. The material from Justin's Syntagma was most certainly added later.

What we have instead is a clear attempt to cast doubts about the loyalty on the Alexandrian tradition and Mark as the head of the Alexandrian Church. I think that the purpose of Irenaeus's diatribe was to establish two 'Marks' - the 'good Mark' whose believers accepted his ultimate subordination to Peter and then followers of the 'bad Mark' - the gnostic - who represented something entirely separate from the 'true Church' of Rome.

I think there is good reason why subsequent generations of Alexandrian were silent about their historical relationship with St. Mark. An excessive interest in 'associating' with Mark was a clear sign of heresy. Mark was meant to be suborinated under the authority of Peter according to the Roman rule. I think Origen and the Origenist Patriarchs kept their devotion to Mark secret until the time of the writing of the Passio Petri Sancti.

Whatever the case may be, I can't help thinking that Clement's description of a specifically Markan mystery religion (it is implicitly 'cut off' from any reference to Peter) is the context of Irenaeus's writing against the followers of Mark. I think the choice of describing these initiations as Μαγικός is deliberate and might help determine when the original work was composed.

I have always argued that a seminal event in the history of Alexandrian Christianity was the revolt of the so-called Bucoli (i.e. those of the Boucolia where the Church of St. Mark was located). It is rarely examined because, quite frankly, only a few scholars are even aware of the location of the center of Egyptian Christianity. The report in Cassius Dio reads:

The people called the Bucoli began a disturbance in Egypt and under the leadership of one Isidorus, a priest, caused the rest of the Egyptians to revolt. At first, arrayed in women's garments, they had deceived the Roman centurion, causing him to believe that they were women of the Bucoli and were going to give him gold as ransom for their husbands, and had then struck down when he approached them. They also sacrificed his companion, and after swearing an oath over his entrails, they devoured them. Isidorus surpassed all his contemporaries in bravery. Next, having conquered the Romans in Egypt in a pitched battle, they came near capturing Alexandria, too, and would have succeeded, had not Cassius been sent against them from Syria. He contrived to destroy their mutual accord and to separate them from one another (for because of their desperation as well as of their numbers he had not ventured to attack them while they were united), and thus, when they fell to quarrelling, he subdued them. [Cassius Dio Book 72]

There is, in my mind an unusual 'coincidence' that Origen, Dionysius and the rest of the priesthood of St. Mark in the period were castrated and the idea of insurgents dressing up as women in the Boucolia - the region where the order of St. Mark operated. Whether or not the Christians of the period actually took part in the revolt, the report which comes out of Egypt would lend outsiders to see some kind of conspiracy going on involving the Christian faction.

Now before the reader makes the remark that Dio Cassius never once says that the revolt involved Christians, we should notice from the evidence of what appears a few paragraphs later that WE DO NOT HAVE Dio Cassius's original work. Rather we have a Christian COPY of the original pagan work heavily edited (with commentary) from one John Xiphilinus an eleventh century Byanztine scribe who 'corrects' Dio's original claims in more than one place including a miracle purported attributed to an Egyptian 'magician':

The Romans, accordingly, were in a terrible plight from fatigue, wounds, the heat of the sun, and thirst, and so could neither fight nor retreat, but were standing and the line and at their several posts, scorched by the heat, when suddenly many clouds gathered and a mighty rain, not without divine interposition, burst upon them. Indeed, there is a story to the effect that Arnuphis, an Egyptian magician, who was a companion of Marcus, had invoked by means of enchantments various deities and in particular Mercury, the god of the air, and by this means attracted the rain.

This is what Dio says about the matter, but he is apparently in error, whether intentionally or otherwise; and yet I am inclined to believe his error was chiefly intentional. It surely must be so, for he was not ignorant of the division of soldiers that bore the special name of the "Thundering" Legion, — indeed he mentions it in the list along with the others,6 — a title which was given it for no other reason (for no other is reported) than because of the incident that p31occurred in this very war. It was precisely this incident that saved the Romans on this occasion and brought destruction upon the barbarians, and not Arnuphis, the magician; for Marcus is not reported to have taken pleasure in the company of magicians or in witchcraft. Now the incident I have reference to is this: Marcus had a division of soldiers (the Romans call a division a legion) from Melitene; and these people are all worshippers of Christ. Now it is stated that in this battle, when Marcus found himself at a loss what to do in the circumstances and feared for his whole army, the prefect approached him and told him that those who are called Christians can accomplish anything whatever by their prayers and that in the army there chanced to be a whole division of this sect. Marcus on hearing this appealed to them to pray to their God; and when they had prayed, their God immediately gave ear and smote the enemy with a thunderbolt and comforted the Romans with a shower of rain. Marcus was greatly astonished at this and not only honoured the Christians by an official decree but also named the legion the "thundering" Legion. It is also reported that there is a letter of Marcus extant on the subject. But the Greeks, though they know that the division was called the "Thundering" Legion and themselves bear witness to the fact, nevertheless make no statement whatever about the reason for its name.

Dio goes on to say that when the rain poured down, at first all turned their faces upwards and received the water in their mouths; then some held out their shields and some their helmets to catch it, and they not only took deep draughts themselves but also gave their horses to drink ... [ibid]

As such it would be no small thing if Dio originally attributed the revolt of the so-called 'Boucoli' to those of Mark in the Boucolia.  The Historia Augusta only notes that:

when the warriors of the Bucolici [Bucolici milites] did many grievous things in Egypt, they were checked by Cassius, as Marius Maximus also relates in the second book of those he published on the Life of Marcus.

Now there can be no doubt that these armed residents of Boucolia revolted against Roman rule and were subsequently put down by Cassius. However it is interesting to also note that Cassius ended up befriending these same Egyptians and using them to start a revolt against the Emperor and further his ambitions to become Marcus Aurelius's successor.

In 175 he was proclaimed Roman Emperor after the premature news of the death of Marcus Aurelius; the sources also indicate he was encouraged by Marcus's wife Faustina, who was concerned about her husband's ill health, believing him to be on the verge of death, and felt the need for Cassius to act as a protector in this event, since her son Commodus was still young.

It is known that Cassius was recognized as emperor by May 3, since a document of that date is recorded as being in the first year of Cassius's reign. The beginning of his rebellion have been in April 175. Although he seized control of some of the most vital parts of the Roman east — Egypt being an important source of grain for the city of Rome — Cassius failed to find widespread support for his rebellion. The governor of Cappadocia, Martius Verus, remained loyal to Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus was in a stronger position, with many more legions available to him than were available to Cassius. "After a dream of empire lasting three months and six days", Cassius was murdered by a centurion; his head was sent to Marcus, who refused to see it and ordered it buried.

The point however is that within two years of the Egyptian revolt, Commodus was already ruling the Empire with his father. He was only fifteen and already at that time was undoubtedly in contact with his future Christian mistress Marcia who was well connected with the future inner circle his Christian courtiers including Irenaeus [cf. AH iv.30.1]

As Rawlinson notes however "the revolt of Cassius collapsed almost as soon as it had broken out and the East returned to its normal position. [The Parthian king] Vologases repented of his warlike intentions; and when (in 176 CE) [Marcus] Aurelius visited Syria [Vologases] sent ambassadors to him with friendly assurances who were received with favour."

The point is that we have to remember that this was the world situation that the fifteen year old Commodus was exposed when taking over the throne. It was Cassius after all who had put down a Parthian invasion less than a generation earlier. His successful counter-attack led to Roman troops routing the advancing Parthians, the city of Seleucia on the Tigris was destroyed and the palace at the capital Ctesiphon was burned to the ground by Avidius Cassius in 165. The Roman legions advanced as far as Media. Vologases IV made peace but was forced to cede western Mesopotamia to the Romans.

The threat of another Parthian invasion to recapture this lost territory was Commodus's biggest single foreign policy concern. The population of Egypt - and more specifically Boucolia - having risen up in rebellion not once but twice against Antonine rule was his biggest domestic concern.

It is worth noting then that the first Boucolian revolt was in 172 CE. The Egyptian revolt of Cassius was 175. Commodus was placed on the throne beside his father Marcus Aurelius in 177 CE. Marcus Aurelius dies early in 180 CE and the early parts of Irenaeus's text is generally acknowledged to have been written in the very same year.

Was Irenaeus's identification of Mark as a Μάγος intended to demonize (literally) the Alexandrian tradition in the eyes of the STUPID Emperor Commodus?

Yes, most certainly that's what I think.

Let's not forget that there is good reason why Celsus identifies Jesus as a 'street magician.' There was no organized cultus associated with Jesus. The Alexandrian Church by contrast must have appeared as organized as the Persian Magi. They had a functioning priesthood, 'mysteries' and Irenaeus goes out of his way to make it appear that they employed 'magic' to dazzle their adherents.

I think it is worth taking a second look at the original report of Irenaeus on the Marcosians to see how this original 'Magian' argument unfolded.

The first thing that we should note is that while most people just employ the English translation uncritically the three existing sources for the first words of the account DO NOT AGREE.

It never gets said enough that Harvey's translation of the first section AH i.13.1 is slightly misleading.  He has deliberately bypassed the simplicity of the original Greek text of Hippolytus in favor of the more developed material in Epiphanius and the inferior Latin translation because the text vary so much from one another, no clear idea of the original ancestor can be determined.

So it must be said that Harvey translates from his mixture of readings from Epiphanius's narrative and the inferior Latin text:

But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master. He is 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, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above. Thus it appears as if he really were the precursor of Antichrist.  For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working miracles by these means.

The Latin text is clearly  ALL of the principal meanings of the Aramaic term ḥbr. Not only the Marcoisan act of 'joining' with Marcus or that of charming and divination but the specific context of Mark being connected to the Persian religion (see above).  Jastrow's renders this shade of meaning 'Pharseeism' or farsi as it would now be rendered but the idea is still the same.

The specific term for 'magic' used throughout is Μαγικός which literally means 'of the Magians.' So in opening words of Hippolytus's preservation of Irenaeus report (ignored by Harvey) it is simply said that Mark μαγικες ἔμπαιρος. (Ref vi.32)

The text of Epiphanius is far more developed. Epiphanius begins by noting that Marcus:

attracted female and male dupes of his own; the wretch knew the most about magical trickery, and was so taken for a corrector of the other cheats. But since he deceived all these men and women into regarding him as the most knowing of all, and possessed the greatest power from the unseen, unnameable realms, this is proof positive that he is forerunner of the Antichrist. For he combined the Anaxilaus's comic performances with the villainy of the so-called Magians and by this means deceived and bewitched those who saw and trusted him and drove them to consternation. His successors still achieve this, even to this day.

The Latin text interestingly retains language which I believe echoes the general ideas Clement was responding to in To Theodore namely:

per quam et viros multos et non paucus foeminas seducens ad se converti ad scientissimum et perfectissimum ...

I think that this idea of men and women being seduced by Marcus and his disciples plays into his role as a ḥbr but also eventually finds its way into Clement's response against all of this anti-Alexandrian propaganda. Jeffrey et al are wrong when they say that there is no precedent for the accusation that the Alexandrian Church is engages itself in homosexual rituals. Irenaeus was saying as much in his account on the Marcosians.

I don't want to go into too much detail but there are a number of references to Mark as a Μάγος in what follows:

those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this Μάγος, may also flow into them. [AH i.13.2]

This they have done, as being well aware that the gift of prophecy is not conferred on men by Marcus, the Μάγος, but that only those to whom God sends His grace from above possess the divinely-bestowed power of prophesying; and then they speak where and when God pleases, and not when Marcus orders them to do so. [ibid 13.4]

A sad example of this occurred in the case of a certain Asiatic, one of our deacons, who had received him (Marcus) into his house. His wife, a woman of remarkable beauty, fell a victim both in mind and body to this Μάγος, and, for a long time, travelled about with him. At last, when, with no small difficulty, the brethren had converted her, she spent her whole time in the exercise of public confession,weeping over and lamenting the defilement which she had received from this Μάγος. [ibid 13.5]

It is enough to say that Mark is never identified as a γόης. This is deliberate as the Alexandrian cult was very organized - like the Persian magi - and the comparison served Irenaeus's purposes in demonizing the cult.

Got to spend some time with my wife but I think I can argue that the same argument was developed in the case of Marcion. You'll have to wait for that one, tho ...

Email with comments or questions.

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