Thursday, June 10, 2010

Secret Mark, the Marcionite Baptism for the Dead, Marcosian ἀπολύτρωσις and Ritual Washing of the Dead

I was going through Dobronsky's A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs and was struck by the possibility that the 'baptism on behalf of the dead' (1 Cor 15:29) might be a development of a traditional Jewish 'bathing of the dead' commonly referred to as rekhitza. Rekhitza comes from the Hebrew term רחץ which simply refers to ritual cleansing in the Torah.  Of course ritual cleansing does not requite full immersion in Judaism but it must be noted that among the followers of Mark there was a similar controversy referenced by Irenaeus.

Irenaeus notes that what we call 'baptism' was actually called ἀπολύτρωσις by the followers of Mark. The term in Greek was always identified by the buying and selling of slaves.  In Jewish circles, redemption is connected with the rescuing of the nation after the manner of the Crossing of the Sea. I have noted many times that the Song of the Sea is the ritual context of Marcosian ἀπολύτρωσις. The members of Israel are assumed to be 'owned' by the Jewish God and through their 'cleansing' they are also 'purchased' by the Father and are thus transferred from one master to another another.  These ideas show up not only in the writings of the so-called 'Marcionites' (Μαρκιωνισταί a term which in Aramaic means 'those of Mark') but also form the basis to the earliest Catholic Church Fathers. It is even found in the writings of Irenaeus.

The point I want to make here is that the Catholics and the followers of Mark developed their understanding of what is commonly called from TWO different baptism narratives. I would argue that in its purest form the Gospel of Mark DID NOT have the familiar Jesus coming to Jordan and being immersed and a dove descending on him reference. There can absolutely no doubt that this wasn't in the gospel associated with the Μαρκιωνισταί. I very much want to emphasize this.  It is EXPLICIT in Tertullian's account of the gospel of the Μαρκιωνισταί.

I take this one step further noting that the Philosophumena alludes to a claim of the Μαρκιωνισταί that their 'Marcion' (a name confirmed by Hilgenfeld to be a variant of 'Mark') wrote the original Gospel of Mark (Philo. vii.18). Now that we have strong evidence suggesting that Clement's reference to a 'fuller' (and implicitly 'truer') Gospel of Mark employed by the Alexandrian Church which references ANOTHER baptism narrative which was apparently excised when the text was edited in Rome in the late second century, I think we can begin to restore the CONTEXT of so-called Μαρκιωνισταί and Μαρκιανισταί ritual washing as being rooted in something like the 'mysteries of the kingdom of God' being applied to a dead person in what is usually called LGM 1:

But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.

I have noted many times that the claim μυστήριον DID NOT apply specifically to baptism is utterly idiotic and is a consequence of two factors - (a) the complete loss of any ORIGINAL material from the Alexandrian Church before Clement and (b) a parallel effort in the late second and early third century to modify the term with sacramentum which essentially was a military oath.

I have argued that there was a comprehensive effort to redefine Christianity away from a ritualized ἀπολύτρωσις. Pagels has recently argued much the same thing (but deliberately misapplied the sacrament to the community of her favorite gnostic Heracleon). Ritualized ἀπολύτρωσις was developed ultimately from Alexandrian Judaism as I have shown here and was characteristic of the faith centered on the revelation given to St. Mark. I interpret the Letter to Theodore as arguing that the central μυστήριον of the Alexandrian community was rooted in an alternative baptism given to St. Mark by Jesus even though (a) Mark is never explicitly identified as the and (b) the terms ἀπολύτρωσις and βαπτίζω are never explicitly referenced.

When there were doubts circulating about the authenticity of Morton Smith's discovery, I think people were so distracted by the question of forgery that very few ever noticed that it is possible to make out the existence of a 'Markan tradition' distinct from the 'orthodoxy' of St. Peter.  I think that there is a pronounced interest in associating baptism with 'death' in this tradition.  Not only are there frequent and garbled reports of a ritualized 'death' component to the βάπτισμα of the Μαρκιωνισταί (Tert. AM v.20, On the Resurr. Flesh 48, Epiphanius Anacelphalaeosis 3.42.3, Chrysostom Hom. Corinth. at 15:29, Eznik De Sectis 4) - which again CANNOT be based on our familiar Jesus, John and the Jordan narrative - as well as the ἀπολύτρωσις of the Μαρκιανισταί which comes from an original report from Irenaeus.

Irenaeus writes at the end of his account of the Μαρκιανισταί that there ritual is carried out in different forms by different branches of the sect (implying that this is a very large community indeed).  Nevertheless 'death' is assumed to be the underlying ritual context as we read in his closing remarks:

Others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death, by placing on their heads oil and water, or the pre-mentioned ointment with water, using at the same time the above-named invocations, that the persons referred to may become incapable of being seized or seen by the principalities and powers, and that their inner man may ascend on high in an invisible manner, as if their body were left among created things in this world, while their soul is sent forward to the Demiurge. And they instruct them, on their reaching the principalities and powers, to make use of these words: "I am a son from the Father--the Father who had a pre-existence, and a son in Him who is pre-existent. I have come to behold all things, both those which belong to myself and others, although, strictly speaking, they do not belong to others, but to Achamoth, who is female in nature, and made these things for herself. For I derive being from Him who is pre-existent, and I come again to my own place whence I went forth." And they affirm that, by saying these things, he escapes from the powers. He then advances to the companions of the Demiurge, and thus addresses them:--"I am a vessel more precious than the female who formed you. If your mother is ignorant of her own descent, I know myself, and am aware whence I am, and I call upon the incorruptible Sophia, who is in the Father, and is the mother of your mother, who has no father, nor any male consort; but a female springing from a female formed you, while ignorant of her own mother, and imagining that she alone existed; but I call upon her mother." And they declare, that when the companions of the Demiurge hear these words, they are greatly agitated, and upbraid their origin and the race of their mother. But he goes into his own place, having thrown off his chain, that is, his animal nature. These, then, are the particulars which have reached us respecting "ἀπολύτρωσις ." [AH i.21.5]

I can't emphasize enough that 'death' is the underlying context for both the Μαρκιωνισταί and Μαρκιανισταί. This cannot be coincidental.  On the one hand we have a group WHICH EVERY SCHOLAR WHO HAS EVER BOTHERED TO STUDY THEIR TRADITION acknowledges absolutely and firmly does not have Jesus and John in the Jordan doing what we might describe as a 'living baptism.'  So what was the scriptural context for their much celebrated 'baptism on behalf of the dead' come from?  I guess scholars turn their heads and start watching Oprah or something.

Then on the other hand we have a Μαρκιανισταί interest in ἀπολύτρωσις where a scriptural context is identified - viz. Mark chapter 10 (cf. Irenaeus i.22.2). While LGM 1 is not explicit referenced here (I think it is however implicitly referenced earlier in Irenaeus's report) we learn that Mark chapter 10 IS THE VERY PLACE that LGM 1 ends up showing up once Morton Smith discovers the Letter to Theodore.  As we just noted a ritualized form of 'death' is the underlying context for this baptism ritual too.

I don't see how anyone can't connect the dots here. Not only are the two names of the groups associated with two individuals named 'Mark' so similar they end up becoming interchangeable (i.e. Μαρκιωνισταί and Μαρκιανισταί) but it is impossible for me to believe that the two references DON'T go back to a 'community of Mark' in Alexandria.

Indeed I would like to take matters one step further. I am very happy to cite what I consider to be one of the most comprehensive studies of the Greek term βαπτίζω on the web.  The fact that it is associated with some nutty ministry is immaterial.  It is easily accessible for everyone and I think makes a very good case that we should understanding the term in the context of 'whatever is capable of thoroughly changing the character, state, or condition of any object, is capable of baptizing that object; and by such change of character, state or condition does, in fact, baptize it."

In other words βαπτίζω doesn't necessarily mean 'immersing something with WATER.'  To this end, Scott Brown's objection to LGM 1 as a 'baptism' ritual is rendered irrelevant and it helps in turn explain how LGM 1 (with its ambiguous reference to whether water actually βαπτίζω the initiate) can explain the wide variation in the specific form of βαπτίζω among the Μαρκιανισταί.

Irenaeus repeatedly says things like 'their tradition respecting redemption is dark and incomprehensible,' (AH i.22.1) 'fluctuating, it is impossible simply and all at once to make known its nature, for every one of them hands it down just as his own inclination prompts,' (ibid) 'there are as many schemes of ἀπολύτρωσις as there are mystagogues,' (ibid) 'it is handed down by them in so varied and discordant forms', (AH i.22.2) 'some of them prepare a nuptial couch ... [o]thers, again, lead them to a place where water is, and baptize them ... [a]fter this they anoint the initiated person with balsam,' (AH i.22.3) 'there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water, but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned. And this they maintain to be the redemption,' (AH i.22.4) 'they differ so widely among themselves both as respects doctrine and tradition, and since those of them who are recognised as being most modern make it their effort daily to invent some new opinion, and to bring out what no one ever before thought of, it is a difficult matter to describe all their opinions,' (AH i.22.5)

The one thing that seems to remain constant among the Μαρκιανισταί is a ritualized 'death' state which forms the basis to the μυστήριον.  How can anyone argue then that something like LGM 1, with its revived but formerly dead νεανίσκος, formed the basis to this ritual?

But this is the point of why the passage had to be excised and why Clement references many 'gospel of Marks' were ultimately created in the period.  You can't have a 'baptism' with living people being baptized 'as if' they were dead and somehow argue that the Creator was perfect.  The point of Markan baptism was clearly to emphasize that 'true life' only existed in this 'new state' that only came from undergoing 'release' or λυτρόω from one master and being transferred to ownership of a better Lord.

I don't know if my readers can see the underlying connection with the&nbp;רחץ of the dead in Judaism but I hope one final reference might make this clear.  Dobrinsky's notes in his section 'the Order of the Washing of the Dead According to the Syrian, Moroccan and Judeo-Spanish Traditions' that:

The reason for cleansing the deceased and for dressing him in shrouds (takhrikhim) is because it is derived from the laws of dressing related to the Kohanim (priests), who were required to wash before dressing.  Another reason is that, just as one is washed when he is born as he emerges from the womb of his mother, so too should he be washed and cleansed when he leaves this world.

The point is that if we work backwards then, Clement clearly connects LGM 1, the description of the dead νεανίσκος undergoing the 'mystery of the kingdom of God' as somehow related to the liturgy of the Alexandrian Church.  I don't know if any of my readers have ever seen a functioning old Coptic Church - or an Orthodox Church for that matter - but there is a clear division between the regular believers and those who were fully initiated into the mysteries of God.  A curtain divides the congregation which in former times corresponded to the priests and members of 'the elect' and lay people.  

In other words, one can see the beginnings of the idea that the priests of Alexandria were established through a 'death washing.'  This idea is repeatedly referenced in rituals associated with the establishment of monks for instance.  I think I can even argue for the existence of this practice among the Μαρκιωνισταί if I am given a chance.

The point is that there can be no question that Secret Mark is a real expression of what was in the earliest copies of the gospel treasured by followers of Mark.  The problem has been so far that no one has understood how to properly define the term Μαρκιανισταί.

Oh, and one more thing.  The same word רחץ in Aramaic means 'faith' even 'the faith.'  Something students of early Christianity might want to investigate further ...

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