Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Underlying Egyptian Context for Christianity in the Tradition of Mark

Egypt is the necessary context for the proper understanding of the origins of Christianity. I love it when people tell me Marcus Julius Agrippa CAN'T be the 'real messiah' because he sided with the Romans and destroyed the temple. Don't these people READ Josephus? We don't know what the real history of Jewish War was like. All we have is Josephus and his narrative and this was because Christians marveled at the way 'events' corresponded with Daniel chapter 9 verses 24 to 27.

Does anyone deny this? Better yet, has anyone bothered to acknowledge this? You see as I have noted many times at this post, scholars like to feel important. They have to believe that their work matters and they are not spending time on complete nonsense - or as Celsus put it, the measuring of the shadow of an ass.

Our principle source for information about the destruction of the temple is developed from a THEOLOGICAL exposition where events in Judea are taken to conform to the prophesy of Daniel. In other words, it's not history - it's history made to conform to scripture.

Now that we have this behind us let's look at Agrippa. Agrippa is forced to leave Alexandria and comes to the rebellious Jews and gives a long speech that no one bothers to read in its entirety because it is so boring. But this is a grave mistake because the long, boring speech is key to understand the narrative. As noted in a previous post, he basically tells the Jews that if they reject him the office of the messiah will be 'cut off' from them.

Of course, if I was a first year university student and I wrote this paper I might get high marks for creativity but few people would take that interpretation very seriously IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE FACT THAT A 'JEWISH HISTORY' CITED BY ORIGEN AND WHOSE THESIS MAKES ITS WAY INTO HEBREW COPIES OF THE EARLY HISTORY OF JOSEPHUS EXPLICITLY CONFIRM THIS INTERPRETATION.

In other words, this isn't some 'imaginative' interpretation of Josephus, it was the original interpretation of the history of the Jewish war. If it wasn't originally a part of Josephus's narrative, it was developed in Justus of Tiberias's rival history and then fused into a new work which combined elements from both rival historians but which continued to circulate under the name of Josephus.

Now these 'Jewish histories' of Justus and Josephus were written AFTER the destruction of the temple. Most serious scholars think that the Gospel of Mark was similarly composed in a period when the historical destruction of the temple had already been established. In a sense then we can imagine that ALL OF THESE WORKS derive from a period when Israel was in a state of chaos and the idea that Agrippa was the true messiah of Israel who was 'cut off' from Israel owing to their inherent 'sinfulness' is a very pregnant messianic formula. It would explain why Mark, who clearly went on to live for almost two generations AFTER the destruction COULD NOT OPENLY MANIFEST his 'messiahood.'

Israel was now in the גלות‎. It was a community in exile. I would argue that the manner in which later generations of Jews read and employed the Yosippon MUST HAVE been paralleled by Nachmanides references to 'sources' acknowledging Agrippa as the messiah in the contemporary age. This clearly has to be the writers of the 'Jewish histories' already witnessed by Origen.

Now let's say that Josephus or better yet Justus of Tiberias originally formulated a Chronicle of the Kings of the Jews in the form of a genealogy, where as Photius notes he "begins his history with Moses and carries it down to the death of the seventh Agrippa of the family of Herod and the last of the Kings of the Jews" and where the narrative of the destruction of the temple (which Photius says concluded the book) where the events were made to conform to Daniel 9:24 - 27 and thereby Agrippa was the messiah of verse 26 now 'cut off' from Israel in exile.

I don't know why no one else has ever noticed that such a formulation would necessarily provide Agrippa the messiah with the excuse why he never appeared as David or why 'the kingdom of heaven' never manifested itself as a reality during his reign.

I guess people have already forgotten the manner in which Jews traditionally viewed the loss of their messiah through their reading of the Yosippon. Only when Israel was sufficiently righteous would the redemption from exile occur and - it should be noted - that even Maimonides has to acknowledge, that when this day comes the nation would not simply go back to the old sacrificial system that governed Israel's relations with God before the destruction.

There is a deliberate ambiguity about what would come next. 'Something new' of course but it is not difficult to see that the Jews deliberately moved away from whatever it was that Marcus Agrippa, Justus and the rest of his 'crew' introduced into Israel as a 'temporary measure' because they MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING in light of the destruction. It would be like if a nuclear bomb hit Mecca or the Vatican, the authorities of those traditions couldn't just act as if nothing happened. Any responsible government would have to 'take charge' and fill the vacuum before their rivals did.

I am not suggesting I can prove what it was that Marcus Agrippa did but it seems impossible to avoid the fact that the rival Alexandrian temple (or 'synagogue' as Gentile sources call it) was still fully functional. Rabbinic reports explicitly reference the function of this Alexandrian temple up until the second century.

Agrippa spends a lot of time in Alexandria. We see him there almost as much as we do in Jerusalem in the surviving accounts of his legacy. Are you telling me that we can absolutely certain that he didn't 'flip a switch' and say 'you are all in גלות, you are all in exile' as such it is perfectly acceptable for the center of our world to be located in Alexandria, in Egypt' because in essence the community was back to square one, back in need of redemption, mired in 'Egypt.'

I really can't find away around this formulation. It seems to perfectly fit the circumstances of the age and in a sense represents the continuation of the experience of the Alexandrian Jewish community BEFORE the destruction of the rival temple in Jerusalem.

I have always been struck by the implications of Philo's description of the reciting of a hymn in the Alexandrian temple which must have had a particular resonance for Jews living in Egypt. He writes during the course of his description of Jewish festivals that:

There is, besides all these [explicitly mentioned in the Torah], another Festival (cf. Deut 26:1} sacred to God, and a solemn assembly on the day of the festival which they call castallus (= "a basket with a pointed bottom"} from the event that takes place in it, as we shall show presently. Now that this festival is not in the same rank, nor of the same importance with the other festivals, is plain from many considerations. For, first of all, it is not one to be observed by the whole population of the nation as each of the others is. Secondly, none of the things that are brought or offered are laid upon the altar as holy, or committed to the unextinguishable and holy fire. Thirdly, the very number of days which are to be observed in the festival are not expressly stated.

Nevertheless, any one may easily see that it has about it some of the characteristics of a sacred festival, and that it comes very near to having the privileges of a solemn assembly. For every one of those men who had lands and possessions, having filled vessels with every different species of fruit borne by fruit-bearing trees; which vessels, as I have said before, are called castalli, brings with great joy the first fruits of his abundant crop into the temple, and standing in front of the altar gives the basket to the priest, uttering at the same time the very beautiful and admirable hymn prescribed for the occasion; and if he does not happen to remember it, he listens to it with all attention while the priest recites it.

And the hymn is as follows:

The leaders of our nation renounced Syria, and migrated to Egypt. Being but few in number, they increased till they became a populous nation. Their descendants being oppressed in innumerable ways by the natives of the land, when no assistance did any longer appear to be expected from men, became the supplicants of God, having fled for refuge to entreat his assistance. Therefore he, who is merciful to all who are unjustly treated, having received their supplication, smote those who oppressed them with signs and wonders, and prodigies, and with all the marvellous works which he wrought at that time. And he delivered those who were being insulted and enduring every kind of perfidious oppression, not only leading them forth to freedom, but even giving them in addition a most fertile land; for it is from the fruits of this land, O bounteous God! that we now bring you the first fruits; if indeed it is a proper expression to say that he who receives them from you brings them to you. For, O Master! they are all your favours and your gifts, of which you have thought us worthy, and so enabled us to live comfortably and to rejoice in unexpected blessings which thou hast given to us, who did not expect them.

This hymn is sung from the beginning of summer to the end of autumn, by two choruses replying to one another uninterruptedly, on two separate occasions, each at the end of one complete half of ten years; because men cannot all at once bring the fruits of the seasons to God in accordance with his express command, but different men bring them at different seasons; and sometimes even the same persons bring first fruits from the same lands at different times; for since some fruits become ripe more speedily, and others more slowly, either on account of the differences of the situations in which they are grown, as being hotter or colder, or from innumerable other reasons, it follows that the time for offering the first fruits of such productions is undefined and uncertain, being extended over a great space. And the use of these first fruits is permitted to the priests, since they had no portion of the land themselves, and had no possessions from which they could derive revenue; but their inheritance is the first fruits from all the nation as the wages of their holy ministrations, which they perform day and night.
[Special Laws II]

The point of this long citation is that this Greek hymn that developed from LXX must have had a special resonance for Jews living in Alexandria.  First of all, rather than the explicit mention of Moses and the elders, the hymn seems to reference instead the movement of Jews from Syria during the Ptolemaic period (viz. 'the leaders of our nation renounced Syria, and migrated to Egypt').  If this analogy is continued all that follows seems to present the Jews of Alexandria as finding themselves in a second exile awaiting a second exodus, a second redemption (cf. "their descendants being oppressed in innumerable ways by the natives of the land, when no assistance did any longer appear to be expected from men, became the supplicants of God, having fled for refuge to entreat his assistance.")

The reference to 'redemption' here is especially significant.  The community remembers that in the first Exodus God received the supplication of the ancient Israelites and "delivered those who were being insulted and enduring every kind of perfidious oppression, not only leading them forth to freedom, but even giving them in addition a most fertile land; for it is from the fruits of this land."  Then there is a sudden shift to the contemporary Jews living in Egypt who bring to God "the first fruits" which are deemed God's "favours and gifts, of which you have thought us worthy, and so enabled us to live comfortably and to rejoice in unexpected blessings which thou hast given to us, who did not expect them."

Of course this prayer must have been established at the very beginning of the Alexandrian temple.  It must have reflected what was a perfectly happy existence for Jews until the dark period began in the first century.  Nevertheless it is at least possible to get a glimpse of how traditional prayers were reinterpreted to reflect the new situation of a large Jewish population again residing in Egypt.

I happen to think that Christianity was a further extension of that development.  Now in an age where all of  Israel was an exile it would be only appropriate for the Apostle to make a declaration to the 'exiles' (galuta) under his authority.  I even think that the 'letter to the Galatians' in its original Aramaic form might well have been specifically addressed to that body.

To this end I have argued on behalf of the idea that the Marcionite letter 'to the Corinthians' was actually 'to the Alexandrians' and at the head of the Marcionite Apostlikon.

The original order of the canon from anti-Marcionite sources was Alexandrians, GALATIANS then Romans. Scholars only get confused because Tertullian's source starts with Galatians. The canon of Ephrem and of all the Syrian churches began with Galatians. Tertullian was just following his source's idea of what the right order was (as opposed to the Marcionite order).

Now let's address the issue of the 'letter to the Galatians' more fully. The Apostle's letter is addressed "to the churches in Galatia" (Galatians 1:2), but the reality is that the location of these churches is a matter of debate. A minority of scholars have argued that the "Galatia" is an ethnic reference to a Celtic people living in northern Asia Minor, but most agree that it is a geographical reference to the Roman province in central Asia Minor, which had been settled by immigrant Celts in the 270s BC and retained Gaulish features of culture and language in Paul's day.

I think this is ridiculous. If it wasn't for the fact that everyone has always taken for granted this lunacy no one would believe it.

There couldn't possibly have been enough Jews in Galatia to warrant the discussion in the letter. As such I will put forward another theory - which I am sure will raise many eyebrows - but makes perfect sense if we are to imagine an address to a group that which sounded like 'Galatians' sandwiched between the two urban powerhouses of Alexandria and Rome.

As noted above I think it is deliberate corruption of גלות or galut which means 'exile' and galuta which means 'exiles.' Professor Ruairidh Boid - an expert on Semitic languages - acknowledges that it is linguistic possibility. One could envision someone taking an original Aramaic epistle entitled 'to the Exiles' and deliberately (or even mistakenly) get to the identification of 'to the Galatians' in Greek.

I have already mentioned that the Galut is a fundamental Jewish concept. The 'Greek dominion' is galut yavan. The 'Roman dominion' galut edom. The reish galuta was the 'head of the exiles' in Babylonia.

The messiah's role would be to redeem Israel from exile.

So for those of you with discernment it should be obvious why גלות would changed to 'Galatians.' The implications of the Apostle coming and addressing those of the Galut LONG AFTER Jesus had been crucified. In other words it confirms the well attested understanding of the Marcionites that the Apostle was the 'Paraclete' (itself a messianic title in Judaism).

Just look at what the originally Marcionite Acts of Archelaus repeats over and over again:

And our Lord IC XC, making no tarrying, in the space of one year restored multitudes of the sick to health, and gave back the dead to the light of life; and He did indeed embrace all things in the power of His own word. And wherein, forsooth, did He make any tarrying, so that we should have to believe Him to have waited so long, even to these days, before He actually sent the Paraclete? Nay, rather, as has been already said above, He gave proof of His presence with us forthwith, and did most abundantly impart Himself to Paul, whose testimony we also believe when he says, “Unto me only is this grace given.” [cf. Eph. iii.8]

The Acts of Archelaus were translated from Syriac into a barbarous Latin a long time ago. But look at how 'Galatians' is employed within the tradition.

First Archelaus seems to recount our familiar understanding of the 'Galatians' as just another church within the fold:

And when the Galatians are minded to turn away from the Gospel, he says to them: I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would turn you away from the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which has been delivered to you, let him be accursed. And again he says: To me, who am the least of all the apostles, is this grace given; and, I fill up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh. And once more, in another place, he declares of himself that he was a minister of Christ more than all others, as though after him none other was to be looked for at all; for he enjoins that not even an angel from heaven is thus to be received. And how, then, shall we credit the professions of this Manes, who comes from Persis, and declares himself to be the Paraclete? By this very thing, indeed, I rather recognise in him one of those men who transform themselves, and of whom the Apostle Paul, that elect vessel, has given us very clear indication

There can be no doubt that Mani's claim to be the 'Paraclete' is rejected because the community already held that the Apostle was the true Paraclete - viz the messiah. As we have noted several times before the Marcionite held that Jesus was wholly angelic or divine, and hence without birth mother.

To this end Archelaus the head of the Marcionite tradition says to Mani the false Paraclete:

None of your party O Manes, will you make a Galatian; neither will you in this fashion divert us from the faith of Christ. Yea, even although you were to work signs and wonders, although you were to raise the dead, although you were to present to us the very image of Paul himself, you would remain accursed still. For we have been instructed beforehand with regard to you: we have been both warned and armed against you by the Holy Scriptures.

As such there can be no doubt that 'Galatian' is something other than a geographical place name. It is a category of people who were historically 'redeemed' by the Apostle at his appearance. In my mind there can be no doubt that they were 'exiles' and 'Galatian' represents a deliberate corruption of the original Aramaic term.

The Old Syriac canon of Ephrem had the letter to the Galatians. They had some deep connection with the epistle granting it first place in their canon.

Yet what would otherwise be overlooked is that in Osroene the Marcionites had laid already laid claim to the term 'Christian' so the Catholics were forced to identify themselves as 'Palutians' supposedly from an early bishop named 'Palut.'

The form palut (with t.et not tav) is not attested, but it is regular in formation, and would mean the same as palet (only used in the plural peletim) and palit (only used in the singular), which means “refugee”. These two forms are often paired with nimlat “escapee”. Is the reference to Christians that first fled to Pella and then moved further on?

Often paired with palit and nimlat is sarid (in Biblical Hebrew with SIN, but with SAMECH later on) meaning 'refugee' or 'survivor.'

With regards to the 'bishop called Palut' who was the founder of 'the Palutians' (and who held a canon with 'to the Galutians' as the Epistle of the first order) we should remember that names of groups and sects are often wrongly explained as deriving from the name of some fictitious individual. If however there was such an individual, it is worth bearing in mind that there is a strong connotation in the use of this word, if the context favours it, of the individual that is the last survivor of a bloodline or a line of tradition or a line of initiation and who becomes the saviour of the line and the ancestor (real or metaphorical) of all that come after. This kind of usage is so common that the name on its own could have had this connotation in this case.

There is something in all of this which might be useful to develop a theory that the original connotation of 'to Galatians' was 'to the exiles' and that the Apostle himself - rather than Jesus - was the redeemer.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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