Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Have Decided to Edit My Second Article on the Throne of St. Mark Online [Part Eight]


We can now be certain that there was indeed an astrological tradition associated with the earliest Alexandrian Church which had a very mystical interpretation of Jesus and his earthly mission. As Irenaeus makes repeated reference in his account of the beliefs of the followers of Mark held that the purpose of his crucifixion was to united the number six, missing since creation to the cosmos and thereby make it more perfect.[1] "Ἰησοῦς is a name arithmetically symbolical, consisting of six letters, and is known by all those that belong to the called. But that which is among the AEons of the Pleroma consists of many parts, and is of another form and shape, and is known by those [angels] who are joined in affinity with Him, and whose figures (mightinesses) are always present with Him."(AH 1.14.4). Later in the same report Irenaeus emphasizes again that "And for this reason did Moses declare that man was formed on the sixth day; and then, again, according to arrangement, it was on the sixth day, which is the preparation, that the last man appeared, for the regeneration of the first, Of this arrangement, both the beginning and the end were formed at that sixth hour, at which He was nailed to the tree. For that perfect being Nous, knowing that the number six had the power both of formation and regeneration, declared to the children of light, that regeneration which has been wrought out by Him who appeared as the Episemon in regard to that number."(AH 1.14.7) Yet the origin of this idea is equally clear - an ancient and well established Jewish and Samaritan interest in the first word in Torah בְּרֵאשִׁית which can be translated as 'in the beginning,' which has six letters and which, with a different interpretation of the same letters is often rendered in mystical exegeses 'created from six.'[2]

It is difficult to argue that the Marcosian system is an aberration of the 'true' interpretation of the earliest Christian material. Just as the kabbalistic speculation of Clement, Origen and the rest of the Alexandrian tradition inevitably go back to Philo and the Alexandrian Jewish community of the Common Era, the Marcosian interest in the number six is a natural extension of traditional Jewish mystical speculation. The same thing can be argued with regards to the consistent Alexandrian interpretation of the 'year of favor' (Isa 61.2) as a Jubilee year. It knows and perpetuates the tradition understanding of Judaism, arguing only that Jesus came to announce the final Jubilee, the last in a long series of sabbatical cycles calculated from בְּרֵאשִׁית which - as we have argued here eventually became memorialized by the Episcopal throne of St. Mark in Alexandria.

It should be recognized that the argument for the antiquity of the Alexandrian interpretation of Jesus's announcement of the 'year of favor' (Luke 4:19) and the Transfiguration narrative (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) have no bearing on the dating of our existing throne of St Mark. In other words, the Alexandrians could have had a tradition identifying Jesus announcing a transformation of the Kalends from the earliest period of Christianity in Egypt and the throne could have been manufactured as a memorial or testimony of those ideas in a later period. The relic, much like any of our surviving MSS of New Testament material might also be a copy of a copy of an original object which has long since been lost.

All that we can say with any degree of certainty is that there was an Alexandrian tradition which connected various passages in the gospel narrative with the early establishment of a three hundred and sixty day liturgical year. The manner in which the lunar year was ultimately abandoned is expressed in the various mystical interpretations of scriptures referenced by Irenaeus and Clement in their writings - viz. Jesus, the number six became united with someone or something representing the number 354, and their union became represented by the throne of St. Mark deliberately manufactured according to specifications that would reflect the number 360.[3]

To this end, the followers of Mark not only pointed to the crucifixion taking place in in the sixth hour but also as Clement explicitly emphasizes, that Jesus was the sixth person standing on the 'high mountain' at the Transfiguration. Yet there is something else which Clement says when referencing the same mystical interpretation of the narrative which deserves our attention to finally solve the original Alexandrian identification of how the 'year of favor' was connected with Jesus's ministry. For Clement makes specific reference to the 'year of favor' as a Jubilee year when introducing the Marcosian interpretation of the Transfiguration saying:

And they called eight a cube, counting the fixed sphere along with the seven revolving ones, by which is produced "the great year," as a kind of period of recompense of what has been promised.

Thus the Lord, who ascended the mountain, the fourth, becomes the sixth, and is illuminated all round with spiritual light, by laying bare the power proceeding from Him, as far as those selected to see were able to behold it, by the Seventh, the Voice, proclaimed to be the Son of God; in order that they, persuaded respecting Him, might have rest; while He by His birth, which was indicated by the sixth conspicuously marked, becoming the eighth, might appear to be God in a body of flesh, by displaying His power, being numbered indeed as a man, but being concealed as to who He was. For six is reckoned in the order of numbers, but the succession of the letters acknowledges the character which is not written. In this case, in the numbers themselves, each unit is preserved in its order up to seven and eight. But in the number of the characters, Zeta becomes six and Eta seven.

And the character having somehow slipped into writing, should we follow it out thus, the seven became six, and the eight seven. Wherefore also man is said to have been made on the sixth day, who became faithful to Him who is the sign (tp epishmw), so as straightway to receive the rest of the Lord's inheritance. Some such thing also is indicated by the sixth hour in the scheme of salvation, in which man was perfected. Further, of the eight, the intermediates are seven; and of the seven, the intervals are shown to be six. For that is another ground, in which seven glorifies eight, and "the heavens declare to the heavens the glory of God."
(Stromata 6:14)

It is well established that a cube is depicted on the backrest of the throne from which the four rivers of Paradise are depicted pouring down, what appears to be the holy mountain.[4] Yet for our purposes it is enough to say that it is vitally important to see that Clement introduces his mystical interpretation of the Transfiguration by connecting it to the concept of the Jubilee (which in turn is repeatedly identified by him as the number eight).

In other words, both Clement and the Marcosians reported by Irenaeus see the transfiguration in terms of a 'bringing together' of the numbers six, seven and eight. This is done in many different ways but two things are absolutely certain - (a) Jesus is the 'six' and the 'eight' is ultimately the Jubilee year. I would argue that despite Clement's best effort to identify the 'Hebdomad' here as the voice of God declaring 'my beloved son' there is another more plausible way of interpreting the passage which makes far greater sense. Indeed Irenaeus actually contradicts Clement's interpretation (demonstrating that despite the two accounts being otherwise almost verbatim copies of one another there was a deeper interpretation to the narrative) insofar as he writes that the followers of Mark he met said alternatively that when "he (Jesus) became one of six in which character He descended (i.e. the 'six') and was contained in the Hebdomad."(ibid) In this case alternative interpretation, the 'seven' represents the material world.

Indeed if we look further in Clement's interpretation, it is patently obvious that the 'Voice' interpretation is only the veil which shelters a deeper, mystical interpretation for, immediately after the section just cited from his Stromata, he goes on to explain that the proper interpretation of the number seven has to do with units of time. Indeed after saying, as we just saw that the 'sixth day' of creation was connected with the sabbath he writes (and I cite in full):

Some such thing also is indicated by the sixth hour in the scheme of salvation, in which man was perfected. Further, of the eight, the intermediates are seven; and of the seven, the intervals are shown to be six. For that is another ground, in which seven glorifies eight, and "the heavens declare to the heavens the glory of God."

The sensible types of these, then, are the sounds we pronounce. Thus the Lord Himself is called "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,"" by whom all things were made, and without whom not even one thing was made." God's resting is not, then, as some conceive, that God ceased from doing. For, being good, if He should ever cease from doing good, then would He cease from being God, which it is sacrilege even to say. The resting is, therefore, the ordering that the order of created things should be preserved inviolate, and that each of the creatures should cease from the ancient disorder. For the creations on the different days followed in a most important succession; so that all things brought into existence might have honour from priority, created together in thought, but not being of equal worth. Nor was the creation of each signified by the voice, inasmuch as the creative work is said to have made them at once. For something must needs have been named first. Wherefore those things were announced first, from which came those that were second, all things being originated together from one essence by one power. For the will of God was one, in one identity. And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist.

And now the whole world of creatures born alive, and things that grow, revolves in sevens. The first-born princes of the angels, who have the greatest power, are seven. The mathematicians also say that the planets, which perform their course around the earth, are seven; by which the Chaldeans think that all which concerns mortal life is effected through sympathy, in consequence of which they also undertake to tell things respecting the future.

And of the fixed stars, the Pleiades are seven. And the Bears, by the help of which agriculture and navigation are carried through, consist of seven stars. And in periods of seven days the moon undergoes its changes. In the first week she becomes half moon; in the second, full moon; and in the third, in her wane, again half moon; and in the fourth she disappears. Further, as Seleucus the mathematician lays down, she has seven phases. First, from being invisible she becomes crescent- shaped, then half moon, then gibbous and full; and in her wane again gibbous, and in like manner half moon and crescent-shaped.

"On a seven-stringed lyre we shall sing new hymns," writes a poet of note, teaching us that the ancient lyre was seven-toned. The organs of the senses situated on our face are also seven--two eyes, two passages of hearing, two nostrils, and the seventh the mouth. And that the changes in the periods of life take place by sevens, the Elegies of Solan teach thus "The child, while still an infant, in seven years, Produces and puts forth its fence of teeth; And when God seven years more completes, He shows of puberty's approach the signs; And in the third, the beard on growing cheek With down o'erspreads the bloom of changing skin; And in the fourth septenniad, at his best In strength, of manliness he shows the signs; And in the fifth, of marriage, now mature, And of posterity, the man bethinks; Nor does he yet desire vain works to see. The seventh and eighth septenniads see him now In mind and speech mature, till fifty years; And in the ninth he still has vigour left, But strength and body are for virtue great Less than of yore; when, seven years more, God brings To end, then not too soon may he submit to die."

Again, in diseases the seventh day is that of the crisis; and the fourteenth, in which nature struggles against the causes of the diseases. And a myriad such instances are adduced by Hermippus of Berytus, in his book On the Number Seven, regarding it as holy. And the blessed David delivers clearly to those who know the mystic account of seven and eight, praising thus: "Our years were exercised like a spider. The days of our years in them are seventy years; but if in strength, eighty years. And that will be to reign." That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated, and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: "This is the book of the generation: also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth." For the expression "when they were created" intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression "in the day that God made," that is, in and by which God made "all things," and "without which not even one thing was made," points out the activity exerted by the Son. As David says, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us be glad and rejoice in it; " that is, in consequence of the knowledge imparted by Him, let us celebrate the divine festival; for the Word that throws light on things hidden, and by whom each created thing came into life and being, is called day.

The upshot of this lengthy citation is that Clement is secretly alluding to a plan established since the beginning of creation (i.e. the number six), that this present world governed by the principle of the number seven, would eventually attain perfection - the number eight - after a preordained number of sabbatical years (or 'septenniad' as is referenced in the text).

Once we acknowledge that the context that the Transfiguration is introduced - i.e. the statement about eight being the 'great year' or 'year of favor' - and then the deliberately vague explanation of eight following from its union with 'six' and 'seven' on the 'high mountain' it is almost impossible to see what the original context of the 'seven' in the narrative - the Transfiguration necessarily took place in the seventh month. In other words, just as Clement is very specific about connecting the Transfiguration to the manifestation of the Jubilee or 'year of favor' first announced by Jesus in the synagogue in Galilee, it is impossible not to see that what is being described as going on in the mountain necessarily had to have occurred in the month of Tishrei, the seventh month. Indeed not only are there references to 'booths' and the descent of clouds (all parts of the סוכות festival) but we can gain an even more exact timing for the event by the fact that Peter's booth has not yet been set up. As such there is good reason to believe that the Transfiguration took place in Tishrei just before the feast of the Tabernacles.[4]

I am not the first person to make this identification of the timing of the narrative.[5] Nevertheless given the restrictions of the early Alexandrian paradigm for a three hundred and sixty day ministry for Jesus the implications here are quite staggering. For Clement's emphasis in the Stromata that Jesus is the 'sixth' in the seventh on the mountain bringing in the eight - the Jubilee - necessarily implies an exact date in Tishrei which just happened to be before the beginning of Sukkot. Indeed it has always puzzled commentators that when Jesus reads Isaiah chapter 61 earlier in the Galilean synagogue what immediately follows the words 'the year of favor' has been strangely removed - i.e. וְיוֹם נָקָם 'and the day of vengeance.' As we will demonstrate later, Irenaeus's copies of the gospel seem to have retained the proper reading as did that of Peter of Alexandria. Nevertheless, the reason why these words were eventually removed might well have to do with traditional Jewish and Samaritan interpretations of Yom Kippur, the tenth day of the seventh month, with both 'the day of judgment' and the beginning of the calculation of the Jubilee year.

In other words, when Jesus stood in the Galilean synagogue and read what was certainly originally ALL OF what has always appeared in 61:2 - i.e. 'the year of favor and the day of judgement of our God, to comfort those who mourn' - it was interpreted as pointing to a specific day of a very specific year - the Jubilee. That Yom Kippur was identified as the 'day of judgment' in our earliest sources is clear from the Samaritan tradition as well as the most important Qumran texts (11QMelkizedek). In this fragmentary scroll as we already saw, 'the year of favor and the day of judgement' are specifically interpreted as meaning 'Yom Kippur which begins the Jubilee year.' The Samaritan tradition, while not recognizing Isaiah, preserves the original reading of Deuteronomy 32:35 - יוֹם נָקָם reflected in the LXX and employed Isaiah 61:2.

The Samaritan Arabic commentary on the Torah makes absolutely clear that heralds were sent out on the Day of Atonement to go into all countries over the next six months blowing the shofar in every land and region with the announcement of the information of the approach of the Jubilee Year and the release of captives. The Arabic word here is bashîrah which itself goes back to the Hebrew bassorah. The person doing it is the mubashshir = Hebrew mevasser, or the bashîr. Notice carefully that the bashîrah is not the information, but the announcement of it. This is the connotation of the Greek euangelion. Notice that the meaning only becomes clear and sharp in the context of the Samaritan halachah.

The implication of this understanding is staggering as there is strong tradition in Jewish and Samaritan sources that Moses received the Law on Yom Kippur.[6] Moreover, and more importantly for our purposes, Yom Kippur is also the day identified by Jews that God sits on his judgment throne. These ideas go back to a very early period where for example where 4Q156 (4QTargum of Leviticus) has a description of the Yom Kippur ritual where the word 'mercy seat' is replaced by 'throne.' Daniel Stokl Ben Ezra also sees parallels with the enthronement of God on Yom Kippur dating back to the Book of Enoch but the idea is certainly present throughout the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud and later rabbinic literature.[7]

Yet it is enough for our present purposes to merely state the obvious, namely that the Alexandrian tradition must have understood that the Transfiguration was the 'day of judgement' which initiated the 'year of favor.' All of which brings a small difficulty in that Clement, Origen and our other sources all seem to identify Jesus's year long ministry with the 'year of favor.' It is worth noting however that Origen does repeatedly state that this latter interpretation is the 'simple' explanation of the text implying of course that there is a 'deeper' interpretation which as we have noted is connected with 'the beginning of a new calendar.'[7]

The fact that Origen confirms that the resurrected persons of Moses and Elijah only knew the 'fulness of time' had arrived when they stood with Jesus on the mountain is the understanding which ties everything together. For the 'day of judgement' is always understood in Samaritan sources as also 'the day of resurrection.' The Treatise on Resurrection at Nag Hammadi clearly interprets the presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain in this way.[8] To this end we have the intriguing possibility that with a Moses and Elijah and Jesus too might well have all been in a 'resurrected' or 'spiritual' state and that the event in question happened not during what we would naturally think of as the earthly ministry of Jesus at all but was actually the seventh month in the year which began with Jesus's crucifixion.[8]

This can be gleaned from the editor of the Diatessaron's reference to a previous tradition known to its readers where the account begins with Mark's understanding of:

after six days Jesus took Simon Cephas, and James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain, the three of them only. And while they were praying, Jesus changed, and became after the fashion of another person; and his face shone like the sun, and his raiment was very white like the snow, and as the light of lightning, so that nothing on earth can whiten like it. And there appeared unto him Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. And they thought that the time of his decease which was to be accomplished at Jerusalem was come. And Simon and those that were with him were heavy in the drowsiness of steep; and with effort they roused themselves, and saw his glory, and those two men that were standing with him. And when they began to depart from him, Simon said unto Jesus, My Master, it is good for us to be here: and if thou wilt, we will make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah; not knowing what he said, because of the fear which took possession of them. And while he was yet saying that, a bright cloud overshadowed them. And when they saw Moses and Elijah that they had entered into that cloud, they feared again. And a voice was heard out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, whom I have chosen; hear ye therefore him. And when this voice was heard, Jesus was found alone. And the disciples, when they heard the voice, fell on their faces from the fear which took hold of them. And Jesus came and touched them and said, Arise, be not afraid. And they lifted up their eyes, and saw Jesus as he was. (Diatessaron 24:2 - 16)

In other words, the surviving copies of the Arabic Diatessaron seem to blame the 'incorrect' view that the event happened after the Passion had already taken place on the 'sleepiness' that led Peter to suggest offering up three booths to Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

The idea that the Transfiguration occurred after the Passion as the last act before Jesus ascended up to heaven seems also to have been confirmed by the Marcionite interpretation.[11] It is also explicitly referenced in the Apocalypse of Peter which says:

And my Lord Jesus Christ our King said unto me: Let us go unto the holy mountain. And his disciples went with him, praying. And behold there were two men there, and we could not look upon their faces, for a light came from them, shining more than the sun, and their rairment also was shining, and cannot be described, and nothing is sufficient to be compared unto them in this world. And the sweetness of them . . . that no mouth is able to utter the beauty of their appearance (or, the mouth hath not sweetness to express, &c.), for their aspect was astonishing and wonderful. And the other, great, I say (probably: and, in a word, I cannot describe it), shineth in his (sic) aspect above crystal. Like the flower of roses is the appearance of the colour of his aspect and of his body . . . his head (al. their head was a marvel). And upon his (their) shoulders (evidently something about their hair has dropped out) and on their foreheads was a crown of nard woven of fair flowers. As the rainbow in the water, [Probably: in the time of rain. From the LXX of Ezek.i.28.] so was their hair. And such was the comeliness of their countenance, adorned with all manner of ornament. And when we saw them on a sudden, we marvelled. And I drew near unto the Lord (God) Jesus Christ and said unto him: O my Lord, who are these? And he said unto me: They are Moses and Elias. And I said unto him: Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the rest of the righteous fathers? And he showed us a great garden, open, full of fair trees and blessed fruits, and of the odour of perfumes. The fragrance thereof was pleasant and came even unto us. And thereof (al. of that tree) . . . saw I much fruit. And my Lord and God Jesus Christ said unto me: Hast thou seen the companies of the fathers?

As is their rest, such also is the honour and the glory of them that are persecuted for my righteousness' sake. And I rejoiced and believed [and believed] and understood that which is written in the book of my Lord Jesus Christ. And I said unto him: O my Lord, wilt thou that I make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias? And he said unto me in wrath: Satan maketh war against thee, and hath veiled thine understanding; and the good things of this world prevail against thee. Thine eyes therefore must be opened and thine ears unstopped that a tabernacle, not made with men's hands, which my heavenly Father hath made for me and for the elect. And we beheld it and were full of gladness.

And behold, suddenly there came a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: my commandments.
And then came a great and exceeding white cloud over our heads and bare away our Lord and Moses and Elias. And I trembled and was afraid: and we looked up and the heaven opened and we beheld men in the flesh, and they came and greeted our Lord and Moses and Elias and went into another heaven. And the word of the scripture was fulfilled: This is the generation that seeketh him and seeketh the face of the God of Jacob. And great fear and commotion was there in heaven and the angels pressed one upon another that the word of the scripture might be fulfilled which saith: Open the gates, ye princes.

Thereafter was the heaven shut, that had been open. And we (i.e. the company of disciples minus Jesus) prayed and went down from the mountain, glorifying God, which hath written the names of the righteous in heaven in the book of life. 

While it would take us too far away from our present discussion, Ephrem seems to be aware of many of the details of the gospel known to the Apocalypse of Peter. He excuses Peter's ignorance as being dazzled by the sight of the kingdom and the divine fragrance that hung in the air.

It is enough for us to tentatively note that there was indeed a rival gospel tradition which placed the Transfiguration as the final act in the gospel. Jesus after appearing before the disciples and clearly teaching Peter that he should discontinue with the Jewish practice of setting up booths, ascends with Moses and Elijah into heaven. Ephrem also seems to indicate that the Marcionites understood this 'holy mountain' to be Mt Gerizim where Moses and Elijah stood as 'guardians' (= Samaritans) before being 'redeemed' with Jesus's assumption into heaven. Yet Ephrem's most intriguing idea associated with the transfiguration is that John and his brother saw the throne of God at the Transfiguration and thereby sought to seat themselves upon the divine chair.[12]  Ephrem's language in this particular hymn makes reference to only one chair - and not 'twelve' or 'twenty four' as we see elsewhere.  Given the Alexandrian tradition's interest in identifying 'John' as Mark's other name, the Alexandrian Episcopal chair would likely be a recreation of what the Evangelist supposedly witnessed on the mount of Transfiguration.

Under this scenario, the throne of St. Mark needn't be conceived as actually being a relic of a supposed enthronement in Egypt. Rather it might date from a period where the Alexandrian community was employing a variant gospel text which concluded with Peter, John (Mark) and James got a glimpse of the kingdom of God as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were taken up to heaven. We needn't necessarily associate this gospel tradition with Secret Mark (although it is still entirely possible). Origen in many places cites variant material from a 'Gospel of the Hebrews' which might actually be the better fit with the Apocalypse of Peter tradition.

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