Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Second Draft of My Article on the Throne of St. Mark [Part One]


In 829 CE a number of relics associated with St. Mark were translated from Alexandria to Venice under a mysterious set of historical circumstances that will likely never be completely understood.[1]  The objects were kept in Rialto, the former high embankment ('rivo alto') of mudflat islands that formed the beating heart of this emerging world power.  A martyrium was built over them and they were kept hidden from view, underground in a damp, subterranean crypt as the personal possessions of the Doge of Venice, who considered himself chief guardian of the relics.  Despite Venice rise as a world power, the seat of ecclesiastic authority in region had long been established at the nearby city of Grado.  From the time of the translatio until 1272 all the Patriarchs of Grado were Venetians but it was not until the middle of the eleventh century that Patriarch was allowed to take a place in the Basilica di San Maro next to the Doge. Yet it was only in 1451 the see of Grado was merged with Castello to form the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. By this time the Basilica di San Marco "had become a state Church and a national Church."[2]  It was in this new age of confidence for Venice that - sometime before 1534 - that an small, alabaster throne was brought up from the crypt and publicly identified as the episcopal throne of St Mark.  It was placed, with this title, behind the high altar of the basilica.[3]  It remained on the altar of the baptistery until shortly before 1758 when it was placed in the Treasury.[4]

In my previous monograph I built upon the work of Secchi and van Lohuizen-Mulder to demonstrate that not only that the so-called cattedra di San Marco was originally a functioning Episcopal throne but likely the συνθρόνος mentioned in the surviving accounts of the martyrdom of Peter the seventeenth Patriarch of Alexandria[5]  It would be agreed by all of us that the relic served as a symbol of the enduring authority of the Evangelist over his flock through an unbroken chain of earthly successors. Yet the one question that has never been truly answered by any previous study of the relic is how does the iconography and the inscription (which appears quite prominently across the front of the miniature throne, just below the level of the seat) reinforce this function, described by Severus of Al’Ashmunein “the patriarchs, became heirs, sitting upon his episcopal throne one after another, each one in succession to his predecessor, all being the successors of Saint Mark, handing down his authority one to another, and the shepherds of his flock, and imitators of his faith in Christ, of Saint Mark, the pure evangelist who saw Christ's (true) person, from whose successors, the patriarchs who came after him, descends to us the knowledge of their history and their names and the changing fortunes of each of them in his time and age, and the troubles and sorrows and struggles which fell to the lot of each of them for the name of his Lord and his Christ, and the preservation of his flock year after year and age after age.”[6]

It will be argued here that the iconography on the throne wasn’t merely decorative.  The images and the original inscription which adorned the Episcopal chair, reinforced a very important and ultimately secret understanding not only of St. Mark’s relationship with Jesus but ultimately of Christianity’s relationship with Alexandria.  It is important to remember that the canonical Acts of the Apostles does not explain how the Egyptian Church was established.  Traditions which rejected Acts as a spurious composition included Alexandria as part of the variant evangelical mission on the part of the Apostle.[7]  To this end we will argue that when the iconography of the throne of St. Mark is properly understood, it testifies to a completely different paradigm for the origins of Christianity, one which is closer to traditions deemed ‘heretical’ by Roman Church Fathers in writings such as Irenaeus’s the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called.[8]

When the inscription and the iconography are taken together, it will be argued that this throne was connected with the enthronement ending of the Gospel of Mark.  However, we will make the case that it was not the so-called ‘longer ending’ of Mark witnessed by Irenaeus and other later sources but an ending which more closely resembled the one which appears in marginal notes in MS Huntington 17 Bodeleian Library Oxford (called ‘A’), MS fragment ‘E1’ as well as several Greek, Latin, Syriac and Ethiopic manuscripts.[9]  It will be argued here that this so-called ‘shorter ending’ represents a deliberate condensation of the original concluding narrative to Mark, which Teeple, Riesenfeld and others have theorized was the Transfiguration.[10]  The underlying conception reflected in the iconography was that the throne was a memorial for the enthronement of Christ as the ἀνατολή on a specific day, month and year relative to the historical Passion and that from that date forward, the Alexandrian community would abandon the lunar calendar of the Jews and adopt instead a three hundred and sixty day solar year.  As such, the latest possible date of manufacture for this object is within a generation of the Quartodeciman controversies of the late second century.


The place to begin our study of the testimony of the throne of St Mark is the inscription which as we noted earlier appears across the front of the object, just below the level of the seat.  Because all previous studies have not properly translated its inscription nor accurately interpreted its iconography, they have fallen short of the mark in terms of understanding the original symbolism of this remarkable object.  This is the first decipherment to take account of all strokes and lines; and the first to identify every stroke and line. This is also the first interpretation not to assume improbable or forced or impossible meanings for any word.  I am grateful to Professor Ruairidh Boid of Monash University for taking the time to decipher the inscription and develop an understanding of its meaning in the context of the rest of the iconography on the throne.  For convenience of reference we give our reading of the inscription before discussing the previous readings. Our reading of the letters that follow is complete, and we think it to be the first complete and fully accurate transcription. We used multiple very detailed photographs with the light falling at different angles, and found that the details of faint lines could be distinguished from irregularities and blemishes in the stone. We also found that some lines invisible in the lighting where the throne is kept could be seen in some photographs with the light at the right angle.

The first thing that has to be noted is that there is a difference in quality between the two Samaritan letters on the leftmost portion of the front of the throne and the rest of the inscription.  These two letters - (reading right to left) Shin Alef - are rendered with considerable care and great detail.  They are made up multiple strokes and appear as letters would on a written page.   The rest of the inscription by contrast is very inaccurate.  It is obviously a rushed attempt to render a whole phrase in crude mirror letters which becomes progressively more unrefined as it develops. To this end, we will propose that there were two stages to the inscription.  The first stage is represented by the two well defined Samaritan letters read right to left as an expression of the phrase 'year one' (ש׳א׳ = Sh[enat] A[lef]) a standard expression on Jewish coinage from the period. Then at a later date, for reasons that are no longer clear an attempt was made to read the two letters as the beginning of a new inscription, a series of mirror letters meant to be read:

M Ṧ B M R Q ' W N G L S T S ' L K S N D R Y H

The Seat of Mark(os) Evangelist Alexandria

Even though we are certain about the two stage process of the expansion of original inscription it will be easier for us to begin our exposition concentrating on the 'full' twenty three letter phrase written in mirror letters as most of what has been written about the inscription has treated it as if it were written out only once.

It should be remembered the Hebrew letters go from left to right. We will consistently use Romanisation to avoid confusion over the direction. The apostrophe represents a glottal stop in the International Phonetic Alphabet. We use it to transcribe Alef for the sake of clarity.

The inscription has been investigated five times. No-one has ever noticed the Paleo-Hebrew (Samaritan) letters. The reason will become clear after we describe the rest of the inscription. There is universal agreement that there is an inscription in Hebrew using the Aramaic or square script, the script commonly but improperly called Hebrew script. The inscription is in mirror-writing. The letters are to be read from left to right and are reversed as in a mirror. The middle part of the inscription seems not to have been engraved deeply enough, and it is hard to read. There have been decipherments, by Secchi, Le Hir, Bargès, Grabar and Février, and Lohuizen-Mulder’s informant.

There has been general agreement that the letters at the left are MWṦBMRQ. Février found the letter W after this and read the Italian name Marco or Marcu. Everyone has found the Hebrew word moshav meaning a seat or sitting or session here, but everyone has wrongly taken the word to mean chair or throne, which is impossible. Everyone has agreed that the letters MRQ are the name of Mark, correctly in our view. Février found letters after this making up a Hebrew word 'WNGELSṬS “evangelistes”, borrowed from Greek. We largely agree, except that we disagree on the second-to-last letter and find T instead of Ṭ. Le Hir found a verb meaning “evangelised” and Bargès found a Hebrew noun derived from the Greek Euangelion. Both readings assume unattested verb forms and can be disregarded for this reason alone.

Our reading of the last letters in this group also makes both these readings impossible. Secchi’s reading can be disregarded as impossible on too many grounds to list. Two early attempts, first by Secchi and then by Le Hir, found the letters RMH on the extreme right. These two authors both read this as Roma. This is impossible. First, on the grounds of spelling, the word must have the first vowel letter representing the [o] sound. Second, the form of the name in ancient Hebrew is the Greek name Rōmē, not Roma. The expected spelling would be RWMY. When the object was taken from Alexandria, this would have been the spelling and pronunciation. In mediaeval Hebrew the form Roma can occur, but it still must have the first vowel letter and be spelt RWMH. Third, Alexandrians would be the last to associate Mark with Rome. They regard the claim of the Roman Church that Mark worked in Rome under the direction of Peter to be an implausible lie. Mark is the founder of the Egyptian Church. No-one in Byzantium would have found a reason to put the name of Rome on the throne. The Venetians acquired the relics of Mark so as to make themselves legally independent of the Pope. They would not have mentioned Rome either. Bargès and Lohuizen-Mulder have made out the last three letters as RYH, correctly in our view, and have then read the last four letters as DRYH and taken them to be the ending of the name of Alexandria, again correctly in our view. Thus, with the three words “Mark Evangelist Alexandria” our reading is not unexpected.

We ask the reader to bear with us here as we go through the reading and interpretation by J.-G. Février. The tedium is unavoidable because Février’s interpretation has influenced all later work. Its inadequacy by any canon of academic integrity or even sanity must be demonstrated so it can be forgotten. A large part of Février’s justification of a late dating was the bizarreness of his reconstruction. He assumed a bizarre reading because he thought the inscription to be a mediaeval attempt at giving a false impression of antiquity. This circular thinking has infected all later work, including the catalogues. André Grabar, an expert in Byzantine religious artefacts, tells us he happened to ask Février to translate the text because he had an office just down the passage-way at the Sorbonne. Février’s specialisation was Punic epigraphy. Neither Grabar nor Février took the presence of Hebrew letters seriously and so the Punic epigraphist came up with this: “The Throne of Marco Evangelist, and donkeys [!!] have dedicated it.”

To make the reconstruction, the wrong Hebrew word for donkeys was assumed, showing absence of feeling for the language and just as little feel for context. The object pronoun suffix had to be assumed to be feminine gender, even though moshav is a masculine noun, a fact Février didn’t notice. Grabar and Février developed a scenario whereby the Venetians authorities decided to add something in order to give the throne a mystical aura, so they asked local Jews to write something in Hebrew. The Jews took the opportunity to write something disparaging about the throne and its owners, but thought they had better put the words in mirror-writing so no-one could read what they had written. We’re not making this up. Février’s further argument for a mediaeval dating for the inscription from its spelling of Mark’s name as Mem Resh Qof Vav, as if it were the Italian Marco, is recklessly careless. The actual letters are clearly MRCAO [Mem Resh Qof Alef Vav]. For this purpose, Février ignored the Alef, even though it is one of the clearest letters in the inscription. The Alef and the Vav are the beginning of the next word, ‘Evangelistes.’ Yet Février found the word Evangelistes in the inscription, starting with the letters Alef Vav. So first the Alef had to vanish so the Vav could be read as the end of the name Marco. Then the Alef that had been made to vanish had to come back and become the first letter of Evangelistes, and the Vav that had been at the end of Marco had to be used again as the second letter of Evangelistes, after the Alef that had vanished before and was back again. In the catalogues, the reading “donkeys” is dropped, but Février’s misreading of Alexandria as “they dedicated it” has been kept, along with the mutually incompatible Marco and Evangelistes. This reading “they dedicated it” is NDRWH. The spelling of Alexandria is 'LKSNDRYH. Février has read the second-last letter, Yod, as Vav. He has done this because he had no experience in Hebrew epigraphy. Punic epigraphy, yes. If Février had had extensive acquaintance with old inscriptions or mss., he would have known that the form of Yod was once bigger, so that it looked very much like a printed Vav. This is why Secchi and Le Hir took the Yod as part of a Mem. Now this apparently minor mistake leads to the removal of the word Alexandria from the inscription, and the inscription becomes pointless, regardless of whether the donkeys are brought in or not(!).

Linguistic argument for our reading. The translation of ‘moshav’ as meaning ‘throne’ or ‘seat’ as in a physical object which someone could sit on demonstrates absence of Sprachgefühl. This word does not mean a throne or chair, as everyone has thought. The natural Hebrew word for either a chair or a throne is kisse כסא with a qualifier if needed. The word moshav has a range of meanings similar to the French words séance and siège, but it does not mean chaise, chaire, or trône. Moshav can mean a session (of a court of law and so on) and in the right context, the hearing and judgment. This is its most common usage. Even this meaning is limited, since a routine sitting of a committee would be termed a yeshiva. Moshav would also be applicable to the act of enthronement. The word moshav is not the designation of the object. If the word were here, then it could have only two meanings. It might have been copied from some banner at the time of inauguration of St. Mark himself, and might mean the inauguration or enthronement of Mark. The circumstances of such copying are unlikely. Or otherwise it might refer to the word Alexandria. This is difficult. The meaning would be “The seat of Mark the Evangelist is Alexandria” or perhaps even "The See of Mark the Evangelist of Alexandria."

The script is at least as old as the 6th century. This is being conservative. For the moment it is enough to say that a mediaeval date is ruled out. The spelling of Evangelistes with Tav instead of Ḥet and Aleksandriya with Kaf instead of Qof would be archaic in Jewish spelling, and agrees with the known standard Samaritan system. The spelling is either Jewish and archaic, or Samaritan, or both. Hebrew mirror-writing is in itself an ancient practice. Lohuizen-Mulder’s informant’s statement that Hebrew has never been written in mirror-writing is only a layman’s confession of ignorance. It is seen in some mss. from Qumrân Cave 4 from the Herodian period.

Now that we have established what inscription appeared on the front of the throne in a later period, let us go back to those two Paleo-Hebrew (Samaritan) letters which we have argued pre-date the rest. The reader is encouraged to see the letters on the extreme left as different by the way they are carved. They are more regular, more ornate, and are cut deeper. The Alef actually stands out like a beacon, written in an elaborate uncial bookhand with five strokes, suitable for a heading in a manuscript but hard to carve. Compare for instance this letter with the fourth letters of the whole inscription (see figure 1). These are both supposed to represent mirror Mems written by the same hand in mirror writing but notice the obvious different (figure 2). There can be no doubt that the second mem (the first letter of the second word 'Mark') is a poor copy of the first letter, which as we noted is really an Alef written the write way around but now reinterpreted as a Mem in mirror writing.

There can be no doubt that the Shin Alef were written together before all the other letters of the inscription and signify 'year one' of Christianity in Alexandria.  Compare for instance the use of Paleo-Hebrew letters Shin Alef, Shin Bet, Shin Gimmel and Shin Dalet in coins from the Jewish revolt of 66 - 70 CE and the Bar Kochba revolt of 132 - 135 CE to note ‘year one,’ ‘year two,’ ‘year three’ and ‘year four’ respectively.[11]. We see in the example of the coin identified as Hendin 663 a depiction of a chalice with pearled rim (7 dots). The base is raised by projections on ends. Above the chalice is the date Hebrew letters ( שא = year one). Around the chalice is the inscription – ‘half a shekel.’[12]

There are, as aforementioned, a number of other examples from the numismatic remains of late first and early second century Palestine, of the employment of the same Paleo-Hebrew letters to render ‘year one’ in the exact manner of the reconstructed inscription on the throne.  The coins from the Second Revolt add a second layer of meaning to this identification which seems to also be reflected on the throne of St. Mark, namely the expression of 'year one' being linked to the Biblical concept of the Jubilee year.

Goodblatt referencing the coins from the Bar Kochba revolt notes that "coins of the first year bear the inscription 'year one of the redemption (גאולה) of Israel.'" [13] In other coins we see the phrase 'the redemption of Zion' where the genitive case reading means that the redemption of Zion was something which had been achieved.[14]  As DeWeese notes, in this period גאולה was applied to the general release from debt and the full recovery of rights and inheritance in the year of Jubilee" (cf. Lev 25.26,29,31,32).[15]  Yet it is not only גאולה that reinforces the concept of the Jubilee. The Jubilee is itself a 'year one' as Bergsma points out "year one of a jubilee cycle is also year fifty of the previous cycle, and therefore year one is always a jubilee year." [16]   In the case of the failed Jewish revolts both were led by failed messianic pretenders and both revolts can be connected to a Jubilee expectation.  As Philipson notes "the Julian date of 132/33, when the Bar Kochba rebellion commenced, happened to have been both a sabbatical and a jubilee year; which may have been an additional factor in the rise of the pitch of messianic fervor." [17] In the case of the first revolt, the connection was undoubtedly made with Daniel's prophesy of the seventy weeks, a concept related to the Jubilee.[18]


With regards to the throne of St. Mark we have the same reference to 'year one' in Paleo-Hebrew with many of the features of the throne naturally suggests both the concept of the Jubilee year, and the central Samaritan theological concept of the renewed Time of Favour [Hebrew רצון Rāṣon, Aramaic Rūūta, Arabic Riḍwân]. (The spelling with Alef instead of He as is normal in Samaritan mss. does not matter here). As we shall note later in our discussion this concept enters Christianity by way of Isaiah 61:2 and its ‘year of favour,’ a reference which generated considerable controversy when Irenaeus condemned those who refused to give up the original Jewish and Samaritan rooting of this terminology as an expression of the Jubilee.[19]  There can be no doubt that this Shin Alef inscription is placed in a context of a Jubilee year.  First of all there are fifty stars which adorn the sides and back of the throne.[20]  Secondly, there is a depiction of a cube pouring out what ‘divine favour’ in the form of the four rivers of Paradise over the top of what must regarded as the holy mountain of God.  Clement learned from Philo to identify the cube with the number ‘eight’ but goes one step further and links both with the ‘year of favor’ and the Jubilee.[21]  Moreover, in each of the two corners above the Seraph with the human face, there is an angel with one pair of wings blowing a shofar. The one on the right has an eagle’s face.[22]  The one on the left has a lion’s face. The two are a reminder of Mark as we shall demonstrate later. Presumably they are both the heavenly equivalent of Mark blowing the shofar to announce the Jubilee.

Of course any effort to identify the context of an expression of a specifically Christian ‘year of favour’ necessarily must take into account the narrative of Luke 4:16 - 21 and its allusion to Isaiah 61:2.  The familiar story tells us that Jesus entered a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, pulls out the scroll of Isaiah and literally reads the entire context of this passage starting from the beginning but curiously stopping at ‘the year of favour’ omitting the concluding words ‘and the day of vengeance.’  Jesus then proceeds to explain the whole passage - starting from Isaiah 61:1 down to ‘to preach the year of favour of the Lord’ as being fulfilled ‘this day.’  In other words, the Catholic gospel makes it absolutely explicit that the Jubilee year was understood to begin with Jesus standing in the Galilean synagogue at the start of the gospel narrative.  It would seem to be an open and shut case with no other possible interpretations of how the concept of the Jubilee year might be integrated into earliest Christianity.  However New Testament scholars have completely overlooked the fact that Clement of Alexandria references a very different gospel narrative which cannot possibly be reconciled with this familiar understanding of Jesus literally reading the entire passage from Isaiah and declaring that the ‘year of favour’ began ‘this day.’

In the course of Clement of Alexandria demonstrating that the Alexandrian tradition preserved the correct understanding of the ‘year of favour’ - a concept which he says is properly developed from a mystical interest in the number three hundred and sixty and formed by the multiplication of various numbers from the gospel narrative including ‘thirty’ (the age of Jesus at the time of his baptism) and ‘twelve’ (the number of apostles) - begins by quoting from the Gospel of Luke but ends with a reference to an unknown Alexandrian gospel narrative:

And our Lord was born in the twenty-eighth year, when first the census was ordered to be taken in the reign of Augustus. And to prove that this is true, it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: "And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias." And again in the same book: "And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old," and so on. And that it was necessary for Him to preach only a year, this also is written: "He hath sent Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." This both the prophet spake, and the Gospel.

Ἐγεννήθη δὲ ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν τῷ ὀγδόῳ καὶ εἰκοστῷ ἔτει, ὅτε πρῶτον ἐκέλευσαν ἀπογραφὰς γενέσθαι ἐπὶ Αὐγούστου. Ὅτι δὲ τοῦτ´ ἀληθές ἐστιν, ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τῷ κατὰ Λουκᾶν γέγραπται οὕτως· «ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ ἐπὶ Τιβερίου Καίσαρος ἐγένετο ῥῆμα κυρίου ἐπὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν Ζαχαρίου υἱόν.» καὶ πάλιν ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ· «ἦν δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐρχόμενος ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὡς ἐτῶν λʹ.» καὶ ὅτι ἐνιαυτὸν μόνον ἔδει αὐτὸν κηρῦξαι, καὶ τοῦτο γέγραπται οὕτως· «ἐνιαυτὸν δεκτὸν κυρίου κηρῦξαι ἀπέστειλέν με.» τοῦτο καὶ ὁ προφήτης εἶπεν καὶ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον.

As we just noted earlier, it is impossible to reconcile this final citation, which is merely introduced by Clement with the words 'this also is written' and the inference that Jesus said somewhere:

"He hath sent Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

«ἐνιαυτὸν δεκτὸν κυρίου κηρῦξαι ἀπέστειλέν με.»

This is certainly not from our canonical Luke. It does not follow from what is portrayed in Luke 4:16 - 19.  It is not a reading from Isaiah chapter 61.  It is Jesus declaring that he was sent to announce that the coming Jubilee year was the fulfillment of messianic prophesy but leaving entirely open the question of when this expectation was actually going to be realized.[23]

With our standard reading in Luke, there is clearly no way to connect Jesus’s reference to ‘the year of favour’ to a throne or an enthronement.  In the case of the Alexandrian tradition however we will argue that this variant gospel reading will ultimately lead to us uncover a well documented dispute over the meaning of not only the ‘year of favour’ reference from Isaiah but more importantly the proper ending to the Gospel of Mark.  For we will discover shortly that Irenaeus’s repeated arguments against these matters in the first, second and third books of the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called should be taken together as a consistent reflection of a variant gospel tradition associated with a group sometimes identified explicitly as ‘those of Mark’ and other times entirely anonymously.  This heretical position has already been connected to Clement by Schaff and various others who identify him as either a crypto-Marcosian or an Alexandrian who happens to have made use of literature associated with an Egyptian heretic named Mark first referenced by Patristic sources in the middle of the second century.[24]

We will make the case that Patristic scholars have not approached the material critically.  Irenaeus’s heretic ‘Marcus’ is really the continued existence of an independent Alexandrian tradition of ‘St. Mark’ one which did not succumb to the authority of Rome, at least initially.[25]  This, we will argue is the proper historical context of Clement’s refusal in the Letter to Theodore to swear that any other gospel is ‘by Mark’ save for the ‘secret’ gospel of Mark in Alexandria.[26]  It also explains the It also explains the ongoing debates between various heretical groups associated with an individual named ‘Mark’ and those who would attribute their gospel to Peter, a point vehemently denounce those who would attribute their gospel to Peter, a point vehemently denied by the community.[27]  Moreover it accounts for a number of references to variant endings to gospels related to the received text of Mark which feature markedly different conceptions of the final enthronement of Christ.[28]


There is a strange situation in Patristic scholarship where it is readily in Patristic scholarship where authorities readily concede the existence of a ‘tradition’ which stretches from the apostle John to Hippolytus, through Polycarp and Irenaeus, while the idea of a Markan tradition which might have been passed from the Alexandrian predecessors of Clement to Clement himself and then to Origen is dismissed as 'scholarly naivete.'  To be certain, Irenaeus and Hippolytus most certainly and most aggressively claim to be, on the one hand, most inheritors of John through Polycarp while at the same time Origen never so much as mentions Clement by name, nor does Clement specifically reference any Christian source for his interpretation of scripture.  This situation seems to prove to many that the Roman tradition is 'real' and the Markan succession at Alexandria was 'made up' at a later period in history.  Yet this superficial understanding necessarily neglects a number of important details which almost never come to the fore.

The most obvious is the fact that Irenaeus's claims about the orthodoxy of Polycarp were disputed by Florinus, a Roman rival whom Irenaeus seems to admit actually spent more time with their common master.[29]  Indeed Origen's perplexing silence about his relationship with Clement is paralleled in many ways by the perplexing way that Irenaeus's most common way of referencing Polycarp is as the ultimately anonymous 'elder.'[30]  Polycarp's claims regarding his association with a number of prominent and semi-mythical figures like 'Ignatius' and 'John' have also come under some degree of scrutiny in recent years.[31]  Finally, while Hippolytus most firmly fixes himself to Irenaeus and the 'Johannine tradition' that allegedly preceded him, Hippolytus himself was himself deemed a schismatic from the contemporary Roman orthodoxy.  His tradition brazenly identified itself as a Church of 'renewal' (Latin novatus; Ihm, "Damasi epigrammata", Leipzig, 1895, 42, n.37) It is absolutely unimaginable that his rivals Zephyrinus, Callixtus and Urbanus did not also claim Irenaeus as a witness for their authority over the Roman Church. Photius for one makes clear that if we go outside of the collection of writings 'authorized' by Hippolytus those original 'lectures' and letters contained many ideas which "the exact truth of the doctrines of the Church appears to be falsified by spurious arguments." (Bibl. cod. 120)

The point of course is that neither tradition is as pristine as we like to imagine it.  In the case of Alexandria, the reason for at least some of the variation can be attributed to the ongoing persecutions and repression which characterize the entire third century. In the case of the Roman tradition we see the exact opposite situation seems to emerge. Irenaeus boasts of his connections to the court of Emperor Commodus.(AH 4.30.1) We learn from Hippolytus and other sources of continued favour being shown to official Roman Papacy from reign of Commodus down through to the end of the Severan Dynasty.[32]  Indeed one gets the feeling that far from actually being angered by the idea of a Roman Church in league with the Empire, Hippolytus's main complaint was that he had wrongly been overlooked to be sit in the chairs occupied by Irenaeus and Victor in a former age.[33]

To this end I would argue that there is no compelling reason to believe the superiority of the Roman tradition and its claims of a succession of Popes over that of its Alexandrian rival.  Yes, the writings of Irenaeus and Hippolytus make more explicit and more repeated references to their indebtedness to St. Peter than we find in contemporary Alexandrian literature with respect to St. Mark.  There are a number of ways to explain this discrepancy not the least of which being the influence and connection that Roman presbyters seemed to have with the seat of Roman political power.  One can attribute the efforts of Irenaeus to limit any meaningful expression of St. Mark's authority as nothing short of a effort to curb the ability of the See of Alexandria to claim itself to be 'apostolic' in any way.[34]

Yet it is interesting to note that despite Irenaeus's emphatic claims about the firmness of the Roman See's apostolic standing, he does his best to identify the 'year of favor' with the contemporary age in which he was living.  This is very curious.  Irenaeus wants us to believe that not only Isaiah but Jesus's interpretation of Isaiah's pronouncement regarding the coming 'year of favour' was not a real year - i.e. a Jubilee - but a very vague and ultimately poetic reference to an extended period of time beginning with Jesus's ministry and continuing for successive generations until being ultimately fulfilled in the 'contemporary Exodus' from Egypt to the Church of Rome.[35]  In other words, his arguments seem not only very self-serving and completely against the normal reading of Isaiah 61 but also seem to question his own claims about the antiquity of the Roman See.

For we see the exact opposite situation emerge in the writings of the earliest Alexandrian Fathers.  The 'year of favour' always means among Alexandrians, at its most general, a calendar 'year,' and at its most specific, the Jubilee year.  In the very way that the Alexandrians want to fix the 'year of favor' as a specific event which occurred in relation to the ministry of Jesus, Irenaeus strives above all else to muddy the waters and strive to make the term as vague as possible.  Indeed, with the testimony of the throne of St. Mark we have now  a new dimension to this historical exactness on the part of Alexandrian witnesses.  The Alexandrian tradition not only claimed that the 'year of favor' happened at the very beginning of the apostolic era, it stood engraved on the throne of St. Mark as an explicit testimony that from the beginning of Christianity there was an Alexandrian See.  Not even the Acts of the Apostles can provide that sort of witness for the antiquity of the Roman Church.[36]

To this end let us note that Origen not only speaks in terms of the world being governed by Sabbatical cycles[37] but connects Christian redemption directly to the traditional Jewish concept of the Jubilee.  Orgen also tells us that wherever the ‘perfect number’ fifty (seven times seven plus one) or five hundred appear in the gospel narrative, the author is referencing the concept of ἀπολύτρωσις.[38]  Yet most important of all, various modern authors have identified an ‘Alexandrian tradition’ with respect to the yearlong ministry of Jesus, a ‘literal’ interpretation of the ‘year of favour’ as a Jubilee year and a common interpretation of sacred numbers and letters which actually reaches back to the writings of Philo and the Alexandrian Jewish community of the first century of the Common Era.[39]  At the same time, this relatively uniform Alexandrian mystical tradition bears a striking resemblance to the ‘heresy’ associated with a certain ‘Mark’ in the writings of Irenaeus with regards to the same three aforementioned categories - the yearlong ministry of Jesus, the ‘literal’ interpretation of the ‘year of favour’ and the promotion of gematria and kabbalah.[40]

A famous example brought forward by Schaff might be useful at this point in our discussion.[41] Irenaeus in discussing the beliefs of the aforementioned followers of Mark notes that they have a 'numerological' interpretation of the Transfiguration narrative:

He asserts that the fruit of this arrangement and analogy has been manifested in the likeness of an image, namely, Him who, after six days, ascended into the mountain along with three others, and then became one of six (the sixth), in which character He descended and was contained in the Hebdomad, since He was the illustrious Ogdoad, and contained in Himself the entire number of the element ... [a]nd 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 (i.e. the six letter name Ἰησοῦς) in regard to that number. [AH i.14.1]

The exact same teaching is found a little later in that same passage in Clement which seemed to be connected by Irenaeus to the teachings of often unnamed gnostics:

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.(Strom 6.14)

There can be doubt whatsoever that at least part of Clement's teaching is a recasting of the very same teaching of the so-called Egyptian ‘heretic’ Mark (Sulpicius Severus Sacred History II.44; Jerome Ep. 75, 3).  The last sentence in this report shows up again elsewhere in the writings of Irenaeus as “that the letter Eta along with the remarkable one constitutes all ogdoad, as it is situated in the eighth place from Alpha. Then, again, computing the number of these elements without the remarkable (letter), and adding them together up to Eta, they exhibit the number thirty. For any one beginning from the Alpha to the Eta will, after subtracting the remarkable (letter i.e. episemon) ... they subtract twelve, and reckon it at eleven. And in like manner, (they subtract) ten and make it nine” [Hippolytus AH 6:42] and the same Alexandrian doctrine appears also to have been known and condemned by Philo in the first century.[41]

Our purpose now is not to prove that there actually was an Alexandrian tradition associated with Mark which dated to the early first century and which ultimately became demonized and misrepresented as a Valentinian sect.[42]  I feel confident that this understanding will become self-evident as we conclude this monograph.  It would be much better for us to demonstrate the core mystical doctrine which connects Clement and the Marcosians to the throne of St. Mark - viz. the hidden knowledge of “the number six having the power both of formation and regeneration” and the well established veneration of the three hundred and sixty day solar year deriving its origin from mystical numbers.  For it will be demonstrated that the ultimate context for the secret doctrine of regeneration through the number six was the ‘correction’ of the Jewish lunar year, which consisted of three hundred and fifty four days spread across twelve imperfectly formed months of twenty nine to thirty days.  This understanding in turn will take us back to the throne of St. Mark which it will be shown was specifically constructed to reflect the number three hundred and sixty.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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