Sunday, September 19, 2010

Against Polycarp [Part Eleven]

When Bedouin tribesmen stumbled into a great number of ancient Jewish scrolls in caves near the Dead Sea by the time they transfered to scholars many texts were actually preserved only in fragments. It took painstaking work on the part of scholars to fit all the pieces together.  So it is that we find ourselves in a similar situation. We are engaged in piecing together the historical information connected with Lucian's stranger. The Catholic Church has always only allowed people to only see 'bits and pieces' of their original founder. Indeed they transformed him into nothing short of a 'tradition' - a collection of voices all singing the same tune - stretching back to the time of Jesus. All that was left of Lucian's original stranger was an empty shell of his original genius and a highly repackaged version of the historical circumstances which led to death in the year 165 CE.

It is now left to us to put all the little pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again. We have started with only the barest of outlines. Yet it is already clear that Irenaeus's description of the person of 'Polycarp' is completely out of touch with historical reality. It isn't just that the material is 'highly idealized.' It all comes off sounding like utterly dishonest propaganda.

We should never lose sight of the fact that it is always Irenaeus directing us to witness firsthand how all these 'refractions' of our historical stranger amazingly echo the same message. Yet at the same time, the very texts associated with these empty phantoms have always been suspected to have suffered from some sort of editorial manipulation. The most likely candidate for us to identify as this historical forger is Irenaeus himself. The time line for the threefold manipulation Ignatian correspondences doesn't allow for anyone else but Irenaeus to be thought responsible for the 'long recension' of the seven Ignatian letters or the so-called 'letter of Polycarp to the Philippians.'

We have noted many times already that the real historical Polycarp was one and the same with the para-suicidal stranger of Lucian. We have also pointed to the fact that Florinus of Rome certainly must have claimed that he received his 'Valentinian' gnosis from the man Irenaeus called 'Polycarp.' Now we we are about to take matters one step further. Irenaeus can be demonstrated to have abandoned Polycarp's original gospel for his invention of the fourfold gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Indeed the evidence we are about to look at from the 'Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians' suggests that the underlying situation is critical to make sense of the history of earliest Christianity. Where did this hitherto unheard of 'gospel in four' come from? The evidence would suggest that it was developed from Irenaeus's own creative imagination. But Polycarp's gospel is rather easy to track down. It can be followed back to the earliest witnesses in the Christian religion.

Indeed Lucian makes clear that our stranger's career began in Palestine where, it has long been acknowledged, that our familiar 'gospel in four' caught on. As we shall soon see, Polycarp used a gospel text similar to the beloved text of Palestine in the period. Yet before we get too deeply involved in this discussion let's return to where we left off in our last chapter. It was there that we saw almost universal agreement among scholars that the existing 'Letter of Polycarp' is really a composite of two different letters. While Harrison attributed this fusion of two separate works as developing accidentally subsequent studies have demonstrated that this explanation is utterly implausible. Someone living in the age after Polycarp deliberately added this new material to the original letter for a very specific political purpose.

Of course none of this should have surprise us. We just finished witnessing the wholesale expansion of the Ignatian canon to a similar end. Now we will turn to Helmut Koester, a German born American scholar, who notices that the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians also tells us a great deal about the development of the gospel. Of course Koester thinks in terms of Polycarp 'really' being involved in the sending of letters on behalf of 'another guy' named Ignatius. As such he treats chapters 13 - 14 as original material dating back to the early second century and much of the rest of the letter as having been written after the death of Polycarp, probably by a devoted disciple.

But Koester presents a very powerful case that the material in the Letter of Polycarp is related to the writings of another Church Father named Flavius Clemens. Both men cite the same 'teaching' of Jesus which appears in the synoptic gospels but, according to Koester Clement begins with the oral tradition behind the gospel tradition while Polycarp already has something which resembles the saying of the gospel of Matthew and Mark. So Koester writes of the Letter of Polycarp that:

it is in the portions which belong to the later letter (chapters 1 - 12 and 15) that several quotations of gospel materials occur. One of the quotations, Pol. Phil. 2.3, is copied from the quotation of the saying of Jesus in 1 Clem 13.1 - 2, including the quotation formula ("Remember what the Lord said when he was teaching"). However, while the quote in 1 Clem 13.2 had been drawn from the oral tradition, Polycarp, who knew the Gospels of Matthew and Luke corrected the text in order to establish a more faithful agreement of Jesus' words with the wording of the written gospels from which he had also drawn his other gospel materials (Phil. 2.3b, 7.2, 12.3). At the same time it is remarkable that Polycarp never uses the term 'gospel' for these documents.

Of course the Letter of Polycarp does use the term gospel. It appears in chapter six of the same text. Koester and others will argue that this is a later addition, but this is ultimately a subjective argument and one that is ultimately proved wrong by the proper examination.

The entire evidence causes Koester to argue that Polycarp corrects the saying in 1 Clement 13 with the texts of gospel of Matthew and Luke. Yet what Koester hasn't noticed is that this original citation by Clement is not an oral tradition at all but the gospel being used in Palestine at this time and down through to the late fourth century - the so-called Diatessaron textual tradition. The Arabic Diatessaron is usually described as a 'harmony' of the four familiar canonical gospels but the relationship is clearly more complex than this. In the earliest period it was not so named (i.e. 'diatessaron' = 'out of four') but was simply called Ewangeliyôn Damhalltê meaning the 'mixed gospel.' It was a gospel narrative which represented a 'mix' of earlier narratives but not necessarily a mix of our canonical texts.

Getting back to Koester's original point. Everyone agrees there is a parallel between Phil 2.3 and 1 Clem 13.1 - 2 where someone has 'corrected' at least one of the original citations. When we look at the two citations side by side we see:

Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done to you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you measure, with the same it shall be measured to you [1 Clement 13. 1 - 2]

Judge not that ye be not judged, forgive and it shall be forgiven unto you, be merciful that ye may obtain mercy, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again [Polycarp Phil. 3.2]

There clearly is a similarity between these two citations and in particular the way they are introduced. The gospel text which most closely resembles them is the surviving narratives of the so-called 'mixed gospel.' While the original Palestine text is now lost we get some idea of what was originally preserved here in various later recensions including that which is cited in Ephrem's so-called Commentary on the Diatessaron:

Do not judge so that you may not be judged, with that judgement you that you judge shall you be judged. Forgive and it will be forgiven you ... [Ephrem Commentary on the Diatessaron]

It is very unfortunate for us that the commentary ends just before citing the rest of the material in the section but we do happen to have parallel citations in other gospel harmony traditions to look at including:

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. In what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give and it shall be given unto you. In what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you again. [Luik Diatessaron]

Judge not, that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; Condemn not: and you shall not be condemned. Forgive: and you shall be forgiven. Give: and it shall be given to you: good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over shall they give into your sinum. And with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again [Codex Fuldensis]

Judge not, that ye be not judged: condemn not, that ye be not condemned: forgive, and it shall be forgiven you: release, and ye shall be released: give, that ye may be given unto; with good measure, abundant, full, they shall thrust into your bosoms. With what measure ye measure it shall be measured to you. See to it what ye hear: with what measure ye measure it shall be measured to you [Arabic Diatessaron x. 13f]

There can be no doubt that the order of the sayings in 1 Clement and Polycarp is closest to that which is preserved in the Diatessaron tradition. Polycarp begins with 'judge not ...' as do all the Diatessaron traditions and moves on to the command to 'forgive ...' like Ephrem's reading. If one argues that 'being merciful' was once expressed in Aramaic as refraining from passing judgement and expressing 'kindness' as 'giving' then the order in 1 Clement is actually even closer in structure to the Diatessaron tradition.

Of course when we really stop and think about it Koester and others only assume that one of our sources was essentially transformed and the other left pure. They have a vested interest in preserving 'Christian virgins' from antiquity because after all they believe again in the sanctity of the tradition delivered to them. Why should anyone believe that the reference in 1 Clement is pristine? The letter of Clement is actually cited far more frequently than the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp combined. Clement is actually held up by Irenaeus as the spokesman for the Roman tradition. How could the text not be suspected of being manipulated?

No one before us has ever noticed the parallels with the gospel of the Palestinian Christians - i.e. 'the gospel of the Hebrews' as it were. They were only thinking in terms of Polycarp 'changing' 1 Clement because the original material didn't agree with the canonical gospels. It is just as plausible that the same disciple of Polycarp who Harrison and Joly demonstrated altered his letter to the Philippians also 'mucked around' with the First Letter of Clement. Indeed they would have been interested in establishing the same thing presumably - viz. to obscure the fact they shared a common gospel.

The point then is that we not restrict ourselves any longer even into thinking either that Polycarp was 'really' collecting the letters of a certain 'Ignatius' or referencing a 'saying' preserved in the writings of another guy named 'Clement.' We have seen that these are all artificial constructs developed by Irenaeus. Irenaeus was trying to establish 'many witnesses' to the Catholic Church that was actually founded by a single, original para-suicidal madman. Our stranger can be demonstrated to have been part of a tradition that used a single, gospel which was current in many parts of the Empire. Scholars seem to have only been confounded by the tricks of the wily Irenaeus, always attempting to reshape the original material in very subtle ways for a very specific purpose - viz. the pre-existence of the Catholic tradition and its doctrines.

Indeed plenty has been written of Clement's interest in an early so-called 'gospel harmony.' Tjitze Baarda has written a wonderful study about one particular example of this relationship in his "'Jesus and Mary' (John 20,16f.) in the Second Epistle on Virginity ascribed to Clement," in Studien zum Text und zur Ethik des Neuen Testaments, Festschrift zum 80. Indeed strangely enough the idea that the Second Letter of Clement in particular employed a 'gospel harmony' was first noticed by Koester and then developed to a great degree by his student Arthur Bellinzoni. Bellinzoni interesting concludes his study of the early use of this text with the reference that a "comparison of this harmonization of Matthew and Luke in the patristic quotations with the analysis of Apol. 16:11 and Dial. 76:5 leaves little doubt that Justin used a harmony of Mt. 7:22 and Lk. 13:26f and that this harmony was known to other fathers in substantially the same form as that used by Justin. Further, the witness of 2 Clement here proves the existence of this harmonization of Matthew and Luke previous to Justin."

All of this makes Koester's failure to consider that the common scriptural citation in both 1 Clement and Polycarp were developed away from a common gospel harmony. As we shall see in our next chapter a convincing argument has already been developed by a number of prominent scholars that 1 Clement and 2 Clement go back to a common original document. If the first letter of Clement represents a 'correction' of material related to the same author who wrote the second letter, one can begin to suspect that a later was involved in this 'purification' process no less than the Letter of Polycarp. Indeed we will even conclude our study will be to demonstrate that Irenaeus ends up rejecting the gospel of his master Polycarp to establish a fourfold canon that was unknown to any Christian of any previous generation.

It will certainly be worth everyone's while to stay tuned ...

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