Monday, September 6, 2010

Could Celsus Have Misunderstood the Existence of a Christian Sect Devoted to the Sybil for 'the Sabellians'?

I have been trying to find explanations to other passages in Celsus especially the pagan's obvious misunderstanding of 'those of the Sybil' and found an interesting parallel again in Epiphanius. Let's go back to the original Greek for a second. The context is clearly a continuing discussion of the 'Marcellians' (Μαρκελλιανοί):

τί τοῦτο φέρει ἔγκλημα τοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, οὓς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλήθους ὠνόμασεν ὁ Κέλσος; Εἶπε δέ τινας εἶναι καὶ Σιβυλλιστάς, τάχα παρακούσας τινῶν ἐγκαλούντων τοῖς οἰομένοις προφῆτιν γεγονέναι τὴν Σίβυλλαν καὶ Σιβυλλιστὰς τοὺς τοιούτους καλεσάντων. [C. Cels. 5.61]

This group is presumably the same as those Celsus mentions at 7.53 as "using" (and adulterating) the Sibyl:

Ὑμεῖς δὲ κἂν Σίβυλλαν, ᾗ χρῶνταί τινες ὑμῶν, εἰκότως ἂν μᾶλλον προεστήσασθε ὡς τοῦ θεοῦ παῖδα· νῦν δὲ παρεγγράφειν μὲν εἰς τὰ ἐκείνης πολλὰ καὶ βλάσφημα εἰκῇ δύνασθε, τὸν δὲ βίῳ μὲν ἐπιρρητοτάτῳ θανάτῳ δὲ οἰκτίστῳ χρησάμενον θεὸν τίθεσθε. [C. Cels. 7.53]

Origen replies to this charge as follows:

Εἶτ' οὐκ οἶδ' ὅπως ἐβούλετο ἡμᾶς μᾶλλον Σίβυλλαν ἀναγορεῦσαι παῖδα θεοῦ ἢ Ἰησοῦν, ἀποφηνάμενος ὅτι παρενεγράψαμεν εἰς τὰ ἐκείνης πολλὰ καὶ βλάσφημα καὶ μὴ ἀποδείξας μηδ' ὅ τι παρενεγράψαμεν Απέδειξε δ' ἄν, εἰ τὰ ἀρχαιότερα καθαρώτερα ἐδείκνυε καὶ οὐκ ἔχοντα ἅπερ οἴεται παρεγγεγράφθαι· μὴ ἀποδείξας δὲ μηδ' ὅτι βλάσφημά ἐστι ταῦτα, εἶτα πάλιν οὐ δὶς οὐδὲ τρὶς ἀλλὰ δὴ πολλάκις ἐπιρρη τότατον εἶπε τὸν Ἰησοῦ βίον, οὐ στὰς καθ' ἕκαστον τῶν ἐν τῷ βίῳ αὐτοῦ πεπραγμένων καὶ νομιζομένων εἶναι ἐπιρρητοτάτων... [C. Cels. 7.56]

Origen denies any knowledge of a sect of Sibyllistae, but does not deny that some Christians had a fondness for Sibylline oracles. He suggests that Celsus got the term from someone who was censuring those who "consider the Sibyl a prophetess"—and presumably such critics would themselves be Christians.

There is a certain glee in Origen's writing insofar as he recognizes that Celsus has obviously misunderstood the original reference. Could it be that 'Σίβυλλαν' is a mistake on Celsus's part for an original reading of 'Σαβελλίῳ' or Sabellius in the original υπομνηματα?

The reason I ask this is that Epiphanius develops yet another Μαρκελλιανοί heresy in his compendium from some lost source which is connected with 'Σαβελλίῳ':

Μαρκελλιανοί, οἱ ἀπὸ Μαρκέλλου τοῦ ἀπ' Ἀγκύρας τῆς Γαλατίας. Οὗτος ἐν. ἀρχῇ παραπλησίως Σαβελλίῳ φρονήσας διεφημίσθη· εἰς ἀπολογίαν δὲ πολλάκις ἐλθὼν

While it is normal to date Σαβελλίῳ to the reference in the Philosophumena (and thus the reign of Callixtus c. 215 CE) the reality is that Σαβελλίῳ is yet another heretical boogeyman who appears in all ages.

What is often overlooked is that 'Sabellius' is in reality the third Alexandrian bishop after only St. Mark and Ananius (John) - or if you will the first Pope after Mark who was called John.

It is amazing that Hippolytus thinks 'Sabellius' originated in his day, Epiphanius in his age but the reality might be that the Alexandrian Episcopal line might have hid their association with John-Mark and identified their line as beginning with Sabellius.

One other remark in Epiphanius connects the Sabellians back to the Carpocratians viz. 'secret Mark' - Epiphanius, Heresy lxii. 2 "Their [i.e. the Sabellians] whole deceit (error) and the strength of it they draw from some apocryphal books, especially from what is called the Gospel of the Egyptians, to which some have given that name. For in it many suchlike things are recorded (or attributed) as from the person of the Saviour, said in a corner, purporting that he showed his disciples that the same person was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

The Gospel of the Egyptians is inevitably connected with a more prominent role for Salome. Celsus mentions both the 'Harpocratians of Salome' and a sect he misinterprets as 'those of the Sybil' - i.e. the Σιβυλλιστὰς. Could the reference here be to really 'those of Sabellius'? I think so.

I am also beginning to think that Celsus had an older version of the υπομνηματα which the testimony on the Carpocratians in the Church Fathers represents a later correction (given the admission that the knowledge about this sect has already passed out among the Gentiles).

The more we dig the more some kind of context for the Mar Saba document begins to emerge ...

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