Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Morton Smith Was Incapable of Understanding the Parallels Between Christianity and Sabbatianism

I just happened to stumble across Guy Stroumsa's 2003 article detailing the correspondences between Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem here. I have of course read the material before but I have to say it never ceases to amaze me how Christians just don't get Judaism. Yes, Morton Smith studied under a number of Jewish teachers but I am afraid his theories about Jesus the libertine magician just seem completely misguided.

Of course this ultimately helps the case for the authenticity of the Mar Saba letters. I mean, it is patently obvious that Morton Smith's proposed explanation of the material IS NOT what is actually written in the text. The Mar Saba letter is written from the perspective of someone who doesn't like the Carpocratians. The Carpocratians are a sect which - we have demonstrated here - first get introduced to the world in the hypomnemata associated with Josephus (aka 'Hegesippus'). This document was first composed over a generation before the earliest possible date for the material in Book One of Irenaeus's Against the Heresies. Celsus the pagan critic of Christianity writing slightly before Irenaeus has a manuscript which identified the sect as both 'the Harpocratians of Salome' and the followers of Salome.' I am not even sure that the material which makes its way to chapter twenty five of Book One of Against Heresies was actually placed there by Irenaeus. The whole section after chapter twenty one might well have represented a third century editor's attempt to compile a compendium of heresies from Justin Martyr's Syntagma and other sources.

In any event the argument that Irenaeus's version of the material doesn't reference specific homosexual practices of the sect is a useless argument because Hugh Lawlor has already demonstrated that Epiphanius's citation of the material is more exact that what appears in chapter twenty five of Irenaeus's book. Epiphanius most certainly does reference alleged homosexual and heterosexual orgies associated with the sect.

The ridiculous argument that there is a 'difficulty' in the Mar Saba document's reference to these gay practices is demolished by Lawlor's work. The fact that Smith never references Lawlor seems very curious to me - not because I think it points to Smith's guilt but rather his innocence. For Smith must have noticed that Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria do not make reference to homosexuality being present among the Carpocratians. Indeed Smith tries to use the text to connect the Carpocratians to general libertinism among Jewish messianic sects throughout the ages. The 'gay thing' is not of interest to Smith because it gets in the way of his main point.

Yet the 'gay thing' is very much a part of the original hypomnemata which can be firmly dated to the year 147 CE. The followers of Marcellina who are called 'Carpocratians' are said to encourage what amounts to bisexual libertinism. Homosexuality was certainly not present among Jewish messianic sects of recent memory nor can it be demonstrated to have ever been a part of the milieu. The original reference to homosexuality points to something distinctly non-Jewish and specific to the community which made its influence felt during the reign of Pope Eleutherius (c. 175 CE).

It is plainly dangerous to engage in idle speculation. It led Smith to act the part of R. Akiba (at least according to R. Ishmael's parody). Smith is left telling the Mar Saba to keep quiet while he projects what he wants the original material to say onto the MS.

I think this is the single most compelling argument for the authenticity of the document. Smith doesn't understand the material. The text isn't about a libertine form of Christianity which dates to the time of Jesus but in fact a false form of Christianity which is reported in one of the earliest known historical documents associated with the Catholic Church.

For those who are wondering how the activities of the Carpocratians in 175 CE could have made their way to a document purportedly written in 147 CE we have spent a great deal of time in previous posts demonstrating that a later hand clearly added the bit about the Carpocratians to the original text associated with Josephus/Hegesippus. The writer says that Marcellina (little Marcia') appeared at this earlier date and has now (i.e. c. 175 CE) come to affect the whole Roman Church with her beliefs.

This original report might have been added by Irenaeus. Irenaeus uses part of this 'additional material' in Book Three Chapter Three but importantly does not reference the 'little Marcia' who made her way to Rome at the time of Anicetus nor the Carpocratians. Indeed he speaks instead of 'Marcion' and the 'Marcionites' which to our knowledge does not appear in the original manuscript of the hypomnemata known to Eusebius and Epiphanius.

I don't want to get the reader distracted with the historical personality I suspect lay behind the original reference to 'Marcellina.' We should content ourselves with the underlying idea that something caused Irenaeus to change the reference from 'those of the woman with the diminutive form of the name Mark' to 'those of the man with the diminuitive form of the name of Mark.' Did Irenaeus eventually decide to correct the ascribed hostility of the author of the hypomnemata to 'Marcellina'? I strongly suspect so but will refrain from identifying what I see as the historical circumstances which led to this transformation of attitude.

The important thing for us to see is that Smith's line of inquiry is totally developed from his imagination, from what he wants the text to say not the literary tradition that it developed from. Clement of Alexandria can be demonstrated to have used the same hypomnemata and identified its author as 'Josephus.' He references a calculation in its pages of the number of years from Moses to the year 147 CE (the year the book was written). This original hypomnemata (and not Irenaeus's reworking of the conclusion) spent an inordinate amount of time on the episcopal succession in Jerusalem culminating with the reign of a certain 'Jude' or 'Judas.'

Is it coincidence that Clement begins the letter to Theodore - a document which takes aim at the evils associated with the Carpocratians - by refering the letter of Jude? Clement assumes that the material was written against the Carpocratians. This idea was certainly gleaned from the hypomnemata. The idea that the Carpocratians forged an Alexandrian gospel of Mark is not referenced in any of the writings of the Church Fathers but this might have been part of Clement's defence strategy.

The official position of the Catholic Church has always been that the Gospel of Mark was written at Rome. Theodore seems to have had questions about the existence of a secret gospel of Mark at Alexandria from people identified later by Clement as 'Carpocratians.' In my mind the most likely possibility for this association is Clement's use of the hypomnemata of Josephus/Hegesippus. Clement is saying effectively that the source of this information that Theodore is getting cannot be trusted because someone else - the author of the hypomnemata - has already noted the existence of a depraved sect taking root in Rome during Anicetus and consolidating its influence during the time of Eleutherius.

The hypomnemata thus is critical for understanding the context of the letter because it makes clear that neither Morton Smith, nor Clement of Alexandria, nor again Irenaeus is the alleged source for the information about a Christian sect engaged in homosexual rituals. The source of this information comes from a book tied to an author who originally visited Rome during the reign of Anicetus. There can be no doubt of this and with this realization the argument that the presence of such a specifically 'gay Christian group' in to Theodore cannot be ascribed any longer to Morton Smith's imagination. It is the greatest single proof that the document is exactly what it claims to be - a text written in a period where the hypomnemata was widely used and an extremely important historical document for the origins of the Catholic Church.

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

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