Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is the Right Translation of Clement's "γνωστικὰ ἐποικοδομήματα"?

For those who have read a few of my last posts I have started to wonder if Clement is not only referencing the secret gospel of Mark with the words, γνωστικὰ ἐποικοδομήματα, but that he is doing so by way of an allusion to the obvious metaphor of the Church of St. Mark. It has always been held by Copts that St. Mark physically 'built' the first church in the eastern shores of Alexandria just beyond the city walls. Many people have marvelled that Clement almsot never makes reference to St. Mark or any physical landmarks associated with Christianity in Egypt. Yet I have strongly begun to wonder whether Stromata Book 5 chapter 4 and its 'γνωστικὰ ἐποικοδομήματα' is a reference to both a literal reference to the building of St. Mark's Church and a mystic reference to his establishment of a secret gospel.

The problem I think is that the standard English translation of the Greek isn't really that good. The original Greek reads:

« Κατὰ τὴν χάριν», φησί, «τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον τέθεικα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ χρυσίον καὶ ἀργύριον, λίθους τιμίους.»

Ταῦτα γνωστικὰ ἐποικοδομήματα τῇ κρηπῖδι τῆς πίστεως τῆς εἰς Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, «καλάμη» δὲ τὰ τῶν αἱρέσεων ἐπαναθήματα καὶ «ξύλα» καὶ «χόρτος.»

The standard English translation is Roberts-Donaldson's from all the way back in 1885 which reads:

Such is the gnostic superstructure on the foundation of faith in Christ Jesus

The problem I have with this translation is that ἐποικοδομήματα is plural. I can't find any other English translations online but Eric Osborne's book on Clement does paraphrase the section a number of times.

The common German translation is even worse (which is surprising because German is quite a precise language). It reads:

Das sind die der Erkenntnis entsprechenden Aufbauten auf der Grundlage des Glaubens an Jesus Christus

I don't understand why 'knowledge' becomes a noun here rather than a descriptive adjective. The use of Aufbauten (= plural of Aufbau or 'the manner which something is built') develops from the general displacement of the original structure of Clement's simple statement about 'structures' in Greek.

οικοδομήματα is the plural of οικοδομή which a common Greek noun which means 'building' or 'structure.' What I think has tricked translators is the fact that Clement has used the form ἐποικοδομήματα which has clearly been influenced by the verb ἐποικοδομέω in 1 Corinthians 3:10 "I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and something else is built on it." Yet Clement by using the plural noun ἐποικοδομήματα is now focusing on the thing 'built on' - i.e. 'the building' - rather than the act of building.

I really think there is a bad tendency in the scholarship related to the Alexandrian Church Fathers to assume that they spoke 'allegorically' because they were a 'spiritual' bunch.  The allegory was really a veil to hide something quite definite.  In this case the 'buiding' built on a foundation was obviously a physical structure just as it is in Mark 13:2 (τας μεγαλας οικοδομας) and elsewhere.

But let's not forget that ἐποικοδομήματα is plural so the apostle is understood by Clement to refer to many buildings having been raised on the original foundation of Jesus. Believe it or not, the standard French translation most correctly approximates the Greek here:

Voilà les édifices que la connaissance élève sur la foi qui est en Jésus-Christ.

These are buildings that knowledge raises on the faith that is in Jesus Christ.

My point is that we have to be careful to 'over-allegorize' Clement. The whole purpose of allegory is to play a shell game. Indeed, allegorical writers like Philo and Origen often give the reader three options to solve the original allegory. In this case 'the building' built on the foundation is clearly only a symbol for the 'secret gospel' as I have explained earlier. Yet it is so disappointing that so many people can't even get out of the forest to see the trees.

What were these original 'structures' built on the original foundation in Alexandria? Perhaps Eusebius comes to our aid when he writes:

And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches (ἐκκλησίας) in Alexandria. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life. [Church History 2.16.1]

Eusebius is certainly talking about the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria and the monasteries of the Therapeutae. However same pattern was present inside and outside of Alexandria - a monastic 'encampment' build around a shrine.

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