Sunday, April 24, 2011

According to the Earliest Church Fathers Joshua Wasn't the Typology for Jesus but the Disciple Who Was Vested With His Name

What I am about lay before you is more than just an argument which helps prove once and for all that Morton Smith's discovery of the Mar Saba letter is authentic - I think it finally solves the riddle that has been at the heart of Christianity for centuries. Let's begin this investigation with a simply observation. Most people who specialize in the study of Patristic literature do so to confirm the inherited beliefs of their ancestors. Yet there is so much that is difficult to understand in the writings of the Fathers of the second, third and fourth century Church. There is so much in these writers that does not conform to what we think Christianity to be about that I have always thought that this literature is still a virtual treasure trove of information just waiting to be discovered.

Given that there is a 'Secret Mark conference' in Toronto at the end of this week, let me put explain this conception in a simile that all Canadians will understand very well. The writings of the Church Fathers are like the Athabasca Tar Sands. I remember going to school in a suburb of Toronto and learning that Canada had this massive deposits of bitumen, or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta. These oil sands consist of a mixture are a semi-solid form of crude oil, silica sand, clay minerals. The extraction of oil from the sands requires massive quantities of water, diverted from the Athabasca River, and natural gas to provide to provide energy for the process.

This an extremely messy process of course. The burning of that natural gas represents a major component of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. The mining itself digs up vast swaths of boreal forest and ancient peat; although oil sands companies are required to “restore” the land, and impressive efforts are under way, this local environment will never return to its pre-mining state. The tailings ponds are kilometres-long lakes of sludge, actually visible from outer space. On top of all this, there are now questions whether contaminated water is leading to higher rates of cancer among the native community of nearby Fort Chipewyan. Nevertheless it is the not so secret reason that Canada is escaping the 'Great Recession.'

In the very same way we should recognize that there is a massive reservoir of messy and confusing information in the writings of the Church Fathers that is key to escape the irrational dogmatism of evangelical conservatives and ultimately make sense of the development of Christianity. We have been noting the parallels that exist between the 'Gospel of Jesus' and the Biblical 'Book of Joshua' for the last couple of posts. The ultimate 'pay off' here will be of course to explain why the restored Passion narrative of Mark's gospel (i.e. with the first addition to 'Secret Mark' = LGM 1) appears identical with Joshua's crossing of the Jordan and celebration of Passover in front of the soon-to-be destroyed walled city of Jerusalem.

One would assume that given the fact that Jesus and Joshua share the same Greek name (Ἰησοῦς) and given the fact that Joshua is the successor of Moses and king of Israel, that the earliest Christians would simply argue that Jesus was the messiah, the one like Moses (Deut 18:18) because he was named Ἰησοῦς. Yet there is a strange twist to this simple formula that we see over and over again in the writings of the earliest Church Fathers which I think finally confirms that the evangelist Mark went out of his way to develop his gospel narrative as an imitation of the Book of Joshua.

The earliest Church Fathers do not simply develop a Jesus as Joshua redivivus formula. From Justin Martyr to Eusebius they come one after another pointing to the fact that in the LXX the man formerly known as 'Auses' (Oshea) only became 'Jesus' after a mystical transformation.  Tertullian for instance - in a messy transfer of information from a lost original source (probably Justin Martyr) to two newly refashioned texts - explains to the Jews what the truth of the relationship between 'Jesus' (i.e. Joshua) and 'Christ':

Learn the habitual character of your error. In the course of the appointing of a successor to Moses, Oshea the son of Nun is certainly transferred from his pristine name, and begins to be called Jesus. Certainly, you say. This we first assert to have been a figure of the future. For, because Jesus Christ was to introduce the second people (which is composed of us nations, lingering deserted in the world aforetime) into the land of promise, "flowing with milk and honey" (that is, into the possession of eternal life, than which nought is sweeter); and this had to come about, not through Moses (that is, not through the Law's discipline), but through Jesus (that is, through the new law's grace), after our circumcision with "a knife of rock" (that is, with Christ's precepts, for Christ is in many ways and figures predicted as a rock); therefore the man who was being prepared to act as images of this sacrament was inaugurated under the figure of the Lord's name, even so as to be named Jesus. [Against the Jews 9]

Almost the exact same point is made against Marcion in the other treatise of Tertullian's developed from the same lost treatise originally associated with Justin Martyr.

Yet what is being said here is simply mind-boggling when you think about it for a second. The Church Fathers received a tradition that the LXX version of Numbers 13:16 with its statement that Oshea had his name changed to Jesus is fundamental to understand who the Christian messiah is. However when you stop and think about it - why was this extra step necessary? If Joshua was the figure of the messiah, the successor of Moses, the first king of Israel why does everyone from Justin to Eusebius keep emphasizing that Oshea wasn't originally named Jesus? In our inherited understanding about Jesus, we presume that Jesus was so named 'right from the beginning' - i.e. from birth. There was no similar transference of names or the change of letters here - so why do many of the earliest Church Fathers draw attention to the Biblical narrative?

The answer we find when we search deeply into all the writings of these Church Fathers is that they were ultimately drawing from a tradition - certainly related to Marcionitism - and seemed to emphasize the divine nature of Jesus at the expense of his humanity. Indeed there are very strong indications that it original denied that Jesus was ever human. We read in what immediately follows our last citation that:

When He (Jesus the Creative Logos) therefore spake this commandment to the people, "Behold, I send my angel before thy face, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee; attend to him, and obey his voice and do not provoke him; for he has not shunned you, since my name is upon him," (Exod 23.20-22) He called him an ἄγγελος indeed, because of the greatness of the powers which he was to exercise, and because of his prophetic office, while announcing the will of God; but Joshua also (Jesus), because it was a type of His own future name. Often did He confirm that name of His which He had thus conferred upon (His servant); because it was not the name of ἄγγελος, nor Oshea, but Jesus, which He had commanded him to bear as his usual appellation for the time to come. [Against Marcion 3.16]

Tertullian's original source for this material was clearly drawing on a very ancient tradition with respect to the interpretation of this passage from Exodus. ἄγγελος no less than מלאך can mean 'angel' as well as 'messenger.' Yet the understanding that the original author has here goes far beyond this.

The Samaritan Targum of Exod 23.20-22 for instance (i.e. the Aramaic translation of the original Hebrew) makes this substitution:

Behold! I send My Apostle (שלחי) before you in order to keep you and protect you on the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.

Now it must be noted that Moses is usually the 'apostle of God' in the Samaritan tradition. Yet the context of the saying could well apply to either Joshua or indeed the one who is to come like Moses in the future (i.e. the Samaritan 'messiah,' the so-called Ta'eb). The point of course is that these very words which now stand at the very beginning of the 'Gospel of Jesus' written by Mark seem to have been used by Tertullian's source - likely Justin Martyr - to argue for the idea the Jesus was establishing someone else as his messiah.

Look carefully at another passage which now comes directly from Justin's authentic writings to see a parallel use of Exodus 23:20 - 23:

Thus it is written: 'And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send My ἄγγελος before thy face, to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to Him, and obey Him; do not disobey Him. For He will not draw back from you; for My name is in Him.' Now understand that He who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus, and first called Auses (Oshea). For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses, 'for My name is in Him,' was Jesus. For, indeed, He was also called Israel, and Jacob's name was changed to this also. Now Isaiah shows that those prophets who are sent to publish tidings from God are called His άγγελοι and apostles. For Isaiah says in a certain place, 'Send me.' And that the prophet whose name was changed, Jesus (Joshua), was strong and great, is manifest to all. [Justin, Dialogue, 75]

The point again that we have to keep our eyes on of course is that the Church Fathers don't just say what we'd expect them to say - i.e. Jesus = Joshua. Instead they seem to follow the understanding manifest by the Samaritan Targum and understand the transformation of Oshea into Joshua as a typology for what would happen to an apostle or the apostles. In other words, that Jesus would somehow mystically give his name as a kind of 'vesture' to transform an individual into the type represented by Joshua - viz. 'the Christ.'

I don't know if this is easy for my readership to follow. Any confusion, I think, really lies in our inability to get beyond what we think the texts are supposed to confirm. In other words, that all the sources developed and used by the Church Fathers should merely reassure us that 'Jesus was the Christ' or 'Jesus was the type of Joshua redivivus.' Yet the reality is the exact opposite. Eusebius for instance can continue to emphasize that Oshea wasn't Jesus but only took on the 'person of Jesus' through some kind of mystical transformation and then at the same type avoid identifying Jesus as the Biblical Patriarch Joshua. Moreover Jesus, rather than being a 'second Joshua' is for Eusebius firmly rooted in the typology of Moses.

As Jean Daniélou notes in his analysis of Eusebius's Preparation for the Gospel:

Eusebius goes on to compare the forty days fast of Moses and that of Jesus (Ex. 34:28; Lk. 4: 1-2), the manna and the multiplication of the loaves (172B), the crossing of the Red Sea and the walking on the waters (172C), Moses commanding the wind and the sea and the stilling of the tempest (172D), the face of Moses on Sinai being all resplendent and the Transfiguration of Jesus on Thabor (173 A), the call of Joshua and the call of Simon Peter, the seventy ancients and the seventy disciples (Num. 11 : 16; Lk. 10: 1), the twelve spies and the Twelve Apostles (Deut. 1 : 23; Mt. 10 : 1). [From Shadows to Reality p. 198]

Of course Eusebius is not alone in emphasizing that the description in the gospel of the ministry of Jesus was like that of Moses. The same idea appears in countless books by the Church Fathers. Yet the curious part of the formulation of course is that the deeper that we dig into the typology of Moses's successor Joshua, the more that we see that Joshua is actually likened to the apostles or in fact a particular apostle whom Jesus vested with his divine name.

Indeed when we stop and think about it, it is difficult not to see that much of the gospel narrative before the Passion seems to be a conscious imitation of the life of Moses after the Exodus from Egypt. Daniélou rightly notes that Eusebius's argument for parallels between the Book of Exodus and the gospel is quite persuasive - "This text affords a credible exegesis of the New Testament. The comparisons made by Eusebius are almost all such as the Evangelists themselves had in mind and we find once again what we remarked upon in connection with the typology of the Exodus in the Gospel." Yet it must also be acknowledged that our analysis of the restored conclusion of the conclusion which begins after the announcement of Jesus that the Son of Man must undergo his Passion in Jerusalem is not like the Exodus narrative but the account of the conquest of the Holy Land in the Book of Joshua. How can these two understandings be reconciled with one another?

The first thing we have to do is to revisit Eusebius's original statement in the Preparation for the Gospel and merely paraphrased by Daniélou:

And Moses set up seventy men as leaders to the people. For Scripture says: "Bring together to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, and I will take of the spirit that is upon thee, and I will put it upon them. ... And he brought together seventy men." [Num. 11.16] Likewise our Saviour "chose out His seventy disciples, and sent them two and two before his face." [Luke 10.1] Moses again sent out twelve men to spy out the land, and likewise, only with far higher aims, our Saviour sent out twelve Apostles to visit all the Gentiles. [Eusebius, Dem Evang. 3:2]

Now when we really think about it, it is difficult to believe that Mark, when writing the original 'Gospel of Jesus' - a text which was ultimately copied and developed by other evangelists - happened to merely be factually 'reporting' about incidents that seemed to be conscious appropriations from the story of Moses in the Pentateuch. Jesus is being rather deliberately cast in the role of Moses, and a particular disciple or 'apostle' must have been understood to have ultimately been 'vested' with his name.

I hope I don't have to explain to my readership that the lost piece of the narrative of Mark's longer gospel is the original 'point of transfer' here. It is immediately followed by a crossing of the Jordan and - in the Diatessaron at least - of Jesus appearing in Jericho to give the blind man sight after he recognizes that Jesus is not the 'son of David' but rather 'the Lord' (cf. the Marcionite interpretation of this passage in Tertullian Against Marcion 4.36). I think Clement's exegesis of the Mark chapter 10 in Quis Dives Salvetur and elsewhere suggests that this narrative appeared in Alexandrian copies of the Gospel of Mark.

What is far more interesting for us now is to go back to the original narrative in the Pentateuch which served as a template for the first two thirds of Mark's gospel and see if there are some additional clues we might have missed. For it isn't enough merely to say that Moses picked twelve 'spies' and Jesus twelve 'apostles.' The terminology in Numbers is reflective of a selection of twelve מרגלים (meraglim)‎, a group of Israelite chieftains, one from each of the Twelve Tribes, who were dispatched to scout out the Land of Canaan for forty days during the time the Israelites were in the desert. The identification of these people as 'spies' is a bit of a misnomer because meraglim comes from the root regel which means 'on foot.' So these people were really only being identified as people that walked around the land of Israel.

In the earliest gospel material those selected by Jesus are actually identified quite generically as 'the twelve.' The Marcionites for one certainly did not identify them as 'apostles' for there was only one true 'apostle' in their tradition - the man who founded their tradition. Commentators since Celsus have wondered why the gospel narrative has Jesus appoint twelve people who ultimately fail him. Once we see Mark as appropriating his story from the Pentateuch the explanation becomes quite obvious. As Christopher Wordsworth and Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener note in their translation of this passage the "twelve spies, as afterwards twelve Apostles, failed for fear in the hour of trial, as the spies did (Matt. xxvi. 66. Mark xiv. 50); but were afterwards endued with power and courage from on high" (Luke xxiv.34).

The story in Numbers of course is that Moses instructed the spies to report back on the lay of the land. During their tour, however, the spies saw fortified cities leading most of them to believe that the Israelites would not be able to conquer the land as God had promised. Ten of the spies decided to bring back a false report, claiming the land was full of giants and that settlement would be impossible. Two of the spies — Joshua and Caleb — did not go along with the majority and tried to convince the Israelites that they could conquer the land. However, the Israelites believed the majority's conclusions. All of the spies except Joshua and Caleb were struck down with a plague and died.

Yet the important part of this narrative that the Church Fathers were keenly aware of was that it was only after Oshea served faithfully as 'one of the twelve' that his name was finally took hold of the name 'Jesus.' This had to have served as the basis for the idea in Secret Mark that Jesus selected only one of his disciples after the failings of the Twelve and perfected him into the 'mysteries of the kingdom of God.' As we noted in our previous posts, the term 'kingdom of God' was developed very early in Samaritan sources from the Book of Joshua. This same individual immediately goes on to imitate Joshua's crossing of the Jordan and his appearance in Jericho also. The point must clearly have been that Jesus, a wholly divine hypostasis who originally gave his name to Oshea, was now vesting this apostle with the name Jesus.

More to follow ...

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