Friday, April 29, 2011

Against Morton Smith's 'Libertine' Interpretation of the Letter to Theodore

I can't tell you how worthless Morton Smith's interpretation of the context of the Letter to Theodore is. He may have been 'one of the great historians of religion' or whatever else they say about him, he may have written his thesis on tannaitic parallels with the gospel but I don't think understood Judaism and because of that he missed the boat on the Letter to Theodore.

Judaism is slavery. Christianity was originally conceived as its awaited redemption. This is the only starting point to make sense of how one tradition developed from the other. I really don't care what white people say about 'Jesus the Jew' and the other nonsense they develop in the universities. I stand above them both in terms of authority and living experience.

So it is that when we go through the contents of the Letter to Theodore it is obvious that we are standing very close to ground zero in Christianity. In other words, the Carpocratians or whatever name they actually identified themselves by, are really promoting a Jewish redemption theology. It's the Church Fathers like Clement who misrepresent the freedom associated with the sect.

I mean these aren't things that most people know about because most people will fall asleep reading the writings of the early Church Fathers after a few a sentences. It would be like parachuting into a partisan debate in Bulgaria. You have one side saying all sorts of horrible things about the other with only a grain of truth at the core.

Let's go through the argument that Clement develops against the Carpocratians step by step shall we. We start with the mention that the sect has:

unspeakable teachings [to Theod. I.2]

The word here for 'untouchable' can refer to something holy or wholly despicable. Clement is probably turning around an original reference to the sacredness of the 'mystic' gospel of Mark and the teachings of the sect. The point is that he is turning around a Carpocratian statement about sacredness into something to prove them despicable.

This 'turning around' of ideas associated with heresy is a common practice among the Church Fathers and in the writings of Clement of Alexandria particularly. In Stromateis Book Three Clement turns around a Carpocratian interpretation of Mark 10:17 - 31 as a proclamation in favor of religious communism into an exaggerated claim about the sects interest in having ritual orgies and the 'sharing of bodies.' As Ferguson in his translation of Book Three notes Clement has to stoop to using Epictetus's complete misrepresentation of the Platonic ideal in the Discourses to get there. Yet the point again is that we have to recognize that there is a pattern of misrepresentation in the writings of Clement. The Letter to Theodore is by no means an isolated example of this.

To this end we see the clearest statement of the actual context of the Carpocratian notion of 'redemption' in the sentence that immediately follows in Clement's letter:

For these (i.e. the Carpocratians) are the "wandering stars" referred to in the prophecy, who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins. [to Theod. I.3,4]

Obviously the first part of this statement is a reference to the statement in the Book of Jude regarding heretics who will corrupt the primitive Christian agape with sexual license (the whole sentence in Jude reads "They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever"). Clement is using the authority of Judas, the supposed bishop of Jerusalem and brother (or relative) of Jesus to condemn these heretics. But that shouldn't mean that we simply accept the claims that develops about their beliefs.

The second part of the sentence is critical here:

[those] who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins

The point is that these Carpocratians are alleged to have effectively argued - the gospel means freedom from the Law - and their 'redemption' is now alleged to have included ritualized sexual license. Yet I want to stress again that we needn't accept any of these claims as 'fact.' The only common point of agreement likely was the business about 'the gospel meaning freedom from the Law.'

I want to stress again that Judaism is and was nothing more than a cult of slavery. I say this as an authority. I am not getting my information from a 'course' in university but from personal experience. If you are observant you can't do certain things, you can't eat certain things, you can't govern your life with any degree of independence. It's enslavement and don't let any Jew tell you otherwise.

In ancient times the slavery was especially severe for proselytes who really had no rights to speak of and were treated - for lack of a better word - like shit by the Jewish authorities. Christianity according to the Marcionites (Tertullian Against Marcion 3.21) was an appeal of liberation directed at the oppressed proselyte population within Judaism. This explains finally why Tertullian developed an original treatise against the Jews (An Answer to the Jews) and the Marcionites (Against Marcion Book Three).

The point is that we can't afford to be so misguided as to confuse the differing characteristics that appear in Patristic refutations of the various sects and the actual beliefs and characteristics of the sects themselves. People will tell me that the Marcosians and the Marcionites can't be one and the same sect because the report of Irenaeus with respect to the Marcosians (AH 1.13 - 21) is so different in tone and character from Tertullian's information about the Marcionites. But this utterly moronic. Both sects represent traditions attached to someone named Mark who identified the awaited 'redemption' from Judaism as being present in the gospel immediately before or around Mark 10:35 - 45 (i.e. Salome's request for the enthronement of her sons). This can't be coincidental.

The problem of course is that ninety nine percent of the people studying and interpreting the writings of the Church Fathers believe that these people were inspired by the Holy Spirit. That kind of belief is not going to help in developing critical interpretations of the subject matter.

So getting back to the characterization of the Carpocratians as a bunch of sexually depraved lunatics and the Marcionites as a bunch of Jew-haters, a lot of this develops as a result of careless reading on the part of the modern interpreters of the Patristic source material. Yes, the Marcionites ultimately rejected the authority of the Law and the prophets. But that doesn't mean there was any personal animus in this decision. Like many messianic movements within Judaism there was certainly a belief that when the messiah comes the authority of the Law ends. In the same respect there are many examples of licentious sects within messianic Judaism. The coming of the messiah is always linked to the 'redemption' of the Jubilee.

The thing you can't allow your eyes to divert from is the fact that the term gospel literally means 'the announcement of the Jubilee.' This is the underlying formula that leads to the reports of antinomian exegesis within Marcionitism and sexual license associated with the Carpocratians. It would not appear not at all unlikely to me that the two sects used a common gospel - in short, the 'mystic' gospel of Mark.

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