Thursday, April 28, 2011

How Secret Mark Helps Explain Why the Gospel Was Originally Called 'the Gospel of Jesus'

We have been talking about the structure of the 'gospel of Jesus' and noting how the narrative from Mark 10:17 - 31 bears a striking resemblance to the conquest of the Holy Land in the Book of Joshua. This can't have been a mere coincidence. I know there is always hostility to 'source criticism' in Biblical studies especially when there are so many people arguing for all kinds of crazy theories about pagan and mythical 'sources' for the gospel. Nevertheless it is impossible to argue that anyone claiming to be the messiah could have done so without referencing or making the case that he fulfilled core Biblical narratives.   In short, to argue that Mark developed 'the Gospel of Jesus' narrative from the account of Joshua in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua is hardly a scandalous assertion.  I'd argue that right at the outset, without presenting a single bit of evidence it not only 'has a lot going for it' as it were - it becomes a highly probably theory of how the kind of sources the original gospel writer would have drawn from, period

I have shown the way the earliest references in the Church Fathers to the Joshua-Jesus parallel developed their ideas from Philo of Alexandria.  While it is typical of New Testament scholarship (which generally dismisses an Alexandrian origin for Christianity) to ignore the influence of Philo over this core concept in Christianity, I think this state of affairs is most unfortunate.  For Clement of Alexandria in the Letter to Theodore makes perfectly clear that at least one draft of the 'Gospel of Jesus' (cf. Mark 1:1) was written in Alexandria.  Was Mark influenced by Philonic conceptions of a mystical kabbalistic hypostasis named Ἰησοῦς (and thus having a numerical value of 888) or embodied in the tenth letter of the alphabet (i.e. yod or iota) which originally came upon Oshea of Moses's original college of 'the Twelve'?  I certainly think so.  Indeed I know so now.  I can't see how the evidence can be refuted.

Already Irenaeus makes plain that a group of 'heretics' - likely originating from Alexandria and associated with a 'Mark' who claimed to be a mystagogue and to alone know the truth about Ἰησοῦς emphasized the kabbalistic interpretation of both the name and the numerology associated with it from the time of Philo.  I have also noted in previous posts that the Samaritan writings of a 'Mark' of unknown provenance but likely Alexandria betrays a similar interest in the number 888 and 10 from words and phrases in the LXX version of the Pentateuch. 

The point of course is that New Testament scholars typically only draw from what they call 'reliable sources' when they reconstruct their models for how 'Mark wrote the original gospel.'  As such, given the low estimation that these 'reliable source' have for the 'Marcosians' and Samaritans - almost all of whom are 'Fathers' of the Catholic Church and thus opposed to this 'heretical' interest in numerology - their reconstruction of the motivation and even the personality of the historical 'St Mark' is fundamentally flawed.   Indeed the reason I say this is not because I 'like' the heretics but because again Philo's kabbalistic interpretation influenced all early discussions of the Joshua-Jesus paradigm even supposedly 'orthodox' Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen and Eusebius. 

Indeed I find it horrifying that scholars can just push to the side the basic understanding that emerges from these sources with respect to the very origin of the concept of the 'divinity' of Ἰησοῦς.  In other words, Bruce Chilton, Craig Evans and a host of other 'popular' evangelical scholars can write book after book about 'the Jewish Jesus' and emphasize his birth from a mother, his brothers and his mortality without even so much as acknowledging that there was this other tradition firmly founded in the earliest Patristic witnesses and going back to the apostles and even before the advent of Christianity which basically said that Ἰησοῦς - the figure revered in the Church since the Passion was really the Divine Name and not a human being per se.

I know these people are going to pounce on that last statement and say that no Church Father would ever have publicly acknowledged that Ἰησοῦς was just the Angel of the Presence, or just the divine Word or the like but it is impossible to argue that this understanding is lurking in the darkness.   I see no evidence that Clement actually believed that Ἰησοῦς was a man born to Mary.  We have demonstrated over and over again that this earliest representative of Alexandria perfectly witnesses the traditional emphasis on the divinity of Ἰησοῦς which was well established in later periods. 

Of course it should be obvious to anyone that if we had access to the Christians of Alexandria before Clement and before the age when the Church of Rome began to assert itself, we would see the complete liberation of the Ἰησοῦς hypostasis understanding.  This understanding is grounded in Philo's claim that Ἰησοῦς was given to Oshea as reward for his loyalty to Moses and his adorning of the name was likened to putting on new clothes or taking a purifying bath.  I see the same conception also in the work known to scholars as Pseudo-Philo in its account of Joshua taking on his name Ἰησοῦς.

We are told by James Charlesworth that "Pseudo-Philo exists in eighteen complete and three fragmentary Latin manuscripts, all apparently of German or Austrian origin.  The oldest are dated to the eleventh century, while the most recent are from the fifteenth century."  Charlesworth dates the text to the first century CE and everyone has always assumed it goes back to a Greek exemplar and possibly a Hebrew original.  The section we are interested resembles the gospel insofar as Joshua thinks that Moses has died and God comes to him and comforts him by telling him:

Moses is dead.  Take his garments of wisdom and clothe yourself, and with his belt of knowledge gird your loins, and you will be changed and become another man. Did I not speak on your behalf to Moses my servant, saying, This one will lead my people after you, and into his hand I will deliver the kings of the Amorites?

And Joshua took the garments of wisdom and clothed himself and girded his loins with the belt of understanding. And when he clothed himself with it, his mind was afire and his spirit was moved, and he said to the people, Behold the first generation has died in the wilderness because they have spoken against their God. And behold now, all you leaders, know today that if you proceed in the ways of your God, your paths will be made straight. But if you do not heed his voice and you become like your fathers, your affairs will be spoiled and you yourselves will be crushed and your name will perish from the earth. And where will the words be that God spoke to your fathers?

For even if the gentiles say, Perhaps God has failed, because he has not freed his people - nevertheless they will recognize that he has not chosen for himself other peoples and done great wonders with them, then they will understand that the Most Powerful does not respect persons; but because you sin through pride, so he took away his power from you and subdued you. And now rise up and set your heart to walk in the ways of your Lord, and he will guide you.

And the people said to him, Behold we know today what Eldad and Modad prophesied in the days of Moses, saying, After Moses goes to rest, the leadership of Moses will be given over to Joshua the son of Nun. And Moses was not jealous but rejoiced when he heard them. And from then on all the people believed that you would exercise leadership over them and divide up the land among them in peace. And now even if there is conflict, be strong and act manfully, because you alone are ruler in Israel. On hearing these words Joshua decided to send spies into Jericho.

And he summoned Kenaz and Seeniamias, his brother, the two sons of Caleb, and he said to them, I and your father were sent by Moses in the wilderness, and we went up with ten other men. And they came back and spoke badly about the land and discouraged the heart of the people, and they and the heart of the people with them were discouraged. But I and your father alone fulfilled the word of the Lord, and behold we are alive today. And now I will send you to spy out the and of Jericho, Imitate your father, and you also will live. And they went up and spied out the city. And when they brought back word, the people went up and attacked the city and burned it with fire.
I know this is very difficult parallel for some people to see but that is only because they been fed 'baby food' regarding the gospel for most of their lives. I am now giving them the metaphorical 'strong meat' of understanding.

When you really look at the gospel narratives it is uncanny how similar Jesus and Moses appear when you compare them with what is universally regarded by Jews with respect to the 'job' of the messiah. Moses does not enter the Promised Land in the same way as Jesus appears to fail with respect to appearing as the fulfilment of the ages of expectation of the messiah who was 'the king of Israel.' While Moses does not end up being crucified of course, I would argue that the new information that we are given with respect to Jesus's initiation of a chosen disciple into 'the mystery of the kingdom of God' parallels the laying of hands of Moses on Joshua in Deuteronomy 34:9. The notion that Joshua "was full of the spirit of wisdom" from this ordination has been transformed by the reference to the image of clothing and the reference to the "transformation into another person."

I want to stress to my readership that both references are extremely significant to earliest Christian literature. Not only is baptism always identified as 'unclothing' and 'reclothing' oneself with the spirit but it also worth noting that it finds an uncanny echo in the Diatessaronic Transfiguration narrative which borrows a similar description from Luke:

And after six days Jesus took Simon Cephas, and James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain, the three of them only. And while they were praying, Jesus changed, and became after the fashion of another person; and his face shone like the sun, and his raiment was very white like the snow, and as the light of lightning, so that nothing on earth can whiten like it. And there appeared unto him Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus.

There are a great many things we should say about this narrative but most importantly it should at least considered that the original author of the gospel knew of the Pseudo-Philonic narrative or something like it and has now foreshadowed the coming transformation of the angelic power Ἰησοῦς into another person - or if you prefer the language of the prologue to the gospel - the Word becoming flesh. 

We should remember that the earliest 'heresies' did not think that Ἰησοῦς was a man.  His coming to earth represented - as we have seen - the return of the angelic hypostasis Ἰησοῦς that transformed Oshea, the chosen one of the Twelve, into the second Moses.  It is worth noting that in Ephrem's Diatessaron the voice from heaven clearly acknowledges not our familiar praise of a single man Jesus - viz. "This is my beloved Son, whom I have chosen; hear him" - but as we see in many other early Syriac witnesses the two figures illustrated in the transformation display - i.e. "My Son and my beloved."

There can be no doubt that this originally was a foreshadowing of the chosen disciples baptism and reception of the Ἰησοῦς entity. In other words, the original gospel writer was reworking the lore surrounding Deuteronomy 34:9 as we just saw but with respect to a baptism ritual connected with Joshua's ultimate crossing of the Jordan on the 10th of Nisan. This is the principal reason I believe the Letter to Theodore is authentic - it supports an underlying appropriation from the tradition surrounding Joshua the Son of Nun to facilitate the establishment a 'successor to Jesus the Son of God' after he appeared crucified in Jerusalem during the Passover of 30 CE.

There are only minor differences here. The most obvious being of course that while Jesus tells his disciples about his 'death' quite publicly, he only takes one chosen disciple for ordination in private. Yet the question of why the ordination should be moved to the date of Joshua's crossing of Jordan needs also to be addressed. The original 'laying on of hands' by Moses to Joshua the son of Nun occurs at the end of the year before the crossing into the Promised Land. In the gospel of Jesus which Clement claims Mark wrote in Alexandria the ordination occurs at the beginning of the new year. We must now inquire what reason could there be for Mark to make a complete departure from the original narrative of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.

The most obvious answer to some might be that 'real events' were dictating Mark's narrative writing. In other words, Mark had to report the ordination as occuring in Nisan because that's when it actually happened. That may well be the case of course but I think there is another layer to the appropriation that we should start to address here and complete in our next post.

We have noted that the Vatican copies of the Diatessaron have a marginal note from some scribe familiar with the Diatessaron traditions which said basically that the Question of the Rich Youth (Mark 10:17 - 31) represents 'the second part' of the narrative. We have been specualting for a while now that the reason for this is that Mark 10:17 - 31 actually took place on the first of the first month of the Hebrew calendar. In other words, the rich youth has come of age (i.e. twenty) and has to give his half shekel to the temple as required by Jewish law (Exodus 30) and wants to know as a hitherto obedient Jew whether or not this act with assure him of 'redemption' (ἀπολύτρωσις) the very term followers of Mark used for the baptism ritual that preceded Mark 10:35 in their gospels.

What I will now suggest in my next post is that not a single New Testament scholar has bothered to notice that the Samaritan understanding of the term besora - universally regarded as the original corresponding to for 'gospel' in Aramaic (cf. Isaiah 52:7) - associates it with the Hebrew concept of 'the year of Jubilee.' In other words, the break which occurs before Mark 10:17 - 31 corresponds to the new year which is a jubilee (cf. Luke 4:17 - 21). This is why Jesus goes into a synagogue at the beginning of his ministry in 'part one' of the gospel - i.e. the year before the Jubilee and reads from Isaiah chapter 61. Every single knowledgeable commentator on this section including the current Pope of the Catholic Church recognizes that this a reference to the Jubilee which will be ushered in at Jesus's crucifixion (cf. also Irenaeus's discussion of its citation of Isa 61:3 among the followers of Mark and their emphasis on a one year ministry of Jesus).

What people haven't put together yet of course is how the idea of an original 'Gospel of Jesus' limited to a year long ministry for Jesus and written by Mark at Alexandria necessarily explain why Jesus ordination of a succesor differs from that of Moses' original 'laying on of hands' of Oshea in the first day of the eleventh month. As we read of what remains of the Samaritan Book of Joshua:

At the completion of the hundred and nineteenth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, of the life of our master Musa the prophet- peace be upon him- God revealed unto him in the plain of Mab (Moab), that he should lay his hand upon the head of Yush'a, the son of Nun, the spiritual man; meaning by this, that he (Moses) should give him (Joshua) information of the profound secret, and revealed to him the vision of his dream and the science of knowledge, as much as he was capable of bearing; by the which his heart would be strengthened and his spirit perfected and his soul elevated, and the rule over the creatures (the children of Israel) be rendered easy unto him; and that he should also inform him of the Name, by which he should put to flight hostile armies, and by which a nation that no country could contain and whose numbers were countless might be confounded. And He ordered him(Moses) to set him (Joshua) before el-`Azar (Eleazar) the imam- peace be upon him- and to assemble unto him (Joshua) the people of learning and knowledge with the nobles and rulers, and ratify a compact with him, and make a new covenant with him, and invest him with the kingly authority, and install him in the rule over all the children of Israil.

We shall demonstrate in our next post that Mark is still arguing that all of what happened to Oshea with respect to receiving the Ἰησοῦς spirit was a prelude for what would happen in the messianic era.   Indeed, as we have noted this description of the 'mystery of the kingdom of God' was incorporated into longer Mark's original baptism narrative.  It also needed to do so in a Jubilee year according to a very specific theological purpose.

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