Monday, April 25, 2011

Mark's Development of the Death of Jesus from Deuteronomy 34

In the last couple of posts we have gone far beyond merely arguing that Clement of Alexandria's Letter to Theodore is authentic. We have demonstrated that all previous studies of the gospels are hopelessly flawed because they have deliberately avoided incorporating information from Morton Smith's discovery. Indeed most people just want to believe that the gospel narrative is an eyewitness account of the 'life of Jesus' - nothing less and nothing more. All the greatness that is Christianity is supposed to be wholly attributabe to the greatness of the man Jesus and his legacy.

I can't sit here and tell people that Jesus wasn't great or that his life wasn't wonderful. Nevertheless one should never underestimate the power of a good storyteller. If you ended up switching laundry detergents this week, it might be a result of Tide being on sale at the local supermarket. One ought not to rule out the possibility that you might have been manipulated by a particularly effective piece of advertising too.

When you go through the list of influential early Patristic texts the Martyrdom of Polycarp stands out as a particularly effective piece of hagiography. But does anyone beside the pious really believe that the text accurately preserves to the minute the details of Polycarp's last days? I certainly do not think so. In the same way one should not underestimate the possibility that Mark the original evangelist sought to develop familiar narratives from the Pentateuch and other important works in the Jewish canon to properly frame the development of earliest Christianity.

I don't claim to know exactly what happened at the end of Jesus's ministry. I am only sure that the material cited from the so-called 'secret gospel of Mark' had a great influence over the early Church especially at Alexandria. It seems to me to be an impossible coincidence that the Pauline writings are replete with references to a 'baptism' associated with resurrection and death while our canonical gospels feature Jesus only being baptized at the beginning of his ministry. My suspicion has always been that the first addition to the longer gospel of Mark mentioned in the Letter to Theodore was known to the apostle.

Yet suspicions have little value in serious scholarship about the origins of Christianity. They are best left to the blogosphere. Nevertheless there is much greater foundation to the idea we have been developing more recently that the words:

And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan [to Theod.III.10 - 11]

are rooted in Mark's consistent pattern of appropriating material and ideas from the Book of Joshua. I have argued that the 'he' here is not Jesus but his initiated disciple who crosses the Jordan, goes on to Jericho like a Joshua redividus. Now I want to ask the reader a most dangerous follow up question - could the idea of Jesus dying only a few days later, being buried and then having the disciples discover that his body 'disappeared' be a deliberate development of Mark's part from the account of Moses's death in Deuteronomy chapter 34?

The truth is that I am not the first to speculate about this possibility. Here is a link to a recent article which argues exactly this - Olson, Dennis T. Between disappointment and hope at the boundary: Moses' death at the end of Deuteronomy. MJUEL, D. 2005 73. 127- 13. I think it is impossible to refute the argument that there are uncanny similarities in the way that Mark developed the conclusion to his gospel narrative. Yet in this present post, I would rather go back five days earlier and continue to argue that LGM 1 (= the first addition to the longer gospel of Mark) is a preparation for this conscious imitation of Deuteronomy's account of the death of Moses.  The 'missing piece' from Mark's gospel which is quoted in the Letter to Theodore is the equivalent of the Pentateuch's narrative of Moses's selection of Joshua to lead the people in his absence.

So it is that we have come to believe that the new fragment from the 'secret gospel of Mark' provides us with critical information that help us understand why Mark wrote the gospel and from what literary sources he was employing.  Indeed Clement's reference to the fact that the Secret Gospel was written in Alexandria is also immensely helpful too. We have, in previous posts, determined that the evangelist had clearly modeled the first two thirds of his gospel narrative from the account of Israel in the wilderness in the Pentateuch (Numbers 13).  As soon as the new year is about to begin, (i.e. 1 Nisan) Mark consciously references the account of Joshua conquering the Holy Land in the Book of Joshua.

It is very important for us to note that the gospel does not actually reference any 'conquering' or military battles of any sorts.  In Mark's recycling of old material Jesus has Jesus appear as a 'second Moses' in the first years of the Common Era.  Jesus appoints twelve men to leadership positions in his community and sends them out in groups of two (cf. Joshua 2.1) in order to walk throughout contemporary Palestine.  The sense from our earliest sources (i.e. Marcion) is that 'the Twelve' ultimately fail him and lead to the new Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years.

The reason why all previous studies of the gospel have failed is that the did not recognize the typology for Jesus in the gospel.  I believe Mark deliberately avoids developing Jesus as Joshua revividus. Instead, as we noted, Jesus actually appears as a second Moses, who - in the longer 'secret' version of the Gospel written by Mark - initiates a chosen disciple into what he calls 'the mysteries of the kingdom of God.'  Not only does the term 'kingdom of God' develop from the earliest traditions related to the Book of Joshua), but the idea of Jesus vesting the disciple with his Name and subsequent narratives (i.e. the crossing of the Jordan) clearly demonstrates that the disciple rather than Jesus was the awaited Joshua revividus figure in the gospel.

In our previous posts we provided a number of different Patristic sources to confirm our interpretation of the original purpose to the narrative. They pointed to Numbers 13:17 LXX as the ultimate source for this mystical interpretation. Yet it should be noted that Philo of Alexandria is the ultimate source for this central concept in Christianity which is quote and developed so many times by early Patristic writers.  Indeed it is in his On the Change of Names that we read where it was that all these Church Fathers developed their ideas about the mystical significance of the name 'Jesus.'  I see a lot of reason for believing that Mark was developing many of the ideas which first appeared in the writings of Philo, including::

But, moreover, Moses also changes the name of Hosea into that of Joshua; displaying by his new name the distinctive qualities of his character; for the name Hosea is interpreted, "what sort of a person is this?" but Joshua means "the salvation of the Lord," being the name of the most excellent possible character; for the habits are better with respect to those persons who are of such and such qualities from being influenced by them: as, for instance, music is better in a musician, physic in a physician, and each art of a distinctive quality in each artist, regarded both in its perpetuity, and in its power, and in its unerring perfection with regard to the objects of its speculation. For a habit is something everlasting, energising, and perfect; but a man of such and such a quality is mortal, the object of action, and imperfect. And what is imperishable is superior to what is mortal, the efficient cause is better than that which is the object of action; and what is perfect is preferable to what is imperfect. In this way the coinage of the above mentioned description was changed and received the stamp of a better kind of appearance. And Caleb himself was changed wholly and entirely; "For," as the scripture says, "a new spirit was in Him;" (Num 14:24) as if the dominant part in him had been changed into complete perfection; for the name Caleb, being interpreted, means "the whole heart." And a proof of this is to be gathered from the fact that the mind is changed, not by being biased and inclining in one particular direction or the other, but wholly and entirely in the direction which is good; and that, even if there is any thing which is not very praiseworthy indeed, it makes that to depart by arguments conducive to repentance; for, having in this manner washed off all the defilements which polluted it, and having availed itself of the baths and purifications of wisdom, it must inevitably look brilliant. [On the Change of Names 121]

With this citation of the passage from Philo I want to stress that we are no longer arguing that the Church Fathers merely preserve for us a particular 'tradition' of 'gospel exegesis.' It should seem obvious that this passage from Philo represents something else of another order of magnitude entirely.

I strongly suspect that Mark himself took over this Alexandrian interest in connecting Oshea's 'change of name' with a complete 'transformation' likened to 'purification by water.' Let us not forget that most interpretations of the material associated with the resurrection of the rich youth in LGM 1 (= the first addition to the longer gospel of Mark of the Letter to Theodore) assume that the youth was united in some ritual context with Jesus. Charles Hedrick sums up Smith's interpretation of the material as follows:

Smith's conclusion was that Clement's letter was a genuine second-century text and that Secret Mark was also genuine�from the late first century. The Secret Gospel of Mark demonstrated that the Jesus movement had begun with a mystery-religion baptismal initiation: Jesus baptized each of his closest disciples into the mystery of the kingdom of God, 'singly and at night.' In his larger study Smith wrote: 'In this baptism the disciple was united with Jesus. The union may have been physical ... (there is no telling how far symbolism went in Jesus' rite), but the essential thing was that the disciple was possessed by Jesus' spirit.' This is how Smith put it in his more popular book: The disciple ecstatically 'entered the kingdom of God, and was thereby set free from the laws ordained for and in the lower world. Freedom from the law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union'."

It goes without saying that I think this interpretation is completely unfounded. I have stated why I dismiss the idle speculation of people unfamiliar with the Samaritan interest in 'the kingdom of God' from the Book of Joshua. It is enough to say that the ritual merely had the initiate receive the divine name which, in the eyes of Philo and the early Christians who were influenced by his Alexandrian school of exegesis, was exemplified by Oshea's reception of the name Jesus.

Now let us finally ask - what is the sense of Mark adding this 'uniting with [the name] Jesus' narrative near the end of the gospel?  Scott Brown of course makes the case that it has something do with Jesus's impending death and crucifixion in Jerusalem.  This may well be the case of course, but I think it is much easier explained by a continuation of the pattern of appropriation of material from the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua on Mark's part.  While it is true that in the Book of Numbers Moses renames Oshea shortly after the twelve 'spies' return (Numbers 13:17 LXX, 14.6) while Mark introduces a ritual which will united the disciple with his name only a few days before his death (Mark 10:34f) it is impossible to ignore the fact that there are a number of hints that the actual appointing of Joshua happened shortly before his death.

In this way, if the understanding that the first addition to the long gospel of Mark is about the disciple 'uniting with the name of Jesus,'  the only real difference between the Pentateuch and restored 'longer gospel' narrative is that Oshea receives the name 'Jesus' forty years before the death of Moses.  The gospel by contrast has the event occur at the same time, we must assume, that the disciple was appointed his master's successor.  So it is very useful for us then to read a long section from Philo's On the Virtues to see the ground out of which Mark ultimately developed his narrative.  We read:

But it is necessary also to make mention of one or two points which he set in order when at the point of death; for they are indicative of that continual and uninterrupted virtue which he [Moses] stamped upon his own soul, which was thus fashioned after the divine model, in such a way that it should be free from all indistinctness and confusion. For when the appointed limit of human existence was on the point of being reached by him, and when by distinct intimation from God he became aware that he was about to depart from the world, he did not act like any other person, whether king or private individual, whose only anxiety and prayer is to leave their inheritance to their children; but although he had become the father of two sons, he was not so much under the influence of the natural affection and love for his offspring which he undoubtedly felt as to bequeath his authority to either of them. And yet, even he had some suspicion of the worth of his children; at all events, he had no lack of virtuous and pious nephews, who were, indeed, already invested with the high priesthood, as a reward of their virtue. But, perhaps, he did not think fit to draw them away from the divine ministrations which belonged to their office, or, as was very likely, he considered that it would be impossible for them to attend to both matters, the priesthood and the royal authority, the one of which employments professes to be devoted to the worship of God, the other to the government of and to the care of providing for men. Perhaps, also, he did not think fit to become himself the judge in so important a matter, especially as it is an attribute of almost divine power to see thoroughly who is by nature well adapted for such authority, as it is the Deity alone to whom it is easy to see into the dispositions of men.

And the clearest proof of what I have said may be afforded by the following consideration. He had a friend and pupil, one who had been so almost from his very earliest youth, Joshua by name, whose friendship he had won, not by any of the arts which are commonly in use among other men, but by that heavenly and unmixed love from which all virtue is derived. This man lived under the same roof, and shared the same table with him, except when solitude was enjoined to him on occasions when he was inspired and instructed in divine oracles. He also performed other services for him in which he was distinguished from the multitude, being almost his lieutenant, and regulating in conjunction with him the matters relating to his supreme authority. But yet, though Moses had thus an accurate knowledge of him from his experience of him for a long time, and though he knew his excellence both in word and deed, and the greatness of his good will towards his nation, yet he did not think fit to leave him as his successor himself, fearing lest he might perchance be deceived in looking on that man as good who in reality was not so, since the tests by which one can judge of human nature are in a great degree indistinct and unstable. On which account he did not trust to his own knowledge, but he supplicated and entreated God, who alone can behold the invisible soul, who sees accurately the mind of man, to choose and select the most suitable man for the supreme authority, one who would care for the people who were to be his subjects like a father.

And stretching his pure, and, as one may say in a somewhat metaphorical manner, his virgin hands towards heaven, he said, "Let the Lord God of spirits and of all flesh look out for himself a man to be over this multitude, to undertake the care and superintendence of a shepherd, who shall lead them in a blameless manner, in order that this nation may not become corrupt like a flock which is scattered abroad, as having no Shepherd." (Num 27:16) And yet who was there of all the men of that time who would not have been amazed if he had heard this prayer? Who was there who would not have said, "What art thou saying, master? hast not thou legitimate children? hast thou not nephews? Above all men, leave thy authority to thy children first, for they are thy natural heirs; but if thou disapprovest of them, at all events bequeath it to thy nephews; and if thou lookest upon them also as unfit, having a greater regard for the whole nation than for thy nearest and dearest relations, still thou hast an irreproachable friend who has given a proof of his perfect virtue to you who art all-wise and capable to judge of it. Why, then, do thou not think fit to show your approbation of him, if thy object is not to select one on account of his family but on account of his virtue?" But Moses would reply: "It is proper to make God the judge in every thing, and most especially in those things in which the acting well or ill brings innumerable multitudes to happiness, or on the contrary to misery. And there is nothing of greater importance than sovereign authority, to which all the affairs of cities, in war or peace, are committed. For as in order to make a successful voyage one has need of a pilot who is both virtuous and skilful, in the same manner there is need of a very wise governor, in order to secure the good government of the subjects in every quarter.

Moreover, wisdom is a thing not only more ancient than my own birth, but even than the creation of the universal world; nor is it lawful nor possible for any one to decide in such a matter but God alone, and those who love wisdom with guilelessness, and sincerity and truth; and I have learnt by myself not to approve of, as fit for dominion, any one of those men who appear to be suitable. "I, indeed, myself, did neither undertake the charge of caring for and providing for the common prosperity of my own accord, nor because I was appointed to the office by any human being; but I undertook to govern this people because God manifestly declared his will by visible oracles and distinct commandments, and commanded me to rule them; and I, after having besought and supplicated him to excuse me, because I had a respect unto the greatness of the business, at last, after he had repeated his commandments many times, I with fear obeyed. How, then, can it be any thing but absurd for me not now to follow in the same steps, and, after I myself, when about to assume the supreme authority, had had God for my elector and approver, not now in my turn to refer to him alone the appointment of my successor, without calling in the assistance of any human wisdom which is likely to be akin in some degree to folly, especially as the government to be undertaken is not one over any ordinary nation, but one which is the most populous of all nations everywhere, and one which puts forth the most important of all professions, the worship of the one true and living God, who is the Creator and the father of the universe? For whatever advantages are derived from the most approved philosophy to its students, full as great are derived by the Jews from their laws and customs, inasmuch as through them they have rejected all errors about gods who have been created themselves; for there is no created being who is truly God, but such a one is so only in appearance and opinion, being destitute of that most indispensable quality in God, namely, eternity."

This, now, is the first and most conspicuous proof of his great humanity and good faith towards and affection for all those of his own people, and there is also another which is not inferior to that which I have already mentioned. For when Joshua, being his most excellent pupil and the imitator of his amiable and excellent disposition, had been approved of as the ruler of the people by the judgment of God, Moses was in no respect downcast as some other men might have been at the fact of its not having been his own sons or nephews who were appointed; but he was filled with unrestrained joy because there was secured to the nation a governor who was in all respects excellent (for he was sure that the man who was pleasing to God must be virtuous and pious); and accordingly, taking him by the right hand, he led him forth to the assembled multitude, not being at all alarmed at the idea of his own impending death, but feeling that he had received a new cause of joy in addition to his former reasons for cheerfulness, not only from the recollection of his former happiness, in which he had passed his life abundantly in every species of virtue, but from the hope also that he was now about to become immortal, changing from this corruptible to an incorruptible life; and accordingly, with a cheerful look proceeding from the joy which he felt in his soul, he spoke to them with joy and exultation in the following manner, and said: "It is time for me now to be released from the life in the body; and my successor in the government of your nation is this man, having been appointed thereto by God." And then he proceeded to detail to them the oracular words of God which he had received as the proofs of this his successor's appointment by God; and the people believed them.

And then, looking upon Joshua, he exhorted him to approve himself a valiant man, and to be very strong in good and wise counsel, and to show himself the interpreter of his counsels, and to accomplish all his purposes with unyielding and vigorous decision. And he said thus much to him though he was not perhaps in need of any recommendation, but because he would not conceal their mutual affection for one another and for the whole people, by which he was spurred on as it were to lay bare before him what he thought would be advantageous. He had also received an oracular command to call his successor and to render him full of confidence and good courage to undertake the care of the nation, without being apprehensive of the great burden of the authority committed to him, in order that he might be a standard and rule for all governors who should come hereafter, and who should look upon Moses as their model; so that none of them should ever grudge good advice to their successors, but should train, and exercise, and instruct their souls with their suggestions and counsels. For the advice of a good man is often able to raise up again those men whose minds are prostrate, and to elevate them again to a height, implanting in them a noble and intrepid spirit, which shall thus be established firmly above all circumstances and exigencies of time.

Accordingly, after having held a discourse in which he uttered sentiments suited both to the people who had been committed to his care, and to those who were to be the inheritors of his authority, he begins to hymn the praises of God in a song, uttering the last psalm of thanksgiving in this life while still in the body, for all the kindnesses and mercies of extraordinary and unprecedented kinds, which he had received from his birth to this his old age; and having collected a most divine assembly to hear these praises, namely, the elements of the universe, and the most comprehensive parts of the whole world, the earth and the heaven, one of which is the dwelling of mortals, and the other the home of the immortals, he sang his hymn of praise in the middle of them all, with every description of harmony and symphony which men and ministering angels hear; the one, as being pupils, in order to learn to display their own grateful dispositions in a similar manner, and the others as presiding over them, and as by their own experience being able to take care that no part of this hymn shall be out of tune, and also as feeling some doubt whether any human being bound up in a mortal body could be able to attune his soul to music in the same manner as the sun, and the moon, and the rest of the company of the stars, having properly conformed himself to that divine instrument, the heaven, and to the universal world.

And the declarer of the will of God being thus placed amid the beings who form the host of heaven, mingled with his grateful hymns of praise to God proofs of his own genuine affection and good will towards his nation, while he reproved them for their previous sins, and gave them admonitions, and advice, and precepts for the present occasion, and exhortations for the future, inspiring them with favourable hopes, which it was inevitable that favourable events would of necessity follow. And when he had finished his hymn of melodious praise, which was thus in a manner woven together and made up of piety and humanity, he began to be changed and to depart from mortal existence to immortal life, and gradually to feel a separation of the different parts of which he was composed, namely of his body, which was now removed from him like a shell from a fish, from his soul which was thus laid bare and naked, and which desired its natural departure from hence.

Then, having prepared all things for his departure, he did not approach the actual termination of his existence until he had shown respect to all the tribes of his nation by harmonious and consistent prayers in their behalf, honouring them all to the number of twelve by the recapitulation of the name of the patriarch of each tribe, all which prayers we must believe will certainly be accomplished, for the man who offered up the prayers was a devout servant of God, and God is merciful, and the persons on whose behalf the supplications were uttered were men of pure and noble birth, classed in the highest rank possible by the supreme leader of the people, the Creator and Father of the universe. And the things which were entreated for in the petitions were real blessings, not only that such things might fall to their share in this mortal life, but still more so when the soul should be released from the bondage of the flesh; for Moses alone, looking upon it as it should seem that his whole nation had from the very beginning the closest of all possible relationships to God, one much more genuine than that which consists of ties of blood, made it the inheritor of all the good things which the nature of mankind is capable of receiving, giving from his own store things which he had himself, and entreating God to supply what he himself was not possessed of, knowing that the fountains of his graces are everlasting, but yet that they are not dispensed to all men, but only to such as are suppliants for them; and suppliants are those persons who love virtue and piety, and it is lawful for them to drink up those most sacred springs, inasmuch as they are continually thirsting for wisdom. [On the Virtues 51 - 83]

Yes, this certainly was a very long citation. However I think it is essential to help us piece together the unraveling of the mysterious origins of Christianity out of Alexandrian Judaism.

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