Sunday, May 8, 2011

Inching One Step Closer to Proving that Clement Knew About 'Secret Mark's Other Baptism

I believe that every great idea starts with a sense or a feeling developed from intuition.  That doesn't mean of course that all feelings wax into great ideas or that 'having a sense' about something doesn't often end up being proved wrong.  The point is that I have always felt that one can't live life merely 'staying within the lines.'  It hasn't 'all been figured out' before us.  The truth is that the existing scholarship on the subject can't explain the origin of Christianity from Judaism.  These men can 'fake it' to some degree by inventing terminology to distract people from the weaknesses.  Yet the problem still stands - what is Christianity?  And how and for what did it develop from Judaism?

We can't answer all the big questions in these posts but we can argue that the Letter to Theodore might just be the key to unlock at least some of those doors that hide the unexplained and unexplainable in earliest Christianity.  The approach of the hoaxers of course is to say that everything is just fine without this 'controversial discovery.'  They want to 'embarass' the discovery essentially because they don't want this old letter to embarrass them - i.e. to demonstrate the limitations of their knowledge, to expose the shallowness of their interpretations, the limitations of the ability to explain things.

Nietzsche once wrote that many consider themselves good because they have no claws.  I say that many scholars only think themselves wise by their own estimation so they don't have to test the limits of what they really know.  Indeed few of them have the courage for what they don't know, to turn around another saying from the German philosopher.

The Letter to Theodore references another scriptural source for Christian baptism.  No this 'mystic gospel' or 'secret gospel' wasn't universally acknowledged in the ancient Church but it seems to have been accepted in Alexandria.  Clement already mentions a gospel which wasn't known outside of Egypt and Irenaeus similarly testifies to 'heretical' version of the Gospel of Mark (AH 3.11.7).  While Irenaeus doesn't explicitly say anything about Mark having another baptism narrative, he does say that followers of a heretic of the same name knew of such a practice from Mark chapter 10.

I have always thought these testimonies were all related.  I am not the only one of course.  F F Bruce developed much the same logic in his paper on the Secret Gospel.  Yet where I go beyond those who came before me is the relentless pursuit of a single question - why was this immersion ritual associated with Mark chapter 10 called the 'redemption' or 'deliverance' (ἀπολύτρωσις) by the heretics?  I am afraid very little of the existing literature is helpful in this regard.  Most scholars just regurgitate what is said in Against Heresies or some of the later Church Fathers who recycle this original report - i.e. the Philosophumena and Epiphanius's Panarion.  I can't help thinking that if we can identify the scriptural context of why the heretics identified it as the ἀπολύτρωσις we could finally solve the mystery.

The bad thing of course is that piecing together such an argument is a tricky business.  My experience has been to note that most of the people who study 'gnosticism' have only superficial knowledge of Jewish scriptures and tradition.  Indeed my impression has always been that many of these scholars avoid delving into this scriptural foundation of gnostic concepts because it again exposes the limitation of their understanding of the tradition.

When I hear the term ἀπολύτρωσις I am immediately drawn to the conclusion that the ritual has to have something to do with the fulfillment of the promise of inheriting the Promised Land.  When the ancient Israelites crossed from Egypt to the wilderness and then the wilderness to Canaan we are witnessing successive stages to the ἀπολύτρωσις of the nation.  This basic historical framework of course may have ultimately been treated 'spiritually' or 'allegorically' by later generations of Christians.  Yet it is hard to escape the notion that ἀπολύτρωσις was fundamentally rooted in Joshua's crossing of the Jordan.

So on the one hand we have Irenaeus telling us that the heretics of his day from Alexandria have an immersion ritual called 'redemption' (ἀπολύτρωσις) rooted in a fundamentally different version of Mark chapter 10 that was popular in their churches.  This is indisputable.  Yet at the same time we learn from the closely related material in the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism that this 'other baptism' was conducted with fire instead of - or in addition to - water immersion.  Given that there are countless reports in the early Church Fathers acknowledging this 'other baptism' of Mark chapter 10, I do not find it difficult to take Secret Mark seriously.  The fact that this redemption ritual was always associated with 'fire baptism' I can't help that it all goes back to an understanding that divine fire was understood to have burned away or dried up the waters to allow the Israelites to cross them.

A very old Jewish text - Leviticus Rabbah - seems to indicate some sort of an underlying conception.  Indeed it is noteworthy that Leviticus Rabbah has been argued to have developed from even older anti-Christian polemics.  The text of Parsha 27 from that text tells us the following:

R. Aha in the name of R. Simeon b. Halapta: "Whatever the Holy One, blessed be he, is destined to do in the age to come already has he shown to [humanity] in this world. B. "That he is going to resurrect the dead: he has already resurrected the dead through Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel.

That he is going to bring [people] through water on to dry land: 'When you pass through water, I am with you' (Is. 43:2). He has already brought Israel through [water] with Moses: 'And the children of Israel walked on dry land through the sea (Ex. 15.19)

"And through rivers they shall not overwhelm you (Is. 43:2). This he has already accomplished through Joshua: On dry land, the Israelites crossed the Jordan (Josh. 4:2).

'When you walk through fire you shall not be burned' [Is. 43:2]. This he has already accomplished through Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

"And the flame shall not consume you' [Is. 43:2]. This he has already accomplished: '[The fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men . . . ] no smell of fire had come upon them' [Dan. 3:27].

Simeon ben Halafta (second century CE) was one of the last Tanaim, a friend of Judah haNasi and a student of Rabbi Meir.  His original report reminds us that there was an unusual interest not only in 'fire baptism' but Isaiah chapter 43's reference to individuals surviving water and fire immersion.

Indeed let's start with examining Isaiah 43 reads in the LXX form known to Clement and his Alexandrian tradition and how it obvious reinforces the concept of 'redemption' to its readers:

And now thus saith the Lord God, that made thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee (ἐλυτρωσάμην), I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. And if thou pass through water, I am with thee; and the rivers shall not overflow thee; and if thou go through the fire, the flame shall not harm thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel that saves thee: I have made Egypt and Ethiopia thy ransom and give Soene for thee. Since thou becamest precious in my sight, though has become glorious and I have loved thee (ἠγάπησα): and I will give men for thee, and princes for thy life. [Isa 43.1 - 5]

Clement certainly seems to connect this with some ritualized interest in 'passing through fire' as we see from Book One of the Instructor:

Feed us, the children, as sheep. Yea, Master, fill us with righteousness, Thine own pasture; yea, O Instructor, feed us on Thy holy mountain the Church, which towers aloft, which is above the clouds, which touches heaven. “And I will be,” He says, “their Shepherd,” [Ezek. 34. 14–16] and will be near them, as the garment to their skin. He wishes to save my flesh by enveloping it in the robe of immortality, and He hath anointed my body. “They shall call Me,” He says, “and I will say, Here am I.” [Isa. 58. 9] Thou didst hear sooner than I expected, Master. “And if they pass over, they shall not slip,” [Isa. 43. 2] saith the Lord. For we who are passing over to immortality shall not fall into corruption, for He shall sustain us. For so He has said, and so He has willed. Such is our Instructor, righteously good. “I came not,” He says, “to be ministered unto, but to minister.” [Mark 10:45]. Wherefore He is introduced in the Gospel “wearied,” because toiling for us, and promising “to give His aoul as a ransom (λύτρον) for many.” [Mark 10:45]. For him alone who does so He owns to be the good shepherd. Generous, therefore, is He who gives for us the greatest of all gifts, His own life; and beneficent exceedingly, and loving to men, in that, when He might have been Lord, He wished to be a brother man; and so good was He that He died for us.

Further, His righteousness cried, “If ye come straight to me, I also will come straight to you but if ye walk crooked, I also will walk crooked, saith the Lord of hosts;” meaning by the crooked ways the chastisements of sinners. For the straight and natural way which is indicated by the Iota of Jesus (τὸ ἰῶτα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ) is His goodness, which is firm and sure towards those who have believed [Paed 1.9]

Of course we have already seen that the 'life' that Jesus has ransomed for his followers is the laying down of his divine name Ἰησοῦς for them to adopt. This is a mere development of the mystical narrative in the Pentateuch where Oshea becomes 'Jesus' by taking on the tenth letter to the alphabet.

Not only does this exegesis sound 'Marcosian,' it follows a pattern of such parallels in the writings of Clement. We should also notice that this 'redemption' passage in Isaiah is explicitly connected with the same section of text that Irenaeus says was used by the followers of Mark for their ἀπολύτρωσις ritual:

And to this (i.e. ἀπολύτρωσις) He refers when He says, "And I have another baptism to be baptized with, and I hasten eagerly towards it." Moreover, they affirm that the Lord added this redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) to the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked that they might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom, saying, "Can ye be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized with?"

The point of course is that it is not just that the Letter to Theodore identifies an immersion ritual just before Mark 10:35 - 45, nor that Irenaeus says the followers of Mark place their 'redemption' rite in the exact same place but we just cited a passage from Clement's Instructor which connects the 'redemption' of Isaiah 43:1 - 5 with same section of text and identifies that 'redemption' means adopting his divine name. Here is the full narrative of Mark 10:35 - 45:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul (τὴν ψυχὴν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ) as a ransom (λύτρον) for many.” [Mark 10:35 - 45]

The redemption baptism is the same as Jesus 'ransoming' his life (= the iota of his name) to many. Clement clearly knows about the redemption rite of Irenaeus's Marcosians and thus SGM 1 inches one step closer to being confirmed in the writings of Clement.

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