Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Major Breakthrough in Marcionite Research - Why the Marcionite Gospel Began With a Visit to Bethsaida Rather than Nazareth

I have given this question twenty years of thought and never came up with the right answer. Then today, it just hit me and I know it's the right answer. Let's start with the information that Ephrem gives us in his Commentary on the Gospel of Concord (Diatessaron):

After these things, he came to his town and was teaching them on the Sabbath in their synagogues. Was there not another people, or another land apart from that of the Jews? But in order that Marcion's lie be refuted, it said after this, He entered the synagogue as was his custom, on the Sabbath day. What was the custom of him who had come just now? He had come to Galilee, and had begun to teach, not outside of the synagogue, but within it, he [came] to talk to them about their God. Otherwise it would have been in order for him to proclaim to them outside of their synagogue. He therefore entered Bethsaida among the Jews. It does not indicate that they said anything to him other than, Physician, heal yourself. They seized him and brought him to the side of the mountain. It is not likely that the word [he] had spoken to them was leading them to anger. For, if he had been speaking to them concerning the Creator, and [if] this was why they had given the response, They seized him that they might cast him down, why then did it not record in other places that it was like this too? That the people of the town hated him, there is this testimony: A prophet is not accepted in his home town. [Ephrem Commentary 23]

Many of us suspect I think that 'Nazareth' was a distraction introduced by the orthodox to obscure the original Marcionite title of Jesus as 'Nazarene.' We have all discussed this before so I don't want to go over it again. The thing to remember is that the Marcionite text had the locale as 'Bethsidah' (= 'hunter house'/'fisher house') rather than Nazareth.

Of course the question that bothered me is why change the text from Bethsida? The Marcionites believed Jesus came from outer space quite literally. In other words, he didn't have a home on earth so the change to Nazareth is also deliberately to give Jesus a home and mother, people that know him etc. Yet why do make this change with this story rather than any other story?

Well, the obvious answer is that it is the first narrative in the Marcionite gospel. Jesus comes from outer space and goes to this place called Bethsidah where he can't heal anyone. Strange beginning when you stop and think about it. It makes Jesus look weak and ineffective. The pious will of course say that the gospel was just reporting what actually happened so here is an example of the frank honesty of the evangelist. But it still doesn't make sense because why would the Marcionites have Jesus come from outer space to a place called Bethsidah which wasn't his home and yet the narrative seems to reflect the idea that he failed to heal anyone because they knew him? Sure you can say that the orthodox added the stuff about the physician not being able to heal those who know him to reinforce that he was in Nazareth rather than Bethsidah, but then we've butchered Luke to make the case for another narrative.

There's got to be something to the Bethsidah identification. It should be noted that no one knows where this place is. 'Hunter house' is a curious name but there were real cities with that started with beth - Bethlehem being the most obvious. But I started wondering whether the Greek Βηθσαϊδά really designated a city called 'hunter house.' In other words is σαϊδά really a rendering of 'hunter' or 'fisher' or could the Greek σ have corresponded to another Hebrew letter.

So I start looking through my various Aramaic and Hebrew dictionaries and I realize that בית צידה isn't the only possibility for an original name. צידה (tsidah) means 'hunter' or 'fisher' in Aramaic. But the 's' sound could also have corresponded to a shin so I thought about בית שידה and it immediately jumped out and sealed the deal.

Why? Because בית שידה means 'demon house' but in a way that any student of the Talmud and early Jewish literature would immediately recognize as a reference to the temple of Jerusalem. In other words, the Marcionites identified Jesus as coming down from heaven and immediately going to Jerusalem where he couldn't heal his own. It was an exact parallel to the prologue of John:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world ... [but] the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him

I'll get back to the Gospel of John later but I can't tell you how בית שידה just hits it out of the park. And when you remember that from the time of Gaius of Rome the marriage at Cana was disputed what's the first act in the Gospel of John? You guess it - a visit to the Jerusalem temple:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

I can't tell you how the placement of this attempt to 'destroy' the Jewish temple never made any sense to me. It always seemed to contradict the synoptic gospels. But then בית שידה the restored 'demon house' for the opening of the Marcionite gospel changes all that. It actually demonstrates how close John was to the Marcionite gospel.

Now for those who care about Secret Mark I hope you can see that the very same thing that was done to the resurrection of the youth in Bethany in John chapter 10 was carried out from the hostile visit to בית שידה in the Marcionite gospel.

Now I haven't explained the real brilliance of this understanding. For it is only when you 'look under the hood' that you realize how certain the connection is. Let's start with the Talmud and see where everyone get's the idea that שידה means 'demon.' It all comes from a discussion of a disputed passage in Ecclesiastes:

I got me sharim and sharoth, and the delights of the sons of men, shidah (שידה) and shidoth (וְשִׁדּוֹת) [Eccel 2.8]

Gittin 68 a - b attempts to explain what the hell this means. The passage is usually translated into English as:

I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart

But as we will see from the gemara שידה is placed within the context of Solomon building the Jewish temple with the aid of demons. The reader will have to excuse the terse language of the Talmud. That's just the way the rabbinic texts are. We jump right into a discussion of the disputed terminology:

'Sharim and Sharoth', means diverse kinds of music; 'the delights of the sons of men' are ornamental pools and baths. 'Shidah and shidoth': Here [in the school of Babylon] they translate as male and female demons. In the West [i.e. the school of Tiberias] they say [it means] carriages.

R. Johanan said: There were three hundred kinds of demons in Shihin, but what a shidah is I do not know (or alternatively "'the real mother of the demons I do not know").

The Master said: Here they translate 'male and female demons'. For what did Solomon want them? — As indicated in the verse, And the house when it was in building was made of stone made ready at the quarry, [there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building];[I Kings VI, 7] He said to the Rabbis, How shall I manage [without iron tools]? — They replied, There is the shamir [i.e. a fabulous worm which could cut through the strongest stone] which Moses brought for the stones of the ephod. He asked them, Where is it to be found? — They replied, Bring a male and a female demon and tie them together; perhaps they know and will tell you. So he brought a male and a female demon and tied them together. They said to him, We do not know, but perhaps Ashmedai the prince of the demons knows. He said to them, Where is he? — They answered, He is in such-and-such a mountain. He has dug a pit there, which he fills with water and covers with a stone, which he then seals with his seal. Every day he goes up to heaven and studies in the Academy of the sky and then he comes down to earth and studies in the Academy of the earth, and then he goes and examines his seal and opens [the pit] and drinks and then closes it and seals it again and goes away. Solomon thereupon sent thither Benaiahu son of Jehoiada, giving him a chain on which was graven the [Divine] Name and a ring on which was graven the Name and fleeces of wool and bottles of wine. Benaiahu went and dug a pit lower down the hill and let the water flow into it [i.e. from Ashmedai's pit by means of a tunnel connecting the two] and stopped [the hollow] With the fleeces of wool, and he then dug a pit higher up and poured the wine into it [i.e. so that it should flow into Ashmedai's pit. and then filled up the pits]. He then went and sat on a tree.

When Ashmedai came he examined the seal, then opened the pit and found it full of wine. He said, it is written, Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise, [Prov. XX, 1] and it is also written, Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding. [Hos, IV, 11] I will not drink it. Growing thirsty, however, he could not resist, and he drank till he became drunk, and fell asleep. Benaiahu then came down and threw the chain over him and fastened it. When he awoke he began to struggle, whereupon he [Benaiahu] said, The Name of thy Master is upon thee, the Name of thy Master is upon thee. As he was bringing him along, he came to a palm tree and rubbed against it and down it came. He came to a house and knocked it down. He came to the hut of a certain widow. She came out and besought him, and he bent down so as not to touch it, thereby breaking a bone. He said, That bears out the verse, A soft tongue breaketh the bone [Prov. XXV, 15]. He saw a blind man straying from his way and he put him on the right path. He saw a drunken man losing his way and he put him on his path. He saw a wedding procession making its way merrily and he wept. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, Make me a pair of shoes that will last seven years, and he laughed. He saw a diviner practising divinations and he laughed. When they reached Jerusalem he was not taken to see Solomon for three days. On the first day he asked, Why does the king not want to see me? They replied, Because he has overdrunk himself. So he took a brick and placed it on top of another. When they reported this to Solomon he said to them, What he meant to tell you was, Give him more to drink. On the next day he said to them, Why does the king not want to see me? They replied, Because he has over-eaten himself. He thereupon took one brick from off the other and placed it on the ground. When they reported this to Solomon, he said, He meant to tell you to keep food away from me. After three days he went in to see him. He took a reed and measured four cubits and threw it in front of him, saying, See now, when you die you will have no more than four cubits in this world. Now, however, you have subdued the whole world, yet you are not satisfied till you subdue me too. He replied: I want nothing of you. What I want is to build the Temple and I require the shamir. He said: It is not in my hands, it is in the hands of the Prince of the Sea who gives it only to the woodpecker, [lit., 'Cock of the prairie'] to whom he trusts it on oath. What does the bird do with it? — He takes it to a mountain where there is no cultivation and puts it on the edge of the rock which thereupon splits, and he then takes seeds from trees and brings them and throws them into the opening and things grow there. (This is what the Targum means by nagar tura). [lit., 'One that saws the rock': the rendering in Targum Onkelos of the Hebrew [H] generally rendered by hoopoe; Lev. XI, 19.] So they found out a woodpecker's nest with young in it, and covered it over with white glass. When the bird came it wanted to get in but could not, so it went and brought the shamir and placed it on the glass. Benaiahu thereupon gave a shout, and it dropped [the shamir] and he took it, and the bird went and committed suicide on account of its oath.

Benaiahu said to Ashmedai, Why when you saw that blind man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied: It has been proclaimed of him in heaven that he is a wholly righteous man, and that whoever does him a kindness will be worthy of the future world. And why when you saw the drunken man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied, They have proclaimed concerning him in heaven that he is wholly wicked, and I conferred a boon on him in order that he may consume [here] his share [in the future = that there may remain no share for him to enjoy in the hereafter]. Why when you saw the wedding procession did you weep? He said: The husband will die within thirty days, and she will have to wait for the brother-in-law who is still a child of thirteen years. [i.e.before he can give her halizah (v. Glos.) and enable her to marry again] Why, when you heard a man say to the shoemaker, Make me shoes to last seven years, did you laugh? He replied: That man has not seven days to live, and he wants shoes for seven years! Why when you saw that diviner divining did you laugh? He said: He was sitting on a royal treasure: he should have divined what was beneath him.

Solomon kept him with him until he had built the Temple. One day when he was alone with him, he said, it is written, He hath as it were to'afoth and re'em,6 and we explain that to'afoth means the ministering angels and re'em means the demons.7 What is your superiority over us?8 He said to him, Take the chain off me and give me your ring, and I will show you. So he took the chain off him and gave him the ring. He then swallowed him,9 and placing one wing on the earth and one on the sky he hurled him four hundred parasangs. In reference to that incident Solomon said, What profit is there to a man in all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun.10

And this was my portion from all my labour.11 What is referred to by 'this'? — Rab and Samuel gave different answers, one saying that it meant his staff and the other that it meant his apron.12 He used to go round begging, saying wherever he went, I Koheleth was king over Israel in Jerusalem.13 When he came to the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis said: Let us see, a madman does not stick to one thing only.14 What is the meaning of this? They asked Benaiahu, Does the king send for you? He replied, No. They sent to the queens saying, Does the king visit you? They sent back word, Yes, he does. They then sent to them to say, Examine his leg.15 They sent back to say, He comes in stockings, and he visits them in the time of their separation and he also calls for Bathsheba his mother. They then sent for Solomon and gave him the chain and the ring on which the Name was engraved. When he went in, Ashmedai on catching sight of him flew away, but he remained in fear of him, therefore is it written, Behold it is the litter of Solomon, threescore mighty met, are about it of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword and are expert in war, every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.16

Rab and Samuel differed [about Solomon]. One said that Solomon was first a king and then a commoner,17 and the other that he was first a king and then a commoner and then a king again.

6. Num. XXIV, 8. E.V., 'the strength of a wild ox'.
7. So Targum Onkelos.
8. That you should be a standard of comparison for Israel.
9. Al. 'it' (the ring).
10. Eccl. I, 3.
11. Ibid. II, 10.
12. Al. 'his platter', v. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 110 and notes.
13. Ibid. I, 12.
14. I.e., if Solomon were mad, he would show it by other things as well.
15. Because a demon's legs are like those of a cock, v. Ber. 6a.
16. Cant. III, 7, 8.
17. That is to say, that though he was restored to his kingdom, he did not rule over the unseen world as formerly, v. Sanh. loc. cit.

Let's recap what is being said here. The story about Solomon using demons develops out of a discussion of what the term שידה means. The answer is clearly that they are the demons associated with Solomon's building of the temple. The demons were not only captured to build the temple but also to live there. The temple was thus a 'demon house' = בית שידה although the term is never explicitly used.

The same idea is found in other very early Jewish texts including the Testament of Solomon which is usually dated from the first to third centuries.

Yet it is one thing to argue that the early Jewish tradition had this association with 'demon house' בית שידה but what of the Christian tradition? It is well established that the idea was shared by a key and very early Nag Hammadi text which I have long argued to be Marcionite. David A. Fiensy (Jesus the Galilean: soundings in a first century life) notes:

The references to demonic assistance in building Solomon's temple would seem to be from the Jewish traditions in the foundational text of the Testament of Solomon. In the first place, the same traditions are found in the Talmud.b. Gittin 68 a-b. In the second place, when this tradition surfaces in a Christian source, a Gnostic text from Nag Hammadi, it becomes a very negative characteristic of the temple. This text affirms that the temple's being built by demons makes the temple, evil and satanic. see the testimony of truth 70:4 -10 [p. 133]

And the passage in question identifies the Jewish temple as a demon house in exactly the same manner as the Jewish tradition:

They are wicked in their behavior! Some of them fall away to the worship of idols. Others have demons dwelling with them, as did David the king. He is the one who laid the foundation of Jerusalem; and his son Solomon, whom he begat in adultery, is the one who built Jerusalem by means of the demons, because he received power. When he had finished building, he imprisoned the demons in the temple. He placed them into seven waterpots. They remained a long time in the waterpots, abandoned there. When the Romans went up to Jerusalem, they discovered the waterpots, and immediately the demons ran out of the waterpots, as those who escape from prison. And the waterpots remained pure thereafter. And since those days, they dwell with men who are in ignorance, and they have remained upon the earth.

Who, then, is David? And who is Solomon? And what is the foundation? And what is the wall which surrounds Jerusalem? And who are the demons? And what are the waterpots? And who are the Romans? But these are mysteries ...
... (11 lines unrecoverable)
... victorious over [...] the Son of Man [...] undefiled ...
... (3 lines unrecoverable)
... and he [...] when he [...]. For [...] is a great ...
... (1 line unrecoverable)
... to this nature ...

Yes the text becomes fragmentary but already with what is available to us it should be obvious that Christians who undoubtedly used the Marcionite gospel would have identified the Jewish temple as 'bethsidah' because it was a demon house.

I will explain how the Marcionite narrative must have looked like in subsequent posts here but let me not one last thing. The reason why Solomon is associated with Ecclesiastes and Eccles. 2.8 in particular is because ancient people thought Solomon was its author. Note also that the context of the sentence appears in a description of the building of the temple:

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—שִׁדָּה וְשִׁדּוֹת. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. [Ecclesiastes 2:5 - 10]

I think this is a major discovery. I think no one before me since the existence of the Marcionite sect itself ever had a clue that the first scene in the Marcionite gospel took place with Jesus descending from heaven to Jerusalem.

More later ...

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