Monday, May 9, 2011

The Secret Gospel of Mark and Mark's Original 'Mystic' Interpretation of the Book of Joshua

With all the nonsense that gets promoted about 'the difficulties with Secret Mark,' that the letter isn't attested in any of the Church Fathers and the like, it should be noted that almost all of its main points do find some attestation in Patristic writings.  Let's start with the existence of a heretical form of the 'Gospel of Mark' - that appears both in Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.11.7 and Philosophumena 7.18.  Yet the claim that there was some other form of baptism besides that which John the Baptist administered to Jesus at the beginning of the gospel - that appears in countless forms through the writings of the Church Fathers - i.e. Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.21.1,2, the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism, the Epistles of the Alexandrian Pope Dionysius and most significant of all, the writings of Origen of Alexandria.

The earliest evidence suggests that the two reports are somehow related - i.e. that the 'heretical' gospel of Mark (or the gospel of the heretical followers of Mark) made reference to the so-called 'redemption' baptism in chapter 10.  That this so happens to be the exact place that the 'Secret Mark' puts the so-called SGM 1 narrative (= the first addition to Secret Mark) can't be ignored.  Yet I want to take things one step further.

As we have noted here a number of times, it can't be coincidental that after the initiate is ritually prepared by Jesus after six days, 'he' crosses the Jordan river.  Again we note the parallel with the language of Secret Mark and the LXX of the Book of Joshua:

And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. 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 (τὸ πέραν τοῦ ιορδάνου). [to Theod. 3.6,7]

Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but ye shall pass over before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and shall help them; until the LORD have given your brethren rest, as unto you, and they also have possessed the land which the LORD your God giveth them; then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you across the Jordan toward the rising (εἰς τὸ πέραν τοῦ ιορδάνου ἀπ' ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου) [Joshua 1.14,15]

The parallel here is absolutely significant.  While πέραν is technically an adverb, but it can be used as a preposition with the genitive. Yet only in Secret Mark and Joshua 1.15 LXX we see it used as an accusative article - i.e. the man is the direct object of the action (the crossing of the Jordan). In Jos. 1.15 LXX it is Jesus (Joshua) and in Secret Mark it is either Jesus or the initiated disciple. I suspect the latter.

As noted this is a very significant parallel. The timing of the event is clearly days before Passover and certainly in the month of Nisan. It would have been hard to avoid connecting the event (i.e. the crossing of the Jordan) with Jesus (Joshua) and the inheritance of the land merely by the coincidence of timing. Now with the parallel terminology it is undeniable and highly significant - even 'mystically' so hence the name of the gospel.

Yet let's go one step further.  We should notice also that there isn't just a 'crossing of the Jordan' near the end of what must be regarded as Mark's original gospel. At the beginning of Mark chapter 5 there is a 'crossing of the sea' which has to be seen as a deliberate parallel to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea given nowhere else is this 'lake' described as a 'sea':

They went across the sea (εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης) to the region of the Gerasenes. [Mark 5:1]

Who will cross the sea (εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης) to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it? [Deuteronomy 30:11 - 18 LXX]

Indeed it doesn't take a lot of imagination to begin to see how the original gospel of Mark - the one which referenced a crossing of the sea and prolonged 'wandering in the wilderness' before the initiation into the mystery of the kingdom of God, the crossing of the Jordan, a journey to Jericho - all which closely follow the story of Joshua in both Pentateuch and Book of Joshua - and culminating in the destruction of a city said to be hostile to God - viz. Jerusalem.

The point however is that all of this Origen - the public face of the Alexandrian tradition in the third century and Clement's student - makes explicit that 'the crossing of the sea' and 'the crossing of the Jordan' represent two different forms of baptism.  The former that of repentance and water while the latter representing a literal 'baptism of fire.'  Where did Origen get this idea of 'another baptism' associated with the crossing of the Jordan if not the 'Secret Gospel' of Mark?  Indeed it is jarring enough to see him go out of his way to say that Joshua's crossing has nothing whatsoever to do with the familiar gospel narrative with Jesus and John the Baptist in the Jordan.  He must have had another gospel narrative in mind which was more like the narrative found in the Book of Joshua; one didn't merely reference 'bathing' but which involved a crossing ...

More on that next.

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