Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why My Conservative Religious Beliefs Make Me Absolutely Certain that Secret Mark (and the Letter to Theodore) are Authentic

I think it is about time that I explain why it is that I am so interested in the Letter to Thedoore.  After all, it is so glaringly obvious that most of the people who come down against the authenticity of the document do so because they claim to represent 'conservative' Christian values.  Must I necessarily represent some radical revisionist tendency in scholarship merely because I assume the text is authentic?  No, my friends, I am the furthest thing removed from a modern liberal scholar.  To be certain I happened to have written a book which might seem to argue for a 'radical revision of history.' A word to the wise (and all aspiring writers) be very careful when choosing the publisher for your new book.

Of course regular readers of my blog know firsthand, all of my ideas are rooted in real traditions.  I am utterly conservative to the core.  My interest has always been to delve into the heart of earliest Christianity.  This is why I do not subscribe to the so-called 'mythicist' position that seems to en vogue in internet circles these days.

I will be the first to acknowledge that the gospel narrative was consciously developed by Mark with the 'myths' of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua in mind.  If that makes me a 'mythicist' then I subscribe to what one might call - the Jewish mythicist position.  The whole point of the gospel is to proclaim the story of the messiah who appeared in the fifteenth year of Tiberius.  I have no idea what is 'historical' in the gospel any longer.  It is difficult to tell what 'historical truth' there is in the gospel as everything has been completely reshaped by 'myths' associated with Moses and Joshua.  I would even say that this Mark's very purpose in writing the gospel.

When you go back to the earliest strata of the gospel - i.e. the text in the hands of the Marcionites and earliest representatives of the Alexandrian tradition - there simply is no evidence that the original author consciously borrowed from contemporary paganism.  Indeed the text is exactly what you would expect from a messianic text written by a Jew in late first century Alexandria.

I think the real problem here is that the people making the 'mythicist' argument are essentially unfamiliar with the core beliefs and expectations in the Jewish cultural milieu at the turn of the Common Era.  I think that it is here where everything breaks down in their theories.  Indeed, when you stand back and reconstruct 'Secret Mark' - even with just the limited evidence that is available to us - the underlying and specifically Jewish underpinnings to the whole 'mythology' of the gospel narrative immediately becomes apparent.

There are two narratives running side by side and ultimately against one another in Mark's 'Gospel of Jesus.'  Mark was an Alexandrian Jew who likely completed a narrative in 75 CE (one Jubilee period after the original 'year of favor').   In the outer surface of the gospel, Mark presents us with Jesus the messenger and announcer of the messianic Jubilee (cf. Clement Stromata 1.21).  Jesus is the divine mevasser - i.e. 'Melchizedek' - foretold in ancient texts such as 11QMelchizedek.  There can be no doubt about this.

We needn't delve into the 'secret' portion of the gospel in this discussion.  It is enough to say that what we have just described was always the core value of Christianity.  I also think that the 'conservatives' who oppose the document don't recognize 'Secret Mark' for what it is.  They get totally distracted by questions of Morton Smith's revisionist scholarship, his sexual identity, the 'cultural wars' going on in America today and all the current nonsense that goes on in internet forums.

Morton Smith tried to make his discovery fit his own 'agenda.'  There's no doubt about that.  Yet he is not the first scholar to have 'an agenda' (these conservatives should look in the mirror before casting a stone).   The point is that if any of these self-described conservatives would read my analysis of the Secret Gospel in this post and those that precede it they will immediately recognize (God willing) that I understand the text better than Morton Smith.  My agenda is simply to know the truth.

To this end, let me tell the story of how it was that I became interested in the Letter to Theodore.  I had been traveling in Venice after drifting through various fields of study related to the Bible and decided to go to the Basilica di San Marco.  It was a rainy day.  I don't normally like to participate in 'touristy' things.  In any event, while traveling through this rather gaudy structure I stumbled upon the throne of St. Mark.

Now I know people like to characterize my interest in this object as 'sensationalist' but it truly isn't.  I came from a very strange religious background.  I have no reason to show interest in any ancient Christian relics.  But because I know a thing or too about Jewish and Samaritan lore the object spoke to me.  I've seen the same thing happen whenever I have shown pictures of the object to scholars who specialize in ancient art and religion.  There's just something unmistakably 'Semitic' about the iconography.

Now I can't claim that I wasn't interested in Mark, Marcion or Marqe before coming across this object.  But the throne necessarily led me to develop a heightened interest in the Alexandrian tradition associated with St. Mark.  I will acknowledge of course that my first attempt to explain the origins of this fascinating object was ultimately unsatisfactory (the Real Messiah: the Throne of St. Mark and the Origins of Christianity, Duncan Baird 2008).  Yet this first attempt led me to the Mar Saba document.  My second attempt at explaining the relic (The Rediscovery of the Original Episcopal Throne of the Alexandrian See of St. Mark, Journal of Coptic Studies, Volume 11, 2009) was a much better attempt by virtue of the fact that it was far more restrained.

The truth is that my initial 'insight' - a kind of 'intuition' or a feeling that hit me when I first laid eyes on the relic - guides almost all of my research into early Christianity.  I would like to describe it is a revelation but that would only distract from my insight being taken seriously.

Now that I have an established readership at my blog, I think its about time that I come out and say why the throne of St. Mark in Venice makes me so convinced that the Letter to Theodore is authentic.  It begins with the most basic question about the Alexandrian tradition and that is - why is there an apostolic throne at the heart of the tradition from the very beginning?  Now some may argue that there was also a throne in the Jerusalem tradition associated with James the brother of John.  In this way, an Alexandrian episcopal throne associated with Mark isn't really that surprising.  It would be argued that every apostle had an imaginary throne associated with him in every locale in which these apostles were venerated.

Yet this is logic is essentially flawed and this because the fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark in to Theodore is so obvious describing an enthronement ritual even if the word 'throne' is not mentioned anywhere in the text.  The truth is that have tried to write a paper explaining what is essentially the revelation that came over me in Venice so many times.  I sent one version to the Journal of Early Christian Studies (which was edited by an expert on Athanasius of Alexandria).  I even sent one version to Scott Brown for editing.  I ultimately took my rejection and ignoring very badly.  But I now see that the fault lay in my own ability not to express the original insight properly.

So now let me attempt to start a seventh attempt at explaining what has been for me the essentially indescribable experience that came over me in Venice.  Let's begin with the fact that the throne of St. Mark certainly came to Venice by way of Alexandria in the ninth century.  No one doubts that.  Nor does anyone doubt that the throne goes back to ancient Christianity in Alexandria.  In my published article I made a connection between the description of the inner sanctum in the literary tradition associated with the martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria in 311 CE.  I am not the only scholar to suggest that this throne or something like it was in the Church of St. Mark in the early fourth century.  I also left the door open that the object's presence in the adyton might go back as far as the third century.

The throne is decorated with images from Ezekiel's theophany (i.e. the four hiyyot or 'living creatures').  The occupant of the chair - i.e. the various successors to St. Mark - are clearly being represented as heirs to God.  But even more fundamentally, we must recognize that St. Mark himself was understood to have been seated in a throne that resembled the heavenly seat of the Almighty.  When you look by comparison at the throne of St. Peter by contrast you find absolutely nothing that resembles this symbolism (just pictures of Hercules strangely enough).

When I started reading Andre Grabar's analysis of the iconography I found it utterly misguided but I soon found that I wasn't alone in this criticism.  Many other studies condemned Grabar's superficiality.  This simply wasn't another 'Byzantine relic.'  This was a core expression of Alexandrian Christianity.  We learn pilgrims for instance that the throne stood above the buried of the evangelist in the church that was his martyrium.  The point being that the throne was 'the face' of St. Mark to the world until the Muslim rulers of Egypt basically sold the relics associated with the evangelist to the Venetians.

My interest in the Mar Saba document then developed from an interest in uncovering literary references to unlock the original testimony of the throne of St. Mark.  Yes, this is certainly a strange way of approaching what has become unfortunately a disputed text.  Nevertheless there is an underlying logic to the methodology which deserves due consideration.

First of all, Clement does make explicit reference to the adyton of the Church of St. Mark which as we have noted is the very same place described in the Acts of Peter of Alexandria.  Already here is an apparent revision of most interpretations of the Letter to Theodore.  For most people read the 'truth veiled by seven' comment as referencing 'seven veils' that obscure the inner sanctum from the uninitiated.  It was Morton Smith who first came up with this interpretation and it has been followed ever since.  However the Acts of Peter make clear that the lay members of the Church could see into the inner sanctum and actually got upset when Peter refused to sit on the throne choosing instead its footstool.

Ah ha!  Some reader may be thinking to themselves - here is another clear proof that the text is forgery.  Yet this is complete nonsense.  It shows once again that Morton Smith's analysis is the problem.  For the text only says that the truth was covered by seven.  I think everyone can agree that Clement's seven books of the Stromateis reference the same underlying concept as the description of the inner sanctum.  This in itself is not an argument for authenticity given that Morton Smith or anyone else would have been aware of this symbolism.  Yet what often goes unreported is the fact that stromata were principally coverings of furniture.  This was the primary meaning of the terminology in antiquity.

To this end, the description in to Theodore of a 'truth' that was covered by seven veils may well allude to a mystery involving a throne that was covered seven times over (to symbolize the seven heavens which separate us from the vision of the Almighty).  The reason this interpretation has a lot going for it, in my opinion, is that Clement makes an explicit connection between the mystery of seven coverings in the inner sanctum and the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark.  Now once again it can be argued that seven day initiation of the great mystery of Alexandria might be related to seven curtains that one had to pass through in order to see the inner sanctum which itself represented 'the highest heaven' and which contained a throne among other holy objects.  Yet there obvious reasons to reject this interpretation, not the least of which is the fact that the Acts of Peter make it plain that the martyrium of St. Mark did not have curtains separating the inner sanctum from the rest of the Church.

I have noted elsewhere for instance that when Peter I is murdered in the environs of the martyrium the church goers - angry with his refusal to sit in the episcopal throne - forcibly place him in the chair and then use the stromata to wrap his body for burial.  Indeed anyone who has ever seen the chair in Venice is immediately struck by how uncomfortable this seat would have been to the posterior of its occupant (it is solid marble).  It would only have been natural in antiquity to have adorned a piece of furniture with expensive stromata.  Just having a bare throne for a person of a dignified rank such as the Patriarch of Alexandria would have been unthinkable, let alone factoring the obvious mystical significance of a covered throne = a truth veiled many times over (Isa 16.5 LXX).

The point is then that Morton Smith's analysis of the text really isn't really that good and this is because he wasn't a specialist in Alexandrian Church history.  I admit it is rather strange to have a novice such as myself come in from the side door as it were and argue that he has a better understanding of the text than everyone else.  Nevertheless, as I have said times before - how many of these 'experts' have actually had something substantive published in a journal which specializes in the religious history of Christian history of Alexandria?  In this way, I stand alone with only three other figures in the debate Birger Pearson, Charles Hedrick and Marvin Meyer, all of whom I admire greatly.

But let's face it - the rest of the field including Morton Smith have no real right to say anything for or against authenticity because they really don't the early Alexandrian tradition from a hole in the ground.  To case that Secret Mark doesn't agree with the gospels and traditions found in other parts of the Christian world is a stupid argument that isn't even worth considering.  Alexandria was different, plain and simple.  As I have said time and time again - it was nice to have all these nobodies attend the 'Secret Mark conference' in Toronto, but let's assemble a panel of people that actually have some expertise with respect to things which actually make a difference in the discussion (i.e. experts on the writings of Clement and Origen, paleography and most important of all people that have actually published articles in journals that specialize in early Egyptian Christianity).

So as someone that qualifies as an expert in early Alexandrian Christianity (or at least is more qualified than most on the panel in Toronto) let me tell you how I justify the authenticity of Secret Mark.  As noted here many times the structure of the letter to Theodore assumes that this otherwise unknown Theodore has previously written to Clement asking him about something related to the 'mystic gospel.'  The question has something to do with Maximus of Tyre's famous dictum about the Platonic judgment in the underworld - i.e. 'the naked to the naked, the loving to the loved, and the free to the free' (γυμνὸν γυμνῷ, φίλον φίλῳ, ἐλεύθερον ἐλευθέρῳ Dissertation 15).  In other words, Morton Smith did not recognize that the discussion between Clement and Theodore is one which developed between two Middle Platonists or at least two people who were familiar with current Platonic thought (we should also note the closing reference also from Hippias Major 294 a-c in the letter).

In other words, Theodore's original reference to 'naked to naked' is contemporary Platonist jargon for the judgment of the dead.  Clearly Secret Mark does represent a youth who was resurrected from the dead and Theodore's question has something do with whether Plato's Gorgias is explicitly referenced in the text.  This line of questioning was undoubtedly spurred by yet another contemporary Platonist, Celsus, who in his anti-Christian polemic the True Account goes out of his way to say that the previous pericope - the Question of the Rich Youth was 'stolen' from Plato's the Laws.  To this end, we must surmise that Clement is actually only partially unveiling the contents of the Secret Mark to answer charges that the text itself represents a neo-Platonic forgery.

Not only does this explanation (i.e. an unrecognized dialogue between a number of contemporary Middle Platonists) help authenticate the letter, it clears the way for an understanding of why Clement wants to break his silence about the text.  For when you really think about it, Clement's other writings do very little to dispel Celsus's charge that Alexandrian Christianity in particular 'stole everything' from Plato.  References to Plato abound on every page and one may indeed suspect that the development of the specific terminology 'heretic' and 'heresy' arose from an attempt by Roman Christians to distinguish themselves from their Alexandrian counterparts (who were so deeply versed in 'philosophy' that it distracted attention from what was the proper foundation of Christianity - viz. the Jewish scriptures).

Indeed not only are Irenaeus's writings deeply engaged in exposing the 'false knowledge' that developed from the Alexandrian interest in Plato and other Greek writers, texts such as the Philosophumena take this approach to new heights of absurdity.  The problem of course is that we see in the writings of Philo that first century Alexandrian Judaism was hopeless entangled in such Platonic exegeses of the Jewish scriptures.  Philo wasn't alone of course.  Jerome tells us that Justus of Tiberias was another notable proponent of Jewish scriptural exegesis by Greek philosophy in the period.  Josephus mentions Marcus Julius Agrippa (Julius of Tiberias's 'boss' as it were) was yet another.

In other words, in a surprising way the very dependence on Plato pointed to by Celsus actually help authenticate the gospel(s) as first century documents especially if the author(s) are understood to be Hellenized Jews.  The Jews of the second century and later periods show a complete abandonment of such interests.  The problem of course is that Celsus's argument that this dependence on Plato made the gospel itself wholly human compositions was not easy to shake without revealing that it was only the exegesis that was Platonic.  The text of 'Secret Mark' was wholly Jewish in its orientation and foundation.

To this end, Clement of Alexandria decides to show Theodore (whom we may presume to be familiar with Christian as well as Platonic concepts) that despite the unfortunate exegesis of the 'Carpocratians' the text is wholly compatible with traditional monotheistic values and shows no sign of overt 'Platonizing.'  To this end he reveals to Theodore that the youth was not depicted as appearing before Jesus as 'naked to naked' in the Platonic conception in the Gorgias:

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 kingship of God. And thence arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.

As Hedrick notes in his recent paper, there is nothing sexual in this reference.  I have even had correspondence with Andrew Criddle, a noted proponent of the hoax hypothesis, who acknowledges that an ancient reader would not have seen anything unbecoming in any of this.

So now that we understand that Clement is dispelling an original question from Theodore which references contemporary Platonic terminology with respect to the judgment of the dead 'naked to naked' we come full circle to what the original Alexandrian interpretation of the material would have been.  Why is there a six day period of waiting before the initiation?  Why is Jesus initiating only one disciple into this 'mystery initiation'?  And doesn't this contradict the notion we see firmly established elsewhere that Jesus never baptized any of his disciples?

The reality is that nothing in the Letter to Theodore contradicts anything in the writings of the Church Fathers.  The text never promotes or references homosexuality.  It never even references baptism.  It only leaves a few clues which I will argue - if properly interpreted - necessarily lead the hearer to one conclusion about the context of the initiation and what well known Jewish historical event it is imitating.

The starting point clearly is that this has to be seen to be an enthronement ritual.  The connection with the seven coverings on the throne of the inner sanctum not withstanding, we have to recognize that these are quite explicitly mysteries of 'the kingship of God' (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ).  In other words, it was an enthronement ceremony.  The underlying connection as F F Bruce would certainly have acknowledged, is Irenaeus's statement that at the end of the Gospel of Mark in the hands of heretics of his day - Jesus was crucified and Christ stood impassably looking on.  The Christ figure cannot be an angelic hypostasis given that 'impassability' is always identified by Clement of Alexandria as the perfect state that is achieved by one who undergoes ritual initiation into the mysteries (cf. Strom 4.6).  In other words, Christ here is certain the rich youth of Secret Mark.

Indeed most scholars don't even recognize that the Platonic term 'gnostic' doesn't mean someone who knows secret teachings but rather the faculty possessed by greater rulers which ultimately comes from God.  To this end, 'the gnostic' is for Clement one who underwent the initiation into the mysteries of divine kingship.  The figure then who is eventually identified as 'Christ' is the one who participated in an enthronement ritual confirm him as the likeness of Jesus - i.e. the Logos, who is according to Philo, the image of God.  There can be no overstating the influence of Philo on Clement's understanding but it would be foolish to think that Clement just stumbled on to Philo's writings while visiting the library.  Philo rather had a great influence on the Alexandrian tradition which in turn gave rise to leading luminaries of the later period including Clement and Origen.

It is interesting to note that the clearest place that Philo identifies the Logos as being present as the very image of God is in his discussion of Exodus 24 where see in the original narrative language which would certainly imply to anyone reading it that Moses saw God Almighty sitting on a throne.  Philo's LXX by contrast actually goes so far as to describe a 'footstool' being present in this vision (and thus implying the presence of the throne). Yet Philo uses the Greek text of LXX to essentially distinguish between God Almighty (who cannot be seen) and the divine being beheld by Moses enthroned in the chair (i.e. the Logos).

Why is this so very interesting to any discussion of 'Secret Mark'?  Because it is impossible for any informed reader to escape the notion that SGM 1 is developed from Exodus 24's enthronement ritual.   As Marvin Meyer notes somewhere its 'six days' reference could well be:

understood as symbolizing an appropriate time of preparation and purification before an experience of meeting the divine (eg, Exod 24:16). [Marvin Meyer Secret Gospels: essays on Thomas and the secret Gospel of Mark p. 124]

Yet it goes well beyond this preliminary observation.  Not only does Irenaeus virtually tells us that the individual who is depicted as undergoing a 'divine kingship' ritual ultimately emerges by the time of the Passion as the 'impassable' Christ, he also tells about a 'redemption' ritual associated with Salome's request for enthronement for her children (Irenaeus AH 1.21.2)

Indeed I ask that everyone interested in the question of Secret Mark's authenticity actually look at Irenaeus's actual reference to the ritual which involved fire rather than - or possibly in addition to - water immersion (cf. Anonymous Baptism Treatise 16):

they (i.e. the followers of Mark) affirm that the Lord added this redemption to the sons of Zebedee, where their mother asked that they might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom

It is utterly shameful that all previous discussions don't connect the mysteries of divine kingship in Secret Mark with the enthronement rite associated confirmed by Salome's request to Jesus in Mark 10:35 - 45.  Do these people actually read the Patristic writings?  Apparently one or two disciples have undergone a rite related to enthronement and their mother has now asked for a specific seat in the hereafter.  Jesus's response is clearly that the initiation process is not yet complete pointing to his impending crucifixion.

The point of course is that only when SGM 1 is recognized to be an enthronement ritual do we find two Patristic texts which reference its presence in ancient Christianity.  Indeed what do these people imagine the 'mysteries of divine kingship' involved if not a ritual throne?  The parallel reference in the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism make clear that not only was the original citation in Irenaeus made from a gospel of Mark (not difficult to see given that the group are identified as 'Markans') but that the redemption ritual involved fire:

And even to this point the whole of that heretical baptism may be amended, after the intervention of some space of time, if a man should survive and amend his faith, as our God, in the Gospel according to Luke, spoke to His disciples, saying, But I have another baptism to be baptized with. (Luke 12:50) Also according to Mark He said, with the same purpose, to the sons of Zebedee: Are you able to drink of the cup which I drink of, or to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? (Mark 10:38) Because He knew that those men had to be baptized not only with water, but also in their own blood; so that, as well baptized in this baptism only, they might attain the sound faith and the simple love of the laver, and, baptized in both ways, they might in like manner to the same extent attain the baptism of salvation and glory ... [but] because John said that we must be baptized in the Holy Ghost and in fire, from the fact that he went on to say and fire, some desperate men have dared to such an extent to carry their depravity, and therefore very crafty men seek how they can thus corrupt and violate, and even neutralize the baptism of holiness ... some of them try to argue that they only administer a sound and perfect, not as we, a mutilated and curtailed baptism, which they are in such wise said to designate, that immediately they have descended into the water, fire at once appears upon the water. Which if it can be effected by any trick, as several tricks of this kind are affirmed to be— of Anaxilaus— whether it is anything natural, by means of which this may happen, or whether they think that they behold this, or whether the work and magical poison of some malignant being can force fire from the water; still they declare such a deceit and artifice to be a perfect baptism, which if faithful men have been forced to receive, there will assuredly be no doubt but that they have lost that which they had. Just as, if a soldier after taking an oath should desert his camp, and in the very different camp of the enemy should wish to take an oath of a far other kind, it is plain that in this way he is discharged from his old oath. [Anonymous Treatise 14,16]

The reference to Anaxilaus here conforms to Irenaeus's original reference to the followers of Mark as adapting this Pythagorean's magical practices with the fire rituals of the Persian Magi (cf. AH 1.13.1)  Thus we come full circle to problem of sorting out what appears at first glance to be an incomprehensible other form of baptism in Alexandria involving a six day waiting period, followed by an immersion into fire on the seventh and enthronement.

It would seem a hopeless situation if it were not for the fact that Meyer already noted the similarities between SGM 1 and Exodus 24.  Is this only a superficial similarity involving the number of days of purification or does it point to something far more fundamental?  Well let's start with the description itself.  In Exodus chapter 24 we are told how Moses set out with Joshua to go to the top of Mount Sinai to see God:

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

It is interesting that Moses went up with his 'disciple' Joshua to the mountain of course.  That the theophany happened on the seventh day is also also noteworthy.  However it is no wonder at first glance that no modern scholar has pursued the connection because - if you limit yourself to the original Hebrew text - there really doesn't seem to be much beyond just superficial similarities between the two traditions.

Of course if we now delve a little deeper into the Alexandrian tradition which certainly influenced Mark the evangelist we will see how wrong this 'first impression' really was.  For one, not only Philo but every other early Alexandrian writer who preceded Clement interpreted Exodus 24 as an enthronement ritual in which Moses ultimately sat in the place of God.  The earliest and most notable of course is the Exagoge of the second century BCE Alexandrian poet Ezekiel where Moses makes reference to his impending experience at Sinai:

I had a vision on the top of Sinai of a high throne that reached the fold of heaven.  On it was sitting a certain noble man, with a crown and that reached the fold of heaven.  On it was sitting a certain noble man, with a crown and with a large scepter in his left hand, while with the right he beckoned me, and I stood before the throne.  He handed me the scepter and told me to sit on the great throne, and gave me the royal crown, and he departed from the throne.  I beheld the whole earth around and the things underneath the earth and those above the heaven.  Then a multitude of stars fell on their knees before me, and I counted them all, and they paraded by me as in a march of mortals.

The 'noble man' of course is God and the purpose of the narrative is to say that Moses ultimately sat in the throne of God, something confirmed again in Deuteronomy 34.

Now if indeed the evangelist Mark was influenced by Ezekiel's Exogoge or the early tradition behind that composition it might make an interesting 'possibility' with respect to the origin of the SGM 1 narrative.  For we not only have a 'six day' preparation followed by an enthronement ritual which, as we noted is specifically noted in Irenaeus's testimony about the 'redemption' ritual of the heretics associated with Mark.  Yet there is a much stronger witness to the development of SGM 1 from earlier interpretations of Exodus 24; it is only ignored because so few scholars have actually read the writings of Mark (= memar marqe) preserved among the Samaritans.  As Broadie rightly notes the language throughout so closely resembles Philo of Alexandria that one could well argue for a first century date of composition.  MacDonald goes one step further and argues for incontrovertible points of contact with earliest Christianity in these writings.

Whether or not the reader accepts my working hypothesis that the Samaritan tradition preserves writings from the very same 'Mark' who went on to write the gospel, it is enough to say that 'Marqe' explains once and for all how and why SGM 1 was both (a) a development of Exodus 24 and (b) rooted in a ritual 'fire immersion' attested in countless early sources.  It all begins and ends with Marqe's consistent understanding that Moses was not only enthroned at Sinai but utterly 'immersed' in fire as a last purificatory 'step' after the six day waiting period.

Let's start with most explicit statement in the Samaritan writings of Mark regarding the process of purification established for Moses before his ultimate enthronement:

He was making supplication during the six days and prostrating before the King of all kings; he saw the Sanctuary of the Unseen spread out in the fire within the cloud. He was called on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud and he saw the ranks of the angels in their array.[MM 5.3]

Indeed a little later in the same section Marqe makes clear that Moses didn't just see the fire when he entered the cloud but rather he actually stood within the divine flame and was ultimately unharmed:

Fire glorified him seven times: fire's first dealing with him was on Mount Sinai at the beginning of his prophetic mission; it was revealed to him in the Bush; from it call was made by name twice— "Moses, Moses" (Ex. 3. 4)—a great wonder the like of which has never been in the world and never will be! From the fire he was called on the morning of the day of Horeb, from the top of Mount Sinai in the presence of six hundred thousand; fire flaming up to the heart of heaven, as he said, "While the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven" (Deut. 4. 11); then he trod in it with his feet and was not harmed by it; it was like a plant with the dew of heaven on it under his feet; in the holy Sanctuary, when a priest offered the offering for Aaron and his sons, fire went forth from the Lord and consumed all that he had put upon the altar (Lev. ix. 24) he praised and worshipped the Lord of all the world, the doer of all wonders. Exalted for ever be this great prophet who quenched the excesses of the fire; so also his prayer quenched the fire, as he said, "And Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated" (Num. 11.2). Fire consumed his enemies, as he said, "And fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense" (Num.16. 35) .  Commemorate well always this great prophet for whose sake all this was done and let no one ever have enough of commemorating him  [MM 5.3]

It is only because New Testament and Patristic scholars are so unfamiliar with the Samaritan writings that I feel compelled to demonstrate how prevalent this understanding that Moses stood completely immersed in flames really was.

We should pay special attention to the following collection of citations to see that not only was Moses understood to have been immersed in flames but also 'reclothed' by his experience and reshaped into a divine being:

It (the mystery) was established from Creation; it was made in the light; it was made known from the mouth of its Composer; a prophet received it, who was worthy of this glory from his very birth. Salvation was wrought for the congregation of the Hebrews. The glory was revealed by reason of him; the angels assembled to magnify him by reason of his perfection, as when the wonders were brought together before him.

Glory came to strengthen him, as when the good came and vested him with the crown of holiness. It appeared and anointed his body with faith; it came and set out laws for him.  Consider this great prophet Moses whose position God exalted in both worlds. He honoured you too in what you heard. See how the light submitted before him when he entered into it and received the tablets. See how the darkness was dispelled before him and had no power over him. See how the fire submitted its power, so that he trod in it and it was like dew to him. See how the water's waves were stilled through fear of him, when he was cast into it.

Divinity said to him, "Come in peace! For your sake I appeared to bring forth my wonders."
The Glory said to him, "Come in peace! I will make my glory to pass before you."
The angels said to him, "Come in peace! O faithful one of God. We cannot turn away from you ever.[MM 6.2]

See him enter into the fire to receive from the right hand of God the tablets of the covenant, the autograph of the True One. When God willed and gave His autograph to the great prophet Moses in the two tablets of the covenant, after He had made Israel to hear His voice above Mount Sinai, He wrote them on both sides of the tablets, the one then the other.[MM 6.2]

With his hands he received the autograph of God and it was a treasure-store of all knowledge.
His body mingled with the angels above and he dwelt with them, being worthy to do so.
His speech was like the speech of his Lord; all that his Lord said to him he carried out.
His voice mingled with the voice of his Lord and thus he was magnified above all the human race.
With his feet he trod in the great fire and it was to him like a shower of dew under his feet. [MM 6.3]

Not even a man of knowledge can possibly realize the greatness of Moses. Thanks be to God who made him worthy of all these things and established him in a position which no man has occupied (other than he). He slew the Egyptians, Pharaoh and all his army. His Lord honoured him in the eyes of the two orders.  He was a shepherd before the mountain. He built a sanctuary gloriously perfect, so that his Lord appeared to him in the flame of fire with manifold wonders. He hastened to Him in holiness, till he was in very great glory. There he was standing and his Lord calling him, till he trod in the fire and He addressed him.[MM 6.3]

He was crowned with ten wonders never found in any man but him: The first in his feet, for he walked with them on the fire and he was not harmed by it. When did he tread in the fire except on the Day of Horeb? The fire was at the front —as He said, "Because the Lord descended upon it in fire" (Ex. 19. 18 ; Targ.), and there was darkness behind it and cloud in the midst of it. When he was summoned and he ascended, he was struck with fear the third time; he approached the deep darkness where the angels of God were, and he dwelt among powers. [MM 2.11]

O you to whom God gave the gift of prophethood and whom He vested with His name and whose name he called 'servant' and 'Man' and 'the faithful one of His House' and 'good teacher' and 'honoured leader' and 'His lawgiver.' Consider every one of these words.  The servant of God (Deut. 34.5) trod in the fire and it was like dew under his feet.[MM 6.6]

You drew near to the deep darkness and dwelt in the cloud. You were crowned with the light. You trod the fire and you were in places where no man had been besides you. You called to heaven and it answered you, and earth did likewise. The waters were stilled at your words and could not dispel the force that subdued them. So when you trod the fire, its might was brought low and you walked in it. The angels glorified you and magnified your position and the Glory appeared to you.[MM 6.11]

If the reader looks carefully at all these references he will begin to see that Marqe didn't just think that Moses 'stood' in a fire at the top of the mountain but rather entered naked and was reclothed with a glorious vestment made of fire.  This is absolutely critical for us to make the link between what is described in SGM 1 and the reports of a 'baptism of fire' rituals in Alexandria.

Indeed even though fire is not explicitly referenced in the next reference it is obviously present in the description of the abode of the angels which we have already seen was 'fiery.'  Marqe describes the ultimate enthronement of Moses on Sinai as a mystery rite which we must imagine was only completed in Deuteronomy 34:

Let us observe the great prophet Moses descend from Mount Sinai on the day of the fast, the light dwelling on his face and the two tablets in his hands. He sat on a great throne and wrote what his Lord had taught him. He had learned at a schoolhouse among the angels. From their store he had been supplied. At their table he had sat and with their bread he had been satisfied. He had washed in their trough and he had been established in their dwelling place. Therefore he fasted in thanksgiving and made the congregation to fast with him. He made this a matter for commemoration unceasing.[MM 4.6]

The angels certainly didn't wash with water but fire.  This is also the place of dwelling for the heavenly hosts.  Yet Marqe can be seen to go one step further - this 'fire baptism' process was seen as the original purification ritual associated with establishing the priesthood of ancient Israel.  Marqe has Moses declare:

The dress of Aaron was produced from my clothing! Whence can an outsider reach us? All the vestments made for Aaron no outsider can approach to put on. Will not his sons who were anointed with the oil of majesty help him and stand with him?"  God has revealed to us this glory in ten prerogatives. They were appointed to it; they were all anointed with the oil of majesty and the alien who comes near is to be killed. Aaron sacrifices true sacrifices and his sons as well with him. They all enter into the Sanctuary and no stranger may draw near. He sacrifices two sacrifices and his sons with him. They enter into the holy place and no outsider may draw near.

Nothing of what is left over by them leaves the holy place to go outside, but the fire consumes it at their hands. No outsider may eat with them bread from the sacrificial bread which has been sacrificed by them. The same applies to the Blessing which God taught them; the outsider has no part in it with them.  They burn in the Sanctuary in the fire. Who can attain that position? Who can stand before the Cherubim when the voice of God addresses him ? Who is there can begin the words of the Prayer for Forgiveness when his sons are with him ? Who can compare with them when they conclude (it)? Who can speak with them one word ? Who can be pure as they are pure, or be defiled as they are defiled?  Who possess such magnificent status as this ? All of them wear the crown of prophethood. Where is there the like of the priesthood which is revealed in the world? [MM 6.5]

I think this is more than enough information for the reader to digest in one reading.  In my next post I will explain how it was that the crossing of the Jordan was eventually likened to a complete reformation of humanity.  Yet I think the reader can already guess at its content.  It all develops from Moses transformation on Sinai after six days and his subsequent enthronement.

Perhaps as a closing note I think it best to cite the words of the now deceased Alan Segal who notes in his Two Powers in Heaven "that early Christian enthronement traditions (likely) came from Samaritan circles. These enthronement traditions could certainly involve Ex. 24 or Dt. 5 as a central ascension text." (p. 199)  I would go one step further - SGM 1 is the clearest testimony to the development of these original understandings in earliest Christianity.  

For those who find all this discussion of the enthronement rituals of Moses I recommend looking at my previous post on the 'esddat lamo' tradition in Deuteronomy 33 

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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