Monday, May 16, 2011

The Zoroastrian Origins of the Judeo-Christian Tradition and the Primacy of Secret Mark Over the Canonical Gospels

My friends, I have finally solved the mystery of the Mar Saba document. Indeed I have finally figured out how we can know for certain that it is authentic and not a creation of the otherwise innocent twentieth century scholar Morton Smith, a man whom we can be certain was merely discoverer of the lost text.   The answer comes by acknowledging that in some form the 'mysteries of divine kingship' (to Theod. 3.10) necessarily represent a second baptism rite.  While Scott Brown is correct in noting that Clement does not make specific reference to a baptism rite the Alexandrian does explicitly say that the secret gospel deliberately avoids mentioning 'the things pertaining to the mysteries' (to Theod. 2.18).  In other words, both Clement and his text go out of their way not to reveal the nature of the mysteries. 

As you know I have been circling round and round the material, putting together bits and pieces of the puzzle which has now been finally solved. In my previous posts I began to look at the reports of a 'baptism of fire' in the Alexandrian Church. The principle references of course are from Irenaeus and the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism (both hostile). However Origen provides us with another important clue when he consistently connects this Alexandrian 'baptism of fire' with Joshua's leading of the ancient Israelties across the Jordan. Right from the start I connected this with the last line of the first addition to Secret Mark - viz. "Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan." (to Theod. 3.11)

I have already noted in previous posts that this last sentence is a verbatim quotation of the LXX of Joshua 1.15. I have already noted that the original Alexandrian Gospel of Jesus written by Mark had Jesus and his followers cross the sea (Mark 5.1) like the ancient Israelites into the wilderness only to return back (SGM 1) just before the death of Jesus. I noted that this had to have been a deliberate statement on Mark's part to imitate the story of redemption in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua. Nevertheless I now see that I was wrong to follow my inherited preference for the dating of the crossing according to the Jewish version of the Book of Joshua (i.e. the tenth day of the first month) as opposed to the Samaritan version of the narrative (the first day of the first month).

Already my teacher Ruaridh Boid wrote a monograph demonstrating how the Samaritan version went back to an older version of the narrative than our familiar canonical text. Indeed it was only when I began to connect the early 'baptism of fire' references to the early Samaritan interest in the presence of divine fire throughout the account of the material related to Moses that I knew that I had bet on the wrong horse. Yes there were ten days which still come before the 'mysteries of divine kingship' - i.e. the youth being dead for four days (cf. John 11.17) plus the "after six days" reference in Secret Mark. However rather than assuming the correctness of the Jewish dating for the crossing and counting backwards (i.e. 1 - 10 Nisan) I have ascertained that we have to count back ten days from the first of the year.

How can I now be so certain of SGM 1 taking place on 'the first of the first'?  It all came together when I became acquainted with the ancient Persian calendar.  I have long believed that the Pentateuch was originally written by Ezra in the Persian period.  There are so many obvious borrowings from the Persian language and religious heritage that it would only be distracting to mention them here.  The bottom line is that when we start attempting to determine when SGM 1 originally took place within the gospel chronology there can be no doubt that it lay early in the first month of the Jewish year.  The Iranian calendar however helps explain the resurrection motif which had puzzled me ever since I started piecing together the other elements. 

The coincidence that this lost narrative of the death, resurrection and perfection of the rich youth should coincide with a parallel Iranian interest in death, resurrection and perfection in the ten day lead up to the first of the year is so improbable it can only be attributed to Mark borrowing from Zoroastrianism.  This is again not an outlandish suggestion given the number of scholars who argue for a dependence on Iranian sources for the demonology in the narrative.  So let's begin by at least attempting to see whether or not SGM 1 placement (a) in the early part of the first month and (b) its puting forward an unknown resurrection narrative followed by a mystery which necessarily involved some sort of ritual purification might well also be related to Zoroastrianism.

The best place to begin is to note the parallels between the Jewish and Persian calendars.  In ancient Iran, the New Year begins at the vernal equinox and was referred to as Nowruz (= 'the first day/light'). Old Persian inscriptions and tablets indicate that early Iranians used a 360-day calendar based on the Babylonian system (the Babylonian Calendar was lunar) and modified for their beliefs. Twelve months of 30 days were named for festivals or activities of the pastoral year. This is the same calendar used and ultimately modified by the ancient Egyptians and with respect to the Jewish and Christian sects, used by the Dositheans, the followers of Mark and the Montanists.

Now over the course of developing the arguments for this post I will have to remind my readers that there is something inherently strange about all the Christian liturgical calendars.  The surviving Christian traditions are no longer specifically Jewish but have clearly adapted ideas from a lost original tradition to local calendars in various parts of the world.  To this end, in a way that has never been explained, the first day of the year in the official Egyptian calendar is called 'Nayrouz' which is clearly a borrowing from ancient Persia.   While the Roman Church never adopted this name for the first day of the year, we will demonstrate shortly that even here we see a pattern associated with the liturgical calendar at the beginning of the year which makes it impossible not to see that our understanding of when Christ was baptized was ultimately developed from Mark's original adaptation of original Persian conceptions in Secret Mark. 

It is interesting to note that Nowruz is the first day of the calendar year and also the greatest festival of the year in Iran, Afghanistan and surrounding region. Noruz (two morphemes: no (new) and rooz (day), meaning "new day"). The celebration is filled with many festivities and runs a course of 13 days. The last day of which is called siz-dah bedar (Literal translation-"13 to the door").  I think it would have been very easy to adapt this original Persian structure to a Jewish religious calendar which really only starts on the fourteenth of the same month.  The fact that Jesus and his disciples are depicted as sharing a meal outdoors on the thirteenth of the first month - the very same day as this very ancient Persian holiday (since sixth century BCE) which always commemorated eating outdoors together is a very interesting starting point to our comparison

Yet it is the ten days which preceded Nowruz traditionally identified as Farvardegan in Pahlavi or Muktad in Gujarati which are essential for our analysis of whether Secret Mark is an integral part of Mark's original narrative.  This holiday took place at the end of the solar year and represented a festival of sorrow, mourning and the end of life only to be transformed by the arrival of Nowruz, which represents the beginning of spring signified rebirth, and was a time of great joy and celebration.  I see the exact same forces at work throughout the section which begins with the Question of the Rich Youth (Mark 10:17 - 31) and continues through until his death, resurrection and ultimate perfection in SGM 1. 

Since it is that almost no one reading this post has presumably any familiarity with the Iranian system I think it might be necessary to get a modern Zoroastrian priest to explain the system.  While the author is a member of the surviving religious tradition it so closely approximates what is written in reputable academic studies on the subject that it deserves to be cited in full (the language here being only easier to digest):

The word Muktad is derived from the Sanskrit mukta atma (free soul). The word Farvardegan means the days of nourishment. Together, they give us the true import of these days. According to Zoroastrianism, every thought, word and deed of an individual is recorded in Nature. As time passes, this collection of our life assumes a form called kerdar. This kerdar meets the soul on the dawn of the fourth day after death – and presents itself either in the form of a beautiful maiden or an ugly hag. It is the soul’s constant duty, in case the kerdar is a hag, to slowly work on her blemishes, which were caused by the individuals thoughts words and actions, and transform her into a beautiful maiden so that the soul and kerdar may both pass on to higher realms.

However, during the Muktad days, the souls get a “vacation” from this beautification, and descend to the Earth accompanied by the souls of very highly evolved entities, called ashaunam fravashinam who come down to cleanse the earth during this time. It’s hard work and the souls expect their kin to nourish them spiritually to recharge their persona so that they may go back to their ardous task revitalized. As the Avesta says, they come down singing: “Who will praise us? Who will offer us prayers? Who will meditate upon us? Who will love us? Who will receive and welcome us with (spiritual) food and clothes in hand and with a prayer worthy of bliss?”

The ceremonies performed for the souls during these days, combined with the coordinated use of specific metal vases, special flowers, spiritually charged well water and vegetarian meals give immense help and benefit to the visitors in their ongoing mission to cleanse their kerdars. Finally, on the tenth night, the relatives gather at the temple for the last prayers. A special hamper of food is prepared and laid out which the souls can “take back”. It is a moving sight to see relatives, some with tears in their eyes, bidding adieu to the visitors as they take off for their respective (spiritual) planes, happy and content with the gifts they have received.
The bottom line is that these ten days are devoted to death, resurrection and union with the divine emissaries.  This is precisely the idea behind SGM 1 (where Jesus clearly is a disguised representation of the 'living' divine name). The understanding of Nowruz as a time of resurrection from the death associated with the ten previous days pervades all aspects of the traditional cultural understanding of the period.  Yet might be useful to get a little more specific about the preceding ten day Farvardegan or Muktad festival. 

The Farvardegan Festival itself is a perpetuation of the Avestan Fravashi worship, or commemoration of the souls of the departed, somewhat like our Ail Saints' day. The standard Zoroastrian etymology of the term fravashi is 'departed spirit' so the festival is at once understood to be one devoted to "departed spirits.' Mary Boyce (Zoroastrians: their Religious Beliefs and Practices) was a British scholar of Iranian languages, and an authority on Zoroastrianism who has written extensively on this subject and doubts the etymology but she helps explains its ritual context as something very close to what appears in Secret Mark:

The etymology of this word (like that of urvan) is doubtful; but it seems possible that it may derive from the same verbal root as Ham-vareti 'Courage', and that the fravashi was originally the departed soul of a hero, one particularly potent to help and protect his descendants. If this is so, there must once have existed a hero-cult among the ancient Iranians, as among the Greeks (p. 15)

In what follows Boyce demonstrates that these hero spirits were connected to the concept of resurrection presumably through being united with the souls of lesser beings:

Possibly an age-old belief in the fravashis as ever-present helpers and guardians prevented their being readily conceived of as dwelling afar; and it may also have been difficult to associate these winged spirits with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Nevertheless, it seems that already in pagan times the concepts of mighty fravashi and helpless urvan had to a large extent become fused. In the Avestan hymn to the fravashis (Yt 13), which contains ancient elements, it is they who are represented as returning to their homes at Hamaspathmaedaya, seeking offerings of meat and clothing; but in other verses of the same hymn they are invoked as godlike in their powers. In the liturgy of the Zoroastrian yasna the identification of fravashi and urvan is at times complete and is expressed by the recurrent words: 'We worship the souls (urvan-) of the dead, which are the fravashis of the just.' (ibid)

Clearly one can see that 'Jesus' is the soul of the hero Joshua - or perhaps better - the divine name which inspired Oshea to greatness. That this figure has come to the recently deceased 'rich youth' to resurrect and perfect him fits perfectly within the original Iranian system.

The ten day period is always understood to break down to two pentads (i.e. five day periods). The first began at the twenty fifth day of the twelfth month and ended on the last day of the year; the second pentad accorded with the five intercalendar days and actually concluded on the sixth day which was the first of the year or Nowruz when souls were purified with fire. In the modern nation of Iran the original Zoroastrian religious festival still continues albeit slightly modified by previous generations of Islamic religious authorities. In order to avoid any direct association with the pagan divinities of the past the pre-Nowruz celebrating has been fixed to the last Wednesday of the Iranian year (because Arabians felt that Wednesday was an unlucky day) and is now known as Chahar Shanbeh Soori, the eve of which is marked by special customs and rituals, most notably jumping over fire.

On the eve of last Wednesday of the year (Tuesday night, Wednesday morning), literally the eve of 'Red Wednesday' or the eve of celebration, bonfires are lit in public places with the help of fire and light, it is hoped for enlightenment and happiness throughout the coming year. People leap over the flames, shouting: Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to (Give me your beautiful red colour; And take back my sickly pallor)  It is also called the Festival of Fire, it is a prelude to Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring. The words Chahar Shanbeh mean Wednesday and Suri means red. Bonfires are lit to "keep the sun alive" until early morning.  As Wikipedia notes:

The celebration usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them singing zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man. The literal translation is, my sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red color is mine. This is a purification rite.  Loosely translated, this means you want the fire to take your paleness, sickness, and problems and in turn give you redness, warmth, and energy. There is no religious significance attached to Chaharshanbeh Soori and it serves as a cultural festival for Persian people: Persian Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Kurds, and Zoroastrians, as well as for Azeri peoples. Indeed this celebration, in particular the significant role of fire, is likely to hail from Zoroastrianism.
The point is that in its original 'pure' form Nowruz - the sixth day which followed the five intercalendar days (but also the first day of the new year) - was the day of fire purification.  There can be absolutely no doubt about this in our earliest sources.  Yet as Boyce again demonstrates there was a constant struggle between those who attempted to reform the original inaccuracies (starting with Cyrus) and those traditionalists who did not accept the five added dates.  This situation led to an unbelievable amount of confusion but ultimately culminating with a Farvardegan festival which began still on the 25th of the 12th month but now ended on the 6th of the 1st month:

It has long been recognized that the Persians adopted a 365-day calendar on the model of the Egyptian one, which became known to them after Cambyses’ conquest of Egypt in 525 BCE. The Egyptians had brought their own 360-day solar calendar into as close a correspondence with the natural year in possible while reckoning only in whole days by adding 5 days as an extra “Little Month” at the end year’s end; and some influential Persians, most probably Treasury officials sent to work in the conquered land, must have been attracted by this method of time-reckoning, as better suited to administrative purposes than the Babylonian lunar one. But years appear to have passed before it occurred to some pioneering spirit that the Persians could follow the Egyptians’ example by modifying in the same way a 360-day solar calendar of their own, namely the Zoroastrian devotional one. Much diligent persuasion would surely have then been needed to win support for so bold a measure, which was adopted, it is calculated, in the reign of Xerxes, Darius’ son (486-465); but presumably high dignitaries in the powerful order of scribes would have been fairly readily convinced of its advantages, and leading Persian priests must also have been won over, seeing it perhaps as an enhancement of the dignity of the religion. But explaining what was proposed to intelligent men through direct discussions would have been a very different matter from explaining it generally to the diverse Zoroastrian communities of the vast Persian empire, non-literate as most of Xerxes’ subjects would naturally have been, and with a number of them perhaps not greatly trusting their Persian ruler in matters of religion; and the results show that attempts to gain willing acceptance of the measure failed to a marked degree, with most people not only bewildered to resist any change that would prevent them offering due veneration to the divine beings at the property appointed times.

What mattered, however, for the introduction of any new measure was the approval of the Great King. As his Daiva inscription (q.v.) shows, Xerxes was a devout Zoroastrian and capable of ruthless action over what he thought right for the religion; and in the case of the proposed calendar reform he was also doubtless interested in a development that promised more efficient administration of his immense possessions, and could command enough obedience from those in authority among his subjects — the Persian satraps and their priests and nobles, the judges and ministers of state, and above all the army — to impose his will. It was proposed to follow the Egyptian model by introducing the 5 extra days at the end of the year, which for Zoroastrians was just before Nowruz (with Rapiθwina not yet returned and winter still theoretically reigning); and a year for this would naturally have been chosen when by the 360-day religious calendar Nowruz was to be kept 5 days before the spring equinox. This, it has been calculated, would have been the case in the years 481 to 479 BCE. The discrepancy would up till then have been adjusted in due course when an extra month was intercalated. Instead it must now have been decreed that 5 days were to pass after the last day of the old year before the great festival was celebrated, with heavy penalties doubtless for any who disobeyed. As with the days of the Egyptian “Little Month”, these 5 days were evidently simply numbered. (There is no indication of dedications being assigned to them before the later Sasanian period, see under gāhānbār.) Various Persian terms are recorded for them as a group in post-Achaemenian times, and the one which most probably represents their original official designation is Phl. Andar Gāh, the “Between Time”, cf. the Av. adj. antara- (Air. Wb., col. 132) and MP gāh ii (EIr. X, p. 253), used also for “days of the) Between Time.”

An also well attested Phl. term for these days is, however, the abusive “Stolen Days”, Rōz ī duzīdag/truftag; and plainly most people remained utterly perplexed about how they had seemingly been conjured into existence, _”stolen” from where, and why? The concept of days without religious dedications would have long been alien to Zoroastrians, and some courageous individuals may have felt impelled openly to defy the royal decree, and so almost certainly to suffer martyrdom. (Men have died resisting calendar change in other societies.) But the reformists and those submitting fully to the imperial decree, would have celebrated Hamaspaθmaedaya and the Fravašis’ Night as usual, on XII. 30 bidding their unseen visitants farewell as dawn brightened, and when have entered the unfamiliar limbo of the “Between Time”, all religious activity suspended. Most people, however, the evidence shows, in their incomprehension ignored the 5 extra days and celebrated Nowruz, as usual, but with perforce diminished observances, in the privacy of their own homes, and then continued counting the days normally, so that when the time came for the official celebration of Nowruz with religious rites and public banquets, it was by their reckoning not 1.1. but 1.6 (i.e. not the first of the first month but the sixth of the first month).

There is no reason to doubt that then almost all would have joined in the public observations, both out of prudence and because these would have been familiar and both deeply felt and much enjoyed; and as long as the proper holy day had already been kept, there could be no harm in keeping it again. And so it must have gone on throughout the first year of the reform, with every major festival being celebrated twice by the traditionalists, once privately and five days later publicly. But by doing this they had to confront the reality of the new calendar: however inexplicable it origins, and however wrong its workings, it now existed, side by side with their own, and, having the weight of royal authority, to be accepted.

When, however, they reached the end of their own old calendar year, because at the introduction of the 5 extra days they had ignored them, they were now 10 days in advance of the reformed calendar: their XII.30 was its XII.25, with the second “Between Time” still to come. They were faced thus with a dilemma for which there was no simple solution; but they evidently decided (which suggests consultation among their leaders) that the best way of not failing in their religious duty was to maintain the tradition of a ritual farewell to the Fravašis just before sunrise of Nowruz. This then meant entertaining these honoured guests for all the 10 days which now intervened between their apprehended coming after sunset of XII.25 by the old calendar and departing before sunrise of 1.1 by the new. All 10 days came accordingly to be called the “ “Fravašis Days”, (Phl. Rōzān Fravardīgān, reduced in later usage to Frōrdīgān).

Thereafter, through this acceptance of the new calendar, there should have been a return to the single observance of festivals. But what marked the traditionalists was good memories, and they did not forget that in the previous year Nowruz had been officially celebrated on what was for them I.6; and so they now celebrated it again, privately, on that day, which is the month day dedicated to Haurvatāt (Phl. Hordād/Khordād). All other major festivals were evidently then repeated similarly through the second year of the reform; and it indicates the utter perplexity produced for the majority by that reform, and the confusions in their struggles to cope with it, that whereas in its first year they had celebrated the major festivals privately 5 days before they were officially kept, now in the second year they did so days afterwards.

The one exception to this pattern of duplication which developed in the second year of reform is Hamaspaθmaedaya, the greatest of the 6 Seasonal Feasts, and evidently indissolubly linked to the “Fravašis’ Night”. The two were now celebrated, one after the other, during the 24 hours of XII.25, but not again until the 5th “Between Day”, in order that the “Fravašis’ Night” should immediately precede Nowruz. So in their case the duplication took place after 10, not 5, days (with a third celebration of the “Fravašis’ Night” alone to judge from later usage, on the eve of I.6).
The point here is that not only is the 'Secret Mark' and its ten day death, resurrection and initiation period developed from Iranian sources but all subsequent Christian understanding of when the first baptism occurred can be demonstrated to have a similar point of origin (i.e. in the endless conflicts between Iranian factions).  While Mark clearly identified with Cyrus's reforms subsequent Christian sectarians seems to have modeled the Epiphany (the traditional date of Jesus's baptism by John) from traditioanl Zoroastrian date.

For let's take note that the traditional 'twelve days of Christmas' span the Roman New Year with a beginning on the 25th day of the 12th month and continuing through to the 6th of the 1st month date of the fire purification rituals of Nowruz.  This cannot be coincidence nor can the Basilidean dating of the same event falls on the exact date corresponding to January 6th in the Roman calendar (i.e. the 11th of the Egyptian month of Tubi).  The point clearly is that there was an attempt made by Roman authorities to re-align the original Iranian/Israelite calendar's dating of the baptism narrative from 25th of the 12th month to 6th of the 1st month to fit the Roman New Year of January 1st.  Who started this variant to Secret Mark using the traditional Zoroastrian calendar is anyone's guess but it was clearly consolidated or taken over by Roman Church officials sometime in the second century. 

Nevertheless the original dating has to be considered to be Secret Mark's.  Not only is it developed around the shared Iranian and Israelite calendar which began in the spring, the connection to 'fire baptism' (at least implicitly and through the reports of the earliest Church Fathers) makes clear it was the original.  Indeed it is interesting to note that in the earliest Catholic narratives with respect to the John the Baptist dunking of Jesus 'fire' still appears in the water (this is also preserved in the earliest Greek hymns associated with Epiphany).  These are all signs once again that our familiar baptism narrative was appropriated from Secret Mark.

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