Thursday, June 2, 2011

Clement of Alexandria's Subtle Condemnation of the Canonical Gospel of Mark (and Irenaeus by Implication) in Stromateis 3.4

I just cited from Jaap Manfeld's excellent first chapter on the cento controversy in early Christianity.  Mansfeld is a Dutch philosopher and historian of philosophy who was professor at the University of Utrecht. Because of his background in the classics he provides an important service for those of us (myself included) who had never realized that Irenaeus's discussion of heretics 'moving around' passages from the gospel was based on a popular ancient literary form (= the 'cento'). Who knew? I certainly didn't.

Indeed in that long section I just cited from Mansfeld's study, he moves on from merely discussing Irenaeus's use of the cento concept (i.e. condemning heretics for developing so-called 'cento' gospels) to clear parallels in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. Here is the most important section cited by Mansfeld - a continuation of an argument against Carpocratians and Marcionites earlier in the chapter:

Why do you not oppose all the commandments? For he says, "Increase and multiply ." you who are opposed to him ought to abstain from sexual relations altogether. And if he says, "I have given you all things for food and enjoyment," you ought to enjoy nothing at all. Moreover, he says, " An eye for an eye" you ought not, therefore, to repay opposition with opposition. If he tells the thief to restore fourfold, (Exodus 22:1) you ought even to give something to the thief. Similarly again, you who oppose the command "Thou shalt love the Lord" ought not to love the God of the universe at all. And if he says, "Thou shalt not make any graven or molten image," it follows that you ought to bow down to graven images.

Are you not blasphemous, therefore, when you oppose, as you say, the Creator, and endeavour to do the same as fornicators and adulterers? Do you not perceive that you make him all the greater whom you regard as weak if what is taking place is what he wishes and not what the good God wills? For, on the contrary, your father, as you call him, is shown to be weak by you yourselves.

These folk also collect extracts from the prophets, making a selection and mischievously stitch them together (συγκαττύσαντες). They interpret in a literal sense sayings intended to be understood allegorically. It is written, they say, "They resisted God and were saved." But they add the "pitiless" (ἀναιδεῖ) God, and interpret this saying as if it gave them advice, thinking it will bring them salvation if they resist the Creator. In fact, scripture does not mention the "pitiless" God. And if it did, you fools, you should have understood the word "pitiless" to refer to him who is called the devil, either because he slanders men, or because he accuses sinners, or because he is an apostate. The people to whom the passage refers were unwilling to be punished for their sins, and they spoke the words quoted in a spirit of complaining and grumbling, on the ground that other nations were not punished when they transgressed, and that on every occasion they alone were humiliated, so that even Jeremiah said, "Why is the way of the ungodly easy?" Similar in sense to this is the saying in Malachi which has been quoted: "They resisted God and were saved." In uttering their oracles the prophets do not only say that they have heard some message from God; it is also evident that they take up phrases in common use among the people and reply to them, as if they were reporting certain questions raised by them. The saying under discussion is an instance of this.

This is a very interesting section of text in Clement because it demonstrates an exact parallel to what we have been reading in Irenaeus save only that it speaks only of tampering with the prophetic scriptures.

I don't think previous commentators on Clement and Irenaeus's use of συγκαττύσαντες as a technical term meaning 'cento' have recognized how important Clement's testimony is here. For what Clement is really saying is that there were contemporary Christians who stitched together prophetic passages in order to support their wrongheaded views. The only prophetic text that he gives as an example of this 'stitching together' (συγκαττύσαντες) is Malachi. In the existing LXX translation the section of Malachi reads:

Ye have spoken grievous words against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye said, Wherein have we spoken against thee? Ye said He that serves God labours in vain: and what have we gained in that we have kept his ordinances, and in that we have walked as suppliants before the face of the Lord Almighty? And now we pronounce strangers blessed: and all they who act unlawfully are built up; and they have resisted God, and yet have been delivered.

Thus spoke they that feared the Lord, and every one to his neighbour: and the Lord gave heed, and hearkened, and he wrote a book of remembrance before him for them that feared the Lord and reverenced his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord Almighty, in the day which I appoint for a peculiar possession; and I will make choice of them, as a man makes choice of his son that serves him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, and between him that serves God, and him that serves him not.

For behold a day comes burning as an oven, and it shall consume them; and all the aliens and all that do wickedly shall be stubble; and all that day is coming shall set them on fire saith the Lord Almighty, and there shall not be left of them root or branch.

But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise, and healing shall be in his wings: and ye shall go forth and bound as young calves let loose from bonds. And ye shall trample the wicked; for they shall be ashes underneath your feet in the day which I appoint, saith the Lord Almighty. And behold I will send to you, Elias the Thesbite, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes; who shall turn again the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of man to his neighbor, lest I come and smite the earth grievously. [Malachi 3:13 - 4:3]

I don't want to get too distract from my main point of this post by the obvious connection to the core understanding of heretical Christianity in this material. But obviously those sects which practiced 'fire baptism' (see previous posts) clearly developed their vision of the emergence of Jesus and John from this passage.

What Clement is of course saying is that his opponents (the Carpocratians) have stitched together prophetic passages like that of Malachi 3:15 to support their interpretation of scripture. In this case instead of:

καὶ ἀντέστησαν θεῷ καὶ ἐσώθησαν

They 'stitched together' material from somewhere else to have their text read:

καὶ ἀντέστησαν ἀναιδεῖ θεῷ καὶ ἐσώθησαν

In other words, he is not merely saying that they changed the words but took a word from another scriptural passage and 'patched it' together with Malachi 3:15. Yet which passage is he referencing here? The word ἀναιδεῖ rarely appears in the LXX. Proverbs 7:13 certainly doesn't fit, nor Sirach 23:7. It is worth pointing out that few people think our present LXX is the original Greek translation used by Clement. The term must have come from somewhere else.

The point however is that Clement's condemnation of those who stitch together material from Malachi chapter 3 to support their views has to be seen as an indirect statement about canonical Mark which, as is universally known, contains a curious 'stitching together' of material from the shame chapter and the book of Isaiah:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins ... [Mark 1:1 - 4]

If Clement condemns the stitching together of Malachi 3:15 with another section of the prophetic writings, how could he have accepted the same practice with respect to opening lines of the Roman gospel of Mark? It is worth noting that Clement never cites the opening lines of Mark anywhere in his writings and as we noted consistently condemns the patching together of prophetic texts.

It must be noted that Irenaeus takes the exact opposite position to Clement. Irenaeus is very happy to employ stitched together scriptural passages in his own writings and moreover embraces the Roman version of the Gospel of Mark which is as he notes 'a compendious and cursory narrative':

Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,”—pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made an abridged (σύντομον) and cursory (παρατρέχουσαν) proclamation, for such is the prophetical character. [AH 3.11.8]

I hope somebody out there can see what I am driving at here. Irenaeus is all too comfortable taking a stitched together citation of Malachi and Isaiah and calling it 'Isaiah' and putting forward that the original evangelist did the same. Clement must have known that Irenaeus was claiming this about Mark and as such his rejection of 'stitching together' original passages from Malachi chapter 3 is necessarily a subtle rejection of canonical Mark. Indeed it has to be noted that the centonized reworking of Malachi which Clement rejects is so much a part of Irenaeus's personality that one begins to wonder whether Clement is not merely rejecting 'Carpocratians' or heretics but the very Roman tradition to which Marcellina and other Carpocratians seemed to have been drawn in the second century.

We should notice time after time the manner in which Irenaeus not only accepts but promotes the 'stitched together' prophetic material from Malachi chapter 3 in his own writings citing from Mark 1:1 often without the identification of the material as coming from 'Isaiah' but rather 'the prophets':

Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make the paths straight before our God.” Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets, and point out Him at once, whom they confessed as God and Lord; Him, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had also made promise to Him, that He would send His messenger before His face, who was John, crying in the wilderness, in “the spirit and power of Elias,” (Luke i. 17) “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight paths before our God.” [AH 3.10.5]

It often goes overlooked that Irenaeus goes out of his way to characterize Mark the evangelist as so intimately connected with the 'prophetic spirit' that his text is 'cursory' and essentially 'inexact.' In other words, Mark was a prophet which presumably later writers corrected.

For our present purposes though it is enough to note that because Mark was a prophet and partook of the prophetic spirit Irenaeus seems to have promoted the idea that he had the authority to stitch together lines from Malachi and Isaiah as a cento to manufacture a new meaning (= the coming of John and Jesus) which wasn't originally meant by either author. Indeed we should notice also the subtle transformation of the actual wording of the material from Malachi - i.e. from 'I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me' of Malachi to 'his way' in Mark 1:2 which Schaff correctly observes "the Greek of this passage in St. Mark i. 2 reads, τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ, i.e., His paths, which varies from the Hebrew original, to which the text of Irenæus seems to revert, unless indeed his copy of the Gospels contained the reading of the Codex Bezæ."

I think that this abridgment is actually a reflection of the contents of the Marcionite gospel which we have noted before begins with Jesus coming to the temple of Jeruslame (bethsaida = 'the house of demons'). All the reader has to do is look at the full text of Malachi 1:1 which is now cited in Irenaeus's copy of Mark only in part:

I will send my angel, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. [Malachi 3:1]

In other words, the actual original material in Malachi (the last words of the 'Old Testament' interestingly) reflect what was originally present in our reconstruction of the Marcionite gospel and John strangely enough - i.e. the divine hypostasis Jesus appearing at the house of demons (= the temple of Jerusalem) in order to prepare it for its fiery destruction. Irenaeus's introduction of a 'stitched together' or centonized union of Malachi and Isaiah allows for the whole Jesus being baptized by John narrative which von Harnack and others note Tertullian explicitly says was never present in the Marcionite text (or John for that matter to a lesser degree).

The point then is that I think we can be very certain that the longer Alexandrian text of the Gospel of Mark began in a similar fashion to the Marcionite text. In other words, Irenaeus's copy still retains the original reflection of Malach 3:1 but through centonizing the material allows for the introduction of something new and essentially false in its place. This refraction was utterly essential to Irenaeus's worldview and so it is not surprising that we see over and over again Irenaeus making reference to this new (and corrupt) beginning to Mark in his writings even when the actual words of Mark are not explicitly referenced:

By what God, then, was John, the forerunner, who testifies of the Light, sent [into the world]? Truly it was by Him, of whom Gabriel is the angel, who also announced the glad tidings of his birth: [that God] who also had promised by the prophets that He would send His messenger before the face of His Son, [Mal. 3 1]. who should prepare His way, that is, that he should bear witness of that Light in the spirit and power of Elias. [AH 3.11.4]

Clement must have known this and his words in Strom. 3.4 are a subtle and veiled reference to the corruption of the Alexandrian text by the neo-Carpocratians. How could Irenaeus be connected with the Carpocratian tradition? Well, let's ask two simple question to end this post - how much do we really know about Polycarp and why is it that his lost original 'Gospel of John' was so offensive to Gaius? Irenaeus only represents the historical 'reconciliation' of the two traditions.

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