Monday, June 13, 2011

Morton Smith Didn't Understand What Clement Meant By Άδυτον (Thus Demonstrating Again that He Couldn't Have Written to Theodore)

Among my favorite scholars on the internet is Andrew Criddle. Andrew has a marvelous way of raising fascinating questions about early Christianity. In a recent post at he brought up Stromateis 5.6 which he rightly calls "a puzzling passage in the discussion of esotericism." Those interested in the Letter to Theodore have long noted that there is a connection between the ἑπτὰ περιβόλων of Strom. 5.4 and the truth 'covered by seven' of Mar Saba 65. Andrew Itter wrote about this in some detail in his recent book the Esoteric Teachings in the Stromateis and Scott Brown apparently gave a presentation on the same subject matter at the recent Secret Mark conference in Toronto (mostly, I think, because Itter couldn't make it to Toronto).

I have no idea what Brown has discovered about the relationship between the 'seven circuits' of Strom. 5.4 and the 'covered by seven' in to Theodore.  I am increasingly certain though that Itter's analysis is off the mark.  I believe that there is an overlooked but critical piece of evidence in the gnostic diagram known to Celsus and Origen.  As noted in our previous post the diagram had ten circles which by most accounts was subdivided into seven circuits (which represented the seven planetary spheres) and three more heavens above this world (the third being reflected in the gnostic interpretation of 2 Cor 12:2).

I will explain why the gnostic diagram from Against Celsus is so important to our understanding in what follows.  For the moment it is enough to cite the passage from the Fifth Book of the Stromateis and offer what I consider to be the most sensible solution to the use of the term περίβολος (which literally means 'to encircle'):

Now concealment is evinced in the reference of the seven circuits around the temple, which are made mention of among the Hebrews; and the equipment on the robe, indicating by the various symbols, which had reference to visible objects, the agreement which from heaven reaches down to earth. And the covering and the veil were variegated with blue, and purple, and scarlet, and linen. And so it was suggested that the nature of the elements contained the revelation of God. For purple is from water, linen from the earth; blue, being dark, is like the air, as scarlet is like fire.

While Andrew Criddle says that "although much of Clement’s allegorical treatment of the tabenacle/temple is based on Philo, this idea of seven circuits around the holy place is not paralleled in any ancient source" this isn't exactly true. Philo does use the term ἱερός περίβολος ("sacred precincts") and the term also shows up in an inscription from Egypt. The idea is clearly that the ἑπτὰ περιβόλων of Strom. 5.4 were not 'veils' at all but something which stood outside the physical structure of the temple.

As Leonhard Schmitz writes in the entry for Templum in William Smith's A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities:

Temples appear to have existed in Greece from the earliest times. They were separated from the profane land around them (τόπος βέβηλος, or τὰ βέβηλα), because every one was allowed to walk in the latter (Schol. ad Soph. Oed. Col. 10). This separation was in early times indicated by very simple means, such as a string or a rope (Paus. VIII.10 §2). Subsequently, however, they were surrounded by more efficient fences, or even by a wall (ἕρκος, περίβολος, Herod. VI.134; Pollux, 1.10; Paus. passim), the entrance to which was decorated, as architecture advanced, with magnificent Propylaea [Propylaea]. The whole space enclosed in such a περίβολος was called τέμενος, or sometimes ἱερόν (Herod. IX.36, VI.19, with Valckenaer's note; Thucyd. V.18); and contained, besides the temple itself, other sacred buildings, and sacred ground planted with groves, &c. Within the precincts of the sacred enclosure no dead were generally allowed to be buried, though there were some exceptions to this rule, and we have instances of persons being buried in or at least near certain temples.

In other words, the Jewish temple known to Philo and perhaps the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria (assuming those two buildings were not one and the same) likely had seven περιβόλων surrounding them. The purpose was to keep the impure from the holiness of the inner sanctum.

It is worth noting that the Letter to Theodore never uses the word 'veils' in its description of the adyton. Instead Clement merely writes τῆς ἐπτάκις κεκαλυμμένης ἀληθείας - where κεκαλυμμένης is a very ambiguous terminology. As my friend Harry Tzalas, a native Greek speaker explained to me a while back:

τῆς ἐπτάκις κεκαλυμμένης ἀληθείας is a metaphor for the truth that is sealed with seven seals, a possible reference to the seven seals of John Apocalypse.

The point of course is that 'veiling' or 'covering' is only one nuance in the original Greek. The overarching sense is of something enveloping or even 'encircling' something else.

In a previous post I provided my readership with a number of examples which demonstrated how κεκαλυμμένης clearly supports that the idea of the ἑπτὰ περιβόλων of Stromateis 5.6 were the τῆς ἐπτάκις κεκαλυμμένης ἀληθείας of to Theodore. In other words, that they were seven external barriers that surrounded the Church of St. Mark. As we read from many ancient examples, κεκαλυμμένος could well be used to describe ἑπτὰ περιβόλων which surrounded the physical structure of the church:

Patroclus did not see him as he moved about in the crush, for he was enveloped (κεκαλυμμένος) in thick darkness (the Iliad Book 16)

The heavens, until then enveloped (κεκαλυμμένος) in darkness, appeared with that beauty which they still present to our eyes.(Basil Hexameron 2.7)

But Telemachus as he lay covered (κεκαλυμμένος) with a woollen fleece kept thinking all night through of his intended voyage of the counsel that Minerva had given him. (Odyssey I)

So the Lord Apollōn rushing along he darted to most-holy Pulos seeking out his curved-hooved cattle. He covered (κεκαλυμμένος) his broad-shoulders with a dark cloud; and the Far-Shooter spotted the foot tracks (Homeric Hymn IV - to Demeter)

Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes; for it was covered (κεκαλυμμένος) all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white (Josephus Jewish War 5.5.6)

The point then again is that Morton Smith may well have been wrong in his translation of the pertinent material in to Theodore. There is good reason to believe that Clement's isn't saying what we have been led to believe he was saying.

Let's go back to the original material in to Theodore which Morton Smith translates into English as:

[St. Mark] brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils

Itter notes that even Smith knew that κεκαλυμμένος "here translated as 'veils', is the term used by Clement to refer to the outer-covering of the tabernacle and also to the concealed nature of the books of the Stromateis (Str 1.18) Yet he became fixated on the idea that the term must have meant the veils of the inner sanctum because the term adyton (Άδυτον) is specifically referenced.

Yet what Itter and Smith both fail to see is that a little earlier in Book Five of the Stromateis Clement makes clear that he uses ἀδύτων to mean 'shrine' and a place outside of the inner sanctum in the Jewish temple:

For he who is still blind and dumb, not having understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative soul, which the Saviour confers, like the uninitiated at the mysteries, or the unmusical at dances, not being yet pure and worthy of the pure truth, but still discordant and disordered and material, must stand outside of the divine choir.

"For we compare spiritual things with spiritual." Wherefore, in accordance with the method of concealment (τῆς ἐπικρύψεως τὸν τρόπον), the truly sacred Word truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the adyton of truth (τῷ ἀδύτῳ τῆς ἀληθείας ἀποκείμενον), was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them ἀδύτων, and by the Hebrews by the veil (παραπετάσματος). Only the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine -- were allowed access to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for "the impure to touch the pure." Thence the prophecies and oracles are spoken in enigmas, and the mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry, but only after certain purifications and previous instructions.

Indeed the fact that ἀδύτων and παραπετάσματος are here connected as synonyms is very significant as a little later in the same book, Clement makes clear that παραπετάσματος designates the area where the circumcised Jews were allowed to sit, a place ultimately distinguished from the inner sanctum which the high priest alone was allowed to go.

Indeed when we go back to Stromateis 5.6, the passage that Andrew Criddle took an interest in, we see that the seven circuits is connected with an area associated with the παραπετάσματος (veil) which we have just seen is one and the same with the Άδυτον (adyton) of to Theodore. Clement notes:

Now concealment is evinced in the reference of the seven circuits around the temple, which are made mention of among the Hebrews; and the equipment on the robe, indicating by the various symbols, which had reference to visible objects, the agreement which from heaven reaches down to earth. And the covering and the veil (τοῦ καλύμματος καὶ τοῦ παραπετάσματος) were variegated with blue, and purple, and scarlet, and linen. And so it was suggested that the nature of the elements contained the revelation of God. For purple is from water, linen from the earth; blue, being dark, is like the air, as scarlet is like fire.

In the midst of the covering and veil (Τὸ μὲν οὖν κάλυμμα κώλυμα λαϊκῆς), where the priests were allowed to enter, was situated the altar of incense, the symbol of the earth placed in the middle of this universe; and from it came the fumes of incense. And that place intermediate between the inner veil, where the high priest alone, on prescribed days, was permitted to enter, and the external court which surrounded it -- free to all the Hebrews -- was, they say, the middlemost point of heaven and earth. But others say it was the symbol of the intellectual world, and that of sense. The coveting, then, the barrier of popular unbelief, was stretched in front of the five pillars, keeping back those in the surrounding space.

The point of course is that Morton Smith and everyone else who ever read this material has never been able to square the reference to the 'seven circuits' with the idea that the Άδυτον was enveloped by seven in to Theodore. The answer is that Clement is clearly using Άδυτον in what he identifies in Stromateis 5.4 as the Egyptian meaning of the term, which means 'the area outside of the inner sanctum.'

As such the 'seven' which envelop the shrine are entirely outside of the building proper. They clearly were understood by Clement to symbolize the seven heavens which were wholly separate from the divine realm of the Father. This very gnostic idea already shows up in Stromateis 2.20 and which we have already demonstrated connects Clement with the gnostic diagram mention in Celsus's anti-Christian treatise and confirmed by Origen himself as a familiar Alexandrian document. To this end we need only go back to Itter's point that there is an underlying connection between Clement's arrangement of the Stromateis into seven books and this very same conception to finally understand that indeed the Alexandrian Church Father was holding back on 'what he knew' - i.e. in terms of secret mysteries and gnosis.

For Origen wrote a similar work entitled the Stromateis, now lost, which was divided into ten books. While the term 'stromata' or 'stromateis' are not used in the LXX description of the desert tabernacle, the term παραπετάσματος is used throughout Exodus 26 to denote the 'covering' which separated the inner sanctum from the Άδυτον or to use the terminology of the Septuagint:

the curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (και το καταπέτασμα θέλει κάμνει εις εσάς χώρισμα μεταξύ του αγίου και του αγίου των αγίων) [Exodus 26:33]

The point again is that not only has everyone missed the boat about the physicality of the description in to Theodore (i.e. Clement is only discussing those who were allowed into the Church not entrance into the 'inner sanctum') but the underlying significance of the Seven Books of Clement being called 'the Stromata.' In other words, the Alexandrian tradition clearly saw the lay out of the desert tabernacle to imitate the universe where the Άδυτον represented the familiar physical cosmos under the rule of seven planetary watchers. The remaining three heavens were clearly - as with the Marcionite conception - understood to be hidden above the creation like the Holy of Holies.

More to follow ...

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