Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reacquainting Audiences With the Holy Dysfunctional First Family of the Gospel

I don't believe the 'Leper Healing Narrative'' (Mark 1:40 - 45; Luke 5:12 - 16) was originally about the healing of an unnamed leper. The reason for this again is that Clement of Alexandria has been argued to have cited a variant of Mark 1:40 which - at least from its context - seems to have more to do with a wish on the part of young man to become like Jesus. The passage in question, I think, when taken in a greater context helps us to tie together the underlying pieces of the original gospel narrative we have been stringing together for the last few months. Clement writes:

"for no disciple is above his master, and it is sufficient if we be as the master" not in essence (for it is impossible for that, which is by adoption, to be equal in substance to that, which is by nature); but [we are as Him] only in our having been made immortal, and our being conversant with the contemplation of realities, and beholding the Father through what belongs to Him.

Therefore volition takes the precedence of all; for the intellectual powers are ministers of the Will. "Will," it is said, "and thou shalt be able." And in the Gnostic, Will, Judgment, and Exertion are identical. For if the determinations are the same, the opinions and judgments will be the same too; so that both his words, and life, and conduct, are conformable to rule. "And a right heart seeketh knowl edge, and heareth it." "God taught me wisdom, and I knew the knowledge of the holy."

« Οὐδεὶς γὰρ μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον, ἀρκετὸν δὲ ἐὰν γενώμεθα ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος,»

οὐ κατ´ οὐσίαν, ἀδύνατον γὰρ ἴσον εἶναι πρὸς τὴν ὕπαρξιν τὸ θέσει τῷ φύσει, τῷ δὲ ἀιδίους γεγονέναι καὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων θεωρίαν ἐγνωκέναι καὶ υἱοὺς προσηγορεῦσθαι καὶ τὸν πατέρα ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων καθορᾶν μόνον. Προηγεῖται τοίνυν πάντων τὸ βούλεσθαι· αἱ γὰρ λογικαὶ δυνάμεις τοῦ βούλεσθαι διάκονοι πεφύκασι·

« Θέλε,» φησί, «καὶ δυνήσῃ·»

τοῦ γνωστικοῦ δὲ καὶ ἡ βούλησις καὶ ἡ κρίσις καὶ ἡ ἄσκησις ἡ αὐτή. Εἰ γὰρ αἱ αὐταὶ 〈αἱ〉 προθέσεις, τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ τὰ δόγματα καὶ αἱ κρίσεις, ἵνα δὴ ὦσιν αὐτῷ καὶ οἱ λόγοι καὶ ὁ βίος καὶ ὁ τρόπος ἀκόλουθοι τῇ ἐνστάσει·

« Καρδία δὲ εὐθεῖα ἐκζητεῖ γνώσεις»

καὶ ἐκείνων ἐπαΐει.

« Ὁ θεὸς δεδίδαχέν με σοφίαν καὶ γνῶσιν ἁγίων ἔγνωκα.» [Strom. 2.17]

Clearly then Schaff and others have argued that the passage is a variant of the "I will, be clean" response to the lepers original request:

Θέλε καὶ δυνήσῃ (Clement's gospel)

θέλω καθαρίσθητι (Mark 1:40; Luke 5:13. Matt 8:3)

Of course I have always thought the whole narrative here is extremely strange and stilted. In the Jewish Christian gospel known to Jerome (and which is taken by the editors of the canon to be a wholly separate narrative):

In the Gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use (which I have lately translated into Greek from the Hebrew, and which is called by many (or most) people the original of Matthew), this man who had the withered hand is described as a mason, who prays for help in such words as this: 'I was a mason seeking a livelihood with my hands: I pray thee, Jesus, to restore me mine health, that I may not beg meanly for my food.'
The reason I think all these narratives are related is because I have always thought that 'Lazarus' is described as both a man who is a beggar and has sores all over his body - i.e. leprosy. Tertullian also seems to introduce the dysfunctional family associated with said 'leper.'

The Marcionite gospel strangely is strangely represented by Tertullian as including important material from Matthew and Mark right from the opening - i.e. right after Jesus comes down from heaven and enters the house of God (presumably the temple of Jerusalem):

From heaven straightway into the synagogue. As the saying goes, let us get down to it: to your task, Marcion: remove even this from the gospel, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and, It is not to take away the children's bread and give it to dogs for this gives the impression that Christ belongs to Israel. I have plenty of acts, if you take away his words. Take away Christ's sayings, and the facts will speak; See how he enters into the synagogue: surely to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. See how he offers the bread of his
doctrine to the Israelites first: surely he is giving them preference as sons. See how as yet he gives others no share of it: surely he is passing them by, like dogs. Yet on whom would he have been more ready to bestow it than on strangers to the Creator, if he himself had not above all else belonged to the Creator? Yet again how can he have obtained admittance into the synagogue, appearing so suddenly, so unknown, no one as yet having certain knowledge of his tribe, of his nation, of his house. [Tertullian Against Marcion 4.7]

The point of course is that this 'Syro-Phoenician woman' and her strange brood are also woven into the narrative of the Pseudo-Clementine literature. They were very important to early Christianity and while the gospel only mentions her having a daughter - the Clementine literature is very aware of her having 'sons' who ultimately figure very prominently in the narrative of Simon Magus's rejection.

Mark's account of this healing is clearly related - but ultimately very different - with repsect to the material found in Tertullian's source and the Marcionite tradition:

[A] woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about [Jesus], and came and fell down at his feet. The woman was a Greek, by race a Phoenician from Syria. And she started asking him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He responded to her like this: "Let the children first be fed, since it isn't good to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to the dogs! [kynaria]" But as a rejoinder she says to him: "Sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat scraps dropped by children!" Then he said to her: "For that retort, be on your way, the demon has come out of your daughter." She returned home and found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone (Mk. 7:25-30).

The Clementine literature interestingly identifies the mother as named Justa, her foster daughter as Berenice and introduces two foster sons Nicetas and Aquila. They are explicitly identified as the same family mentioned in the gospel - i.e. the one's who eat scraps that fall from the table for dogs etc.

It is amazing that no one else has noticed before that this Berenice who is healed at the beginning of the narrative has to be one and the same with the lost Berenice/Veronica figure of the gnostic tradition. The original healing narrative was clearly Berenice clinging on to the garment of Jesus. She also appeared at the end of the gospel to wipe Jesus face (still present in the Latin Stations of the Cross but excised from the gospel) and is probably one and the same with Mary Magdalene.

In any event, it is important to note the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman is never identified as actually being healed in the narrative. The door is left open for her to wake up and become the unnamed woman who hopes to be healed by clinging to Jesus garment. The fact that 'sons' are no longer mentioned anywhere in the gospel for this woman is also interesting for we can immediately notice that - as noted in our last post - the introduction of a 'family' near the beginning suddenly explains why the Marcionites were so sure that the Jews had the wrong man when they 'tempted' the messiah with the words "Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to see you." (Luke 8:20) Jesus had no family of course because he had just descended from heaven. The messiah they were looking was the healed youth in the beginning of the narrative.

Indeed I suspect that the 'holy dysfunctional family' at the start of the narrative introduces all the important figures who become integral parts of the gospel narrative. Tertullian makes clear that even in his gospel (or that of the source he slavishly copies) there is no mention of Mary the mother of Jesus during the ministry section. Yet Tertullian notes that he and the Marcionites know that it was 'the mother of one of the disciples' who says "blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." This clearly agrees with the original presence of Salome (= Lat. Justa) in the Gospel of the Egyptians and Secret Mark (assuming they are separate gospels).

The point through all of this of course is that Clement's testimony cited above makes clear that this disciple is being trained to 'becoming like' Jesus. This is a very important concept in Clement's mystery religion and the claim is repeatedly made throughout his writings that those who undergo initiation into the Alexandrian religion do indeed become 'like' Jesus. Clearly part of this rite is dying and being ritually 'resurrected' as Lazarus who is described interesting as:

a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. [Luke 16:20 - 21]

Call me naive but there is just something about this description here that recalls the details of the Syro-Phoenician woman and her family. I think the beggar here is clearly one and the same with the youth at the beginning of the narrative.

And one more thing. Notice at once the importance of 'volition' in the healing process of both son and daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Clement's gospel fragment and commentary make clear that the individual has to want to be healed. Jesus says after all "will and though shalt be able (to be healed)." Notice also that the unnamed woman who clings to Jesus garment also has the 'idea' pop into her head, which is followed by action and then healing.

There is some hidden doctrine known to Clement beneath this strange emphasis on self-healing ...

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

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