Friday, July 8, 2011

What Separates Me From Other Commentators on Secret Mark

I am very interested in the Letter to Theodore yet my motivation has nothing to do with defending Morton Smith. I simply can't see any evidence that he forged the Mar Saba document so until something comes along that demonstrates the plausibility of the 'forgery proposition' I will continue to assume its authenticity.

I have long argued that people haven't thought about the implications of 'Secret Mark.' They have chosen instead to see it as a 'longer version' of our canonical text. As someone who has no vested interest in believing in the sanctity of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John I can't help tell you that the narratives on their own or as a collective unit don't make sense.

I don't even know where to begin with this. If we study what the Patristic sources tell us the contemporary rival traditions of the Catholic Church with a critical eye it is impossible not to acknowledge that the testimony - even in its hostile and ultimately fragmented form - points to something which makes more sense.

I have always been stuck at 'hello' with respect to the gospel. The very fact that a Jewish text was identified as 'the bassorah' = Greek euangelion it is impossible not to conclude that it originally developed from a messianic interest in the redemption associated with the Jubilee year. I have written about this extensively.

I have also argued that the writings of Clement, Origen and other Alexandrian writers reinforce that despite their superficial acceptance of Roman orthodoxy they knew and accepted the Marcionite paradigm (= one apostolic author of gospel and Pauline epistles). As such, I have argued that Secret Mark is really one and the same of the Marcionite gospel.

I don't want to get distracted about the reasons for believing that 'Marcion' and other related Patristic boogeymen (= Mark in Irenaeus AH 1.13 - 21 etc) were all distorted remembrances of the Alexandrian apostle Mark. It is enough to say that Clement consistently demonstrates that the apostle (however he is assumed to have been named) knew of gospel passages which were later 'removed' from the canonical set.

In Stromata Book 3 there is an allusion to Jesus commanding the beloved neaniskos of Mark 10:17 - 31 - viz. "But I say unto you, Thou shalt not lust." (Strom 3.2) which Clement says Paul knew. We just demonstrated that Origen and Clement claim to know that this same apostle knew the saying "Be ye skilful money-changers rejecting some things, but retaining what is good" (Strom 1.28) which came from an Alexandrian secret gospel. Similarly anyone who does take the Mar Saba document seriously has naturally concluded that the Pauline 'baptism into Christ's death' has something to do with LGM 1.

Yet I have consistently also argued that the timing of LGM 1 can't be ignored either. While we cannot be certain of the exact day that anything in the gospel took place on, the proximity to the Passover crucifixion makes clear that Mark 10:17 - 31 necessarily occurred some time around the beginning of the religious Jewish year (to be distinguished from Rosh Hashanah which is the first of the seventh month). We have brought forward much supporting evidence to back this up including the testimony of the Diatessaron which indicates that the question of the rich youth was done with the beginning of the new year lurking in the background in the original context of the gospel narrative.

What makes this so interesting of course for our recent discussion with respect to the agraphon about 'being skillful moneylenders' us of course that Jews over the age of twenty were required to give half a shekel - a silver coin - to the treasury as the price of their divine 'redemption.' It has always struck me that the question 'what must I do to inherit eternal life' (Mark 10:17) and Jesus response - both in the canonical and heretical gospels - has special significance if tied to the approaching Jewish New Year. So too with respect to the death and resurrection of the same individual in what follows in Secret Mark.

Again, I don't want to overwhelm my readership with information but I envision Mark to have been a very knowledgeable religious authority who tied all these details together with LGM 1 being nothing less than the very beating heart of the original gospel narrative. What this rich youth did or had done to him by Jesus becomes the new redemption ritual by which all of us are saved.

The circumstantial evidence from the Church Fathers indicates quite clearly that the ritual called 'the redemption' by the followers of Mark was necessarily a fire purification baptism which interestingly is likened to the process by which good coins were distinguished from counterfeit ones. Yet isn't it interesting that this is the same image that is used to demonstrate God's revelation of the half shekel silver coin for redemption to Moses?

In Parshas Shekalim, God gives Moses the commandment with respect to the half-shekel by saying "This shall they give..." (Exodus 30:13). The Midrash tells us that Moses wondered what one could possibly give as a ransom for his soul - "Moses pondered on this matter, ‘What can a person possibly give that would be a ransom for his soul [life]?’" [Tosafos commentary on tractate Chullin, 42a] to which we are told:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, took what resembled a coin of fire from beneath the Throne of Glory and showed Moshe, and said to him, "This shall they give," namely, they shall give a coin that resembles this one. [Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 12:3]

I will argue that the original gospel's interest in the symbol of a 'pure coin' burning in fire is similarly rooted. The only difference is that the redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) ritual of the followers of Mark literally involved immersing people into fire.

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