Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Did Basilides Have a Copy of 'Secret Mark'?

At first glance the possibility seems unlikely. But as Birger Pearson (Gnosticism, Judaism and Early Christianity p. 206) notes we have possible evidence of Basilides's use of the Gospel of Mark, for the wording of the narrative about Simon's bearing Jesus' cross is closer to that of Mark 15:20-21 than to its parallels in Matt. 27:32 and Luke 23:26.39. Hengel rightly sees here contact with the Gospel of Mark - i.e. that Basilides "presupposes knowledge of the Peter-Mark tradition, which he imitates." (Studies in the Gospel of Mark p. 167). I think there is one more detail which should be noted.

In Irenaeus's Against Heresies there is a curious pattern of not citing the 'right' order of the gospels (i.e. what is now their familiar order Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). This familiar order is referenced at the beginning of Book Three (AH 3.1.1) , the very book in which the fourfold gospel makes its first appearance in world history. Yet after this preliminary gloss (which could have been written by a later writer) Irenaeus presents two conflicting orders for the gospels - John, Luke, Matthew and Mark or Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. Each order appears twice in the book yet I see an implicit connection between Basilides and the Gospel of Mark in what appears in chapter three of the same work where we see a list of heretics which appear connected with the John, Luke, Matthew, Mark ordering of the gospels:

And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus (John), at another in Marcion (Luke), at another in Cerinthus (Matthew), then afterwards in Basilides (Mark) [AH 3.3]

Compare this with the 'proof' for the Catholic gospel being 'of four' by means of the vision of Ezekiel and the Revelation of John in chapter 9:

For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father ... But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf ... For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man ... Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men [AH 3.11.8]

They are identical and we have what appears to be an argument for an Alexandrian gospel of Mark associated with Basilides.

Of course if Basilides gospel was identified as 'according to Mark' it was clearly a 'gospel harmony' or indeed a gospel which contained narratives which we identify as coming from the other three canonical gospels. According to Hegemonius (Act.Archelai 67, 5 [GCS 16, ed. CHBeeson, p. 96]), in Book 13 of his commentary he mentioned the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16.19ff.). An echo of the Gospel of Luke appears in Clement (Strom. 1146, 1-3, cf. Luke 3,1, and for the length of Jesus' ministry as one (Luke 4.19). It has long been established that elements of Matthew were in this gospel as well as John - "That, he says [Basilides] what is said in the Gospels: It was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world: "the other, a little further, ch. 27: "Let every thing has its own time, he says [Basilides], that is what the Savior said enough, saying: My hour has not yet come." (Phil. 7.22) These two quotations refer of course to John 1.8; 2.4

We should not accept the idea that four separate gospel where known to Basilides. Indeed we know from Eusebius (H. E . IV, 7, 7), this Gnostic wrote twenty-four books on the Gospel (εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ) which Clement of Alexandria in the Stromata (Book IV), explains was a commentary on the gospel - "Basilides says in the 23 th book of his exegetical treated. .." Hippolytus bears witness that in the view of the pupils of Basilides, 'everything happened in connection with the saviour precisely as it is written in the Gospels' (Haer. 7,27,8): that may go back to the teacher himself Cf. 7,22,4 = John 1,9; 7,26,9 = Luke 1.35; 7,27,5 = John 2.4; see Clement, Strom. 3,1,1 = Matt.19.llff. and above 153 n.64. For the sources and his teaching see E.Muhlenberg, 'Basilides', TRE, 1980, 296ff . For Basilides the Gospel is greater than ἡ τών ὑπερκοσμίων γνῶσις (Hippolytus, Haer. 7,27,7), basically identical with Gnosis. It descends from heaven to Jesus, cf. Haer. 7,23-26 and 27,6-13. Origen mentions the existence of a Gospel according to Basilides. In addition to the known Gospels Basilides (or his disciples) referred to secret revelations which go back to the apostle Matthias (Haer. 7,20,1) and to Glaucias, an alleged interpreter of Peter (Clement, Strom. 7106,4).

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