Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Christians Didn't Originally Identify Themselves As 'Χριστιανοί'

I haven't posted anything for the last few days because I have had a breakthrough realization (and besides which it's Xmas and my wife is making me run around in a shallow attempt to imitate a Norman Rockwell painting).  The realization has been that the term 'Christian' wasn't how members of the Jesus sect originally identified themselves.  After all it's a very unusual formulation in the Greek language (the -ianoi ending is Latin not Greek).  It is not a stretch of the imagination to claim that the term originally developed among speakers of Latin and then entered the Greek language after being established in the foreign tongue.  The difficulty has always been imagining who on earth would be speaking Latin and determining the name 'Christian' should be used to described the Jesus sect other than the Imperial authorities.  And then you start sounding like some sort of conspiracy nut.  But what other choices are there?  How else can this Latinized Greek be explained?

The name 'Christianoi' developed in Latin and then began to be adopted in Greek in the mid-second century.  The earliest example of 'Christianoi' being used in the New Testament is two examples from the Acts of the Apostles.  Yet this is clearly a Catholic document.  The Marcionites and other sects didn't use it.  They are recorded as identifying Jesus as χρηστός on that discovery from Deir Ali.  Yet I think I can do one better and prove that Clement of Alexandria also understood the real name of the Jesus association to be that of the  Χρηστοί rather than the Χριστιανοί.

There is so much bad information that goes around on the internet about this that we have to take our time here.  The key part is the -ianoi suffix.  Associations so identified in Latin are almost always groups that form around human beings and never gods.  The Latin terminology is clearly un-Marcionite which is a sect which understood Jesus to have come as a divine being down to earth from heaven.  Which brings us back to the Χρηστοί terminology.  There is no Latin suffix here.  It is the original terminology by which Marcionites and Alexandrians identified themselves (assuming they were different groups).  Yet this isn't the end of the story.

The term Χρηστοί goes back to a very significant Hebrew term which a number of experts on the Qumran literature argue was likely the way the Jewish sectarian group identified itself - i.e. the Yesharim ( יְשָׁרִ֣ים).

This is the crazy part of my developing formulation that both gets me excited and then at the same time makes me start to feel uncomfortable.  We can now drive right past the Roman involvement in the second century formation of Catholic Christianity.  We can begin to connect the Marcionite sect - at least one of the earliest Christian groups - more firmly with the Qumran sectarian tradition which is wonderful because the idea that God would come down and walk among men is clearly witnessed there.

Yet it is also impossible to escape the growing dread that this sounds like one of these idiotic theories about the 'Dead Sea Scrolls' that used to come out every other month in the last century.  I don't like the way my theory sounds and yet I have amassed a ton of evidence over the last few days clearly witnessing that not only did Clement of Alexandria identify his Jesus-tradition as the Χρηστοί but more significantly the χρηστοί is the term often used by the LXX to translate יְשָׁרִ֣ים in Jewish scriptural material.

Did I mention that  יְשָׁרִ֣ים is inevitably believed to be the root of the term 'Israel' by most of our earliest witnesses?  It doesn't matter that the argument is linguistically unsound.  This is what the ancients believed was true.

I have written about some of this before.  Nevertheless what is new is the interest of Clement of Alexandria.  I will bring forward dozens of examples over the next couple of days.  Yet it is just so very weird stripping the idea that 'Christians' were so-called because they followed 'Christ.'  The Marcionite and Alexandrian traditions were something very different.  The Yesharim was a term which was used to describe the angels who stood around the divine presence in Jewish Aramaic.  The root of the term is that of 'straightness' or 'uprightness' and the underlying concept here was that those who became Yesharim were ultimately purified from the sinful animal life of Adam after the fall.

I found countless striking examples of the use of this terminology in the Hebrew scriptures and the exegesis of the community at Qumran.  Yet let me note perhaps the most incredible example which caught Clement of Alexandria's eye - Psalm 49.  Let me first give you Clement's original reference where he says:

The frequent asking of forgiveness, then, for those things in which we often transgress, is the semblance of repentance, not repentance itself. “But the righteousness of the blameless cuts straight paths,” [Prov. 11.5] says the Scripture. And again, “The righteousness of the innocent will make his way right.” [Prov. 13.6] Nay, “as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” [Ps. 103. 13] David writes, “They who sow,” then, “in tears, shall reap in joy;” [Ps. 126. 5] those, namely, who confess in penitence. “For blessed are all those that fear the Lord.” [Ps. 128. 1] You see the corresponding blessing in the Gospel. “Fear not,” it is said, “when a man is enriched, and when the glory of his house is increased: because when he dieth he shall leave all, and his glory shall not descend after him.” [Ps. 49.16,17]

Clement tells us elsewhere that there are two classes of people in God's nation - the χρηστοί who will inherit the land and judge the world and who possess divine knowledge of the truth and those who are only taught fear of the Lord because of their mental limitations. The references to 'straight' and 'right' here clearly go back to the term yashar (= תְּיַשֵּׁ֣ר).

Yet before the discovery of the Mar Saba letter we never had any inkling how all these ideas came together.  I want to end this quick post by citing the whole of this last scripture (Psalm 49) and lay it side by side with the reference to Secret Mark and ask my readers if they see the context that I see in it.  First the LXX of Psalm 49 (with the words I think relate to Secret Mark emboldened in black and the words cited by Clement in red):

Listen to this, all you nations; give ear, you who dwell in the land; you earth-born ones and sons of men, both the rich and the poor. For, my mouth will now speak of wisdom, and the thoughts of my heart about comprehension. I will turn my ear to a proverb, and explain my riddle in song.

Why do I fear that wicked day, when the lawless are at my heels and surround me those who enforce their own power, and brag of their wealth before all?  May his brother serve as a man's ransom?  Why, he can't pay God for even himself!  For, if he tries to ransom himself, through the age he'll grow weary of trying. Thus, may he live 'till the end, so his body will not see corruption.

Whenever a wise man has died, with the foolish and mindless he passes away, and the wealth that he leaves is passed on to strangers.  Thereafter, his home is his tomb; it's his tent from generation to generation. They may call their land by his name,  but none [in the grave] see the honor in that. [This man] is then like the cattle, for like them he thinks not at all.

This is the snare in their path, for they take pleasure in the things that they say, but they go down to their graves just like sheep, and there they are tended by death. In that morning [when they awaken], they will be ruled by the upright (Heb. יְשָׁרִ֣ים) , who're no help to them now in their graves, where they and their glory are banished. For, only God can ransom our lives, from the hand of the grave, whenever He chooses to take us [from there].

So, be not in fear of those who grow rich, or those whose houses get glory. For, when they die they take nothing along, and all of their glory goes with them.  Yet, while they live they think their lives blest, and men have given them praise. But from one generation to another, they'll go down to their fathers, and through the ages they'll never see light.  For a man of honor doesn't know, that he resembles the unthinking cattle, and [his end] is also like theirs. [Strom 2.13]

I strongly suspect that Mark chapter 10 with the addition from Secret Mark was developed from this Psalm.   The rich youth asking about money, being told to abandon his wealth and then dying and going to the underworld only to be re-stood by Jesus as a yesharim.

And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan

I have always believed that one thing which was working against the Mar Saba discovery is that New Testament and early Patristic scholars have no clue what Judaism is.

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