Monday, January 2, 2012

Breakthrough! The Marcionite Interest in Chrestos as a Divine Title May Be Derived From Alexandrian Judaism

One of the best investments I ever made was buying Brill's the Philo Index - the complete word index for Philo of Alexandria - on sale at Half Price Books for $9.99.  I think the choice must have been this book or a Big Mac combo and I certainly made the right choice.  For today while I had a few minutes away from my family I decided to look up the entry for χρηστὸς on the suspicion that I might find some context for the Marcionite use of the term to describe Jesus.  Boy, was I right!

But before I do this, let me explain to my readers what we have been doing here in the last few days.  The term Christianoi (= 'Christian') is secondary.  This isn't how a Greek speaker would identify 'the followers of Jesus.'  It is derived from Latin and who in their right mind could possibly believe that the earliest Christians spoke Latin?

To this end we have to start looking at the possibility that Marcionite primacy might well be proved by their interest in identifying Jesus as the χρηστὸς (= the good one) and Clement of Alexandria's identification of his followers as  . All that scholars have to do is get rid of that heavily biased notion that Jesus was a man.  The Marcionites identified him as a divine being, even God with absolutely no real humanity.  As such χρηστὸς was certainly a divine epithet.  How interesting then that Clement, Origen and possibly Marcion borrowed this terminology from Philo and the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Let's go through some of the clearest signs that the Jews of Alexandria referred to one of the 'divine powers' of their godhead as ὁ χρηστὸς θεός (= the Good God).  Speaking of wicked Esau's wish:

that that species in the nature of things which is void of passions, namely, Isaac (to whom the oracle had been given, that he should not descend into Egypt), may be the victim of an irrational affection, in order I suppose that he may be wounded by the stings of pleasure or pain, or of any other passion, showing that the man who is not wholly perfect and who makes laborious improvements, will receive not merely a wound, but utter destruction. However, the good God  [ὁ ... χρηστὸς θεὸς] will neither allow that invulnerable species among created things to be subdued by passion, nor will he surrender the practice of virtue to bloody and raging destruction.  On which account we read in a subsequent passage, "Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew Him."  For according to the first imagination, he suggests the idea that Abel has been killed. But if you look at it according to the most accurate investigation, you will see that the intimates that Cain himself was slain by himself, so that we ought to read it thus: "Cain rose up and killed himself," and not the other. And very reasonably may we attribute this to him. For the soul, which destroys out of itself the virtue-loving and God-loving principle, has died as to the life of virtue, so that Abel (which appears a most paradoxical assertion) both is dead and alive. He is dead, indeed, having been slain by the foolish mind, but he lives according to the happy life which is in God. And the holy oracle which has been given will bear witness, which expressly says, that he cried out loudly, and betrayed clearly by his cries what he had suffered from the concrete evil, that is from the body. For how could one who no longer existed have conversed? [Quod deterius potiori insidiari 1:46 - 49]

These ideas have clearly influenced Clement of Alexandria's exegesis of the gospel.  But let's leave this topic to continue to demonstrate Philo's interest in the figure of the 'the Good God.'

The next explicit reference appears in On the Change of Names where Philo interprets the original LXX version of Genesis 17 (where 'El Shaddai' is said to have conversed with a ninety nine year old Abram, changed his name and promised him that his old wife will soon bear Isaac):

Since the, the virtuous man has been bred up among and practised in these and similar divisions and discriminations of things, does he not rightly appear to pray that Ishmael may live, if he is not as yet able to become the father of Isaac?  What then does the Good God say [τί οὖν ὁ χρηστὸς θεός]? To him who asks for one thing he gives two, and on him who prays for what is less he bestows what is greater; for, says the historian, he said unto Abraham, "Yea, behold, Sarrah thy wife shall bring forth a Son."  Very felicitous and significant is this answer, "Yea;" for what can be more suitable to and more like the character of God, than to promise good things and to ratify that promise with all speed!  But what God promises every foolish man repudiates; therefore the sacred scriptures represent Leah as hated, and on this account it is that she received that name; for Leah, being interpreted, means "repudiating and labouring," because we all turn away from virtue and think it a laborious thing, by reason of its very often imposing commands on us which are not pleasant.  But nevertheless, she is thought worthy of such an honourable reception from the prince, that her womb is opened by him, so as to receive the seed of divine generation, in order to cause the production of honourable pursuits and actions. Learn therefore, O soul, that Sarrah, that is, virtue, will bring forth to thee a son; and that Hagar, or intermediate instruction, is not the only one who will do so; for her offspring is one which has its knowledge from teaching, but the offspring of the other is entirely self-taught.  And do not wonder, if God, who brings forth all good things, has also brought forth this race, which, though rare upon the earth, is very numerous in heaven. [De Mutione Nomimum 1.253]

Is El Shaddai the 'Good God' (ὁ χρηστὸς θεός) of the Marcionite system?  This can't be said with any certainty yet.  However it is interesting to note that while our Hebrew text reads:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” [ibid]

Philo's LXX abandoned the reference to El Shaddai and read instead:

Abraham was ninety and nine years old; and the Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him, I am thy God.
Now Philo goes on to explain than ninety nine was one removed from the perfect number one hundred and it is impossible not to see that the Jewish author is the source of the Clementine and Marcosian interest in a similar interest in the earliest gospels.  Yet let's stay focused for a moment on how clearly Philo identifies the 'Good God' (ὁ χρηστὸς θεός) as El Shaddai and moreover this being as the angel which gives Jacob the name Israel.  For we read a few sentences later Philo elaborate on this figure 'the living God':

Do not, however, think that the living God, he who is truly living, is ever seen so as to be comprehended by any human being; for we have no power in ourselves to see any thing, by which we may be able to conceive any adequate notion of him; we have no external sense suited to that purpose (for he is not an object which can be discerned by the outward sense), nor any strength adequate to it: therefore, Moses, the spectator of the invisible nature, the man who really saw God (for the sacred scriptures say that he entered "into the Darkness," by which expression they mean figuratively to intimate the invisible essence), having investigated every part of every thing, sought to see clearly the much-desired and only God [ibid]

Philo consistently gives the implausible explanation of the name Israel as 'a man seeing God' so clearly he has it in his head that the 'Good God' (ὁ χρηστὸς θεός) is somehow the merciful aspect of the godhead who granted divinity to the human race.  I think we are on the doorstep of connecting El Shaddai to the being who wrestled with Jacob and gave him the name Israel it would be easy to connect that being back to Chrestos (as yashar = χρηστὸς in LXX Proverbs 2:21).

Now how do we get from here to the Marcionite Chrestos?  Let's not forget that without getting into too much detail Irenaeus certainly witnesses that the Marcionites divided the godhead into mercy and justice and posited a second or 'other' (= Syriac nukraya) god beside the familiar god of justice:

He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him; nor is there a second God, as Marcion has imagined [Irenaeus AH 2.30.9]

And, indeed, the followers of Marcion do directly blaspheme the Creator, alleging him to be the creator of evils, [but] holding a more tolerable theory as to his origin, [and] maintaining that there are two beings, gods by nature, differing from each other,--the one being good, but the other evil.  [ibid 3.12.12]

Again, that they might remove the rebuking and judicial power from the Father, reckoning that as unworthy of God, and thinking that they had found out a God both without anger and [merely] good, they have alleged that one [God] judges, but that another saves, unconsciously taking away the intelligence and justice of both deities. For if the judicial one is not also good, to bestow favours upon the deserving, and to direct reproofs against those requiring them, he will appear neither a just nor a wise judge. On the other hand, the good God, if he is merely good, and not one who tests those upon whom he shall send his goodness, will be out of the range of justice and goodness; and his goodness will seem imperfect, as not saving all; [for it should do so,] if it be not accompanied with judgment. Marcion, therefore, himself, by dividing God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial, does in fact, on both sides, put an end to deity. For he that is the judicial one, if he be not good, is not God, because he from whom goodness is absent is no God at all; and again, he who is good, if he has no judicial power, suffers the same [loss] as the former, by being deprived of his character of deity. And how can they call the Father of all wise, if they do not assign to Him a judicial faculty? For if He is wise, He is also one who tests [others]; but the judicial power belongs to him who tests, and justice follows the judicial faculty, that it may reach a just conclusion; justice calls forth judgment, and judgment, when it is executed with justice, will pass on to wisdom. Therefore the Father will excel in wisdom all human and angelic wisdom, because He is Lord, and Judge, and the Just One, and Ruler over all. For He is good, and merciful, and patient, and saves whom He ought: nor does goodness desert Him in the exercise of justice, nor is His wisdom lessened; for He saves those whom He should save, and judges those worthy of judgment. Neither does He show Himself unmercifully just; for His goodness, no doubt, goes on before, and takes precedency.

The God, therefore, who does benevolently cause His sun to rise upon all, and sends rain upon the just and unjust, shall judge those who, enjoying His equally distributed kindness, have led lives not corresponding to the dignity of His bounty; but who have spent their days in wantonness and luxury, in opposition to His benevolence, and have, moreover, even blasphemed Him who has conferred so great benefits upon them.

Plato is proved to be more religious than these men, for he allowed that the same God was both just and good, having power over all things, and Himself executing judgment, expressing himself thus, "And God indeed, as He is also the ancient Word, possessing the beginning, the end, and the mean of all existing things, does everything rightly, moving round about them according to their nature; but retributive justice always follows Him against those who depart from the divine law." Then, again, he points out that the Maker and Framer of the universe is good. "And to the good," he says, "no envy ever springs up with regard to anything;"(6) thus establishing the goodness of God, as the beginning and the cause of the creation of the world, but not ignorance, nor an erring Aeon, nor the consequence of a defect, nor the Mother weeping and lamenting, nor another God or Father. [ibid 4.24.1 - 5]

I think we are standing on a very significant threshold.  One can argue that Philo was influenced by Plato when he divided the godhead.  Yet the same thing is said over and over about Marcion by the Church Fathers.  Even the later Patristic writers who mention a tripartate Marcionite godhead are witnessing the same system because the third hypostasis is Satan.

I think the notion that Marcionitism was a dualistic system involving juxtaposing the 'good' Christian god against the evil Jewish god is a deliberate oversimplification on the part of some of the Fathers. The Jewish system itself made this division albeit not between a 'good' and 'evil' godhead but a 'mercy' and 'just' one.  My guess is that Jesus 'the Good God' (ὁ χρηστὸς θεός) is the clearest proof yet that Marcionitism is a preservation of Alexandrian Judaism.  In other words, that Marcion is once again merely a hidden reference to St Mark.

There are over seventy references to this 'Good God' in Philo.  Here is are two more before I go to sleep:

God is merciful, and compassionate and kind (χρηστὸς ὢν καὶ φιλάνθρωπος ὁ θεός)  [De Abrahamo 1:203]

inasmuch as the Father is kind and merciful, and most humane, still he is rather inclined to alleviate the evil than to add to men's misery (χρηστός ὢν καὶ φιλάνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς ἐπικουφίζει τὰ κακὰ μᾶλλον ἢ προστίθησι ταῖς συμφοραῖς) [Quaestiones in Genesim fragment. 2:54]

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