Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Implications of Jesus as Chrestos

Wow, what a day.  My dog is literally biting its own tail and I have been crazy busy with work.  Nevertheless I always have time to dream.  I know it sounds corny but in those brief moments that I think about early Christianity I float over an ancient landscape and am allowed a brief escape from the banality of existence.  Today's realization is so obvious I can't believe that no one has thought about it before - if Clement of Alexandria developed his understanding of the godhead from Philo, why don't more people recognize the obvious implications of 'Chrestos' on the two advent theory of Christ?

I did a Google search to see if there was a quick Wikipedia article to reference the concept of the early 'two advent' theory of Christ but was amazed to see there was nothing.  Perhaps this is why so few people think about the implications of Jesus as 'Chrestos' in this conceptual framework.

Let's make matters as explicit as possible.  Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the coming of the messiah.  It is commonly recognized that the apologists answered that the messiah was to come twice, first in weakness and then, a second time, in power (see Tert., lud 14; Justin, Dial 49.2).  These first two references come from Justin but Clement, Origen and other Alexandrian sources make reference to this same doctrine.  The implication seems to be that the tradition developed in Alexandria (on Justin's relationship with Alexandria see my previous posts).

As obvious as this may seem, no one to my knowledge has ever connected the 'two advent' theory with the Philo's understanding of two powers in heaven.  In other words, Jesus as Chrestos is the power of mercy or 'theos' (= God) and the second coming of the messiah will be 'in power' because it is the manifestation of judgment or 'kurios' (= Lord).  As I already said this seems quite obvious.  There are some inklings of at least part of this doctrine in the Samaritan doctrine of the Day of Vengeance and Recompense.

Yet the twist that I see Christians giving to this traditional Samaritan concept - and this may explain Marcionitism proper - is that while the first coming of 'mercy' is that of a divine visitation, there are signs that the Marcionites envisioned the manifestation of the messiah proper was through the agency of a wholly human figure.  In other words, when we keep hearing that the Marcionites emphasized that Jesus is not the messiah of the Jewish expectation this was strictly speaking quite true.  Indeed this concept is already witnessed in Samaritan sources too.

 This point was made by the well-known fourteenth century Samaritan author, Abisha b. Pinhas, in his hymn Shira Yetima, for the Day of Atonement where it is said of the Taheb (the Samaritan 'messiah') "he shall execute a righteous judgement" (TA 68, p.128). While the concept dominates the Samaritan liturgy associated with the Day of Atonement it is important to note that the concept is not found in Marqe. My guess is that it was removed. Nevertheless the possibility that this might have been the original Marcionite understanding is most significant.

 More on that later ...

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