Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Me and Marcion - Our Lifelong Journey Together

As many of my regular readers know, I have been thinking about the problem of the origins of Christianity for quite some time - I even published a stupid book on the subject.  My interest in Christianity began with some chance encounter with the person of Marcion.  I don't know how it happened.  I was still attending university and had always had an interest in the pagan religions of antiquity.  I think many people have a fancy for history but Jewish people quite especially because it makes them fell immortal and indomitable somehow.  You know, we take a licking and keep on ticking or something like that.

In any event, I had to make sense of Christianity.  I had lived alongside Christians for most of my life.  Who was this 'Jesus Christ' that they venerated so?  He was Jewish, right?  Well, how did a Jew garner so much love and devotion from 'white people'?  More importantly, I think my real interest began with the death of the pagan religions and Dionysus especially, the patron of the dramatic arts.  

Why did 'white people' abandon what appeared at first glance to be a far more interesting religion or series of cults for this morbid Jewish sectarian association?  I must confess, I had many theories for the origins of Christianity along the way.  Yet I think my first 'theory' as it were was that Jesus was a development of the cult of Dionysus.  It all seems to silly when I look back.  I think I even gave a presentation on this Jesus as a Development of the Greek Natural Religion in a graduate course on Hegel that I happened to be taking.  I remember the look of scorn on the part of the 'serious students' who were taking the class.  

The point here is that somewhere along the line (I think I took a right turn at Origen's Against Celsus and never looked back) I became fixated with the subject of Marcion and Marcionitism.  I was already corresponding with Daniel Mahar and Robert Price while I was still attending Glendon College of York University in Toronto. I kept writing these 'books' which I sent to anyone and everyone who might allow me to get my ideas published.  

I did everything so completely 'assed-backwards.'  I never thought about being a 'writer' and just writing on various topics.  I had this obsession with 'knowing the truth' and figuring that if I 'figured it all out' then everyone would simply realize I was right and I would become famous. 

I sometimes wonder if I suffered brain damage somewhere along the line in my youth.  

The bottom line is that by the time I actually published the Real Messiah I started to put together what I still consider to be a workable model for the origins of Christianity.  I don't know what will happen to this theory.  I think I started spending time writing this blog with the understanding that I would not change the world or in the very least I would fail to become famous in my own right.  Nevertheless I thought and still think that I am on to something, something that someone else or a succession of other people could flesh out sometime after I either pass away or give up trying to change the world.  

My basic theory is that the Marcionites were right.  Jesus was a God rather than a man and he was originally understood to have originally come down from heaven to the temple of Jerusalem (= beth saida) and was mistaken for the messiah rather than his divine herald and ultimately condemned by crucifixion.  This is the core story as it were to the Christian experience.  The difficulty was flushing out the other details and develop it into some kind of narrative that could be sold as a book. 

I avoided the subject of Marcion completely in my Real Messiah.  The reason was quite simple really.  I hadn't figured out how to make all the pieces fit.  Some might argue that I should have done my research in a university.  Yet I can honestly tell you that I don't believe I would be standing here with my particular theory if I had to publish papers in a particular field of study.  I have come to believe that Marcionitism can be likened to a minority population in Texas whose constituency or body is divided up by the deliberate redistricting efforts of election officials. 

According to my way of thinking the categories we have been trained to use were deliberately imposed on the world by the Imperial authorities in the late second century.  'Christianity' is an artificial category.  It implies something which is ultimately 'Gentile' rather than Jewish, an association which has a human founder named Christ (hence the Latin -ianus in the name) which believed in one God rather than many, and most importantly a tradition which interpreted the scriptures by means of a revealed 'faith' rather than the Greek philosophical exegesis of Justus of Tiberias and Philo of Alexandria.  

I know it may sound like something which borders on a 'conspiracy theory' but the evidence in Judaism and Samaritanism already supports the idea of just such a re-engineering.  The difficulty is that scholars of Christianity have very little idea how the Imperial authorities abused and coddled the various Palestinian sects in order to reshape them as strict monotheists.  This did not simply happen 'naturally.'  There was a pronounced interest in 'streamlining' the various religious faiths of the Empire in the third century.  It all seems to culminate in Aurelian's solar cult but the roots of this trend go back to the time of Commodus.  

In my mind, Marcionitism was a relic from the Alexandrian origins of Christianity.  I don't exactly know how this Alexandrian cult became identified as being associated with a figure named 'Marcion' nevertheless it is patently obvious that it has something to do with Marcion being a form of the name Mark and St Mark being the patron saint of Alexandrian.  

Almost every Patristic writer makes reference to Marcion as a Platonist.  Yet because scholars can't get around the repeated statement in the Church Fathers that Marcion 'hated Judaism and the god of the Jews' these academics can't make the ultimate connection that Marcionitism was a development of Alexandrian Judaism.  I don't know why this is but I am sure it has something to do with the fact that Christian scholars have very little working knowledge of what Judaism is and what forms Jewish worship can take.  

Marcus Julius Agrippa was such an interesting historical figure to me because of course he is the historical Marcion.  All scholars need to do is read the actual reports which survive in the rabbinic writings and they will see this as clear as day.  He was a Jew who embraced the idea of another god besides what became known as 'the Jewish god.'  

Yet even this paradigm is developed from something of a false premise.  For the assumption here is that 'Judaism' is based on the notion of strict monotheism.  Of course anyone who has ever read the writings of Philo knows full well that this Alexandrian Jew takes the two divine names of the Pentateuch to refer to two different divine powers.  How then can the rabbinic tradition assert that Marcus Julius Agrippa introduced another God besides the true God of Israel?  It is because the later rabbis of the third and fourth centuries had learned to define themselves against this interpretation.  Yet it is unmistakable that Marcus Julius Agrippa's religious reforms of the first century had an effect on Judaism of the later period.  Jews were still identifying the last king of Israel as the messiah into the twentieth century.  

The important thing for us to see (and it is something that I realized early in my studies) is that we will never get a direct sighting of 'Marcion' in any source outside of the Patristic literature because he is ultimately a fictitious literary figure after the manner of 'Ebion,' 'Elxai' and the rest of the boogeymen of the heresiological genre. Christianity is now filled with these ghosts.  'St. Mark' is another such ghost.  The real historical figure behind all these empty masks is Marcus Julius Agrippa, the Platonizing philosopher king of Israel.  

The clearest way to see this phenomenon is to look at the name the Marcionites gave to Jesus - 'Chrestos' and then notice that the Alexandrian tradition starting with Philo and going down to Clement of Alexandria makes the very same connection.  Philo for instance identifies 'El Shaddai' as the 'Good God' and Clement who was very aware of Philo's interpretation further identifies this figure as his Instructor (= Jesus).  I think the Marcionite understanding of Jesus Chrestos was identical with this tradition. 

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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