Monday, February 27, 2012

The Chapter After the Very Next Chapter of the Myth of Jesus Christ

One needn't look too far to find evidence for the existence of our mystic gospel of Mark with 'added Empedoclean doctrines.'  It's repeatedly mentioned in the writings of Clement.  Of course the text isn't identified by name per se - i.e. 'the secret gospel of Mark.'  But that shouldn't be surprising given that Clement in the Letter to Theodore says that people should avoid identifying Mark's association to the gospel.  Instead Clement makes reference to the text with the generic ascription of 'Gospel according to the Egyptians.'

The first person to identify Clement's Gospel according to the Egyptians as one and the same as the secret gospel of Mark after the Mar Saba discovery was the British evangelical scholar F F Bruce who made reference to this possibility on top of the fact that Irenaeus speaks of  ‘an indescribable multitude of apocryphal and spurious scriptures’ (Heresies i. 20.1) associated with a certain Mark and elsewhere states that ‘those who separate Jesus from the Christ, holding that the Christ remained impassible, while Jesus suffered, prefer the Gospel according to Mark’ (Heresies iii. 11.7)―from which Irenaeus’s modern editor W. W. Harvey inferred that another Gospel assigned to Mark, in addition to the well-known one.

Yet what may be most surprising to many people is that many astute observers were already identifying Clement's Gospel according to the Egyptians as a variant Mark text before Morton Smith's discovery.  Take the case of A S Barnes who over fifty years before the discovery at Mar Saba writes the following:

of the original ' Gospel according to the Egyptians ' we can form a fairly definite notion. It can hardly have been anything else than some form of the Gospel of St Mark. All Christian tradition is unanimous in assigning to St Mark the work of evangelizing Egypt and founding the Church of Alexandria. When we find, therefore, that a special ' Gospel according to the Egyptians ' was in existence from very early times, and when we find St Chrysostom actually stating that St Mark wrote his Gospel in Egypt, we can hardly help coming to the conclusion that these two traditions are correlated. St Mark, we may suppose, left behind him in Egypt a Gospel narrative which may not indeed have been absolutely identical with that which we now call by his name, but which, on the other hand, it is natural to suppose had some close affinities with it, and this narrative became known to the Christians of the first century as the Gospel according to the Egyptians. On this hypothesis it follows, of course, that the various scraps which are quoted by Origen and others from a Gospel which was known to them under this name, since they have no apparent affinities with the Gospel of St Mark, must either be additions made at a later date to the original narrative, or else, and perhaps more probably, be quotations from an apocryphal Gospel which usurped the name in the second century, after the original Gospel of the Egyptians had become known throughout Christendom as the Gospel accordind to St. Mark. In either case they are of no value to the student who desires to recover the text of the original document, and the details in which it varies from that form of the Gospel of St Mark which we now possess

Of course critics of the discovery want to have it both ways.  On the one hand, the discovery of a reference to a longer gospel of Mark is 'impossible' and 'has never been suggested by anyone before the discovery' while on the other hand any reference to its potential existence was read and used by Smith to create his 'forgery.'

One thing which is absolutely certain however - Morton Smith never makes reference to the mystical gospel of Mark among the Marcionites which seemed to add Empedoclean concepts to the original text.  There can be no mistaking that the Empedoclean conception identified in Hippolytus's report by Mansfeld - vegetarianism, marriage and procreation - do appear in these fragments in Clement as well as a palpable interest in Salome who is also found in Secret Mark.  The first mention of this text is introduced by Clement as follows:

Whence it is with reason that after the Word had told about the End, Salome saith: Until when shall men continue to die? (Now, the Scripture speaks of man in two senses, the one that is seen, and the soul: and again, of him that is in a state of salvation, and him that is not: and sin is called the death of the soul) and it is advisedly that the Lord makes an answer: So long as women bear children

This would certainly qualify as an Empedoclean rejection of child-birth and so would this a few lines later in Clement:

And why do not they who walk by anything rather than the true rule of the Gospel go on to quote the rest of that which was said to Salome: for when she had said, 'I have done well, then, in not bearing children?' (as if childbearing were not the right thing to accept) the Lord answers and says: Every plant eat thou, but that which hath bitterness eat not.

And again a little later:

The Lord said to Salome when she inquired: How long shall death prevail? 'As long as ye women bera children', not because life is an ill, and the creation evil: but as showing the sequence of nature: for in all cases birth is followed by decay. 

And again:

But those who set themselves against God's creation because of continence, which has a fair-sounding name, quote also those words which were spoken to Salome, of which I made mention before. They are contained, I think (or I take it) in the Gospel according to the Egyptians. For they say that 'the Savior himself said: I came to destroy the works of the female'. By female he means lust: by works, birth and decay. 

The community that Clement references which used this text in common with him certainly rejected marriage and sex and likely also the vegetarianism.

Yet the remaining fragments of the text make clear there were other Empedoclean appropriations.  The idea for instance that Jesus came to unite all to One through love certainly stands out:

When Salome inquired when the things concerning which she asked should be known, the Lord said: When ye have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female. In the first place, then, we have not this saying in the four Gospels that have been delivered to us, but in that according to the Egyptians. 

Indeed perhaps most interesting of all is what may well be an explicit reference to the 'mystic' gospel of the Egyptians in Hippolytus as we read of a certain sect that:

they do not, however, institute an inquiry from the Scriptures, but ask this (question) also from the mystic (gospel). And they affirm that the soul is very difficult to discover, and hard to understand; for it does not remain in the same figure or the same form invariably, or in one passive condition, that either one could express it by a sign, or comprehend it substantially.  But they have these varied changes set down in the gospel inscribed "according to the Egyptians." 

We should now considered the question of whether Clement knew of a 'mystic' gospel being used by the Egyptian church closed.  Let us now move on to other matters.

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