Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Very Next Chapter of the Myth of Jesus Christ [Part One]

We have established that it is highly probable that the author of the text now referenced as 'the Gospel according to Mark' was the founder of perhaps the earliest organized veneration of Jesus.  It would be impossible to properly call this sect 'Christians' as they did not hold Jesus to be a man.  Instead they argued that  in a particular year, at the beginning of the Common Era, Jesus floated down as a divine being from heaven.  There were of course many strange sects in antiquity.  What makes this particular group so important is their steadfast devotion to a small portable codex which contained all the writings ascribed to their apostle.  Catholics would later accuse them of 'rejecting' the Old Testament.  They would also be accused of 'tampering' with the commonly held New Testament scriptures making them shorter by removing references to the Jewish writings.  Yet this argument makes very little intuitive sense.

In fact we know that the original followers of Mark countered that the Catholics had falsely ascribed an endless production of texts to non-existent apostolic figures.  It would follow from this position that the followers of Mark also believed that the Catholics had lengthened not only the gospel but the individual epistles of Paul by adding references to Jewish scriptures and traditional Old Testament themes.  Who should we believe?  It is difficult to argue against the portable religion argument of the last chapter.  The Catholic Bible was simply too bulky to support the kind of missionary activity that must have been characterized the new faith at the turn of the second century.

At some point in its development Christianity transformed itself its canon from excluding to including the various Jewish writings.  Yet even here we see an obvious sign that the Catholic tradition could not have existed before the middle of the second century.  Jewish sources not only consistently report a ban on practicing circumcision but also the study of and the reading from the Torah.  It would be hard to believe that Christians were travelling around the Empire with a library of codices including the banned books from the Jewish tradition.  We never hear of any Christians suffering under Hadrian's reign.  In fact the tradition is reported to have enjoyed a high degree of toleration and event according to some reports the mischievous interest of the Emperor.

It is beyond question that Marcionitism must have seemed perfectly at home in this anti-Jewish cultural environment.  It is for this reason that Clement of Alexandria speaks of 'Marcion' flourishing as a revered elder during the Hadrianic period (117 - 138 CE).  One suspects that the demotion of Marcion to the status of reviled heretic in the subsequent administration of Antoninus Pius (138 - 161 CE) had much to do with a new cultural policy on the part of Hadrian's more conservative successor.  Jewish and Samaritan sources heaped praise on Antoninus Pius undoubtedly because he had restored their right to maintain their traditional religion.  Yet it is in this period that we begin to see the first clear signs that at least a few Christians took up the idea that it might be a good idea to embrace the traditional religion of their spiritual ancestors.

It was in the Antonine period that the first edition of the Acts of the Apostles and a number of other distinctly Catholic texts were first produced.  The orthodox tradition also seemed to have had its first historical martyr in this age.  All of these innovations seemed to have been spurred by the official 'decriminalization' of the study of the old religion of Israel.  The horror that members of the original followers of Mark must have felt at these innovations is only partially expressed by the recorded reaction of a Marcionite to the Catholic gospels:

Christ did not have Mark and Luke as disciples, so you and your party are convicted of producing spurious writings. Why is it that the disciples whose names are recorded in the Gospel did not write, while men who were not disciples did? Who is Luke? Who is Mark? You are therefore convicted of bringing forward names not recorded in the Scriptures

This testimonial appears in the most corrupt transmission of a debate between a Catholic and a Marcionite in the early third century.

The original narrative is clearly a reaction against the very same testimony that we saw Irenaeus present as 'proving' that Luke produced the canonical gospel on behalf of the Marcionite apostle.  The Catholic spokesmen in the debate cites many of the same scriptural references from his version epistles of Paul in order to prove that Luke and Mark were known to him.  The Marcionite responds by saying he does not accept their spurious collection and adds that he "will demonstrate from elsewhere that the (Catholic) gospels are spurious" because "the Apostle says that there is one Gospel, but you people say that there are four."   Proof after proof is leveled by the Marcionite in order to establish that the interest in Judaism was only recently added to the New Testament.  The overall impact of his case being blunted by the fact that the editor of the material is actively trying to rebut the testimony of him and his tradition.

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