Friday, February 24, 2012

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

The problem of course is that Paul has to be a Pharisee.  We have to close a blind eye to this untruth or else the whole house of cards set up by Irenaeus comes crashing down.  For once the Marcionite rejection of Acts is upheld, a path is cleared to see these heretics as representative not merely of the anti-Jewish culture of the Hadrianic period but moreover the original theology of the period immediately following the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE.  Almost everyone accepts that the Gospel of Mark was written in this period.  How isn't Marcionitism the original theology of that text?

The difficulty of course is that the Catholic text of Mark was certainly the one used by the Marcionites.  Yet we should take a second look at the statement in the writings of Irenaeus's student Hippolytus who notes:

When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark. But (the real author of the system) is Empedocles, son of Meto, a native of Agrigentum. And (Marcion) despoiled this (philosopher), and imagined that up to the present would pass undetected his transference, under the same expressions, of the arrangement of his entire heresy from Sicily into the evangelical narratives. 

There can be no doubt what Hippolytus is accusing Marcion of doing here.  The heretic has, according to Irenaeus's student, taken the Catholic text of the Gospel of Mark and added 'mystical' doctrines appropriated from the Greek philosopher Empedocles.  This is an absolutely critical link which connects the Letter to Theodore and its 'Mystic Gospel of Mark' and the Marcionite gospel.  

Indeed one of the most frequent epithets used to describe Empedocles is that of 'mystagogue' - which means someone who initiates others into religious mysteries.  What does Hippolytus mean when he says that "the entire heresy" of Empedocles was transferred into the Gospel of Mark by Marcion?  

You say that there is a good Deity who destroys the works of the Demiurge: then do not you plainly preach to your pupils, as the good Deity, the Love (philia) of Empedocles. You forbid marriage, the procreation of children, (and) the abstaining from meats which God has created for participation by the faithful, and those that know the truth. (Thinkest thou, then,) that thou canst escape detection, (while thus) enjoining the purificatory rites of Empedocles? For in point of fact you follow in every respect this (philosopher), while you instruct your own disciples to refuse meats, in order not to eat any body (that might be) a remnant of a soul which has been punished by the Demiurge. You dissolve marriages that have been cemented by the Deity. And here again you conform to the tenets of Empedocles, in order that for you the work of Love may be perpetuated as one (and) indivisible. For, according to Empedocles, matrimony separates unity, and makes (out of it) plurality, as we have proved.

It is amazing that these details never make their way into any meaningful discussion of the context of the Letter to Theodore's discussion of a 'mystic' Gospel of Mark.  Hippolytus makes clear that the head of the Marcionite sect acted in a manner very similar to the description of Mark in Clement's letter.  He 'adds' mystical doctrines to Mark which above all else speak of Jesus introducing a 'work of love' which will bring all things to one.

It is only when we look at this earliest understanding of Marcionitism that Morton Smith's discovery suddenly makes sense.  Smith was astute enough to see the passage referenced from 'Mystic Mark' was making reference to Jesus offering union with his initiate.  Yet Smith could not go beyond his inherited notion of Jesus as a 'real' human being.  As such he could only formulate explanations based on the idea of Jesus being some sort of wonder-worker or magician and a few passing references to homosexuality.

One we rediscover Hippolytus's reference to Marcionitism as a development of the mystical philosophy of Empedocles the correct understanding manifests itself to us - a possibility which Morton Smith couldn't see because of his inherited presuppositions.  Jesus was not a human being at all but a divine hypostasis who embodied the 'Love' (= philia) at the heart of Empedoclean mythopoesis.  This force of good brought forth all the elements from One at the very beginning before 'Strife' broke them all apart to establish the world as we know it.  It is not at all hard to see that there is a glimmer of the Jewish creation myth being referenced here.  But more importantly for our understanding of Marcionitism is the fact that Hippolytus certainly saw Jesus salvatory mission in terms of Love returning at the end times to bring all things back to One.

It is extraordinarily significant that no less of an authority than Clement of Alexandria cites Empedocles to explain what the apostle means by love.  It proves once and for all that Hippolytus is not developing wild accusations against a rival group who held fast to a 'mystic' gospel of Mark.  Clement writes in the middle of his classic work the Stromata that:

For some procreate by the body, others by the soul;" since also with the barbarian philosophers to teach and enlighten is called to regenerate; and "I have begotten you in Jesus Christ," says the good apostle somewhere. Empedocles, too, enumerates friendship among the elements, conceiving it as a combining love: "Which do you look at with your mind; and don't sit gaping with your eyes." [Clement Stromata 5:2]

Indeed Clement does not stop here but goes back to an Empedoclean creation myth whereby in the very beginning through love:

the Word issuing forth was the cause of creation; then also he generated himself, "when the Word had become flesh," that He might be seen. The righteous man will seek the discovery that flows from love, to which if he haste he prospers. For it is said, "To him that knocketh, it shall be opened: ask, and it shall be given to you." [ibid 5.3]

Clement's conception is not only that Jesus was the embodiment of Empedocles's 'love' (philia) in the beginning but moreover that his mission at the end times was similarly conceived - i.e. to gather back together pieces of the divine whole.

So it is that in what immediately follows this last citation Clement seems to have in mind the very passage from the 'mystic' gospel of Mark cited in the Letter to Theodore.  As we saw earlier, a young man was raised from the dead and stretches his hand longing to 'be with' Jesus, the embodiment of heavenly love.  In the Stromata Clement makes reference to a beginning in the darkness of ignorance saying:

The knowledge of ignorance is, then, the first lesson in walking according to the Word. An ignorant man has sought, and having sought, he finds the teacher; and finding has believed, and believing has hoped; and henceforward having loved, is assimilated to what was loved -- endeavouring to be what he first loved. [ibid]

In no mistaken terms here we see confirmation of what is certainly the mystical understanding of the narrative cited in to Theodore.  Jesus is the embodiment of 'love' and the youth becomes the paradigmatic example of all future initiates wishing to become one again with heavenly truth.

As we continue to read this section of the Fifth Book of the Stromata we must always keep in mind the image of the dead youth literally buried in the darkness of a tomb.  So again in what follows Clement makes reference to:

Wise souls, pure as virgins, understanding themselves to be situated amidst the ignorance of the world, kindle the light, and rouse the mind, and illumine the darkness, and dispel ignorance, and seek truth, and await the appearance of the Teacher. [ibid]

It is at this point that Clement switches gears and goes back to a theme which dominates the first half of the Letter to Theodore - namely that many even within the Christian community remain in ignorance of the truth. Both here and in the Letter to Theodore Clement cites 1 Corinthians 8:1 to find support from apostolic authority for his next seemingly unbelievable proclamation - namely that Christians must leave certain of their brethren in the dark and without knowledge of the truth about Jesus.

In what immediately follows in the Stromata Clement uses Empedocles to confirm that certain men are not capable of bearing mystical truths:

"For this is habitual to the wicked," says Empedocles, "to wish to overbear what is true by disbelieving it." And that our tenets are probable and worthy of belief, the Greeks shall know, the point being more thoroughly investigated in what follows. For we are taught what is like by what is like. For says Solomon, "Answer a fool according to his folly." Wherefore also, to those that ask the wisdom that is with us, we are to hold out things suitable, that with the greatest possible ease they may, through their own ideas, be likely to arrive at faith in the truth. 

In the Letter to Theodore Clement formulates the very same idea using the very same - and very obscure - reading from the Book of Proverbs:

To them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath. For, "Not all true things are to be said to all men". For this reason the Wisdom of God, through Solomon, advises, "Answer the fool from his folly", teaching that the light of the truth should be hidden from those who are mentally blind. Again it says, "From him who has not shall be taken away", and "Let the fool walk in darkness". But we are "children of Light", having been illuminated by"the dayspring" of the spirit of the Lord "from on high", and "Where the Spirit of the Lord is", it says, "there is liberty", for "All things are pure to the pure"

It is utterly incredible that those who claim that the Mar Saba is a forgery focus on this particular passage claiming that it has no precedent in Clement's authentic writings.  Of course, we have just demonstrated the exact same idea - and more importantly - the exact same variant reading from Proverbs which isn't even found in other Greek translations from antiquity.  The reading "answer the fool from his folly" only appears in the writings of Clement.

The point of course is that Clement is tell us that the true believer in Jesus must hold back his information about the true gospel and true path to salvation until the initiate comes up and asks for it.  This is why we saw him make reference earlier to the statement in the gospel - "to him that knocketh, it shall be opened: ask, and it shall be given to you."  Tertullian's Prescription Against the Heretics has been recognized by scholars to be a rejection of Clement's mystical interpretation of this saying.  Yet what is rarely acknowledged is that Clement clearly shared the same mystical initiation as the Marcionites and other heretical groups referenced in that treatise.

The mystical ritual being condemned by Irenaeus and Tertullian is clearly the mystical union with Jesus only preserved in Clement's gospel of Mark.  Tertullian ridicules taking this saying to mean that Jesus was calling out to his disciples to join him in a secret place or adyton to become one with him through love.  Tertullian writes:

How then shall one who has ever been outside knock where he has never been ? What door is he acquainted with whereat he has never been either received or rejected ? Is it not rather one who knows that he has once been within and has been turned out, who knocks and recognizes the door?

Yet Clement continues undeterred continuing in what we reading in the Fifth Book of the Stromata to reveal the mystical vision contained in the secret gospel of Mark:

For he who is still blind and dumb, not having understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative soul, which the Saviour confers, like the uninitiated at the mysteries, or the unmusical at dances, not being yet pure and worthy of the pure truth, but still discordant and disordered and material, must stand outside of the divine choir. "For we compare spiritual things with spiritual." Wherefore, in accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred Word truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them adyta, and by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine -- were allowed access to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for "the impure to touch the pure."

This of course as close as we get anywhere in the works of Clement of Alexandria to the great mystical truth which he says was added to the gospel which Mark developed from Peter's notes.  Yet once we get beyond the question of whether to Theodore was a forgery it is enough to connect what Clement was saying with is rejected by Irenaeus and Tertullian among the various heretical groups.

For indeed when we go back to the Prescription Against the Heretics we see Tertullian struggle to apply this saying to the disciples struggle to identify Jesus as the messiah.  He changes his mind and goes back and forth ultimately resting his rejection of the mystical interpretation of "ask and ye will find" by the fact that each heretical group had a different mystery rite:

If, however, we ought to seek in proportion as we are able to find, because so many varying doctrines have been taught by different persons, we shall be for ever seeking and never believing at all. For where will be the end of seeking? Where the resting-place of belief ? Where the fulfilment of finding? With Marcion ? But Valentinus also enunciates "Seek and ye shall find." With Valentinus, then? But Apelles too will attack me with this same injunction; and Ebion and Simon and all one after another who have no other means of ingratiating themselves with me and winning me over to their party. And so I shall be nowhere ! whilst I am met on all sides with "Seek and ye shall find"; just as if I were nowhere—as though I were one who had never apprehended, what Christ taught, what ought to be sought, what ought to be believed.

Again while scholars recognize that Tertullian and Clement 'disagree' about the proper interpretation, what is being said in the Prescription Against the Heretics goes beyond that.  Tertullian takes issue with Clement's injunction to refuse to reveal sacred truths until the very moment he condescends to hold out his hand and be initiated into their mysteries.

Yet no one can again claim that the 'secret gospel' isn't referenced in the writings of Clement or indeed in the writings of the apostle.  For Clement and the heretics clearly saw the firth three chapters of the epistle to the Corinthians as laying out this very concept.  Moreover the very formula developed in the Letter to Theodore of Mark taking 'notes' or a rough outline of a gospel from Peter and then turning into a secret mystical text is also referenced over and over again in the writings of Tertullian.  A little later in the Prescription he alludes to heretics like Clement:

for the purpose of scoffing at some ignorance in the Apostles, bring forward the point that Peter and his companions were blamed by Paul. "Something therefore," say they, "was lacking in them." They say this in order to build up that other contention of theirs, that a fuller knowledge might afterwards have come to them, such as came to Paul who blamed his predecessors. [Prescript 23]

Clearly Tertullian here is referencing the Marcionite contention that the apostle wrote a more spiritual gospel but the new wrinkle here - which connects us back to Clement's Letter to Theodore - is that this secret text was developed from original material which ultimately came from Peter.

It is amazing to see that so many studies of the development of the gospel never take into account the common tradition shared by the Letter to Theodore, Hippolytus's account of Marcion expanding the 'original' gospel of Mark and what is written here in Tertullian.  Scholars seem to prefer to have the creative freedom to develop their own ideas.  Nevertheless as we continue to cite verbatim what appears in Tertullian it is clear that the Church Father must also have been aware of the ritual prohibition not only of divulging the existence of the 'secret gospel' but of its attribution to Mark.  For he notes in what immediately follows our last citation:

Now here I may say to those who reject the Acts of the Apostles (= the Marcionites): The first thing for you to do is to shew who this Paul was—both what he was before he was an Apostle, and how he became an Apostle (emphasis mine) since at other times they make very great use of him in disputed matters. For though he himself declares that from a persecutor he became an Apostle, that statement is not sufficient for one who yields credence only after proof. For not even the Lord Himself bore witness concerning Himself.  But let them believe without the Scriptures that they may believe against the Scriptures. Yet they must shew from the instance adduced of Peter being blamed by Paul that another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth. [ibid]

The context of Tertullian's report is clearly the development of the 'mystic' gospel of Mark from the teachings of Peter.  The fact that Tertullian goes on to cite the Acts of the Apostles against the Marcionites only reinforces that the material here must go back to Irenaeus as its original author.

As we have already seen Acts was developed by Irenaeus to confront head on some core traditions associated by the original tradition of St Mark.  Yet the Marcionites did not only object to the Catholic version of Acts.  The Marcionite representative in the debate with Adamantius also argues that the original epistles of Paul were also corrupted.  To this end, when Tertullian cites the 'harmony' which exists between Acts and the first two chapters of Galatians it should not be surprising to hear a Marcionite argue that this agreement was artificially established - i.e. through forgery.  As many scholars have noted the citation of Marcionite readings of Galatians begins in chapter three.  To this end one can begin to imagine that the 'agreement' between Acts and Galatians was developed to obscure an original confrontation over what Tertullian says "Peter being blamed by Paul that another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth."

Indeed Tertullian goes on to give is tantalizing fragments of the original Marcionite belief sprinkled throughout his argument that Acts supports the Catholic account of the controversy between Paul and Peter.  We read:

Whereas the fact is, (according to the Acts of the Apostles) when changed from a persecutor into a preacher, he is led in to the brethren by brethren as one of themselves, and presented to them by those who had clothed themselves with faith at the Apostles' hands.  Afterwards, as he himself relates, he "went up to Jerusalem to see Peter," because of his office, and by right of course of an identical faith and preaching. For they would not have wondered at his having become a preacher from a persecutor if he had preached anything contrary to their teaching; nor would they have "glorified the Lord" if Paul had presented himself as His adversary. Accordingly they "gave him the right hand," the sign of concord and agreement, and arranged among themselves a distribution of office, not a division of the Gospel (non separationem euangelii), namely, that each should preach a different message, but the same message to different persons, Peter to the Circumcision, Paul to the Gentiles.  But if Peter was blamed because, after he had lived with Gentiles he separated himself from their companionship out of respect of persons, that surely was a fault of behaviour, not of preaching. For no question was therein involved of any other God than the Creator nor of any other Christ  than He Who came from Mary, nor of any other hope than the resurrection.

I am not good man enough, or rather I am not bad man enough, to pit Apostle against Apostle. But since these most perverse persons thrust forward that rebuke (= 'I condemned him to his face') for the purpose of throwing suspicion upon the earlier teaching (of Peter) I will reply, as it were, for Peter ... Now, although Paul was carried away even to the third heaven, and was caught up to paradise, and heard certain revelations there, yet these cannot possibly seem to have qualified him for another doctrine, seeing that their very nature was such as to render them communicable to no human being.  If, however, that unspeakable mystery did leak out, and become known to any man, and if any heresy affirms that it does itself follow the same, (then) either Paul must be charged with having betrayed the secret, or some other man must actually be shown to have been afterwards "caught up into paradise," who had permission to speak out plainly what Paul was not allowed (even) to mutter
It may be difficult for some readers to follow the argument here.  Yet I hope in the coming chapters to make them far more accessible to readers who aren't as familiar with the scriptural context of many of these statements.

It should be noted these same citations are repeated over and over again throughout the centuries in association with the Marcionites.  The basic point of contention is whether the apostle of the Marcionites appeared in Jerusalem and surrendered himself and his gospel to Peter and the authorities in Jerusalem.  Irenaeus and Tertullian actually had a variant reading in a key section of Galatians which supported this contention.  The Marcionites clearly argued not only that this was never written, and that such an event as described in the Catholic New Testament never happened but moreover that the reason it is so absurd is because their apostle instructed them to keep his gospel secret.

Yet the Catholic understanding didn't develop out of a void.  Clearly the Marcionites and the early Catholics before the invention of Luke held to the same basic formulation of Clement of Alexandria.  The apostle acknowledged that he had an ecstatic experience and ascended to the highest heaven.  It is was then some mystical truth was revealed to him and he added this understanding to Peter's original narrative.  The Catholic tradition now claims that this new gospel 'must have been' consistent with the message of the old because Acts and Galatians has the authorities in Jerusalem embrace Paul.  Nevertheless, the Marcionites with their variant codex of New Testament writings scoffed at these manipulations of their original texts.

What did they believe was the truth about this other gospel?  Tertullian makes clear in what immediately follows in the Prescription that the Marcionite beliefs were consistent with what is preserved in Clement's Letter to Theodore.  He continues:

But here is, as we have said, the same madness, in their allowing indeed that the apostles were ignorant of nothing, and preached not any (gospels) which contradicted one another, but at the same time insisting that they did not reveal all to all men, for that they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others (only) in secret and to a few, because Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: "O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;" and again: "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep." What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? ... what is (this) commandment and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetched doctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: "Before many witnesses" is his phrase.

Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these "many witnesses," it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced "before many witnesses."  Nor, again, must the circumstance of his having wished him to "commit these things to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also," be construed into a proof of there being some secret gospel (id quoque ad argumentum occulti alicuius euangelii interpretandum est).  For, when he says "these things," he refers to the things of which he is writing at the moment. In reference, however, to occult subjects, he would have called them, as being absent, those things, not these things, to one who had a joint knowledge of them with himself.

It doesn't get any more explicit than this.  Not only does Hippolytus witness that the Marcionites had a gospel which 'added' details to Mark, Tertullian makes explicit reference to it being a 'secret gospel.'  Of course scholars of Marcionitism get distracted by the fact that Tertullian is citing the so-called Pastoral epistles when the sect also denied their authenticity.

Indeed Tertullian gets even more explicit about the Marcionites possessing not only Clement's 'secret gospel' but also his ritual silence regarding the existence of the text.  So Tertullian continues in what immediately follows:

Besides which, it must have followed, that, for the man to whom he committed the ministration of the gospel, he would add the injunction that it be not ministered in all places, and without respect to persons, in accordance with the Lord's saying, "Not to cast one's pearls before swine, nor that which is holy unto dogs."  Openly did the Lord speak, without any intimation of a hidden mystery. He had Himself commanded that, "whatsoever they had heard in darkness" and in secret, they should "declare in the light and on the house-tops."  He had Himself fore-shown, by means of a parable, that they should not keep back in secret, fruitless of interest, a single pound, that is, one word of His.  He used Himself to tell them that a candle was not usually "pushed away under a bushel, but placed on a candlestick," in order to "give light to all who are in the house." These things the apostles either neglected, or failed to understand, if they fulfilled them not, by concealing any portion of the light, that is, of the word of God and the mystery of Christ.

Of no man, I am quite sure, were they afraid,—neither of Jews nor of Gentiles in their violence; with all the greater freedom, then, would they certainly preach in the church, who held not their tongue in synagogues and public places.  Indeed they would have found it impossible either to convert Jews or to bring in Gentiles, unless they "set forth in order" that which they would have them believe.  Much less, when churches were advanced in the faith, would they have withdrawn from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to some few others.  Although, even supposing that among intimate friends, so to speak, they did hold certain discussions, yet it is incredible that these could have been such as to bring in some other rule of faith, differing from and contrary to that which they were proclaiming through the Catholic churches, —as if they spoke of one God in the Church, (and) another at home, and described one substance of Christ, publicly, (and) another secretly, and announced one hope of the resurrection before all men, (and) another before the few; although they themselves, in their epistles, besought men that they would all speak one and the same thing, and that there should be no divisions and dissensions in the church, seeing that they, whether Paul or others, preached the same things. Moreover, they remembered (the words): "Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil;" so that they were not to act as if there were different gospels (ne euangelium in diuersitate tractarent).

It almost seems laughable some of the 'experts' should question the existence of the 'secret gospel' of Mark.  This is not the place to begin to examine why the current cultural landscape should caused so many scholars to trample over the evidence for a mystic expansion of Peter's original lost work.  From this point forward we shall simply assume the authenticity of the text witnessed by all the early Church heresy hunters.  The secret which lies at the heart of the text was not even recognized by its discover.

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