Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Very, Very Rough Draft of Chapter Six of the Myth of Jesus Christ

It is sometimes difficult to find the 'good guys' in modern scholarship.  One might even be led to believe that every academic has an agenda in place before they actually examine new pieces of evidence. If you say ‘secret’ or ‘mystic gospel’ to most scholars of religion they think the very same thing that they would if you utter the word ‘adelphopoesis.’ Yet these are merely things of appearance. Nevertheless it is unusual that two ‘gay-looking’ traditions should have survived down to modern times from ancient Alexandria and perhaps even more interestingly that both should have something to do with the concept of ‘brother.’  Indeed it isn’t just that the Alexandrian gospel of Mark introduces the disciple that Jesus loved through a woman from Bethany coming to Jesus and begging him to revive her brother. If we go back a few lines earlier in the same chapter in the same gospel cited in another letter of Clement we see something else.

The Alexandrian text of Mark tells us in the previous scene that Jesus not only ‘loved’ a man at a gathering of his disciples but a man who was apparently very rich. Jesus tells him that in order to be perfect he has to ‘sell what he has and give to the poor’ and follow him. The man went away grieved unable to part with what he owned. Yet the most intriguing parallel appears in the very next line. Mark tells us that not only were the disciples ‘knock over’ by this teaching but Peter specifically sought to reassure Jesus that they had indeed ‘left everything to follow him.’ It is at this point we read:

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions and in the world to come is life everlasting. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.

In other words, Jesus is going beyond merely saying we have to give up money but also extends the meaning of ‘possessions’ to include family and siblings. It is very curious in my estimation that the very next story in the Alexandrian gospel should be about a woman who has just lost her brother who also happened to be rich. These are the kinds of things which only happen in books and in the movies. It’s like walking around on an unbearably hot day and muttering under your breath ‘I’m really thirsty’ and having a cold beer fall into your hand.

The point is that there is a subtle mechanism at work here. Mark was a master of weaving narratives in this way. It’s so subtle you often don’t notice it unless you read it over and over again. There are also small changes to this Alexandrian text of Mark that Clement used and our own which strengthen the idea that the mystic gospel narrative was alluding to a ‘brother making’ ritual. Where as Clement’s text makes only a reference to receiving ‘brothers’ in ‘the world to come’ with ‘life everlasting’ where as our gospel of Mark there is a whole shopping list of ‘rewards’ – “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields.”

What has to be acknowledged then is that Clement’s gospel of Mark deliberately reinforces a more simplified formula because it is introducing the ancient ‘brother making’ ritual. In other words:

  1. someone asks Jesus how they can receive eternal life and he answers that they have to give up their possessions 
  2. this man leaves dejected and Jesus then privately explains to his disciples explaining that by possessions he means not only wealth but ties to family. Jesus adds that if they do this they will inherit new brothers  .

All that is missing from this formulation is to argue that the man who Jesus was talking with ‘died’ and was resurrected in the Secret Mark narrative and Morton Smith and many others have already made the connection for us. Yet does Clement ever explicitly say this anywhere in his surviving writings? The short answer is no. Yet this isn’t at all surprising in itself, given that in the Letter to Theodore he tells us that these things related to the secret or mystic gospel are strictly forbidden to outsiders. He did decide to write a treatise on Mark’s treatment of wealth pointing out that the example of this man in the narrative serves as an example of those who “cling to the present life as if it alone was left to them, and so diverge more from the way to the life to come” and warns that “ignorance of Him is death; but the knowledge and appropriation of Him, and love and likeness to Him, are the only life.”

Indeed what we are suggesting of course is that Mark is already hinting at the ritual whereby the beloved disciple will be mystically refashioned after Jesus likeness and thus become his brother. This is apparently the meaning of the famously obscure saying that closes the last section – the “first shall be last, and the last first.” The Epistle of Barnabas, a semi-legendary epistle cited by Clement over and over again in his writings explains the saying quite clearly as pertaining to a second creation:

Again I will shew thee how the Lord speaketh concerning us. He made a second creation at the last; and the Lord saith; Behold I make the last things as the first. In reference to this then the prophet preached; Enter into a land flowing with milk and honey, and be lords over it

Similarly Clement’s Roman counterpart Irenaeus explains the saying in the exact same way:

For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first … for the Lord, having been born "the First-begotten of the dead," and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die

Jesus is the firstborn and thus the ‘first’ and we the latest generation born after Adam are the ‘last.’

So now we are only a step away from Athanasius’s explicit interpretation of the saying from the Pauline epistles – ‘the firstborn of many brethren’ – as pertaining to adelphopoesis or a mystic ritual of brother making in the Alexandrian Church. Clement cites these same passages to similar effect, yet more often than not he becomes most explicit about a brother making rite when referencing his secret gospel. In another passage from his Stromata Clement begins with a reference from the Pauline writings and then cites a saying from Jesus that no longer appear in any of our canonical gospels - "Having seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God ":

The divine apostle writes accordingly respecting us: "For now we see as through a glass;" knowing ourselves in it by reflection, and simultaneously contemplating, as we can, the cause of active power of manufacture (i.e. Jesus), from that, which, in us, is divine. For it is said, "Having seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God " methinks that now the Saviour God is declared to us. But after the laying aside of the flesh, "person to person" (πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον) -- then definitely and comprehensively, when the heart becomes pure. And by reflection and direct vision, those among the Greeks who have philosophized accurately, see God. For such, through our weakness, are our true views, as images are seen in the water, and as we see things through pellucid and transparent bodies [Stromata 1.19]

Clement is giving us a very cryptic reference to the original brother making ritual in ancient Alexandria. Yet if you can navigate your way through the scriptural references it can all be made sensible.

The first scriptural reference in the section is from 1 Corinthians chapter 13. This is the famous discussion of agape or pure sexless love that gets used most often at weddings. Yet the apostle is referencing a mystical marriage with Jesus and says that while in a former life we only saw as a children, i.e. that we begin seeing Jesus as through ‘tinted glass’ at some mystical juncture then we see ‘face to face’ or ‘person to person.’ Yet notice that Clement brings up that secret saying from his gospel – ‘having seen tour brother, you have seen you God’ before the ‘person to person’ reference. In other words the idea here is that the two persons in the mystical brother making ritual, one who plays the part of Jesus and the other plays the part of the one being made into his brother.

Indeed the last words in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen are “now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Clement doesn’t cite them here but in another section of the same book when discussing that same unknown gospel saying, he makes clear that he has it in mind never the less:

And mystically (μυστικώτερον) already the saying, "Know thyself," has been from this, "Thou hast seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God.” Thus also “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself "for it is said, "On these commandments the law and the prophets hang and are suspended."

The words ‘know thyself’ were famously inscribed at the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Clement connects these words with saying ‘see your brother, see your God’ with the brother-making ritual. In fact, Clement seems to have thought that the ‘agape’ of chapter thirteen is a reference to the true name of the adelphopoesis rite.

It is in this chapter that we begin to see in fact long tentacles extend from agraphon into the mystical heart of the relationship between man and God. It isn’t just that one of the evangelists (Clement never says who) added some mystical saying to a gospel. It isn’t just that Paul and he know about the ‘brother-making’ ritual. Nor even that Jesus came to establish this means of salvation for all humanity but also that Moses received a prophetic revelation in the Law that even he didn’t quite understand about the eventual introduction of the mystery rite at the end times.

Clement consistently understands all allusions to ‘the neighbor,’ ‘the brother’ and ‘the other’ in the Pentateuch as referencing Jesus. Jesus is thus not a human being at all for Clement and his tradition but a hypostasis or intermediary between the Father in heaven and humanity. He is the ‘firstborn’ Logos, the likeness of God who came to earth in order to establish each of us after his example. There is absolutely no room here for the humanity of Jesus whatsoever. The Jews and most of humanity certainly thought that Jesus was merely some crazy individual who claimed to be God. Yet the early Alexandrian tradition seemed to have understood that Jesus was wholly of a divine nature. He came down from heaven on a mission of love, with the explicit purpose of ‘loving’ mankind and binding his supernatural being on the mortal human nature.

When we stop right there and step back and actually look at the individual pieces that we have laid out so far connecting the ‘brother-making’ rite to the discovery at Mar Saba. Clement tells us that Mark added something ‘secret’ or mystical to his original gospel, a passage about someone’s brother, a disciple of Jesus, who was taken away from his family to be established in the likeness of Christ. The critics say that this idea is outlandish. It is so bizarre and out of character for either Mark, Clement or the whole of early Christianity that the whole letter must have been forged by its discoverer Morton Smith. Yet we are now on the verge of finally dismissing these claims by bringing forward the clearest testimony from antiquity that not only establishes that such a mystic gospel of Mark was known to exist in the third century but more importantly that the evangelist wrote the text with the supposition that Jesus was not human but a wholly divine hypostasis.

We have mentioned the sect of the Marcionites on many occasions so far during the course of our investigation. It is perhaps time to also mention that the name ‘Marcion’ has often been interpreted as having something to do with Mark. In Aramaic, Marcion would simply mean ‘those of Mark.’ This understanding is of special interest to us when we examine one of the earliest testimonies about this tradition having an expanded version of the gospel of Mark as their most sacred scripture:

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 the founder of Marcionitism as having done. 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 resuppositions. 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.

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