It is perhaps the most enigmatic passage in all of Clement’s writings. The Alexandrian Church Father uses the example of older men cruising young male lovers to describe the Christian religious experience:
We, then, who are infants, no longer roll on the ground, nor creep on the earth like serpents as before, crawling with the whole body about senseless lusts; but, stretching upwards in soul, loosed from the world and our sins, touching the earth on tiptoe so as to appear to be in the world, we pursue holy wisdom, although this seems folly to those whose wits are whetted for wickedness. Appropriately, children are those simple ones who know only God as their father, infants and pure ones [akeraioi], lovers [erastai] of the horn of unicorns … Thus, he commands those who discard the cares of life to depend upon the father only. And the one who fulfills this commandment is truly an infant and child both to God and to the world, to the latter as one who has strayed [peplanemenon], to the former as a beloved one [egapamenos]. (Paid. 184.108.40.206-3)
The reference has puzzled scholars for centuries. What exactly does Clement mean by “erastai of the horn of unicorns”? Indeed who or what are the ‘horns’?
We have made reference to this passage a number of times already. We are prepared to reveal its true meaning - the ‘horn of the unicorns’ represent the crescent of the new moon. One can see the astral imagery reflected in every part of the passage. The Christian is described as ‘touching the earth on tip toes, stretching upwards’ toward some heavenly object. The Greek word peplanemenon is very significant here. It comes from the very same root as the term ‘planet’ as the spheres in heaven were commonly understood to ‘wander.’ A very similar use of the term appears in the account of the myth of the fall of Sophia in the third century text the Philosophumena “The parable of the lost sheep represented, according to Simon, his redeeming work. Did he not, like the good shepherd, seek out the unfortunate Helena, the object of his compassion, who had strayed [peplanemenon] into the lower world like the sheep into the desert?”
The point of course that once the reader is made aware of the astrological terminology of early antiquity it will be apparent that (a) the mystery rite of Clement’s Alexandrian Church necessarily was rooted in a heavenly ascent and (b) contained profound sexual imagery. How can the appearance of the new moon qualify as something sexual? Well let’s start at the beginning. As the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus notes shortly after the point at which the moon has her conjunction (Gk synodos) with the sun she is thought to grow ‘horns’:
and when under the same sign she (the moon) meets the sun in a straight line, she is obscured (as was said) and her brightness is wholly dimmed; and this in Greek is called the moon's conjunction (synodos). Now she is thought to be born, when she has the sun above her with a slight deviation from the plumb-line, so to speak. But her rising, which is still very slender, first appears to mortals when she has left the sun and advanced to the second sign. Then having progressed farther and now having abundant light, she appears with horns and is called crescent shaped. But when she begins to be separated from the sun by a long distance and has arrived at the fourth sign and the sun's rays are turned towards her, she gains greater brilliance, and is called in the Greek tongue dichomenis (= full mooned) a form which shows a half-circle.
It was not only used for the conjunction of sun and moon but also used in a sexual sense – i.e. sexual intercourse (Arist. HA541a31, Clearch.49, Ph.1.148, Plu.Lyc. 15, Gal.15.47). Not surprisingly many pagan works reference the synodos (= conjunction) of the sun and moon on the first of the month as a sexual act.
At long last we can begin to explain Clements reference to Christians lusting after the horns of the unicorn. It is based on an allegorical reference to the coming together of the sun and moon on the first day of the month in a lunar calendar. Yet by its very definition it must also reflective of the rituals of the Alexandrian Church. The consistent reference to ‘newborns,’ ‘children,’ ‘knowing only God as their father’ all point to the context of newly created initiates who come out of the bath and whatever else followed in the divine mysteries. Why the reference to the single horn of the moon on the first day of the month? Clearly it has something to do with the initiates representing the ‘newborn’ moon. Indeed Clement quotes an ancient scientist to demonstrate that the horned period is specific to the first seven days before and after the new moon.
It is the Philosophumena again which identifies one heretical sect which repeatedly mentions a similar sort of ‘ritual lust’ for the “moon’s celestial horn.” This sect also used the same gospel as Clement and moreover had mysteries in which initiates were ritually castrated. Indeed there is another report in this same compendium which goes back to Irenaeus referencing an Egyptian heretic named Cerinthus, whose name certainly goes back to the same Greek word for horn (= keras). Irenaeus tells us quite explicitly again that he too had a copy of a longer gospel of Mark which concludes with Christ watching Jesus suffer on the Cross.
There are just so many references to an early Christian interest in the new moon that we should begin to consider where this doctrine might have come from. The report in the Philosophumena points to an Egyptian parallel at least in the worship of the god Osiris. We are also told that “the whole of Egypt (calls thee) Osiris, celestial horn of the moon.” Osiris was always identified as a moon god in ancient Egypt. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch notes that the new moon marked both the death and birth of the god: And at what they call the Burials of Osiris they cut the tree-trunk and make it into a crescent-shaped coffin, because the Moon, when it approaches the Sun, becomes crescent-shaped and hides itself away. And the tearing of Osiris into fourteen pieces they refer enigmatically to the days in which the luminary wanes after full-moon up to new-moon. And the day on which it first appears, escaping from his beams and passing by the Sun, they call “Imperfect Good.” For Osiris is “Good-doer.” The name, indeed, means many things, but chiefly what they call “Might energising and good-doing.” And the other name of the God … means when translated, “Benefactor.”
Yet perhaps most interesting of all, Plutarch goes on to tell us that there was a festival in honour of Osiris held on the new Moon of the month Phamenoth called the entrance of Osiris into the moon. Phamenoth roughly corresponds with our month of March which of course roughly corresponds to the first month of the Hebrew calendar.
Of course almost every attempt to explain the myth of Jesus Christ appeals to this or that pagan myth. Osiris is inevitably invoked in these ‘studies’ with an obligatory reference to his role as a resurrecting divinity. What makes our approach different is that it will be argued that Christianity was not directly influenced by the Egyptian interest in the new moon. Instead, we shall again argue that Mark was principally working with traditional Hebrew interest in the new moon. Indeed we have already demonstrated that the traditional date for the baptism of catechumen was rooted in an event which occurred on the first day of the first month. Given that it is generally acknowledged that baptism on Easter Sunday was introduced in the fourth century and moreover a ritual interest in the first day of the week can be traced to a Roman policy in the late second century, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities to speculate that a ritual associated with the new moon on the first day of the month spawned all these other variants.
We have also already demonstrated that Adam was understood to have been created on the first day of the year as a hermaphrodite. This mystical understanding necessarily looms large in piecing together the origins of Christian theology. We will spend a great deal of time demonstrating the existence of a ritual castration cult in Alexandrian Christianity in a subsequent chapter. For the moment however we shall be content to demonstrate why the mystery which ‘conjoined’ God and man necessarily was tied to the new moon of the New Year.
Christians have always taken an interest in Isaiah’s pronouncement that “your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot away with.” (Isa 1:14) Yet in recent times it has been implausibly argued by theologians that Isaiah wanted to abolish the Hebrew interest in new moons. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Clement for one is honest enough to admit that Isaiah is not advocating this position. Indeed he was certainly well aware that the Christian celebration of Easter was totally dependent on calculating the first moon of the year. What then did Clement think Isaiah was getting at with his pronouncement? If we look carefully at Clement’s interpretation of the first chapter of Isaiah we see time and again the idea that God was presenting something a new form of sacrifice related to the appearance of the new moon – i.e. the establishment of Christian martyrs.
In other words, the mystery of the kingdom of God is connected in Secret Mark with the establishment of a new sacrificial victim. This is hardly surprising given the fact that the Samaritans have always maintained that this was the day Moses and Aaron were first told about the Passover sacrifice and the day the victims were selected. This fact is ritually observed in the Fourteen Days of Observation arbd dsar yumi ammasmdrst, (of the sheep selected for sacrifice), which corresponds to the fourteen days preceding Passover (first to fifteenth Nisan). It is based on Exod 12:6: " And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
The point of course here is that the original shape of Mark’s gospel clearly takes a special interest in the span of time between the initiation of Simon on the new moon to his sacrifice when the celestial object is ‘full’ of light. To this end, the widely reported that tradition that Jesus ultimately substituted another person to appear on the cross in his place certainly derives from the time table of Exodus. This tradition, which first appeared in the Alexandrian gospel of Mark, is the accepted understanding throughout the Middle East. Jesus did not end up crucified but rather Judas, Titus or some other figure in inevitably put in its place. Yet the original Alexandrian understanding seems to have been that Simon was the original substitute.
We shall look more closely at these issues in a subsequent chapter. It is enough now for us to develop why the figure initiated in the mysteries should be understood to be ‘horned.’ The fact that the sacrificial lambs of the Passover inevitably appeared as such certainly has something to do with it. The Samaritans always reserve one fire at Passover for burning the wool, the hoofs, the horns, and the entrails of the lambs. It must also be considered that a horn – the shofar – also traditionally announces the new moon. Yet we shall argue that the new moon of the new year was especially associated with horns because of a traditional association with Moses’s final reception of the ten utterances (= commandments) on Mount Sinai on this particular day.
We needn’t delve into speculative associations with regards to the name of the mountain and the moon god Sin. It is enough to say that when Moses finally delivers the commandments to the nation of Israel the word keren is used to describe his face. The passage is usually translated as:
And it was as Moses came down from Mount Sinai and the two tablets of the testimony were in the hand of Moses when he came down from the mountain and Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was beaming when he spoke with Him (Ex 34: 29)
Yet as the 12th century commentator Rabbi Yosef Bechor explains:
"Behold the skin of his face was beaming" - His skin was shining from the aura of the Holy Presence. It is the same in 'Rays (Karnayim) issued from His hand' (Habakkuk 3:4). The explanation is that when the light shone from his face, and the pillar of light which formed opposite him it resembled horns (keren = horn of an animal) ... Thus (the Torah) used the word keren, since the first tablets were given amidst much commotion and these second ones in secret. The Holy One Blessed Be He demonstrated that these, too, were holy, by the fact that the face of Moses shined from the aura of the Holy Presence when he received them.
The fact that a figure as important as Moses was always understood to be ‘horned’ certainly must factor into the adoration of the unicorn in Alexandria.
Indeed from a very early period we see Jewish writers warn against the Christian interest in the ‘horned’ Moses. Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), the grandson of Rashi writes in his Torah commentary concerning the term in question as follows: "karan refers to splendor, and similarly in 'rays issue from His hand' (Hab. 3:4), and anyone who compares [our verse] to "his horn are like the horns of a wild ox" (karnei re'em karnav - Deut. 33:17) is mistaken . We see here that the Rashbam rejects the interpretation that Moses sprouted horns which became established among various early Christian writers. This understanding is based on the interpretation of the Latin Biblical translation , the Vulgate, which translated keren in our passage as quod cornuta esset. The Vulgate followed Jerome, one of the Church Fathers, whose interpretation follows the Greek translation of Aquilas in translating karnayim (Amos 6:13) with the Greek equivalent word for "horn."
The question before us of course is how far did the Christian understanding of a horned Moses go back? The short answer is that we don’t really know. Nevertheless Jerome was certainly a great preserver of traditions from Alexandria. As we shall see he was intimate with the Egyptian monks who settled in Palestine in the fourth century and carried with them numerous mystical traditions including the brother-making rite. At the very least we can determine that the horned Moses was understood to have appeared with the new moon of the New Year. This understanding was clearly at the heart of Ezra’s ritual re-enactment of the event at Sinai when he gave back the Law to Israel in the century. It was also the tradition of Philo and the Jews at Alexandria who had a great influence on Clement and the Alexandrian tradition as a whole.
It was Philo who said that the trumpet is sounded on the first day of the seventh month as a “reminder of a mighty and marvelous event which came to pass when the oracles of the Law were given from above.” It is impossible not to see an underlying connection between the horns and the new moon and indeed this is made explicit in various Samaritan texts “and [Moses] turned, and went down the mountain with great glory like a moon in its fullness while carrying the book.” The point of course is that it should be obvious to anyone has any familiarity with the Hebrew calendar that Moses appearing horned on the first of the seventh month is a mirror of the horned sheep chosen in the first of the first month. The one is the secular New Year, the other the religious New Year.
At last we are afforded another small glimpse into Mark’s literary workshop. While Moses appears horned on the second date, the sacrifice of the horned sheep has already been established on the first. What’s more the fact we have already determined that Secret Mark’s initiation rite occurred on the first of the first month, makes an even strong case for a connection with Moses’s ‘horns’ on the parallel New Year’s Day in the seventh month. There is nothing of course in the fragment preserved in the Letter to Theodore which would suggest that Simon was ‘horned’ or indeed had light coming from his face. Nevertheless the idea does creep into Clement of Alexandria’s many allusions to the ritual practice in his other writings. It should also be noted again that Mark does however reinforce the timing of the event to the new moon and something ultimately messianic – “for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.”
Indeed as Marvin Meyer, Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies and Co-Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont University, has already noted the parallels between Secret Mark’s “and after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body” and Moses’s instruction by God on Sinai. As the Jewish tradition always notes the rite was very much tied to the new moon:
Rabbi Yose the Galileean said: Moses sanctified himself in the cloud for seven days, as it is written, "[The Presence of the Lord abode on Mount Sinai,] and the cloud hid him for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud" (Exod. 24:16). [All this] followed the giving of the Ten Commandments, which was the start of the forty days [Moses was on the mountain]. Rabbi 'Akiva said: "The cloud hid him for six days" — [God] had called upon Moses to purify himself beginning new moon [ie, six days before the giving of the Ten Commandments]. Then, "on the seventh day [of the month, the day the Ten Commandments were given], He called to Moses," [immediately] after the giving of the Ten Commandments
Indeed it should now be obvious that the parallels between Secret Mark and the Book of Exodus exist on many different levels. Not only is there a parallel between the two six day purification periods but more importantly the two events are mirrors of one another – i.e. the first reception of the Law runs from the new moon, the second leads to a direct ‘conjunction’ at the new moon which happens to fall at the start of the New Year.
Of course, when we say that the two events were ‘mirrors’ of one another we should have expected Clement or some other ancient witness to take issue with this. The Jewish celebration of the New Year on the first of the seventh month is ultimately an abomination. What kind of culture can call any day but the first of the first a New Year’s Day? Samaritans clearly did take issue with this understanding especially with respect to identifying anything other than the first new moon as the beginning of the religious year. To this end, we can perhaps begin to see what may have been Mark’s original intention of creating a mirror of Moses’s experience on Sinai on what was once clearly the holiest day of the year.
It cannot also be ignored any longer that when Moses received the ten utterances on the first of the seventh month it was in fact a second attempt. The first attempt happened near the end of the fifty day period after the first Passover. The fact that the Israelites only managed to receive a ‘consolation’ prize of an inferior revelation from an inferior divinity (the description of the divine powers is very different) opened the door to the possibility that in the end, mankind would finally receive the original blessings which were ‘taken back’ after the sin of the Golden Calf.
To this end we should seriously consider the possibility that the mystery of the Kingdom of God was indeed originally conceived as this divine fulfillment. After all we see many similarities between the Christian ‘new covenant’ and the experience at Horeb. The Hebrew of Exodus chapter 19 emphasizes not only ‘eating and drinking’ but more specifically that the Moses and the elders of Israel ‘saw’ God with their own eyes. This is deliberately left out of the second account where Moses is not afforded a direct vision of the divine power.
We shall make the case that Mark clearly had in mind the notion that Jesus coming to earth and establishing a new ritual on the head of days represented nothing short of a superior covenant at the end of times. This is where the heretical blasphemy arose with respect to the inferiority of the Jewish divinity. Nevertheless we should begin to see that Mark was also likely drawing from something other than the account of the covenants with Israel. The Second Letter to the Corinthians goes to great length to ridicule the inferiority of the tablets of stone. Yet notice that Clement puts forward that the superior Christian covenant is rooted in brother-making:
Respecting exchange (metadosews) He said: "Come to me, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungry, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger (xenos), and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came unto Me (kai elthate pros me)." And when have we done any of these things to the Lord? The Instructor Himself will say it is a good-making lovingly done to the brother as Himself (ten eupoiian kai ton adelphon agapetikws), "Inasmuch as ye have done it to these little ones (epoiesate tois mikrois toutois), ye have done it to Me (emoi epoiesate). And these shall go away into everlasting life."
Such are the laws of the Word, words that impart (spiritual) inspiration, written by the hand of God not on tablets of stone, but inscribed on men's hearts, provided only that those hearts are not attached to corruption. Therefore the tablets of the hard of heart have been broken, that the faith of the little ones may be formed in impressionable minds. Most explanations of the juxtaposition between Moses and Christ in 2 Corinthians chapter 3 develop some general waffle about Christianity being differentiated from Judaism by its doctrine of love. Yet only Clement of Alexandria sets the record straight in this most important reference.
The passage we just cited represents the earliest known allusion to the mystic brother-making rite of Alexandria – adelphopoiia. What Clement is saying here is that the mystery rite of adoption through the secret rituals of the Alexandrian Church – in no doubt founded on the longer gospel of Mark – is the replacement of the old system of the Decalogue. This has nothing do to with the end of sacrifices given that such practices are not referenced in the tablets brought down from Sinai. What Clement is saying comes directly from the original interpretation of 2 Corinthians. We are told that the Israelites could not look steadily at the horned face of Moses because Moses wanted to prevent them from realizing what was to come – i.e. the brother-making rite. So it is that the first initiates “beheld with unveiled persons the Lord’s glory and being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory”
To this end, we will demonstrate in our next chapter that there is a very good reason that Mark assigns the transformative event to the first of the first month. He is necessarily drawing us toward the original scriptural basis for the rite – the union (zimmut) of Moses and Aaron. Indeed as the apostle notes the main difference between the Sinai rite and what is described in Secret Mark is the fact that Moses experience on Sinai never translates to his relationship with other human beings. In other words, he doesn’t pass on the kind of rite which we hear Clement reference with respect to Jesus’s baptism of his chosen disciple – i.e. “Christ is said to have baptised Peter alone, and Peter Andrew, and Andrew John, and they James and the rest.”
The fact that Peter and Andrew and John and James are described as ‘brothers’ in the canonical gospels makes it at least possible that they weren’t actual ‘siblings of the flesh’ but only manufactured as such by means of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Indeed list of alleged ‘brothers’ of Jesus which get passed on in the canonical gospels - James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – bears a remarkably striking similarities to the very people who underwent this rite within the inner circle of the apostles. The possibility then that the rite at the heart of Secret Mark, while appearing in many respects to be a ‘mirror image’ of the Sinai experience, may well have derived from something in the Exodus narrative should be seriously considered – especially given the mystical interest of Samaritans with respect to the ‘union’ of Moses and Aaron.