Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Seventh Chapter of the Myth of Jesus Christ

When Protestants in America delve into the origins of their religious past they inevitably come upon an unexpected challenge from the ancient past – the Jesus of most believers was rooted in myth rather than history. The real experience of Christianity is found in the liturgy, the public even theatrical worship of Christ, rather than private study of books. If the Church is likened to a video game, the gospel is the instruction manual that most people don’t even bother to read. The disconnect which exists for most honest evangelicals is that they come to discover that their tradition has come to venerate the instruction manual rather the intended experience of Jesus – i.e. what the modern Benedictine monk Dom Anscar J. Chupungco “the constant appeal to his ‘myth’ [which] communicates to the celebrant assembly [God’s] transforming power.”

The point of course is that Jesus as God is at the foundation of Christianity; the historical Jesus was something that was added later by means of editorial manipulation of the gospel. There was at the beginning an understanding of Jesus as a ‘tool’ or instrument of the Almighty which was at the heart of the Alexandrian tradition. By the fourth century a theological holy war was waged against this original model for Christ. Yet the notion of a historical Jesus divorced from myth is an entirely modern heresy developed wholly from the rebellion of Martin Luther and other northern European radicals. It’s only ancient precedent are the ‘filthy’ Carpocratians and even they remain far from the pure ‘historical’ vision of the modern American faith.

When an evangelical comes into contact with everyday Catholic believers he must be horrified by the manner in which they approach their religion. They have little interest in studying the Bible or reading any historical context for their religion - their only interest it would appear is to participate in the liturgy. This insistence on ‘living myth’ at first baffles the Protestant believer. He will likely accuse the billion or so Catholics in the world today of ‘intellectual laziness.’ His forefathers were less kind accusing the various Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants of ‘ignorance’ and being effectively controlled by an idolatrous Church in Rome. Yet the reality is that there is little that separates a Roman Catholic devotion to the mythical liturgy from the traditional approach of the Orthodox tradition in the East. Indeed the Protestant stands alone in his obsessive interest in historical truth.

The further back we go in time, the more we see Christianity promote a ‘supernatural agenda’ to its congregants. This is an indisputable fact. Indeed when we arrive at the late second century we find Clement of Alexandria making reference to the idea that Jesus baptized the man who would come to symbolize the Church itself, Simon Peter. The fact that no one else besides Clement tells us about this ‘historical event’ raises questions about its authenticity. Is it all just another ‘Christian myth’? Yet the absence of any mention of the baptism of Peter, Andrew and the rest of the twelve actually raises a more fundamental difficulty – was the original mythical basis to Christianity ultimately curtailed after Clement of Alexandria?

It is a most baffling question, one that at first at least has no easy solution. Yet there is a chasm which separates the twelve apostles from everyone else in Christianity – why weren’t they baptized? Why is it assumed by all surviving forms of the faith that everyone in the world has to be baptized except them? Indeed as they are the ones portrayed as starting the evangelization of the world on what authority did they establish the baptism rite? If it didn’t come from Jesus perhaps we will discover that it developed from the same appeal to ‘visions’ and revelation which established the first gospel.

The discovery at Mar Saba of new material related to Clement of Alexandria has led to a complete revaluation of the origins of the Christian religion. The only difficulty is that those with an evangelical mindset in particular stand opposed to what is emerging from this process of discovery. Indeed because of a concerted effort to challenge the authenticity of the document much of the research which was taking place at the end of the twentieth century has been abandoned. The focus for the last ten years has been simply to demonstrate how weak and ultimately silly most of the objections have been as well as developing a ‘silver bullet’ to help establish the authenticity of the discovery.

Up until the publication of Bart Ehrman’s sensationalist work Lost Christianities there were a number of different approaches to the document which had yet to meaningfully engage one another. It was like the old parable about different people holding separate parts of the same elephant. Of particular significance was the work that was undertaken by Thomas J. Talley Professor of Liturgies at the General Theological Seminary in New York and one of the leading liturgists of this country. Talley went to Mar Saba to look at the text 1980 and was told that the book had been removed to the library of the Greek Patriarch in Jerusalem. Talley major achievement was to draw attention to the fact that the Alexandrian tradition originally assigned a specific date to Jesus’s baptism of the disciples – the sixth day of the sixth week of Lent.

In other words, Clement’s claim that Peter baptized Jesus does not stand completely alone. It was just up until the discovery of the Mar Saba document no one cared to investigate what the Alexandrian tradition actually believed about Jesus’s relationship with his disciples. Very few scholars delved into the very ancient tradition of Christians in Alexandria because that tradition – now identified by the term ‘Copt’ (= Egyptian) – is mostly preserved in Arabic. There are perhaps only a handful of scholars of early Christianity that can read the lingua franca of the Christian Middle East. As such most research is guided by what happens to have been translated into English.

The earliest reference to the idea of Jesus baptizing his disciples comes from a tenth century Coptic bishop of Memphis named Macarius. He is bitterly complaining about changes that were made to the original rule of Alexandria while the Greeks were in control of the liturgy. Macarius laments that now “our rule is to make the chrism on the day of Friday of the sixth week of the blessed fast, because of the baptism according to the custom which was current in the beginning. This rite was performed in the city of Alexandria, see of the Lord Mark the Evangelist.” Macarius then bemoans the transformation of the original rule in more recent times:

It was thus that there was introduced a custom to please the people and the rule of the see of Mark the Evangelist was changed. They knew not that touching this day, and on it, there were numerous virtues, mysteries and interpretations. And this because it is the consummation of the sacred quarantine and is the day of the fast. It is told that this is the day on which the Lord Christ baptized his disciples. This is the sixth day of the week, figure of the sixth millenary, on which God the Word was incarnate and delivered Adam and his posterity from the domination of the enemy over them and freed them from his enslavement. And it became the day of baptism. This is why the patriarch of Alexandria performed it on the consecration of the chrism, which is the oil of the balm, and of the oil of gladness, which is the olive, and of the water of baptism and he baptized then the people of every land.

In spite of the fact that ‘disciples’ is mentioned in the plural (rather than Clement of Alexandria’s mention of the baptism of only one disciple Peter) this discovery was of major significance. It clearly demonstrates that at one time Clement’s ideas were woven into the fabric of liturgical life in Egypt.

Indeed Talley only saw a connection with Morton Smith’s interpretation of his discovery – i.e. that the mystery of the kingdom of God was a baptism rite. Talley wasn’t apparently aware of Clement’s reference to ‘Peter and only Peter’ from the writings of John Moschus because Smith did not include that in his analysis. The Alexandrian tradition could well have explained that the idea of Jesus’s baptism of ‘the disciples’ on one particular day by the fact that no information of Peter’s subsequent application of the same rite to Andrew and the rest came down to us. Moreover, the fact that even Jesus’s baptism in the Secret Gospel appears to be mythical allows for some flexibility in the way it is remembered in the liturgy.

Coptic Lenten Cycle
Talley for his part seems to have been missing this critical reference from John Moschus and so struggled to connect this practice of baptizing on the Friday night of the sixth week with the practice in Constantinople of baptizing on the Saturday night of the same week, commonly called ‘Lazarus Saturday.’ Talley also couldn’t help notice that the Letter to Theodore peers into the very ‘workshop of Mark’ saying that the evangelist himself established the liturgy of Alexandria based on what was written in his ‘secret gospel.’ He focused his efforts on trying to reconstruct what the liturgy of Alexandria once must have looked like given the fact that Constantine and his associates completely reorganized the patterns of Christian worship in the fourth century.

Greek Orthodox Lenten Cycle

In other words, whereas now the baptism of converts takes place on Eastern Sunday throughout the oldest Christian traditions, this was clearly not so before Nicaea. Indeed this was imposed on the most ancient traditions and ultimately took place over many generations. There was a conscious effort by Constantine to make Alexandria submit to his vision of a united Church and so Talley hoped to study the Lenten traditions in Alexandria and those throughout the Orthodox world in order to find some clues for how the passage from Secret Mark might have once been the original date for the baptism of the catechumen.

The theory that Talley ultimately developed noted that the eastern lectionary follows a Markan sequence until Lazarus Saturday which inserts a reading from the Gospel of John chapter 11. The pattern Talley was using was from Constantinople, the capitol of Orthodoxy in the Empire. The assumption must have been that the leaders of Orthodoxy ultimately adopted the original Alexandrian model and substituted the reading from the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John for the original Alexandrian reading of the raising of the youth in Secret Mark. Talley also tried to connect this baptism on the sixth day in the Secret Gospel of Mark to the reference of a Friday baptism on the sixth week in ancient Alexandria.

As innovative and exciting as many of Talley’s discoveries were they never got beyond the realm of theoretical possibilities. To be certain Macarius of Memphis shares the understanding of to Theodore that the evangelist Mark established the liturgy. Yet this would be expected in an Alexandrian document given that the tradition goes out of its way to associate everything possible with St Mark, its beloved patron saint. Macarius also says that the original liturgy of St Mark was changed. Yet the changes which Macarius bemoans were relatively recent ones. Even his memory of the date on which the baptism of the disciples was established might itself represent only another change – perhaps from the fourth century – from the original practice set by the evangelist Mark or those who controlled his memory in an earlier period.

Indeed it all comes down to the question of whether Macarius writing from the tenth century might well have been transmitting a garbled tradition. Scott Brown notes that there is no reason to think that Friday was ever intended to be the date of Jesus baptism - “there is no reason why ‘after six days’ should mean the sixth day of the week (Friday), for the six-day interval is relative to when Jesus and the young man entered the house, not relative to the first— or any other—day of the week.” An example of this flexibility is that the Jewish and Samaritan traditions associate the creation of man – said to be on the ‘sixth day’ of the week in the book of Genesis to with the first day of the first month of the liturgical calendar. In other words, even though the day that man was created is the sixth day of creation, the first five days ‘disappear’ from the liturgical calendar.

The point then is that there is some flexibility with regards to how scripture is applied to the liturgy. To use the Samaritan examples owing to its antiquity, the legendary founder of the Samaritan liturgy – also named Mark curiously enough – established the first day of the year as devoted to the creation of man:

The first day for the creation of man and for the praise which he rendered; in it he was delivered.

All Hebrew cultures share a basic understanding of what happened on what day of the week. It is universally understood that this was the day the tabernacle was established by the ancient Israelites. Both the Jewish and the Samaritan traditions interestingly assigns a reading of Exodus chapter 12 and its account of God communication to Moses in Egypt on this day two weeks before the Exodus regarding the Jewish calendar, the significance of the first month and the Passover offering to the Sabbath that falls on or after the first of the month.

Yet the Samaritan custom preserves what must have been the original mysticism associated with the first of the year, given that their Mark assigns the reading of the first words of Genesis to this date. He imagines God himself to have given the instruction for this liturgical assignment:

Thus the beginning of the months is made like the Beginning (= bereshith) , which was made the start of Creation.

On the first day I created heaven and earth;
On the second day I spread out the firmament on high;
On the third day I prepared a dish and gathered into it all kinds of good things;
On the fourth day I established signs, fixing times, completing my greatness;
On the fifth day I revealed many marvels from the waters;
On the sixth day I caused to come up out of the ground various living creatures: On the seventh day I perfected holiness. I rested in it in my own glory. I made it my special portion. I was glorious in it. I established your name then also—my name and yours therein as one, for I established it and you are crowned with it.

Therefore on the first day of the first month make it known and give thanks for it. When you are in it (the first month, first day), you will begin with (the section of) the Creation of the World, [= Gen. 1:1- 2:3] for I am like one who looses and I will untie the manacles of all those who have assembled for deliverance. The great prophet Moses stood up in the assembly of Israel and instructed them about deliverance. He told them (on this day) to prepare themselves for the time of departure on the tenth of the month, to prepare to sacrifice the offering, and take in the tenth of the month a perfect one year old lamb (Ex. 12. 3-5).

The point of course is that even though the account in Genesis assigns the creation of man to the sixth day, the oldest liturgy known to us does not fix this to a particular day of the week. Indeed the Jewish and even the later Samaritan traditions move much of the veneration associated with the first of the first month to the Sabbath or seventh day of the week.

If we return for a moment to the Christian liturgical tradition, Talley and others have noted that the oldest cycle begins at Epiphany (January 6) the traditional date of the baptism of Jesus and continued down to Holy Week. It is worth noting however that if we assume an Alexandrian origin for the cycle, we already know the relevant days of the week in its original form. The Alexandrian tradition – firmly fixes the Easter Sunday resurrection to the equivalent of March 25th. This means that for Clement at least the crucifixion would have occurred on Friday March 23rd and perhaps more significantly – Epiphany, the day Jesus was baptized by John, was also on a sixth day – Friday January 6th. In other words, there are eleven weeks which separate Epiphany and the crucifixion or exactly seventy seven days.

It is very difficult to believe that the gospel was any more than this short seventy seven day narrative. After all, the Gospel of Mark begins and ends this way. Moreover two early Church Fathers tell us that the Gospel of Luke originally began with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Moreover since Clement of Alexandria and various other early witnesses argued that the ministry of Jesus was limited to one year, it would seem that original liturgical cycle was limited to this seventy seven day period.

This revolutionary approach necessarily also opens its doors to the possibility that this abbreviated Christian liturgy was once ‘imagined’ in terms of a Jewish calendar. After all ‘seventy seven’ or ‘seven sevens’ are a particularly significant mystic formula in Judaism. Moreover the central Christian ritual is the Pasch (= Passover) which is of course shared with Judaism. Perhaps all previous efforts to see it in terms of a familiar cycle of months and days has missed something essential – especially as it pertains to the additional narrative of the Secret Gospel of Mark.

If we start at the beginning we know from what survives of Clement’s other writings that the crucifixion took place on a Friday the fourteenth of Nissan. We also know – based on our reconstruction of the original Alexandrian liturgical cycle - that the first day of the Jewish year (= 1 Nissan) would have started on a Saturday (see figure 1) – not on the Lazarus Saturday of the Greek Orthodox Church liturgical cycle but in fact a week earlier. It would be very attractive to identify the baptism of Peter as originally coinciding with the first day of the year. After all, Christianity repeatedly identifies baptism with the creation of Adam in its hymns and commentary. Yet there seems to be nothing in the existing Alexandrian liturgy to support this notion.

As it turns out, the solution to this problem was actually recognized by a noted Mar Saba critic Peter Jeffery in his the Secret Gospel Unveiled, Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death and Madness in a Biblical Forgery. Jeffery a devout Roman Catholic notes that the Latin Church preserves the Lazarus reading a week before the Eastern Church. Jeffery identifies what he calls an early Medieval ‘reorganization’ of the liturgy which attests to the reading being carried out in the Friday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. He assumes that the modern practice of a Sunday reading was more original. Nevertheless as we already noted there was always a tendency to move observances away from their naturally occurring place and towards ‘the Sabbath’ – Christian or otherwise.

The point of course is that the Roman practice of reading the raising of Lazarus a week earlier than the East is profoundly significant for the testimony of Macarius of Memphis. Perhaps the Roman tradition more faithfully preserves the original Alexandrian liturgy which developed from Secret Mark. It is generally acknowledged that the Roman Church resisted the liturgical reforms of the fourth century longer than any other Christian center. It long resisted the idea of baptizing catechumen on Easter Sunday. Yet we have very spotty information about what was carried out in its place.

At the very least we have to acknowledge that the Orthodox practice of fixing Lazarus Saturday next to Palm Sunday is unusual. It seems to cram a number of separate stories which deserve individual attention into one weekend. The Roman Church by contrast always made this reading of the raising of Lazarus the focus also of the Fifth Sunday mass:

  • Fifth Week of Lent – Lazarus
  • Holy Week - Palm Sunday
  • Easter Sunday

As such it is a very attractive suggestion then that the Roman Mass might preserve the basic form of the original Alexandrian liturgy especially in the period which precedes Holy Week. The Eastern tradition absorbing more completely the fourth century reforms of the liturgy than its Latin sister religion.

Indeed Jeffery seems to suggest a very similar conclusion from the evidence. “Comparing the early Latin Johannine series with the medieval Egyptian one yields an interesting fact: whereas all the Latin series ended with Lazarus on the Sunday before Palm Sunday, the standard Egyptian series does not include Lazarus on Sunday at all, but only on the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday, where it remains distinct from the baptismal sixth week. This positioning could be attributed to the influence of Jerusalem or Constantinople on Egypt, rather than the other way around.” The point then is that what Macarius says he remembers in Egypt – a veneration of disciples being baptized on sixth day of the fifth week of Lent – may well only be reflective of an Alexandrian liturgy that was reorganized by Athanasius or if you will – one that put the Lazarus reading forward a week, fusing it to the beginning of Holy Week.

The idea that the Latin liturgy may well preserve something of the original Alexandrian practice shouldn’t be that surprising given what we know about the early Roman Church. As the Italian scholar Ilaria Ramelli has recently demonstrated there is a “Rome-Alexandria connection from the very beginning in Egypt” which is very much focused on the person of Peter. Ramelli notes that Alexandrian Christianity itself  “seems to have been a Petrine tradition, and it is from this tradition that the Rome-Alexandrian connection would seem to stem. Clement was naturally interested in this, as he was in Alexandria, and he treasured the Petrine tradition (regarding it, as it seems, more highly than Origen did)."  Yet Ramelli provides other examples as well noting the chronology of early Alexandrian Patriarchs - “Eusebius’s list is notable in that the names of these bishops are all Latin—including Marcus—and not Greek. This reinforces the connection drawn by Clement between Rome and Alexandria from the very appearance of Christianity there, probably on the basis of an Alexandrian tradition.”

While Ramelli does not specifically mention Clement’s account of the baptism of Peter by Jesus, it is interesting that knowledge of this happening should only have been preserved in Alexandria. It is attractive to accept Ramelli’s understanding of an early Alexandrian interest in Peter – perhaps even that Simon Peter himself was an Alexandrian figure transplanted to Rome in the second century. There seems to be no limit to the Roman appropriation of things Alexandrian over time. For instance we should not forget that the very title of Pope – even the very concept of ‘papacy’ is an Alexandrian concept which was effectively ‘stolen’ by the Roman Church. We speak of Rome as the ‘see of St Peter’ but perhaps the Alexandrians were simply more honest knowing that the first evangelist to ever permanently ’reside’ in an official residence was Mark.

The question now is whether the Lazarus liturgical reading in the fifth week was yet another Roman appropriation from Alexandria. The answer is so obviously ‘yes’ here that it is amazing that Jeffery couldn’t see it. The Fifth Sunday of Lent where Lazarus is the gospel reading also happens to be the day the catechumen are presented to the church with their sponsors. As Talley and others have noted, there was a strong emphasis from the time of Nicaea for churches to coordinate the baptizing of catechumen on Easter Sunday. Nevertheless our earliest account of baptism in Rome comes from John the Deacon around 500 CE and he makes clear that in his day it took place on this same ‘Lazarus Sunday.’ What is so interesting about John’s testimony of course is that many assume that he is one and the same with the Pontiff John I (523-526) – the man who is the first Roman bishop to appropriate the traditional Alexandrian epithet of ‘Pope.’

Bryan D. Spinks Bishop F. Percy Goddard Professor of Liturgical Studies and Pastoral Theology, and chair of the program in liturgical studies at Yale University notes that our answer is found in a letter John wrote to a layman named Senarius. Senarious originally asked John certain questions relating to baptism which gives us our earliest window into the Roman rite. Like the modern rite, it develops around the idea of presenting candidates with three ‘scrutinies’ which are explained as follows by John:

the whole human race has fallen in death because of the waywardness of the first man. Before anyone is reborn in Christ, he or she is held close in the devil's power. By renouncing the devil and making a true confession a person can come to the laver of regeneration. However, in order to be able to do that, he or she must become a catechumen and be instructed, and so journey from being a slave to a son. The catechumen receives the laying-on of hands, exsufflation and exorcism, and blessed salt. The candidates come to stability and permanence, which is achieved by 'frequent laying-on of the hand, and by the blessing of his Creator called over three times in honor of the Trinity.

As Spinks notes on receiving exsufflation and renouncing 'the toils and pomps of the devil', the candidate may receive the Creed, and is now called a 'competent' or 'elect'. The competens participate in three liturgical gatherings called scrutinies, when they are anointed with the oil of sanctification on their ears and nostrils. At the third gathering, which seems to be immediately before the baptism, they are also anointed with the oil of consecration on their breast.

It is John’s description of the reception of baptism at the third scrutiny – which happens to coincide with the reading of the raising of Lazarus – which is so significant for our discussion. Spinks notes that as they go down naked into the water and are baptized with a threefold immersion, John explains that the candidate:

is next arrayed in white vesture, and his head anointed with the unction of the sacred chrism: that the baptized person may understand that in his person a kingdom and a priestly mystery have met. For priests and princes used to be anointed with the oil of chrism, priests that they might offer sacrifices to God, princes that they might rule their people. For a fuller expression of the idea of priesthood, the head of the neophyte is dressed in linen array, for priests of that time used to deck the head with a certain mystic covering. All the neophytes are arrayed in white vesture to symbolize the resurgent Church, just as our Lord and Saviour himself in the sight of certain disciples and prophets was thus transfigured on the mount, It is difficult not to see obvious parallels between the earliest information we have about the Roman baptismal practice and what we know about the Alexandrian rite from the second century from the Letter to Theodore. Not only is there explicit reference to the mystery of the kingdom of God but even to the original disciples being dressed in linen.

The early Roman dating of the Lazarus resurrection has very important implications for Christianity’s development from the Jewish liturgy.

We have already noted, a Lazarus resurrection two weeks before the crucifixion coincides perfectly with the first day of the Jewish religious calendar. Nissan is the first month of the Jewish calendar and Passover occurs on its fourteenth day. If Jesus was crucified on Passover (the fifteenth of Nissan) as the canonical gospel of Mark suggests then the first day of the year would have fallen on a Friday. On the other hand if we follow Clement of Alexandria and what now appears in the Gospel of John Jesus was crucified on the fourteenth of Nissan and thus the first day would have fall on a Saturday. Either choice leads to the same mystical significance for the timing of the baptism of the disciple in Secret Mark.

The Mishnah, a collection of acceptable interpretations of the Old Testament written at the end of the second century, notes that “the first of Nissan is New Year for (the ascension of) Kings and for (the regular rotation of) festivals.” The association with ‘kings’ is significant given that Secret Mark makes reference to the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God.’ Yet this understanding also shines a light on why the ‘secret’ baptism now coincides with the traditional veneration of the creation of the ‘first’ Adam (Genesis 1:26).

We have already noted that the Samaritan tradition assigned the perfect undivided Adam – not the Adam made of the earth in chapter two of Genesis – on the first of the year. The preceding five days of Creation were understood to come just before, perhaps being assigned as ‘extra days’ to a calendar of twelve months of thirty days. Any reader of Jewish mystical literature including the great Jewish exegete Philo of Alexandria can already see why the sixth day of creation is the first day of the world calendar – this ‘first Adam’ was not a physical man at all but an embodiment of the very physical universe. This is perhaps why our oldest sources - the Greek translation of the seventy scribes of Alexandria, the Syriac, and the Samaritan text tell us that it was on the sixth day instead of the seventh that God’s creation of the world was completed.

Philo tells us that mortal man was ot made after likeness of God but rather after the image of the world (= the first Adam) which was mystically understood to be anthropomorphic in shape. In other words, God first makes the world after the image of God and man after the image of the world. Philo makes this explicit when commenting upon the reference in Genesis to the second creation of mortal man which stats chapter two of the narrative – "God made man, having taken clay from the earth, and he breathed into his face the breath of life." Philo notes “by this expression he shows most clearly that there is a vast difference between man as generated now, and the first man who was made according to the image of God. For man as formed now is perceptible to the external senses, partaking of qualities, consisting of body and soul, man or woman, by nature mortal. But man, made according to the image of God, was an idea, or a genus, or a seal, perceptible only by the intellect, incorporeal, neither male nor female, imperishable by nature.”

It should be noted that Clement and the earliest Christian writers take this one step further and argue that when Genesis speaks of man being created ‘after the image and likeness of God’ that the second part of this statement was something understood by Moses to happen sometime in the future – i.e. that Jesus came to give to humanity not the copy of divine likeness (= ‘the image’) but the actual divine nature to perfect them.  In this sense then it is most profound that this baptism ritual of Secret Mark should coincide with the first creation of cosmic man.

This is something very different here than the baptism of forgiveness of sin associated with John the Baptist. Jesus is now establishing on the very day that God created the first man (= ‘the world’) the perfection of mortal man by giving him the divine likeness through baptism. The American reader who is only familiar with ‘homegrown’ evangelical interpretations of Christian water immersion rituals might be surprised to see that even among the Orthodox tradition in the East baptism develops from mythology. There really is no place for the historical Jesus at the core of what happens when each of us steps into the laver. All things operate on the level of the supernatural.

It shall be our contention that it is not coincidence that there are two baptism references in the gospel. The original water immersion ritual of John the Baptist was understood to be raised to the next level by the appearance of Jesus the divine hypostasis. Tradition has it that when Jesus stepped into waters fire appeared. Apparently there are reports that the Alexandrian tradition strove to create ritual re-enactments of this ‘fire on the water’ – all of which stress Jesus’s supernatural nature. It cannot also be seen as being mere coincidence that the Samaritan tradition most perfectly preserves the original liturgical context for ‘Secret Mark.’ After all, we have already demonstrated repeated evidence that the Alexandrian figure of ‘Simon Peter’ was likely one and the same with the heretical magician of orthodox lore, who interesting is always remembered to be a Samaritan.

It is in the Samaritan writings of ‘Mark’ that we find the creation of Adam on the first day of the year but moreover the explanation that fire and water somehow ‘mixed together’ to form the living man. Indeed Mark understands that as God is telling Moses about the Passover redemption which is to come, he is presenting it as a rite which opens the door to the recreation of man much as we read in the First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 10. The Samaritan writings of Mark tell us of the Exodus that:

Greatness was seen in that place; water and fire were combined. This was a tremendous wonder, far exceeding anything, that water and fire should appear there. The dominion of the water was brought low and that of the fire overcome. The mighty act of Adam's creation was there made known, for water and fire were combined in that too. Adam's body was from the dust, and the fire brought great power and wisdom into him. From the beginning he was borne by spirit, and from it wisdom dwelt in his mind.

Thanks be to this King whose glory magnifies the Speaker.

Blessed the hour in which He created Adam, when Adam filled the whole world with praises to the Lord of the world.
Blessed the hour in which water and fire were combined in the Red Sea.
Blessed the hour in which water and fire combined for the destruction of the unbelievers.
The world radiated in the presence of the True One, who appeared for the sake of His beloved.
Good is the True One and good are His beloved. Blessed was the world when He appeared! Let us be sincere before Him and give thanks for His greatness, perchance we may be worthy of this (Mimar Marqe 2:8)

The Samaritans never lost sight of the fact that both the creation of ‘cosmic Adam’ and the liberation of the Israelites happened in the same month. Indeed the two events were connected as two parts of the same promise of redemption for the whole of mankind.

Indeed in a manner which is very consistent with Clement and the Markan tradition of Alexandria, the Samaritan Mark also sees the creation of Adam as taking place in two stages – first God makes make ‘according to the image’ and then later another being – the ‘glory’ perfected that image according to the ‘divine likeness’ of spirit and fire:

The body of Adam was created by God and perfected with holy spirit and a living soul. It began in a holy place on a holy day. Every best thing is appointed to be holy; there can be nothing foul in it. The property of every best thing that is set apart by the hands of men is that it is made great and glorified by the command of the Holy One. (Mimar Marqe 2:10)

Most interesting of all is the idea which Mark transferred to the Samaritan religion at the turn of the Common Era, namely that Moses "was vested with the Form which Adam cast off in the Garden of Eden; and his face shone up to the day of his death." (Mimar Marqe 5.4) This is a profoundly Christian concept which anticipates what was understood to happen to those who entered into the baptismal waters.

It seems utterly incredible that two individuals named Mark should have come up with essentially identical understandings of the mystical significance for Adam’s creation on the first day of the year. The Alexandrian Gospel of Mark only hints at the overarching application of the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God’ on the original initiate into those mysteries – ‘Simon.’  Yet at the very same time, as we have already seen early Patristic reports trace the origin of the fire baptism rite to Simon a Samaritan magician.  The underlying Samaritan origin for the Christian heresies is just too much of a coincidence.

In order to see a remnant of the original understanding and the connection between Adam and baptism we have to go an early Syriac writer named Jacob of Serugh whose hymns now seem to form the basis to the liturgy of the Marionite Christians of Lebanon.  Whereas the Greek and Latin traditions focus simply of the nakedness or ‘taking off’ of physical garments, the Syriac tradition preserves and develops the original idea witnessed in Clement and other writers that it is also marks the ‘putting on’ of a spiritual garment. As an early hymn puts it “in Baptism Adam found again--that glory that was among the trees of Eden.-He went down, and received it out of the water;--he put it on, and went up and was adorned therein.--Blessed be He that has mercy on all!”

So Jacob tells us that when Jesus approaches John the Baptism he declares "I am trying to find the lost Adam; let me go down and look for Adam, the fair image” – his purpose to him a ‘garment of fire.’  Jacob’s theology also fully incorporates the idea of baptism coinciding with the creation of the first man. We read:

Before creation the Father had drawn the image of His Son, and depicted Him, and showed Him how He would shine forth on all the earth. The Father gazed at the likeness of His Son, and molded Adam. Since He was going to give [the Son] to the world, they delineated Him beforehand. For this cause, they said, "Let Us make man in Our image “ (Gen. 1.26) In this dim likeness in which Mary gave birth to the Only [-Begotten] One. The Father willed to send Him into the world as a man, drew and his form beforehand the Great Image, in Adam. Ezekiel saw the likeness is the chariot like a human being seated above the backs of the heavenly beings.
Moreover in Jacob's writing we find use the image of Jesus entering the baptismal font 'as a fiery coal' which is traced back by most scholars to the words of Isaiah.  Yet what they overlook is that Irenaeus and the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism accuse the heretics of developing this idea from a famous magician in first century Rome.  Indeed the name explicitly identified as appropriating this magic is again 'Mark' who sought to 'improve' upon his master Simon Magus.

As already noted there are simply too many repetitions of the basic theme that a Samaritan named Simon taught an Alexandrian named Mark the divine mysteries associated with baptism.  This has to go back to Catholic pairing of Mark as the interpreter of Simon Peter.  While orthodox concepts such as Jesus being born to the virgin Mary and the exclusive definition of baptism with the Epiphany have crept into some of these later writings, Simon's basic vision is still preserved - Christian baptism began as the hope of recreating mortal man after the heavenly man.  This concept is not specifically Jewish but ultimately Samaritan and thus by nature - essentially heretical.

With the heavy haze of smoke on the water, the Letter to Theodore opens a window for us to the early mythological origins of Christianity. We learn from it that the gospel was never meant to be read independent of the liturgy. Any notions of history in the narrative were never meant to overstep the idea that what was being described was being fixed to a seventy seven day calendar in which redemption was being secured for all mankind. What was being described in the pages of Mark’s gospel was above all else a myth, an event which could not be witnessed with the naked eye any more than Adam’s creation. With the original gospel of Mark the narrative moves beyond history rather than being defined by it – much like God himself.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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