Monday, April 16, 2012

Towards Chapter Nine of the Myth of Jesus Christ

When scholars analyze the Exodus narrative the idea that a ‘brother-making’ ritual might actually never gets mentioned. Yet there is something very odd about the narrative. Aaron is not mentioned at all in the account of the birth and rescue of Moses. His name first appears in the Bible for the first time in Moses with God on Mount Horeb. “Is there not Aaron thy brother the Levite?” It comes up after Moses says that he isn’t up for the job of being divine spokesperson (Exod. 4:14) or ‘apostle’ as the Samaritans reference it. That Aaron just happens to shows up out of nowhere to assist his younger brother at this awkward but crucial moment in the biblical narrative is usually written off by scholars as “a secondary intrusion into the Moses narrative,” a self-serving and somewhat clumsy effort at rewriting history by a priestly caste of ancient Israel that claimed to trace its ancestry back to Aaron rather than Moses.

Yet what if Mark didn’t see it this way? The obvious answer is of course that ancient witnesses always assume Bible inerrancy. What’s more, we will likely never be able to prove what the original gospel writer thought about the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Nevertheless there are perhaps enough clues available to us to give an educated guess. For instance the fact that Mark wrote his gospel in Alexandria, a city a Jewish population which was very influential upon later Christian writers, is quite possible a very significant clue as to Mark’s consciousness. For we might be able to use the one surviving witness of Alexandrian Judaism to help piece together the evangelist’s interest in the mystical act of ‘brother-making.’

Philo consistently represents the nature of Moses and Aaron’s ‘brotherhood’ to be of a spiritual nature. Moses is ‘mind’ or nous and Aaron ‘word’ or logos representing very much the ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ conception of the later Christian thought. In essence then God brings Moses and Aaron together and mystically establishes their relationship to one another. Philo never explains the circumstances of their family relation settling instead for mystical language such as “for one rational nature being the mother of them both, it follows of course that the offspring are brothers.” Indeed scholars are often handcuffed by the language of Alexandrian Judaism. They treat allegory as mere ‘poetic exaggeration’ when in fact it is consistently used by Philo and those who read him – members of the Alexandrian Christian tradition certainly – as a means of expressing inexpressible mystical conceptions.

The more one looks at the language that Philo uses to describe their relationship it is apparent that Aaron was understood to have been brought in to serve in a role much like the ‘apostles’ of Christ. Moses, the image of God, needed a ‘spokesman’ and so God chose Aaron to be his brother:

and making him (Moses) perfect in them by the election of Aaron who was the brother of Moses, and whom he was accustomed to call his mouth-piece, and interpreter, and Prophet [Exodus 7:1]. For all these attributes belong to speech, which is the brother of the intellect; for the intellect is the fountain of words, and speech is its mouth-piece, because all the conceptions which are entertained in the mind are poured forth by means of speech, like streams of water which flow out of the earth, and come into sight. And speech is an interpreter of the things which the mind has decided upon in its tribunal. Moreover, it is a prophet and a soothsayer of those things which the mind unceasingly pours forth as oracles from its inaccessible and invisible retreats.

Some of course might want to read Philo’s mystical interpretation of their meeting as something essentially silly layered on top of a literal reading of the original material. Yet the original account of Exodus is so bizarre in itself that it is difficult to believe this. Philo has merely explained away the ambiguities of the narrative by saying that the author wants us to take their conjunction as union of mystical significance – a representation of the functioning of the heavenly household.

“For Moses is the most pure and God-loving mind (nous), while Aaron is his word (logos), which is the unlying interpreter of truth,” as Philo says in his Questions on Exodus. Indeed a little later the mystic truth becomes a little clearer when he pushes aside the literal meaning and notes “but as for the deeper meaning, there are two brothers in one – the mind and the word. Now Moses, who is called by another name, mind (ho nous), has obtained the better part, namely God, whereas the word, which is called Aaron, the lesser which is man.” The point then is that there is clearly some sort of mystical union which transformed Moses and Aaron into ‘heavenly brothers.’ Yet there is very little else to say about these matters from the writings of Philo.

It is worth noting that Clement of Alexandria repeatedly makes reference to the idea through a lost saying of Jesus from the gospel “having seen your brother, you have seen your god”:

The divine apostle writes concerning us: "For now we see as through a glass;" knowing ourselves in it by reflection, and simultaneously contemplating, as we can, the efficient cause, 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, "face to face," -- 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.

Even though Moses and Aaron are not referenced directly by Clement, Philo seems to develop much the same idea about “the statement that Aaron the Levite is coming forward to meet his brother Moses, and that when he sees him he rejoices in himself.” Aaron, as Philo notes “is called a prophet, when also the mind, being under the influence of divine inspiration, is called God. ‘For,’ says God, ‘I give thee as a God to Pharaoh, and Aaron they brother shall be thy Prophet.’ [Exod 7:1] O the harmonious and well-organised consequence! For that which interprets the will of God is the prophetical race, being under the influence of divine possession and frenzy.”

There are two ideas operating in tandem here in the writings of Clement. Clement has certainly read Philo and his understanding of Moses and Aaron as ‘brothers’ developed after the cosmic pairing of Mind and Word, and then a parallel notion found in his gospel that Jesus really fulfilled this expectation, coming as God to be the firstborn of many brothers. He makes reference again somewhere else to that saying of Jesus and puts it alongside other sayings of Jesus about brothers:

And the saying, "Know thyself," has been taken rather more mystically from this, "Thou hast seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God." Thus also, "Thou shalt love the Load thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself;" for it is said, "On these commandments the law and the prophets hang and are suspended." With these also agree the following: "These things have I spoken to you, that My joy might be fulfilled: and this is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." "For the Lord is merciful and pitiful; and gracious is the Lord to all." "Know thyself" is more clearly and often expressed by Moses, when he enjoins, "Take heed to thyself."

What we are beginning to suggest is that the evangelist Mark himself must have been aware of this tradition in Philo and perhaps others in the Alexandrian Jewish community and developed his mystic gospel in light of this tradition. The fragment of the text in the Letter to Theodore betrays that it witnessed parallels to Johannine material, which happens to be the place many of the commonly held ‘brother’ references are retained in our canonical set. We must then ask, whether the ‘love’ that Jesus came to show the world was ultimately showered upon his one chosen disciple Simon?

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