Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chapter Eleven of My New Book

It is very difficult to attempt to write the history of a secret tradition.  The standard model of Christianity is seemingly developed around things that people can see and touch - apostles traveling to cities and speaking in front of crowds, Jesus performing miracles.  The Church consciously developed a simplified version of its own history with the common man very much in mind.  Yet as with our own personal lives, we should always be careful that we do not prefer the easy path merely because it demands less from us.  We should deem it better to catch a glimmer of an ineffable truth rather than a firm lie.

As such it is perhaps time that we introduced to our audience what the mystic gospel was really about.  While most people believed that Morton Smith had uncovered a 'new version' of the Gospel of Mark when he discovered the Letter to Theodore in that monastery near Bethlehem, the truth is that it is present in all our earliest Patristic sources.  The problem again is that it isn't clearly spelled out enough for modern readership.  Indeed Morton Smith himself didn't recognize the connection between these sources and his discovery when he penned his famous books on the subject of the 'mystic' or 'secret gospel.

We have already seen that Irenaeus makes reference to a longer gospel used by a group of Marcionites and moreover that the 'secret wisdom' of the Letter to the Corinthians was identified as a companion text to the gospel by certain gnostics in the city of Rome.  Nevertheless there is an explicit reference to a 'mystical' gospel of Mark in the possession of those familiar 'Marcionites' who inevitably get mentioned in the same breath with the text.  The Church Father Hippolytus of Rome, the student of Irenaeus, explicitly states that the sect added 'mystical' bits from the teachings of the philosopher Empedocles to the canonical gospel of Mark.

The reference appears in his treatise the Philosophumena or the Philosophical Discourses’in which we are told that the founder of the Marcionites:

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 is (from) Empedocles, son of Meto, a native of Agrigentum. And (the heretic) 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.[1]

Empedocles lived in Sicily and was famous for ending his life plunging himself into the lava of Mount Etna.  Yet his lasting legacy was developing a mystical doctrine of 'salvation' as it were through establishment of same sex male pairs.

Of course we have by now made clear that the Marcionites actually had two gospels - a shorter publicly circulating text and a secret revelation which is here identified with a longer gospel of Mark.  It is properly referenced as a 'mystic gospel' because one of the most frequent epithets used to describe Empedocles is that of 'mystagogue' – i.e. the one who initiates others into religious mysteries.[2]  Clement uses the same terminology to describe Mark when adding to his Roman gospel.  Yet rather than going through all the reasons for accepting the mystic gospel of Mark used by the Marcionites with the mystic gospel of Clement of Alexandria, we should just jump forward and demonstrate that this secret teaching was about men pairing with other men to be united as single, perfect wholes.

The Church Father tells us that the longer gospel presented Jesus as coming to earth as some sort of 'heavenly power' intent on establishing philia (love) between man and man.  This word philia is very important.  It literally means 'affection' or 'love' but is also translated as 'friendship' in many English translations of Greek philosophical works.  Yet Empedocles philia isn't simply a quality possessed by certain 'great-souled' individuals.  It is one of two cosmic principles in the established world, the other being neikos or 'strife.'  As Hippolytus again notes, Jesus is Philia "a certain good (power), and (one) that pities the groaning of these (souls), and the disorderly and wicked device of furious Neikos. And (likewise Philia is) eager, and toils to lead forth little by little the souls from the world, and to domesticate them with unity, in order that all things, being conducted by herself, may attain unto unification. Therefore on account of such an arrangement on the part of destructive Neikos of this divided world, Empedocles admonishes his disciples to abstain from all sorts of animal food. For he asserts that the bodies of animals are such as feed on the habitations of punished souls. And he teaches those who are hearers of such doctrines (as his), to refrain from intercourse with women. (And he issues this precept) in order that (his disciples) may not co-operate with and assist those works which Neikos fabricates, always dissolving and forcibly severing the work of Philia."[3]

We should understand then that Hippolytus came into contact with the original Marcionite system developed from the mystic gospel of Mark and subsequently identified it as being appropriated from Empedocles.  There is no proof that this was actually carried out by someone in the sect.  Hippolytus just noticed similarities and assumed a recent appropriation.  Nevertheless the core rejection of sexual intercourse with women was certain held by sect members because it keeps getting repeated in various reports about the sect alongside an interest in ritual castration.[4]  The idea Jesus wanted to bring together divided souls of men together in a mystical union is implicit in Hippolytus's reporting.

Later in the same chapter, Hippolytus accuses the heretic of "dissolving 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."[5]  As human beings only come in two sexes and the mystic gospel of Mark is said to have opposed the pairing of men with women but nonetheless to have promoted the yoking of humans together it stands to reason that the text must necessarily have advocated same sex pairings.  This doesn't need to be made explicit by Hippolytus given the limits of human sexuality and the fact that the ancient world already knew what Empedocles was advocating.

Nevertheless Empedocles's doctrines are something of a mystery to us given that his writings have only survived in fragments.  The closest we ever get to understanding the nature of this mystical pairing advocated by the Sicilian philosopher is found in the famous speech of the Greek playwright Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium.  The speech is universally acknowledged to touch upon Empedoclean themes:

Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the tally-half of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men. The women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they have affection for men and embrace them, and these are the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature.

Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying. When they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children,--if at all, they do so only in obedience to custom; but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded;

And such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover's intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.

Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to them, 'What do you mortals want of one another?' They would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: 'Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night in one another's company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt and fuse you together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul, instead of two--I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire and whether you are satisfied to attain this?'

There is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need.[6]

This is not the place to touch upon why Aristophanes would be made the mouthpiece for Empedocles's doctrine of same sex pairing   The French scholar Marwan Rashed, a noted expert on Empedocles has argued that "by a strange coincidence Agathon, a central character in the Symposium, is the butt of jokes in [Aristophanes's play the] Thesmophoriazusae. Could this be a sign that the party described by Plato was an historical event and that part of the conversation had in effect centred on Empedocles?"[7]

The point of course is that we have by now in any event uncovered clear evidence which confirms that the 'mystic gospel' of Mark was centrally focused on same sex pairing and same sex attraction.  An interesting question which remains before us is why isn't Hippolytus scandalized by the idea that Jesus came to yoke men together in a union based on mutual attraction?  Indeed he seems to gloss over the very idea that scandalizes modern Christians.  Yet once again we find ourselves going back to the same problem we noted at the beginning of the chapter - the Church Fathers were nothing like us.  Even though we seem to share many of the same beliefs with respect to Christianity, they were establishing this system of beliefs as an ideal for future generations while they themselves had their feet firmly rooted in contemporary pagan and philosophical interests.[8]

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the choice of name this Church Father chose for himself after he was baptized.  While Marcia was apparently the 'God-lover' among Christians, to the rest of the world she was Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.  The statues of Commodus depict him as Hercules with supplicating Amazons at his side, yet Marcia was his real life warrior concubine.  The historical sources tell us that the Emperor "had been called Amazonius, moreover, because of his passion for his concubine Marcia, whom he loved to have portrayed as an Amazon, and for whose sake he even wished to enter the arena of Rome dressed as an Amazon."[9]  Indeed the very month of December - the time when birth of the sun and Christmas was celebrated - was apparently named after her as well.

Hippolytus whose dates are usually given as 170 - 235 CE almost certainly became a Christian during the period when Marcia was being identified as Hippolyta.  He assumed the masculine form of the name of the Amazonian queen - an exceedingly rare name at the time[10] - traditionally associated with Hippolyta's chaste son who became the subject of tragedy owing to his refusal to succumb to the charms of women.  The point then is that there is even something unusual or queer about Hippolytus's name.  That he adopted the identity of Marcia's son explains the surprising devotion that he continued to show her into the later period.

Hippolytus's refusal to condemn the doctrine of same sex attraction may well point to a double standard which was common at the time.  The reforms that had been spearheaded by his master Irenaeus were principally aimed at cleaning up the appearance of the religion to outsiders.  As we shall see in later chapters of this book, divinely sanctioned same sex pairing was an accepted part of Byzantine culture despite the eradication of the 'heresy' originally associated with it.  Hippolytus at one point in the conclusion to his Philosophical Discourses similarly makes reference to the heretical interest in ritual castration in order to 'take on the nature' of Christ.  It is interesting here too that Hippolytus simply argues that it is impossible to take on the divine nature as a mortal being but again refuses to condemn ritual castration.[11]

There are a number of signs which point to the continuation of same sex attraction in the Roman Church into the third century.  In Hippolytus's narrative of Marcia's influence over the Church we might have a glimpse of a possible underlying homoerotic mythos with respect to her tutor 'Hyacinthus,'  and 'Zephyrinus,' the deacon or 'second in command' during the bishopric of Victor.  Zephyrinus is a wholly unknown name and must in fact be a corruption of the well attested Zephyrus. In Greek mythology Hyacinthus was a beautiful boy and lover of the god Apollo, though he was also admired by West Wind, Zephyrus. Hyacinthus's beauty caused a feud between Zephyrus and Apollo. Jealous that Hyacinthus preferred the radiant archery god Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's discus off course, so as to injure and kill Hyacinthus. When he died, Apollo didn't allow Hades to claim the boy; rather, he made a flower, the hyacinth, from his spilled blood. According to a local Spartan version of the myth, Hyacinth and his sister Polyboea were taken to heaven by Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis.[12]

The information from this age is so fragmentary that we have no clue what the real names of any of these people were.  Commodus intentionally constructed such a fantasy world for himself at the capitol that it is impossible to know any longer who is whom here. What remains of that period must be thought to be little more than distorted adaptations of myths - like that of Hyacinthus and Zephyrus.  The two may have been living out there own 'Peter and Paul' yoking and were negatively associated with this legend.  Perhaps the names are just coincidental.  The point is that it is one more fragment of information which helps us get a sense of this age which was deliberately obscured by later writers.

Indeed the fact that we are unlikely ever to find a 'smoking gun' with respect to when and where a secret ritual was used in Rome should not stop us from speculating where it might have taken place. There are of course many references to homosexual practices in early Christianity.  Yet none of them can serve as meaningful historical examples of Roman adoption of this Alexandrian rite.  The simple facts of the matter are that the third century Church Fathers acknowledge that they were out to obliterate all traces of heresy, that all that remains are the ghosts of things they made disappear.

The fact that the Imperial household was so intimately associated with the nascent tradition should at least make us wonder if the rite was ever employed within the Palatine.  The collector David Xavier Kenney is in the possession of a Roman legionary ring from the twilight of the Commodian period which acording to its owner depicts the Emperor and his concubine dressed like an Amazon engaged in some sort of rite evoking "the resurrection of Lazarus, the Pentecost, and a hint of the resurrection of Osiris."[13]  Indeed it is impossible to believe that he spent so much time with Marcia without picking up something of the mysteries associated with the religion.  The only difficulty here is reconciling their public roles as Hercules and Hippolyta with something private and Christian.

Similarly with respect to Lucius Severus, it is unthinkable that his successor would not have learned something of the religion from his wife, her family or Julius Africanus, a Christian soldier who shared his Libyan heritage.[14]  Could Severus have developed an interest in the secret Markan adoption rite of Alexandria?  The answer becomes more intriguing the more you start to look at the situation he found himself in early in his government.  In spite of what all the Roman aristocrats tell us about the son of Marcus, Commodus was an extraordinarily popular with the common man.  Severus as a military commander who lacked legitimacy owing to his having only recently seized the government by force, desperately needed to tap into the good will that his predecessor had with the people.

One of the reasons for this popularity was that the Emperor made a conscious effort to develop propaganda to make him appealing to the lowest ranks of society.  We need only go back to Commodus's taking on the identity of Hercules at the Forum each night as a conscious public relations effort, to make our point.  While this is often presented by ancient historians as proof of his madness, modern scholarship has taken a very different view.  The emulation of Hercules is rightly been viewed as something like modern election campaigning.  Commodus was demonstrating himself as someone fighting for the common man, as a demigod holding the whole world together.

From 190 CE onwards, Roman coins celebrated first Hercules Commodianus.  Indeed from December 191 onwards he was Hercules Romanus Augustus with several coins show the emperor on the obverse wearing the lion-skin.[15]   Commodus had himself similarly depicted in the now famous bust which is prominently displayed in the Palazzo dei Convervatori in Rome.  This Herculean self-presentation, with Commodus standing in the middle of zodiac signs and other astrological symbols was linked to the renaming of senate, months, cities, and legions after himself was an unmistakable propaganda effort.[16]  The image is a deliberate appeal to the average person to show that Commodus was more than a wealthy ruler - he was a divine force, an integral part of the smooth running of the cosmos.[17]

Some may ask at this point, if Commodus was popular because he pretended to be Hercules the gladiator, why don't we see Severus simply do the same thing?  The difference of course was that Commodus was already legitimate owing to his being the son of Marcus - Marcus Aurelius in this case.  In other words, because Commodus was already an heir of Antonine nobility he could afford to act like a fool in the Forum.
Commodus knew that the rabble wanted living myth. These performances were attempts on the part of the Emperor to gave himself heroic status, far above that of any senator, or indeed the senate as a whole. One can argue that because Commodus was already noble what he wanted was to solidify his standing with the common man.

Yet Severus had the opposite problem of being a rather ordinary fellow longing for some of the Antonine mystique. Not only are we repeatedly told by the cynical historians of antiquity about Commodus' popularity 'with the mob' in the context of the imperial performances, with spectators coming to Rome 'from all over Italy and the neighbouring provinces' packing the amphitheatre with people - we hear about the manner in which subsequent Emperors sought to tap into this appeal after Commodus was initially denied the status of being a god at his burial.

As we noted earlier there was a priesthood at Rome - the Marcii - whose sole job was to tend to the shrine of Marcus Aurelius the divine, Marcus divus.  Yet because of the hatred that the noble classes had for Commodus, there was no immediate confirmation of Commodus divus.  It is for this apparent popularity of the emperor's behavior with the masses, and some indications of a favorable reception of his new image with the praetorians, various other legionaries, and inhabitants of the provinces, that modern authors have argued for a considered change in imperial self-fashioning, aimed at the plebs and the legions.[18]

Commodus was killed by a conspiracy of his intimates - not from popular dissatisfaction with his rule.  It is worth noting that Commodus's successor Publius Helvius Pertinax, likely one of the assassination conspirators, was killed by members of the military who remained steadfastly loyal to Commodus.  This is demonstrated that when Pertinax was succeeded by Marcus Didius Julianus we see the new Emperor promising among other things to restore Commodus' reputation.  In the aftermath of the assassination, senators had lost no time in damning the latter's memory after his death.   This is one of the clearest signs of the former emperor's posthumous popularity amongst these troops. Julianus did not last long either. Where Pertinax had lacked military support, Julianus' way of coming to power was abhorred by senate and populace alike.

While Julianus's short rule is glossed over owing to Severus ultimate triumph and lengthy reign we shouldn't underestimate the challenges that faced the new Emperor.  Severus felt concerned enough about the popularity of his rival Clodius Albinus while he took care of  Pescennius Niger on the battlefield in the East.  Indeed there is a very important lesson to be learned in this story about Severus's need to take over all of the institutions which supported Commodus's popularity with the rabble - including Christianity.  Once Niger had been defeated in battle, Severus had to march on Rome to establish his power – only the second time in imperial history for this to happen.  The residents of Rome must have been shocked at the seeing the capitol becoming an actual battlefield for the first time in well over a century.  Severus may have later tried to overcome this memory by emphasizing military victories outside of Rome, and by embellishing the capital with monuments, many of which are visible in the well-known Severan Marble Plan.[19]  Nevertheless this was apparently not enough to establish Severus being welcomed as a legitimate monarch by the ruling class.

Like many emperors had done before him, Severus used different means at his disposal to guarantee and display a new dynasty. In fact, he would prove to be the last emperor up to Constantine to create dynastic continuity for a substantial period of time.  It was, however, difficult for him to re-establish central authority, following Commodus' attempts to elevate the emperorship, and the military auction which had brought Julianus to power.[20]  Commodus's solution was to strengthen his reputation was by adopting himself, retroactively, as Marcus' son, and Commodus' brother.

Scholars have been scratching their heads for centuries trying to figure out what the basis of this posthumous adoption ritual was.  Nothing like this had never before been attempted by anyone before him.  Indeed when people usually speak of 'posthumous adoption' what they mean is that a rich person on the verge of dying leaves instructions in his will that a slave, a nephew or cousin should be treated as a son.  It is simply unthinkable that a living man could simply establish himself as the son of a dead Father through the dead son. The clue to piecing the proper context is to remember that both 'father' and 'son' here were gods with their own official priesthood - the Marciani.  There was no separate order for Commodus.

The fact that priestly order to whom Severus must have made his appeal to be 'adopted' was the same name as the Alexandrian sect cannot be overlooked.  The third century Muratorian canon for instance references the Christian Marciani as having psalms which were later rejected by the Church (qui etiam nouu psalmorum librum marciani).  The Marciani were said to be promoting a 'gospel of Peter' at Antioch and as we have already noted been ultimately associated with Marcia the concubine of Commodus.  It is impossible not to see that Severus's posthumous adoption apparently recognized by the pagan Marciani would likely have been facilitated by the secret adoption rite of the Christian Marciani.

Already long before Severus we find inscriptions in a private Christian house at the Via Latina in Rome attesting to the shared understanding of being adopted by the Father through the divine Son:

To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,
[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.[21]

These practices were certainly well known to the Commodian administration.  The German scholar Peter Lampe has made a strong case that these heretical rites were tolerated - if not sanctioned - by the Imperial court given the influence of a certain Florinus.[22]  Irenaeus is only able to get Victor to cut his ties with Florinus with the change of Imperial administrations when presumably Florinus had fallen out of favor.

We have already argued that Irenaeus is much more likely to have had the ear of Julia Domna.  This may well account for his influence over the Roman Church in the closing years of the second century.  Nevertheless since Severus had a pressing need for this Marcian adoption rite, it may well be that the events of 195 CE encouraged a 'borrowing' from the Alexandrian tradition to establish legitimacy for the triumphant general.  Just when the rich senator Clodius Albinus turned his alliance with Lucius Septimius Severus and was proclaimed Augustus, we see Severus immediately 'establishing' himself as a son of Marcus. From that moment onwards he presented himself as the son of Marcus Aurelius and brother of Commodus, whom he even deified, restoring Commodus' memory in the process. Caracalla was renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and it is probable that this new Severan dynastic claim spurred Albinus into action.  Indeed as, Albinus must have reasoned, what good was it to be Caesar of a ruler who was openly establishing a dynasty?[23]

Modern historians have started to looked at things from another perspective - perhaps it was Severus who was prompted to take the extraordinary step of 'communing' with dead gods because he was afraid of Albinus' superior ancestry.  Contemporary historians tell us that senators preferred Albinus 'because he traced his nobilitas to a long line of ancestors.' As such being able to trace his own invented ancestry back to so many esteemed rulers must have sounded like a good idea. Central coinage broadcast the message and exactly a century after Nerva's dies imperii the new 'Antonine' ruler set up an honorary inscription referring back to his self-defined atavus or great-great-great grandfather. Provincial elites took the emphatic hint, and set up similar inscriptions in turn, even before a perhaps somewhat hesitant senate accepted the new genealogical situation.[24]

The contemporary historian Dio Cassius laments that Severus "caused us especial dismay by constantly styling himself the son of Marcus and the brother of Commodus."[25]  Severus's efforts however were not aimed at senators but rather, the common man. It is striking that Severus explicitly emphasized, his new position as brother of divus Commodus (= 'Commodus the god'), instigating the first ever renovatio memoriae and going so far as to rename Jerusalem the Colonia Aelia Capitolina Commodiana Pia Felix during a visit of the Severan family in 201.[26] This may indicate that continuing popularity of Commodus in some quarters influenced Severus' actions, though the status advantage of being able to refer to many popular emperors as ancestors and the legal-financial advantage of being the unchallenged heir to private Antonine wealth probably outweighed anything else.[27]

Severus had a vested interest in making his namesake Lucius Commodus a god.  He needed to establish some way that he - an ordinary citizen - would have some claim to greatness.  As such we see that the divus Commodus formula doesn't merely appear in contemporary Severan inscriptions and numismatic evidence - it also appears on an important inscription associated with a Christian within Severus's household.   This inscription provides us with the missing link that connects the Imperial cult of the dead 'son of Marcus' and the syncretic form of Christianity apparently practiced in the Severine household.

M. Aurelius Prosenes was an imperial freedman, Augustorum libertus, who was freed by Marcus Aurelius and the co-regent Commodus between 176 - 180 CE.  We see that under Commodus, Prosenes begins a respectable career administering a series of court offices (supervising the transport of wine from Italy to Rome, particularly for the table of the emperor [mensa Augusti], director of the imperial gladiator games, .steward of the imperial assets, administrator of the treasure chamber) and ultimately advances to the most influential position of an imperial chief chamberlain under Caracella ("a cubiculo August!" ).[28]

The reason that Prosenes is so utterly significant is that when he died in  217 CE he had a sarcophagus built for himself which reflected the strange religious mix of Imperial and Christian themes that was practiced in the house.  Among various pagan scenes there is a reference to the contemporary Severan adoption formula - 'divus Commodus' - side by side with a Christian terminology.  Scholars have puzzled over how these two faiths - one in the Christian Father and Son and the other of the Imperial Marcus and Commodus could have co-existed in a single relic.  Lampe has argued that there may have been a conscious effort on the part of the artisans to present a “dual face” to the world - i.e. to hide Prosenes's Christian faith behind the Imperial cultus.  Yet the more straightforward answer was that Severus was only manipulating a pre-existent Christian syncretic cult established by Marcia in the household of Commodus.[29]

As we have already noted Severus was obsessive in his devotion to anything connected to Marcus.  When the Emperor died he was laid in the tomb of Marcus Antoninus and strong attention was paid to the domus divina, subjects referring to the living emperor as a god, and army units being called Severiana. Like Marcus Aurelius, Severus was succeeded from within the family, fictitiously continuing the gens Aurelii. As is well known, Caracalla got rid of his brother and co-ruler Geta in December 211 and shortly afterwards (and perhaps in connection to it) he issued the Constitutio Antoniniana, granting Roman citizenship to almost all free inhabitants of the Empire.  Yet the entire basis for this adoption rite may well have been the original Alexandrian practices associated with the Christian Marciani.

Historians have debated the causes and consequences of the constitution for generations. One minor but highly visible result was that the new citizens took on the official nomen gentile of the emperor who granted them this enormous right. Almost overnight Aurelius became the most common name in the east of the Empire, and a close second in the west (after the much longer established Julius).[30]  So it is that just over 30 years after Marcus Aurelius' death, many in the Empire ended up carrying his name, although it may not have been what he had in mind when advising his men at his deathbed on how to keep his 'memory alive for ever.'[31]  The unanswered question - indeed a mystery which may never be solved to everyone's satisfaction - is whether the distinction between Imperial Mark and Alexandrian Mark were intentionally blurred for the sake of furthering Severus's own career.

It is worth noting that the historians of the period tell us that Severus specifically went to Egypt to uncover occult knowledge leaving "nothing, either human or divine, uninvestigated. Accordingly, he took away from practically all the sanctuaries all the books that he could find containing any secret lore."[32]  Whether this is enough to prove that among these texts was a copy of the gospel of the Christian community in Alexandria is open for debate.  At the very least we can return back to our original supposition that the invention of 'Luke' by Irenaeus as the final word on the gospel of Mark as having something to do with a third century reaction to the widespread interest in the secret rite of the Marciani.

The idea that Irenaeus may have been sponsored by Julia Domna to refashion and 'straighten' the great number of contradictory written testimonies to Jesus has surprisingly strong footing.  It isn't just that we have already demonstrated her role in the native cult of Apollonius of Tyre through similar methodologies to what we see associated with Irenaeus.  We can potentially see a personal angle to the adoption rite of the Marciani which may explain why the Empress may have encouraged the complete abolition of the secret gospel.  Julia was celebrated for her love of philosophy and keen intellect.  She was also an extraordinarily independent woman, who even survived a recent attempt on her life by Severus's male lover and chief of staff.  This story is so eye-opening and important for understanding her relationship with her husband that it might be worth taking a moment to carefully examine it.

Gaius Fulvius Plautianus was Severus's boyhood friend from Libya and reportedly the kinsman of the emperor's mother.  We are told that the two were lovers and given the bizarre story that unfolded at the turn of the third century it helps explain some of the incredible details.  By 200 CE Plautianus had become so powerful that his influence extended into every aspect of the imperial administration.  Severus was been madly in love with Plautianus.  Severus is said to have yielded so much to Plautianus that the historian Dio says that people couldn't tell who was the Emperor and who the prefect.[33]  Indeed Severus is reported to have written once in a letter: "I love the man so much that I pray to die before he does." Many scholars, uncomfortable it seems with Severus's true sexual preference, take the Imperial propaganda at face value arguing that he and Julia had a 'happy marriage.'  The reality seems to be that it Plautianus that Severus was really in love with.  Julia was simply his official consort.

When we go back to our reconstructed understanding of the adoption rite of the 'secret Mark' it is impossible not to see that if Severus took over an adapted form of this mystery it would still necessitate the involvement of male partner.  Plautianus would be the obvious candidate for the Emperor's male 'yoke fellow.'  Severus's love for his partner was something straight out of Platonic theory.  The important question however is whether we can establish any reason for thinking that Plautianus might have been Christian other than the fact that the two seemed to have been a married couple.

While there are no specific indications that Severus was ever a believer, a curious statement in Dio Cassius's history makes us curious.  The historian makes reference to the manner in which Plautianus "would not permit his own wife to see anybody or to be seen by any person whomsoever, not even by Severus or Julia, to say nothing of any others."  Scholars have taken this to have been a reference to Plautianus being "kept more or less in purdah" or a Persian curtained room.[34] Yet the reference makes more sense as a literal reading of contemporary Christian practices of veiling women 'because of the angels.'  The commandment appears in the First Letter to the Corinthians and was loosened by successive generations of Catholic teachers.  Tertullian for instance says that a woman need only be veiled in church.

Nevertheless we hear that it was an establish custom among Arabian women even at that time to fully veil their faces.  The original testimony of Paul says nothing about the requirement to be limited to the church setting.  Indeed the apostle is certainly originally referencing the Jewish custom of covering the head and veiling the face in public.  If Plautianus's wife was Christian it indicates yet another wrinkle to the happenings in the Imperial court.  Plautianus may well have been married but the two men may still have partaken in a philosophical mysticism which while not specifically Christian was well aware of Platonic and Empedoclean notions of the union of male souls.  They could have been introduced to the rite associated with the Markan gospel at the Imperial court and used its widespread popularity as a means of solidifying Severus's standing as the rightful heir to the Antonine dynasty.

Of course, as we already noted this amounts to little more than informed speculation, but what are the other choices?  There is an even greater difficulty in simply assuming that the already desperate Severus simply snapped his fingers and invented the idea that he was an adopted son of Marcus.  He didn't have the legitimacy.  It was really the other way around - Severus needed the Marcian adoption rite because he was deemed to be an illegitimate monarch.  We should see the simple fact that he had to go through all these extra steps to be recognized as a son of Marcus belies a weakened starting point to his reign.

There can be no doubt that marriage was viewed cynically by Severus.  He went out of his way to establish his son Caracalla's arranged marriage to Plautianus's daughter even though his son hated his new wife.   His own marriage to Julia was no less a sham.  Dio Cassius tells us that:

so greatly did Plautianus have the mastery in every way over the emperor, that he often treated even Julia Augusta in an outrageous manner; for he cordially detested her and was always abusing her violently to Severus. He used to conduct investigations into her conduct as well as gather evidence against her by torturing women of the nobility. For this reason she began to study philosophy and passed her days in company with sophists [35].

To hear of Plautianus's prosecution of Severus's wife for adultery - which in view of her rank, by Augustus' definition, was the same as high treason - is again unprecedented. No other empress, with the exception of Nero's wife, the poor Octavia, had been so insulted.

Yet in the end Julia did manage to get the last word.  In the end, she worked with their son Carcalla to convince Severus to mistrust and ultimately execute Plautinus for treason by 205 CE.  In due course Caracalla did the same ultimately with his detested wife.  By now Severus was a broken man.  Julia on the other hand had been raised to a new level of influence especially as she continued to sit as Empress beside Caracalla six years after her husband's death in 211 CE.

Is it too much of an oversimplification to argue that Irenaeus was simply the mouthpiece for her personal antipathy against the rite through which she lost the affection of her husband to another man.  Such a charge is probably justified given the lack of evidence available to us.  Yet the lack of evidence should not serve to continue to facilitating the blind acceptance that Christianity and the Imperial cult were somehow separate in this period either.  The sarcophagus of Prosenes makes clear that this was certainly not the case.  There was an unmistakable mingling of the cults of the Marciani which was rooted in Marcia's influence with the former Emperor and which helped launch the Severan dynasty which followed.  The only question which remains for future generations of scholars is to determine how much  and how far this original influence went.

[8] Hippolytus does make reference to Christ having homosexual relations (arsenokoitēs) with Adam in association with another sect. Yet his silence here with respect to 'secret Mark' is very interesting.  Perhaps the idea of men being saved through mutual affection wasn't offensive in itself.  Maybe Hippolytus accepted the notion that the gospel was describing the Platonic ideal of a passionate longing which stopped short of physical consummation.  Indeed Hippolytus acknowledges that these very same heretics were often eunuchs utterly incapable of fornication.
[18]  a map of Rome claiming to indicate 'every temple and warehouse, street and alleyway, shop, courtyard, bathing complex, and residences in the city.'

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