Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chapter Ten of My New Book

How do scholars explain the sudden transformation of Christianity at the beginning of the third century?  The reality is that the question is mostly ignored.  Some have put forward that it was around this time that the New Testament was developed as a set.  It is also said that it was in this period that Church doctrine suddenly because 'settled.'  Yet no one will come out say what Eusebius anonymous third century source openly tells us namely  that it was "at this time that the truth became corrupted."  It is apparently 'unbecoming'  of professional scholarship to take the side of the marginalized traditions within earliest Christianity.  

Indeed one of the reasons that no one wants to tackle this issue is that no serious scholar wants to be labeled a 'conspiracy theorist.'  Of course if we were to actually let the heretics speak they would tell us that they were defeated by an Imperial conspiracy.  Irenaeus and contemporary pagan writers reference what they call 'unauthorized meetings' of Christians.[1]  Who could have delegitimized certain forms of Christianity other than the Imperial government?  The point is explicitly confirmed by the pagan critic Celsus - the government was indeed outlawing certain forms of the religion.  

The eleventh century Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Mohammed by ‘Abd al Jabbar allows us to finally hear what the heretics were saying.  Shlomo Pines of Hebrew University has translated the original Arabic source into English and even suggested the material goes back to a lost original Jewish-Christian document from the fourth or fifth century.[2]  In that text we are told that an Emperor (we never know his name, nor exactly when he lived) transformed the religion:

the Romans reigned over them (= the Church). The Christians (used to) complain to the Romans about the Jews, showed them their own weakness and appealed to their pity. And the Romans did pity them. This (used) to happen frequently. And the Romans said to the Christians: 'Between us and the Jews there is a pact which (obliges us) not to change their religious laws. But if you would abandon their laws and separate yourselves from them, praying as we do (while facing) the East, eating (the things) we eat, and regarding as permissible that which we consider as such, we should help you and make you powerful, and the Jews would find no way (to harm you). On the contrary, you would be more powerful than they.'  The Christians answered: "We will do this." (And the Romans) said: "Go, fetch your companions, and bring your Book." (The Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: "Bring the Gospel, and stand up so that we should go to them."[3] 

The source goes on to describe how the Roman government helped transform the single gospel into a fourfold text through ruthless persecutions.  The false Christians made a deal with the authorities, agreeing to give up the original observances of the religion and slaughtering those who resisted.  A small remnant of the original faith is said to have fled to the safety of the remotest regions of the world.[4]

Indeed it is at the very fringes of the Christian world that we inevitably find countless reports of a similar nature - in effect testimonies to a third century Imperial conspiracy.  Among the testimonies from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is their oldest and dearest native text, the Kebra Negast.  At its conclusion there is a garbled reference to familiar characters involved in an Imperial plot.  We are told that:

the king of Rome … shall transgress and provoke God to wrath in the faith. The faith which we have ordered and laid down shall a king transgress who shall come in Rome, and there shall be associated with him a certain archbishop, and they shall change and pervert the word of the Twelve Apostles, and they shall cast it aside in the desire of their hearts and they shall teach what they wish … and when they have destroyed the faith the vanquisher and the enemy from the king who shall not guard the faith … shall make war upon him and defeat him, and it seems to me that his name is Marcion the Apostate. And the king … whose name is Irenaeus (Harênêwôs) shall conquer him, and the king shall carry him away, together with his horse, and by the will of God the horse on which the vanquisher of the enemy shall be stirred up and shall go into the sea and perish therein. But the nails shall shine there in the sea until Christ shall come again in great glory upon a cloud in heaven, together with power."[5]

There are a number of these obscure texts which never get incorporated into the 'official history' of the Church, which as we all know, assumes supernatural guidance to the emergence of the existing Christian orthodoxy.  Apparently God wanted this specific interpretation of the faith to emerge victorious.

These texts only confirm what we have already pieced together through other sources. The Roman Church not only had willing accomplices like Demetrius to facilitate the imposition of foreign 'novelties' (= novatae) but also had help from the Imperial government to back up these reforms with threats and intimidation.  We see this not only in terms of the acceptance of the fourfold gospel, the New Testament and a new and unheard of emphasis on Easter Sunday, but also in something even more fundamental to Christianity - the manner in which Christians governed themselves and were baptized.

For it was in Alexandria that we find again the last remaining edition of the Canons of Hippolytus, originally preserved in Greek but translated into Coptic and then later Arabic. Why the Alexandrian Church need to have a Roman bishop tell it how to govern itself?  Surely the Egyptians had ordained priests and baptized catechumen since the very beginning.  Indeed the institutions are said to have been established since Saint Mark himself.  The Letter to Theodore describes Mark establishing baptism according to his secret gospel.  Now under the governance of a foreign bishop Demetrius a steady flow of documents from Hippolytus "the highest bishop of Rome" and "the first patriarch of the great city of Rome."[6]

As we have noted many times before, Hippolytus was the last great bishop of the nations, who sat in the Pauline throne of Rome a rival to the Egyptian role of Pappa or Pope.  To the see the Egyptian Church humbled in this way receiving instruction from Rome can only be attributed to the kind of Imperial involvement which becomes explicit during the reign of the Emperor Aurelius.  While it is impossible to argue that Septimius Severus had a direct role in shaping the Church we can't help but notice that the actual Imperial muscle was only added later.  Origen's 'escape' from Alexandria actually takes place in 215 CE.  Demetrius's introduction of the Roman idea of making the first Sunday after Passover as the proper day to celebrate Easter occurs a year earlier.  

The critical date for understanding the turn of events in Christianity was that of  February 4, 211 CE for this is when Septimius Severus died.  While Caracalla was raised to joint heir along with his younger brother Geta as early as 198 CE, it was only after his assassination on December 19, 211 CE that he and his mother Julia Domna had the freedom to rule the Empire the way they wished.  Indeed we will make the case here that there is very good circumstantial evidence that Julia Domna's family was Christian and that she likely took an active interest in the religion.  She had much greater influence over her son Caracalla than she did her husband and had a limited role in the reshaping of Christianity before 211.

Tertullian makes explicit that during the rule of Septimius Severus Christians were found in every social stratum and at least some from the senatorial nobility - "clarissimas feminas et clarissimos viros."[7]  Yet this was only a carry over again from the situation in the Commodian period as He also reports that there were Christians on the Palatine Hill, where the emperor had his house.[8]  The German scholar Peter Lampe traces the rise of influence of Christians to the fact that under Septimius Severus there was a noticeable increase in the number of eastern senators. As he notes "almost one-third were now from the eastern territories of the empire."  There were a great many Christians in this group and it cannot be deemed as a coincidence that Irenaeus himself is identified as being connected with Syrian Christianity.

Eusebius already tells us that Roman Christians during the reign of Commodus “enjoyed highest regard as a result of wealth and birth.”[9]  We even hear of a Christian wife of the governor of Syria c. 204 CE, a couple which by law had to keep an estate in Italy in addition to their holdings in the East.  It is hard to believe that Septimius Severus's wife Julia Domna, a woman of noble Syrian descent, would have been unaware of this woman.  She was certainly well acquainted with Christians. As the mater familias (mother of the family) she controlled every aspect of how the house was run and so it is striking to see the manner in which Caracalla was surrounded with Christians from birth with his wet nurse, his chamberlain Christian Proculus Torpaion all being members of the faith.  

Julia Domna's niece Julia Mamae was yet another noble Syrian who happened to be a devout Christian.  She was married to the Syrian Promagistrate Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus and raised her son, the future Emperor Alexander Severus with a profound interest - and perhaps devotion - for the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Not only did Julia Mamae summon Origen to be by her side, we are told that Hippolytus wrote a work "On the Resurrection to the Empress Mammcea ; for she was the mother of Alexander who was at that time emperor of the Romans."[10]  Hippolytus also wrote a letter to a "certain Queen" and an "Exhortation to Severiana" who is most certainly Julia Domna - her name appears on a coin from the seventh year of her husband's reign as Lucia-Septimia-Severiana Eleutheropolis.  

Indeed when Eusebius completes the story of the Severan dynasty and moves on to the Emperor Maximinus who succeeds Severus Alexander, he makes reference to a persecution against "the leaders of the Church alone" and that they were the victims of "spite" due to the good favour they had enjoyed with Severus, of whose house "the majority were believers."[11]  This is an incredible statement which at least circumstantially helps argue for the idea that Irenaeus was brought into the household when Severus married Julia while residing at Lyons.  Severus was governor of Gaul at the time and Julia certain came to him as his duties would not allow him to leave the province.  

William Harvey, the original translator of Irenaeus's works in to English has long noted the author's connection with Syria and in specific, early Syriac texts of the Bible.  As Harvey notes Irenaeus was "as familiar with some Syriac version of the New Testament, as with the Greek originals ... and it is by no means improbable that he may have been of Syrian extraction, and instructed from his earliest infancy in some Syriac version of Scripture."[12]  One may even go so far as to suspect that Irenaeus's address to 'Marcianus' in the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching was likely to the husband of Julia's niece Juliua Soaemius.

For the moment however it is enough to say that with the Severan dynasty (193 - 235 CE) we have uncovered the Imperial family which supported the growth of Christianity as we now know it.  The critical mistake that scholars have made over the years is to focus on the men in the Imperial household.  If however we look at the fifty years from Marcia's arrival in the Commo wdian household and focus only on the women with Christian influence we make a startling discovery:

Marcia (182 - 192 CE)
Julia Domna (193 - 217 CE)
Julia Maesa (193 - 226 CE)
Julia Soaemius (193 - 226 CE)
Julia Avita Mamaea (193 - 235 CE)

We should be careful to avoid saying that all of these women were believers.  This is certainly not the case - only Marcia and Julia Avita Mamaea can be so classified.  Nevertheless, we will actually contend that it was in the period between the influence of these 'faithful' women over the Imperial throne (193 - 222 CE) that all the important changes to Christianity took place.

The most important thing to realize here is that all these 'Julias' were descendants of a very important Syrian priestly family of sun worshipers.  Gaius Julius Bassianus was a priest of the sun god El Gabal at Emessa, Syria (modern Homs) from 187 CE.  He could claim descent from such distinguished figures as Cleopatra, Marcus Anthony and the Emperor Caligula.  The Royal Family was a part of the local Syrian Aramaean aristocracy and was a client kingdom of the Roman Empire.  His wife is unknown but his two daughters Julia Domna and Julia Maesa lived in Rome and were highly influential.

It is our assumption that Irenaeus was already in the household of Julia Domna before she joined her husband in Lyons while he was governor there.  When Irenaeus came over to Rome with the family he began working on a reworking of the foundations of the Christian religion.  It was an effort very similar to one in which Julia Domna was known to have undertaken with respect to another Syrian prophet figure - Apollonius of Tyana.  We are told that while her husband's lover Gaius Fulvius Platuinus was actively conducting "investigations into her conduct as well as gather evidence against her by torturing women of the nobility ... [Julia] began to study philosophy and passed her days in company with sophists."[13]  In other words as early as the end of the second century, the Empress surrounded herself with philosophical and religious minded men who are clearly identified as reshaping a number of traditional Syrian cults.  

The 'philosophical' activity of this circle is exemplified by Julia's relationship with Philostratus the Elder.  María Dzielska, a well regarded professor of ancient history has reconstructed Julia's role in the reorganization of written texts associated with a Semitic healing cult associated with the god Aesculapius.  Julia took over and expanded the library of Ulpinus Trajanus which was originally located in the baths of Diocletian.  Along the way she claimed to discover an important text - a journal kept by a beloved disciple of Apollonius named Damis - which "selected events in the life of Apollonius, put down as they transpired by a simple and enamored disciple who loved his master, and from the first to the last believed him to be inspired ; who never doubted or denied, and who was never happy out of his presence."[14]

Already the reader can begin to see similarities with respect to the manner in which Irenaeus transformed the cult of Jesus through literary forgeries.  In each case, a newly discovered text of a 'companion' associated with the wonder worker documenting his 'acts' appears.  While Julia is not directly named in Irenaeus efforts the revisionist history is developed in the name of her husband Lucius (= Luke).  In the case of Philostorgius, he tells the story of the Empresses 'assistance' to reformulate the cult of Apollonius as follows:

I was a great deal conversant in the imperial family from the encouragement given by the Empress to rhetoric and its professors, she commanded me to transcribe and revise the commentaries, and pay particular attention to the style and language, for the narrative of the Ninevite was plain and not eloquent. To assist me in the work I was fortunate in procuring the book of Maximus, the Aegean, which contained all the actions of Apollonius' at Aegae, and a transcript of his will, from which it appeared how much his philosophy was under the influence of a sacred enthusiasm ; also a collection of letters, and some private memoranda, relative to his conduct and opinions, and, lastly, public records. I also happened to meet with the four books of Maeragenes, which were not of great value on account of the ignorance of the writer. I have now explained the manner of my collecting materials, and the care taken in their compilation."[15]

While this may sound like an impressive list of sources, careful inspection reveals several important difficulties.  Dzielaksa notes that in order to help the historian Philostratus in writing a biography of the sage of Tyana, Julia Domna 'presented' him with a notebook allegedly obtained from one of Apollonius's relatives.  

Philostratus did not have at his disposal a reliable source written by somebody who had maintained a close relationship with Apollonius and who was a native of the regions visited by the sage.  Only such a source might have authenticated the biography he aimed to write. Thus together with Julia Domna, as it appears, he created Damnis the Syrian from Niniveh to whom, as to a most faithful pupil of Apollonius, he attributed the authorship of the history of Apollonius' life that he made up himself. Julia Domna did not have any doubts that the Greek reader, who heard anything about Apollonius, would believe in the authenticity of the biography based on a notebook written by the author who came from the same region as the historical Apollonius.

Dzielska points to Bowie's suggestion that Philostratus coined the name of the author of his fictitious source taking as a model the name of a well-known sophist Flavius Damianus of Ephesus.  She notes that Julia's efforts were deliberately aimed at developing a simplified narrative.  Dzielska notes that the Life of Apollonius "is very superficial and does not square with the Pythagorean speculations of his time. Had Julia Domna really wanted Philostratus to expose Apollonius' genuine views which most probably she adhered to herself, she would not have let him produce such a superficial and banal picture of the philosopher's thought."  This is an extremely significant parallel to the gospel texts established by Irenaeus likely in her household.  The mystical speculation of previous incarnations of the Christian narrative have been consistently avoided in favor of something which is almost anti-intellectual.

So it is that so serious scholars doubts that this hypomnema associated with Apollonius's 'beloved disciple' was is a literary fiction.  It was concocted with a full awareness of Julia Domna in order to 'assist' in the veneration of Apollonius.  As it was, not much information on Apollonius had managed to survive from antiquity and nobody so far had produced a comprehensive work on Apollonius's life from his birth to his death.  It is important to also look at the established material that Philostorgius rejected in order to create his fictional work.  Philostorgius does use parts of the recent work of an Maximus the secretary of an unnamed Emperor (Severus?).  Philostorgius's motivation for completely rejecting Maeragenes is because it was hostile testimony.  As Origen explains "that Apollonius, according to the account given of him by Maeragenes, was looked upon as a magician and a juggler." [16]

So it is very peculiar that Philostorgius who was otherwise recognized as a respectable historian would prefer a previously unknown source praising the miracles of Apollonius against the established portrait of him as a charlatan.  It is generally recognized by scholars that he was consciously attempting to manufacture something entirely favorable to Apollonius's divine claims on behalf of Julia.  Julia allegedly furnished him with the material with which he was to carry out this effort.  Already we can see a profound parallel with the state of the Christian gospels.  The opening words of the gospel of Luke confess that he too had brought together a number of sources about the life of Jesus - "many have undertaken to draw up a narrative of the things that have been completed by us" written by "eyewitnesses and servants of the Word."  In the same way as this Demas the companion of Apollonius had never been heard of before, Luke is unknown and his authority is questioned.  

Irenaeus argues that Luke is the only authority for understanding Paul and introduces the idea that Paul grew up in Tarsus just as Apollonius was schooled in Tarsus.[17]  Indeed so many authors have argued for the parallels between Apollonius and Paul and Apollonius and Jesus that it becomes repetitive to mention all the arguments here.  In the late third century Porphyry, an anti-Christian Neoplatonic philosopher, claimed in his treatise Against the Christians that the miracles of Jesus were not unique, and mentioned Apollonius as a non-Christian who had accomplished similar achievements. Around 300, Roman authorities used the fame of Apollonius in their struggle to wipe out Christianity. Hierocles, one of the main instigators of the persecution of Christians in 303, wrote a pamphlet where he argued that Apollonius exceeded Christ as a wonder-worker and yet wasn’t worshipped as a god, and that the cultured biographers of Apollonius were more trustworthy than the uneducated apostles.

Our only meaningful addition to all that has been written about the uncanny similarities between Apollonius and the founders of Christianity is that common tread was Julia Domna.  She was as noted the furthest thing from being a believer in any of these 'charlatans.'  Her only interest was to advance the cause of establishing the traditional solar worship of her ancestors in the popular religions of the Empire.  Indeed in the earliest Alexandrian material Jesus was not a human being at all but a strange angelic being who literally dropped in from the sky to make brothers of humanity.  Now with the reformulation of Jesus into a semi-divine god man who reveals the ultimate 'solar truths  to the moon-centered worship of Judaism.  In short, he becomes a Jewish version of the newly refurbished Apollonius of Tyana. 

Under Julia's patronage Jesus and Apollonius were assigned the same birth year (1 CE) with Jesus dying in his thirtieth year while Apollonius lived on to the year 98 CE - the period as Jesus's beloved disciple John.  
Indeed if we look carefully at the surviving information about Jesus, it is not difficult to see how rushed and haphazard the introduction of his 'humanity' was.  For instance , when Irenaeus cites from the Gospel of Matthew for instance there was originally no genealogy whatsoever.  This was added later in the third century by another Lybian associate of Severus, Julius Africanus.  The Gospel of Matthew certainly presented Jesus as born of a virgin nevertheless the Syrians up to that point in time still emphasized Jesus as a something of a demigod like Hercules.  It was only with Julia's effort to encourage the idea that there were many semi-divine attesting to the glory of the Indomitable Sun.  

The example of Julia's role in the reformulation of the cult of Apollonius helps us understand the development of the fourfold gospel.  When Irenaeus explains why there has to be four gospels rather than the original two of the Alexandrian tradition he not surprisingly brings forward solar imagery:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the "pillar and ground" of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.[18]

No one before Irenaeus had ever suggested that there should be four gospels, in the same way that no Christians had ever venerate the Resurrection on the day of the sun, or did their computations according to  a solar calendar.  The fact that the new central image of Christianity is also Jesus sitting on the solar chariot of El Gabal with the four winds streaming from the spokes of its wheels is not concidental.  He, like Philostorgius after him, is only revealing the wishes of his patroness, Julia Domna.

[2] must make their choice between two alternatives. If they refuse to render due service to the gods, and to respect those who are set over this service, let them not come to manhood, or marry wives, or have children, or indeed take any share in the affairs of life; but let them depart hence with all speed, and leave no posterity behind them, that such a race may become extinct from the face of the earth. Or, on the other hand, if they will take wives, and bring up children, and taste of the fruits of the earth, and partake of all the blessings of life, and bear its appointed sorrows (for nature herself hath allotted sorrows to all men; for sorrows must exist, and earth is the only place for them), then must they discharge the duties of life until they are released from its bonds, and render due honour to those beings who control the affairs of this life, if they would not show themselves ungrateful to them. For it would be unjust in them, after receiving the good things which they dispense, to pay them no tribute in return. (Against Celsus viii:65).
[5] It also mentions ‘dissenters’ to this corruption process and the involvement of disreputable presbyters like Irenaeus "But these said to them: "You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. In giving a favorable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you; on the contrary, we are obliged to declare that there is nothing in common between us and you;" and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). Those (mentioned in the first place) went back to the Romans and said to them: "Help us against these companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our Book." Thereupon (the companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul and in the Jazirat al-'Arab. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some were caught and burned, others were killed. (As for) those who had given a favorable answer to the Romans they came together and took counsel as to how to replace the Gospel, seeing that it was lost to them. (Thus) the opinion that a Gospel should be composed was established among them. They said: "the Torah (consists) only of (narratives concerning) the births of the prophets and of the histories of their lives. We are going to construct a Gospel according to this (pattern)." Everyone among us is going to call to mind that which he remembers of the words of the Gospel and of (the things) about which the Christians talked among themselves (when speaking) of Christ." Accordingly … four Gospels were left which are due to four individuals.  Al Jabbar quotes his original source as concluding that "If the Christians would consider these things, they would know that the Gospels which are with them are of no profit to them, and that the knowledge claimed (on their behalf) by their masters and the authors (of the Gospels) is not (found) in them, and that on this point) things are just as we have said---it is a well-known (fact) which is referred to here (namely the fact that they have abandoned the religion of Christ and turned towards) the religious doctrines of the Romans, prizing and (seeking to obtain) in haste the profits which could be derived from their domination and their riches.'
[7] ; cf. Ad Scap 4.7).
[8] (Tertullian, Apol. 37.4)
[9] (Eccles. Hist. 5.21.1)  

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