Monday, August 20, 2012

Chapter Eight of Naked and Naked

It should be clear that the traditional pairing of Peter and Paul is a development of the mystical brother-making rite between Moses and Aaron in the Book of Exodus. The basic idea here is that the stories in the Pentateuch served as ‘types’ for the coming age of the messiah. In this chapter we will take matters one step further by going beyond of the Roman tradition and back to what is most likely the spiritual birthplace of Christian mysticism – the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Here we will uncover the culture of secret Mark and with it and the manner in which religious life in the Christian Church revolved around the sanctity of these unions.

The place to begin to develop our understanding of this tradition is to go back to the barest of fragments that Clement gives about the context of these ritual practices. He tells us in the Letter to Theodore that Mark originally:

composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

Morton Smith and almost everyone else ever since has noted that the description here is clearly alluding to a baptismal practice reserved only for the catechumen – i.e. a group of initiates who have been instructed likely for several years and only now are about to become full Christians.

The basic idea is that St Mark himself established that this secret writing – the gospel – should be guarded or hidden in what is called in Greek the adyton, a term originally used to denote a restricted area within a pagan temple. While it is not entirely clear from the contents of the letter what rituals needed to be performed to allow an individual access to this secret chamber, Clement does give us another important clue in another of his works, the Stromata where he writes:

wherefore, in accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred word truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them adyta (inner sanctum), and by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine -- were allowed access to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for ‘the impure to touch the pure.’ Thence the prophecies and oracles are spoken in enigmas, and the mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry, but only after certain purifications and previous instructions.

It has long been clear to scholars that the description of contemporary Alexandrian Christian practices of concealment and moves on to incorporate references to the Egyptian and Hebrew religions which influenced it, is certainly related to the contents of the Letter to Theodore. It confirms that secret writings were certainly kept in the Church of St Mark, reserved only for the consecrated, those who had undergone the required purifications.

Yet what are the required purifications? If we could solve this mystery we can finally explain what naked man and naked man are likely doing off in the shadows of secret Mark? The only clue that we get from the complementary material in the Stromata is that it has something to do with males making cuts to their penis. As we read again in the material cited above – “only the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine -- were allowed access to them.” Similarly at the beginning of Book One of the same series Clement tells us that the Greek philosopher “Pythagoras consorted with Egyptian prophets, by whom he was circumcised, that he might enter the adytum and learn from the Egyptians the mystic philosophy.”

There can be no doubt that Clement testifies that not only did the ancient Egyptian temples require all who entered to be circumcised but that something similar – a rite involving cutting the male penis – was established in Alexandria. We already saw that this practice has to be castration, or if you will - the cutting off of the whole male member. This is hinted at in Justin’s approval of the anonymous Christian youth who wanted to get permission from the governor to get castrated. Yet it is unmistakable when we take a look at what Clement’s student Origen says in his Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans written in the middle of the third century.

The connection between the material here and that which we just saw in Clement’s writings is unmistakable. In no uncertain terms Origen acknowledges that “the Egyptian priesthood used to be circumcised” and applies the tradition ban on those with foreskins and Christian gnosis. Yet Origen’s approach is utterly breathtaking. He goes back to an understanding of ‘second circumcision’ dating back to the middle of the second century and the writings of Justin Martyr. Justin says that in order to understand the message of the gospel “you have now need of a second circumcision …Wash therefore, and be now clean, and put away iniquity from your souls, as God bids you be washed in this layer, and be circumcised with the true circumcision.”

Both Justin and Origen explain the existence of the rite from the account of the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua and the ancient Israelites. Abraham represents the first circumcision which comes through the law and casts off the errors of idolatry, says Origen. The second circumcision comes from the gospel, and is completed in Jesus fulfilling the prophetic words, "Today I have taken away the reproach of Egypt from you.” (Joshua 5.9) There is a continuing interest in the concept of ‘second circumcision’ or ‘the circumcision of Christ’ throughout Origen’s writings. This is not surprising given that the rite is identified as castration – i.e. the complete cutting off of the penis – and Origen was famous for castrating himself.

Most interesting of all is the fact that Justin, Origen and others always link ‘second baptism’ with ‘second circumcision’ and call it ‘redemption’ owing to its identification with the entry into the Promised Land. Irenaeus in his influential report on the Marciani only second baptism but also calls it the ‘redemption.’ The important thing to see from this treatise and a related text now called ‘the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism’ is that the origin of this second baptism/second circumcision rite clearly goes back to Mark and more importantly is referenced in relation with the same section of Mark’s gospel – chapter 10 verse 38.

The self-described ‘redemption’ practice can be seen as clearly going back to the Book of Joshua is found in the last line in the material cited from secret Mark “And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (to Theod. 3.6,7) This is a verbatim word for word allusion to Joshua “Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but ye shall pass over before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and shall help them; until the LORD have given your brethren rest, as unto you, and they also have possessed the land which the LORD your God giveth them; then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you across the Jordan toward the rising.” (Joshua 1.14,15)

Origen clearly invokes castration references when describing how this ‘typology’ was fulfilled with Christ. Yet the clearest confirmation of the practice is found in Optatus of Milevis in Numidia. This north African Church Father of the fourth century continues to witness the practices of the ancient tradition of St Mark practiced among his north African subjects writing against members of the so-called Donatus sect:

For you have recalled, in analogy with baptism, that the flood occurred once, and there was one circumcision for the Jewish people. And when you had treated these matters at the beginning of your treatise, you became, however, unmindful of them in the course of your treatise, by introducing two waters; and, since you were going to speak argumentatively about the true water and the false, you adopted an unwise method in constructing the opening of your oration. By attacking the unity of holy baptism, you confirm it; with regard to Jewish circumcision you wanted to boast, as a sort of founding principle, that the baptism of Christians had been foreshadowed in the circumcision of the Hebrews. You have defended the Catholic Church while you impugn it. For in the course of your treatise you have declared that you are making one baptism empty so that you may seem to make the other full. When you say that, apart from heretics' baptism, there is one sort and another sort, then even though you have tried to show that they are of different species, you could not deny that there are two. When you try to take away one of these, you have been striving to turn the second visibly into a kind of first.

Now circumcision was sent forth as a type" before the arrival of baptism, and your treatise argues that among Christians there are two waters; therefore show that there were two circumcisions among the Jews also, one better, the other worse. If you look for this you will not be able to find it. The race of Abraham, to which the Jews belong, glories in being marked by this seal. Therefore the truth that follows should be such as the image sent before it. And furthermore God, as he wanted to show that a single thing ought to come later when truth succeeded, did not choose that anything be taken from the ear or from the finger, but that part of the body was chosen where the abstraction of the foreskin on one occasion produced a sign of health, which cannot happen again. For when done once it preserves health; if it happens again it may bring ruin [emphasis mine]. So too the baptism of Christians, jointly performed by the Trinity, confers grace; if it is repeated it causes life to be cast away. [Optatus, Against the Donatians 5th Book]

Optatus apparently hasn’t read Justin or Origen and finds himself unable to even understand why the sect connects their ritual back to the Book of Joshua. Nevertheless we are fortunate to have this testimony to confirm the theological arguments used by members of the original tradition of St Mark to justify their schismatic practices.

Origen for his part confirms that the second circumcision practice was originally employed by the Marcionite sect. He notes that the Marcionites didn’t usually develop allegories about references from the Old Testament but with respect to castration being a development of Jewish circumcision narratives they apparently made an exception. They said apparently “circumcision may indicate some mystery and may even contain an allegorical figure.” Origen criticizes them for not being more open minded about other Old Testament allegories but notes that “Jesus the son of Nun is reported to have circumcised the sons of Israel for the second time with stone knives by the command of the Lord, which, when looked at literally, seems factually utterly impossible. For in those who have been circumcised once in the flesh of their foreskin, what could be found to remove in a second circumcision? But it is plain that our Jesus, who, after Moses, truly leads the sons of the Israel into the holy land flowing with milk and honey the promised land, circumcises the people comprised of believers not once but twice.”

Origen goes on at this point to revisit Clement’s original theme of circumcision as a rite used to restrict access to ‘secret writings’ in the inner sanctum of temples noting:

O heathen nations, circumcision is deemed as something so great that it may not be entrusted indiscriminately to the common person of low birth but to priests alone and to those among them who have been assigned to higher studies. For example, according to your own superstitions the Egyptians are deemed to be extremely ancient and learned. For nearly all the other nations have borrowed their sacred rites and ceremonies from them. Among them, I say, no one studied either geometry or astronomy, which are considered of particular importance among them, and assuredly no one tried to pry into the secrets of astrology and horoscopes, than which they reckon nothing more divine, unless he has received circumcision. The priest among them, the soothsayer, or attendant of any of their sacred temples, or as they themselves call them, their prophets: all of them are circumcised. In addition no one learned the priestly literature of the ancient Egyptians, which they call hieroglyphics, except the circumcised. No high priest or seer or mystic among them, no one whom they regard as knowledgeable of the mysteries of heaven (as they suppose) and of the underworld, is confided in unless he has been circumcised. Do you then condemn in us as something disgraceful and obscene what is esteemed among yourselves to be so honorable and great that you believe it possible for the secrets of the heavens and of the regions below the earth to be declared to you only by means of this particular sign?

So now we come full circle back to the original statement of Clement which connected a contemporary Christian concealment of the “truly sacred word truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth” which can still only be seen by “the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine.” We have clearly uncovered the cultural context for Clement’s seemingly unprecedented reference to a ‘secret gospel’ hidden in the adyton of the Church of St Mark in Alexandria.

Yet Origen actually allows us to go back one generation earlier than Clement and see that the Marcionites not only sanctioned the second circumcision/second baptism practices but also are witnessed as using the same longer, mystical gospel of Mark. Origen begins by noting that Paul’s language with respect to “being bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20) makes clear that “we were bought from someone whose slaves we were, who also demanded the price he wanted so that he might release from his authority those whom he was holding.” Origen argues that our former master was the devil while the Marcionites clearly inferred it was the god of the Jews. However both apparently agreed that the manner in which this ‘purchase’ was made was by ‘the blood of the second circumcision’ or as Origen terms it here ‘the blood of Jesus.’

Clearly then the traditional rite of circumcision – i.e. the cut off of the foreskin - was originally conceived as the slave ‘branding’ that made clear the individual was ‘owned’ by the god of the Jews. Castration was a clearly visible sign of the second circumcision by which the individual transferred to his new owner Christ. So it is that Origen continues “Therefore he demanded the blood of Christ as the price for us. So then, until the blood of Jesus was given, which was so precious that it alone would suffice for the redemption of all, it was necessary for those who were being trained up in the law to offer their own blood for themselves [in the act of circumcision] as a kind of foreshadowing of the future redemption. And therefore for us as those for whom the price of Christ's blood has been furnished, we do not have need to offer a price for ourselves anymore, that is to say, to offer the blood of circumcision.”

Origen continues to engage the Marcionites with respect to a shared interest in self-castration noting that:

they say, “If that bodily member was not necessary, it ought not have been made by the Creator; if it was made as something necessary, it should not be removed.” Let us also ask them whether they would call the procreation of children necessary. Doubtless they will respond that it is necessary. Then those who, by their affirmation of continence and virginity, do not attend to the necessary duties of nature shall be reproachable; and everyone is to be compelled to get married, even those who, in accordance with the laws of the Gospel, “have castrated themselves for the sake of the kingdom of God,” even though these people have the authority for this precedent both in many other saints and even in the Lord Jesus himself.

What makes this reference so interesting is that it not only confirms that the Marcionites engaged in ritual castration – something born out over numerous references in other Church Fathers – but more importantly that the Marcionite gospel contained a version of Matthew 19:12 “there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” in a specifically Markan form – i.e. referencing the ‘kingdom of God’ rather than the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ The saying in this particular form is also known to Erasmus.

Our point of course is that there is clear evidence that the Marcionites used two gospels and one which is identified as a longer, mystical version of the gospel of Mark. It would seem that the Marcionites and the Alexandrian tradition of Clement of Alexandria shared a basic and absolutely fundamental gospel paradigm. Just after Irenaeus argues in Book Three of his Against Heresies that "it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are" - i.e. four – he says that the Marcion “boasts that he has divide the gospel into two.” That the Marcionites had two versions of the gospel rather than one has been noted and developed by Professor Markus Vinzent of King’s College London. The gospel used in their churches was not only establish in a short and long forms but also referenced as uncircumcised and circumcised.

Irenaeus accuses Marcion of “circumcising (Lat. circumcidens) that according to Luke.” In another section he writes that “Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to cutting (or ‘dividing’) the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, mutilating the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened.” It is hard to believe that all these references are accidental given all that we have seen. The ‘outward’ gospel may have been likened to the foreskin or flesh, the ‘inner’ or ‘secret’ gospel, that of the unseen truth of the Father hidden – which is physically kept behind the veils of the sacred shrine of Christian houses of worship.

The Church Fathers are clearly always recycling the same ideas albeit with varying degrees of accuracy. The Marcionites rather than being strict dualists as some have claimed were instead merely developing the traditional Jewish notion of two powers in the godhead – one just, the other merciful – where circumcision and castration were forms of purification associated with each divinity. 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 hidden doctrine in this text seems to lay out all of history into epochs falling under the sway of these two powers. The age in which Jesus appeared was clearly understood as a swing toward love and mercy.

The reference to the existence of this secret or mystic text of Mark appears in his treatise Hippolytus’s 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.

The reference to Mark with the finger cut off can clearly be understood to reference castration. Empedocles was a philosopher who 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.

As we have already noted, the Marcionites 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. 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 understood to be 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."

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. 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." 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.

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?"

The point of course is that we have by now in any event uncovered clear evidence which confirms that the 'mystic gospel' of Mark, aside from being hidden in an inner sanctum and was accessible only by those who had undergone some ritual secret circumcision/second baptism rite, was actually centrally focused on same sex pairing and same sex attraction. While Irenaeus does warn us that these so-called ‘redemption’ rites varied from group to group it would seem that the individual pairs of catechumen were castrated individually before entering the waters together. The purpose of Christianity was to make us like angels, and to be like angels males need to be paired together with their genitals already moved.

This was how it was in the beginning. In due course the doctrines of the Church were subject to corruption. Indeed the Christian religion would not have developed into the world conquering faith that it was if it did not compromise its original message.

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