Saturday, December 29, 2012

De-Mystifying the Mystery of the Secret Gospel of Mark [Part Two]

As we noted in our previous post, we all have our inherited notions of who or what Jesus is.  For Catholics, for instance, Jesus is the ultimate celebrity - even 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'  As I joke with my wife (pictured left), that for her and her kind, he's something of the ultimate rock star.  Jesus is 'the way, the truth and the life' because of his celebrity status and little more.  My argument gets nowhere of course and when you've been with someone along time, you don't expect to win debates.  Yet the point is of course is that we all do this, or at least most of us.  It is possible to break free of an inherited POV if you work hard at it.  But far too few scholars do so, and as such, new discoveries often are forcibly 'put in the corner' to maintain the status quo.

In the first part of this series we noted that Clement does indeed provide us a framework for interpreting the literary context of the Secret Mark fragment.  Morton Smith was the first to notice parallels between this new narrative and the Question of the Rich Man which immediately precedes it in our Gospel of Mark.  Clement, while never directly referencing the 'Secret Mark fragment' in his surviving writings, does connect Zacchaeus with the same pericope - the Question of the Rich Man - which is unusual given that Zacchaeus appears only in Luke in our canonical gospel collection.  The solution to this odd situation is to note that Zacchaeus does follow the Question of the Rich Man in the Arabic Diatessaron:

And while they were going up in the way to Jerusalem, Jesus went in front of them; and they wondered, and followed him fearing. And he took his twelve disciples apart, and began to tell them privately what was about to befall him. And he said unto them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things shall be fulfilled that are written in the prophets concerning the Son of man. He shall be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and deliver him to the peoples; and they shall treat him shamefully, and scourge him, and spit in his face, and humble him, and crucify him, and slay him: and on the third day he shall rise." [Secret Mark Addition A] But they understood not one thing of this; but this word was hidden from them, and they did not perceive these things that were addressed to them.

Then came near to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee, she and her sons, and worshipped him, and asked of him a certain thing. And he said unto her, What wouldest thou? And James and John, her two sons, came forward, and said unto him, Teacher, we would that all that we ask thou wouldest do unto us. He said unto them, What would ye that I should do unto you? They said unto him, Grant us that we may sit, the one on thy right, and the other So on thy left, in thy kingdom and thy glory. And Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I am to drink? and with the baptism that I am to be baptized with, will ye be baptized? And they said unto him, We are able. Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized ye shall be baptized: but that ye should sit on my right and on my left is not mine to give; but it is for him for whom my Father hath prepared it.

And when the ten heard, they were moved with anger against James and John. And Jesus called them, and said unto them, Ye know that the rulers of the nations are their lords; and their great men are set in authority over them. Not thus shall it be amongst you: but he amongst you that would be great, let him be to you a 4 servant; and whoever of you would be first, let him be to every man a  bond-servant: even as the Son of man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give himself a ransom in place of the many. He said this, and was going about the villages and the cities, and teaching; and he went to Jerusalem. And a man asked him, Are those that shall be saved few? Jesus answered and said unto them, Strive ye to enter at the narrow door: I say unto you now, that many shall seek to enter, and shall not be able --from the time when the master of the house riseth, and closeth the door, and ye shall be standing without, and shall knock at the door, and shall begin to say, Our lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say, I say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: and ye shall begin to say, Before thee we did eat and drink, and in our markets didst thou teach; and he shall say unto you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, ye servants of untruth. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, while ye are put forth without. And they shall come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, and shah sit down in the kingdom of God. And there shall then be last that have become first, and first that have become last.

And when Jesus entered and passed through Jericho [Secret Mark addition B] there was a man named Zacchaeus, rich, and chief of the publicans. And he desired to see Jesus who he was; and he was not able for the pressure of the crowd, because Zacchaeus was little of stature.  And he hastened, and went before Jesus, and went up into an unripe fig tree to see Jesus: for he was to pass thus. And when Jesus came to that place, he saw him, and said unto him, Make haste, and come down, Zacchaeus: to-day I must be in thy house. And he hastened, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they all saw, they murmured, and said, He hath gone in and lodged with a man that is a sinner. So Zacchaeus stood, and said unto Jesus, My Lord, now half of my possessions I give to the poor, and what I have unjustly taken from every man I give him fourfold. Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, because this man also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and save the thing that was lost.

The point of course is that it is not enough to have Clement connect the rich youth of the Zacchaeus narrative with the rich youth of the Question narrative (= Mark 10:17 - 31).  In order to have this make any sense we have to explain a few additions and alterations that Clement identifies were part of his gospel's Zacchaeus narrative including his version of Luke 19:10 - "The Son of man, on coming today, has found that which was destroyed." (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐλθὼν σήμερον τὸ ἀπολωλὸς εὗρεν)

The implication is clearly, as we already noted in our last post, that Jesus already met this youth and 'found' him after he was 'destroyed' (ἀπολωλὸς).  The destruction is clearly related to a death and resurrection which immediately precedes the Zacchaeus story - i.e. 'Secret Mark A.'  Clement repeatedly uses ἀπολωλὸς in this sense in the Stromata, for instance in Book Six:

Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood (τοῖς τε ἀπολωλόσιν ἐν τῷ κατακλυσμῷ), or rather had been chained, and to those kept in ward (φυλακῇ) and guard? [Stromata 6.6]

Of course the citation draws on 1 Peter 3:19 - 20 and was apparently very important to the Alexandrian community as Clement's student Origen makes repeated reference to the same concept in his writings.

Indeed in a critical section of De Principiis Origen tackles the Marcionite division of 'justice' and 'goodness' into two separate divine principles - a view which his master Clement can be demonstrated to subscribe to.  For the moment we need only note that Origen only attacks the 'heretical' idea that the 'good god' is unrelated to the 'just god.'  Origen objects specifically to the equation of some heretics that 'justice' = evil and adds a reference:

Let them learn, therefore, by searching the holy Scriptures, what are the individual virtues, and not deceive themselves by saying that that God who rewards every one according to his merits, does, through hatred of evil, recompense the wicked with evil, and not because those who have sinned need to be treated with severer remedies, and because He applies to them those measures which, with the prospect of improvement, seem nevertheless, for the present, to produce a feeling of pain. They do not read what is written respecting the hope of those who were destroyed in the deluge; of which hope Peter himself thus speaks in his first Epistle: "That Christ, indeed, was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, by which He went and preached to the spirits who were kept in prison, who once were unbelievers, when they awaited the long-suffering of God in the days of Noah, when the ark was preparing, in which a few, i.e., eight souls, were saved by water. Whereunto also baptism by a like figure now saves you."

This idea appears over and over again in the writings of these early Alexandrian masters, you'd think that someone would have paid some attention to it.  Yet, in my brief search I can find nothing of any substance having been written about it.

It is strange, then, that the specific term 'destroyed' (ἀπολωλόσιν) should be used with both the activity of Jesus 'figuratively' baptizing the dead, rescuing the dead from Hades and 'rediscovering' Zacchaeus.  How was Zacchaeus 'destroyed' (ἀπολωλόσιν)?  He must have been rescued from a dead state - even from Hades.  In due course we shall connect him to the figure of the rich person who descended into Hades to learn not only that wealth does no good in the afterlife but moreover the uselessness of the Law and prophets here too (via Petersen's analysis of the Diatessaron).

For the moment we need only return to Origen's analysis, specifically the statement he makes about Jesus's rescue of the dead from Hades in Against Celsus Book Two.  After Celsus jokes about Jesus "going to Hades to gain over those who were there" Origen declares:

whether he like it or not, we assert that not only while Jesus was in the body did He win over not a few persons merely, but so great a number, that a conspiracy was formed against Him on account of the multitude of His followers; but also, that when He became a soul, without the covering of the body, He dwelt among those souls which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were willing to Himself, or those whom He saw, for reasons known to Him alone, to be better adapted to such a course. [Against Celsus 2.43]

The idea of Jesus being a 'soul' which 'covered' the body sounds remarkably similar to the other line which Clement identifies as being present in Jesus's address to Zacchaeus - "and ye assembled me; naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came unto Me" (cf. Matt 24:34,35).  However we can even take the investigation one step further by going back to the writings of Clement.

In the standard resurrection narrative of Lazarus, the individual who is raised from the dead 'dies' again, thus putting to rest obvious difficulties that Jesus's involvement in the underworld does for the natural order (i.e. those dead clearly 'died' according to the rules of 'God' thus making Jesus an intruder into the world government of that authority).  Yet in our reconstructed understanding of Zacchaeus as the resurrected youth of Secret Mark, it would appear that Jesus's purpose is to 'steal' souls from the possession of the ruler of the world.  In other words, if he hadn't appeared they would still be in Hades, still be in torment according to the 'old rules.'

The fact that Origen invokes Jesus's involvement with the dead in a discussion of the Marcionite conception of two separate powers of 'justice' and 'goodness' is very significant.  This is because 1 Peter develops its discussion of baptism in connection with what both Clement and Origen identify as those that "perished in the flood" (τοῖς τε ἀπολωλόσιν ἐν τῷ κατακλυσμῷ).  Why is this significant?  Because, while 1 Peter only mentions the 'flood' at the time of Noad, a theologically more significant example of individuals drowning in a watery 'cataclysm' can be recalled - the fate of the Egyptians during Passover (Exodus 14:27, 28).

There is a fundamental difficulty that almost any Jew or Samaritan has when learning about the Christian baptism rite and that is the association of baptism with the crossing of the Israelites.  To be certain 1 Corinthians chapter 10 makes this connection most explicit, but for the Hebrews the imagery makes no sense as the Exodus account is quite clear - the Hebrews never touched the water.  How then is the story of the Exodus a metaphor for baptism?  The obvious solution, by means of 1 Peter 3:19, 20 and the use of ἀπολωλόσιν in association with Zacchaeus in a longer and 'fuller' gospel of Mark is that Christianity is based on a 'death baptism' or from a state of death to life by means of drowning.

Philo already makes reference to these things in his writings.  Hebrews 11:29 speaks of "the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned."  Yet most significant of all is the frequent death references in association with baptism in the Pauline writings coupled with the interest of 'baptism on behalf of the dead' in the reports about the Marcionites and the writings of Clement of Alexandria.  Indeed one of the most fundamental misunderstandings of Christian doctrine is the whole idea of the so-called 'lost' (ἀπολέσας) sheep.

The principal meaning of ἀπόλλυμι is 'kill,' 'destroy' and 'perish.'  In early Greek literature it usually means 'lose' in some related sense - i.e. to lose one's life, one's spirit etc.  The idea that Jesus is just looking for a sheep that ran away, misses the whole point.  Christianity is a religion developed around a religious holiday where lambs are slaughtered or 'killed.'  In the very same way it has never made any sense to connect the Israelites who were already spared at the time of Moses with the act of salvation through ritual water immersion.  The focus is obviously on the ancient Egyptians - especially for the Marcionites - and those who were not saved, even 'destroyed' in the original salvation.  We must imagine that the original Christians in Egypt were drawn from the descendants of those who persecuted the ancient Israelites.  This becomes even stronger when we examine the doctrine of 'baptism on behalf of the dead' or those who died without God ages ago.

For the moment let's close this discussion with a second look at the doctrine of the 'lost sheep.'  Clement clearly understands there to be deep significance in the gospel writer's choice of ἀπόλλυμι noting:

As then we say that it belongs to the shepherd's art to care for the sheep; for so the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep; [John 10:11] so also we shall say that legislation,inasmuch as it presides over and cares for the flock of men, establishes the virtue of men, by fanning into flame, as far as it can, what good there is in humanity. And if the flock figuratively spoken of as belonging to the Lord is nothing but a flock of men, then He Himself is the good Shepherd and Lawgiver of the one flock, of the sheep who hear Him, the one who cares for them, seeking, and finding by the law and the word, that which was lost (ἀπολωλὸς); since, in truth, the law is spiritual and leads to felicity. For that which has arisen through the Holy Spirit is spiritual. And he is truly a legislator, who not only announces what is good and noble, but understands it. The law of this man who possesses knowledge is the saving precept; or rather, the law is the precept of knowledge.

Why on earth would Christ be said to 'give his life' for a sheep that is merely 'lost' in direction?   Clearly the original sense was a sheep that had perished and so at once we begin to see that Zacchaeus is the "sheep who falls into a pit on the Sabbath." (cf. Matt 12:11)  The gospel isn't merely the story of Jesus, but the narrative of Jesus's salvation of the world through a particular individual.

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