Monday, December 31, 2012

Irenaeus is Lying

So here is where we are right now.  The traditional understanding of the gospel narrative assumes that it is about a man named Jesus who 'spoke the truth' and then was ultimately crucified for it.  There is nothing wrong with seeing the narrative in this manner.  It is just hard to see how we get from that understanding of history to the organized religion of Christianity a few centuries later.  Yes of course the Protestants have an explanation for that - the 'true religion' of Jesus was corrupted by Hellenism or something to this effect.  They posit the existence of a Jewish man named Jesus who had a life and a story which were 'developed' by Greeks in the generations that followed.

There is of course one serious difficulty with all of this 'Protestantism.'  You end up having to throw out all Christianity between that alleged 'man' and the development of the religion which assumes as its starting point that Jesus was a God.  This is like trying to get back to how you felt about food before you tasted it.  Can such a position be 'rediscovered'?  I don't think so and so I am forced to abandon the search for this historical Jesus before I even start.  If we are to understand Christianity we can't simply 'invent' some hypothetical starting point and build our domicile on this mythical foundation.  We must instead go back to something substantial and so for me at least I always go back to the writings of Clement of Alexandria and the possible parallels that exist with Marcionitism.

Of course some people might argue that there are other Church Fathers for us to come to terms with.  Some might put forward Irenaeus because he is such a stalwart of orthodoxy.  Yet I have a fundamental difficulty with the writings of Irenaeus.  I have spend the last ten years attempting to make sense of them and find myself always at a loss to 'get to something real' here.  Irenaeus certainly hates the heretics.  This understanding is shouted on almost every page.  There is also a clear sense of what the 'rules' are.  Yet at the same time there seems to be very little 'soul' in Irenaeus's writings.  It just seems like he has wandered all over the Christian landscape and set up fences for what is acceptable and unacceptable.  I also have a hard time believing that these rules went much beyond Irenaeus himself.

There is a sense with Irenaeus's exegesis of scripture that he has stolen ideas from Polycarp here and Justin there and modified each of his sources to make them fit into some sort of artificial harmony.  Let me give the reader an example of this so that we can get back to our on going discussion of Zacchaeus and 'Secret Mark.'  I have always believed that the strongest argument for the authenticity of Morton Smith's discovery is the fact that it 'makes sense' to have the narrative 'cross the Jordan' at that particular juncture in the gospel story.  Morton Smith couldn't place where this 'Bethany' was where the Secret Mark narrative took place.  He assumed that it was the Bethany near Jerusalem rather than the Bethany beyond the Jordan.

At least part of the problem was the obvious parallels with John chapter 11 and the mention of 'Bethany' there.  But the mention of the crossing of the Jordan is decisive here.  Jesus and his disciples seem to have gone to the region beyond the Jordan only to cross back to the other side before visiting Jericho and then then finally Jerusalem.  The crossing of the Jordan is obviously steeped in symbolism especially if it is done by someone with the name 'Jesus.'  Yet I think that Secret Mark and various statements that we find in the writings of Clement of Alexandria provide us with enough clues that Joshua's entry into the Holy Land was developed in another - unrecognized - manner.

In other to understand what appears in Clement's Alexandrian gospel we need to go back to the original account of the ancient Israelites in the wilderness in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.  In Numbers chapter 13 Moses gathers twelve spies to enter Canaan and - in the LXX - gives the name 'Jesus' to Oshea. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this act in early Christian theology.  The LXX does not simply have Moses 'add a letter' (as in the Masoretic) but someone with another name adopts the name Jesus.  This is certainly the source of all the statements in the New Testament which have speak of doing this or that 'in the name' or some related utterance.  For the earliest Christians Jesus was a spiritual entity whose letters happened to add up to the number 888.

When we see the Secret Gospel of Mark understand that a youth was initiated into a mystery religion by Jesus and then 'he' crossed and rose out of the Jordan, we are free to decide which one of the two men came out of the waters.  I strongly suspect that the 'he' here was the youth given the fact that Clement seems to think that the Zacchaeus narrative concludes the Question of the Rich Youth and 'Secret Mark' stands in between the two pericopes.

The purpose of this post is however to go back to the writings of Irenaeus and note that his many statements about a 'gnostic adoption' theology seem - at their deepest core - to go back to a similar idea as we just saw in Secret Mark.  The problem however is that Irenaeus explicitly consistently references the concept in terms of a spiritual being named 'Christ' flying into a person named Jesus.  Indeed he specifically references the Gospel of Mark as the literary 'platform' for the entire understanding.

Because of the way Irenaeus frames his understanding of heretical 'adoptionism' scholars overlook the fact that he is clearly lying or at least not telling the whole truth.  In Book Three of Against Heresies for instance, while continuing to speak in terms of 'Christ coming into Jesus' he also lets a very important bit of information out of the bag regarding the exact opposite understanding - i.e. a spiritual being named 'Jesus' going into someone crossing the Jordan.  We read:

But Simeon also--he who had received an intimation from the Holy Ghost that he should not see death, until first he had beheld Christ Jesus--taking Him, the first-begotten of the Virgin, into his hands, blessed God, and said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: because mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel;" confessing thus, that the infant whom he was holding in his hands, Jesus, born of Mary, was Christ Himself, the Son of God, the light of all, the glory of Israel itself, and the peace and refreshing of those who had fallen asleep. For He was already despoiling men, by removing their ignorance, conferring upon them His own knowledge, and scattering abroad those who recognised Him, as Esaias says: "Call His name, Quickly spoil, Rapidly divide." Now these are the works of Christ. He therefore was Himself Christ, whom Simeon carrying [in his arms] blessed the Most High; on beholding whom the shepherds glorified God; whom John, while yet in his mother's womb, and He (Christ) in that of Mary, recognising as the Lord, saluted with leaping; whom the Magi, when they had seen, adored, and offered their gifts [to Him], as I have already stated, and prostrated themselves to the eternal King, departed by another way, not now returning by the way of the Assyrians. "For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, Father or mother, He shall receive the power of Damascus, and the spoils of Samaria, against the king of the Assyrians;" declaring, in a mysterious manner indeed, but emphatically, that the Lord did fight with a hidden hand against Amalek. For this cause, too, He suddenly removed those children belonging to the house of David, whose happy lot it was to have been born at that time, that He might send them on before into His kingdom

For most people who read this short passage Irenaeus seems to be writing gibberish.  His arguments seem to be little more than a stringing together of scriptures.

Of course the 'trained professionals' will come along and say that there is sense in this material and they invent terms and 'catch phrases' reassure like-minded people that everything is okay.  Yet the reality is that Irenaeus has simply stolen material from Justin Martyr.  Of course Irenaeus has twisted the original (lost) reference to support his claim that Jesus was born from a virgin.  The reader is encouraged to read the original reference in Against Heresies.  The reason the material is so hard to read is that it is layered with Irenaeus's claims about Christ 'flying down' on Jesus at the out layer.  The point however is that at the innermost layer is Justin Martyr's original argument that the individual initiate 'adopts' the spiritual name Jesus.

Just look at the line "that the Lord did fight with a hidden hand against Amalek."  The point isn't just that it comes from the same section of Numbers which tells of Moses giving the name 'Jesus' to Oshea.  Justin Martyr explicitly connects the scripture with Christian baptism in chapter 49 of the Dialogue with Trypho:

To this I replied, “Do you not think that the same thing happened in the case of Joshua the son of Nave (Nun), who succeeded to the command of the people after Moses, when Moses was commanded to lay his hands on Joshua, and God said to him, ‘I will take of the spirit which is in thee, and put it on him?’ ” [Num. 11:17]  "As therefore," I say, "while Moses was still among men, God took of the spirit which was in Moses and put it on Joshua, even so God was able to cause[the spirit] of Elijah to come upon John; in order that, as Christ at His first coming appeared inglorious, even so the first coming of the spirit, which remained always pure in Elijah s like that of Christ, might be perceived to be inglorious. For the Lord said He would wage war against Amalek with concealed hand; and you will not deny that Amalek fell. But if it is said that only in the glorious advent of Christ war will be waged with Amalek, how great will the fulfilment of Scripture be which says, 'God will wage war against Amalek with hidden hand!' You can perceive that the concealed power of God was in Christ the crucified, before whom demons, and all the principalities and powers of the earth, tremble."[Dialogue 49] 

And again later more specifically:

"Listen, therefore," say I, "to what follows; for Moses first exhibited this seeming curse of Christ's by the signs which he made." "Of what [signs] do you speak?" said he. "When the people," replied I, "waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nave (Nun) by name Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten, as is recorded in the writings of Moses; but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross ... [for] the same figure is revealed for the destruction and condemnation of the unbelievers; even as Amalek was defeated and Israel victorious when the people came out of Egypt, by means of the type of the stretching out of Moses' hands, and the name of Jesus (Joshua), by which the son of Nave (Nun) was called. And it seems that the type and sign, which was erected to counteract the serpents which bit Israel, was intended for the salvation of those who believe that death was declared to come thereafter on the serpent through Him that would be crucified, but salvation to those who had been bitten by him and had betaken themselves to Him that sent His Son into the world to be crucified. For the Spirit of prophecy by Moses did not teach us to believe in the serpent, since it shows us that he was cursed by God from the beginning; and in Isaiah tells us that he shall be put to death as an enemy by the mighty sword, which is Christ. [91]

And again:

we are more faithful to God than you, who were redeemed from Egypt with a high hand and a visitation of great glory, when the sea was parted for you, and a passage left dry, in which [God] slew those who pursued you with a very great equipment, and splendid chariots, bringing back upon them the sea which had been made a way for your sakes; on whom also a pillar of light shone, in order that you, more than any other nation in the world, might possess a peculiar light, never-failing and never-setting; for whom He rained manna as nourishment, fit for the heavenly angels, in order that you might have no need to prepare your food; and the water at Marah was made sweet; and a sign of Him that was to be crucified was made, both in the matter of the serpents which bit you, as I already mentioned (God anticipating before the proper times these mysteries, in order to confer grace upon you, to whom you are always convicted of being thankless), as well as in the type of the extending of the hands of Moses, and of Oshea being named Jesus; when you fought against Amalek: concerning which God enjoined that the incident be recorded, and the name of Jesus laid up in your understandings; saying that this is He who would blot out the memorial of Amalek from under heaven. Now it is clear that the memorial of Amalek remained after the son of Nave (Nun): but He makes it manifest through Jesus, who was crucified, of whom also those symbols were fore-announcements of all that would happen to Him, the demons would be destroyed, and would dread His name, and that all principalities and kingdoms would fear Him; and that they who believe in Him out of all nations would be shown as God-fearing and peaceful men; and the facts already quoted by me, Trypho, indicate this ... "You are aware, then," I continued, "that when the ark of the testimony was seized by the enemies of Ashdod, and a terrible and incurable malady had broken out among them, they resolved to place it on a cart to which they yoked cows that had recently calved, for the purpose of ascertaining by trial whether or not they had been plagued by God's power on account of the ark, and if God wished it to be taken back to the place from which it had been carried away. And when they had done this, the cows, led by no man, went not to the place whence the ark had been taken, but to the fields of a certain man whose name was Oshea, the same as his whose name was altered to Jesus, as has been previously mentioned, who also led the people into the land and meted it out to them: and when the cows had come into these fields they remained there, showing to you thereby that they were guided by the name of power; just as formerly the people who survived of those that came out of Egypt, were guided into the land by him who had received the name Jesus, who before was called Oshea.[131 - 132]

The point through all of this is that Irenaeus is either lying or the material has been interpolated because beneath all the references to a spiritual 'Christ' flying down on to a man named Jesus is the exact opposite point of view.  Indeed we can even go one step further and say that since Irenaeus claims over and over again to be indebted to Justin, how could he pretend that 'Christ flying down on to Jesus' was the original formulation?

The answer from the writings of Justin is clearly - Jesus was a spiritual name which came to the faithful through the sacraments of the Church.  But it came to the Church by an individual described in the Secret Gospel of Mark receiving the name of Jesus and crossing the Jordan like Joshua.  This is the whole point of the religion and grounds the tradition in the first century CE.

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