Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Samaritan Origins of Christianity [Part Two]

It is usually assumed that all Jewish sectarian groups were Yahwehists - that is, that they maintained a strict adherence to 'the Lord.'  Most interpretations of Philo's writings somehow still assume that despite what we have just witnessed "God is, in fact, Yahweh, and Yahweh is God."[1] In other words, in spite of the fact that Philo explicitly speaks of Jacob leaving 'the Lord' and making 'God' his Lord, he is still an avowed Yahwehist. The only noted author who bucks this dogmatic 'faith' it would seem is Margaret Barker there existed in ancient Israel the belief that God, called Yahweh, was in fact an archangel, the chief of the sons of El. He was the second deity, and was believed to have been the human figure in the Hebrew Bible.[2] Indeed in spite of Alan Segal's Two Powers in Heaven, no one has suggested that there was an ancient Jewish effort to liberate themselves from Yahweh.[3]

If we move forward to Clement of Alexandria's adoption of Philo's conception, there is little difficulty finding Christian groups that might have held this understanding.  The Marcionites not only are identified as devoting themselves to  ὁ χρηστὸς θεὸς but also to have promoted a rite or a doctrine of 'redemption' from the Jewish Lord.[4]  There were other groups that might have held similar conceptions including the second century followers of a certain Marcus and their ἀπολύτρωσις ritual described in the pages of Irenaeus and shared with the community criticized in the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism.[5]

The difficulty for scholars of early Christianity is to accept that Clement and his community would have shared a seemingly blasphemous doctrine with known heretical groups.  It has long been established however that Clement does indeed cite verbatim passages from the Marcosian text criticized in Irenaeus's Against Heresies.[6] Clement not only "uses Marcus number system though without acknowledgement"[7] but we can, with Smith go one step further and acknowledge that "on comparison of the sections just cited from Clement and from Irenaeus the coincidences are found to be such as to put it beyond doubt that Clement in his account of the number six makes an unacknowledged use of the same writing as were employed by Irenaeus."[8]

This "gnosticism" seems to have continued with neo-Alexandrian monastic communities at least until the sixth century.  A text called 'Mysteries of the Greek Alphabet' preserved in the name of the founder of the Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem has recently been identified as perpetuating this same Marcian gnosis.[9]  The text survives in Greek and Coptic and likely dates to the fifth or sixth century.  There is a common interest in the mystical significance of letters and specifically the letter representing the number six - the episemon - which binds Mark, Clement and Sabas. Noting that Clement "untermauert sie mit einigen der oben erwähnten Argumente des Gnostikers Markos" Brandt feels the citation goes beyond merely copying out something written in the writings of Clement which Sabas demonstrates he had access too elsewhere in the same work.  It is more likely in her opinion that the three works represent independent attestations of a common tradition.[10]

[3] Segal writers of Philo "But not only can Philo refer to YHWH as the logos, he can also interpret other occurrences of YHWH in scripture to indicate the presence of an angel, not God. For instance, the Lord (YHWH) standing on top of Jacob's ladder (Gen. 28:13) is identified as the archangel, the logos. Such ideas are facilitated by (and, in fact, probably mean to explain) a certain amount of confusion in the biblical narratives as to whether God himself or angel appears." (Two Powers, p. 170)
[6] Arendzen
[9] Brandt, in her critical edition of her German translation points to "Verwandtschaft zwischen dem vorliegenden Text und dem geistigen Hintergrund"
[10] "Es ist nicht auszuschließen, daß Ps.-Sabas auf die Stellung der Sechs außerhalb des Alphabets durch die gerade genannte oder eine andere, nicht erhaltene Quelle aufmerksam geworden ist. Immerhin gibt er an anderer Stelle an, Clemens konsultiert zu haben (vgl. 158,16). Andererseits ist seine Erklärung dieser Eigenart des Episemon lediglich innerhalb des Gedankengebäudes seines eigenen Werkes schlüssig und daher vermutlich von früheren Traditionen unabhängig."

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