Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Samaritan Origins of Christianity [Part Three]

Förster rejects the idea that Clement's belonged to a neo-Marcian tradition based arguing instead for Clement simply copying out the text of Against Heresies.[1]  There are a lot of problems with this thesis none more so than Irenaeus's testimony is virulently hostile.  Why would Clement have just decided to throw in a kabbalistic interpretation of the Transfiguration condemned by Irenaeus as heretical into a long section dealing with numerology?  Moreover Förster's assumes that this is the only parallel between the two sources.  Bucur however demonstrates yet another - undermining Förster main thesis - yet Bucur still endorses Förster's overall suggestion.

Bucur, writing after bringing forward a few more parallels between Clement and Marcus concludes that "the fact that the same exegesis of Matt 18:10 occurs in Clement of Alexandria is very significant, because Clement has read all the material discussed so far: Irenaeus' account of the Marcosians, the writings of the Oriental branch of Valentinianism, as well as the source used by the Ps.-Clem. Hom. 17." [2]  In light of Förster's overlooking of many more parallels between Clement and Marcus than he originally realized (even Bucur only scratches the surface) there seems to be an effort now to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the milieu of influence on Clement - save for more natural and more obvious suggestion that Clement either used a Marcian text or belonged to the heretical tradition of Mark.

The idea that Clement saw a list of ideas condemned in Irenaeus and raided his heretical closet and pretended they were orthodox is simply absurd.  It only serves as a convenient way of avoiding the alternative possibility - that Clement was a crypto-Marcosian.[3]  While it is true that Eusebius does mention Clement's familiarity with Irenaeus's writings,[4] it also has to be noted that the same thing is said of a Marcosian bishop in the Philosophumena - a third century modification of Against Heresies.  During a discussion of the second baptism practices of the sect, the author (Hippolytus?) defends the shortcomings of the original work noting "for also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of the Marcosians,) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption."[4]

Clearly then Clement's eventual familiarity with Irenaeus (the two authors were roughly contemporary) in no way suggests direct borrowing of heretical concepts and passing them off as orthodoxy.  Indeed if Clement already had a copy of Against Heresies we would expect him to have done the exact opposite - i.e. to have avoided appropriating condemned material.  We are much better served to assume the two men were two ships passing in the night here until at some future date they became aware of one another or that Irenaeus is specifically condemning Clement's Alexandrian tradition.[5]  It is also worth noting that neither Förster nor Bucur seem to aware of the Mysteries of the Letters of the Alphabet or Sabas's direct reference to 'the blessed Clement' of Alexandria in the Greek manuscript of the text - apparently as a source or an inspiration for the ideas contained in the manuscript.[6]

There is also another possibility that no one else has considered so far - Clement or even the Marcians themselves - might have gotten their ultimate inspiration from Philo of Alexandria.  For there is a strange parallel between Irenaeus's testimony about the Marcians, Clement and Philo which deserves more scrutiny. In De Aeternitate Mundi Philo outlines a number of contemporary arguments for the eternity of the world.  But the work itself is something of a mystery.  Much of the work is missing and it is difficult to make sense of all of the arguments which are retained in the text.

One of most perplexing part of the surviving portion of the manuscript (113 - 116) now begins with Philo making the argument 'made by those persons who have fancied that the world is everlasting.'  The argument that follows however has to with their belief in the eventual destruction of the world - a seeming contradiction.  Alesse interprets Philo as saying that none of the recognised types of destruction applies to the world where his opponents acknowledge that there are four types of corruptions - addition, subtraction, transposition, alteration.  Where the first two categories are specifically related to mathematics, all are ultimately related to letters of the alphabet - pointing to a Semitic origin for the argument.

This understanding is further reinforced when in the case of the third category 'transposition' Philo indeed illustrates “transposition” by the example of rotation of letters which is similar - but not identical with - the atomism of Leucippus and Democritus by Aristotle, Met. 4.985b18.  The question of Philo's source for the many, often contradictory, arguments that appear in the text is an extremely complex one which no one until now has satisfactorily explain.  As Alesse notes it is impossible that a single source was used given that the present argument is contradicted by the second 'thesis' earlier in the text.[7]

To this end, if we are dealing with many different arguments developed by many different sources in De Aeternitate Mundi it is hard not to think that the most likely candidate for section 113 - 116 was either very archaic or specifically Semitic.[8]  For as Philo notes:

they affirm that there are four principal manners in which corruption is brought about, addition, taking away, transposition, and alteration; accordingly, the number two is by the addition of the unit corrupted so as to become the number three, and no longer remains the number two; and the number four by the taking away of the unit is corrupted so as to become the number three; again, by transposition the letter Zeta becomes the letter Eta when the parallel lines which were previously horizontal are placed perpendicularly, and when the line which did before pass upwards, so as to connect the two is now made horizontal, and still extended between them so as to join them. And by alteration the word oinos, wine, becomes oxos, vinegar. But of the manner of corruption thus mentioned there is not one which is in the least degree whatever applicable to the world, since otherwise what could we say? Could we affirm that anything is added to the world so as to cause its destruction?

The only way that a Zeta can be turned around in this way is into an Eta is if the source text was referencing the Phoenician letter Zan. The grapheme entered Greek as the letter-name san and continued to be so identified in some local Greek alphabets (see Hdt. 1.139 on the Dorian practice of calling the letter san) and in poetry (see McCarter 1975: 100–01; Woodard 1997a: 185 - 86, 188).

It might well be argued that Philo is using a very ancient Pythagorean source text which used an archaic alphabet.  However it is difficult to avoid seeing an uncanny resemblance to the common Marcian source text and its interest in the equally archaic episimon. The Greek wau (or digamma, so called after a shape suggestive of gamma) takes its morphology from that of the symbol that precedes it in the alphabetic order, namely Greek epsilon, . The non-Phoenician shape of Greek wau can be seen in the very earliest examples of Greek writing: one would thus suspect that the form of wau is the consequence of intentional morphological deformation on the part of the adapters rather than the outcome of some evolutionary process.[9]

To this end, Philo's arguments likely derive from an extremely early Pythagorean source which commented on the archaic letters of the alphabet where 'morphological deformation' appeared.  To this end what isn't said in the argument that follows - i.e. the transformation of 'wine' to 'vinegar' by letter substitution - is the fact that Οινος (Oinos) - Wine, and Οξος (Oxos) - Vinegar both have a shared numerological value of 400.   In other words, primitive gematria would have been used to reinforce that the underlying 'substance' was not subject to change.[10]  Philo's comments in what follow reinforce this understanding - i.e. that nothing in this example suggests that "anything is added to the world so as to cause its destruction."[11]

What is clear however is that the Marcian system shared by Clement is unquestionably related to this system given that it is rooted in the presence of the archaic episemon being 'added' back to the alphabet to restore order.[12]  Clement speaks of Jesus as the 'invisible' episemon in the Transfiguration narrative with the Marcian tradition reported by Irenaeus.  But his direct retelling of the tradition - as opposed to Irenaeus's malicious efforts - stand much closer to what we see preserved in Philo.  As he notes Jesus was:

indicated by the sixth (ἐπίσημος) conspicuously marked (φανῇ), becoming the eighth, might appear to be God in a body of flesh, by displaying His power, being numbered indeed as a man, but being concealed as to who He was. For six (ὁ ἕξ)  is reckoned in the order of numbers, but the succession of the letters acknowledges the character which is not written (τῶν στοιχείων ἀκολουθία ἐπίσημον γνωρίζει τὸ μὴ γραφόμενον). In this case, in the numbers themselves, each unit is preserved in its order up to seven and eight. But in the number of the characters, Zeta (τὸ ζῆτα) becomes six and Eta (τὸ η) seven. And the character having somehow slipped into writing, should we follow it out thus, the seven became six (τῶν στοιχείων ἀριθμὸν ἕκτον γίνεται), and the eight seven. Wherefore also man is said to have been made on the sixth day, who became faithful to Him who is the sign (τῷ ἐπισήμῳ), so as straightway to receive the rest of the Lord's inheritance. Some such thing also is indicated by the sixth hour in the scheme of salvation, in which man was perfected. Further, of the eight, the intermediates are seven; and of the seven, the intervals are shown to be six. For that is another ground, in which seven glorifies eight, and "the heavens declare to the heavens the glory of God." [ - 141.4]

In both the examples of Clement and Philo there is a clear interest in letter deformation which effects the specific letters Zeta and Eta.  The evidence is murkier in the testimony of Irenaeus - but this may be deliberate on his part.[12]  The underlying point however is that we are dealing with a common literary tradition known at the time of Philo but which went back to the most archaic period of Greek culture - perhaps deliberately - as a means of connecting it to Israel.[13]

[1] Niclas Förster, Marcus Magus: Kult, Lehre und Gemeindeleben einer valentinianischen Gnostikergruppe: Sammlung der Quellen und Kommentar (WUNT 114; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999). "Clemens, der sich sonst mit der Lehre des Markus nicht beschäftigte, dürfte an dieser Stelle Anregungen aus Adv. haer. verarbeitet haben."
[7] if Philo himself lists arguments in a poorly organised way, so too could his source.
[9] Woodard, R. G. (2010) 'Phoinikeia Grammata: an alphabet for the Greek language',
[11]  - "there is nothing whatever outside of the world which is not a portion of it as the whole, for everything is surrounded, and contained, and mastered by it. Again, can we say that anything is taken from the world so as to have that effect? In the first place that which would be taken away would again be a world of smaller dimensions than the existing one, and in the second place it is impossible that any body could be separated from the composite fabric of the whole world so as to be completely dispersed. Again, are we to say that the constituent parts of the world are transposed? But at all events they remain in their original positions without any change of place, for never at any time shall the whole earth be raised up above the water, nor the water above the air, nor the air above the fire. But those things which are by nature heavy, namely the earth and the water, will have the middle place, the earth supporting everything like a solid foundation, and the water being above it; and the air and the fire, which are by nature light, will have the higher position, but not equally, for the air is the vehicle of the fire; and that which is carried by anything is of necessity above that which carries it. Once more: we must not imagine that the world is destroyed by alteration, for the change of any elements is equipollent, and that which is equipollent is the cause of unvarying steadiness, and of untroubled durability, inasmuch as it neither seeks any advantage itself, and is not subject to the inroads of other things which seek advantages at its expense; so that this retribution and compensation of these powers is equalized by the rules of proportion, being the produce of health and endless preservation, by all which considerations the world is demonstrated to be eternal. [On the Eternity of the World XXII]
[12]  express themselves in this manner: that the letter Eta along with the remarkable one constitutes all ogdoad, as it is situated in the eighth place from Alpha. Then, again, computing the number of these elements without the remarkable (letter), and adding them together up to Eta, they exhibit the number thirty. For any one beginning from the Alpha to the Eta will, after subtracting the remarkable (letter i.e. episemon) ... they subtract twelve, and reckon it at eleven. And in like manner, (they subtract) ten and make it nine. [Hippolytus AH 6:42]

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