Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Samaritan Origins of Christianity [Part Four]

It may not be immediately clear what Clement's borrowing from Philo's understanding of Jacob 'changing' divine powers at Bethel has to do with Clement's connection with Marcian gnosis.  It is only when we remember that Irenaeus's description of the kabbalistic system of the Marcians cultimates in a 'mystical' understanding of the parable of the lost sheep involving the transfer from left to right hand.[1]  Irenaeus speaks of an 'error' occuring in heaven symbolised by 'the sheep frisking off and going astray (Lk 15:4 - 7).  Jesus's mission apparently is to restore order to the cosmos by 'redeeming' the lost sheep. 

In Matthew chapter 15 the apostles ask Jesus to release (ἀπόλυσον) the daughter of the Canaanite woman sick and possessed by demons, (κακῶς δαιμονίζεται) and Jesus responds by saying that he was 'sent to the lost sheep' (τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα) of Israel.  The release from demons may well have been ultimately connected with the heretical ἀπολύτρωσις rite.  Indeed Simon Magus is recorded in the Philosophumena as seeking out Helen as this lost sheep and his work of redemption (λύτρωσις).[2]  Irenaeus's Latin text speaks of Simon as having "pledged himself that the world should be dissolved, and that those who are his should be freed from the rule of them who made the world."[3]

Of course many have been so well trained in the Sabellianism of the early Fathers that most of us can only think in terms of 'the god of the Jews' as a monolithic conception.  Nevertheless the evidence would seem to suggest that the early heretics could well have imagined two powers in heaven and 'redemption' to have meant going from one to the other.  If we go back to Irenaeus's account of Marcian gnosis he records that they speak of Jesus the episemon being added back to the world, and with it the proper balance in the cosmos being restored - indeed the 'fullness' in heaven now being complete.[6]  As a result of this addition the Eta goes from having a value of seven to eight or Zeta, and the divine fullness goes back to the perfect number of thirty.[7]

Yet for our purposes it is Irenaeus's reference to the sheep being mystically passed from the left to the right hand which really captures our interest.  The promise of being 'in the right hand' is rooted in Deuteronomy 33:2.  While the Hebrew text has מימינו or 'from his right arm' the LXX has 'right hand.' Jastrow postulates the existence of a root ימנ which interestingly has a numerological value of a hundred, the same value as 'the right hand' in Marcian gnosis.[8]  We read that the followers of Mark:

by means of their "knowledge," avoid the place of ninety-nine, that is, the defection--a type of the left hand,--but endeavour to secure one more, which, when added to the ninety and nine, has the effect of changing their reckoning to the right hand.

This is further explained in the Gospel of Truth found at Nag Hammadi as:

He is the shepherd who left behind the ninety-nine sheep which had not strayed and went in search of that one which was lost. He rejoiced when he had found it. For ninety-nine is a number of the left hand, which holds it. The moment he finds the one, however, the whole number is transferred to the right hand. Thus it is with him who lacks the one, that is, the entire right hand which attracts that in which it is deficient, seizes it from the left side and transfers it to the right. In this way, then, the number becomes one hundred. This number signifies the Father.

The Gospel of Truth turns around the original idea of being 'at the right hand' into now manifesting 'redemption' - the transfer from one divine power to the other -  i.e. "the work which he must do for the redemption of those who have not known the Father."

It is also worth knowing that the actual meaning of the term ἀπολωλότα is 'destroyed utterly' or 'killed.'  Mary is identified in the heretical tradition as both this 'destroyed' sheep and Wisdom - "ἀλλὰ καὶ τῷ ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν."[9]  Yet there is an overarching sense of salvation through death in the gospel and Pauline tradition.  The gospel says  ὁ ἀπολέσας τὴν ψυχὴν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ and it is no small thing that the term 'soul' appears here.[10]  This is the thing created by the Lord for Adam in the beginning.  Clement explains this saying by saying it means:

either by eagerly being handed over to another (ἐπιδιδούς) for the Savior, as He did for us, or loosing (ἀπολύσας) it from fellowship with its common life. For if you would loose (ἀπολῦσαι), and withdraw, and separate - for this is what the cross signifies (σημαίνει) - your soul (ψυχὴν) from the delight and pleasure that is in this life, you will possess it, found and resting in the looked-for hope. And this would be the exercise of death, if we would be content with those desires which are measured according to nature alone

The point then is that death - ritual or actual - stands at the heart of early Christian mysticism.  Not every Christian could have been literally crucified or to have 'died for Christ.'  This Catholic obsession with making it an actual death may have been a way of obscuring the original significance of the  rite. 

The connection with baptism here is clear in the next book of the Stromata where he speaks of Jesus "abolishing (ἀπολούσας) washing after intercourse as unnecessary as he has cleansed believers by one single baptism and taken in the many washings prescribed by Moses by one single baptism.  Not surprisingly at the heart of this new ritual we find both death and the ἀπολύτρωσις metaphor.  Clement goes on cite the words of Paul - "But we have died to the Law through Christ’s body with a view to belonging to another, the one who was raised from the dead," the one who was prophesied by the Law, "so that we may bear fruit for God." This bath is understood by Clement to be at the heart of Jesus's dictum on marriage and the resurrection too. 

It is in the context of this baptism of the dead that Clement sees as the dividing line for individuals within the Christian community.  Those who have undergone this rite have been 'loosed' from the Law and are no longer subject to the passions, no longer required to take a life as they have died and been 'restanded' in new flesh:

Those who he words "The children of this age" were not spoken in contrast with the children of some other age. It is like saying, "Those born in this generation," who are children by force of birth, being born and engendering themselves, since without the process of birth no one will pass into this life. But this process of birth is balanced by a process of decay, and is no longer in store for the person who has once been separated (κεχωρισμένον) from life here ... In this way he wants us to turn back and become like children again, children who have come to know their real Father, come to a new birth by means of water, a method of birth quite different from that in the material creation

There can be no doubt that Clement understood his community's 'death baptism' to be an ἀπολύτρωσις rite.  Indeed given all that we have seen there is little reason to doubt that his was one and the same with the Marcian rite referenced in the writings of Irenaeus. 

According to Irenaeus this ἀπολύτρωσις is nothing short of a plot of Satan for the "denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole faith."[11]  But Irenaeus is always overly dramatic with his reporting.  Death is an intimate part of these rites too as Irenaeus speaks of some:

there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death, by placing on their heads oil and water, or the pre-mentioned ointment with water, using at the same time the above-named invocations, that the persons referred to may become incapable of being seized or seen by the principalities and powers, and that their inner man may ascend on high in an invisible manner, as if their body were left among created things in this world, while their soul is sent forward to the Demiurge.

While the Lord which made the soul of man is said to become greatly agitated as this light being ascends upwards out of his grasp, the Marcians describe such an individual as going "into his own place, having thrown off his chain, that is, his animal nature" - that is his animal soul. 

[8] We should disregard what Jastrow says about the root ימנ or perhaps it would be better to say take notice of what he says the way he meant it. Jastrow’s root entries are not always real words. They are the root, which can’t stand in isolation. Even when he gives what looks like the past tense of the Qal, it is often just an abstraction. Quite often the meaning assigned to the root is not any attested meaning, only a reasonable assumption about the history of the meaning before its use in written records. So his root ימנ certainly exists, but what looks like an actual form, the first word of the second column of p. 580, with the vowels of the past tense Qal, is not a real verb. What is really used is the pi’el, cited straight after this. The examples he gives, even of the pi’el, only the passive participal (i.e. the pu’al participle) is actually used, and even that bears a meaning not the same as Jastrow's assumed meaning. The meaning “skilful” is dubious. The meaning “the one actually meant if some other is not actually specified” or “the one naturally thought of, because the most eminent holder of the title” fits every cited instance. If the verb is to mean “to go to the right” it must be in the hif’il. That means past tense hemin, future tense yemin, participle memin (מימינ). The corresponding Aramaic word must be in the Af’el. The nif’al participle ne’eman means faithful (said of a person). This word is applied to Moses in Numbers XII. The hif’il means to believe. None of these are connected with the Biblical Hebrew hif’il forms meaning to go to the right.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.