Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Samaritan Origins of Christianity [Part Six]

Before we introduce the Letter to Theodore it is enough for the moment to see the how Irenaeus and later Ephrem established a literary context for their understanding that Jesus's words to the brothers Zebedee.  As Irenaeus's notes in a surviving fragment we should take note of "the time at which she uttered these words ... it was when the Lord said, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall kill Him, and on the third day He shall rise again.”[1]  According to him again these words "predicted His passion ... the Saviour was foretelling death; and she asked for the glory of immortality."[2]  It is also important to note that Irenaeus does not intimate that martyrdom should be called 'redemption' only Ephrem does that, going on to speak of Jesus's coming "to acquit the debt of everyone, [a debt] which the prophets and martyrs could not pay with their death."[3]

The source of this understanding seems to be Matthew's addition "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (λύτρον) for many.”  Nevertheless this is not likely the source for the Marcian tradition. The Anonymous Treatise specifically references Mark's version of the narrative which does not contain these words.  Of course the other possibility is that they - like Ephrem - used a different gospel than the canonical four.  Their Mark might have borrowed features from other gospels like a Diatessaron.  Their reliance on Mark and Luke in the context of a 'second baptism' seems to suggest that point.[4]  Indeed their relationship with Clement of Alexandria seems to reinforce this point.

While Clement never comments directly on the request to Jesus to sit at his right and left hand outside of the Letter to Theodore he does reference Matt 20:28 in the context of Jesus being a shepherd to sheep.  The language recalls the Marcian interpretation of the 'lost sheep' and its relation to redemption.  The passage begins with:

Feed us, the children, as sheep. Yea, Master, fill us with righteousness, Thine own pasture; yea, O Instructor, feed us on Thy holy mountain the Church, which towers aloft, which is above the clouds, which touches heaven. "And I will be," He says, "their Shepherd," and will be near them, as the garment to their skin. He wishes to save (σῶσαι) my flesh by enveloping it in the robe of immortality (χιτῶνα τῆς ἀφθαρσίας), and He hath anointed my body (τὸν χρῶτά μου κέχρικεν). "They shall call Me," He says, "and I will say, Here am I." (cf. Is 58:9) Thou didst hear sooner than I expected, Master (δέσποτα) "And if they pass over, they shall not fall," (cf. Isa 43:2) saith the Lord. For we who are passing over to immortality (διαβαίνοντες εἰς ἀφθαρσίαν) shall not fall into corruption, for He shall sustain us. For so He has said, and so He has willed.

To the casual observer it does not seem that any of this relates to a heretical baptism of any sort.  But such an analysis misses the entire point of Clement's discussion.  Where as Isaiah speaks of 'crossing through the waters' Clement himself speaks of 'crossing over to immorality.' 

Clement begins with Jesus acting as the Shepherd leading the sheep to receive perfection.  He goes on to speak about 'saving my flesh by enveloping it in the robe of immortality' and anointing the body - both acts associated with ritual baptism.  To see where the reference is to water immersion is, one has to understand how Clement employs scripture to reference ideas he is unwilling to explicitly approve.  In this case, as Staehlin notes he is referencing Isa 43:2:

Fear not: for I have redeemed (ἐλυτρωσάμην) thee, I have called thee [by] thy name; thou art mine. And if thou pass through water, I am with thee; and the rivers shall not overflow thee: and if thou go through fire, thou shalt not be burned; the flame shall not burn thee.

This text is consistently referenced with baptism - the same 'baptism by fire' references associated with the Marcians in Irenaeus and other sources.  But as we see it also continues in Alexandria through Clement, Origen and even Methodius.[5]

Once we acknowledge that Clement is indeed making a reference to the Marcian second baptism rite because he was part of the same tradition then we can properly understand the second part of citation.  We read:

Such is our Instructor, righteously good.
"I came not," He says, "to be ministered unto, but to minister."
For that reason He is represented in the Gospel as afflicted,
for He is afflicted on our account and undertakes 'to give His life (ψυχὴν) as a redemption for many.'
He alone, He asserts, is the Good Shepherd.
He is generous indeed who gives us the greatest thing He has, His own life,
and liberal and kind (φιλάνθρωπος), because He willed to be man's brother, (αδελφός) though He could have been His Lord;
so good that He even died for our sake.

J Christopher Edwards in his study of all the appearances of the 'ransom logion' of Mark 10:45 notes that this is a chiasm.  He also makes reference to the fact that Isaiah 43 often accompanies this saying.  But Edwards strangely drops the most important term in the entire section - the αδελφός - in order strengthen his thesis of an underlying connection with Phil 2:6 - 8.[6]

But the 'brother' allusion is critical to understand the material within the greater context of Clement's other writings.  Baptism is a second creation where, according to Clement and writings used by him, the initiate is recreated after his living image.[7]  The reason he embraces the term gnostic so much in his writings is that it is imperative we 'come into acquaintance' with his image - "ignorance of Him is death; but the knowledge and appropriation of Him, and love and likeness to Him, are the only life."[8]  Moreover, commenting on the saying "the first will be last, and the last first," Clement explains it importantly in terms of the first glimmers of a Christian brother-making rite "for the Lord, having been born "the First-begotten of the dead," and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die Jesus is the firstborn and thus the ‘first’ and we the latest generation born after Adam are the ‘last.’"[9]

We are now only steps away from Athanasius’s interpretation of ‘the firstborn of many brethren’ as adelphopoesis.[10] Clement however consistently filters his understanding of this Pauline material through a lost agrapha - "Having seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God.":

The divine apostle writes accordingly respecting us: "For now we see as through a glass;" knowing ourselves in it by reflection, and simultaneously contemplating, as we can, the cause of active power of manufacture (i.e. Jesus), from that, which, in us, is divine. For it is said, "Having seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God " methinks that now the Saviour God is declared to us. But after the laying aside of the flesh, "person to person" (πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον) -- then definitely and comprehensively, when the heart becomes pure. And by reflection and direct vision, those among the Greeks who have philosophized accurately, see God. For such, through our weakness, are our true views, as images are seen in the water, and as we see things through pellucid and transparent bodies [Stromata 1.19]

Clement is giving us a very cryptic reference to the original brother making ritual in ancient Alexandria. Yet we should notice the reference to baptismal water in the material.  According to Clement, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 is referencing a mystical marriage with Jesus, i.e. a rite where the two souls - Jesus 'pure soul' and ours established from Creation - become one.[11]

The critical thing to see here is the idea that God - i.e. Jesus - is understood to be manifest by Clement's Alexandrian community in our brother.  This is explicitly understood to be a 'mystical' saying one in which Jesus in the very gospel predicted that he or 'his soul' would continue to wander the earth as a savior to set up such 'exchanges' through baptism:

Respecting liberality (μεταδόσεως) He said: "Come to me, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger (ξένος), and ye assembled me; naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came unto Me (καὶ ἤλθετε πρός με)." And when have we done any of these things to the Lord? The Instructor Himself will say it is a well-making lovingly done to the brother as Himself (τὴν εὐποιίαν καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἀγαπητικῶς εἰς ἑαυτὸν μετατρέπων καὶ λέγων), "Inasmuch as ye have done it to these little ones (ἐποιήσατε τοῖς μικροῖς τούτοις), ye have done it to Me (ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε). And these shall go away into everlasting life (Καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οἱ τοιοῦτοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον)." [Instructor - 94.1]

Scholars have long speculated whether the title 'little ones' had some cultic significance in early Christianity.  Here we are suggesting that they in fact represented a class of individual with whom the initiates entered the baptismal waters and 'took on' the image of God.  They are called 'brothers' because the 'little ones' bring the image of the Father which pass on the 'sonship' in which the two now stand.[12]

The important thing for us to see now is that there are two parts to the mystical baptism rites of the Marcians and both are witnessed in the writings of Clement and later Alexandrians.  The first as we already noted is the idea of 'passing through water and fire.'  This is attributed in the Anonymous Treatise to yet another 'trick' that the heretics have learned from Anaxilaus.[13]  The second important element is the act of ritual brother-making.  This is reinforced in Irenaeus's report about the Marcians where Mark himself represents himself as Christ and has drawn away "a great number of men, and not a few women" and "induced them to join themselves to him."[14]  The repeated emphasis of sexuality in the Marcian rites is rooted in the central wedding metaphor in their baptism rites.  This also undoubtedly further clarifies the understanding of the ritual as ἀπολύτρωσις.[15]

While it is certainly true that the rite as a whole was understood as the 'loosening' or 'release' of the intitiate from the authority of 'the Lord' to 'God,' the context of this devotion was likened to a marriage.  To this extent then, those formerly married to the Law, married to Yahweh have now come over through the water and the fire to another.  At its most basic, one unties one's former association with the female Law and takes on the single yoke of the gospel.[16]  The important thing to remember is that the act as a whole was understood as ἀπολύτρωσις.  The Marcians understood that it is to this concept - the ritual 'baptism of fire' - which the brothers Zebedee were being made aware of.  For the Catholics it was something else entirely - redemption was here understood to be simply martyrdom.  Both concepts are rooted in the order of their respective gospels, both involve the concept of 'death' being introduced into the narrative, only that the Catholic interpretation is much more forced.[17]

It is extremely significant nevertheless to reinforce that Irenaeus tells us that to understand this narrative you have to look at the words which immediately precede it.  The material related to the Marcians also does the same.  We see this with respect to their repeated emphasis on Luke 12:50 as reflected in Irenaeus's commentary.  The idea here being that after Jesus was baptized by John he declared that there was a second baptism - 'another baptism' (i.e. the text of Luke was modified)[18] -and that this baptism that he was instituting that was superior to John's immersion in the Jordan. the same variant reading is witnessed by both Irenaeus and the Anonymous Treatise.  Indeed the latter source specifically refutes the understanding that Jesus here means "a second baptism as if there were two baptisms, but he shows that baptism of the one kind or the other (alterius speciei) is given to us for salvation."[19]

[6] The most interesting part of the chiasm is Β and Β1. Β contains M//Ma—b (Ουκ ήλθον, φησί, διακονηθήναι, αλλά διακονήσαι). This is mirrored in Β1 with a reference to the voluntary incarnation of the Lord as a human (εξόν εΓναι κύριον, αδελφός είναι βεβούληται). The contrast in Β between the position Jesus held in his pre-existent Lordship with his voluntary desire to humble himself as a human is probably influenced by Phil. 2:6-7, where the pre-existent person of Jesus voluntarily undergoes his κένωσις and becomes a human.

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