Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Mystical Truth Hidden in the Name of the Christian God

I think I have taken sufficient time here to demonstrate that the evidence suggests it is quite possible - and indeed quite likely - that the earliest Christians pronounced the name of their god as 'Eesu' or 'Eesous.' Why does this matter?  I think this strips away at an important layer in the traditional understanding of this 'Lord' as a Jewish teacher from Galilee named יְהוֹשֻׁעַ or יֵשׁוּעַ. Why so?  There is in my mind a fundamental disconnect with respect to 'the historical Jesus' and the so-called 'mythical Jesus.'  The fact that there are countless discussions on the internet about the relative value of each understanding has done little to further the discussion owing to the blind spots in each camps knowledge base.

The beginning of wisdom here is for both sides to acknowledge that there is little or no evidence for a critical fact.  Human beings and divine beings did not share the same names at the turn of the Common Era.  As I have noted here many times, angel names like 'Michael,' 'Gabriel' and the like were not used by people, just as human beings did not take divine names.  To this end, a god named 'Joshua' should be an incredible difficulty for people who think about ancient religious traditions.  Yet what seems to help it along is the fact that our culture developed from a set of Protestant assumptions which were in themselves little more than reactions against traditional 'Catholic' superstitions about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is incredible, even when you go back to the eighteenth century - as I did when doing research on D'Antraigues - you get a real sense of how reactionary history really is.  Even today - even this very day - when for instance the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States.  When you sift through the reaction to any historical event from the perspective of hovering over matters from 'an altitude of five thousand miles' it is fascinating to see how very little of the reaction comes from disinterested - even objective - parties.

Just as Protestantism was a historical reaction against Catholicism and so on down the line, there are very few writers in antiquity who provide us information about the religion from a disinterested perspective.  So it is that no one ever quite articulates how unusual it is for a god - even the God - of Christianity to have been named Joshua.  In recent times Richard Carrier has attempted to argue that Philo understood the Logos to have been so-named - a position which is easily rejected from the actual statements made by the Alexandrian writer.

Carrier is an activist scholar in the same way that there are 'activists' or partisans on the other side.  I hope, by contrast that I attract a different type of intellectual at my blog.  For if we are really to be honest with ourselves, Jerome's (or perhaps originally Origen's) acknowledgement of the precarious 'man-God' balance in early orthodoxy should serve as our starting point here.  On the one hand, we read in the Commentary on Galatians that there were Marcionites and others who argued that Jesus was all God.  On the other there were 'the poor' in understanding (again to borrow from Origen elsewhere in his writings) who understood Jesus in terms of only being a human being. 

I have long said that anyone claiming to be a 'mythicist' should adopt Marcionite or related 'heretical' interpretation as their POV.  Of course most of these individuals lack the discipline for an undertaking.  They want to clandestinely use the 'mythical perspective' to help dismantle 'the historical Jesus' and thereby 'disprove' Christianity.  Similarly for centuries now, ever since the Protestant reformation, there has been a tendency of modernists to see the divine nature of Jesus as something of an 'exaggeration' on the part of the 'overly enthusiastic' mob of early Christian believers.

While the vast majority of scholars in the field of early Christianity assume the existence of a historical Jesus person, they typically do so at the expense of his claims to divinity.  Jesus can be Joshua - or even a 'Hellenized Jew' named Ἰησοῦς - but they refuse to acknowledge that there is still a disconnect with the core beliefs of their tradition.  For it is impossible to believe on any level that the level of devotion we see given to 'the Name' of the Christian god could have been directed to the rather ordinary Hebrew appellation יְהוֹשֻׁעַ or even יֵשׁוּעַ      

So that is the real difficulty.  When Jesus speaks of others 'coming in his Name' or the frequent mention in apostolic writers of the power of 'his Name' we can be absolutely certain that the early Christians did not have in mind the common Hebrew appellation 'Joshua.'  Irenaeus in fact makes this absolutely clear when he argues against the name for the Christian god used by his heretical opponents and to support the sacredness of ישו  Of course, it has become fashionable now to reconcile the agreement between Irenaeus and rabbinic sources here so as to reinforce the notion that ישו was a further abbreviating of יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (after all יֵשׁוּעַ is exactly that). 

What is often ignored in this discussion is that Ephrem already provides us with an important missing clue.  For he says that the Marcionites - those early believers whom Jerome and everyone else in antiquity identifies as understanding Jesus solely as a divinity - called up their God as Isu.  There can be absolutely no doubt that Irenaeus's ישו bears some relation to the Marcionite Isu. Even Ephrem has abandoned this ישו and references his Lord as יֵשׁוּעַ  The Syriac was pronounced by many ancient traditions as 'Isho' by the Nestorians and 'Yeshu' by Jacobites.  But there is a clear attempt to move in the direction of associating the Christian god with the human savior of Israel (= Joshua). 

It is important to note that 'Isho' was used not only by the orthodox, but also by the Manichaeans. Mitchell rightly notes that the Marcionite form 'Isu' must have been a direct transcription of the Greek name of the Christian divinity.  However it is very significant to note that itacism was already present at the time of Marcion for there is no reference to the eta - i.e. IESU rather than ISU.  Note also that Irenaeus says, while speaking of the Marcosians (a sect I have long argued is directly related to the Marcionites) that "transferring the name Jesus, which belongs to another language, to the numeration of the Greeks, they sometimes call it "Episemon," as having six letters, and at other times "the Plenitude of the Ogdoads," as containing the number eight hundred and eighty-eight."

The important thing to realize in the midst of Irenaeus is argument is that the heretics developed their mystical ideas from the Greek letters of the name of their god, in contrast to Irenaeus who remained rooted in 'Hebrew.'  He goes on to say - rejecting their interest in Greek - that:

But His Greek name, which is "Soter" (Σωτήρ) that is, Saviour, because it does not fit in with their system, either with respect to numerical value or as regards its letters, they pass over in silence. Yet surely, if they regard the names of the Lord, as, in accordance with the preconceived purpose of the Father, by means of their numerical value and letters, indicating number in the Pleroma, Σωτήρ, as being a Greek name, ought by means of its letters and the numbers, in virtue of its being Greek, to show forth the mystery of the Pleroma. But the case is not so, because it is a word of five letters, and its numerical value is one thousand four hundred and eight. But these things do not in any way correspond with their Pleroma; the account, therefore, which they give of transactions in the Pleroma cannot be true. Moreover, Jesus, which is a word belonging to the proper tongue of the Hebrews, contains, as the learned among them declare, two letters and a half, (= ישו) and signifies that Lord who contains heaven and earth;(= Gen 2:4) for Jesus in the ancient Hebrew language means "heaven," while again "earth" is expressed by the words sura usser. The word, therefore, which contains heaven and earth is just Jesus. Their explanation, then, of the Episemon is false, and their numerical calculation is also manifestly overthrown. For, in their own language, Σωτήρ is a Greek word of five letters; but, on the other hand, in the Hebrew tongue, Jesus contains only two letters and a half. The total which they reckon up, viz., eight hundred and eighty-eight, therefore falls to the ground. And throughout, the Hebrew letters do not correspond in number with the Greek, although these especially, as being the more ancient and unchanging, ought to uphold the reckoning connected with the names. For these ancient, original, and generally called sacred letters of the Hebrews are ten in number (but they are written by means of fifteen), the last letter being joined to the first. And thus they write some of these letters according to their natural sequence, just as we do, but others in a reverse direction, from the right hand towards the left, thus tracing the letters backwards. The name Christ, too, ought to be capable of being reckoned up in harmony with the Aeons of their Pleroma, inasmuch as, according to their statements, He was produced for the establishment and rectification of their Pleroma. The Father, too, in the same way, ought, both by means of letters and numerical value, to contain the number of those Aeons who were produced by Him; Bythus, in like manner, and not less Monogenes; but pre-eminently the name which is above all others, by which God is called, and which in the Hebrew tongue is expressed by Baruch, which also contains two and a half letters. From this fact, therefore, that the more important names, both in the Hebrew and Greek languages, do not conform to their system, either as respects the number of letters or the reckoning brought out of them, the forced character of their calculations respecting the rest becomes clearly manifest. 

The fact that Irenaeus has such a poor grasp of 'Hebrew' should make us very suspicious of his claims about the name ישו.  We should refrain from merely following our presuppositions and assuming what we think Irenaeus meant, rather than actually paying attention to what he says.

The key part of the discussion is the second last line - "the Father ... Bythus, in like manner, and not less Monogenes but pre-eminently the name which is above all others, by which God is called, and which in the Hebrew tongue is expressed by Baruch, which also contains two and a half letters."  Clearly there is a great deal of corruption in the existing manuscript for 'baruch' (בָּרוּךְ) has four letters and cannot be thought of as a heavenly name in the way described.  Just as 'sura usser' is a corruption of Genesis 2:4 a later scribe read Irenaeus's original reference to a three letter (two and half) name related to Jesus and wrote 'baruch.'  What is that original name?  The obvious answer is to shorten baruch to baru = 'sonship' a term that shows up in the early description of Basilides.  What strengthens this argument is that Irenaeus reads Genesis 1:1 בָּרָ֣א as 'the Son.'(Proof 43)

To this end it should be clear that (a) Irenaeus wrote in Syriac and (b) the half letter in both 'yeshu' and 'baru' is the vav.  Irenaeus also says that the heretics themselves identify the name of their god to contain 'two and a half' Greek letters - "as the learned among them declare, two letters and a half."  To this end there should be no doubt that these heretics like the Syrian Marcionites of Ephrem understood the divine name to be ISU.  Scholars have been misled to believe that the iota is the half (= dimidia) letter not realizing also that Irenaeus repeatedly makes clear that roots his discussion in Syriac (Hebrew) letter

Thus it is not surprising that when he discusses the Marcosian system earlier the Greek equivalent of vav (= episemon) is repeatedly identified as a half-letter. So we read it taught by Mark that "the number six (= episemon) had the power both of formation and regeneration" and "the double letters contain the Episemon number" (AH 1.14.6) and again directly cites Mark's words as "Consider this present Episemon Him who was formed after the [original] Episemon, as being, as it were, divided or cut into two parts, and remaining outside; who, by His own power and wisdom, through means of that which had been produced by Himself, gave life to this world, consisting of seven powers, after the likeness of the power of the Hebdomad, and so formed it, that it is the soul of everything visible." (ibid 1.14.7)

To this end, and this is critical, given that (a) the heretics themselves use the term 'half letter' (b) that half letter is the episemon, the sixth letter and (c) Irenaeus identifies it as the vav in Ishu and baru it stands to reason in the heretical system this sixth letter episemon would not show up in Greek spellings of the divine name.  It is above all else a silent letter, 'unspeakable' hence the 'silence' of Truth in the description of Marcus.  In this mystical system then the Syriac Isu must have been written in Greek as the nomina sacra = ΙΣ and was pronounced Ees. Undoubtedly many of the 'docetic' notions of a phantom Jesus was rooted in the hidden presence of the episemon in this name.

Yet the clearest proof of this understanding is the fact that Irenaeus spends so much time in his report refuting the heretical interest in the episemon with respect to the parable of the ninety-nine sheep. The discussion as it stands now is quite perplexing.  The 'twelfth' is at once 'divided' again to make two sixes who are at once embodied in Judas and the woman with a menstrual flow (AH 2.20) but again connected "with the twelfth number, the sheep frisked off, and went astray; for they assert that a defection took place from the Twelfthness. In the same way they oracularly declare, that one power having departed also from the Twelfthness, has perished; and this was represented by the woman who lost the drachma, and, lighting a lamp, again found it. Thus, therefore, the numbers that were left, viz., nine, as respects the pieces of money, and eleven in regard to the sheep, when multiplied together, give birth to the number ninety-nine, for nine times eleven are ninety-nine. Wherefore also they maintain the word "Amen" contains this number." (AH 1.14.1)

In no uncertain terms there was a mystical understanding where the episemon was added back to the body of Greek letters (= 'restored') and augmented their value, transforming for instance 'ninety nine' into a hundred.  Irenaeus focuses on the attempts of the heretics to read ΙΣ the name which actually appears in the earliest manuscripts as Ἰησοῦς which has six letters.  Read for instance what Irenaeus says about this mystical 'adding' process.  "They maintain for instance, that the letter Eta along with the Episemon fifteen are formed."  But Eta is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet so it is clear that the mystical idea being reinforced once again is that all the letters are augmented by one with the addition of the mystical episemon.

This is why we see in what immediately follows - "Eta being added to these, since its value is eight."  It is supposed to be seven as we noted but now it has been transformed.  In the next line this addition to the Eta or the 'Ogdoad' is likened by Mark to the process of the episemon transforming the ninety-nine.  How so?  Well, it stands as a strange coincidence - one which could not have been ignored by the heretics - that the actual name which appeared on the most ancient manuscripts that the letters of ΙΣ without the addition of the episemon add up to ninety nine.  In other words, there can be no doubt that the heretics are reported by Irenaeus as holding that the episemon transformed the ΙΣ from ninety nine to the holy number one hundred.

As we shall demonstrate shortly there can be no doubt that is at once ΙΣ is supposed to be read as אִישׁ where indeed the mystical episemon is added to the 'son of Adam' described by the author of Genesis as an אִ֖ישׁ 'from the Lord' (Gen 4:1).  This is also the origin of the connection between Judas and Cain and the sect of the Cainites.  For the moment at least - and because I have to go - it is enough for us to demonstrate that this mystical interest in the ninety-nine from a fourth century gravestone in Anatolia:

The fourth volume of the Inscriptions Graecae ad res Romanas pertinentes, which deals with the Roman province of Asia, is happily nearing completion : the fascicule 394 issued in 1925, under the editorship of G. Lafaye, comprises the addenda and corrigenda of the volume and the first part of the full indexes which are indispensable in a work of this nature. H. Grégoire is engaged in the preparation of the remaining instalments of his Recueil des Inscriptions Grecques Chrétiennes d'Asie Mineure 39S and we may hope that ere long this great undertaking also will reach its conclusion : meanwhile he has put forward attractive solutions of problems presented by two inscriptions, an epitaph from Mendechora which will be mentioned below and the heretical verses from Bash Hiiyiik published by W. M. Calder in Anatolian Studies, 76 ff.,39' in which Grégoire explains the TICAITPCIN (erroneously engraved for TICATICIN) as the Aramaic for 99, indicating the mystical name of Christ, Ἀμὴν, the numerical values of whose letters give a total of 99.

One more ignored Marcionite citation may be in order:

Our God is unaware of the character of the men he is promoting: and so is yours: he would not have promoted Judas the traitor if he had known before- hand (what he was to be). And as you affirm that in one place the Creator told a lie, there is a much greater lie in your Christ, for his body was not a true one. My God's cruelty has put an end to many: your god in his turn consigns to destruction those whom he omits to save. My God ordered a certain person to be put to death: yours desired himself to be killed, a murderer as well of himself as of the man by whom it was his will to be put to death. I shall prove to Marcion that his god has put to death a great many: for he made a murderer, who consequently must perish, unless it is the case that that people committed no sin against Christ. [Adv. Marc. 2.28]

It is enough to say that the reintegration of Judas into the sacred mysteries of earliest Christianity is essential to make sense of its meaning.  

Note: I want to thank Andrew Criddle for making me aware of the existence of the gravestone. 

Email with comments or questions.

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