Monday, June 24, 2013

The Original Understanding of When Jesus Came to Earth [Part One]

I was aware of course that Christians took an interest in the figure of 6000 AM (anno mundi = 'year of the world') however I was not aware that so many believed that it already took place.  I cited the Marcionite belief from De Recta in Deum Fide in a previous post.  It also worth noting that Ephrem - the most important opponent of Marcionitism in the East - shared the very same understanding.  Aphraates holds a compatible belief and the great chronographer John Malalas (Greek: Ἰωάννης Μαλάλας c. 491 – 578) tells us that this was also the original belief of Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch and virtually all the early Fathers.  Here are Malalas's own words:

(227) In the 42nd year and the fourth month of the reign of Augustus our Lord God Jesus Christ was born, eight days before the Kalends of January, on 25th December, at the seventh hour of the day, in a city of Judaea named Bethlehem, which is near Jerusalem, in the year 42 according to the calendar of Antioch the Great, while Quirinius the ex-consul was governor of Syria, Octavian and Silvanus were consuls, and emperor Herod was toparch, or emperor, of Judaea. Thus from Adam to Phalek, the son of Heber, the total is 2533 years, and from Phalek until the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus Caesar (228) 2967 years, so that the total from Adam the first-created until the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus Caesar is 5500 years. Then our Lord God passed 33 years on earth among men, as is recorded in the scriptures, so that from Adam until the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ and his crucifixion there were 5533 years. For Phalek, according to the prophetic words is said to be at the mid-point in time before the future coming of Christ. For just as he created man on the sixth day, as Moses stated, he recorded this too in his writings, "One day for the Lord is as a thousand years." It was on the sixth day, as scripture said, that God created man and man fell into sin, so it is plain that it was on the sixth millennium day that our Lord Jesus Christ appeared on earth, and saved man through the Cross and resurrection. This has been written by Clement, Theophilos and Timotheos, the learned chroniclers, who agree among themselves. The chronicler Eusebios Pamphilou, most dear to God, who became bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, also says that the Lord Jesus Christ, the saviour of all, appeared in the sixth millennium, corresponding to the number of the six days of Adam's creation. But he said that it was before the completion of the year 6000 that our Lord God Jesus Christ appeared on earth to redeem the human race. He was born and made man, he said, in the year 5500. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and rose again and ascended into heaven in the year 5533. All agree that the Lord appeared in the year 6000. So, in spite of variations up and down, they said that he appeared in the sixth year, in accordance with the words of prophecy; and even if those who have made statements about the number of years do not agree, he appeared at the end of time, as the sacred scripture shows.

Of course we no longer have the historical references for any of these early authors which John Malalas had access to in Antioch.  Nevertheless it should be obvious that even if they survived up to a certain point in history they would have been destroyed or altered.

The belief that the world would be destroyed at 6000 AM was very widespread in antiquity.  We have a number of Church Fathers from the late third century and beyond worry about the impending date. Lactantius, the tutor of the son of Constantine, writing in 320 CE makes reference to the contemporary belief that the world only had two centuries left before it 'transformed.'  At least part of this understanding was owing to the efforts of Julius Africanus who set the year 5500 as the birth of Christ - "From Adam to the death of Phalek 3000 years, and to the presence (parousian) of the Lord and the Resurrection 5531 years." These words come from the later Greek chronographer citing Africanus's Chronographae.  Syncellus' earlier citation (18.8) from Africanus about the year 5500: "Hebrew tradition counted 5500 years to the appearance (èpipháneian) of the Saving Word" sound a little less unusual - 'parousia' is usually a term reserved for the Second Coming.

Nevertheless it is equally clear from the reports about Marcionites and from the writings of Ephrem the Syrian that the original understanding was quite different.  6000 AM was the date of the 'appearance' of Jesus at the beginning of the heretical gospel when he floated down from heaven to this world.  Ephrem merely identifies Jesus's crucifixion as happening 'after' the year 6000 AM.  Yet the implication is now clear - Jesus was understood by the Marcionites to have come as a divine messenger for the transformation of the world, for the arrival of the 'kingdom of God.'  It may be argued that Julius Africanus was part of an effort to 'correct' a belief that had been disproved by history.  The world did not 'end' or 'change' with the 'appearance' of Jesus.  Of course, the critical view is quite different.  Maybe Julius Africanus, the friend of the Emperor Septimius Severus was part of a third century effort to make sure that it never succeeded at its original goal ...

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