Monday, July 1, 2013

The Nomen Sacrum ΙΣ and the 'Ish Theophany [Part One]

It's very hard to speak of 'the Christian god' without thinking of Jesus.  It is almost a given because the ancient bearded hippie is such an integral part of our cultural heritage.  No one can possibly hate Jesus.  He's the guy that we all want to have a friend; he's the guy most of us aspire to be.  Indeed future generations might well describe Jesus as a rasta who didn't have to smoke weed to be cool.

Why would anyone have a problem with Jesus?  Well, the difficulty is that there is a whole tradition in antiquity that understood the events of the gospel very differently from our inherited assumptions.  There were many groups that rejected the 'Virgin Birth' story.  This in itself isn't a grave difficult as most of us have problems believing a woman could give birth to a child with receiving male seed.

There is one group in particular among the many rejected traditions of the early Church that challenges our inherited notions about 'Jesus the man.'  This group was called 'the Marcionites' by the Church Fathers.  The Marcionites are universally regarded to have been a very, very early tradition.  Their New Testament canon consisted only of a single gospel and a collection of letters both written by the same man - St. Paul.  We are told that they understood these writings to have come from a different god than the so-called 'Jewish writings' - the Old Testament.

None of this is new to scholarship.  Many books have been written about the Marcionite phenomenon. My friend David Trobisch came back from recent Society of Biblical Literature conference telling me 'Marcion is very much the hot thing right now.'  What is new about our last series of posts is that we have gone where scholarship has refused to go - beyond the fence which is unconsciously placed around the tradition.

Indeed it is 'safe' to speak of 'textual variation' between the Marcionites and the Orthodox.  But how they read their sacred writings has rarely been considered.  It is universally acknowledged for instance that 'Jesus' for the Marcionites was a wholly divine being.  But did the Marcionites really refer to their god as 'Jesus'?  Is the name reported in the anti-Marcionite writings of Ephrem the Syrian - i.e. ISU - really a representation of our name for this god i.e. Ἰησοῦς or something else?

I have been writing for some time now that there is evidence of early Christians preserving the name of the Christian god as being named איש or 'Man.'  This not only happens to fit in perfectly with the name which appears in our oldest manuscripts written as ΙΣ but also the 'Man' figure testified to have been at the heart of Pauline gnosis.  Of course some of the heretical groups - like the followers of the second century teacher Valentinus - specifically said that Jesus was 'the Son of' a father god named 'Man.'  Yet I think there is strong evidence that the Marcionites in particular thought that our Jesus was in fact named 'Man' - and his 'sons' were those adopted in his baptism rite.

Since the writings of the Church Fathers were extremely hostile witnesses, it wouldn't be surprising if we couldn't find evidence to support our claims.  The Marcionite preference for the epithet 'Chrestos' - the kind one - rather than 'Christos' - the anointed one - is completely ignored by the Church Fathers.  We only know that the Marcionites in particular used this title from archaeological evidence.  To this end, it might not be completely disappointing if we found no evidence whatsoever for their interest in איש and their rejection of Ἰησοῦς.  But in fact, the reader might be very surprised to note that such evidence exists in abundance if we know where to look.

There are a great number of ancient sources which tell us that the Marcionites identified their god as the 'man of war' (אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה) of the Old Testament.  Very little has been written about this because it is so strange and it goes against our inherited suppositions - not only about 'Jesus' but in fact the antinomian nature of the Marcionite tradition.  Indeed the most explicit of these references happens to come from a longer report about the Marcionite rejection of the name Ἰησοῦς.

So we can see that there are a number of reasons why the Marcionite interest in איש - preserved in the Greek early Church writings as ΙΣ - has been ignored.  None of the Church Fathers explicitly say that it is איש as ΙΣ that the Marcionites took interest in.  Indeed our earliest sources speak instead of the Marcionite veneration of 'the man of war' of the Old Testament and scholars - lacking the subtlety to unravel these clues haven't ultimately relate the heretical interest in אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה with the complete absence of specificity with respect to the name of the Christian god in the early manuscripts (= the texts simply read ΙΣ).

In any event here we will break up our argument for this phenomenon into two parts.  The first, presented here merely proves what our sources tell us - namely that the Marcionites were attached to the idea of their god as a 'man of war.'  The second part of the argument, which will appear in a subsequent post, will demonstrate that this argument is always made in the context of a greater effort to demonstrate that 'the Marcionites say that Ἰησοῦς isn't the name of our God' - especially in Book Three of Against Marcion and Tertullian's related Against the Jews. 

So let's start from the very beginning here.  Did the Marcionites really hold that the 'Man of War' (אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה) was the name of their god?  Indeed Tertullian explicitly makes reference to this many times in his anti-Marcionite writings.  Most notably when he says in the middle of Book Three:

This interpretation of mine will receive support in that in other places too, where you suppose Christ a man of war (bellatorem) because of the names of certain weapons of war, and verbs to the same effect, you stand refuted as we bring under consideration the purport of their context as a whole. 

The Holmes and Evans translated bellatorem as 'warrior,' Genoude has conquérant and Keller, Krieger.  But the original allusion was clearly to the man of war reference not only in Exodus 15 but also Isaiah 3:2's אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה ('the strong man and man of war') = Vulgate 'fortem, et virum bellatorem' (cmp Ex 15:3).

Ephrem explicitly confirms the Marcionite interest in the specific term 'man of war.'  In his Third Discourse Against the Teachings, Ephrem questions the Marcionite idea of the opposition of the Marcionite god to the Creator noting:

And if they say that the Maker did not perceive the Stranger, it is unlikely. For how did he not perceive him when he was his neighbour? And if they say that he was far from him, infinitely far, if it was a mountain immeasurable and an endless path, and a vast extent without any limit, then how was that Stranger able to proceed and come down the immeasurable mountain, and (through) a dead region in which there was no living air, and (across) a bitter waste which nothing had ever crossed? And if they make the improbable statement that "the Stranger like a man of war was able to come," well if he came as a man of war--[though he did not come], (take the case of) those weak Souls whom he brought up hence, how were these sickly ones able to travel through all that region which God their Maker and Creator was not able to traverse, as they say? 

The point here of course is that the reference in Tertullian does not exist in a void.  The Marcionite god was the אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה of Exodus 15:3 and Isaiah 3:2.  The seeming inconsistency of their alleged 'hatred for the Law and prophets' and their use of concepts derived from this source is not isolated to this reference.  But Ephrem goes on to exploit it throughout Book Three of his Against Marcion. 

Indeed the explicit borrowing from Jewish sources is brought up time and again in Tertullian too.  For the Latin author, the parallel use of bellatorem here makes clear that it is אִישׁ which the Marcionites were interested in, and it continues in the rest of the work.  Indeed just before our original citation Tertullian notes that the Marcionites have been "led away by the sound of names (aeque et sono nominum duceris) when you so understand the riches of Damascus, and the spoils of Samaria, and the king of Assyria, as if they portended that the Creator’s Christ was a man of war (bellatorem)." (Adv. Marc. 13.1)

If we continue with our detective work we notice that in the section that follows, Tertullian again brings up the disagreement between the Marcionite reading 'division' vs. 'sword' in the Catholic texts (Matthew 10:23) he says "if he is your Christ, then even he is a man of war (ergo et ipse bellator est). If he is not a man of war (si bellator non est) ... then the Creator’s Christ in the psalm too may have been girded with the figurative sword of the Word, without any martial gear (sine bellicis rebus)." (ibid 14.5)  He concludes with a demand to the Marcionites to "acknowledge, then, that His spoils are figurative, since you have learned that His arms are allegorical. Since, therefore, both the Lord speaks and His apostle writes such things in a figurative style, we are not rash in using His interpretations, the records of which even our adversaries admit; and thus in so far will it be Isaiah’s Christ who has come, in as far as He was not a man of war (quantum non fuit bellator), because it is not of such a character that He is described by Isaiah." 

Clearly then Tertullian was here referring to Isaiah 3:2's אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה reference.  But even this - as we learned from Hamori is a mere reflection of the original 'Ish Theophany' in Exodus chapter 15.  It is here that we find an anthropomorphic divinity who rescued Israel by letting them pass through the waters which were so deadly to their enemies.  The Samaritan exegete Marqe notes that the letters of first two words of the LXX translation of this 'Song of the Sea' (Ex 15:1) - τότε ᾖσε i.e. 'then sang' - just happen to add up to the magical number 888 - which just happens to add up to the familiar name Ἰησοῦς. 

It is unclear why Marqe was so interested in the first two words of Exodus chapter 15.  But it would stand to reason that if he noticed its numerological significance Christian writers did too.  The fact that the Marcionites in particular were so interested in the title which follows - 'the man of war' begins to make more sense when we consider that Paul himself sees the 'passing through the sea' that the Israelites did in this chapter with Christian baptism. Clearly on some level, the Jews had an expectation regarding the 'man of war' related to their very ancient understanding that the Israelites came out of Egypt by fifties (h.amishim) to mean that they were armed (h.amushim).  In other words, the many 'spiritual' references to Christian baptism leading to arms and armor might well have been based on the Christian god being the 'man of war' of Exodus.

This has already been noted over and over again in Tertullian's anti-Marcionite writings.  But perhaps its greatest expression is to be found in Book Four of Adv. Marc.  The Church Father begins abruptly noting that the Marcionites took great interest in ΙΣ walking on the water commanding this element in the manner of the ancient redemption:

But “what manner of man is this? for He commandeth even the winds and water!”  Of course He is the new master and proprietor of the elements, now that the Creator is deposed, and excluded from their possession! Nothing of the kind. But the elements own their own Maker, just as they had been accustomed to obey His servants also. Examine well the Exodus, Marcion; look at the rod of Moses, as it waves His command to the Red Sea, ampler than all the lakes of Judæa. How the sea yawns from its very depths, then fixes itself in two solidified masses, and so, out of the interval between them, makes a way for the people to pass dry-shod across; again does the same rod vibrate, the sea returns in its strength, and in the concourse of its waters the chivalry of Egypt is engulphed! To that consummation the very winds subserved! Read, too, how that the Jordan was as a sword, to hinder the emigrant nation in their passage across its stream; how that its waters from above stood still, and its current below wholly ceased to run at the bidding of Joshua, when his priests began to pass over!  What will you say to this? If it be your Christ that is meant above, he will not be more potent than the servants of the Creator. But I should have been content with the examples I have adduced without addition, if a prediction of His present passage on the sea had not preceded Christ’s coming. As psalm is, in fact, accomplished by this crossing over the lake. “The Lord,” says the psalmist, “is upon many waters.”  When He disperses its waves, Habakkuk’s words are fulfilled, where he says, “Scattering the waters in His passage.” When at His rebuke the sea is calmed, Nahum is also verified: He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry,”  including the winds indeed, whereby it was disquieted. With what evidence would you have my Christ vindicated? Shall it come from the examples, or from the prophecies, of the Creator? You suppose that He is predicted as a military and armed man of war, instead of one who in a figurative and allegorical sense was to wage a spiritual warfare against spiritual enemies, in spiritual campaigns, and with spiritual weapons (Age nunc, qui militarem et armatum bellatorem praedicari putas, non figurate nec allegorice, qui bellum spiritale adversus spiritales hostes spiritali militia et spiritalibus armis spiritaliter debellaturus esset): come now, when in one man alone you discover a multitude of demons calling itself Legion, of course comprised of spirits, you should learn that Christ also must be understood to be an exterminator of spiritual foes, who wields spiritual arms and fights in spiritual strife; and that it was none other than He, who now had to contend with even a legion of demons. Therefore it is of such a war as this that the Psalm may evidently have spoken: “The Lord is strong, The Lord is mighty in battle.”  For with the last enemy death did He fight, and through the trophy of the cross He triumphed. Now of what God did the Legion testify that Jesus was the Son? [Tertullian Adv. Marc. 4.20]

As we shall see in Part Two of this post, it wasn't just the 'warrior' reference which the Marcionites were interested in.  They denied that the Christian god was named 'Jesus' (ΙΣ = Ἰησοῦς) and instead ΙΣ should be read as איש as we have been suggesting and is confirmed in numerous sources including our early incantation bowl.  But this enough for my readers to digest for now ...

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