Monday, August 12, 2013

Jesus as Roman Demi-God [Part Fifteen]


We are just about reaching the end of our present investigation.  What has become clear is the fact that Irenaeus saw himself as the heir to a Jewish Christian tradition which acknowledged Jesus as not only 'the Son of God' but a divine being who was one and the same with God the Father.  It should be immediately clear to everyone once this position is spelled out in plain English that this 'tradition' was non-existent before Irenaeus.  In other words, he developed an imaginary 'tradition' of the early Church and then projected it back in the distant past through systematic forgery and slander efforts. 

Irenaeus believes the Son is absolutely ‘one’ with the Father, and was merely a mode or a function of his will.  Clearly this is an untenable position today and likely was such only a few generations after Irenaeus's death.  It was merely the force of Irenaeus's will that established this 'imaginary tradition' as the 'truth of the universal Church.' 

We know that the Ebionites said that Jesus was Adam.  Beyond this it is difficult to say anything substantive about the Jewish Christian tradition given the profound lack of reliable information that is now available to us about the sect.  Much clearer however are the textual manipulations associated with Irenaeus's campaign against the Marcionite tradition - this, owing to the fact that a much greater amount of information about the sect has survived to us from other sources.

We already know that a familiar pattern of adding semetipsum to the original text – i.e. ‘He, himself’ - was part of mix.  This was demonstrated in a section of Irenaeus's work originally dealing with Mark and in other sections we argued that it was developed in order to make Jesus have behavior appear 'self-directed' - i.e. instead of being a mere ‘mode’ of the Father.  To this end, it is once we go through one of the last references to the Marcionite in Irenaeus's work - and its superficial 'correction' by means of the addition of semetipsum - that we uncover the ultimate confirmation of Irenaeus’s secret understanding that Jesus was in reality a mere ‘sign’ for the divine advent of Commodus. 

This reality becomes manifest as part of one of the most consistent line of argument in Against Heresies – the understanding that the coming of Jesus 'must have been' heralded by the Jewish prophets.  This argument is so important to the underlying logic of the work that Irenaeus or a latter editor continually directs the reader back and forth throughout the work to pay attention to other manifestations of the same thesis. 

The Marcionites plainly denied the claim that the prophets predicted the coming of Jesus.   After all, Jesus was a stranger to the god of the Jews hence the writings of the Jewish prophets could not be directly attributed to his advent. Jesus above all else represented ‘something wholly new’ for the Marcionites.  Indeed they would argue that the greatest expression of the ‘newness’ of Jesus is the fact that the leaders of the Jews didn’t recognize who he was - an undisputable feature of every gospel text.

The fact that the Jews wrongly instigated the crucifixion of Jesus was the Marcionite trump card in their debates with those who claimed that Jesus was the messiah heralded by the prophets.   After all, the Marcionites reasoned, if the prophets partook of the spirit of the god of Israel and the leaders of the Jews at the time of his ministry as well, why else didn’t the latter recognize the 'true understanding' of the former? 

In order to do justice to their original understanding of the Marcionites and their debates with the Catholics we have to abandon our inherited understanding of how texts are interpreted.  The Christian tradition functioned on a supernatural level.  Rightly or wrongly 'a spirit' led the Jews to recognize Jesus as the messiah.  The Jewish Christians said it was the 'Holy Spirit,' the Marcionites that it was a false spirit from the ignorant Demiurge. 

We must also recognize, as strange as it might be at first glance that the anti-Semitic tendencies of the later Catholic tradition are avoided in the Marcionite understanding.  You can't blame someone for being 'too stupid' to understand something.    As such it wasn’t ‘the Devil’ or the inherent ‘evilness’ of the Jewish people which caused the misunderstanding about 'Jesus Christ' but rather the inherent 'strangeness' or 'newness' of Jesus's original revelation as conceived by the Marcionites. 

The Marcionites said that Jesus was simply a stranger – or perhaps ‘the stranger’ as we shall see later - to the Jewish tradition. In other words, the Jews and their god can’t be blamed for not recognizing Jesus’s ‘newness’ because he was always ‘strange’ to them.  Against this original understanding of the gospel Irenaeus puts forward an absurd monarchianist understanding of the Jewish prophets. Answering the objection that the prophets testified to different individuals and different historical events, Irenaeus waves his finger and says – in effect – no, all things still pointed to Jesus and from Jesus ultimately to us, the Roman Church.  You just have to have the 'Holy Spirit' to see it properly. 

To this end Irenaeus argues against the Marcionites that the prophets “obeyed the word of the Father, and served Him according to their ability … [and] since they themselves were members of Christ, each; one of them in his place as a member did, in accordance with this, set forth the prophecy [assigned him]; all of them, although many, prefiguring only one, and proclaiming the things which pertain to one.”  Indeed he goes on to go through and establishes an incredibly detailed analysis of all the seemingly contradictory visions and expectations of the Jewish prophets.

It is true that some of the prophets said that Jesus was a man and other more than a man, some that he was going to be beautiful, other that he was ugly, some that we has going to be a powerful king, others a suffering servant.  Yet a harmony can be found to demonstrate 'one god' behind all these disparate revelations.  The answer it appears goes to the very same Marcionite objection to Jesus being predicted by the prophets.  It was the 'newness' - even the 'strangeness' - of his revelation which made it so difficult for the Jewish prophets of the past to understand what it was the Holy Spirit was telling them. 

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