Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jesus as Roman Demi-God [Part Nine]


Our assumption will be then that both Irenaeus and Florinus learned from Polycarp the art of using and abusing typology in order to dazzle the eyes of the ignorant. A powerful case can be made that Lucian of Samosata’s bitterly satirical Passing of Peregrinus is a witness to the same events now preserved in the various Martyrdom of Polycarp cycles. As such, we have the most unflattering portrait of the founding principles of this new tradition, one which shook off its slavish devotion to the original principles of Christianity and found widespread popularity – especially among the ruling classes – owing to his development of unique brand of mysticism

Since there is no common thread between Irenaeus and Florinus save for this interest in typology, it seems more likely that Polycarp was little more than a wandering sophist who – perhaps for the first time in the Roman Church – showed equally ambitious sophists the advantages to employing this open-ended exegetical method. There can be no doubt that Florinus established himself among the rich leading families of the capitol, initiating them into his new mystery religion, perhaps associated with a mysterious inscription dated to the second century:

To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches, [here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets, even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son. There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.

Details on the provenance of the inscription are sketchy. It was first published in 1953 by Luigi Moretti in the "Bullettino della commissione archeologica comunale di Roma," an Italian archaeological journal published annually. This inscription was first uncovered in the suburbs of Rome near a medieval tower called Tor Fiscale which, in ancient times, would have been near a celebrated historical road called the Via Latina.

The late Italian epigrapher Margherita Guarducci, first put forward the second century date for the inscription more than 40 years ago. Her argument was based on the shape of the classical-style Greek letters in the inscription. More recently, Snyder's work built on that approach by studying more than 1,700 Roman inscriptions, in which he found just 53 cases of Greek inscriptions with classical letter forms. If a second century date is accepted for the inscription - and it generally is among scholars in part because of the additional work of Peter Lampe -  then we get a glimpse inside of the world in which Irenaeus reacted against.

The plaque would seem to have hung in a private villa, inviting fellow members to enter and to celebrate baptisms and eucharistic meals, receiving flowing waters from the only true spring. The second inscription, two epigraphs also hexameters on the marble gravestone of Flavia Sophe, date to the end of the second or first half of the third century:

Longing for the fatherly light, In the ablutions of Ch[rist] anointed with imperishable holy balsam, You have hastened to gaze upon the divine countenances of the Aeons, Upon the great angel of the great counsel, the true Son, You have gone [to] the bridal chamber and ascended to the… fatherly…and … This deceased did not have a usual ending of life; She died away and lives and sees a truly imperishable light. She lives to the delight of the living, is really dead to the dead. O earth, why are you astonished about this type of corpse? Are you terrified?

This inscription were discovered on 'an undetermined location along the Via Latina, outside the city, where, in a quiet area, the rows of graves along the arterial road have been here and there broken by a suburban villa'.

These verses (the first of which offer the acrostic Flav, which is to be completed ‘Flavia” the name of the deceased figure being ‘Flavia Sophe’ ) are even more strongly redolent of Valentinian teaching: the deceased has gone to the bridal chamber to look upon the paternal light, to gaze upon the countenances of the Aeons; she has received the anointing with balsam; Christ is called 'the great Angel of Great Counsel', as in the second century Valentinian work Excerpts from Theodotus; and the earth, the domain of the demiurge, is thus terrified.

The important thing to see here is that Jesus is a wholly angelic being. In the Septuagint "Angel (or Messenger) of Great Counsel", megalēs boulēs angelos (Isaiah 9:6). The passage reads in full – “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the angel (or ‘messenger’) of great counsel [megales boules aggelos]: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.” The passage was used to reinforce the Virgin Birth tradition by both ‘orthodox’ and ‘heretics’ alike, demonstrating the underlying idea that Jesus would establish good and powerful rulers among the Gentiles.

So we see the aforementioned ValentinianTheodotos – probably of Byzantium – write for instance “and when the Father has given all power, and the Pleroma has assented, 'the Angel of Great Counsel' was sent out and has become the 'head of all things' after the Father. Because 'everything has been made in him, both things visible and things invisible, thrones, dominions, kingdoms', divinities, worships.” Irenaeus interprets Jesus having ‘government on his shoulder’ as the establishment of a rule which is only a ‘sign’ of his own coming kingdom where “there is vengeance without pardon in the judgment for those who after Christ's appearing believed not on Him” i.e. the heretics.

Two further pieces from the area, dating to the third and fourth centuries, also indicate that the Valentinian tradition continued in that region, while nothing else has been found elsewhere in Rome. The area to which this convergence points was one where wealthy and honourable people lived. It was in a villa in this region that Marcus Aurelius, the father of Commodus, was born. It was certainly a district that would provide a suitable suburban location for those seeking retreat in a 'house holy and silent', celebrating in Ionic dialect and achieving mystical union ‘in the bridal chamber.’ If Flora, the recipient of Ptolemaeus' letter, is to be identified with the noble but unnamed woman mentioned byJustin in his Second Apology, it is a further indication of the social group from which the Valentinians drew their converts. This would This would also confirm Irenaeus' comments that Valentinians devote their efforts to those 'who are able to pay a high price for an acquaintence with such profound mysteries' and especially women who are 'well-bred, elegantly attired, and of great wealth.’

Yet the survival of this Valentinian enclave closely associated with Commodian household might well help explain one of the most curious discoveries in Roman archaeology. Within the Judeo-Christian decor of the catacomb of Via Latina we see two pagan figures - Hercules and Alcestis – incorporated following the story of Jonah. There are several depictions of Hercules — slaying the Hydra, with the apples of Hesperides, with his patron Minerva and bringing back Alcestis from the underworld. What are these doing in a Christian catacomb? They are clearly further evidence that this was a private cemetery, out of the control of the church authorities who would not have tolerated such images in a public catacomb.

But this still does not answer the core question which was – how and why Hercules was included within the canon of saints at Via Latina?

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