Monday, August 12, 2013

Jesus as Roman Demi-God [Part Sixteen]


We have come upon another interesting historical controversy.  The question is did the Catholics rob Jesus of his 'originality'?  The Marcionites accused the Catholics of making him conform to outdated ideas.  Irenaeus will respond by saying that Jesus's advent was very radical and new but the text as it now stands won't allow us to hear what he originally said.  Our existing text is not the same as it was in Irenaeus's day.  In the existing Latin and Armenian translations we are told that Jesus "brought all novelty, by bringing Himself (semetipsum) who had been announced. For this very thing was proclaimed beforehand, that a novelty should come to renew and quicken mankind."  But this is utterly senseless.  This can't have been Irenaeus's argument because it doesn't even make any sense. 

Anything prophesied in the future is 'new' because it hasn't happened yet.  If the prophets really did 'know' that Jesus was going to be a god born to a virgin then it can't be understood to be completely unheard of once it happens.  If this were what Irenaeus was originally he could be accused of wanting to have it both ways - i.e. of holding on to something 'well established' in the prophetic writings and 'completely new' insofar as it was strange and incredible. 

We shall argue instead that the correct reading of Irenaeus's response to the Marcionites assumes that semetipsum was again added to the text.  In other words, Irenaeus said that Jesus:

brought all novelty, by bringing him who had been announced. For this very thing was proclaimed beforehand, that a novelty should come to renew and quicken mankind

Under this understanding, Jesus held to have properly been recognized by the prophets but the two advent doctrine was not.  Indeed one of the cornerstones of the 'two advent' theology of the early Fathers is the fact that 'the Jews' did not know it even existed. Justin Martyr for instance says it is only after the second advent of Christ as a king that they will learn that he was Christ in his first advent as the suffering servant. 

We can safely assume then that Irenaeus was originally putting forward something like this when he speaks of the 'novelty' of Jesus announcing another.  Already in Justin there is a clear sense that the 'second advent' would not only witness a king but one specifically associated a royal figure associated with the Gentiles.  In the same way 'the new covenant' (testamentum novum) - and in other texts 'the new prophesy' - will testify to the transfer of the spirit from the Jews to the nations.  The only 'newness' here - according to Irenaeus - is now the 'switching' of loyalty from one people to the other on the part of God. 

Yet we have to go back to the basic fact that the claim that Jesus was 'bringing himself' according to the prophets cannot be the radical 'new thing' of the original text.  Yes to be sure, Irenaeus makes mention of the fact that the Marcionites and the Jews ‘knew’ that things the Jewish prophets said were all fulfilled at the start of the Second Commonwealth.  In other words, Isaiah and the rest spoke in a Holy Spirit associated with the Demiurge which predicted the re-establishment of the Jewish religion at the end of the Babylonian Exile.  This understanding is still at the heart of many early Mandaean documents. 

Nevertheless in spite of all this Irenaeus cannot originally have meant that the prophets knowing the Son of God would come as Christ was 'the new thing' which Christianity revealed.  Instead we must argue that he must have originally meant that Jesus himself was only a sign for someone else and that only once Commodus demonstrated himself to be that person that the Jews would recognize Jesus's divinity as his 'first advent.'  This 'hope' must have been kindled by the fact that the contemporary Jewish leader including Rabbi Judah ha Nasi were incorporating the faith in the cosmocrator into their liturgy. 

Once again the 'new' or 'strange thing' (another shade of meaning of novitus) is the sudden proof of the truth of the two advent dogma established in the earliest Christian writers - undoubtedly by Irenaeus himself.   We should recall Irenaeus’s repeated references to Christianity being delivered to ‘strange hands’ in a ‘strange land’ is part of this understanding  All things testifying now to the fact that that the ‘true Exodus’ would be revealed when the Church was accepted in Rome at the Imperial court by a 'pious' king, in the person of Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus.

That Jesus is himself not the strange thing of prophesy is demonstrated because as Irenaeus notes over and over again, he is the divine power of the Son who had been with the Israelites from the beginning.  Rather it is the fact that a Gentile king was now understood to have been the ‘second advent’ of the expectation of the prophets for the messiah.  This is clearly something that would have scandalized Jewish believers to no end.  Yet it is something which certainly could have been developed in the court of Commodus with the encouragement of his Christian concubine Marcia. 

Indeed if we follow Irenaeus’s argument in what immediately follows we read – corrected of yet another semetipsum – it becomes clear that everything about Irenaeus's original interpretation of scripture depended on the appearance of a 'earthly king' in his own time:

For the advent of the King is previously announced by those servants who are sent, in order to the preparation and equipment of those men who are to welcome their Lord. But when the King has actually come, and those who are His subjects have been filled with that joy which was proclaimed beforehand, and have attained to that liberty which He bestows, and share in the sight of Him, and have listened to His words, and have enjoyed the gifts which He confers, the question will not then be asked by any that are possessed of sense what new thing the King has brought beyond those who announced His coming. For He has brought and has bestowed on men those good things which were announced beforehand, which things the angels desired to look into.

The the logic must have went something like this.  While Jesus healed individuals as 'signs' of the future healing of the world, his 'second advent' as the King who is to come would establish the ultimate fulfillment of peace and harmony.

Indeed it is amazing to realize just how much of our own notion that 'Jesus is the Lord' is based on the success of the Church developed in his name - and perhaps more significantly - the Church and State operating in complete harmony with one another.  Jesus accomplished absolutely nothing which would lead any objective observer to believe he was the cosmocrator.  What caused this change is Irenaeus's accommodation with the Imperial court and the establishment of the 'new' doctrine of two advents of Christ.  The two operated in harmony with one another owing their historical interrelatedness in the Roman Church. 

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