Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Eleven]

How the West was Won

Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher who became the living example of the "philosopher-king" for Western political theorists and philosophers.  It may be certainly argued that Marcus gained this reputation during his lifetime.  Nevertheless one wonders whether the Emperor's scholarly disposition may have played a role in the chaos that appeared in the last decade of his rule.  In 172 CE there was a widespread Egyptian revolt that began with the Boucoloi.  The rebels nearly captured Alexandria but were defeated by the governor of Syria, Avidius Cassius.  Yet owing to the Emperor's withdrawal from affairs of state, Avidius Cassius believed reports of his death and once again raised the standard of rebellion in Egypt.

According to Dio, Cassius was proclaimed emperor in Egypt. This fact is supported by A. K. Bowman's analysis of a letter of Avidius from the period.  This second insurrection quickly swept through Syria and reached as far and the provinces south of the Taurus mountains in southern Turkey.  Many in the region acknowledged Cassius as Aurelius's successor.  When the revolt was generally known, Marcus Aurelius set out to meet him.   A statue base with a dedication to Marcus Aurelius by a tribune of the Legio II Traiana has been found in Alexandria and dating to 176 CE suggesting - along with epigraphical evidence - that Aurelius spent the beginning of that year putting down the revolt.  The Emperor never ended up taking on Cassius  as he had already perished at the hands of one of his followers.

The idea that Marcus Aurelius was in Egypt the year before the persecutions of followers of Mark in Gaul and Rome might not seem to have much significance at first glance.  Nevertheless at least a few scholars have noted an interesting  coincidence.  Boucolia, the region from which the first rebellion spread was an eastern suburb of Alexandria which also just happens to have been the headquarters of the Markan tradition. A famous church, mentioned in the writings of Clement, and home to the martyrium and the underground tomb of St Mark was at once the home to Egyptian Christianity
(cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 23.116.14—16; Acta Petri (BHG 1502) 85, Severus Severus ibn al-Muqaffa , History of the Coptic Patriarchs, Patrol Orientalis I, 4-401, 1905, Paris, cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 69.1). 

The location of the church was well known into the twentieth century.  Gamal Nasser's efforts to modernize Egypt led to the complete transformation of the shoreline of eastern Alexandria burying much of Boucolia under the waters of the Mediterranean.  Nevertheless the site has been examined in detail by underwater archaeologist Harry Tzalas, who grew up in Alexandria and remembers seeing the original ruins of the site off the shore of what is now Casino el Chatby.  Underwater photographs of the remains of the church are included in the back of the book.

The church of St Mark was the original Vatican.  It is not surprising that the very epithet 'Pope' or papa was appropriated by the Roman Church from the Alexandrian.  According to the Acts of St Mark, this church was built 'in the area beside the sea under crags called Boukolou'.  The martyrdom of St Mark is said to have taken place at the same place at the hands of pagan devotees of the Ptolemaic divinity Serapis.  Strabo states that from before the foundation of Alexandria boukoloi ('herdsmen') lived in the area of Rhakotis near the Alexandrian Serapeum in the Delta quarter.  It is important to note that while in Greece the term boucolos indicated an adept of Dionysos, in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt it could mean 'devotee of Serapis'. Serapis was often represented as either the sacrificial Apis Bull or as a shepherd.

It is difficult not to shake the feeling that the traditional strife between the followers of Mark and Serapis date at least as far back as the revolt of 172 CE.  Hadrian himself is reported to have stated on the subject of that relationship:

From Hadrian Augustus to Servianus the consul, greeting. The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ. They are a folk most seditious, most deceitful, most given to injury; but their city is prosperous, rich, and fruitful, and in it no one is idle. Some are blowers of glass, others makers of paper, all are at least weavers of linen or seem to belong to one craft or another; the lame have their occupations, the eunuchs have theirs, the blind have theirs, and not even those whose hands are crippled are idle. Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore. And would that this city had a better character, for indeed it is worthy by reason of its richness and by reason of its size to hold the chief place in the whole of Egypt. I granted it every favour, I restored to it all its ancient rights and bestowed on it new ones besides, so that the people gave thanks to me while I was present among them. Then, no sooner had I departed thence than they said many things against my son Verus, and what they said about Antinous I believe you have learned. I can only wish for them that they may live on their own chickens, which they breed in a fashion I am ashamed to describe. I am sending you over some cups, changing colour and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days. Take good care, however, that our dear Africanus does not use them too freely.

It is difficult what to make of this testimony other than to suggest that the Boucoli themselves were somehow related not only to the followers of Serapis but also the Christians.  

This very thesis has in fact been taken up by an Italian scholar Livia Capponi of Newcastle University in England.  She points to a vague intimation found in Dio's description, summarised by Xiphilinus that Christians might have been involved in one of the two revolts in Egypt in this period
Dio's description, summarised by Xiphilinus:

The people called the Bucoli began a disturbance one Isidorus, a priest, caused the rest of the Egyptians to revolt. At first, arrayed in women's garments, they had deceived the Roman centurion, causing him to believe that they were women of the Bucoli and were going to give him gold as ransom for their husbands, and had then struck down when he approached them. They also sacrificed his companion, and after swearing an oath over his entrails, they devoured them.  Isidorus surpassed all his contemporaries in bravery. Next, having conquered the Romans in Egypt in a pitched battle, they came near capturing Alexandria, too, and would have succeeded, had not Cassius been sent against them from Syria. He contrived to destroy their mutual accord and to separate them from one another (for because of their desperation as well as of their numbers he had not ventured to attack them while they were united), and thus, when they fell to quarrelling, he subdued them. [Dio Cassius 72:9]

Capponi begins her analysis by stating that it is most probable that "the revolt of the Boukoloi was not simply a native revolt against Roman rule by dissatisfied Egyptian farmers and herdsmen of the area of the Delta" but "a specific political group called 'Herdsmen'" where "the term did not (only) indicate real herdsmen" but again "a political and religious group of anti-Roman fighters and martyrs – possibly adepts of Serapis."  After all she reasons,  Dio Cassius specifically reports that the leader of the revolt, Isidorus, was a priest.  Since the cult of Serapis had inspired Alexandrian riots against Roman emperors "it is thus possible that the Boukoloi were Egyptian anti-imperial militants, possibly including lower-class men with a common religiosity based on the idea of martyrdom."

If the Boucoloi were likely to be adherents of Serapis, Capponi argues that immediately came thereafter likely involved Christains.  "the years of the revolt of the Boukoloi were a time of anti-imperial revolts elsewhere, especially the revolt of Avidius Cassius, a revolt in which the Christians may have participated along with other rebels."  As part of her thesis Capponi not only points to reports about Christians from the age being identified as 'brigands' but to a specific denial of Christian involvement in the rebellion of Cassius in his Ad Scapulam - i.e. tamen nunquam Albiniani, nec Nigriani, uel Cassiani inueniri potuerunt Christiani.  On its own this does not seem to be a very convincing piece of evidence for

Capponi points to a 'second wave' of apologetic literature taking after the revolt of Cassius in a framework where "Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were travelling in the East. At least five apologists defended Christianity in works addressed to the emperor and his heir."  As she notes:

Apollinaris recalled episodes in which Christian soldiers remained loyal to Marcus Aurelius on the Danube in 175. At roughly the same time, Melito, bishop of Sardis, complained about new Roman decrees that ordered the expropriation of Christian property and the persecution of Christians, and asserted the loyalty of Christians to the empire. In 177 Athenagoras said that no slave would accuse the Christians, even falsely, of murder or cannibalism (although, according to Eusebius, these charges had actually been made against Christians by slaves from the persecuted churches of Lyons and Vienne in the summer of the same year). Finally, in 180 or 181, Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, alludes (To Autolycus 1,11) to the revolt Cassius and pleads for the loyalty of Christians to the emperor. Two decades later, Tertullian still spoke of the loyalty of Christian soldiers to Marcus Aurelius, and reiterated that no Christians had supported Cassius. All of these apologetic works may well have reflected some laws passed in 176–180 that punished Christians (along with other rebels) for their supposed participation in the revolt of Avidius Cassius.  The participation of some Egyptian Christians in the revolt links them to the Boukoloi, as the revolt of the Boukoloi de facto helped Cassius to become emperor. In other words, the Boukoloi, willingly or not, were deemed responsible for the rising of Cassius against the emperor. It is not impossible that at least some Egyptian Christians, like the Boukoloi, celebrated anti-imperial revolution as a religious mission and martyrdom as a value.

Clearly there is something to Capponi's reconstruction of the history of the age as an explanatory tool for the persecution of the Markan tradition in other parts of the world outside of Egypt.  There is of course no 'smoking gun' in any of this, but it fits the basic pattern we have put together through other sources. 

It is also worth noting that Clement of Alexandria tells us that the honoured sanctuary (hieron) of Serapis' as reconstructed by 190, while Jerome states that the templum (that is, the actual sanctuary) was burned in 181.  The specific date of 190 CE is most intriguing as we find it coincides with a certain Quintus Tineius Demetrius became governor of Egypt.  It is generally accepted that he was succeeded by Claudius Lucilianus at some point in that same year.  Yet it seems particularly interesting that a new 'overseer' of the Egyptian Church of St Mark took over in that very same time.  He is now remembered as Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, and is said to have "presided over the city's Christians from 190 to 233, a forty-three-year regime."  

It is remarkable to consider how the Egyptian Church in that time is reported to have suffered one holocaust after another at the hands of the Imperial authorities and yet through it all Bishop Demetrius emerges unscathed.  Demetrius is remembered to have been a complete outsider from the established priesthood, ignorant of even the most basic points of Christian doctrine.  Demetrius is also said to have been married to a wife - a point which scandalized established precedent.  While it is true Clement of Alexandria is recorded as defending the marriage at several points in his writings, he was undoubtedly doing so as a priest under the authority of a married leader.   Clement is known to have ultimately run away from Alexandria fearing for his life.  

It is hard not to shake the sense that the former prefect Q Tineius Demetrius merely transferred positions once the recently destroyed Church of St Mark was rebuilt in 190 CE.  His closeness to the Imperial government is demonstrate during the long sordid saga of Clement's pupil Origen.  Early in his career "while he [Origen] was still at Alexandria, a soldier came and delivered a letter from the governor of Arabia to Demetrius, bishop of the parish, and to the prefect of Egypt who was in office at that time, requesting that they would with all speed send Origen to him for an interview. Being sent by them, he went to Arabia. And having in a short time accomplished the object of his visit, he returned to Alexandria."  During yet another persecution at Alexandria, this one at the beginning of the reign of Severus's son Caracalla, Origen fled to Caesarea in Palestine while Demetrius was again left untouched.

Shortly thereafter it would appear, as Jerome reports in one of his letters Origen, stood "condemned by his bishop, Demetrius, only the bishops of Palestine, Arabia, Phenecia, and Achaia dissenting. Imperial Rome consents to his condemnation, and even convenes a senate to censure him, not -- as the rabid hounds who now pursue him cry -- because of the novelty or heterodoxy of his doctrines, but because men could not tolerate the incomparable eloquence and knowledge which, when once he opened his lips, made others seem dumb."  It is hard not to see Demetrius as an Imperial agent working to reform and decentralize the tradition of St Mark from within.  This would centrally include transplanting the Roman canon of holy scriptures but also can be demonstrated in the tradition associated with his adopting Roman tables used to calculate the correct date of Easter.

To this end, if we tie the persecutions of the followers of Mark in Vienne and Lyons to the earlier uprising in the Boucolia, the location of the Church of St Mark in Alexandria, we can begin to see the Commodian age as the natural 'reset point' for the religion of Christianity.  Capponi's citation of the passage from Ad Scapulam has surprising resonance for our overall theory.  When Tertullian speaks of:

tamen nunquam Albiniani, nec Nigriani, uel Cassiani inueniri potuerunt Christiani

It should be noticed that the form of the various associations - Albiniani, Nigriani, Cassiani - takes the same form as Christiani and we must also note - Marciani - in the earliest Roman references to 'those of Mark' (cf. Muratorian canon and other sources).

The point it would seem is that 'schisms' whether religious or secular arise from falling away from the divine monarchy.   In other words, Marciani is to Christiani as Albiniani, Nigriani and Cassiani (i.e. those who followed the various leaders of sedition against the Emperor) are to Caesariani.  Christ heads the Church in the same way as Caesar rules the world.  This becomes especially clear when we look at the example of the figure of Apelles or Apollos of Alexandria who is brought to Rome c. 180 CE and subsequently executed.  One the question of Apelles and Apollos being substituted one for another, the testimony of Clement’s student Origen should be sufficient.

We learn from a fragment cited in the fourth century Church Father Eusebius that Apelles was in Rome as a very old man debating a much younger Christian named Rhodo and Jerome knew Rhodo to have "flourished in the reigns of Commodus and Severus.” The narrative unfolded in one of Rhodo's works told entirely from his vantage point.  At its core Rhodo questioned Apelles "how it was there is a single principle (monarchia)."  Apelles response that "he did not know, but that it was merely his impression" was deemed to be insufficient.  The account continues "then, on my adjuring him to tell what was true, he swore that he was speaking the truth when he said that he did not understand how there was one uncreated God, but that this was his belief. For my part I laughed, and reproved him, because he said he was a teacher, and yet was unable to establish what he taught."

Hilgenfeld identifies the addressee ‘Callistioni’ with Callistus the bishop of Rome (c. 217 – 221 CE). This Callistus again began as a fugitivus, was rescued from the mines by Marcia the Christian concubine of Commodus and went on to be deacon under his predecessor Zephyrinus.  It is generally supposed that he must have held a lesser position under Victor at the time Irenaeus was most active.  The idea then that Rhodo is corresponding with Callistus or members of his circle is quite significant as we shall soon see, especially given the subject at hand is monarchia.

It is interesting that Rhodo makes clear there were a whole spectrum of Marcionites all holding widely different beliefs with respect to the one rule of God.  It echoes what we saw with respect to the various interpretations of redemption.  Apelles seems to reflect a much more open and peaceful form of Christianity than what was espoused by the Catholic Church. On the question of ‘right belief’ for instance he is recorded as saying that “it was not at all necessary to examine one's doctrine, but that each one should continue to hold what he believed. For he asserted that those who trusted in the Crucified would be saved, if only they were found doing good works.” What a far cry from Irenaeus’s 'one rule' hysteria!  But that's precisely the point. 

Up until now we haven't made a case for why the Imperial government should have favored the Catholic tradition.  Instead we have focus on developing reasons why it might have loathed the Marc(os)ion.  In order to understand why this late and rather contrived version of Christianity should have attracted Imperial benefactors starting with Commodus and going through the various Severan rulers we need only return to the emphasis of monarchia in the writings of Rhodo.  As we saw Rhodo asks the Marcionite "how there is a single principle," to which Apelles replied that "he did not know, but that it was merely his impression."  Scholarship has lost sight of why Apelles gave such an evasive answer – the Catholic Church’s monarchical emphasis was the very reason it triumphed over the heretics.

It was unnatural for any Marcionist to assume one principle behind all things because their system was – as Irenaeus and many others emphasize repeatedly – entirely dualistic. What then was causing Apelles to squirm? The unwritten compact between Irenaeus and the Imperial state was founded on the assumption that it would uphold the principles of monarchia, that is the recognition that behind all things was the one rule of the cosmocrator or 'world ruler.'  Rhodo was just one of many contemporary and influential Christians who bought into the new system in no small part because it would grant them favor with the Imperial government. 

We learn from Eusebius that Rhodo was a student of Tatian who was himself a disciple of Justin Martyr. This strongly implies that Rhodo’s gospel was a Diatessaron, a single long ‘super’ text that contained most of the stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John often times from older sources. Yet Justin and Tatian can be understood to be early spokesmen for the principle of monarchia. In Justin’s case, we find it connected with the theological expression of the Trinity – i.e. that ‘one rule’ connected three parts of the divinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Tatian’s case the emphasis on monarchia often takes political dimensions.

It is at this point that we should introduce a living man who has understood the writings of the Church Fathers better than anyone else in recent memory, Allen Brent Professor of Early Christian History and Iconography, University of London, King's College has been appointed to a Professorship at the Augustinianum, the Patristics Institute of the Lateran University, Rome. His major interest is the development of early Christianity in the matrix of Graeco-Roman civilization from New Testament times with an emphasis on the early development of political theology. Indeed this is what makes Brent’s A Political History of Early Christianity and many of his other works stand out from those of his contemporaries.

The Marcionites did not share this Catholic interest in monarchia. As Dionysius of Alexandria (mid third century) points out “it is the doctrine of the presumptuous Marcion to sever and divide the monarchia into three origins (archas).” For the Marcionites by contrast there was a secret purpose reserved for the few which was not remotely ‘Catholic’ – i.e. universal – in its character or characteristics. In some sense Irenaeus’s ‘pitch’ to the Commodian court had to have been that the secrecy surrounding the beliefs and the practices of the heresies should arouse suspicion. If the Catholics were allowed to assume control and oversee the various house churches in Rome and other provincial locales they would make sure that the principle of monarchia would be reinforced in points of doctrine.

It wasn’t then that Irenaeus was the first to incorporate monarchia within Christianity.  Brent goes through the earliest writings from the middle of the second century and shows those who preceded him.  Irenaeus great achievement was consolidating Imperial favor upon the Church and which ultimately imposed the principe of monarchia on the dualistic Marcionites.  Marcion, taught that there were two gods, an evil or perhaps better 'imperfect' god who had made the world, and a good or 'perfect' God embodied in Jesus who may in some sense have been one and the same with the Father. As Allen Brent notes “such a view of the divine order represented a metaphysical picture of disorder” completely at odds with Imperial propaganda from the time of Augustus which offered a myth of a divinely sanctioned world ruler.

Brent argues that in proclaiming the work of the Logos or Word in creation as well as redemption, Justin and the apologists were presenting a cosmos rationally and harmoniously ordered. They were also actively appealing their message to the men of privilege, men who sat on the Imperial court even the Emperors themselves. Justin assures his hearers that there are but three powers that make up the divinity who proceed from one in due order, without any conflict or disturbance among them. He says that “after 'the creator of this universe' “having learned that he is really the Son of God, and holding him in the second place and the prophetic Spirit in the third rank, we have demonstrated that we honour him with the logos. In consequence they accuse us of being delirious, claiming that we give second place to a crucified human being after him who is the unchangeable and always existing God and procreator of the universe.”

As Brent notes “here Father and Son are assigned due place and rank, just as ministers and laymen were to keep to their appointed rank in an ordered community” as illustrated by the writings of Clement of Rome. Christians follow this logos that orders both creation and human society, and determines the course of human history, declaring what is to come before it takes place.  For Brent “thus far Justin and the Apologists had pursued an account of Christianity consistent with a logos Christology that could assure pagan Rome that the cult of Christ believed in the rational and orderly cosmic order that imperial religion sought to sustain in both nature and society.” The very language in which the Apologists expressed the nascent doctrine of the Trinity reflected a developing pagan ideology of political unity.

In one respect political concepts derived from metaphysical concepts made this inevitable, says Brent since metaphysical order and political order were generally in human cultures before the European Enlightenment believed to be one. As noted earlier the word for 'origin' or 'beginning' in Greek is arche, that is to say identical with the word for 'rule' or 'empire'. The unity of an empire was therefore its derivation from a single first principle or beginning, a monarchia as was also the unity of the cosmos.  Brent calls attention to Justin claims in speaking with Trypho, that philosophical disputations were "about God . . . and about his position as single first principle (monarchia)." It was in defence of that monarchia that he was prepared to speak of the Logos as 'in the second place.'

Brent’s genius is to have recognized the political dimension to all the seemingly lofty theological discussions about the nature of the one God in three is connected with politics. Many of the surviving documents from the apologists take the form of an appeal to the Emperor. When Justin says for instance that “the logos is different in number but the same in substance with the father” taking the second place, he is highlighting that Christianity is a religion about political order and order of rank. Brent emphasizes - “Christian theology now, both Theophilus and Tatian claim, in its insistence on the cosmic monarchia, will be antithetical to the pagan claim of a plurality of gods in a universe thus without strict order. Christian Monotheism therefore becomes more politically correct than paganism, and, by implication, more supportive of imperial order.”

Brent pays special attention to the late second century Church Father Theophilus who at one point accuses of Plato for failing to establish the monarchia required by any cosmological order. If matter can co-exist eternally alongside an uncreated God, Theophilis reasons, then there must be two first principles (or empires, archai) and not the required one as the source and origin of a single cosmic order. This demonstrates clearly that the Platonists have "failed" as "the unique sovereignty of God" or "his status as the underived first principle" from which all else is derived, "is not demonstrated."  The idea that Christianity should have allowed itself to throw itself on the ground before Caesar is undoubtedly repulsive for most people.  Yet few have ever considered that the effort to placate the ruler of the world go back over century before Constantine. 

We have to go back to Irenaeus's allusion to "faithful ones" at the Imperial court to get a sense of the underlying sliminess behind these supposedly 'lofty' philosophical discussions.  Yes in one sense certainly Theophilus is saying here that Christian monotheism was therefore far more satisfactory and, indeed, 'rational' than paganism.  But there is more to it than just this.  In the same that these apologists were trying to convince the ruling class to change minds about how they viewed Christianity, Christianity itself was fundamentally being transformed through its seemingly never ending 'apologizing' effort.

It seems hard to believe that these sycophants could have honestly believed that their efforts were at all compatible with earliest Christianity.  The apologists were in reality more akin to lobbyists than wise men. To be certain, they were not alone in the Imperial court; there were countless rival representatives of different religions, philosophers and teachers all competing for the ear of the Emperor.  While Brent is certainly right about a link between the theological and religious developments of the second and early third century and the growth of a stronger central (episcopal) power, in particular in the churches of the great metropolitan cities, there is a palpable sense that he does not go far enough in exactly spelling out how creepy this process must originally have been. 

He instead of the "Christian social construction of reality in the first centuries" being "fashioned in interaction with their pagan and imperial counterparts," the church order developing at an equal rate to and similarly with the priesthood of the imperial cult. underworld’ to account for the constant revisions to the original text of his letters.  Yet this hardly seems to do justice to the reality in which earlier forms of Christianity were effectively pushed out of the way to allow these corrupt beliefs and practices to define the faith.  The Valentinians are said to have identified the the Devil as 'cosmocrator “and the demons, and the angels, and every wicked spiritual being that exists, found the source of their existence” in him.  Imagine for a moment how the Imperial court wanting above all else to reinforce Caesar as cosmocrator would view that most Christian of doctrines.

It’s not enough to say ‘only the good die young’; the good also don’t get invited to 'hang out' at the Imperial court of a wicked Emperor or the rulers of an evil age. 

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