Monday, September 23, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Five]

On Mark the Magician

Few people recognize how well testified the two gospel tradition is in early Christianity and especially its specific association with the apostles Peter and Paul.  In fact, one of the only original ideas in Clement's Letter to Theodore is the notion that the Markan tradition in Alexandria concealed their understand that Mark was the real author of the 'secret gospel' usually associated with Paul.1  Already in the late second century text the Prescription Against Heresies (hereafter 'Praescriptione) we hear repeated reference to the superiority of the 'secret gospel' associated with Paul over the rudimentary text associated with Peter.2  The formula developed in this text suggests this 'secret gospel' (occultum evangelium)  was one and the same with the mystical gospel of Mark associated with the Marcionites in the Philosophumena.3

The Praescriptione makes absolutely clear that in the original Roman community there were two gospels associated with Peter and Paul - one associated with 'public preaching' the other 'secret initiations.'  A tradition that reaches Augustine two hundred years later goes one step further - identifying them as "books which they consider to have been written by Him" - i.e. Christ - to Peter and Paul which were allegedly steeped in magic.4  We should take a careful look again at the specific reference in 1 Corinthians 2:4 - 5 to "demonstrations of the Spirit's power" and "the power of God" for some literary context here.  Already in Origen we see repeated identification of the terminology as relating to the contents of the gospel.5 

However the same references are also associated with Paul giving him the reputation of being a magician.  The Emperor Julian refers to the apostle as "the man who surpassed all magicians and deceivers that ever were, anywhere" this based in no small part as Morton Smith notes, on "his repeated claim that his converts had been won by his success in working miracles and invoking the spirit and not by his skills as a preacher."6  With this reputation as a great magician intact, we should take a second look at Clement's denial that Mark was the author of the secret gospel.  One may suspect that the deliberate attempt to obscure this association may well have something to do with the apostle's reputation as a magician. 

In the Letter to Theodore we read immediately after Clement's confession of the existence of two gospels of Mark an attempt made attempt to answer some of the questions raised by his friend in a previous letter.  We will learn at the end of the surviving portion of the letter that Theodore mentioned something about 'naked with naked' but there may also have been something about Mark being a magician as we read:

But since the foul demons are always devising destruction for the race of men, Carpocrates, instructed by them and using deceitful arts, so enslaved a certain presbyter of the church in Alexandria that he got from him a copy of the secret Gospel, which he both interpreted according to his blasphemous and carnal doctrine and, moreover, polluted, mixing with the spotless and holy words utterly shameless lies. From this mixture is withdrawn off the teaching of the Carpocratians. To them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath.

Carpocrates is the alleged founder of the heretical group which bore his name.  His name first seems to have come up in Patristic literature at the end of Hegesippus's work detailing the origin of the Roman Church. 

The point here is that the secret gospel seems to have been known in Rome as early as the middle of the second century.  A certain female follower of Carpocrates and who was also said to be involved with magic was active in the city at the time.  While no specific mention of 'the secret gospel of Mark' survives in our original sources of information about this sect - it would seem that Clement's words here echo the accusation that not only the sect but also Mark himself was engaged in magical practices.  This understanding is as old as our oldest surviving sources about Mark.  In the History of the Coptic Patriarchs by the tenth century Severus ibn al-Muqaffaʿ Mark is identified by his pagan adversies as one who "workest the magic of the Galilean thy master, and whatever thou wilt thou doest."  Mark's magical feats are so impressive he has to convince his converts to worship Jesus rather than himself.7

Perhaps more significantly, many recent studies have noticed that in the Gospel of Mark presents Jesus as a magician.  David Aune a Walter Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Notre Dame University has developed the most detailed study of this phenomenon where as he notes the "anti-magic apologetic is present side-by-side with magical traditions."  Aune specifically refers to the Beelzebul pericope among others.  Those who deny the presence of these traditions are left putting forward a most perplexing claim that Mark incorporates magical elements in a naive and unself-conscious manner with no attempt to protect Jesus and the Christian community from the charge of magic.  

One such apologist is John Hull, Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham who takes this position because he correctly observes that the author of Mark allows to stand in the miracle stories magical details that Matthew eliminates.  It has been argued that because the author of Mark does not use the same arguments that later Christian apologists used to defend the miracle traditions about Jesus, Hull fails to recognize the signs of magic use which the evangelist does employ effectively.  In any event it is generally agreed that Mark developed a portrait of Jesus in line with the healing and exorcistic practices of the greater pagan culture.  This made both Mark and Jesus the target of outsiders and undoubtedly led his followers - variously identified - to obscure their association with him. 

If we were to identify the quintessential Markan 'magic trick' it would certainly be the 'mystery' described in the Letter to Theodore.  Scholars have wrestled with the meaning of this material for generations, undoubtedly being distracted by an apparent reference to homosexuality again vehemently denied by Clement.  Nevertheless the context of the 'naked with naked' is clearly associated with the greater Christian mystery of adoption and assimilation with their Lord Jesus.  Since Clement likens the mystery to the 'Holy of Holies' in the Jerusalem temple on several occasions it is not surprising that Moses describes a 'man with man' - or specifically ish 'el achiv, man and his brother - as the image of humanity's relationship with the divinity.

The holiest 'mystery' of the secret gospel is simply the recognition that baptism is a realization of this metaphor.  In other words, humanity can be made divine and that Jesus (Iesous) is the living symbol of making everyone and everything equal (isos).8  Already we learn that ritual communism was practiced by the early adherents of the secret gospel.9  It is no wonder then that there was a such a profound backlash against the specific Markan formulation of Christianity in the late second century.  One can make a very strong case that the specific accusation of 'magical practices' were in reality mere exaggerations in order to protect a growing sense that Christianity was advocating the abolition of private property.10

There is a long history of Roman intervention against communist 'magicians.'  In his great chronicle of world history, Jerome lists 28 BCE as the year of the expulsion from Rome and Italy by Augustus of the Pythagorean and magus, Anaxilaus of Larissa.  It is often ignored that one of the founding principles of Pythagoreanism was "the possession of friends are common."11  While "the communistic organization was confined to those in the upper levels of the society's hierarchy of grades" the practice was almost certainly instituted by Pythagoras himself.12

How long this Anaxilaus the Pythagorean had been in Rome before he was expelled is not known. All that we know for certain is that this man was famous for put together a collection of spells of an amusing character such as would entertain at a drinking party and that he was likened to Mark the evangelist.  Birger Pearson criticized this identification saying that Irenaeus is referencing a second century Mark rather than the disciple of Peter with our Pythagorean magician.13  Nevertheless a number of other scholars have pointed to the fact that there is no firm evidence that Mark was ever present in Gaul among the members of his sect.14  Moreover since Mark is specifically accused of presenting himself in the place of Jesus in the Christian adoption rites, his sect was in effect creating hundreds of 'sons of Mark' made in his image each liturgical cycle.

The ultimate parody of this heretical practice is found in the pseudo-Clementine literature where Faustus the father of a disciple of Peter who has himself been baptized by the wicked Simon Magus and assumed his person.  The narrative features several Christians discussing how it was that Faustus 'became' Simon Magus, with one disciple recounting:

as Faustus was entering, he [Simon] turned his own rage on him, and thus addressed us:  ‘Make him, when he comes, share your meals; and I will prepare an ointment, so that, when he has supped, he may take some of it, and anoint his face with it, and then he will appear to all to have my shape.  But I will anoint you with the juice of some plant, and then you will not be deceived by his new shape; but to all others Faustus will seem to be Simon.  “And while he stated this beforehand, I said, ‘What, then, is the advantage you now expect to get from such a contrivance?’  And Simon said, ‘First, those who seek me, when they apprehend him, will give up the search after me.  But if he be executed by the hand of the emperor, very great sorrow will fall upon his children, who left me, and fleeing to Peter, now aid him in his work.’  

The idea of course that Simon could make someone 'take on his person' is of course pure fiction.  Nevertheless it goes back to the same ideas associated with the baptismal rites of the community of Mark.

In the surviving narrative of the Pseudo-Clementines Peter's informant confesses to the apostle that:

"I was prevented by fear of Simon from informing Faustus of this.  But Simon did not give us an opportunity for private conversation, lest some one of us might reveal to him the wicked design of Simon.  Simon then rose up in the middle of the night and fled to Judæa, convoyed by Appion and Athenodorus.  Then I pretended that I was sick, in order that, remaining after they had gone, I might make Faustus go back immediately to his own people, if by any chance he might be able, by being concealed with you, to escape observation, lest, being caught as Simon by those who were in search of Simon, he might be put to death through the wrath of the emperor.  At the dead of night, therefore, I sent him away to you; and in my anxiety for him I came by night to see him, with the intention of returning before those who convoyed Simon should return.”  And looking to us, he said:  “I, Annubion, see the true shape of your father; for I was anointed, as I related to you before, by Simon himself, that the true shape of Faustus might be seen by my eyes.  Astonished, therefore, I exceedingly wonder at the magic power of Simon, in that standing you do not recognise your own father.”  And while our father and our mother and we ourselves wept on account of the calamity common to all of us, Annubion also through sympathy wept with us.

In the end of course Peter manages to allow Faustus to return to his own self by confessing his sins and adopting the Catholic faith.  Yet the point of the narrative is that the heretical rites were understood to make their faithful 'sons of their teacher' in the manner in which the orthodox reserved only for their communion with Christ. 

We shall get to the parallel magical practices of the circle of Mark shortly, however it might be useful for the moment to provide some background to the claim that Mark was a magician like the Pythagorean Anaxilaus.  There are indeed many occasions where this comparison is made in writings linked to Irenaeus.15  It would seem that Irenaeus wanted to link the original author of the Christian gospel with not only a famous magician, but one who had been condemned by the Imperial government as noted above specifically owing to its mystic brand of communism.  To this end, Clement's defense of the Gospel of Mark in both the Letter to Theodore and Can the Rich Man be Saved is developed with the Carpocratian hermeneutic in mind.

As noted above, the specific claim that heretics could transform individuals after their image would not be a prosecutable offense under Roman law.  However the charge that Christians used magic to harm people or harm the interests of society at large was certainly a punishable offense.16  Of course on the surface at least the kind of individuals described by Celsus as being attracted to Christianity - i.e. slaves and the lowest rungs of society - wouldn't have the social standing to lodge a complaint that would ever make its way before a judge.  Apuleius of Madaurus in North Africa was accused of using magic to seduce his wife, but she came from one of the leading families in the region.17

To this end we have to accept that Irenaeus's accusation of Mark being a 'magician' was merely a sensational component of a much broader charge against the original followers of the evangelist.  Indeed it was their interest in a 'greater brotherhood of man' - including slaves - which was the real concern for the Imperial authorities.  For Clement there clearly was two different rules with respect to the sharing of wealth which corresponded to the two different gospels of Mark.  We may imagine something in the manner of the Roman Church, the ranks of the presbytery did share all things in common, while the members of the laity were encouraged to share their private wealth.  Yet his opponents clearly demanded absolute communism within the Church.

The fact that individuals like Clement were actively trying to distinguish the 'good use' of the secret gospel from the wicked interest of the heretics, made the Markan tradition a difficult target.  It would seem that Irenaeus's original report against the sect desperately tried to find some trace of malevolent magical practices to stigmatize Clement's community.  There are very strong reasons to believe that the Anaxilaus passage in Irenaeus's Against Heresies 1.13.1 was deliberately altered. We shall try and demonstrate that Anaxilaus was originally thought to be the inspiration behind the Markan 'second baptism' rite - rather than the passing around of 'colored water' that he is now alleged to have handed to his adepts.

There are four surviving reports originally identifying a connection between the followers of Mark and Anaxilaus the Pythagorean:

  1. the testimony of Irenaeus Against Heresies Book 1 Chapters 13 - 21 - this material is only preserved in a Latin translation
  2. the testimony of Epiphanius's Panarion - which is our only surviving Greek edition of this testimony.  Epiphanius makes clear that there was an original text 'Against the Markans' which was incorporated into Book One alongside another originally distinct report 'Against the Valentinians' which is preserved in Latin as a stand alone text by Tertullian. 
  3. the testimony of the Philosophumena Book 6 Chapters 35 - 50 - this is an epitome of Irenaeus's lost 'Against the Markans' in Greek and displays numerous differences with both (1) and (2)
  4. the testimony of the Anonymous Treatise on Second Baptism - this text has almost verbatim parallels with later sections of the Irenaeus's account of the Markans

Scholars tend to view (2) as a confirmation of (1) and its claim that Marcus encouraged his followers to pass around a cup filled with wine colored water allegedly learned from a trick of Anaxilaus.  The difficulty here is that Anaxilaus never developed this magic trick.

This obvious short coming makes the testimony of (4) so incredibly valuable.  It identifies the water trick as relating to a second baptism 'in fire' - i.e. spirit - which was certainly the original testimony.  It references the very same arguments made by the followers of Mark about why this second baptism is superior to that instituted by the Catholic Church from John the Baptist - i.e. a baptism of repentance of sins.  It alludes to the same scriptural passages (Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:35 - 40).  It connects these two elements to Anaxilaus.  However the specific name 'Mark' has been entirely removed from the text. 

We shall argue that the key piece of evidence to unlock the proper context for all four testimonies is the statement found in the Philosophumena that the followers of Mark read Irenaeus's original account and demanded changes be made owing to gross factual inaccuracies.  The author of the epitome is forced to admit that Irenaeus made mistakes in his original reporting:

For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of them) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption. But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny). For these opinions, however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school.   

It is simply unheard of to have an early Church Father acknowledge the inaccuracies of holy men from previous generations.  Clearly the Philosophumena uses Irenaeus for much of its information about the sects, however in this one instance the author is forced to admit defeat.

The fact that he seeks to pardon the Valentinians from being lumped together with the followers of Mark is especially significant given the fact that Epiphanius repeats parts of Adv Haer 1.21 twice - once as part of his reporting of Against Heresies as we have it now and a second time as pertaining to a Valentinian sect named after a certain teacher named Heracleion.  To this end, it must be accepted - especially given the strange ordering of (3) - that Irenaeus's account of the Markan sect originally looked very different from what we have now.  The Markans were specifically accused by Irenaeus of adopting a 'redemption' baptism described in the secret gospel of Mark, one which above all else sought to make all men and women equal after one image and likeness - viz. that of the magician Mark. 

At a later date the original allusion to Anaxilaus's magic trick of mixing fire and water - i.e. 'baptism by fire' - was transformed into an account of a 'spiritual' cup with purple water.18  Yet the account comes so suddenly upon the reader - indeed, at the very beginning of the narrative - it clearly seems to betray its origin as a late addition.  It should be noted that all reference to Anaxilaus is removed from the epitome of (3).  Moreover almost everything to do with the redemption baptism has been removed owing to Markan objections.  Yet there seems to be a clear implication that this baptism was originally associated with Anaxilaus as just before the original and now excised section dealing with the second baptism being performed on those "dying and have reached the point of death" (cf. Adv Haer 1.21.5 "others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death").

Immediately following this statement in (3) we read the epitome's reference to "such and other (tricks) this impostor attempted to perform. And so it was that he was magnified by his dupes, and sometimes he was supposed to utter predictions. But sometimes he tried to make others (prophesy), partly by demons carrying on these operations, and partly by practising sleight of hand, as we have previously stated."  None of this claim of the baptismal practices of the sect being association with magic now appears in either (1) or (2). Yet it is certainly retained in (4) alongside a great deal of other material from Adv Haer 1.21

It is for this reason that we shall argue that Irenaeus's original testimony about the Markan sect is found in the Treatise on Second Baptism.   According to (4) the heresies now unnamed led their initiates to believe that they were partaking in the 'baptism by fire and Holy Spirit' which John the Baptist said would come after his baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11). This 'spiritual baptism' is specifically related to the very same trick scholars attempt to associate with the cup with purple water in (1) and (2) and moreover for the same mystical function - i.e. to impart the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

The reality is that to this very day baptism is understood to impart the Holy Spirit to initiates.  It is the foundation upon which Christianity was established.  The significance of 'drinking from the cup' is far more ambiguous, modern Catholic for instance can decline to drink from the communal cup.  Partaking of the host and baptism by contrast are mandatory.  It is hard to imagine a Christian community which would place such an emphasis on a cup of purple water.  The disputed claims of Irenaeus about the practices of the sect seem that much more outlandish and out of character with Christianity once the original charge of a 'magical baptism' was removed.

Clearly then Clement's community objected to his more accurate account of their sect, their secret practices and their secret gospel.  The line - "on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received, but they have learned that always they should deny" - seems to be right out of Clement's Letter to Theodore.20  So too is the account in (4) of the Anaxilaus inspired baptism:

And such men as these do all these things in the desire to deceive those who are more simple or more inquisitive. And some of them try to argue that they only administer a sound and perfect, not as we, a mutilated and curtailed baptism, which they are in such wise said to designate, that immediately they have descended into the water, fire at once appears upon the water. Which if it can be effected by any trick, as several tricks of this kind are affirmed to be of Anaxilaus whether it is anything natural, by means of which this may happen, or whether they think that they behold this, or whether the work and magical poison of some malignant being can force fire from the water; still they declare such a deceit and artifice to be a perfect baptism, which if faithful men have been forced to receive, there will assuredly be no doubt but that they have lost that which they had. Just as, if a soldier after taking an oath should desert his camp, and in the very different camp of the enemy should wish to take an oath of a far other kind, it is plain that in this way he is discharged from his old oath. 

The sense of the words here are so close to Clement's in the Letter to Theodore it should be difficult for even Watson and Carlson to avoid seeing the parallel - "to them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way ; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath."

Apparently the Markans were 'in denial' about more than just naming the author of their secret gospel ...


15 In Against Marcion Book Two, it can be inferred that Anaxilaus's trick of using the ink of cuttlefish to make European people look black is said to be used by the heretics on the God of the Jews. Of course the question that stands before us is why Irenaeus chose to link Mark and Anaxilaus. The answer it
16 Esoteric or occult interests had in the late Republic begun to be shared by some members of the elite and so presented themselves as a threat to convention. In the late 40s Nigidius Figulus, another Pythagorean, was believed to have practised 'forbidden arts' in his house. These currents were routinely condemned as un-Roman and equated with learned magic. The earliest Roman reports of magicians they are always spoken in the same breath with astrologers thus establishing as Richard Gordon notes "the link between magic and divination made autocracy fearful of it; the link between magic and the non-Roman made it a valuable tool for delators."  The self-evident character of the association between magic and divination, and its political import, is clear from the speech Dio puts into the mouth of Maecenas, "Divination is of course necessary . . . But there ought to be no magicians at all: for such men, by speaking the truth sometimes, but generally falsehood, very often encourage numbers to stir up revolution." While it is true that there is virtually no legal evidence prior to Constantine's law of 321/4 that mere knowledge of magic was unlawful, the issue was familiar in courtroom practice much earlier. Gordon points to a little-known declamatory exercise by the second-century Greek rhetor Hadrian, a pupil of Herodes Atticus, deals with the simulated case of a witch who, when another condemned witch had succeeded in extinguishing the fire that was to consume her, overcomes her arts and causes the flames to destroy her. The argument is made that this second witch should herself be condemned to death as, it is said, the law refutes those who argue "that it is not women who profess the art (of magic or witchcraft) but those who employ it to wicked ends whom the law punishes." Some crimes proceed simply from recklessness, from the very fact of being committed, as we say, while others, such as witchcraft, depend upon a learned skill. These are discredited before the act by the very knowledge. Those who have learned to put into practice skills by means of which harm can be done must fall under suspicion from the very desire (to learn them): for those thus facing danger cannot make shift to defend themselves against those who are capable of harming them (after the event), but they must be able to act before they suspect that they have been harmed, (ibid. p. 44.14-23) Hadrian here attacks a hypothetical witch not for any harmful practice but merely for being a witch as in principle under Roman law one did not need actually to have injured anyone to be liable to prosecution and execution as a witch or magician: one only needed to know how to cause harm (maleficium).
17 The existing passage in Irenaeus reads: For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working miracles by these means. Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour, so that Grace who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them. Again, handing mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence. When this has been done, he himself produces another cup of much larger size than that which the deluded woman has consecrated,) and pouting from the smaller one consecrated by the woman into that which has been brought forward by himself, he at the same time pronounces these words: "May that Chaffs who is before all things, and who transcends all knowledge and speech, fill thine inner man, and multiply in thee her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in thee as in good soil." Repeating certain other like words, and thus goading on the wretched woman [to madness], he then appears a worker of wonders when the large cup is seen to have been filled out of the small one, so as even to overflow by what has been obtained from it. By accomplishing several other similar things, he has completely deceived many, and drawn them away after him. We have already brought forward Attridge's observation that Eusebius does not mention this passage.
18 The account is referenced in the writings of Pliny in the following manner: Anaxilaus used to employ this substance [sulfur] by way of pastime : putting sulphur in a cup of wine, with some hot coals beneath, he would hand it round to the guests, the light given by it, while burning, throwing a ghastly paleness like that of death upon the face of each. [Pliny Natural Science 35] One can see immediately how the implausible account which now appears in Against Heresies is actually represents a later editor's 'tinkering' with the original account more faithfully represented in the Treatise on Second Baptism. Indeed what sense would it be for Irenaeus to claim the heretics stole a trick no one had ever heard of from Anaxilaus? Pliny was widely read and so his reference to Anaxilaus putting hot coals in the water to make it appear fire was present would be immediately recognized by his readers too. Moreover we can see the manner in which the later editor of Against Heresies changed the original 'fire baptism' reference from Pliny into its present form, drawing upon the Latin writer's allusions to a 'cup,' 'wine' and the 'passing around of the cup.'  While it is true that epitomist captures the general idea of Mark encouraging them to prophesy he never mentions Anaxilaus or the specific idea of this being done through a cup of purple water. The reference is again "he (Mark) was supposed to utter predictions. But sometimes he tried to make others (prophesy), partly by demons carrying on these operations, and partly by practising sleight of hand, as we have previously stated." When we start to think about it, the epitomist's summary actually sounds a great deal more like Irenaeus's original account of the Marcionites in Book Three who not only use a longer gospel of Mark (Adv Haer 3.11.7) but "who wish to be pseudo-prophets, forsooth, but who set aside the gift of prophecy from the Church." (ibid 3.11.9) The understanding being referenced here is that the heretics believed that Mark could grant them access to the Holy Spirit. But the existing texts of Against Heresies say that he adopted magical practices from Anaxilaus involving various sized cups and colored water to achieve this end. This sounds hardly believable on several levels - the most obvious being that nowhere is Anaxilaus ever credited with inventing this sort of magic trick.

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