Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Four]

Mark as Secret Teacher

The most unusual thing about Clement's testimony about the origin of the Gospel of Mark is the effect it has on modern scholarship.  Indeed it is difficult to explain a scholar of the caliber of Francis Watson’s demonstrating such a sizable blind spot with respect to the implications of Clement's testimony.  At its very core, Clement says that Mark’s wrote independently of Peter.  Watson, however, manage to somehow turn this understanding on its head and says that because Clement treasured Peter, he must have held the Gospel of Mark in low estimation.

The conclusion is absolutely stunning given that it contradicts evidence about Clement's attitude to the gospel of Mark available to us from other sources.  It is difficult to see how Watson makes this leap of logic.  The fact that Clement cited writings associated with Peter in no way contradicts the evidence that he also treasured the things written by Mark.  The either/or here only exists in Watson's own imagination, but Watson thinks his imagination is powerful enough - in his own mind at least - to act as a suitable substitute for determining what must have gone through Clement's mind. 

In point of fact, it is difficult enough to know the mind of someone living under the same roof as you, let alone two thousand years ago.  In order for any scholar to claim that he knows what an ancient Christian felt and believed, he first has to abandon his own presuppositions about God, the Church and Christianity and become completely immersed in the writings of the person he is studying.  It is clear to many critics of Watson that he never quite manages to let go of his faith.  As one reviewer, with respect to the surviving dogmas of Christianity, "Watson himself appears to believe quite a lot” of them on a personal level. 

This reviewer argued that throughout Watson's writings to there being "favorable references to the Trinity as a basis for hermeneutics … the Nicene creed as one of the creeds limiting ecclesial interpretation … and the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ in accordance with the Scriptures”2  It should not at all be surprising then that Watson cannot quite allow all the evidence related to Clement of Alexandria to help shape our opinion of this Church Father.  Watson has become one of the leading voices arguing that we should ignore one key piece of evidence related to Clement on the grounds that it is a modern forgery - a 'Letter to Theodore' discovered by an American professor at the Mar Saba library in 1958. 

The arguments used by Watson to justify this unprecedented ignoring of evidence have been characterized by his peers as "a bit ridiculous."The underlying sense is that he is so desperate to make this letter go away that he will grab any argument - no matter how implausible to justify his ambition.4  Watson wants to create a portrait of Clement of Alexandria which is far more orthodox than his actual writings, ultimately by limiting the material we used to develop our portrait of him.  Above all else he wants to buttress the claims of absolute Church unity under the authority of the apostles.  The actual testimony of Clement raises doubt upon this very notion. 

Indeed Watson's claim that Clement could not have at once acknowledge the authority of Peter while assuming Mark was ultimately superior is one of the silliest of assumptions possible about the Church Father.  We should take the example of Clement's consistent attitude to the superiority of 'knowledge' over 'faith' in his writings and the identification of the persons of 'Mark' and 'Peter' with the two concepts in the 'Letter to Theodore'.

At one point in his famous Stromata or Tapestries writings Clement states quite clearly that "knowledge is superior to faith; as to be deemed worthy of the highest honour after being saved is superior to merely being saved."  In another place "knowledge is the perfection of man, as man, being perfected through the science (epistemen) of Divine things and being in unison with itself and the divine Word in manner, life and conversation. Through it faith is perfected, as the believer through it alone becomes perfect."  In the Letter to Theodore that Watson disputes we hear:

as for Mark, then, during Peter`s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord`s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former books the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge.

In other words, the gospel Mark wrote for Peter at Rome was for the "faith" and another secret gospel that Mark established on his own authority for "knowledge."  There is little else that needs to be said about this.5

The bottom line is that Watson is acting like an unjust prosecutor 'tampering with evidence' by accepting only some of the evidence associated with Clement.  His end objective is to deny the existence of a separate - and ultimately secret - authority of Mark within early Christian society.  The point here then is the rejection of the Letter to Theodore is not the end but rather a means to an end.  The claim that Clement had “little enthusiasm” for the Gospel of Mark is yet another.  For we know that the surviving Coptic tradition in Egypt - a Church which still retains over 10 million believers to this day - reinforces the very same view that Watson despises so, viz. that Mark founded an ecclesiastical tradition separate and ultimately superior to that of Peter.6

Perhaps the clearest proof that Clement was deeply attached to the Gospel of Mark is found in a Homily on the Gospel of Mark commonly known as 'Can the Rich Man be Saved.'7  A manuscript of this work once existed in the library at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher near the Mar Saba monastery - our surviving text was probably a copy of this text.8  In this work, Clement answers the contemporary claim of 'some' who cite the saying "that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven" to develop an incorrect understanding of salvation.  The unnamed community which developed this claim were probably the same heretical group at the heart of the Letter to Theodore.9

It has long been noted that the exact wording of this gospel citation at the beginning of 'Can the Rich Man be Saved' is unlike any gospel found in any surviving New Testament canon of writings.  In spite of the uniqueness of this saying it is clear that it comes from a gospel related to our Matthew text because of its reference to 'the kingdom of heaven.'10  One of the most consistent features of the Gospel of Mark is its preference for the term - the 'kingdom of God.' 

The point here is that Watson should never have been made his ridiculous claim that Clement had "little enthusiasm" for Mark.  'Can the Rich Man be Saved' witnesses Clement devotion to Mark's gospel in the manner that he cites Mark's account and only Mark's account of the Question of the Rich Man (Mark 10:17 - 31) as part of his 'correction' of the unnamed heretical group and the inferences it drew from its own heretical account of the same narrative.  Indeed when Clement completes his lengthy citation here he seems to indicate that all the other gospels used Mark's account as the basis for their own narratives:

These things are written in the Gospel according to Mark, and in all the others re-correspondingly (anomologemenois) to varying degrees, perhaps everywhere the same words exchanged, but all the same meaning displayed.

Scholars have been slow to recognize what Clement is actually saying here owing the decision of the English translators to essentially drop the Greek prefix ana from their translations.  The standard English text only reads "... and in all the others correspondingly." 

There is of course no such a word as "re-correspondingly" in English.  But its presence in the Greek is unmistakable and it is meant to show that the other gospels in the New Testament were understood by Clement to have been developed from Mark's original account - exactly as most New Testament scholars believe happened to this day.  Indeed the Liddell Scott's Greek dictionary identifies the root anomologeomai as meaning among other things recapitulate.  Perhaps the best way of translating the passage then is "these things are written in the Gospel according to Mark and in all the others recapitulatingly" - that is as a recapitulation or to "summarize and state again the main points" of what was originally laid down by Mark. 

Against this Alexandrian understanding of the gospel is the argument associated with Papias the earlier bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor.  Papias argued for Matthean priority - in other words that Matthew wrote first - that is prior to Mark - and that in so doing, he produced an initial Aramaic edition of the gospel.11  There are however possible indications that Papias was developing his argument against an opponent who held to Clement's Markan priority position.  It has long been noted that he cites Mark's gospel first and then brings forward Matthew as the source of the Markan text.

This argument about the origin of the gospel from either Matthew or Mark seems to date back much further than the current four gospel set understanding.  Indeed there are strong reasons for associating Mark's gospel specifically with the community associated with the apostle Paul - thus, this gospel and the canonical epistles associated with Paul may well have formed an original canon or 'rule' against the gospel of Matthew.  One community in particular seems to have been associated with this arrangement - i.e. that of the so-called Marcionite Church. 

The Philosophumena - a text which dates to the early third century - makes reference to the canon in the following terms:

When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark. But (the real author of the system) is (the philosopher) Empedocles, son of Meto, a native of Agrigentum. And (Marcion) despoiled this (philosopher), and imagined that up to the present would pass undetected his transference, under the same expressions, of the arrangement of his entire heresy from Sicily into the evangelical narratives.  

It will be our assumption that this was the original understanding of the Marcionite tradition only to be usurped by a much later claim regarding the sect's corruption of the Gospel according to Luke.12 

Since Luke was not introduced until the latter half of the second century, it's specific purpose was to 'liberate' the gospel of Mark from association with the sect which bore his name.13  To this end, we should understand that until the late second century the rivalry that existed between two groups affiliated with the gospels of Matthew and Mark, mirrored a historical divide between the Jewish-Christian and Marcionite communities.  The emergence of the Roman Catholic tradition sought to encourage greater ecumenism within Christianity and so formally subordinate Mark to Matthew and Paul to the greater apostolic community.14

It is important to become aware of the Marcionite contention that none of the disciples of Jesus wrote gospels.  In other words, they specifically denied the Catholic claim that Matthew and John were eyewitnesses of the Lord.  According to a prominent Marcionite, Matthew and John openly preached an unwritten gospel however the gospel associated and referenced in the epistles of Paul (Romans 16:25) was the first written gospel narrative in Christianity.15  This is very close to the position taken ultimately by Clement of Alexandria in the reference to Mark writing for the equestrians of Caesar, a testimony often misunderstand as arguing for Matthean primacy. 

The New Testament scholar Stephen Carlson has questioned the traditional translation of Clement's reference to Matthew and Luke being prographein as meaning 'first.'  Carlson has persuasively argued that the same word should be interpreted as meaning 'openly' and thus that Clement was really saying that Matthew and Luke were preached publicly - an understanding we should take to mean that the dissemination of the gospel was originally done out in the open in contradistinction to Mark's gospel was done privately and 'in secret.'  And so, when we go back to Eusebius's original statement about the contents of Clement's Hypotyposeis we read:

Again, in the same books Clement set forth, in the following manner, a tradition of the early elders about the order of the gospels: Clement said that those of the gospels which contain genealogies have been published openly, but that the Gospel according to Mark had this arrangement: after Peter had preached the word publicly in Rome, and expressed the gospel by the spirit, those who were present, being many, urged Mark, since he had followed Peter from way back and remembered what had been said [by him],to write down what was said. After doing so, Mark imparted the gospel to those who were asking him [for it]. When Peter learned of this, he used his powers of persuasion neither to hinder nor to encourage it. 

In other words, Clement was making no statement either way as to which gospel - i.e. Mark and Matthew - was published first or last but specifically only comments upon the different means by which each text was disseminated.16

If we go back to Clement's statement in Can the Rich Man be Saved we find that Mark's gospel preserved the original 'secret' understanding of Jesus's words which were imperfectly preserved by the other 'public gospels' - "the Saviour teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches all things to His own with divine and mystic (mustike) wisdom, we must not listen to His utterances carnally; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the meaning hidden (kekrummenon) in them."  The same sense is gained from the Philosophumena's reference to Marcion "despoiling" the mystical writings of Empedocles "and imagined that up to the present would pass undetected his transference, under the same expressions, of the arrangement of his entire heresy from Sicily into the evangelical narratives" of Mark. 

It is only by going one step further and assuming that the canonical writings which pass under the name of 'Paul' were really associated with Mark that we can arrive full circle at the solution to our difficulty with Clement's gospel testimony.  In the Catholic tradition, 'Paul' is not the original name of the apostle but a title or appellation that he adopted after his conversion to Christianity.  The Acts of the Apostles gives 'Saul' as the apostle's birth name.  However the Marcionites rejected the Acts of the Apostles as another spurious codex within the Catholic canon.  The Marcionite must have shared the Catholic assumption that Paul was an adopted name or title, but differed on what his original name was. 

Mark is the only possible name that makes any sense for the Marcionite tradition especially given their original adoption of a canon composed exclusively of the Gospel according to Mark and letters associated with Paul and most importantly the apostle's declaration that he wrote the original gospel.17  In other words, the letters of Paul make specific reference to the Gospel of Mark as 'my gospel' (Rom 16:25) as such Paul's original name was Mark not Saul.  In the very same manner, the later claim that the Gospel of Luke was Paul's gospel was developed to fill the vacuum left by the Catholic demolition of the traditional Marcionite canon of faith.18

One may wonder then why the Catholic canon allowed for the development of two anti-Marcionite gospels - i.e. a shorter version of the Gospel of Mark (i.e. minus the mystical doctrines of Empedocles Marcion is supposed to have added to 'true Mark' according to the Philosophumena) and the Gospel of Luke.  The answer is clearly that the Marcionites themselves understood their apostle to have written two versions of the same gospel in the manner that Clement describes in to Theodore.  The understanding was clearly associated with the interpretation of 2 Corinthians chapter 12 as reportedly held by Clement's famous student Origen.

We are told that Origen held that "Paul had two revelations" based on the specific wording of 2 Corinthians 12:2,3 “I know such a man caught up to the third heaven; and I know such a man, whether in the body or out of the body, God knoweth, that was caught up into paradise."  According to Clement's student then Paul:

signifies that he has seen two revelations, having been evidently taken up twice, once to the third heaven, and once into paradise. For the words, “I know such a man caught up,” make it certain that he was personally shown a revelation respecting the third heaven. And the words which follow, “And I know such a man, whether in the body or out of the body, God knoweth, that he was caught up into paradise,” show that another revelation was made to him respecting paradise.

Apparently, Origen understood that "paradise is a mere conception, as it is above the heaven, in order to draw the conclusion that life in paradise is incorporeal." 

Yet the very same distinction can be demonstrated to have been present in Clement's interpretation of the material.  Andrew Itter received his PhD from Latrobe University in Australia and recently wrote a book detailing the parallels between Clement of Alexandria's 'public' and 'secret' gospels of Mark and the 'third' and 'seventh' heavens respectively.  His analysis of Clement's treatment of the passage in 2 Corinthians is of great interest to our study.  The 'mystagogic sequence' as Itter calls it relating to the 'third' and 'seventh' appears again in a discussion of this material which Clement describes as "concerning the man who is caught up into the third heaven and who heard unutterable things."

According to Itter "Clement suggests that this passage demonstrates the impossibility of expressing God. Yet he also suggests that if the man does begin to speak above the third heaven, which is usually unlawful, it becomes 'lawful for those to initiate elect souls in the mysteries there.'"  This passage comes after a discussion on the incapacity of the multitude to “reach to summit of intellectual objects."  As Itter notes, "according to Clement, only Moses can ascend the mountain and enter the thick cloud that surrounds God. The passage from Paul is placed within the context of Moses' ascent of Mount Sinai, demonstrating that the heavens of which the apostle spoke represent steps for initiating elect souls into the mysteries, just as Moses was initiated. It is only on reaching the third heaven that it becomes lawful for them to initiate the elect souls in the mysteries; that is, it is only in the third stage of ascent that the mystagogy begins."

Clearly then for Clement no less than Origen there are two separate ascents or at least two separate 'places' in heaven - that of the 'third' and 'Paradise' i.e. the seventh - which represent specific places in the initiation process within Alexandrian Christianity.  Itter makes clear that 'the third' is understood by Clement to be the place from which the existence of the 'perfect' - i.e. Paradise can be seen:
The three days may be the mystery of the seal, in which God. is really believed. It is consequently afar off that he sees the place. For the region of God is hard to attain; which Plato called the region of ideas, having learned from Moses that it was a place which contained all things universally. But it is seen by Abraham afar off, rightly, because of his being in the realms of generation, and he is forthwith initiated by the angel. Thence says the apostle: "Now we see as through a glass, but then face to face," by those sole pure and incorporeal applications of the intellect.

In the very same way the gospel which ends with the resurrection on the 'third day' - "for the first day is that which is constituted by the sight of good things; and the second is the soul's best desire; on the third, the mind perceives spiritual things, the eyes of the understanding being opened by the Teacher who rose on the third day."
Itter points to the fact that the mystery of the 'three' and the 'seven' correspond to public and secret gospels of Mark as referenced in the earlier passages we just cited.  Clement begins by noting that Plato clearly identifies the proper number of heavens as seven.19  Similarly 'the prophet' Moses proscribes unleavened bread to be eaten for seven days (Exodus 13:7).  Both of these symbols point to the same mystery - that of a supernal realm of ideas beyond the edge of this world.  So Clement goes on to declare that

further, in the Epistle of the Romans to the Corinthians it is written, "An ocean illimitable by men and the worlds after it." Consequently, therefore, the noble apostle exclaims, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!"  And was it not this which the prophet meant, when he ordered unleavened cakes to be made, intimating that the truly sacred mystic word, respecting the unbegotten and His powers, ought to be concealed? In confirmation of these things, in the Epistle to the Corinthians the apostle plainly says: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among those who are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, or of the princes of this world, that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery."

Clement is here emphasizing the underlying understanding that the gospel - indeed the 'secret gospel' of Mark specifically - is the embodiment of the spiritual principle held in common with the heretics called 'the Ogdoad' - i.e. 'the eighthness.' 
In so referencing the last statement from 1 Corinthians chapter 2 Clement provides us in no uncertain terms with the proper context for understanding the existence of these 'public' and 'secret' gospels.  We begin by acknowledging the unstated belief that Mark must have later changed his name to Paul or was so identified by his hearers.20  He wrote one gospel based on the public preaching of Peter and another which incorporated his own 'spiritual knowledge.'  Both gospels were associated with heavenly revelations.  The 'public' gospel associated as it was with 'faith' takes the reader right up to the point where he can see the existence of a better, more 'perfect' place.  This came about from his ascending to the third heaven.  The 'secret' gospel takes the reader into the holy of holies or 'Paradise' where the initiate comes to know God 'face to face' or as Moses put it in the original Hebrew 'man to his brother' (ish 'el achiv).

As such the original development of a two gospel by Mark is explicitly spelled out in the formula at the beginning of the First Letter to the Corinthians:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with superior word or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the mystery of God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... and my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God. We do, however, speak a wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began ... as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived."

In other words, Paul is here clearly speaking as 'Mark' of the Alexandrian tradition witnessed by Clement in his Letter to Theodore. 

The apostle essentially confesses that he established two written texts.  The first is the primitive gospel narrative embodied by the Gospel of Mark 'according to faith' - the text associated by Clement with Peter.  It is this text which he "resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" and his message consisted of a "demonstration of the Spirit’s power" for sake of "faith."  The "perfect" gospel or "wisdom" is necessarily established in "secret" and is hidden from the "rulers of the age" - clear signs again that this is the text that Clement is revealing to his addressee in the Letter to Theodore.  Indeed we read in that text of the specific association of this second revelation and "knowledge."  The two gospels are necessarily linked to the two revelations in 2 Corinthians 12:2 - 4.

When we turn to the exact wording of the Letter to Theodore Clement makes clear that this revelation associated with Mark is associated with the very thing denied the first gospel - i.e. 'the Spirit':

[Mark] composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue , lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautionously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initated into the great mysteries. 

The equating of the first gospel with the "third" and the secret text with "shrine" hidden by "seven veils" is by no means coincidental.  It demonstrates that the original Markan tradition was intimately associated with the Pauline canon of writings. 

It cannot be coincidence that in the original Marcionite collection of epistles, there are only seven cities which receive correspondences from the apostle.  No one knows what the original order of these letters were but let's assume it was Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Laodiceans and Thessalonians for argument's sake.  The gospel necessarily becomes the 'eighth' in this scheme - i.e. the text that lies beyond the 'seventh' letter.  So we read Hilary of Poitiers declare "If we multiply seven by seven, shall find that this holy Season is truly the Sabbath of sabbaths; but what completes it, and raises it to the plenitude of the Gospel, is the eighth."  This is the essence of the mystical significance of the text, one which takes us all the way back to the original Aramaic significance of the very name 'gospel.'20
To answer our original line of inquiry then, there is a very good reason why Watson, Carlson and many other conservative scholars are terrorized by the recent discovery of Clement's lost letter to Theodore.  It opens the door to possibility that our entire inherited model for the origins of Christianity was built on a giant misrepresentation of the truth. 
1. "Peter's indifference to the Gospel of Mark probably mirrors and expresses Clement's own attitude …  For Clement, Mark adds little or nothing of substance to Matthew and Luke and is therefore unworthy of endorsement by the chief of the apostles. Mark is one of the ‘four gospels handed down to us,’ but in Clement's eyes it might just as well not have been. Genuine Petrine tradition is to be found elsewhere: Clement claims access to it in both oral and written forms (through the ‘elders,’ and in 1 Peter and the Preaching of Peter). In contrast, Mark’s unauthorized work excites little enthusiasm.”  
16 Of course Stephen Carlson - like Francis Watson - does not want to admit that the passage in Clement supports the idea that Mark wrote a specifically 'secret' gospel.  While Carlson admits that "Clement explained that Mark’s gospel was initially distributed to a limited number of people without the awareness or endorsement of Peter" and that "the adversative conjunction de implies that the passage about Mark contrasts in some way with the statement on Matthew and Luke" he is unwilling to admit that the specific contrast extended to the idea that Mark wrote in secret or mystic gospel while Matthew and Luke were public gospels.
19 "For I know what is in Plato (for the examples from the barbarian philosophy, which are many, are suggested now by the composition which, in accordance with promises previously given, waits the suitable time). For doubting, in Timaeus, whether we ought to regard several worlds as to be understood by many heavens, or this one, he makes no distinction in the names, calling the world and heaven by the same name. But the words of the statement are as follows: "Whether, then, have we rightly spoken of one heaven, or of many and infinite? It were more correct to say one, if indeed it was created according to the model."

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