Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Six]

Punished or Martyred: the Persecution of 177 CE Re-Examined

We have now come full circle to our original historical investigation.  We have now returned to the questions surrounding the persecution of Christians toward the end of the reign of Marcus Aurelius.  Yet before we delve into the surviving accounts of what happened we will first have to confront many of the doubts raised in recent times about whether or not the trial of Christians ever actually occurred.  Candida Moss professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame has drawn a lot of attention to this question, raising doubts about the accuracy of the reporting of the ancient accounts of the martyrs. She accepts that Christians were indeed punished but not necessarily for the reasons given in apologetic documents.

Moss does not deny that ancient Romans did execute some Christians because they were Christians. Rather she successfully demonstrates that they were prosecuted for failing to abide by the prevalent social contract.  With respect to the persecution in the Rhone valley for instance Moss points to numerous difficulties with the existing account.  Most significantly she argues that various theological terms are used which are not otherwise attested before the third century (a reference to the church as the "virgin mother", a distinction between "confessors" - Christians in prison who have been condemned but not yet put to death - and martyrs), and the letter begins by saying that the events are "worthy of undying remembrance", a phrase used by Eusebius in both the Church History and his Martyrs of Palestine.

All of these are indications, according to Moss, that the letter has been edited by Eusebius.  Yet there is another, much more plausible explanation to the anomalies in the material. We are told by Eusebius himself that Irenaeus carried the letter from the confessors in Lyons to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome.  As a result of this mission he ‘missed’ the slaughter of Christians.  A number of scholars however, including the great French Patristic scholar Pierre Nautin, have argued that Irenaeus is the letters actual author.  Since the arguments for Irenaean authorship are quite strong and generally accepted, we can begin to question whether a number of surprising claims about the composition of the Christian community at Lyons tell us more about what Irenaeus wanted people to believe about these martyrs as opposed to what actually happened to them. 

To this end, we can say with Moss that the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons sounds like a third century composition to her, is because it is a third century composition.  It was a letter written by Irenaeus in the twilight of his career for reasons we can't yet determine.  At the very least we can argue that Irenaeus felt prompted to write an account on behalf of the martyrs at Lyons which came to define the scope and character of the earlier assault on Christianity by Marcus Aurelius for ages to come.  No one can doubt that we view the persecution from his eyes, and with his concerns, wishes and hopes guiding our understanding.

As Roy Ward, Professor of Religion at Miami University has noted the document betrays a clear pattern of echoing familiar themes in the writings of Irenaeus – and most specifically - the idea that Christians were very much like other citizens of the Empire at that time.  Many scholars have just taken the text at face value for instance when it says that Christians had no ethical reservations about going to the baths. Yet we should demonstrate more cautious.  Irenaeus might have wanted his readers to believe that Christians were just like them or their neighbors in order to challenge contemporary propaganda that they were in fact a rather strange bunch of people.

One could argue in fact that Irenaeus's purpose was to re-make Christianity in his own image – i.e. that the apostles sanctioned a complete kowtowing to Imperial authority and reflect what we might call an underlying ‘middle class’ sensibility.  In other words, it is because Irenaeus 'cares what the neighbors think' the portrait of Christians that emerges from the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons goes out of its way to whitewash its portrait of the martyrs who died in 177 CE.  One famous martyr is said to have given up his heretical dietary restriction while in prison.  Irenaeus also goes out of his way to demonstrate that there were countless ‘Latin-speaking’ believers among the confessors.

If the letter describing the persecution of Lyons in 177 CE was a third century ‘re-imagining’ of the original historical event, the question has to be raised – what would have prompted Irenaeus to attempt such a thing so late in his career? Surely this story was ‘old news’ thirty years on. Why would anyone to whitewash a story that had been long forgotten?  The answer is of course that those afflicted by the slaughter might not have been able to move on so quickly.

There are important signs moreover that one particular group – ‘those of Mark’ – continued to object to Irenaeus’s portrait of their group well into the third century.  A surviving third century variant edition of Against Heresies discovered in the Mount Athos monastery - i.e. the Philosophumena - shows that the Marcites were engaged in an open disputing of the 'facts' of Irenaeus's claims about their sect. Interestingly the editor of this manuscript acknowledges that the heretics might be partly correct.  He admits that Irenaeus wasn’t really attempting to provide exact information, but rather a ‘cursory’ account of things related to the sect. 

If we  acknowledge this one sect's ‘discomfort’ with Irenaeus didn’t just start at the time of the publication of the Philosophumena, we have to call into question the Church Fathers reporting of the persecution in the Rhone valley as well.  For it is worth noting that Book One of Against Heresies purports to tell the story of the followers of Mark in the very same region at more or less the same time as the persecutions of 177 CE.  Are we really supposed to believe that all the martyrs at Lyons and Vienne were Catholics?  This is the impression that one gets from reading the narrative, yet there are strong reasons for believing that Irenaeus provides evidence against this assumption in his account of the Marcites in the very same region at the very same time in his account of the heretics in the first book of Against Heresies.   

The work itself was clearly developed independently and prior to the assembly of the existing five volume series.   Not only did the account of the Valentinians (chapters 1 - 12) circulate as a separate work, Epiphanius specifically references the Marcite section as if it originally derived from a similar 'stand along' text - i.e. as “the work written against Marcus himself and his successors by the most holy and blessed Irenaeus.”  Scholars have long developed theories about 'original sources' behind the various books of Against Heresies as we have already seen in this investigation.  While there are great number of theories to this effect, no one has come up with a formula everyone else can agree on for how this was carried out and who edited the final tome of Irenaean writings.

At the core of the work against the followers of Mark is Irenaeus's contemporary objection that the followers of Mark were not only overrunning the region and causing mischief for the leading families of the region, but most importantly deserved the prosecution inflicted upon by the Imperial authorities.  Indeed a careful examination of the specific wording of the opening lines of Irenaeus's account of the Marcite reveals quite clearly a situation that the heretics were punished but that their suffering which didn’t rise to the level of true martyrdom because of their incorrect views of the godhead.

To this end, when we go back to the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons we can begin to see that it represents the second of two accounts of the original persecution in the Rhone valley.  The first, as we just mentioned appeared in the work known to Epiphanius as Against Marcus himself and his Successors or perhaps speculatively - 'Against Marcion.'  In this work, Irenaeus clearly sides with the authorities and against what appear at first glance to be ‘fellow Christians.’ This work was incorporated into chapters 13 - 21 of the first book of Against Heresies.  We then have to acknowledge that the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons represents nothing short of a 'second attempt' at an account of the same events written at the dawn of the third century which featured Catholics front and center as ‘witnesses’ of Jesus Christ.

This proposed transformation of the original heretical 'deserved victims' of the 177 CE campaign to restore order in the Rhone Valley into holy Catholics martyrs is not limited to our Lyons document.  It can be demonstrated to manifest itself in the chronological development of the five volumes of Against Heresies.  Assuming again that each book in the series represents a successive development of Irenaeus's thought processes, it is important to note that Book One - almost universally regarded as having been written a few years after the Lyons persecution - has familiar claims of the existence of a ‘universal Church’ in every corner of the empire without any mention of holy martyrs or witnesses.

The book which sees Irenaeus shout out the claim that Catholics have almost all the martyrs in the world is Book Four, written as we have noted almost a generation later:

wherefore the Church does in every place, because of that love which she cherishes towards God, send forward, throughout all time, a multitude of martyrs to the Father; while all others not only have nothing of this kind to point to among themselves, but even maintain that such witness-bearing is not at all necessary, for that their system of doctrines is the true witness, with the exception, perhaps, that one or two among them, during the whole time which has elapsed since the Lord appeared on earth, have occasionally, along with our martyrs, borne the reproach of the name … and have been led forth with them [to death], being, as it were, a sort of retinue granted unto them. For the Church alone sustains with purity the reproach of those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake, and endure all sorts of punishments, and are put to death because of the love which they bear to God, and their confession of His Son; often weakened indeed, yet immediately increasing her members, and becoming whole again, after the same manner as her type," Lot's wife, who became a pillar of salt. 

We will come back to this idea of 'the typology' of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt later in our investigation.  It is enough to say for the moment that Irenaeus's failure to mention witnesses of the Catholic in the immediately aftermath of events in Vienne and Lyons is more perplexing. Where did all these holy martyrs come from in the very same Commodian period which Eusebius and Irenaeus describe as nothing short of a golden age for the Church?  The answer is clearly they were appropriated, 're-baptized' and repackaged witness from earlier and specifically heretical martyrdoms. 

What Irenaeus is saying in this account from 192 - 195 CE is that there were indeed heretical martyrs in contemporary times, but that these one or two witnesses were sandwiched in between a massive Catholic tidal wave of martyrdom.  Who these 'Catholic martyrs' were and what the circumstances of their persecution were, Irenaeus doesn't tells us.  Yet when we look to the letter allegedly ‘delivered’ by Irenaeus on behalf of the Lyons martyrs – we see something that approximates the revisionist history of this statement in Book Four.

As mentioned earlier, in the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons almost every martyr is Catholic.  Even those Christians who start the narrative with questionable beliefs before suddenly become transformed under the dispensation of Spirit coming from the Catholic martyrs. Of course only begins to name specific Catholic martyrs in this very text - perhaps a full generation after the events in question. Yet there are still clear signs even in this existing account as preserved for us by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century, that what we have before us is a deliberate transformation of his original description of the Marcite martyrs of the Rhone twenty years earlier. 

Let's pay close attention to his statement in Book Four that these heretics held that “such witness-bearing is not at all necessary.”  It should be noted that this isn’t the same thing as saying that the Marcites weren’t slaughtered in Lyons.  Rather it is only a confirmation that they didn’t embrace the idea of recklessly throwing themselves at the authorities in order to get into heaven in the manner of his master Polycarp. Indeed the clearest example of this thinking is that of Clement of Alexandria – himself a Marcite as we have already demonstrated. He cites Jesus's very words in Matthew 10:23, when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" to justify his own escape from the Imperial persecutions against the tradition of Mark in Alexandria under Septimius Severus c. 202 CE.

Indeed can we go so far as to suggest that Irenaeus’s invention of a letter of the martyrs of Lyons was prompted by the new round of persecution – not in Lyons as some have suggested – but in Alexandria itself?   In other word, the old account of his justification and siding with the authorities against the tradition of Mark needed a complete revision in order to distinguish himself from being perceived as a collaborator – which of course was exactly what he was.

Not surprisingly we find an exact parallel for the belief that “witness-bearing is not at all necessary” in Book One’s description of the Marcites when he says that they pray to their cosmic Mother and when “she hears these words, she puts the Homeric helmet of invisibility upon them, so that they may invisibly escape the judge.” The ‘Homeric helmet’ is mythical object mentioned in the Illiad, its characteristic of rendering the occupant unseen develops because the Greek word for invisibility (aidos) sounds like the name Hades, a name for the ruler of the underworld. In fact instead of ‘helmet’ it literally reads ‘dog-skin’ [kuneen] of invisibility.

What is really being said here is that the followers of Mark are a crypto-tradition and as such they have mastered the ability to avoid detection by the Imperial judge. All other attempts to translate this passage and what follows entirely miss the point. So it is that the reader should pay close attention to what Irenaeus says in what immediately follows that:

Such are the words and deeds by which, in our own district of the Rhone, they have deluded many women, who have their complicity seared with a hot iron. Some of them, indeed, make a public confession; but others of them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether; while others hesitate between the two courses, and incur that which is implied in the proverb, "neither without nor within;" possessing this as the fruit from the seed of the children of knowledge. 

This is a most remarkable passage which testifies to an incredible amount of force being used against the heretics – they are ‘cauterized’ with a hot iron. Indeed Celsus knows of a whole class of Christians who are called 'cauterized in the ear.'  

Origen rightly attributes Celsus’s knowledge of this term to some exposure with 1 Timothy 4:2 – “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their complicity seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe” – and, importantly, contemporary exegesis of this passage. This reference can be argued to be one of the clearest examples that these spurious scriptures – i.e. the so-called Pastoral epistles - writings now universally acknowledge not to have been written by the historical apostle but someone pretending to be him, were actually written in the late second century and specifically after the persecutions of 177 CE.

Indeed Irenaeus offers unqualified support to these fabrications as they just happen to uphold his new vision of the real identity of Paul, ‘misrepresented’ by contemporary heresies like the followers of Mark. The followers of Mark rejected these false epistles and with it Irenaeus's ridiculous assertion that the writings themselves are ‘predictions’ that the branding of false witnesses of Paul will occur – in 177 CE!  As we have seen this persecution happened not only in the Rhone valley but across the Roman Empire.  Yet remarkably both the Catholicized writings of Paul and Irenaeus stand united against these martyrs and on the side of the Roman persecutors!

In the case of the first letter of Timothy we have to believe that Paul predicted with approval the slaughter of heretical teachers that was to come. The specific portion of the text that deals with this can be translated ‘searing their consciences’ because – as Irenaeus would argue – those who survived were compelled to re-examine their involvement in ‘false teachings’ and come over to the true Church.  We shall take up this theological reinterpretation of contemporary history in our next chapter.  It is enough to say right now the seeds are already present in 1 Timothy 4:2 for the offering of a historical 'olive branch' being offered to those victims of the persecution by Irenaeus and his tradition.

Continuing with our developing understanding of the document, it is important to note that in Rome the followers of Marcellina – she herself is alternatively identified as a Carpocratian or Marcionite heretic - are said to be similarly afflicted by this cruel form of punishment. Irenaeus originally mentions here too a fulfillment of the prophetic words of 1 Timothy 4:2 for they too are “cauterized in the right ear-lobes of the persons with a burning iron” only now in the city of Rome.  Celsus only mentions them as being called “cauterized in the ear” and identifies the sect as Marcellians.  As such, it is hard to get away from the sense that the report of a Roman senator named Marcellus associated with Peter develops from this group name.

We only begin to make real progress again when we turn to the reference in the gnostic Heracleon of “those whose ears were branded with fire” and who in turn justified their fate with the ‘baptism by fire’ mentioned in various gospel passages - i.e. martyrdom.  There is a wide body of literature related directly to the Marcites which continues to reinforce this theme.  The so-called Anonymous Treatise on Baptism often associated with Cyprian of Carthage for instance identifies the existence of a heretical ritual called 'Redemption' which is to be connected with both 'second baptism' and this 'baptism by fire.' 

Just as Irenaeus actively denied the validity of the ‘witness’ of these heretical martyrs, the heretics themselves argued that the heretics got their just deserts. Indeed as we shall see, there is evidence to suggest that the heretics themselves identified their painful experiences in the persecutions of 177 CE as a purifying baptism of fire.  Were the martyrs of Vienne and Lyons really undergoing the punishment of being seared with hot iron?  The Letter Irenaeus wrote on behalf of these communities seems to imply that it indeed did.  For we read:

Sanctus also nobly endured all the excessive and superhuman tortures which man could possibly devise. For the wicked hoped, because of the continuance and greatness of the tortures, to hear him confess some of the alleged unlawful practices. But he opposed them with such firmness that he did not tell them even his own name, nor that of his nation or city, nor if he were slave or free. In answer to all these questions, he said in Latin, "I am a Christian." . . .He gave this confession to every question placed to him. Therefore the governor and the torturers determined to subdue him. When every other means failed, they at last fixed red-hot plates of brass to the most delicate parts of his body [emphasis mine]. And these indeed were burned, but he himself remained inflexible, unyielding, and firm in his confession. He was refreshed and strengthened by the heavenly fountain of the water of life which issues from the belly of Christ. But his body bore witness to what had happened. It was all wounds and welts, shrunk and torn up. It had externally lost the human shape. In him Christ suffering worked great wonders, destroying the enemy. He was an example to the others that there is nothing fearful where there is the Father's love, and nothing painful where there is Christ's glory. For the wicked after some days again tortured the Witness. They thought that, since his body was swollen and inflamed, if they were to apply the same tortures they would gain the victory over him, especially since the parts of his body could not bear to be touched by the hand. Possibly he would die from the tortures and inspire the rest with fear. Yet not only did no such thing happen to him, but even, contrary to every human expectation, his body unbent itself. It became erect during the subsequent tortures and resumed its former appearance and the use of its limbs. The second torture turned out through the grace of Christ a cure, not an affliction. 

As already noted there is a conscious effort in this early third century account of the persecution to transform the participants into men and women of good standing – i.e. professionals, educated men and the like. Here and elsewhere Irenaeus goes out of his way to make it seem many – if not most - spoke Latin, the language of the ruling class. It is difficult to explain this transformation, unless of course the exact opposite was true – i.e. the participants principally were up of the ‘worst sort’ of people in the Empire, slaves and men of a most ‘rustic’ character.

Irenaeus seems to confirm as much when he says in a work now only preserved in fragments that "when the Greeks, having arrested the slaves of Christian catechumens, then used force against them, in order to learn from them some secret thing [practised] among Christians."  This reflects the statement in the Letter itself that "some heathen household slaves belonging to our people were also seized, since the governor had commanded that all of us should be examined publicly."  Yet we have to ask - did these slaves really 'belong' to the martyrs or were they being punished for the now familiar accusation against the followers of Mark - redeeming the property of another?

Our ultimate question comes down to - why on earth would the Empire have branded hundreds of Christians in the ear with a hot iron?  The answer it would seem is to be found in the social implication of branding. Roman fugitive-slave hunting involved extreme cruelty. Masters, who bore the basic onus of recovering their runaways, employed harsh methods to deter the escape of slaves who were considered disobedient or flight risks. These measures might include heavy chaining, permanent disfigurements from identifying brands, intentional scars, and—most commonly—tattooed letters, which our sources call stigmata.

In extreme cases, masters might tattoo “Arrest me, I am running away” across a slave’s face or forehead, a practice alluded to in the Satyricon. Other masters forced slaves to wear humiliating iron collars, inscribed with messages such as tene me quia fugi (“Arrest me, for I have run away”), commonplace enough to remain recognizable as the abbreviation TMQF. Of course the specific idea of ‘branding in the ear’ is something of anomaly. All examples of people being ‘branded in the ear’ happen much later in history. Nevertheless the specific association with violence to the ears and slavery can be found in the Jewish laws related to servitude (eved ivri).

The legislation of Exodus and Deuteronomy includes the eventuality that the slave refuses to go free when his term of servitude is up, prescribing that his master bore his ear through with an awl and subjugate him in perpetuity (l'olam). Why would the Imperial persecutors have ‘branded the ears’ of Christians? All we have to do is look at the whole passage describing the ‘pseduo-martyrs’ of the Markites in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies one more time.

According to Irenaeus’s account of the wicked ‘magician’ named Mark his followers continue his magical practices long after his disappearance. Indeed it was not Mark per se but his adherents who have:

deceived many silly women, and defiled them” in Lyons. They have moreover proclaiming themselves to be "perfect" so that no one can be compared to them with respect to the immensity of their knowledge, not even the apostles: They assert that they themselves know more than all others, and that they alone have imbibed the greatness of the knowledge of that power which is unspeakable. They also maintain that they have attained to a height above all power, and that therefore they are free in every respect to act as they please, having no one to fear in anything. For they affirm, that because of the "Redemption" (apolytrosis) it has come to pass that they can neither be apprehended, nor even seen by the judge. But even if he should happen to lay hold upon them, then they might simply repeat these words, while standing in his presence along with the "Redemption:" 

What follows is a short prayer said to have been uttered by the Marcites and then the material we started our investigation is referenced – i.e. the prayer acting as a Homeric helmet of invisibility which allows them to escape from the judge. Then finally Irenaeus concludes that in his “own district of the Rhone” these men “have deluded many women, who have their complicity seared with a hot iron.”

If we follow our thesis for a moment that the existing Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons is a reworked attempt to recast the original Marcite martyrs of 177 CE as Catholics, it is interesting to note how the document begins:

The slaves of Christ residing at Vienne and Lyons in Gaul to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, who have the same faith and hope of redemption as ourselves, peace, grace, and glory from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus our Lord

How utterly uncanny that as Irenaeus commences his 'rebaptized' history of the persecutions of 177 CE he starts with the very same themes as he left in his account of the Marcites - slavery and redemption.  Of course now these martyrs are portrayed as 'slaves of Christ' rather than Mark and their redemption is now figurative rather than literal, but is anyone really convinced that some sort of relationship still doesn't exist between these two accounts of events in the very same region at the very same time?

One begins to suspect that the underlying context of the ‘invisibility cap’ reference - i.e. Homeric helmet of invisibility - is a clear understanding that the leading Christians of the Rhone valley were involved in the very serious crime of hiding fugitive slaves. The ‘rich women,’ then according to this understanding, were understood to have been ‘deceived’ by the heretical followers of Mark.  They never intended to get involved in giving aid and abet the harboring of slaves 'misled' about the meaning of Christian‘redemption.’

Once again we stand before the range of meaning and the implication of the term 'redemption.'  As noted earlier it goes back to the idea of ‘re-purchasing’ something – the question at the heart of the lawsuit as we have already seen.  The concept of redemption is at the heart of the Jewish religion.  It comes from the idea of the Jews formerly being slaves.  But whole epochs in history are understood in terms of a similar but ultimately political understanding of 'redemption.'

In this case however we have to suppose that the Imperial authorities caught on to the Marcite tradition being involved in 'stealing' of possessions of another – but now with far greater contemporary political and social implications. Here in our new understanding of the ‘branding in the ear’ reference there is an unmistakable break with the social order which would be sure to lead to the prosecution of Christian believers.  Slavery was an essential component of social order. The Romans lived in perpetual fear of a slave revolt like the one organized by Spartacus.  To this end another clear thing that is echoed in both of Irenaeus's accounts of the persecutions in the Rhone valley - slaves were undoubtedly tortured with hot irons, possibly even in the ear.  Irenaeus also seems to imply in his fragment that the same means were used against their masters. 

Thus in his original account of the same persecutions of Lyons – only then originally as a justified slaughter of heretics – Irenaeus denies the ‘witness’ of these martyrs because of the incorrectness of their beliefs. Because they hold that Jesus came to repurchase slaves back from their ‘temporary’ owners – i.e. the actual families who bought them in the Roman Empire – their claim to represent the Christ has been invalidated. Irenaeus portrays these unfortunate women in the Rhone valley as victims of ‘love potions,’ incantations and other spells, being drawn into the act of harboring fugitive slaves and perpetuating nonsense about ‘another Lord’ other than the Lord of this world because of magic used by the priests of Mark.

Long before Celsus another pagan writer Chaeremon (Fr. 1 ; van der Horst) had maintained that the Jews had been runaway slaves.  Celsus developed this even further, maintaining that Moses had been no more than a half-educated sorcerer (1. 21; 5.47) who organized these fugitives to organize a successful revolt against the state. The ancient Israelites ran away from their masters, plundered Egypt and used their spoils to found their new religion.

It is important to note that Celsus warns of the very same forces being at work in the underground Christian movement.   The implication is clearly – watch out lest these irrationally rebellious offshoots of Judaism do what the Jews did to in Egypt to the Romans. Celsus was writing at the very time of the persecutions in Lyons and elsewhere. His argument that the Christians were really only Jews possessed by an irrational demon who have now rebelled not only from their ‘true God’ – i.e. the god of the Jews – but as part of their demonic possession are further planning to overthrow the Roman state.

As noted earlier in our work, Celsus’s speaks approvingly at one point of Irenaeus’s tradition because they recognize the god of the Jews and thus go back to the tradition beliefs of their ancestors. Apparently Celsus acknowledged that this tradition was tolerable because they worked toward upholding the existing social order. Whatever the case may be, Celsus no less than Irenaeus justified the slaughter of ‘heretics’ until they go back to the god of their forefathers. This is part of the ‘rehabilitation’ of the Christian religion developed by Celsus when they might finally learn to serve in the Emperors army and sacrifice to the ruling spirits which protect his realm.

To this end it is difficult not to see that Irenaeus would have seen ‘the branding of the ear’ – the painful experience of having a red hot iron plunged into the side of their head – as a ‘typology’ predicted in the writings of the Old Testament. This punishment was in effect a symbolic statement as it were against the claims of the followers of Mark that they had successfully ‘redeemed’ themselves from their masters – both temporal and spiritual. Since the Jewish god proscribed boring into the ear as a mark for slaves as a symbol of their perpetual enslavement to their masters and Romans branded the faces of runaway slaves, the two ideas must have come together as a mark for those fugitives claiming to have received ‘redemption’ from the existing world order.

Indeed in the years immediately following the persecutions, Celsus testifies that not only were there a great number of victims of this ‘searing with hot iron’ the pagan also indicates that a battle was brewing between the heretics and the Catholic over how best to interpret the persecutions.  Were these persecuted victims 'holy martyrs' as the sectarians themselves claimed, or were they justly scourged by God for their previous sinful beliefs?  While some might argue that the wholly sanitized Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons portrayed Blandina and Sanctus and the rest of the victims as holy martyrs, we demonstrate in due course that Irenaeus still preserves for us a clear sign that they were not always regarded as such - even by Irenaeus himself. 

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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