Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Ten]

 How Mark Became a 'Magician'

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. How long Anaxilaus had been in Rome before he was expelled is not known. What can be said with certainty about the man is that he put together a collection of spells of an amusing character such as would entertain at a drinking party.  This isn't the only place that one might argue that the Marc(os)ion were linked with this magician.  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 would seem is 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.  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 conventional religious belief. 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: Pythagoras was after all, in the Hellenistic account, a magus.

It is useful to note that in the earliest Roman reports of magicians they are always spoken in the same breath with astrologers.  Thus 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." It is this conjuncture of interests that characterizes the only accusations of magic /divination of which we know any details in the early Principate, the sorry succession of senatorial victims of whose fate Tacitus alone informs us. Typical in a sense is the case of Claudia Pulchra, who, in order to attack her friend Agrippina (Germanicus' widow), was accused in 25 AD of prostitution and adultery, but also of veneficia in principem et devotiones, using malign magic against the emperor Tiberius (Ann. 4.52.2). 

'Magic' is never here more than an item in a list of charges, an index of infamy; its agents and means utterly shadowy.  For Tacitus and Suetonius the repression of divination and magic is above all a political matter.  Although the Chronicle of 354 claims that it was under Tiberius that venenarii et malefai were for the first time arrested and executed, the literary sources for the senatus consultum of 16 or 17 CE make clear that this was no more than another routine repression of 'astrologers and magicians' (Dio 57.15.8) - Tacitus indeed mentions only mathematici, diviners, especially astrologers (Ann. 2.32.5; cf. Coll. Mos. et Rom. 15.2.1)  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."

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. But 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 (cf. again Heliod. Aith. 8.9, where the same thing happens), overcomes her arts and causes the flames to destroy her. The exercise tries to prove that this second witch should herself be condemned to death, claiming that the law itself 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' (ap. Polemo, Decl. p. 44.8-10 Hinck).  

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).
To this end we have to give serious thought to the idea that Irenaeus's accusation of Mark being a 'magician' was a deliberate part of his propaganda.  Perhaps we may even consider that in the course of trying to demonize his opponents he went so far beyond the pale that he even risked jeopardizing his own credibility as a source about the heresies.  As such let us return to the task of recreating a better understanding of Adv Haer 1.21.5 in its original context at the start of the now lost original Against Marc(os)ion written in 177 CE. 

While Anaxilaus is no longer explicitly mentioned in the epitome of the Philosophumena, it is not hard to demonstrate that the author was aware of Irenaeus's argument that Mark learned magic from Anaxilaus.  Just before the excised section dealing with the second baptism performed on those "dying and have reached the point of death" 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."  While the epitomist does not mention Anaxilaus the first century magician by name, the passage just cited is certainly an echo of that reference. 

We shall now demonstrate that there are very strong reasons to believe that the Anaxilaus passage in Adv Haer 1.13.1 was deliberately altered, undoubtedly by the same individual who 'fixed' the rest of Irenaeus's original account of the Marc(os)ion.  We will demonstrate that Anaxilaus was originally thought to be the inspiration behind the Marc(os)ion 'second baptism' rite - not the silly 'Kool Aid' that he is now alleged to have passed around to his adepts.  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. 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.

We have already noted previously that yet another witness to Irenaeus's original testimony about the Marc(os)ion is found in the Treatise on Second Baptism.  The Treatise cites many of the other arguments found in Adv. Haer 1.21.1 relating to the Marc(os)ion second baptism. Indeed the text associates second baptism with a well-known magic rite of Anaxilaus - i.e. how to make fire appear in the water.  According to the Treatise on Second Baptism led the 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' of the Marc(os)ion would give the holy spirit to these very same initiates in order to prophesy. 

As such we have to go back and decide whether our existing account of the Marc(os)ion learning a trick from Anaxilaus which never seemed to have existed (i.e. passing around a cup with purple water) is the original means by which the women of the sect received the Holy Spirit to prophesy.  The Treatise on Second Baptism by contrast goes through a checklist of Marc(os)ion material found in Adv Haer 1.21.1 - i.e.  a heretical claim of a distinction between two types of baptisms associated with John the Baptist and Jesus, citations of Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:38 to support that understanding before alluding to one specific 'magic trick' by Anaxilaus - fire baptism - to fulfill that expectation of the gospel:

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.  

There are several obvious points of contact between this testimony and what appears at the beginning of the report of the Marc(os)ion in Adv Haer 1.13.1.  The 'simple' followers are 'deceived' by magic practices which wrongly are claimed to embody 'perfection.'  Yet in this case the 'perfect rite' is baptism rather than the silly Kool-Aid of our altered report of Irenaeus.

Mark is identified as teaching his followers a well known magic trick from Anaxilaus, making fire appear in water.  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.'  However this newly reconstituted understanding of the original 'fire baptism is totally senseless.  Why would anyone believe that a cup of purple water would give them the Holy Spirit?  Or why would the women become seduced by this same non-alcoholic drink?  How was the hieros gamos even justified?  In the case of a 'spiritual baptism' specifically the connection with the bridal chamber is well established in gnostic circles. The examples are too numerous to cite here but the unmistakable conclusion has to be that both accounts of heretical dependence on Anaxilaus go back to the same 'trick.' 

With this in mind, it is impossible not to see that the Treatise on Second Baptism more faithfully preserves the original sense of the lost Irenaean text known to the author of the Philosophumena.  The original charge against the Marc(os)ion was that they immersed women and slaves in 'fire-water.'  Moreover some of the information which now appears at the end of the account of Against Heresies account of the sect - i.e. Adv Haer 1.21.1 - should now be understood to have originally appeared at the beginning of the same report.  In other words, Mark was introduced as a magician who taught his disciples how to dupe the ignorant through dazzling wonders.

Since the original reference to 'spiritual fire baptism' has now been edited out of Against Heresies it stands to reason that this material was at the heart of the complaint with the Marc(os)ion.  So also it stands to reason that if we use the Philosophumena as our guide to construct the original order of Against Marc(os)ion the second baptism ritual taught to those "beyond the reach of danger" was almost immediately followed by Against Heresies initial 'redemption' account.  So first the section vaguely referenced by the epitomist as:

And by this (other baptism) they wickedly subvert those that remain with them in expectation of redemption, as if persons, after they had once been baptized, could again obtain remission. Now, it is by means of such knavery as this that they seem to retain their hearers. And when they consider that these have been tested, and are able to keep (secret the mysteries) committed unto them, they then admit them to this (baptism). They, however, do not rest satisfied with this alone, but promise (their votaries) some other (boon) for the purpose of confirming them in hope, in order that they may be inseparable (adherents of their sect). For they utter something in an inexpressible (tone of) voice, after having laid hands on him who is receiving the redemption. And they allege that they could not easily declare (to another) what is thus spoken unless one were highly tested, or one were at the hour of death, (when) the bishop comes and whispers into the (expiring one's) ear. And this knavish device (is undertaken) for the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Mark's) disciples, as individuals eagerly panting to learn what that may be which is spoken at the last, by (the knowledge of) which the learner will be advanced to the rank of those admitted into the higher mysteries. 
and then almost immediately followed by:

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" 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:" "O thou, who sittest beside God, and the mystical, eternal Silence, thou through whom the angels (mightiness), who continually behold the face of the Father, having thee as their guide and introducer, do derive their forms from above, which she in the greatness of her daring inspiring with mind on account of the goodness of the Forefather, produced us as their images, having her mind then intent upon the things above, as in a dream,--behold, the judge is at hand, and the crier orders me to make my defence. But do thou, as being acquainted with the affairs of both, present the cause of both of us to the judge, inasmuch as it is in reality but one cause." Now, as soon as the Mother hears these words, she puts the Homeric helmet of Pluto upon them, so that they may invisibly escape the judge. And then she immediately catches them up, conducts them into the bridal chamber, and hands them over to their consorts.

Clearly then thing 'whispered' into the ear of the initiate is the promise of redemption - i.e. to throw off the chains and effectively rebel against all that is the established order of things on the earth.  Moreover, the 'whisper' should be seen as the essence of the fugitive tradition.  It manifests itself in the 'secret gospel' no less than the 'living voice' (viva voce) which Irenaeus demonstrates such palpable hostility throughout his works.  His effort, above all else, is to stamp out these mystical 'whisperings' and so it becomes difficult this preferred method of relaying information and the effort of the authorities to brand the ears of heretics.

As we have seen there is an entrenched culture of sworn secrecy which the Imperial authorities had a difficult time controlling.  Since sworn oaths established by 'whispers' was such a serious problem, it seems plausible that the symbolic branding the ear was deemed to be at least part of the solution. We have already seen Clement of Alexandria's discussion of the importance of synthekas in his Alexandrian community, devoted as it was to St Mark.  The Treatise on Second Baptism similarly references the concept of an 'oath' (sacramentum) which the heretics have sworn themselves to uphold, even at the expense of other oaths.  In the same way then as the second baptism rite is understood as a redemption or a 'throwing off' of the chains of established covenants, Irenaeus's Church, now flush with fresh converts sought to repeat at every assembly to reinforce its 'sacrementum fidei' at every Sunday gathering to reinforce to all that the timeless authority of the apostles was still in force over the community.  

Of course what we have demonstrated here quite certainly is that the victory of Irenaeus's Church was built on a lie.  Mark was not a magician and the community did not immerse ignorant slaves and women in fiery water.  As we have already noted in  the early third century at least some of the surviving presbyters of the Markan community were now absorbed into the Catholic Church.  These men got a hold of Irenaeus's writings and when they read what he was claiming about their forefathers they vehemently objected to his description of their sect and in particular, the description of the secret baptism rite.

While the contents were ultimately changed the effect that this report had on the Markan community - i.e. that Christians were using magic to dupe women and fugitive slaves may - may well have spurred the Imperial government to initiate the persecution against Christians.  We may suppose that it was Irenaeus's report which claimed that the bishops of this tradition "whispered into the ear" certain mysteries "in an inexpressable tone" for "the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Mark's) disciples."  In short, that they deliberately and maliciously corrupted the women and slaves. 

The fact that this "whispering" has fallen out of our received texts of Irenaeus is not accidental.  It was a well established part of the repertoire of ancient magicians and appears in Hebrew as lahash which also means 'charm' or 'spell.'  To this end, in the Talmudic list of qualities required in order to receive the secret topics, also the phrase navon lahash is mentioned which means "someone who understands [things] transmitted in a whisper", namely that he is able to receive esoteric truths."  This at once describes Irenaeus's report about the significance of the viva voce among the heretics.  Yet it reinforces even more clearly that the Imperial government believed that the Christian authorities used magic to maintain their hold over the ignorant.  

This alleged connection with magic - explicitly reinforced by Irenaeus's report - must have been at the heart of the reason why such brutality was perpetrated against the sect members no less than the loud objections from surviving members of the Mark tradition.  It should be surprising that the "whispering in the ear" to "throw off one's yoke" appeared prominently in Celsus's anti-Christian tome.  Celsus after all was familiar with the writings of Irenaeus.  So we read:

We see, indeed, in private houses workers in wool and leather, and fullers, and persons of the most uninstructed and rustic character, not venturing to utter a word in the presence of their elders and wiser masters; but when they get hold of the children privately, and certain women as ignorant as themselves, they pour forth wonderful statements, to the effect that they ought not to give heed to their father and to their teachers, but should obey them; that the former are foolish and stupid, and neither know nor can perform anything that is really good, being preoccupied with empty trifles; that they alone know how men ought to live, and that, if the children obey them, they will both be happy themselves, and will make their home happy also. And while thus speaking, if they see one of the instructors of youth approaching, or one of the more intelligent class, or even the father himself, the more timid among them become afraid, while the more forward incite the children to throw off the yoke, whispering that in the presence of father and teachers [emphasis mine] they neither will nor can explain to them any good thing, seeing they turn away with aversion from the silliness and stupidity of such persons as being altogether corrupt, and far advanced in wickedness, and such as would inflict punishment upon them; but that if they wish (to avail themselves of their aid) they must leave their father and their instructors, and go with the women and their playfellows to the women's apartments, or to the leather shop, or to the fuller's shop, that they may attain to perfection;— and by words like these they gain them over.

It was Irenaeus's portrait of the Mark and his followers as 'magicians' which undoubtedly contributed in so small part to the unprecedented punishment that was inflicted against them.  To properly understand this we not only have to understand the popular prejudices against magic, but moreover the well established rules against 'influencing' a slave.

So we read it confirmed in the great Roman jurist Ulpianus that Roman law established that "where anyone is alleged to have harbored a male or female slave belonging to another, or have persuaded him or her maliciously to do anything which would depreciate the value of him or her, I will grant an action for double the value of the property." As we see in what follows, this precept only pertained to the situation "where anyone takes under his protection a slave belonging to another" but most interest of all is the specific application of the crime of 'persuading' slave defined by Ulpianus as follows - "'to persuade' does not exactly mean to compel and force anyone to obey you, but it is a term of moderate signification; for anyone can persuade another by either good or bad advice, and therefore the Praetor adds 'maliciously,' by which he 'diminishes the value,' hence, a party does not commit the offence unless he persuades the slave to do something by which his value may be lessened, and therefore, where a party solicits a slave either to do something or to contrive something which is dishonorable, he is held to be subject to this Edict."

Anyone who instructs a slave to do bad things is criminally liable for corrupting him or her and the list of specific crimes that follows reads almost as the very laundry-list of 'crimes' attributed to the followers of Mark:

He also makes a slave worse who persuades him to commit some injury or theft, or induces him to take to flight, or instigates the slave of another to do these things, or to confuse his peculium, or to be a lover of women, or to wander about, or to devote himself to magical arts, or to be present too often at exhibitions, or to be riotous; or to persuade a slave who is a court official either by words or by bribery to mutilate or falsify the accounts of his master. 

Indeed the decree even goes so far as to take into account 'malice' where indeed "anyone maliciously persuades a slave whom he thought to be free" but wasn't "to commit some act." "For" as Ulpianus notes, that individual "is guilty of a greater offense who, thinking a man is free, corrupts him."

It would seem then that from the perspective of Roman law the Marc(os)ian involvement with slaves was fraught with grave legal difficulties too difficult to even imagine.  Indeed Celsus, immediately following our last citation brings forward what he calls "his ultimate charge" against the Christians in that they appealed their message to the ignorant and thus were in the legal sense of the definition guilty of malice:

That I bring no heavier charge than what the truth compels me, any one may see from the following remarks. Those who invite to participation in other mysteries, make proclamation as follows: 'Every one who has clean hands, and a prudent tongue;' others again thus: 'He who is pure from all pollution, and whose soul is conscious of no evil, and who has lived well and justly.' Such is the proclamation made by those who promise purification from sins. But let us hear what kind of persons these Christians invite. Every one, they say, who is a sinner, who is devoid of understanding, who is a child, and, to speak generally, whoever is unfortunate, him will the kingdom of God receive. Do you not call him a sinner, then, who is unjust, and a thief, and a housebreaker, and a poisoner, and a committer of sacrilege, and a robber of the dead? What others would a man invite if he were issuing a proclamation for an assembly of robbers?"

As Valerie Flint notes "Celsus regards Christianity as just one more of those forms of demonically inspired magic he so detests. Origen, in his defence of the Christian way, has therefore to define and distinguish that magic to which he himself objects from those Christian practices he means fiercely to defend."  In short Irenaeus's calumnia was exploiting a basic 'design flaw' in the ancient Marc(os)ion 'business model.' 

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