Monday, October 7, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Five] Final Edit

Was Mark Originally Called ‘Paul’?

David Trobisch has put forward an important theory about the origin of the New Testament which will serve as the launching pad for our own theory of Markan origins. Trobisch studied the earliest surviving manuscripts of this canonical set and developed a number of observations which he argues point to the existence of an early archetype established at the time of Polycarp (c 150 – 168 CE). For him, this ‘New Testament’ developed as a result of the result of the Church's conflict with Marcion. We can begin to understand the development of our canon as a series of editorial decision based on Polycarp’s war with this heretic.

According to Trobisch “as the end of the second century and in the beginning of the third Irenaeus was reading this edition in Lyons; Tertullian read it in Carthage and Asia Minor; Clement had it in Alexandria, and Origen in Palestine. This particular edition, in other words, was read worldwide.”1 The title of the whole collection is “The New Covenant.” This collection developed as a reaction to Marcion’s rejection of the “Old Covenant” and so Trobisch presumes that the editors “included the LXX; added the General Epistles; and included Acts in order to rehabilitate Peter and Paul.”2

The titles of the books in the ‘New Covenant’ collections are amazingly uniform, suggesting “some sort of coordinated action early on in the canonical process.”3 At the top of all the manuscripts of the gospels we see some form of “According to Matthew,” “According to Mark,” and the like. Since it is acknowledged that the letters of Paul, Peter, and John were written by several different authors, the uniform identification of their being associated with ‘Paul,’ ‘Peter’ and ‘John’ was necessarily the result of an early editorial decision.

There is also an amazing conformity in the ordering of content in the earliest manuscripts of the ‘New Covenant.’ The original editor established the codex as the preferred format for transmitting the editor – i.e. a bound book with pages rather than a scroll. All the writings of the ‘New Covenant’ circulated in the following arrangement – (1) the Four Gospel Codex (2) Acts and General Epistles (3) the Letters of Paul including the Pastorals and Hebrews and (4) Revelation. Since this order can be seen in the earliest manuscripts it was argued by Trobisch that it derived its origin from the plan of the original second century editor.

Finally, Trobisch develops a lengthy argument that the abbreviations of the divine names called ‘nomina sacra’ were also the result of transmission of the final edition of this second century canonical set. These abbreviations typically feature the first and last letter of the word for God (theos), Jesus (Iēsous), or the Spirit (pneuma) and are found even in the earliest manuscripts.

According to Trobisch’s understanding this canonical set of the New Covenant was designed to be read as a unit. The reader might come upon a name in one part of the edition (i.e. the Letters of Paul) and then in another part of the set he would find out a little more information about that individual. For instance, it becomes plain from reading the whole collection of the New Covenant that all the disciples and ministers of the gospel worked together to preach one message established from the very beginning. It is meant to be inferred for instance that Paul, while not having a gospel of his own, was friendly with both the evangelists Mark and Luke.

Since the methodology of the editor of the New Covenant was again according to Trobisch a reaction against the pre-existent Marcionite canon, it stands to reason that the understanding of the relationship between the various apostles was also reactionary. Trobisch implies as much in his treatment of the pairing of Peter and Paul in Acts. Nevertheless it is an open question whether Trobisch has gone far enough to establish the degree to which all relationships in the New Covenant were a reaction against a Marcionite understanding of the development of Christianity and especially Mark’s relationship to both Peter and Paul.

Since the canon of the Marcionites is now lost we have no way of knowing exactly what Polycarp or his student Irenaeus were reacting against. We can only suppose that they were reacting against things they found offensive in the original canon. It is left to each of us to determine what differences might have existed between the two canonical sets – i.e. Marcionite and Catholic - and then argue that this or that difference developed as a conscious Catholic ‘reaction’ to the former.4

For instance 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. There is no reason to assume that the Marcionites rejected the idea that ‘Paul’ was not the apostle’s original name. As such we can conclude that the Marcionites must have shared the Catholic assumption that Paul was an adopted name or title, but likely differed on what his original name was.5

Mark is the only possible name that makes any sense for the Marcionite tradition as the birth name of Paul. We can start with the repeated understanding of their original adoption of a canon composed exclusively of the Gospel according to Mark and letters associated with Paul cited earlier. Most importantly perhaps is the statement of the Marcionite in De Recta in Deum Fide that the title of the gospel demonstrates that it was ‘according to Christ, rather than Peter.’ This dovetails with the apparent inconsistency in our sources that the Marcionites understood Paul to make specific reference to him having written a gospel – i.e. 'my gospel' (Rom 16:25) – but that they denied that the text was written ‘according to Paul.’6

Over and over again we hear an echo of the Marcionite text being a gospel ‘according to Christ’ – i.e. of it beginning with the words of Mark 1:1. As Trobisch notes the Catholic editor of Mark splashes the words ‘according to Mark’ over the top of the actual Marcionite title of the document – viz. ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ This once again reinforces the reactionary nature of the existing canon. ‘According to Mark’ has now been shortened and sandwiched between three other gospels, which according to Trobisch, together form ‘the gospel of Christ.’ It is a fourfold gospel which was first introduced to the world by Irenaeus of Lugdunum. Indeed if Trobisch’s theory about a Polycarpian origin of the canon is true, why does Irenaeus use the worst sort of allegorical arguments in favor of the fourfold gospel rather than connecting it with the ‘blessed presbyter’?7

Irenaeus rather than Polycarp must be understood to be the original editor/author of the ‘New Covenant’ canon. Irenaeus only says that Polycarp confronted Marcion in two lines of his Third Book Against Heresies as a justification for his own editorial efforts. There is nothing specific in the writings of Irenaeus to suggest he received a ‘canon of writings from Polycarp’ nor is there any association made between Polycarp and the canon in any of the other early Church Fathers. They are far more likely to speak of the collection as bringing ‘peace’ or being established by a ‘peacemaker’ – a possible play on Irenaeus’s name – rather than anything related to Polycarp’s name.8

The surprising confirmation that Irenaeus’s writings were already in Egypt ‘almost before the ink could dry’ – i.e. within a year or so of their original composition – was been confirmed by the discovery of fragments in the garbage dump which contained the scrolls from a library at Oxyrhynchus.9 The material from the Third Book of Irenaeus’s Against Heresies demonstrates the rapid circulation of the Church Father’s writings through a network of public or private libraries throughout the Empire. The presence of the same collection of writings must have also arrived in Carthage around the same time – i.e. the end of the second or beginning of the third. It is not a large stretch of the imagination to argue that other apologists handpicked by Irenaeus as well as an established four codex collection of the ‘New Covenant’ was also part of this original distribution.10

The point then is that even if Trobisch is right that the idea for this ‘final edition’ started with Polycarp, it was undoubtedly Irenaeus who established the delivery network to distribute this particular understanding of apostolic tradition. In due course ‘Paul’ was defined as formerly called Saul – that is the identification in the Catholic edition of the Acts of the Apostles rather than according to the secret Marcionite understanding of the apostle.11

Indeed if we are uncomfortable with calling the ‘final edition’ either the ‘Polycarpian’ or ‘Irenaean’ collection a plausible name would be the ‘Lucian edition’ given that Luke evidences that he has other gospels at his disposal (cf. Luke 1:1 -4) and wrote or edited the lynch pin historical text to explain Christian origins. Irenaeus explicitly points to Luke as the one who was most beloved to Paul and moreover knew he was formerly called Saul. Already Joseph Tyson has made the case Luke’s Acts and his gospel shared Irenaeus’s anti-Marcionite agenda. The idea that Irenaeus developed other parts of the canon can be inferred from Clement of Alexandria’s statement about his involvement in reworking the Epistle to the Hebrews.12

To this end, we can put forward the suggestion that Irenaeus put forward a ‘Lucan edition’ of the canon which reflected the original presence of two gospels in the Marcionite community. The testimony comes directly from the Third Book of Irenaeus’s Against Heresies written c. 185 CE:

But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. They who (qui autem) separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified.

The structure of this statement – and the one which almost follows – makes clear that there appear to be two groups related to Marcion. Irenaeus pretends Marcion corrupted Luke however the established opinion is that Marcionites as a group used Mark. As such he implies that those who misread the Gospel of Mark do so from an edition very similar to the one used in the churches.

Yet the Philosophumena makes clear that the actual Markan text used by the Marcionites was longer, filled with additional mystical additions. Since there are obvious parallels between Mark and Luke, the very ordering of Luke after Mark in the canon can be read to imply that Irenaeus has carved out a whole between the two texts he believed were written by actual disciples of Jesus – i.e. Matthew and John – where the Marcionite revelation was placed. The implication here is that the Marcionite understanding of ‘the gospel according to (Jesus) Christ’ must have looked remarkably similar to Clement’s shorter and longer Mark.

In other words, as we saw in a previous chapter, Luke’s unprecedented claim that the apostles misunderstood what happened after the Question of the Rich Man fits into the context of a systematic ‘correction’ of Marcionite theology. As Clement notes the shorter gospel of Mark removed all reference to the baptism of the disciple. However the longer gospel preserved a fuller narrative associated with the apostles which Luke goes out of his way to deny. The same section of text in the earliest exemplars of the Diatessaron seem to have also preserved a ‘fuller narrative’ where the rich man dies and goes to hell to see his brothers and confirm Jesus’s teachings on riches.13

To this end it stands to reason that Irenaeus worked to eradicate the existence of longer Mark and replace it with Luke. Luke happens to be the ultimate authority on Paul according to Irenaeus. As such it should not be surprising if Luke’s rejection of longer Mark was part of a greater effort to redefine the Pauline canon. We must suspect that shorter Mark existed as a ‘stand-alone’ text that which was used openly in the churches, while a fixed canon of longer Mark and the Marcionite recension of the Pauline letters was withheld from public view.

We will argue in our next work in this series that the two gospel formula attested by Clement with respect to Mark was explicitly spelled out at the beginning of the First Letter to the Corinthians. There we see the apostle called ‘Paul’ in our tradition declare to his hearers:

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."

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. While this text was the one in 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" there was another that he was now giving them - the "perfect" gospel or "wisdom" which was established in "secret,” hidden from the "rulers of the age."

The place where tradition interpretation of this statement breaks down is their failure to recognize the heretical understanding of the apostle as having ‘Christ in him.’ The apostle’s lips move but it is Christ speaking. This is owing to the fact that it was established in the original gospel of Mark that “Jesus suffered while Christ remained impassable.” This being ‘Christ’ came over to Mark by means of Peter and ultimately established a superior revelation through the evangelist.

So it is that when the apostle originally declared that he taught them nothing but “Jesus and him crucified” it was understood by the Marcionites that he was speaking as Christ.14 Moreover the follow up statement “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” is a reflection of the formula witnessed by the Marcionite in De Recta in Deum Fide – “It was not Peter who wrote the Gospel, but Christ.” In other words, Paul was speaking in Christ both here in the citation from 1 Corinthians and as he wrote the gospel identified by the Catholics as ‘according to Mark.’

The fact that the same formula of ‘speaking in Christ’ while writing the gospel is found in the Acts of Mark helps argue for the original Marcionite understanding of ‘Paul’ as Mark. The Marcionite’s statement “it was not Peter” can be compared with Clement’s reference to the short gospel of Mark as written for Peter. The text is specifically identified by the Greek term ‘hypomnema’ or an outline established as part of the process to finish a completed text.15 To be certain the Marcionite denies that the Gospel of Mark was by Peter, but the heads of the Coptic tradition do the very same thing to this day. The unprovoked reference to Peter in the middle of a discussion of ‘the gospel’ nevertheless testifies to Peter’s involvement in its development.16

We shall turn our attention in the next chapter to the testimony of Irenaeus’s Prescription Against the Heretics preserved in a Latin translation of Tertullian.17 Here we see the further refinement of the testimony of the Church Fathers regarding a ‘simple gospel’ associated with Peter and a ‘secret’ text of superior knowledge associated with Paul. For the moment we need only focus on the Letter to Theodore where Clement and its equation of the shorter gospel as a mere ‘outline’ (hypomnema) but moreover the fuller secret gospel having ‘the Spirit’ which transports the reader to the holy of Holies behind the seven veils.18

Already Morton Smith has identified this gospel with the Jewish mystical practice of heavenly ascents. In due course we will see this reality confirmed in the writings of Irenaeus in association with the tradition of Mark. For the moment it is enough to focus our attention on the Alexandrian tradition with regards to Paul’s back to back references to heavenly ascents in the Second Letter to the Corinthians chapter 12. We are told by a hostile source that Origen originally held that Paul was referencing two separate “revelations" based on the specific wording of the material i.e. “I know 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.” This because, according to our source:

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.

Accordingly our source concludes that 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."19

While it is typical to understand Paul two be speaking about the same heavenly ascent twice, the opinion of ancient writers was by no means clear cut. Just as Origen apparently held that two different ascents were being referenced, many Church Fathers understood that Paul was not talking about himself but someone else.20 The curious use of the third person throughout the section undoubtedly led to this opinion. Yet it is also important to note that almost all discussion of this passage assumes the idea that the heretics believed someone beside Paul had at least one of the two trips.21

Irenaeus of course vehemently denies this understanding and goes to great length to emphasize – apparently against the heretical interpretation – that “Paul expressly testifies when he declares that he was caught up into the third heaven.” However it is clear from Eznik’s interpretation of the material that the apostle was speaking about an original experience by Peter (third heaven) and his own (Paradise). We read:

But as for those unutterable words, it is not that they could be uttered by him and were unutterable by the other companions, but rather, they accorded with what he said in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "That which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and has not been bestowed upon the heart of man, what God has prepared for His beloved ones." (1 Cor 2:9) And it is also understandable in this way: "it is not that I alone am worthy of having that mystery happen, who am this lowly one of the Apostles, but that also Peter, who is the head of the Apostles has seen and cannot speak And if he heard, he was unable to tell because it is not able to be narrated, and it is beyond thought and human language." And for that reason the Apostle says: "Even though I saw, I was not able to tell; and even though I heard, I am not fit to speak of it.”

In other words, there is not only an early tradition which interprets 2 Corinthians as referencing two different heavenly ascents, but another which assumes it references more than one individual – i.e. Peter and Paul. It should not be too great a stretch of the imagination two imagine that both ideas were incorporated into the heretical tradition – i.e. that one man, Peter, rose as far as the third heaven to see Jesus, while the other – the apostle himself – had the superior vision of the Father from Paradise. Indeed in our next chapter we will encounter the tradition that the second understanding was again applied directly to Mark, the so-called ‘interpreter’ of Peter.

Yet to round out the current discussion it might be useful to reference Andrew Itter recently book entitled the Esoteric Teachings of Clement of Alexandria. Itter, among other things, isolates a pattern of what he calls a familiar 'mystagogic sequencing' in the writings of Clement relating to the 'third' and 'seventh’ heaven. In other words, both the Letter to Theodore and the other writings of the Church Father Itter sees a pattern of interpreting Paul in the manner of a second Moses initiating souls into the higher mysteries. He argues from Clement’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians chapter 12 that “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.”22

As the the late Marvin Meyer already recognized there are uncanny similarity of Moses’s initiation at Sinai – i.e. entering the cloud – on the seventh day and the disciple in secret Mark being initiated after six (= seven) days. Yet Itter takes this one step further and recognizes a pattern in the writings of Clement where the ‘third’ is the place where the final stage of initiation can be seen – i.e. ‘Paradise’ in the seventh heaven.23 This is why Paul infers that ritual silence is enforced with respect to ‘things seen or heard’ beyond the third heaven. There was a secret process of initiating priests from the time of Moses which established the sacredness of the ‘third’ and ‘seventh’ which Mark applied to his gospel writing.24

As Itter summarizes for us – “the seven days in which the high priest purifies himself and the temple prior to the Day of Atonement correspond to the mystagogy that prepares the soul for entering the ogdoad (i.e. the ‘eightness). In the letter concerning the secret Gospel of Mark this mystagogy is represented as veils of concealment surrounding the inner sanctuary of the written gospel itself. This mystagogic phase takes place at the third stage of ascent as Clement's interpretations of Genesis 22 and 2 Corinthians 12 demonstrate. The soteriological sequence consists then of three saving changes, the third of which is divided into seven mystagogic veils, kekalummenes, importantly a term that Clement applies to the books of the Stromateis as well. Lastly, the ogdoad, or Clement sometimes calls the Lord's mansion, is the culmination of the seven-fold mystagogy and is where the soul is free to contemplate the ideas of God. For Clement's gnostic, this is analogous to the high priest viewing the contents of the ark.”

This is not the place to go into great detail with respect to the underlying mystery at the heart of Alexandrian Christianity based on its secret veneration of Mark’s longer gospel. The important thing for us to see right now is that the apostle’s words in chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians necessarily had the ‘shorter’ and ‘longer’ gospels in mind. Peter originally only made it as far as the third heaven when he was baptized fourteen years ago by the Lord himself. Now speaking of his own baptism by Peter c. 44 CE he went all the way to Paradise and heard the mysteries by which the Alexandrian community initiated its priests.

The understanding that Mark was really Paul is the key to make sense of the development of earliest Christianity. However it demands from us one thing – i.e. to abandon our traditional reliance on the canon of Irenaeus. In that collection of text we are inevitably led to the conclusion that Paul chose Luke as his beloved disciple. As we shall see shortly, Mark is deliberately portrayed as being falling away from his master. Mark’s relationship with the one called ‘Peter’ was only one half of his historical legacy. As the one called ‘Paul’ he was responsible for establishing the most holy ‘gospel according to Christ’ – the ogdoad owing to its place following the seven epistles in the Marcionite canon.25



18 [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. 
23 He notes that it is from 'the third day”– described by Clement asthat Clement understands the next stage of initiation can be seen – i.e. ‘the seventh’ or Paradise. 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. 
24 Moreover Itter argues that the 'three' and the 'seven' correspond also to the public and secret gospels of Mark.   

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