Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Seven] Final Edit

Looking for Luke in All the Wrong Places

If we accept the idea that Mark was a historical person who wrote the gospel ascribed to him, it only stands to reason that a tradition or a school would have developed around the evangelist. The Catholic tradition of course has argued against this proposition. The apostles were argued since the time of Irenaeus to have been a unified body under the authority of Peter. The existence of separate traditions of Paul and Mark are presumed to argue against that authority. Markan primacy now forms the basis for the surviving Coptic tradition of Egypt and very closely resembles the veneration of Paul in the Marcionite community.1

As Morton Smith correctly recognized the Letter to Theodore identifies the Alexandrian ‘secret gospel’ as developing the Pauline ‘baptism of the dead’ into an episcopal rite associated with St Mark.2 In a similar manner, the tradition of Mark referenced by Irenaeus not only find reference to their ‘redemption baptism’ in Mark 10:35 – 45 but moreover declare that “Paul, too, has often set forth, in express terms, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”3 Even if the reader is not to go so far as to acknowledge Mark as Paul, it is clear that the original Marcionite formula in the Philosophumena was likely shared by the early Alexandrian community – that is, the gospel of the Pauline tradition was ‘according to Mark.’

The Alexandrian tradition certainly put forward a claim of unbroken succession as late as Eusebius's Church History, which most scholars agree was written at the end of the third century.4 It must also have existed at the time Clement wrote the Letter to Theodore. There are many other testimonies for a 'Markan legacy' in Alexandria. All of our earliest information comes from the fourth century because this is in effect when Christianity stopped being a persecuted religion in Egypt.

So it is not surprising we hear of Arius's association with the Church of St Mark in Boucolia,5 the evangelist’s involvement in the martyrdom of Peter of Alexandria in 311 CE,6 and even the Arian appeal to Dionysius as attested in the writings of Athanasius.7 All of these arguments attest not only to the existence of an unbroken succession in the third century dating at least to the time of Demetrius of bishops after St Mark, but more importantly of a parallel struggle outside of Alexandria to subordinate this tradition.8

That a heretical 'bishop of Mark' could have existed clandestinely within the greater Church is explicitly attested by the Philosophumena.9 Nevertheless it is very difficult to fill in the gaps between this age and the eventual emergence of an Orthodox bishop of Alexandria. Constantine ordered the destruction of all Arian – that is Alexandrian - documents on the penalty of death.10 Moreover Jerome and Rufinus make clear that there were successive efforts to ‘purify’ the Alexandrian Christian writings dating back to the time of Eusebius.11

In the end, it is hardly surviving that almost no documents survive which confirm the autonomous authority of Mark the evangelist. Instead what have come down to us are successive attempts to reconcile this reality with the canonical account of Acts. As Tyson notes “[the] work as a whole, Luke-Acts as we know it, surely served as a formidable anti-Marcionite text.” Yet its reactionary character should be seen in a much larger context. Luke-Acts was correcting a pre-existent understanding that Mark – not Luke – had the last word on what we would call ‘the Pauline writings.’ While Mark is still identified with Peter to this day, his association with Paul was deliberately undermined with the development of canonical Acts.

By the publication of the Third Book of Against Heresies (c. 180 CE) a whole new paradigm was introduced to the world. Luke was added to Acts as the ultimate arbiter of the true faith of the Church. This mantra is repeated over and over again against the ‘heretics’ – i.e. those who rejected Luke – out of the Pauline 'rejection' of John Mark in Acts chapter 15. So Irenaeus writes:

But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, "we came to Troas;" and when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying, "Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us," "immediately," he says, "we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we directed our ship's course towards Samothracia." And then he carefully indicates all the rest of their journey as far as Philippi, and how they delivered their first address: "for, sitting down," he says, "we spake unto the women who had assembled;" and certain believed, even a great many. And again does he say, "But we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days." And all the remaining [details] of his course with Paul he recounts, indicating with all diligence both places, and cities, and number of days, until they went up to Jerusalem; and what befell Paul there, how he was sent to Rome in bonds; the name of the centurion who took him in charge; and the signs of the ships, and how they made shipwreck; and the island upon which they escaped, and how they received kindness there, Paul healing the chief man of that island; and how they sailed from thence to Puteoli, and from that arrived at Rome; and for what period they sojourned at Rome. As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth.

Irenaeus makes explicit the deliberate additions made to the lost original text of Acts. Acts now argues for Luke as the ‘final word’ on Paul. This is most remarkable of course because up until that point in time Luke was likely only known by a single line reference in the text to ‘Lucius of Cyrene.’12

Given that Acts time and again reinforces an Antiochene locale the original narrative was likely written in Syria. Interestingly our fourfold gospel does not seem to have penetrated very deeply into the Near East. As such the pairing of Luke-Acts was originally unknown or little known in this very part of the world. We know from authors in Edessa that Acts – and perhaps a much older version of the text originally - circulated alongside a Diatessaron or 'gospel harmony.' The Diatessaron continued in widespread use in this part of the world until the beginning of the fifth century.

It is not too much to suppose that this proto-Acts text was not originally associated with Luke but John-Mark. John-Mark was already identified as Mark the evangelist as early as the late second century.13 We can still see that John Mark spends the first part of the narrative with Peter and then becomes the original witness for Paul thereafter. At some point in the transmission of Acts Luke effectively took over the text becoming identified as the narrator by the addition of the so-called ‘we passages during the account of the ministry of Paul.

It is worth noting that for instance Clement – who tolerates Acts - does not acknowledge any of the 'we' passages presented by Irenaeus as confirming Luke's authorship of Acts and his intimacy with Paul. Indeed, no one besides Irenaeus is ever identified as using Acts 15:35 - 41 or any of the 'we' material.14 Irenaeus emerges out of history as actively involved in the promotion of Luke as the final authority on Paul with a particular emphasis on the ‘we passages.’ He does so against what appears to be complete silence from everyone else alive at the time he was writing.

To this end it is difficult to resist the suspicion that it was Irenaeus who added the 'Lukan layer' to a pre-existent 'pseudo-Markan' witness.15 Irenaeus has already been repeatedly suspected of manipulating or inventing the universally acknowledged forgeries that are the Pastoral Epistles.16 The writing style of the author of the Pastorals has been repeatedly identified to resemble that of Acts – i.e. so Charlie Moule, August Strobel, Stephen G. Wilson, Jerome D. Quinn and many others.17 Yet Acts and the Pastorals may have only been altered by ‘Luke’ in the manner identified by Clement of Alexandria with respect to the Epistles to the Hebrews.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is a strange document insofar as it is clearly ‘authentic’ in the sense that it was written by an early Christian, but its writings style makes it difficult – if not impossible – to identify Paul as its author. Doubts about its Pauline authorship were raised as early as Origen, with the fifth century Isidore of Seville arguing for ‘Latinisms’ being present in the text – i.e. allusions that only a native Latin speaker writing Greek could have made.18 Clement however while accepting the text as authentically Pauline identifies 'Luke' as one who manipulated the original text of Hebrews leaving his literary fingerprints all over our text. For he said:

the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts.

These words have received a great deal of attention from scholars. The implication is clearly that 'Luke' is a figure who not only wrote a gospel for Paul and corrected Acts but also edited the letters of Paul. The original text behind Hebrews was probably the ‘Epistle to the Alexandrians’ referenced as being part of the Marcionite canon in a third century Latin work.19 Just as Clement of Alexandria could plainly recognize our Hebrews as a manipulated reworking of another more original text, we should also imagine that ‘another Luke’ existed, no less than ‘another Acts’ and ‘another Pauline canon’ free of Lucan additions. Indeed we get a sense of this reality in Clement’s subsequent words in the original citation. He adds that “since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.”

It is very unusual that Clement should have ignored the original understanding in the Acts of the Apostles that Peter and Paul agreed to assign the latter to the Gentiles. Clement ignores the entire framework developed by Acts and understands that only Jesus was Paul’s forerunner to the Hebrews. While Clement claims that Paul avoided writing to the Hebrews "our of respect for Jesus" his follow up statement implies an understanding of Paul very much after the manner of the heretics – i.e. as nothing short of a second Jesus, even ‘the Paraclete’ of the Marcionite and Valentinian communities.20

Yet this is the reality which opens up when we remove Luke as the arbiter of the Pauline experience. Without the Acts of Apostle nothing stands in the way of the Marcionite identification of the apostle carrying out a mission to the Alexandrians. This in turn makes Paul appear immediately like Mark once again.21 Indeed if we look at the itinerary of Mark which emerges from the Acts of Mark tradition, we see missionary activity in a number of places associated with the Marcionite canon – a visit to Laodicea (modern Latikya) instead of Ephesus and his intention to visit to Gaul rather than Galatia.22

Could the original Pauline canon of the Marcionites have better reflected the apostle’s original status as Mark? It is difficult to say anything for certain. However it is worth taking a second look at the tradition of the surviving Acts of Mark and Acts of Barnabas to see them as a reaction against the canonical Acts of the Apostles. No one doubts that the Acts of Mark and Acts of Barnabas are somehow related to one another. The major differences between the texts can be explained by the author of Barnabas’s interest in using the Acts of Mark to support the early dating for a specific relic in Cyprus.23 In other words, the Act of Mark clearly pre-dated Barnabas.

At the core of this tradition however is a reaction to the very passage used by Irenaeus to prove Paul’s rejection of Mark in favor of Luke – i.e. Acts 15:39 - 41. As Richard Pervo notes “although Acts of Barnabas seeks to justify Mark's action and Barnabas' continuing support of him, it does so by portraying Paul as stubborn and irascible, slow to forgive and unwilling to forget … Barnabas could not, evidently, be the patron of Cyprus without establishing his reasons for separating from Paul. Even more importantly, the founder and patron of the Alexandrian church could not be portrayed as a Pauline reject. It was necessary to show, with or without delicacy and divine intervention, that Paul was wrong about Mark.”24 Yet we cannot lose sight of the fact that both Acts of Mark and the Acts of Barnabas weren’t invented in a vacuum. The texts are universally understood to be drawing from some lost Markan tradition.

To be certain the Acts of Mark tradition is aware of the canonical Acts and the Acts of Barnabas certainly develops as a reaction against the portrait of Mark in Acts 12:25 – 15:41. Whereas Acts simply has Barnabas and Paul go to Seleucia and then Cyprus, the Acts of Mark has Mark accompany Barnabas to Antioch and then go to Seleucia, Caesarea in Palestine and Cyprus before turning back to Antioch failing to accomplish his mission in Gaul. The Acts of Barnabas summarizes this section and develops its pointed rebuff of Acts 15:39 – 41.25

What we should see is that the Acts of Barnabas’s second journey to Cyprus is a wholly new addition to the original account of the Acts of Mark. The Acts of Mark tradition on the other hand, doesn’t seem aware of Luke’s slight against Mark. In this narrative, rather than going to Cyprus a second time, the “most holy apostle Mark” arrives in Antioch “because of divine revelation” which interrupted his planned missionary activity to Gaul and subsequently on to Jerusalem where he meets Simeon and Niger from Acts 13:1. The “god-speaking apostle” goes on to Rome to write the gospel before heading to Alexandria.

The important thing we must keep in mind is that ancient writers were very aware of this underlying rivalry between Mark and Luke. The fourth century Church Father Ephrem the Syrian says the following about the beginning of this section:

But Saul and Barnabas, who carried food for the saints in Jerusalem, returned with John who was called Mark and so did Luke of Cyrene. But both these are evangelists and wrote before the discipleship of Paul, and therefore he used to repeat everywhere from their gospel.

As one commentator notes, Ephrem evidently thought of “John Mark” and “Lucius” from Acts the two evangelists Mark and Luke. For him Lucius of Cyrene is Lucas the author not of the gospel but of Acts as well. Yet clearly having ‘Luke’ write about Mark’s rejection by Paul is hardly convincing historical source. After all ‘Luke’ has a vested interest in diminishing Mark’s authority.

Clearly ‘Luke’ the editor of the New Testament canon added the reference to Paul choosing him rather than Mark to gather up his books – mention to these writings being added to the epistles in order to give the impression Paul sanctioned his completing a gospel on his behalf.26 Irenaeus repeatedly draws attention to these same additions not only to prove that he was Paul’s beloved apostle, but moreover to reinforce a particular theological interpretation of his writings – “but surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him "the beloved," and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned secret and unspeakable mysteries?”27

We should also take note of Irenaeus's specific effort to use Luke's authority to attack these heretics. Clearly the apostle himself was attached to "secret and unspeakable mysteries." This is almost certainly a reference to the baptismal practices associated with the "secret gospel" as we have already seen sometimes identified as 'according to Paul' and other times 'according to Mark.' The development of a ‘gospel of Luke’ was specifically designed by Irenaeus to contextualize familiar passages used by the heretics in a manner useful for Catholic arguments to the contrary.

As such it is important to note that Irenaeus goes on to demand that "these men must either receive the rest of his narrative, or else reject these parts also. For no persons of common sense can permit them to receive some things recounted by Luke as being true, and to set others aside, as if he had not known the truth." The Marcionites are specifically mentioned now as well as the Valentinians offering out an olive branch saying that if "they feel compelled to receive the remaining portions" of Luke beyond what now appears in their gospel "also, then, by studying the perfect Gospel, and the doctrine of the apostles, they will find it necessary to repent, that they may be saved from the danger (to which they are exposed).”

This reference to 'danger' - periculo - is a word which derives from periculum a Latin legal term which means "action, suit, writ of judgment or sentence." Not accepting the gospel of Luke has a 'danger' associated with it for the community of Mark no less than not recognizing the Catholic understanding of Paul as developed in the Lukan material. Irenaeus goes on to say immediately after his threat that:

But again, we allege the same against those who do not know the apostle Paul: that they should either reject the other words of the Gospel which we have come to know through Luke alone, and not make use of them; or else, if they do receive all these, they must necessarily admit also that testimony concerning Paul, when he (Luke) tells us that the Lord spoke at first to him from heaven: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? I am Jesus Christ, whom thou persecutes."

Clearly then the Marcionites do not know ‘Paul’ as the name of their apostle nor do they identify him as formerly being called ‘Saul’ as developed by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.

Once we chip away at the claims developed by Irenaeus about Luke’s value as a witness the whole façade of ‘the apostle Paul’ comes falling down. For we remember that Paulos was not the name of the apostle in our tradition either. ‘Paul,’ like ‘Peter’ or ‘Thomas’ appears to be a title that was eventually adapted – and corrupted – into a proper name. What this name was originally taken to mean by the Marcionite community is anyone’s guess, however following the pattern of appropriation from Jewish sources the most likely candidate is that of ‘workmanship’ or ‘work’ as in Deuteronomy 32:4 ‘the perfect work’ of God.28

Of course merely identifying ‘Paulos’ as a title does not explain why so many Christian communities in the late second century avoided referencing the apostle by his real name ‘Mark.’ We shall attempt to develop an explanation for this historical situation in our next chapter. For the moment it is enough to continue to cite what follows in Irenaeus’s testimony with respect to the value of adhering to Luke:

For neither can they maintain that Paul is not an apostle, when he was chosen for this; neither can they show Luke to be lying when he relates the truth to us with all diligence. For perhaps also on account of this that God has caused most of the gospel to be revealed through Luke such as all hold to be indispensable, in order that all, following his subsequent testimony which contains the acts and doctrine of the truth and having the unadulterated rule of faith, may be saved. His testimony, therefore, is true, and the doctrine of the apostles is open and stedfast, holding nothing in reserve; nor did they teach one set of doctrines in private, and another in public.

Once again we confront the garbled mention of the apostle having another name besides Paul and the employment of Luke to counter the ‘secret gospel’ originally associated with the apostle.

It is worth noting that the language of the opening section of the Fifth Book of Tertullian's Against Marcion cited at the beginning of our last chapter bears uncanny resemblance to what we have just seen in Irenaeus. Whereas Irenaeus here declares "they cannot contend that Paul is not an apostle" (neque enim contendere possunt Paulum non esse Apostolum) Tertullian's accusation against the Marcionites there is -"and do you then deny that Paul is an apostle? (tu ergo negas apostolum Paulum?). That the name Paul was hidden from their gospel is also noted "Marcion attaches to his gospel no author's name" and again "even if Marcion had introduced his gospel under the name of Paul in person, that one single document would not be adequate for our faith."

In the end we should see that ‘Luke’ was developed to take advantage of a hole in the armor of the Markan tradition. Since the community of Mark refused to say anything about their apostle, Luke’s explicit testimony about the person of ‘Paul’ filled the void. He satisfied the curiosity about the identity of the apostle for outsiders. In the end, Mark could easily be forgotten and ultimately transformed into ‘the apostle named Paul’ because the Roman name Paulos sounded like one of his pre-existent titles. The fact that Irenaeus forged an entire collection of Christian writings to support his falsification efforts surely didn’t hurt either.


8 There was clearly more to the struggle against 'Arianism' than merely the 'recent popularity' of ideas associated with a heretic named Arius. The aged presbyter of the Church that bore the evangelist's name was in fact the living personification of St Mark for individuals living not only in Egypt but around the Roman world. 

15 Professor Trobisch answers the intriguing question is a paper called “Who Published the Christian Bible?” delivered at the January 2007 “Scripture and Skepticism” conference (Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion). The answer has been hidden in plain sight, but it has also been, like the light from Nietzsche’s distant star, on its way for a long time. First, C.F.D. Moule, A. Strobel, Stephen G. Wilson, and Jerome D. Quinn all contributed to the theory that Luke-Acts share a single authorship with the Pastoral Epistles. (One may modify this thesis to suggest that the author of Acts and the Pastorals was the redactor of an Ur-Lukas shared with Marcion, not the author who worked up Luke from Mark and Q.). Hans von Campenhausen suggested, quite plausibly, that the author of the Pastorals was Polycarp of Smyrna. Combine these theories and you end up with Polycarp as the author of Acts and the Pastorals (as well as, I would add, of the Pastoral Stratum of interpolations in 1 Peter and the Pauline Corpus, and even as Bultmann’s Ecclesiastical Redactor of John). 16 James W. Aageson 
17 cf. Tertullian Against Marcion 5.1 "I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle." 
24 It is interesting to note that this entire section is summarized in the Acts of Barnabas as follows “Thence, therefore, we came to Seleucia, and after staying three days sailed away to Cyprus; and I was ministering to them until we had gone round all Cyprus. And setting sail from Cyprus, we landed in Perga of Pamphylia. And there I then stayed about two months, wishing to sail to the regions of the West; and the Holy Spirit did not allow me. Turning, therefore, I again sought the apostles; and having learned that they were in Antioch, I went to them.” 
27 “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” See also Irenaeus “That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: "Demas hath forsaken me, ... and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me." From this he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: "Luke, the beloved physician, greets you."

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