Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Six] Final Edit

On Mark the Magician

The idea that Mark might have been behind the person of Paul is an absolutely significant paradigm shift. In the Fifth Book of Tertullian’s Against Marcion the Church Father makes clear that while the heretics surely rejected the apostle’s identification with Saul, they refused to say who he really was. “I desire to hear from Marcion the origin of Paul the apostle” declares Tertullian, “and I must with the best of reasons approach this inquiry with uneasiness when I find one affirmed to be an apostle, of whom in the list of the apostles in the gospel I find no trace.” This is the exact same situation that we must imagine confronted any interested party in Alexandria, if they wished to inquire about Mark’s authorship of the gospel.

Of course Clement famously says that they must deny that Mark is the author of the secret gospel. The Marcionite gospel as we just saw was similarly veiled behind the claim to be “according to (Jesus) Christ.” Yet it doesn’t get said often enough that Mark resembles the shadowy Marcionite Paul. In the same way we know almost nothing about the author of the gospel, the Marcionite apostle must have appeared closed off behind an impenetrable wall of darkness.

The translations of the Latin text that follow rightly understand them to develop from the familiar notion that Marcion was a shipowner. So Tertullian declares:

Will you please tell us under what symbolo you accepted Paul as apostle, who had struck (percusserit) him with that mark of distinction (tituli character), who commended (transmiserit) him to you, and who put him in your charge? Only so may you with confidence exhibit him (constanter exponere): only so can he avoid being proved to belong to him who has put in evidence all the documents that attest his apostleship.

What often gets lost in translation is the context of the allegory. The underlying distinction between the Marcionite Paul and the Catholic equivalent was the concept of openness. Once you got your hands on Irenaeus’s ‘New Covenant’ you almost instantly ‘knew’ who Paul was. Tertullian is here making clear that even if you managed to read the Marcionite canon, you learned nothing about the identity of the apostle.

So he continues to attack Marcion by saying that his Paul “claims to be an apostle, and that not from men nor through any man, but through Jesus Christ.” Yet Tertullian notes that there is nothing in the Marcionite canon to tell you what it means to be an apostle. There is no authorship associated with the gospel either – the gospel they say was associated with Paul. The Catholic canon strongly infers that Luke was the eyewitness to Paul’s apostleship. The Marcionites by contrast had nothing more than a secret canon, with a crypto-apostle and an occult gospel. There were absolutely no clues given to help the hearer understand who Paul is and what kind of relationship he had with Marcion.1

The same can be said for the relationship between Paul and Peter and Mark and Peter. Few people recognize how well attested the two gospel tradition is in early Christianity. While Clement’s understanding of a short ‘gospel of faith’ associated with Peter and a longer gospel of ‘knowledge’ with Mark is unknown outside the letter to Theodore, a very similar understanding develops between two gospels associated with Peter and Paul in the Prescription Against Heresies (hereafter 'Praescriptione).

While Tertullian says nothing specifically about the occultation of Paul in the heretical tradition, he does make reference to the Marcionites and other groups bringing forward:

for the purpose of scoffing at some ignorance in the Apostles the point that Peter and his companions were blamed by Paul. "Something therefore," say they, "was lacking in them." They say this in order to build up that other contention of theirs, that a fuller knowledge might afterwards have come to them, such as came to Paul who blamed his predecessors.

Tertullian goes on to say that Peter was understood to be “blamed by Paul so that another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth.” Indeed the form Paul brings forward is specifically a 'secret gospel' (occultum evangelium).2

The Praescriptione makes absolutely clear that in the original Roman community there were two gospels associated with Peter and Paul. This seems to go back to the ancient Roman veneration of Peter and Paul as twin apostles.3 Peter was associated with 'publicly preaching' in the city, while Paul established 'secret initiations' according to a mystery religion.4 Already two hundred years Augustine makes reference to "books which they consider to have been written by Him" - i.e. Christ – “to Peter and Paul” which were steeped in magic.5 It is hard not to believe that this is a garbled preservation of the original ‘secret’ gospel formula once again.

It is enough to say that it would appear that anyone involved in secret rites and initiations would be identified as a magician. We need only think of Paul’s identification of the gospel’s "demonstrations of the Spirit's power" and "the power of God" for some context here.6 Already Origen is forced to defend the gospel narrative from the charge it develop a portrait of Jesus as a magician. Since the Marcionites identified Paul as the author of the narrative, there should be no surprise that he had something of a reputation for being a magician in antiquity.

The Emperor Julian refers to the apostle as "the man who surpassed all magicians and deceivers that ever were, anywhere.” This testimony, as Morton Smith notes, is based in no small part on "his repeated claim that his converts had been won by his success in working miracles and invoking the spirit and not by his skills as a preacher."7 The same thing interestingly can be said about Mark; the difficulty is that his tradition did too good of a job occultating their leader. There is extremely little that is said about Mark’s identity from an early period.

It is worth noting that Clement does indeed reference magic in relation to the heretical interpretation of the secret Mark.8 The Acts of Mark can be roughly divided into three parts with the middle third devoted to the evangelists various miracles. In the History of the Coptic Patriarchs by the tenth century Severus ibn al-Muqaffaʿ Mark is identified by his pagan adversaries as one who "workest the magic of the Galilean thy master, and whatever thou wilt thou doest." Mark's magical feats are so impressive he has to convince his converts to worship Jesus rather than himself.9

Perhaps more significantly, many recent studies have noticed that in the Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as a magician. David Aune a Walter Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Notre Dame University has developed the most detailed study of this phenomenon where as he notes the "anti-magic apologetic is present side-by-side with magical traditions." Aune specifically refers to the Beelzebul pericope among others and notes “those who deny the presence of these traditions are left putting forward a most perplexing claim that Mark incorporates magical elements in a naive and unself-conscious manner with no attempt to protect Jesus and the Christian community from the charge of magic.”

One such apologist is John Hull, Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham who correctly observes that the author of Mark allows to stand in the miracle stories magical details that Matthew eliminates.10 It is generally agreed that Mark developed a portrait of Jesus in line with the healing and exorcistic practices of the greater pagan culture. But most of these studies of the Gospel of Mark ignore the magical implications of the additional material cited in the Letter to Theodore. The most important magic rite associated with this text is clearly – the redemption baptism.

It is no wonder then that there was such a profound backlash against the specific Markan tradition within Christianity in the late second century. I have long been the advocate of identifying Irenaeus’s description of Mark the magician, leader of a gnostic community engaged in redemption baptism, with Mark the evangelist. Birger Pearson has criticized my identification in print saying that Irenaeus is referencing a second century Mark rather than the disciple of Peter.11 Nevertheless a number of others have pointed out that it is impossible to pin Irenaeus’s Mark down to any specific historical date or any geographical locale.12

As one commentator notes with regard to the doctrine and practices of the followers of Mark (Marcus) the magician “Irenaeus has obtained his information partly from a written source, partly from oral communications. We can hardly assume that Marcus was still alive when Irenaeus wrote. As proof of this we cannot admit either his occasional use of the present tense in his account of Marcus, nor his occasionally addressing him in the second person, as Tertullian does Marcion.”13 The same source also notes that Clement of Alexandria’s “unacknowledged use of the same writings of Marcus as were employed by Irenaeus."

To this end it is difficult not to make the connection between Clement’s ‘Mark’ and Irenaeus’s ‘Mark the magician.’ The difficulty has always been the will to do so owing to the shape and complexion of the canonical gospel of Mark. The bottom line being that it does not appear to be ‘Pythagorean’ which is the foundation of Irenaeus’s criticism of Mark the magician. For instance the hour that Jesus was crucified was clearly changed either from the ‘third’ to the ‘sixth’ or vice versa. We know from the followers of Mark in Irenaeus’s account that their gospel read ‘sixth.’ Little differences like this have an effect on determining whether we view the evangelist Mark as a ‘Pythagorean.’

The identification of Mark as magician develops directly from this association with Pythagoreanism in Irenaeus because the Church Father connects his beliefs and practices with a certain Anaxilaus of Larissa. In his great chronicle of world history, Jerome lists 28 BCE as the year of the expulsion of this Pythagorean and magus from Rome and Italy by Augustus. How long this Anaxilaus the Pythagorean had been in Rome before he was expelled is not known. All that is certain is that this man was famous for put together a collection of spells of an amusing character such as would entertain at a drinking party.

Yet even here there is an apparent similarity with the evangelist Mark that is worth considering. These drinking parties that Anaxilaus attended would almost certainly have been thrown by rich Roman citizens – the very sorts of people for whom Mark wrote his gospel according to Clement. In other words, we have less of a statement about the seriousness of his magic interest than we do the kind of circles he frequented. The suggestion may be that the interest in Mark may have something of a fad among bored aristocrats. Irenaeus would be implying that the development of the Markan redemption baptism was something of a novelty.

If we go back to our original discussion of the ‘redemption baptism’ at the beginning of the book, it was clear that those entering the water became like Jesus. As we noted in that section, Jesus gave the initiate his soul and they in turn received ‘redemption’ through being adopted as God’s sons and daughters. Yet there is another layer to Irenaeus’s reporting which is worth bringing up now. This very same baptism rite was frequently identified by the heretics as the one to which Jesus refers when he speaks of a ‘baptism by fire’ or the spirit.14

In other words, while John simply dunked people in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus took his disciple Peter and baptized him in fiery water. The idea of fire being ‘on the water’ was apparently incorporated into the early accounts of Jesus’s baptism by John.15 Yet it would appear originally that the followers of Mark and Paul understood that there was a second baptism narrative in the gospel where this same activity took place. In other words, after John’s baptism by water, Jesus introduced the baptism of fire and water.

The reason that Irenaeus compared his ‘Mark the magician’ with Anaxilaus was because the Pythagorean was famous for creating a dinner part illusion which recreated this exact effect – i.e. what Irenaeus describes in De Rebaptismate:

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

The original trick by Anaxilaus was referenced in Pliny’s Natural History – a work that Irenaeus makes frequent allusion. To this end, we must assume that while the followers of Mark understood ‘fire’ to be present in some form at their second baptism rites, Irenaeus likened these gatherings to the dinner parties where people might attempt to recreate the sleight of hand of Anaxilaus.

Clearly then we must assume that secret Mark was known to Irenaeus. For even though fire is not specifically mentioned in the fragment retold by Clement of Alexandria, an exact parallel can be found in the oral traditions associated with Moses’s going in the cloud on Sinai. Here too, fire is not specifically mentioned in the narrative in Exodus, but it is consistently referenced in the earliest exegesis of the material.

He was making supplication during the six days and prostrating before the King of all kings; he saw the Sanctuary of the Unseen spread out in the fire within the cloud. He was called on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud and he saw the ranks of the angels in their array ... Fire glorified him seven times: fire's first dealing with him was on Mount Sinai at the beginning of his prophetic mission; it was revealed to him in the Bush; from it call was made by name twice— "Moses, Moses" (Ex. 3. 4)—a great wonder the like of which has never been in the world and never will be! From the fire he was called on the morning of the day of Horeb, from the top of Mount Sinai in the presence of six hundred thousand; fire flaming up to the heart of heaven, as he said, "While the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven" (Deut. 4. 11); then he trod in it with his feet and was not harmed by it; it was like a plant with the dew of heaven on it under his feet [Mimar Marqe 5.3]

The point of course is that Mark himself was certainly not influenced by Anaxilaus. Instead his interest in fire comes from the early traditions about Moses’s experience on Sinai - the parallels between the ‘after six days’ of secret Mark and Moses’s experience on Sinai have already been noted.  The key point of overlap in the writings of Paul - ignored by many scholars - is the notion of 'being baptized (enveloped) in the cloud." (1 Corinthians 10:2) 16

The real difficulty for our understanding of the development of Irenaeus’s likening of Mark to Anaxilaus is the fact that there are very strong reasons to believe that the passage in Irenaeus's Against Heresies 1.13.1 was deliberately altered, perhaps by Irenaeus himself. There is strong evidence from the author of the Philosophumena that the members of the Markan tradition who had been incorporated into the ‘great Church’ in the early third century read Irenaeus’s account of their baptismal practices and complained about their inaccuracies. The author of the Philosophumena surprisingly acknowledges deficiencies in Irenaeus’s reporting and evidence from the fourth century Church Father Epiphanius demonstrate that ‘corrections’ were ultimately made to the original narrative.

We shall conclude our discussion in this chapter with an attempt to demonstrate that Anaxilaus was originally thought to be the inspiration behind the Markan 'second baptism' rite in Adv Haer 1.13 – 21. Instead of what now appears in the text – i.e. Mark’s followers passing around of 'colored water' – Irenaeus’s original report about the sect resembled the material found in De Rebaptismate. In other words, the passing around of a chalice took the place of the original association between Anaxilaus and fire baptism.

The key to understanding this transformation is the fact that Irenaeus originally accused the Valentinians of also partaking in this rite. As we shall demonstrate shortly, the followers of Mark were unable to defend themselves at the time of the composition of this treatise c. 180 CE. Nevertheless Irenaeus’s real effort was to link the Valentinians with this discredited group. The reason why Epiphanius identifies the followers of Heracleon as engaging in the same practice was because he was following the same report allude to in the Philosophumena – i.e. “for these opinions, however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school.”17

To this end, when Irenaeus published the first edition of his Against the Markans his attempts to broaden the condemnation of this heretical group to include those of the Valentinian sects was successfully rebuffed, an effort undoubtedly assisted in no small part by Florinus of Rome. To this end, the report was changed and included in these changes was the introduction of the practice borrowed allegedly from Anaxilaus of taking up a chalice of colored water rather than dipping in fire water. The literal interpretation of ‘fire being actually on the water’ now being entirely discredited owing to the successful complaint of the Valentinians.18

The core parallel between the testimonies about alleged Christian adoption of the practices of Anaxilaus in both De Baptismate and Adv Haer 1.13 – 21 is (a) the consistent reference to ‘another baptism’ and (b) the repeated identification of this practice being referenced in the Gospel (i.e. Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:35 – 40) in both texts. The second reference is especially significant as it makes explicit that the passage which is being cited is that quoted from ‘secret Mark’ by Clement of Alexandria. Indeed in both the Philosophumena’s paraphrase – i.e. that the second baptism is performed on those "dying and have reached the point of death" - and the parallel passage in Adv Haer 1.21.5 "others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death" the underlying association with secret Mark is confirmed.

As Irenaeus’s notes at the end of the account of the Markan sect, there was a great deal of variation within the community. There were various preservations of the redemption rite and apparently a number of different texts and traditions associated with that rite. In De Baptismate, the author speaks of “this adulterous, yea, murderous baptism” associated with a certain work called The Preaching of Paul. The text apparently contained a number of original ideas including that “after such long time, Peter and Paul, after the collation of the Gospel in Jerusalem, and the mutual consideration and altercation and arrangement of things to be done finally, were known to one another, as if then for the first time.” It is interesting to note that the Acts of Mark, while not exactly identical to this narrative understands that Peter and Mark met in Jerusalem before going off to Rome to write the gospel.

Indeed as we shall see shortly the surviving Acts of Mark and a related text called the Acts of Barnabas are generally thought to develop from a lost account of the life of the evangelist.19 The primary focus of most of these texts is to develop the account in Acts of Mark’s missionary activity with Paul and Barnabas. In our next chapter we will see that our canonical version of Acts goes out of its way to make it seem that Paul rejected Mark in favor of Luke. This rejection was used as a pretext to abandon Mark’s tradition role in the proto-Catholic tradition as the guarantor or witness to the beliefs of Peter and Paul.

What we will eventually see throughout our examination of the evidence is that because of the mystery surrounding the person of the apostle, various legends developed in the second century to explain who he was and what he tried to accomplish for the Church. The idea that Mark was a separate figure from Paul was one such explanation and so we see in texts like the Acts of Mark and the Acts of Barnabas the understanding whereby Mark, in place of Paul, ascends to the heights and hears unspeakable revelations:

After I was baptized, then, I saw a certain man standing clothed in white raiment; and he said to me: Be of good courage, John, for assuredly your name shall be changed to Mark, and your glory shall be proclaimed in all the world. And the darkness in you has passed away from you, and there has been given to you understanding to know the mysteries of God. And when I saw the vision, becoming greatly terrified, I went to the feet of Barnabas, and related to him the mysteries which I had seen and heard from that man. And the Apostle Paul was not by when I disclosed the mysteries. And Barnabas said to me: Tell no one the miracle which you have seen. For by me also this night the Lord stood, saying, Be of good courage: for as you have given your life for my name to death and banishment from your nation, thus also shall you be made perfect. Moreover, as for the servant who is with you, take him also with yourself; for he has certain mysteries. Now then, my child, keep to yourself the things which you have seen and heard; for a time will come for you to reveal them.

The guardians of the secret tradition of Mark must have stood by and allowed the development of misinformation up until the point Luke usurped the traditional role of their apostle. By then, as we have already seen, it was too late to stop the speeding train. The traditional authority of the evangelist within the Christian community was about to fade as a distant memory.


1 Clearly any man can make claims for himself claim is confirmed by another person's attestation. One person writes the document, another signs it, a third attests the signature, and a fourth enters it in the records. No man is for himself both claimant and witness. 


16 We shall argue that the key piece of evidence to unlock the proper context for all four testimonies is the statement found in the Philosophumena that the followers of Mark read Irenaeus's original account and demanded changes be made owing to gross factual inaccuracies. The author of the epitome is forced to admit that Irenaeus made mistakes in his original reporting: For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of them) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption. But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny). For these opinions, however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school. It is simply unheard of to have an early Church Father acknowledge the inaccuracies of holy men from previous generations. Clearly the Philosophumena uses Irenaeus for much of its information about the sects, however in this one instance the author is forced to admit defeat. The fact that he seeks to pardon the Valentinians from being lumped together with the followers of Mark is especially significant given the fact that Epiphanius repeats parts of Adv Haer 1.21 twice - once as part of his reporting of Against Heresies as we have it now and a second time as pertaining to a Valentinian sect named after a certain teacher named Heracleion. To this end, it must be accepted - especially given the strange ordering of (3) - that Irenaeus's account of the Markan sect originally looked very different from what we have now. The Markans were specifically accused by Irenaeus of adopting a 'redemption' baptism described in the secret gospel of Mark, one which above all else sought to make all men and women equal after one image and likeness - viz. that of the magician Mark. At a later date the original allusion to Anaxilaus's magic trick of mixing fire and water - i.e. 'baptism by fire' - was transformed into an account of a 'spiritual' cup with purple water.18 Yet the account comes so suddenly upon the reader - indeed, at the very beginning of the narrative - it clearly seems to betray its origin as a late addition. It should be noted that all reference to Anaxilaus is removed from the epitome of (3). Moreover almost everything to do with the redemption baptism has been removed owing to Markan objections. 
17 There are four surviving reports originally identifying a connection between the followers of Mark and Anaxilaus the Pythagorean: the testimony of Irenaeus Against Heresies Book 1 Chapters 13 - 21 - this material is only preserved in a Latin translation the testimony of Epiphanius's Panarion - which is our only surviving Greek edition of this testimony. Epiphanius makes clear that there was an original text 'Against the Markans' which was incorporated into Book One alongside another originally distinct report 'Against the Valentinians' which is preserved in Latin as a stand alone text by Tertullian. the testimony of the Philosophumena Book 6 Chapters 35 - 50 - this is an epitome of Irenaeus's lost 'Against the Markans' in Greek and displays numerous differences with both (1) and (2) the testimony of the Anonymous Treatise on Second Baptism - this text has almost verbatim parallels with later sections of the Irenaeus's account of the Markans Scholars tend to view (2) as a confirmation of (1) and its claim that Marcus encouraged his followers to pass around a cup filled with wine colored water allegedly learned from a trick of Anaxilaus. The difficulty here is that Anaxilaus never developed this magic trick. This obvious short coming makes the testimony (4) so incredibly valuable. It identifies the water trick as relating to a second baptism 'in fire' - i.e. spirit - which was certainly the original testimony. It references the very same arguments made by the followers of Mark about why this second baptism is superior to that instituted by the Catholic Church from John the Baptist - i.e. a baptism of repentance of sins. It alludes to the same scriptural passages (Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:35 - 40). It connects these two elements to Anaxilaus. However the specific name 'Mark' has been entirely removed from the text. Immediately following this statement in (3) 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." None of this claim of the baptismal practices of the sect being association with magic now appears in either (1) or (2). Yet it is certainly retained in (4) alongside a great deal of other material from Adv Haer 1.21 It is for this reason that we shall argue that Irenaeus's original testimony about the Markan sect is found in the Treatise on Second Baptism. According to (4) the heresies now unnamed led their 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' is specifically related to the very same trick scholars attempt to associate with the cup with purple water in (1) and (2) and moreover for the same mystical function - i.e. to impart the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The reality is that to this very day baptism is understood to impart the Holy Spirit to initiates. It is the foundation upon which Christianity was established. The significance of 'drinking from the cup' is far more ambiguous, modern Catholic for instance can decline to drink from the communal cup. Partaking of the host and baptism by contrast are mandatory. It is hard to imagine a Christian community which would place such an emphasis on a cup of purple water. The disputed claims of Irenaeus about the practices of the sect seem that much more outlandish and out of character with Christianity once the original charge of a 'magical baptism' was removed.Clearly then Clement's community objected to his more accurate account of their sect, their secret practices and their secret gospel. The line - "on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received, but they have learned that always they should deny" - seems to be right out of Clement's Letter to Theodore.20 So too is the account in (4) of the Anaxilaus inspired baptism: 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. The sense of the words here are so close to Clement's in the Letter to Theodore it should be difficult for even Watson and Carlson to avoid seeing the parallel - "to them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way ; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath."

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