Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Twelve] Final Edit

The Secret Sons and Daughters of Mark

It was the great nineteenth century New Testament scholar Adolf Hilgenfeld who correctly identified the name Marcion as a Greek nebenform – or, a variant - of the Latin praenomen, or personal name Mark. Nevertheless there are a few further steps that we can take this understanding. As we have seen, there was great confusion between the named Marcion and an alleged heretical group that developed around his teachings. Since most scholarship on the subject of Christian origins does not doubt Irenaeus’s sincerity, Marcionites are identified as ‘corrupting’ the gospel of Luke rather than preserving the original gospel of Mark – as reported in the Philosophumena.

The Marcionites apparently survived until the rise of Islam in the East. The Theodosian legal codex (XVI, 5, 65) established on May 30, 428 (= Justinian. I, 5, 5) makes reference to a certain ‘Marcianistae’ whom Hilgenfeld’s younger colleague Adolph von Harnack identified as “probably the followers of Mark.”1 Yet we have already seen that these two sects are one and the same in the slightly earlier writings of Gregory Nazianzen. Moreover Harnack himself acknowledges that “those of Marcion” were frequently identified as “those of Marcian” because the names were basically interchangeable.2

So how exactly should we understanding the name Marcion? It would seem, based on all the evidence that has survived down to us, that Marcion is best understood to be a patronymic – a personal name developed from the name of one’s father. This understanding helps explain the –iwn suffix being added to name Marcus. In a very similar manner we see the name Serapion develop from the Egyptian god Serapis. It is well established that this Greek –iwn suffix was commonly used to describe a poetic relationship between god and individual.

So in yet another example of this phenomena, the name Cronion was developed to mean ‘the son of the Cronos’ and is used as a title of Zeus – i.e. Zeus Cronion.3 To this end we must imagine that treating Marcion as a patronymic helps explain some curiosities in the original reports about these heretics. For instance Irenaeus addresses the magician Mark in the present tense throughout his report in the very manner we read similar allusions in Tertullian to Marcion. For example the treatise against Marcion begins “Marcion is more savage than even the beasts of that barbarous region” and he continues to speak in a similar manner “So, Marcion, you are caught in the midst of your own Pontic tide!”

The idea is clearly that at the time the heresies were raging in the late second and early third centuries, the various heretics associated with Mark were understood to be living manifestations of the God-man. The origin of the surviving material is for the most part lost to us, but we still retain frequent association with the name Mark. So we find Marcellus is similarly understood to be a cognomen of Mark, and his female members were often identified as ‘Marcellina’ as often as his males were called Marcian.4

We should see that the phenomena of countless ‘living Marks’ everywhere in the world is little more than an earlier manifestation of the process we just saw that allowed for the transfer of the deaths of Peter and George to St Mark. In the original Alexandrian system, then Mark was originally – and secretly - understood to be superior to Peter. Irenaeus deliberately subordinated the former to the latter when he described him as his ‘interpreter.’

Mark is plainly understood by the Copts to this day as above all else a father – i.e. the father of many fathers. This is the very meaning behind the concept of Pope. It is important to remember that the concept of ‘Pope’ and the Papacy only came to the Roman Church at the beginning of the fifth century. As Clement of Alexandria makes clear, an earlier Roman heresy emphasized by contrast that Jesus wanted absolute equality between the brothers in the Church. All were supposed to be equals before God. This was not the original Alexandrian conception nor that associated with the tradition of Mark in other parts of the world. The hierarchy in heaven – i.e. where the Father was greater than the Son – was clearly behind the more dangerous understanding that there were two orders of rank within the Church.

The ‘gnostic’ presbytery which represented ‘the head’ secretly associated with Mark, and a ‘faithful’ body which was represented by Peter. It is important to note that the Arian tradition of the fourth century was intimately associated with this idea. No one can really explain any longer why this tradition was singled out by the Imperial government of Constantine. The answer becomes immediately obvious when we consider its subordination of the Alexandrian tradition of Mark to the greater Church.

What becomes even clearer through this understanding is that in spite of the efforts of Irenaeus to wipe out the legacy of St Mark, the tradition lived on. It may have ultimately been forced to accept a foreign canon, nevertheless it would never completely let go of its beloved apostle. If we take the time to look at the earliest evidence for Christianity we can in fact begin to see the ritual devotion to Mark’s gospel even in the writings of the pagan critic Celsus. As earlier as the persecutions in Gaul he makes reference to uncovering a mysterious collection of ‘diagrams’ that Origen acknowledges existed in the early age of the Church. These diagrams feature a number of circles with pictures of the animal shaped ‘watchers’ that sit on top of each of the seven gates that guard Paradise.

It is clear from Celsus’s statements that Christianity developed a baptism rite from the Question of the Rich Man in the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 (Contra Celsum 6:16). He is clearly referencing ‘Secret Mark.’ Celsus goes on to identify this rite as involving a heavenly ascent compare this Christian practice to the Persian rites of Mithras which apparently featured an ascending ladder of seven metals (ibid 6:22). He finally mentions an oath “in the form of question and answer, regarding what is called by ecclesiastical writers the seal (sphragidos), statements which did not arise from imperfect information; such as that he who impresses the seal (sphragida) is called father, and he who is sealed (sphragizomenou) is called young man (neuo) and son (huiou); and who answers, I have been anointed with white ointment (kechrismai chrismati leukw) from the tree of life.”(ibid 6:27)

What Celsus is describing for us is the contemporary application of Secret Mark in Christian circles. The camel going through the eye of a needle illustrates to the initiate that he must strip himself of his possessions before being ritually cleansed and anointed. Yet most significant of all, Celsus brings up the aforementioned diagrams used by the Christians and says that “certain inscriptions” are placed on the circles of the diagram “of which they give the interpretation, and among others two words especially, 'a greater and a less,' which they refer to Father and Son” – a fact confirmed by Origen from his own experience with the diagrams.5 In fact, as we saw earlier, the mysteries developed from the Gospel of Mark have the one being ‘sealed’ identified as ‘the son’ and the one doing the sealing as ‘the father.’

In other words, it will not be difficult to see that Mark was likely originally conceived as the living personification of the ‘hidden Father’ who seals his various sons with a secret image or likeness. It is no wonder then that Celsus introduces the diagram and the heavenly ascent immediately after these words with the bold statement that “Christians having misunderstood the words of Plato loudly boast of a 'super-celestial' God thus ascending beyond the heaven of the Jews.” As we shall see shortly this ascent is not only associated with the ogdoad or ‘eighthness’ but specifically also with the concept of redemption once again in the writings of Irenaeus.

Celsus states that these heretics “with miserable pains learn off the names of the heavenly doorkeepers.” They also understand that the unknown Father – the aforementioned ‘super-celestial god’ – is now revealed in the person of their adopted father in the Christians mysteries. Celsus says that when the Christians declare to the world 'How can we know God, unless by the perception of the senses? For how otherwise than through the senses are we able to gain any knowledge?' to which he responds:

This is not the language of a man; it comes not from the soul, but from the flesh. Let them hearken to us, if such a spiritless and carnal race are able to do so: if, instead of exercising the senses, you look upwards with the soul; if, turning away the eye of the body, you open the eye of the mind, thus and thus only will you be able to see God. If you seek one to be your guide along this way, you must shun all deceivers and jugglers, who will introduce you to phantoms otherwise you will be acting the most ridiculous part, if, while you pronounce imprecations upon those other recognised gods, treating them as idols, you yet do homage to a more wretched idol than any of these, which indeed is not even an idol or a phantom, but a dead man, and you seek a father like him [emphasis mine]. For the sake of such a monstrous delusion, and in support of those wonderful advisers, and those wonderful words which you address to the lion, to the amphibious creature, to the creature in the form of an ass, and to others, for the sake of those divine doorkeepers whose names you commit to memory with such pains, in such a cause as this you suffer cruel tortures, and perish at the stake.

This is not the place to go too deeply into the description of Celsus. We can be absolutely certain that Jesus is conceived as a supernatural being who still lives in the world long after his apparent death. He has not ascended up to heaven, but continues to migrate from individual to individual in the Roman Empire.

According to the original Christian understanding testified by Celsus this supernatural Jesus now tabernacles in the souls of the initiated, having been sealed in the image of their earthly father. Elsewhere in his True Account, Celsus describes their bodies being as the living ‘image’ or ‘glory’ of Jesus which they willing sacrifice on his behalf.6 Moreover Celsus likens the Christian mysteries specifically to “the oracles of Trophonius, of Amphiaraus, and of Mopsus” which were hallucinatory cults in the pagan world.6

Pausanias describing the rituals associated with the former in his account of Boeotia (9.39). Whoever desired to consult the oracle of Trophonius would live in a designated house for a period of days, bathing in the river Herkyna and living on sacrificial meat. He would then sacrifice, by day, to a series of gods at night, he would cast a black victim into a pit sacred to Agamedes, drink from two rivers called Lethe and Mnemosyne, and then descend into a cave. Here, most consultees were frightened out of their wits, and forgot the experience entirely upon coming up. Afterward, the consultee would be seated upon a chair of Mnemosyne, where the priests of the shrine would record his ravings and compose an oracle out of them.

The point of course is that the ritual alluded to in Secret Mark seems to be of a very similar nature. Celsus “supposes that the appearance of Christ to His disciples after His resurrection was like that of a spectre flitting before their eyes; whereas these gods, as he calls them, in human shape always present themselves to those who desire it. “ Thus when the youth, in the secret gospel, is said to come out of his tomb and stayed with Jesus in a house for six days before undergoing some baptism ritual – the mystery of the kingdom of God - Celsus must have be aware of the resemblance. Moreover he specifically relates the act of ‘seeking out a father like Jesus’ which clearly reinforces Celsus’s original point about Christians seeking god in human form.

Clement for his part also seems aware of the diagram with the ten circles noting at one point in his writings that: we must, in a word, ascending above all the others, stop at the mind; as also certainly in the universe overleaping the nine divisions, the first consisting of the four elements put in one place for equal interchange: and then the seven wandering stars and the one that wanders not, the ninth, to the perfect number, which is above God, and the tenth division, we must reach to the knowledge of God, to speak briefly, desiring the Maker after the creation.

Attilio Mastrocinque of the University of Verona has noted that the ideas in the diagram perfectly correspond to the system of Mark in Irenaeus where “the 9 consonants (of the alphabet) corresponded to the Father and Truth, the 8 semivowels to Logos and Life, and the 7 vowels to the material world of the planets; the balance was restored by the removal of Christ, the Digamma (a semivowel) from the sphere of the Father to the material world.”

As we shall see shortly the Digamma or Episemon is an extremely important part of the mysticism that unites the Alexandrian tradition of Mark to the followers of Mark in Gaul. Clement of Alexandria not only cites the writings associated with the heretical movement in the writings of Irenaeus verbatim but more importantly but both traditions see the sixth letter as Jesus, the very ‘seal’ or ‘charakter’ which is impressed on the initiate in baptism. As Mastrocinque further notes this letter assumes the position of mediator of the very order to the universe “I do not think that it is arbitrary to suggest that Marcus perceived the order of things as a tree of life on which the circles are arranged: a tree of equilibrium, with three central circles or three systems of circles from top to bottom, each containing 8 letters of the alphabet, obviously with their numerical values.”

Once we see that Celsus’s Christians are most certainly Alexandrian gnostics associated with Clement and the tradition of St Mark it is terribly significant to remember the pagan author’s emphasis on the carnality of this mystery. He continues again after our last citation to declare:

It is a hard matter to find out the Maker and Father of this universe; and after having found Him, it is impossible to make Him known to all. To which he himself adds this remark: You perceive, then, how divine men seek after the way of truth, and how well Plato knew that it was impossible for all men to walk in it. But as wise men have found it for the express purpose of being able to convey to us some notion of Him who is the first, the unspeakable Being—a notion, namely; which may represent Him to us through the medium of other objects—they endeavour either by synthesis, which is the combining of various qualities, or by analysis, which is the separation and setting aside of some qualities, or finally by analogy—in these ways, I say, they endeavour to set before us that which it is impossible to express in words. I should therefore be surprised if you could follow in that course, since you are so completely wedded to the flesh as to be incapable of seeing ought but what is impure.

In the very same way then, that it is reported to Clement of Alexandria’s Theodore that the secret gospel has a mystery involving two naked men, Celsus complains that it is ‘carnal’ and its participants ‘impure.’ None of this is at all surprising given the original ritual context.

The two men after all were certainly naked. The near contemporary Church Father says as much about Christian baptism. The two were furthermore engaged in a mystical act called the ‘bridal chamber’ by some. This rite was also intimately associated with the formation of ‘children’ and was likely carried out in the dark. It was certainly quite understandable that many people got the wrong idea about what was going on. It didn’t help, moreover, that Irenaeus was certainly encouraging people like Celsus to get the wrong idea – they yield themselves up to the lusts of the flesh with the utmost greediness, maintaining that carnal things should be allowed to the carnal nature, while spiritual things are provided for the spiritual. Some of them, moreover, are in the habit of defiling those women to whom they have taught the above doctrine, as has frequently been confessed by those women who have been led astray by certain of them, on their returning to the Church of God, and acknowledging this along with the rest of their errors.”


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