Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Fifteen] Final Edit

Jesus the Fugitivus

Of course, now that we have identified the purpose of the ‘second baptism’ as brother-making rite we have an even more difficult task before – that is, come to terms with why this mystery religion was so dangerous to the Empire. There were all kinds of lunatic fringe cults in antiquity. It is hard to believe that one which had an adoption ritual and was nominally associated with Judaism would be perceived as a giant threat. We have mentioned the connection with Alexandria and the revolts of 172 – 176 CE. Yet it is difficult to understand why an adoption rite would suffer as a result of this association. The only answer that makes sense through all of this is that it was Christianity’s popularity among the slaves and the lower classes which accounted for the unprecedented assault against it.

Indeed as we will demonstrate in our next book, the disappearance of the brother-making rite is not only timed to the revolt in Alexandria but also the sudden emergence of the Catholic tradition of Irenaeus. Celsus clearly had copies of the writings of apologists promoted by Irenaeus and his edition of the New Testament canon. Celsus moreover endorses this ‘great Church’ against its heretical rivals. In other words, even in the writings of Celsus we see a situation where the establishment not only endorsed the punishment of those associated with the tradition of Mark, but at the same time favored and even promoted a rival tradition.

This historical situation suggests on the surface at least a reality very similar in spirit to what is reported in Al Jabbar’s fourth or fifth century source mentioned earlier. In the same way that Irenaeus and other witnesses report an extremely close relationship between the Catholic Church and the Imperial government, the heretics are demonstrated to have been punished in unprecedented numbers. In such a stable and accommodating culture environment Irenaeus can openly proclaim his New Testament canon and establish it as the true text which was corrupted by the enemies of the Church who are one and the same with those Christians identified as enemies of the Roman state.

Indeed the Kebra Nagast, the most important book in the Ethiopian Church today outside the New Testament has a possible garbled reference to this very historical situation. Gregory Thaumaturgus is said to be the mouthpiece to a prophesy which actually seems to go back much earlier than his age which mentions a “King of Rome” associated with “a certain archbishop” who “change and pervert the word of the Twelve Apostles, and they shall cast it aside in the desire of their heart, and they shall teach what they wish, and they shall turn the Scriptures to suit their own nature.” The archbishop is identified as ‘Marcion the Apostate’ who is in turn conquered by Irenaeus and where it is said “there shall be none of those who have changed our faith who shall sit upon the throne of Peter, and the bowels of their Archbishops shall be emptied out if they have taken their seat upon it in perverted faith. For the Angel of God hath been commanded to protect the throne of Peter in Rome.”

This is certainly a garbled tradition. Yet certainly echoes Al Jabbar’s story about a wicked Emperor assisting in the corruption of the New Testament – only told from the other side. Now Marcion is understood to have initiated the corruption and Irenaeus is the one who restored it back to its original constitution. Indeed this is very sense that emerges from Irenaeus’s own writings. According to the Catholic myth of Christian origins, the apostles existed in perfect concord until the early second century when the heretics spread like tares on the earth. Irenaeus claims to have access to the original documents of the Church and so re-established truth against the protests of his adversaries. Indeed this seems to be reflected in the Lucian corpus where we see frequent reference to the existence of previous testimonies in the name of disciples which the evangelist ‘corrects’ in his ‘final edition’ of the scriptures.

By far the most prevalent and dangerous heretical myth according to the mind of Irenaeus is its insistence that Jesus was a stranger god. Irenaeus prefers to deal with the implications of this doctrine – i.e. that Jesus was not the Creator – rather than systematically spell out what his enemies actually believed. Yet where we are allowed to receive good information about the tradition it appears Jesus was understood to be something more than a mere ‘stranger’ but rather a fugitive from the authorities. This is especially clear if we scrutinize once again the doctrine of redemption as preserved among the various traditions of Mark.

It is well established for instance that among the Marcionites that the Passion was not interpreted as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity but a ransom payment by the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old Testament. As A T B McGowan notes of the University of Aberdeen “this was rejected as heresy but other writers, like Origen argued that the ransom was paid to Satan.”1 This notion of ransom to the devil was nevertheless the orthodox understanding of atonement for over one thousand years. Clearly then the Marcionites preserved an understanding of the redemption which closely related to the liberating of slaves.2 This is not surprising as this is the contemporary meaning of the term apolutrosis.

The very same idea is specifically referenced in the early Acts of Judas Thomas where the disciple is said to be ‘sold’ by a slave-dealer named ‘Abbas’ (= Father). Indeed all throughout the earliest interpretations of the gospel we find people drawing from the same slave tradition. Irenaeus reports for instance the Marcionites understood Jesus to be a fugitive who comes into realm of a 'strong man' and binds and 'steals his good' - that is the slaves he owns - in order to 'redeem' them.3 Celsus witnesses the very same thing about the sect. Jesus is a 'stranger' a fugitive alien who swoops down and 'plunders' the slave property of the Creator - that is man.

It is with this understanding in mind that we see Celsus ridicule this tradition associated with Mark in his True Account exclaiming:

Why does he send secretly, and destroy the works which he has created? Why does he secretly employ force, and persuasion, and deceit? Why does he allure those who, as you assert, have been condemned or accused by him, and carry them away like a slave-dealer? Why does he teach them to steal away from their Lord? Why to flee from their father? Why does he claim them for himself against the father's will? Why does he profess to be the father of strange children? Venerable, indeed, is the god who desires to be the father of those sinners who are condemned by another (god), and of the needy, and, as themselves say, of the very offscourings (of men), and who is unable to capture and punish his messenger, who escaped from him!

It is with this understanding of the redemption that in fact we come face to face with why the tradition was vilified by the Roman establishment. As we have already noted, rich Romans were absolutely terrified by the prospect of a slave revolt. Christianity’s obvious ‘reaching out’ to the slave population of the Empire clearly would have set them up for suspicion and even punishment – especially if the adoption rite of redemption were applied to the slaves belonging to other people.

Indeed if we really look at what the Marcionites are saying we see there is an owner of slaves – i.e. the Jewish god – and his property is ultimately ‘redeemed’ by another – that is Jesus. There is a clear sense in the writings of the Church Fathers that this liberation involved the use of force:

For that Stranger who becomes the pardoner of debtors necessarily wrongs the creditor. "But," it is said, "He paid our debt by His death." But know that we owed a real debt: if therefore He died in reality, He also paid our debt in reality; but if it was in appearance that He died, that debt of ours also was paid in by a fraud. Yet know that the Good One also was pleased by this deception, that He should come and pay our debt by a fraud. Yet He who is just and mighty is not mocked, for in virtue of His justice He does not act wrongly and in virtue of His might He is not mocked. For the Just One would not act wrongly so as to come, when our debt has been paid, and demand the paid debt afresh, nor again would the Mighty One be mocked, so to allow His real possessions to be snatched from Him, without receiving anything real in exchange for His real possessions. "But," it is said, "though the Just One is mighty, the Good One is nevertheless mightier than He." If therefore He overcame Him by might, how do they bring in the term 'purchase'? [Call] Him therefore a doer of violence and not a purchaser. But if He made a real purchase, as one who acted humbly, how was 'might' involved in the affair ? For either let them choose for themselves that He purchased as a humble and true (Being), or else let them choose for themselves that He did violence, as one who is mighty and tyrannical.

But since the followers of Marcion were ashamed to be sponsors for the term 'violent robbery' (as applicable) in the case of the Stranger, they have used with reference to Him the term 'purchase in humble fashion,' and because they are refuted in the matter of the purchase, they have used with reference to Him the term 'might,' so that when it is asserted against them that He did violence they say that He merely purchased, and when again it is asserted against them that the Maker did not wish to sell his possessions they say that He (i.e. the Stranger) is mightier than He (i.e. the Maker). Each of the (two) assertions therefore annuls the other. For if it is a 'purchase in humble fashion,' consent (lit. will) and not compulsion is involved, but if the purchaser overcomes by force he does not really purchase but seizes by violence. If therefore they introduce (the mention of) His might, which is a plausible term, (the notion of) violent robbery comes in with it .

The distinction between a ‘real death’ as Ephrem stresses here and the Markan notion of an “apparent death” is critical to understand the different understanding of redemption.

Since all Marcionite ideas must necessarily go back to the gospel and Mark 10:45 is the only place in the gospel where Jesus makes reference to redemption it stands to reason that the ‘appearance of death’ identified as the heart of the Marcionite doctrine derives from this very same section of text. Jesus has given his soul as a ransom for many. That soul undergoes death at the moment the initiate dies an apparent death in the second baptism rite. The Greek word for ‘Passion’ should be understood as a translation of an Aramaic concept that could also be translated as 'the Formation' or 'Transformation of Christ.' We should see the rendering of yetser as 'passion' was deliberate for it opened the door to the idea of Jesus’s suffering.

The term used for ‘Christians’ in the rabbinic tradition is notzri which in turn is similarly developed from this Aramaic root. To be a Christian is to be transformed by the soul of Jesus.4 No Marcionite would have been interest in Jesus' 'humanity' in our inherited sense of the word only his 'super-humanity' i.e. that he represented the supernatural being who gave humanity derived its 'form' (Ethiopian Christian still preserves this original understanding).5 The effects of the transformation from the baptismal experience are evident in the behavior of Peter, formerly sarkic but now the very leader of the Church.

Immediately after Peter’s transformation it should be noted that it is he who recognizes that withered fig tree without prompting from Jesus. “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” to which Jesus replies “Have faith in God, Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” Indeed by the time chapter fourteen comes around we should reinterpret the traditional understanding of the section of text that follows the declaration of Jesus that all will fall away from him on the eve of his Passion.

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will deny me three times.”

Luke interesting preserves Peter’s declaration ““Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus says “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Our inherited tradition developed from Irenaeus a dogmatic understanding that Peter somehow failed Jesus by flight. Yet we have already seen that Irenaeus’s obsession with the need to establish martyrs was not shared by the Alexandrian tradition. Clement of Alexandria used Jesus words to argue the exact opposite – i.e. that one should do everything in one’s powers to avoid capture by the authorities. We can suppose then that according to Clement’s tradition Jesus initiates Peter he is preparing for his ultimate escape at the crucifixion. On the surface at least, Peter 'flees' when Jesus is about to get arrest. Jesus even predicts his denial. Nevertheless what has always been missing from our understanding is that Peter underwent this rite in order to allow Jesus to escape. Indeed this very understanding is at the core of the Gospel of Mark is already witnessed by Irenaeus.

According to the redemption rite Jesus and Peter 'change places' - that is Jesus ransoms his soul for Peter's. It is really Peter's 'old self' that died on the cross and Jesus now who escapes in Peter's body. The Islamic pseudepigrapha tells the same story with a Judas-Jesus transposition, Basilides's Simon narrative was undoubtedly originally a variant of the Peter transposition.6 When Peter baptizes Mark in the Acts of Mark the divine soul enters into Mark and he becomes a spokesman for Jesus, and ends up completing the gospel accordingly. Yet perhaps most significant of all is the fact that De Rebaptismate, the text that has detailed knowledge of the Markan redemption rite also strongly argues from second baptism based on Peter’s experience in this section of text.

As we saw in our previous chapter the author of the treatise consistently argues against the heretical understanding that “it is not the bishop alone who can bestow the Holy Spirit.” The followers of Mark believe that anyone who has undergone the rite is himself a living representation of the apostle and thus has the authority to refashion anyone he or she pleases into a new tabernacle of the Spirit. Indeed interestingly both the author and the heretics are said to agree that “the Holy Spirit is found to have been given to men who believe, by the Lord without baptism of water.” All that is required is the laying on of hands with the author of De Rebaptismate demonstrates by means of the Acts of Apostle’s portrait of Peter.

Yet the author enters into very dangerous waters when he takes up the topic “those disciples of our Lord themselves attained, upon whom, being previously baptized, the Holy Spirit at length came down on the day of Pentecost, descending from heaven indeed by the will of God, not of His own accord, but effused for this very office, and moreover upon each one of them.” De Rebaptismate further declares that:

Although these were already righteous, and, as we have said, had been baptized by the Lord's baptism even as the apostles themselves, who nevertheless are found on the night on which He was apprehended to have all deserted Him. And even Peter himself, who boasted that he would persevere in his faith, and most obstinately resisted the prediction of the Lord Himself, yet at last denied Him, that by this means it might be shown to us, that whatever sins they bad contracted in the meantime and in any manner, these same sins, by the faith in them subsequently attested as sincere, were without doubt put away by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We should stop right there and note that the existing gospel does not say that Peter or any of the apostles were ‘baptized by the Lord’s baptism.’ He is clearly developing an argument against the heretics who make this very claim – i.e. that Peter was baptized by the Lord, clearly from secret Mark once again.

It is interesting to note then that the author’s formulation that Peter’s baptism at the hands of Jesus should not be used to justify the idea of a second baptism assumes that what is described in Secret Mark is nothing more than an ordinary – i.e. water - baptism. To this end, the baptism by the Holy Spirit is now understood to be found in the opening words of the Acts of the Apostles. However as we have already seen, the heretics themselves denied the authenticity of this canonical text. They clearly understood Peter to have gone through a second baptism which was a laying on of hands and ‘sealing’ without water after having already undergone John the Baptist’s rite in the Jordan.7

To this end the author of De Rebaptismate argues for the second baptism of those who have already undergone a heretical form of immersion. The rite he is speaking of does not involve baptism but rather an impressing of a sign or seal by the hands of the bishop – exactly like the redemption ritual of the Markan tradition. Interestingly the author continues to argue that this happened with respect to Peter and the apostles in the aforementioned narrative in Mark. When Jesus declared that they would all fall away [Mark 14:27] it is said that they were all forgiven for their weakness by the ‘second baptism’ of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles “because it is of great importance whether a man is not baptized at all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (= the other apostles), or indeed whether in some respect he halts when he is baptized with the baptism of water (= Peter), which is of less account provided that afterwards a sincere faith in the truth is evident in the baptism of the Spirit, which undoubtedly is of greater account.”8

Yet the author’s heretical opponents certainly did not read the gospel this way. They clearly understood that rather than going against Jesus’s word, Peter by fleeing the authorities was only following Jesus explicit commandment – i.e. to ‘deny him three times.’ So we read in what immediately follows in De Rebaptismate:

Neither must you esteem what our Lord said as being contrary to this treatment: Go, teach the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. [Matthew 28:19] Because, although this is true and right, and to be observed by all means in the Church, and moreover has been used to be observed, yet it behooves us to consider that invocation of the name of Jesus ought not to be thought futile by us on account of the veneration and power of that very name, in which name all kinds of power are accustomed to be exercised, and occasionally some even by men outside the Church … But these things you will, as you are wont. contradict, by objecting to us, that when they baptized, the disciples were baptized perfectly, and rightly, and not as these heretics; and this you must needs assume from their condition, and His who baptized them. And therefore we reply to this proposition of yours, not as accusers of the Lord's disciples, but as we are constrained, because it is necessary that we should investigate by reasons where and when, and in what measure, salvation has been bestowed on each of us

The opponents of the author clearly understand that Peter was baptized and never fell away from Jesus. Why else would he have encouraged Peter to go out in the world and baptize the nations if he had fallen away from him on the eve of his Passion?

It is a strange argument which never gets enough attention in the literature – i.e. the author of De Rebaptismate going out of his way to argue for the sinfulness of Peter and the disciples at the end of the gospel. Indeed when we really think of it, how could the gospel have ended this way? How could it have simply have assumed Peter’s falling away and the empty tomb? Already Irenaeus gave us the answer when he rejected those who read the Gospel of Mark and “separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered.” The Christ spirit clearly entered Peter at his baptism and Jesus commanded him to flee from his arrest to carry his sacred treasure with him.

The author of De Rebaptismate develops a very long explanation of how Peter should be understood to have continued to deny Jesus all the way to his baptism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts.9 Nevertheless since the heretics themselves did not view Acts as a holy text it is impossible to believe that they could have understood Peter and the disciples to have behaved in this manner. It was again only Irenaeus who desperately wanted above all else to identify ‘redemption’ with martyrdom that any of these ideas were ever promoted. Indeed he goes so far in De Rebaptismate to hijack their interpretation of Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:38 to redeem those who failed to martyr themselves – as exemplified now by Peter.

Of course in the original formulation Peter was similarly connected with the redemption baptism. This as we have already noted was confirmed by his identification as the unnamed youth in Secret Mark. In yet another amazing twist of fate Irenaeus still makes the connection between Peter and the redemption! It is also worth noting that Marcion clearly interpreted the material in a very different way – i.e. that Peter originally wanted to die with Jesus but that Christ ‘turns him rather in the direction of denial’:

Nam et Petrum praesumptorie aliquid elocutum negation potius destinando, zeloten deum tibi ostendit

Also when Peter has made a rash utterance, and he turns him rather in the direction of denial, you can see he is a jealous god.10

Tertullian’s point here is clearly to ironically state that the Creator should be thought by the Marcionites of attempting to preserve his creation. It should be noted that Ephrem the Syrian does not seem to mention the denial narrative either in his writings.

Furthermore the account of Peter's denial in Luke - the text written in reaction to the original gospel of the Markan tradition - is very strange.   In Mark now there is an explicit sense that the Jews were looking for a man named Jesus.  The woman saw Peter and says "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus."  Yet Luke preserves the conversation without the name Jesus even so much as coming up:

Peter sat down with them.  A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said,  “This man was with him."  But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.  A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied.  About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

When you really look at the narrative there is something rather odd about the way Peter pretends to fit in with the arresting party, the use of the term 'man' and 'woman' here and the like.  It gives the impression that Peter is also the first of the crypto-believers. 

While Gerd Lüdemann asserts that “no Christian would have sullied the reputation of the leader of the Jerusalem Church … Therefore, the tradition of Peter denying Jesus during the latter's arrest has a solid historical foundation” we should take the opposite view. We have already seen a pattern of deliberate corruption of the gospel to reinforce Irenaeus’s message of encouraging martyrdom at the expense of the original Markan doctrine of ‘escape’ or ‘flight’ from persecution. To this end, acknowledging that the example of Peter escaping from the authorities was used by the docetic Christians to justify their own reluctance to become martyrs Irenaeus set out to deliberately corrupt the narrative. Peter has to be made transformed into repentant sinner by his reluctance to give up his life with Jesus.

Yet we should also take careful note that no effort is made to make it appear that Jesus commanded his disciples to martyr themselves. This couldn’t be carried out because his falsifications would have been immediately recognized. We should never forget to take note of the fact that there were necessarily constraints put up Irenaeus's abilities to transform the text.


9 when Jesus said to them, The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and after three days He shall rise again. Mark 10:32 and they were greatly grieved, because, as we have said, they had formed a very different notion previously in their minds and hearts. And again, this also was the speech of the Jews, in contradiction against Him, when He taught them of Himself, and announced future things to them, and they said, We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how do you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? John 12:34 And so there was this same presumption concerning Christ in the mind of the disciples, even as Peter himself, the leader and chief of the apostles, broke forth into that expression of his own incredulity … Which rebuke against Peter became more and more apparent when the Lord was apprehended, and, frightened by the damsel, he said, I know not what you say, neither know I you; [Matthew 26:70] and again when, using an oath, he said this same thing; and for the third time, cursing and swearing, he affirmed that he knew not the man, and not once, but frequently, denied Him. And this disposition, because it was to continue to him even to the Lord's passion, was long before made manifest by the Lord, that we also might not be ignorant of it. Again, after the Lord's resurrection, one of His disciples, Cleopas, when he was, according to the error of all his fellow disciples, sorrowfully telling what had happened to the Lord Himself, as if to some unknown person, spoke thus, saying of Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word before God and all the people; how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and fastened Him to the cross. But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel. Luke 24:20-21 And in addition to these things, all the disciples also judged the declaration of the women who had seen the Lord after the resurrection to be idle tales; and some of themselves, when they had seen Him, believed not, but doubted; and they who were not then present believed not at all until they had been subsequently by the Lord Himself in all ways rebuked and reproached; because His death had so offended them that they thought that He had not risen again, who they had believed ought not to have died, because contrary to their belief He had died once. And thus, as far as concerns the disciples themselves, they are found to have had a faith neither sound nor perfect in such matters as we have referred to; and what is much more serious, they moreover baptized others, as it is written in the Gospel according to John.
10 For in the case of Peter, too, he gives you proof that he is a jealous God, when he destined the apostle, after his presumptuous protestations of zeal, to a flat denial of him, rather than prevent his fall

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.