Friday, October 18, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Seventeen] Final Edit

Branded with an F

Throughout his True Account, Celsus affirms that Christianity worshipped the same god as the Jews. Whenever he does this he makes clear that he is saying this in opposition to the Christians outside the ‘great Church’ who learned from Plato that there was a super-celestial God above the ‘accursed divinity’ of the Jews. The argument is striking because it undermines one of the central points to the book – namely that Christianity was only recently invented and thus properly distinguished from the ancient pagan religions of the world who together represent the one ‘true account’ of god. Why would Celsus allow Christianity to tie itself to a one thousand year old religious tradition? The answer is simple – this line of argument proved once and for all that this fugitive religious tradition was tied to an ancient slave revolt.

Long before Celsus we see that Chaeremon, the first century CE superintendent of the portion of the Alexandrian library that was kept in the Temple of Serapis, and as custodian and expounder of the sacred books he belonged to the higher ranks of the priesthood, had maintained in his Egyptian history that the Jews had been runaway slaves.1 The same idea was found in even earlier historical writers. Celsus took for granted this historical situation and in fact developed it one step further. He argued that not only was Moses a half-educated sorcerer (1. 21; 5.47) and one who organized these fugitives to organize a successful revolt against the state, but he was the founder of a religion which venerated a particular demon which infected its devotees with a seditious logos.

It wasn’t just that the ancient Israelites ran away from their masters, plundered Egypt and used their spoils to found their new religion. For Celsus the rebellious spirit is witnessed in all aspects of the historical narrative of Genesis. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau and the ‘conspiracy’ of the sons of Israel against Joseph all demonstrate the instability that resulted from venerated the god now promoted by the Christian fugitive religion. The implication is clearly – watch out lest these irrationally rebellious offshoots of Judaism do what the Jews did to in Egypt to the Romans.

It has been already established that Celsus was writing at the time of the persecutions in Lugdunum and elsewhere. His argument that the Christians were really only Jews possessed by an irrational demon was developed in no small part from the earliest strata of writings associated with Irenaeus. Celsus speaks approvingly of Irenaeus’s tradition because apparently acknowledged the inherent problems with previous generations of Christian believers. Celsus no less than Irenaeus justified the slaughter of ‘heretics.’ He like Irenaeus argued that the state was justified in punishing these irrational slaves. It was the only way to deal with such animals. They would be chastised until they went back to venerate their god in the manner of their forefathers.

Celsus and Irenaeus both speak in terms of of the ‘rehabilitation’ of the heretics. Both see a day when Christians would embrace the Emperor as the rightful ruler of the world. Celsus argues moreover that they should acknowledge his authority by serving in his army and sacrificing to the ruling spirits which protect his realm. It is not so clear that Irenaeus would go that far. Nevertheless one may argue that Christianity was ultimately developed in the contemporary Roman tradition to mirror the oath swearing ceremonies – the sacramentum – that were established in military companies. Irenaeus also certainly distinguished his tradition from the heretics who identified the cosmocrator – a well-established Imperial title – with the Devil.

To this end when we return to the origin of ‘the branding of the ear’ of contemporary Christians – i.e. the painful experience of having a red hot iron plunged into the side of their head – it cannot be viewed as coincidence that this practice could be viewed as based on a pre-existing ‘typology’ predicted in the writings of the Old Testament. Irenaeus loved to think in these terms. He not only saw Blandina in terms of Lot’s wife, the favor shown on his tradition by Commodus in terms of the Exodus and moreover Marcia’s relationship with the Emperor in terms of ‘the Queen of the South’ and king Solomon.2

It cannot be coincidence then that just as the Pentateuch argued that Christians were in effect punished by the very means proscribed slaves who were destined never to get released from their servitude. In other words, this punishment was in effect a symbolic statement against the claims of the followers of Mark. The authorities were in effect saying that they had not successfully ‘redeemed’ themselves from their masters – both temporal and spiritual. They were instead not only being ‘sealed off’ from hearing any more of the mystical doctrines of the spiritual masters in the Markan faith but also bound forever to their original master – the Jewish god, the slave master they implicitly rebelled against when they joined this Christian association.

To this end, since the Jewish god proscribed boring into the ear as a mark for slaves as a symbol of their perpetual enslavement to their masters, the Roman authorities modified their habit of branding the faces of runaway slaves. The two ideas must have come together as a new mark for those fugitives claiming to have received ‘redemption’ from the existing world order. Indeed in the years immediately following the persecutions, Celsus testifies that not only were there a great number of victims of this ‘searing with hot iron’ but moreover we can learn from Irenaeus’s writings that the authorities were deliberately imitating or even ridiculing the very ‘sealing rites’ already noted from the pages of the True Account.

In other words, what we see happening in the punishments inflicted upon Christians beginning in the aftermath of the revolt of the Boucoloi down through to the persecutions in Lyons was really an adaptation of the very practices of the Markan community. Let us begin with the obvious – since the vast majority of Christian believers at the end of the second century were illiterate slaves, it stands also to reason that those called 'cauterized in the ear' were branded with a Roman letter F. In other words, the letter they were stamped with was the first letter of the Latin word fugitivus or 'fugitive.'

It has not been recognized up until now that the Irenaeus’s report about the Markan community confirms this very fact. Few have recognized that this very same Latin symbol had a 'secret life' within the Greek alphabet and in particular the Markan tradition’s mystical doctrines of salvation. An 'F' shaped letter also existed in the Greek language as an archaic character called 'digamma' – this because it looks like two overlapping 'gamma' or Г – episemon – meaning literally a ‘sign’ that was placed ‘on’ something, i.e. a ship, shield, coin or other object - or lastly stigma.

The last reference is particularly interesting as it demonstrates that the Greek's identified their letter 'F' 'brand' or 'mark.' The letter fell out of disuse but at some later period it came to denote was the σ-τ (s-t) which begins a number of words related to the passion of Christ - i.e. stigmata and stauros or 'cross.' Again no one seems to know exactly when any of this occurred. Could the Marcites have been the initiators of the use of the episemon in place of 'st'?

All that is known is that they were famous for their interest in numerology and this substitution transforms the value of the word 'cross' to a value of 777 = st (6) a (1) u (400) r (100) ο (70) s (200) just as Irenaeus points to their interest in the six letter name of Jesus as having a value of 888. In any case, we see that the episemon originally stood for the sound /w/ and only remained in use only as a symbol for the number "6." It was however interestingly re-introduced into the Coptic language of the community of St Mark in Alexandria where it has been preserved in documents to this very day.3

In other words, long before Christians were branded in the ear there was a strong attachment in the very same tradition to the sixth character of the alphabet – the letter F. Our sources make clear that the Christians practices sealing rites where Jesus was symbolized by a charakter specifically identified in the Markan tradition as the episemon. The branding of these same Christians in the ear as a form of punishment seems to have emerged as a result of their mistreatment in the aftermath of the revolt of 172 - 175 CE.4 Irenaeus was aware of its application in the persecutions of 177 CE in Gaul. He also seems to have been Celsus’s source for the association of this punishment among another group of heretics who gathered around a woman named Marcellina.

As noted above, this 'lost' sixth letter was the cornerstone to the mystical theosophy of the Markan community. They used it to calculate the secret meaning of words and names and most significantly it was the as the very symbol of the person of Jesus.5 The idea then that the followers of Mark were stamped by the charakter of Jesus in the ‘redemption rites’ and thereby identified as 'sons and daughters of Mark' takes on additional significance when we learn that there is an Aramaic noun ma'arq (plural ma'arqia) which means ‘fugitive’ or ‘escapee.’ We should also consider that there is a distinct possibility that then that contemporary Christians developed a faux etymology with this noun and the Latin praenomenon Mark.

Interesting also is the fact that in the very regions where Marcionites had exclusive rights as it were to the name ‘Christian’ the Catholic were called ‘Palutians.’ The name has never been properly explained by an invented personage name ‘Palut.’ He is supposed to have been a missionary sent out by the bishop of Antioch at the time of Zephyrinus i.e. beginning of the third century. Yet a far more plausible explanation is that the name comes from the Aramaic palet a noun only used in the plural peletim. The Palutians then were refugees or fugitives from the Imperial persecutions living in Marcionite territories just as the tradition of Mark is identified as ma'arqia - fugitives – in the territories of the Roman Empire.6

Ma’arq is developed from a verb meaning 'to run' or 'be in haste.' We may see some intimation of this etymology echoed in the writings of Paul when the apostle speaks of "submitting the gospel ... in private ... for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain." The gospel isn't just a secret text or one given in private but the work of a fugitive.7 Moreover the consistent reference to Paul's 'running' across the Empire has a clear implication of the apostle's status as a fugitive from the Law. Of course the Catholic New Testament has expunged these allusions from its canon. Nevertheless there are repeated references to him "holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."

The heretical understanding of Paul was not only that he venerated a 'stranger god' but moreover that he was a fugitive. Indeed Irenaeus originally made clear that the very act of seeking heretical knowledge was tantamount to desertion - "even supposing that we ought to be seeking now and ever, where ought the search to be made? Amongst the heretics, where everything is strange and antagonistic to our truth, and whom we are forbidden to approach ? What slave looks for his food from a stranger, let alone his master's enemy? What soldier seeks to obtain largess and pay from unallied, let alone hostile, kings—unless, indeed, he be a deserter or a runaway or a rebel?"

This concept isn't as strange sounding as one might expect given the consistent association of 'double entendres' with the name of disciples - i.e. Peter, Thomas etc. Andrew Criddle of Cambridge University has noted the strange reference in the Philosophumena to Marcion and the the gospel of Mark and developed a very similar understanding with respect to the Latin term murcus (= deserter). Criddle notes that in the Philosophumena reference Mark is specifically identified as 'he of the maimed finger' (i.e. Greek ho kolobodaktulos) as a contrast to the reference of Paul as 'the apostle' (Greek ho apostolos). There is a tradition about Mark which develops from this in later sources that Mark was lacking a finger or thumb, either congenitally or (more frequently) by self-mutilation. However, as he notes, the literal lacking of a finger or thumb makes little sense as a contrast to apostle.

According to Criddle ho kolobodaktulos is "probably a translation into Greek of the Latin murcus literally stunted docked mutilated but used as a colloquial term for those who cut off their thumbs to avoid conscription in the Roman army." He refers us to the passage in the Latin jurist Amnianus Marcellinus which equate the hence of murcos with shirker malingerer deserter. The Marcellinus reference is particularly interesting given the fact that it comes in the context of referencing the province of Gaul. In other words:

all ages are most fit for military service, and the old man marches out on a campaign with a courage equal to that of the man in the prime of life ; since his limbs are toughened by cold and constant toil, and he will make light of many formidable dangers. Nor does anyone of them, for dread of the service of Mars, cut off his thumb, as in Italy: there they call such men "murci' or cowards.

Criddle thinks that the author of Acts has this Latin reference in mind when he constructed his narrative about John Mark 'deserting' Paul and Barnabas during Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). The implications of this assumption are quite eye-opening when applied to our developing theory.

According Criddle then we should suppose that "among early Latin-speaking Christians one could make the pun that John Mark should be called murcus not marcus." It should be noted that Irenaeus is the first person to draw attention to this story. In Book Three he tells the heretics who already reject Acts that the example reinforces Luke's role as 'true witness' of the Pauline message - against Mark. It is important to note that with Acts and Irenaeus Marcus is a title or an appellation someone called 'John' - presumably the figure Irenaeus identified as established his teacher as a spokesman for the apostolic tradition. Nevertheless the very idea that Marcus was something other than a proper name interestingly leaves the door open to it being a designation of character, valor or the lack thereof.

In this description, Irenaeus distils the essence of the Markan tradition and his reason for opposing it so vehemently. To this end we can begin to understand why Irenaeus - his writings channeled in the surviving Latin translations of Tertullian - so vehemently opposes Clement's acceptance of the fugitivus as a model for Christian believers. It has been well established that in On Flight in Persecution the reference to the opinion of "some" contemporary writer that by being a fugitive "he fulfilled the command, when he fled from city to city" Clement was being referenced.8 Clement’s receptiveness to being fugitive is well established in his writings. He is actually identified as fleeing from one town to another during the last years of his life.9

As noted earlier Clement typically justified his actions from the gospel saying "when they begin to persecute you, flee from city to city." Yet the Alexandrian also found inspiration in the writings of Paul. So we see Clement cite chapter twelve of the Epistle to the Hebrews - "let us run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" - yet clearly connected again to the command of Jesus in Mark chapter 10. Clement explains a little later in the same text the hope here is “to be drawn by the Father, to become worthy to receive the power of grace from God, so as to run without hindrance." In other words, the gnostic has given up all his wealth – i.e. his attachment to the body – in order to 'run' with Jesus in the hope of attaining redemption.11

Indeed Clement makes this explicit by citing the very words of Plato to this effect - "wherefore we must try to flee hence as soon as possible. For flight is likeness to God as far as possible. And likeness is to become holy and just with wisdom." Yet it should be noted that for Clement this ‘flight with God’ is established through the sacred mysticism associated with the sixth letter of the alphabet. As we have already noted Christians were certainly branded with this charakter to symbolize their status as ‘fugitives’ from the ruler of the world. It was the confirmation of their having been redeemed from their former slave master – the Jewish god – by the recognition that they had once descended from the royal house of Jesus in heaven.12

It should be noted that Catholics continue to employ the episemon symbolism from the moment they enter their churches. It is typical for instance for a believer to dip the first two fingers in a font of water to bless themselves. Moreover two fingers were used to sign the cross throughout the Christian world. It was only later that we see the innovation throughout the greater part of the East of three fingers, or rather the thumb and two fingers were displayed, while the ring and little finger were folded back upon the palm. While there is no specific identification of the two fingers with the letter F it is clear that an association with letters and signing fingers existed in the East. The three finger salute as it were was taken to indicate the common abbreviation I X C (Iesous Christos Soter), the forefinger representing the I, the middle finger crossed with the thumb standing for the X and the bent middle finger serving to suggest the C.

As such given this existing formulation it would not at all be surprising if the symbolism associated with signing with the index and middle finger were somehow mystically related to the sixth letter. In fact we may even begin to wonder whether the association of Mark with being “stump-finger” may go back to the ritual significance of signing and especially with the thumb, ring and pinky fingers being curled up in the palm of his hand. Of course all of this is speculative but they all represent interesting possibilities that require further investigation.

What is certainly clear from our existing evidence is the fact that both Clement and the Markan tradition in Gaul shared a mystical fixation on the sixth letter. This was recognized as early as the end of the nineteenth century when a number of scholars noted that that the writings of Mark the magician on this subject are cited almost verbatim in Clement's Sixth Book of the Stromata.13 It was only recently however that a counter-argument was developed to weaken the implications of this research. Bogdan Bucur, an authority on the writings of Clement of Alexandria – and a skeptic with respect to the authenticity of the Letter to Theodore – attempts to argue that Clement was only copying Irenaeus's account of the heresy.14

This claim is absolutely implausible given the fact that it would presuppose that Clement effectively rebaptized exegetical material which was condemned outright as heresy by Irenaeus. Why would Clement need to do this when there are at least fifty examples of things celebrated almost verbatim by Clement as 'orthodoxy' which are condemned as heresy by Irenaeus. Does Bucur assume then that Clement had a pathological obsession with turning upside down the opinions of Irenaeus? Indeed as we have seen many of these parallels explicitly involve explicit reference to the heresy of Mark. Is Bucur suggesting then that Clement invented the association between Mark the Magician and St Mark?

The fact that the 'secret gospel of Mark' used by Clement and the Markans similarly emphasize the sanctity of the sixth number makes Bucur's explanation totally unworkable.15 Indeed this would imply an even wider conspiracy now involving the letter’s discover Morton Smith. Much more plausible is the explanation of Roy J. Deferrari of the Catholic University of America who boldly states that "Clement knew and used the writings of Marcus."16 A similar line of thought is put forward by William Smith and Henry Wace when they argue that a "similar use of the word [episemon] is found in Clement of Alexandria (Strom, vi. 16, p. 812) ; but this cannot be called a quite independent illustration, for on comparison of the sections just cited from Clement and from Irenaeus the coincidences are found to be such as to put it beyond doubt that Clement, in his account of the mysteries of the number six makes unacknowledged use of the same writings of Marcus as were employed by Irenaeus."17

Indeed these authors go one step further and argue this Markan interest goes back to Eusebius suggestion:

as a way of reconciling the difference between the evangelists as to whether our Lord suffered at the third or the sixth hour, that a transcriber's error may have arisen from the likeness of Gamma and the Episemon, i.e. apparently r and F.

Yet we may in fact go one step further and argue that the Gospel of Mark now reads 'the third hour' instead of 'sixth hour' because of an anti-heretical ‘final edit.’ Indeed as it has become obvious that the Markan heretics of Gaul used the ‘secret gospel’ the text as a whole reinforced the sanctity of the letter F. Jesus crucifixion in the sixth hour only provides the clearest sign yet that he was a cosmic fugitivus.

Clement's shared interest with the Markan sect with respect to the 'sixth' letter of the Greek alphabet only underscores the problem. Mark's identity has been determined in modern scholarship by what amounts to falsified documents. The original or true gospel of Mark has long since disappeared and so we neglect the ancient testimony to his 'Pythagorean' (= kabbalistic) interest simply because it doesn't fit what has been handed to down to us. It is enough to say that because Jesus was understood to be the living episemon it led to the branding of initiates with the letter F and thus confirmed them as fugitives after his image.


5 , La doctrine gnostique de la lettre waw, Paris 1 946,
6 The Sibylline Oraclesm call the cross o^gayi? emormog, "illustrious seal", but ejuor|uoc; is also the Greek name for the letter F, which could therefore indicate Jesus "But for all mortals then, Shall there a sign be, a distinguished seal, The Wood among believers, and the horn Fondly desired, the life of pious men, But it shall be stumbling block of the world. Giving illumination to the elect, By water in twelve springs; and there shall rule, A shepherding iron rod."

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