Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Fourteen] Final Edit

Of Fathers and Sons

It is clear now that not only did Irenaeus know about the addition to ‘secret Mark’ but that he lived in a world where it was routine to define the concept of ‘redemption’ by its broader context in the gospel of Mark. Indeed if we assume, as Clement and other sources in fact suggest, that the gospel itself was kept away from all but those of priestly rank, we can see the immediate implication of Irenaeus’s decision to establish the canonical gospels without any reference to the second baptism rite. Under such a scenario, where above all else gospels were openly promulgated, Christians could ‘see for themselves’ in what context Jesus referenced ‘redemption’ in Mark 10:35 – 45 and related texts.

In other words, it is no coincidence now that the gospel of Mark – no less than that of Matthew and Luke – offer no support for the idea that the ‘redemption’ was the name of a second baptism rite. The ‘final edition’ of the New Testament was deliberately so arranged. We should understand that at one time this 'redemption' rite was understood to be specifically identified with the words 'redeem' (lutron) Mark 10:35 – 45. After all both lutron and apolutrosis derive from the simple verb luein, which means “to release.” Lutron was typically used in the ancient world to denote the payment to an owner for a slave's freedom or a captive's ransom. In Irenaeus’s re-formed gospels however it was understood to denote the price Jesus paid on the cross for all of mankind.

To this end it was only through Irenaeus relentless efforts to redefine the original tradition associated with Mark that has in effect trained us to see Jesus's death as the 'ransom' paid for the release of we captives. It is not surprising that the followers of Mark understood redemption in a completely different way – i.e. in terms of a baptism rite which starts with a ritually 'dead' person freeing himself from the Law. As Morton Smith aptly demonstrates in his analysis of the Secret Gospel the idea of baptism from the dead is found in the letters of Paul. More specifically the Letter to the Romans clearly connects redemption with "our waiting eagerly for adoption as sons.”1

Indeed we shouldn’t exaggerate the differences between these two approaches to redemption. Irenaeus clearly developed his doctrine of redemption from Secret Mark by means of ‘tweaking’ some of its original assumptions and recreating the basic narrative of the gospel accordingly. Thus in Proof of the Apostolic Preaching we read Irenaeus define the concept of redemption in terms which still bear some similarity to the original narrative in Secret Mark:

For we were imprisoned by sin, being born in sinfulness and living under death. But God the Father was very merciful: He sent His creative Word, who in coming to deliver us came to the very place and spot in which we had lost life, and brake the bonds of our fetters. And His light appeared and made the darkness of the prison disappear, and hallowed our birth and destroyed death, loosing those same fetters in which we were enchained. And He manifested the resurrection, Himself becoming the first-begotten of the dead, and in Himself raising up man that was fallen, lifting him up far above the heaven to the right hand of the glory of the Father: even as God promised by the prophet, saying: And I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen; that is, the flesh that was from David. And this our Lord Jesus Christ truly fulfilled, when He gloriously achieved our redemption, that He might truly raise us up, setting us free unto the Father.

The heretics as Irenaeus acknowledges in what immediately follows, deny certain aspects of his formulation. Nevertheless the two share some basic similarities which can only result from them arising from the same source.

Of course Irenaeus would have us believe that the heretics rearranged his original version of the New Testament. Yet this understanding is only the inverse of much of the early criticism of Secret Mark – i.e. that it contains ‘familiar’ material from the canonical texts only now rearranged.2 Indeed we can be absolutely certain that both Irenaeus and his opponents defined their understanding of ‘redemption’ from the same gospel passage as it is the only place that this specific terminology is ever referenced by Jesus.

If we compare Irenaeus’s formulation cited above to what appears in ‘secret Mark’ it is plain that both traditions began with man buried and dead. Jesus comes to the dead person and liberates him from his bonds. Yet we should notice there are clear changes which come to Irenaeus’s reworking of the original formulation. Instead of the dead man being resurrected by Jesus, all emphasis is placed on Jesus’s own resurrection from the dead. The heretics clearly did not understand the gospel this way. Jesus was never ‘alive’ in the human sense of the word to have ‘died’ in the first place. What we hear instead is frequent reference to the concept of him being ‘dead in appearance’ only in the writings of Irenaeus’s opponents.

We can similarly assume that Jesus was not originally understood to have been ‘established at the right hand’ after his death – i.e. flying back up to heaven and out of this world. Clearly the purpose of the second baptism rite was to impress Jesus’s charakter on an endless stream of catechumen. As such it is unlikely that these heretics would have shared the idea that Jesus simply left the world. The idea of being ‘established from the right hand’ – or in the case of James and John’s request ‘established from the right and left hand’ – should be to be taken to originally relate to the baptism rite where the laying on of hands is the essence of the very sealing rite. Rather hand abandoning the world, Jesus is understood to live on in the elect of his Church.3

Indeed when look carefully at the original passage in Mark it is most often overlooked by commentators is that there are two ways to interpret James and John's request. Taken literally they ask to be given (dos) 'from' (ek) his left and right hand, so that they may be seated (kathiswmen) in his glory.  Yet the term kathiswmen was used in Jewish texts to mean 'dwell' as in Jeremiah 49:6.  The root can simply mean 'to be established' or even used to mean 'marry' as in Nehemiah 13:27.

So James and John request that Jesus allow them to participate together in his divinity.4 This the very essence of the Markan 'redemption' rite – viz. the laying on of hands 'impressed a seal' or branded the forehead of the individual which must have allowed them to partake in his glory. This is why presumably, as Irenaeus makes explicitly clear, the Markans themselves thought that the water was superfluous to the rite. The core of the rite was the impression of the seal on the forehand by the hand of the priest.5

Indeed the De Rebaptimate seems to develop from the same understanding with respect to the sacredness of the laying on of hands. The author declares that only the bishops hands should be laid upon them for their reception of the Holy Spirit, and this imposition of hands would afford them the renewed and perfected seal of faith." This statement is repeated at least a dozen times in the text. The 'bishop' here means the man chosen by the Catholic Church for 'overseeing' the faith. It would appear that the Markans allowed any baptized person the right to perform the rite.6

The author of De Rebaptismate makes clear that this practice of the heretics is unacceptable. The laying on of hands requires the hand of a bishop - i.e. the official representative of the apostles - to perform the laying of hands:

And for that reason, they who repent and are amended by the doctrine of the truth, and by their own faith, which subsequently has been improved by the purification of their heart, ought to be aided only by spiritual baptism, that is, by the imposition of the bishop's hands, and by the ministration of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the perfect seal of faith has been rightly accustomed to be given in this manner and on this principle in the Church. So that the invocation of the name of Jesus, which cannot be done away, may not seem to be held in disesteem by us; which assuredly is not fitting; although such an invocation, if none of those things of which we have spoken should follow it, may fail and be deprived of the effect of salvation.

It is thus clearly an important and often ignored attestation here that the author essentially agrees with the Markan sect that 'second baptism' is equated with the laying of hands to seal the forehead of the individual - presumably with the charakter of Jesus, i.e. the sixth letter of the alphabet.7

Once all of this is established it shouldn't be hard to see how the rest of Mark 10:35 - 45 was connected by this tradition to the passage from the secret gospel of Mark. "Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with" is a reference to the individual being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Indeed through the power of the branding he suddenly is the living embodiment of Jesus. Once he is sealed by Jesus the living 'sixth letter' he attains redemption. All that remains unclear is what exactly “being established at the right and left hand” is not his to give but rather 'those for whom it has been prepared.' What exactly does this mean?

Scholars have always struggled with determining exactly what these words mean. The obvious answer from our perspective is to assume that the Markan tradition interpreted them to justify Irenaeus’s complaint that countless variations of ‘redemption baptism’ were to be found among the heretics. Indeed the followers of Mark would argue that this situation follows from the very ambiguity of the Savior’s words. In short, while the gospel originally established Jesus’s ordination of a single disciple another type of ‘laying on of hands’ would be henceforth established after Jesus's death.8

The only other clue that the gospel gives to us is that the 'redemption baptism' seems connected to the statement “first will be last and the last first” which is found in the very same section in Mark.9 All of this would seem to suggest a trading of places between the ‘first’ – i.e. Jesus – with the ‘last’ – i.e. those born of the current generation. This understanding in fact characterizes the concluding words in Mark 10:35 – 45 where ‘redemption’ is specifically mentioned. Jesus says that whereas among the nations “their high officials exercise authority over them,” it is not so among the Christians. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

It is at this very point that Jesus makes his clearest pronouncement about the redemption:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If we put all the pieces together it would seem as if it was Jesus and the disciple who underwent the redemption rite in order to change places with one another. The same idea is suggested in the apocryphal legends of Simon or Judas being crucified in the place of Jesus or indeed the Pseudo-Clementine’s story of Faustus taking on the appearance of Simon Magus.10

It should be obvious then who the unnamed disciple is in ‘Secret Mark.’ By the very definition of Mark 10:35 – 45 he has traded places with Jesus and went from last to first – in other words, Peter the head of the Church. Indeed, commenting on this very same chapter in the gospel of Mark, Clement of Alexandria in Can the Rich Man be Saved repeatedly declares that to be 'first' is to be like Peter. We read "the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute" (phoron).

Clement's reference is clearly not to the wholly unrelated narrative in Matthew regarding paying the half-shekel to the temple but rather Jesus baptizing him according to the Alexandrian redemption rite.11 Jesus secretly baptizes Peter to demonstrate that being 'first' requires one become a slave. The Son of Man clearly went from first to last in the same way that Peter went from last to first. The redemption rite above all else is about substitution by means of laying on of hands, branding, and thus restoring them to their rightful master - "for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (lutron) for many."

Indeed too much of the discussion about the implications of secret Mark get bogged down in the question of whether a water baptism was specifically referenced. As Irenaeus’s makes clear, water could be used in the rite but was not deemed to be essential to its efficacy.12 It would appear that the original baptism was conceived in terms of Jesus impressing his charakter on to his beloved youth. However the gospel seems to recognize that in due course two men were baptized together, side by side - that is with each of their heads sealed by right and left hands of the priest.13

This brother-making or adelphopoiesis rite has a long history in the Greek orthodox community and apparently continues to this day in certain remote places.14 However it is important to note that while male participants stand to the right and left of the altar there is no longer any right and left laying on of hands. If we return to the account in the gospel, while James and John are said to be actual brothers - that is sons of the same mother and father - in our version of Mark i.e. "then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him" it is important to note that Clement's gospel of Mark simply has "and James and John come to him." The implication we should draw from that is that originally James and John were not material brothers and that the redemption rite developed into a brother-making rite - that is James and John become 'brothers in Christ' by undergoing redemption together.15

That Clement believed that Jesus baptized one of his disciples is preserved for us in two different sources. The ninth century Byzantine historian Nicephorus cites a pseudepigraphal text which cites the words of Clement’s Hypotyposeis much better than our other sources:

Christ with his own hands baptized only Peter, Peter in turn baptized Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee the rest of the apostles.

It is enough to say that Irenaeus's description of the redemption baptism tradition in the late second century makes clear that there were many, many variations.16 One may suppose for the moment that Peter's baptism of 'Andrew' and 'the sons of Zebedee' represent two different approaches to the same phenomenon - the former according to Jesus's baptism of Peter, the latter according to the answer given to 'James and John.'17

The more traditional approach to understanding this second baptism rite of course is to see it as an outgrowth of the Question of the Rich Man (Mark 10:17 - 31). This approach was pioneered by Morton Smith in his Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark. Interestingly however Smith paid very little attention to Clement’s statement that Peter was the only disciple baptized by Jesus. A careful reading of Can the Rich Man be Saved Clement can be used to help explain how Jesus’s words to Peter just before his baptism assist our understanding of the context of the original ritual.

At the very end of the long section of the Alexandrian edition of the gospel of Mark cited by Clement we read about the manner in which the disciples struggled to make sense of the Savior’s teachings:

And they were astonished out of measure, and said, Who then can be saved? bend He, looking upon them, said, What is impossible with men is possible with God. For with God all things are possible. Peter began to say to Him, Lo, we have left all and followed Thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first."

Clearly the discussion that closes the section is directed at Peter. Peter says ‘we have left all and followed you’ – the ‘we’ here evidently includes James and John. In other words, both the ‘second baptism’ rite in Secret Mark and the request from James and John in Mark 10:35 – 45 follow from the discussion.

While Morton Smith sees a connection between the youth whom Jesus ‘loved’ in the previous verse his analysis is ultimately flawed. We read again in the gospel:

And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, and said, One thing thou lackest. If thou wouldest be perfect, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me.

It is in fact Peter who is the first to embrace this commandment not the rich man. Indeed as Clement correctly observes with respect to the rich man – “Jesus, accordingly says that he is not perfect as respects eternal life, inasmuch as he had not fulfilled what is perfect, and that he is a doer indeed of the law, but idle at the true life.” In other words the only person who fulfills the command to ‘sell what you have and given to the poor’ is Peter.

Equally clear is the understanding that Clement does not understand Jesus to mean ‘sell all his property’ for he immediately adds with respect to Peter:

And what does he say? "Lo, we have left all and followed Thee? Now if by all he means his own property, he boasts of leaving four oboli perhaps in all, and forgets to show the kingdom of heaven to be their recompense. But if, casting away what we were now speaking of, the old mental possessions and soul diseases, they follow in the Master's footsteps, this now joins them to those who are to be enrolled in the heavens. For it is thus that one truly follows the Saviour, by aiming at sinlessness and at His perfection, and adorning and composing the soul before it as a mirror, and arranging everything in all respects similarly.

In other words, Clement is certainly acknowledging that Peter – as well as James and John and the rest – were chosen for the redemption rite. We should note the language at the very end of the section – i.e. ‘perfection’ ‘adorning and composing the soul before it as a mirror.’ We should understand this again as a reference to the essence of the sealing rite.18

Clement also explicitly juxtaposes the rich man’s attachment to the law against the efficacy of the redemption rite:

Those things, indeed, are good. Who denies it? For "the commandment is holy," as far as a sort of training with fear and preparatory discipline goes, leading as it did to the culmination of legislation and to grace. But Christ is the fulfilment 'of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth' and not as a slave making slaves, but (son making) sons, and (brother making) brethren, and (fellow-heir making) fellow-heirs, all who perform the Father's will.

It is absolutely imperative for us to see the mystical significance of this statement. Clement is telling us that the act of being re-formed into a brother of Jesus – either individually or as a pair – allows one to stand above the law in the very manner that Jesus is portrayed ignoring the same precepts in the gospel.19

We should see that in whatever form it took – whether with two or three people the redemption is above all else a brother-making rite. Clement tells us then that the initiate who has been purified through this sacred rite at the heart of the Gospel of Mark now “ministers from them to the God who gives them for the salvation of men; and knows that he possesses them more for the sake of the brethren than his own; and is superior to the possession of them, not the slave of the things he possesses; and does not carry them about in his soul, nor bind and circumscribe his life within them, but is ever labouring at some good and divine work, even should he be necessarily some time or other deprived of them, is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance.”

Where the Carpocratians argue that this brother-making rite means that all things should be shared in common as in some communist utopia, Clement’s tradition posits an order of rank which separated the presbytery from the lay church. The basis to this understanding as we have already seen is the subordination of the Son to the Father. In other words, there was an underlying distinction between the presbyters who were ‘fathers’ who were after Mark and the laity who were ‘brothers’ in Christ after Jesus.20

In the course of his discussion in Can the Rich Man be Saved Clement acknowledges that each rich owner like himself effectively agrees to become 'the Father' - the new Lord - of each one of his brothers - "we owe our lives to the brethren, and have made such compacts [synthekas] with the Saviour, why should we any more hoard and shut up worldly goods, which are beggarly, foreign to us and transitory?" As Clement proceeds to give a verbatim citation of his Alexandrian text of the Gospel of Mark, it should be noted that another significant variant appears in Mark 10:29. This difference in wording will make all the difference in the world to our understanding of the secret rite in the evangelist’s original text.

In our surviving manuscripts of the gospel of Mark we read Jesus declare to the disciples that:

There is no man that hath left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my sake and the gospel's. But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions and in the world to come eternal life

However in Clement's Alexandrian Gospel of Mark we read:

Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brothers, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting.

There should be no doubt that the different wording reflects the existence of a brother-making doctrine in Clement’s community clearly reflected in his commentary on this passage -"Christ is the fulfilment of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; and not as a slave making slaves, but (a son making) sons, and (a brother making) brethren, and (an heir making) fellow-heirs, who perform the Father's will."

The idea that Peter goes on to head of the Church is clearly based on some assumption that Jesus is somehow living within him. Clement of Alexandria's understanding that he was baptized by Jesus - presumably by means of the redemption rite - clearly helps explain where he got his authority. More significantly perhaps also is the fact that uncharacteristically Peter is not present when James and John make their demand. This is most uncharacteristic of the gospel. Peter is almost always the one disciple who corresponds directly with Jesus. The fact that James and John have taken over and Peter is nowhere to be found is a clear sign that Peter was baptized in the previous narrative.

As such we can see that Jesus's statement to Peter regarding those who leave what is his own will receive "possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting" is really a prediction of what is to come for him. In the secret Mark the youth is said to be "rich" with a "house" in which they lodge. Yet all of this is just symbolic of what happens to the individual when he is 'redeemed' through the redemption rite. He shall, in the words of Jesus just previously, receive "an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brothers, with persecutions." We know that Peter as head of the Church got all of these things according to tradition.


8 The Marcionites it would seem understood Paul to be at Jesus’s right and Marcion at his left.
11 No clearer sign of this connection with the laying on of hands to 'the dead' than in Clement's Excerpts of Theodotus's commentary on the bald statement in First Corinthians 15:29:And when the Apostle said, "Else what shall they do who are baptised for the dead?" . . . For, he says, the angels of whom we are portions were baptised for us. But we are dead, who are deadened by this existence, but the males are alive who did not participate in this existence. "If the dead rise not why, then, are we baptised?" Therefore we are raised up "equal to angels," and restored to unity with the males, member for member. 'Now they say "those who are baptised for us, the dead," are the angels who are baptised for us, in order that when we, too, have the Name, we may not be hindered and kept back by the Limit and the Cross from entering the Pleroma. Wherefore, at the laying on of hands they say at the end, "for the angelic redemption" (apolutrosis) that is, for the one which the angels also have, in order that the person who has received the redemption (apolutrosis) may, be baptised in the same Name in which his angel had been baptised before him. This understanding makes clear that core idea has the individual initiate branded with ‘the Name’ (= Jesus) which properly belongs to angels. Those in possession of the name are able to ascend up the heavenly ladder to the very top where the powers ‘Limit’ and ‘Cross’ are understood to be found.

Email with comments or questions.

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