Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Myth of Jesus

 Chapter Three
Against the World and its Demons


Before I get too deeply immersed in the understanding that the original name of Jesus equaled 'threescore six,' there's another, more personal story I'd like to share with you.  I can't tell you for how long I have been obsessed by the Marcionite sect.  It is difficult to even justify why I found reading about an almost two thousand year old religious tradition so fascinating.  I guess you could say it was one of those things that has just stuck with me as I transitioned from being a student in university to a member of the 'real world.'

One of the factors that was certainly at play here was my growing awareness - even as a young man - that traditional scholarship did a piss poor job making sense of the tradition.  At least part of the problem seemed to me to have something to do with the fact that most of the people who studied the Marcionites, at least until the end of the twentieth century, were trapped within inherited assumptions about who Jesus was, what was Judaism and Christianity at the time he was supposed to have lived and how they interacted with one another.

I may not have been an expert on Christianity when I started studying the Marcionites.  But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing because that left me room to figure out what they were all about without a lot of preconceived notions imposing themselves in the middle of my research.  The one subject I felt I understood better than most academics in the field of early Christianity was 'what was possible' with respect to Jewish influence on the new developing religion.  I came from a very strange Jewish background and for some odd reason had a number of friends who came from similar backgrounds.

Protestants especially had very rigid notions about what 'Jews believed,' how 'Jews worshiped God' and the like.  In seemed to me that these people started with an overly idealized notion of the contemporary monotheism that Jesus 'had to embody' and then projected that onto contemporary Judaism as a whole (in order to justify them saying really stupidly, unrealistic things about their Lord).  Again, this was just an opinion I had about my peers and the things that were preventing them from seeing what I saw in the Marcionites - that is a legitimately 'Jewish' sect which happened to take an interest in the figure we called 'Jesus.'

For most of the time I was 'studying Marcion' (or perhaps more correctly, tracking down references to the Marcionites in the early Church Fathers), I didn't have any thoughts about ISU being related to אישו.  Rather, I couldn't escape the sense that the Marcionites were Jewish in a way that no one else before me recognized.  Of course all of this would change in 2013 when Markus Vinzent of King's College London published his groundbreaking paper Marcion the Jew.  I can't tell you what it feels like to be out in the intellectual wilderness as it were, thousand of miles removed from what is getting written about something and then a work of scholarship like this comes along.  I think J D Salinger is supposed to have the same effect on high school students.

Vinzent formulated a number of observations that I had made over the last twenty years in a way that was far superior to anything I could have written.  If I had a quibble with the paper, it was that it really only showed that the tradition was properly defined as 'Jewish,' rather than Marcion was in fact 'a Jew.'  But this comes down to mere semantics.  All at once the flood gates have opened and we - as interested parties at the beginning of a new millennium - have the opportunity to rediscover the source of the cryptic reports of the early rabbinic authorities about the existence of 'Jewish heresies' who held strongly 'antimonian (that is 'against the law') views ever since the destruction of the temple.

Already the connection between the Marcionites and the antinomian Jewish heresies was acknowledged by the late, great Alan Segal, professor of Jewish studies at Barnard College in New York.  But Segal suffered from the opposite problem I just mentioned with respect to the scholars of early Christianity.  Segal knew a great deal about obscure Jewish texts but really had only superficial knowledge about what the Church Fathers said about Marcion.  So many of his formulations developed in Two Powers in Heaven are limited by what he thought was possible about the sect.

In any event, by the time Vinzent had published Marcion the Jew, I had already spend over ten years thinking about the Jewishness of the Marcionite sect.  By the time I came upon the equivalency of ISU and אישו it started to challenge a lot of the inherited notions I had about this community.  Most importantly the specific manner in which the Marcionites 'posited another god beside the Creator' - a frequent talking point of Irenaeus and his associates.  When you really dig deep into what Irenaeus goes on to write about with respect to the sect, you find the actual context of this statement - the Marcionites were heavily influenced by Alexandrian Judaism.

One Jewish writer from the city of Alexandria in particular embodies this notion of the Jews having 'two gods.'  The writings of Philo have come down to us through Christian scribes.  Philo didn't just influence Catholic Church Fathers like Clement and Origen, his Alexandrian Christian tradition seems to have been the source from which the heretical sects developed their ideas about 'two powers in heaven.'  Interestingly, Philo draws our attention to the existence of two divine names in the Pentateuch - i.e. Yahweh and Elohim (translated as 'kurios' and 'theos' in Greek copies of the Bible) - but more importantly he assigns distinct personalities to each of these beings.

Perhaps more important still, Philo implies that there was a hierarchy in the heavenly household where stupid people basically 'fear Yahweh' but the chosen race get introduced to Elohim and ultimately 'switch allegiances' to partake in his glory.  This idea becomes manifest in Philo's discussion of the three patriarchs of the Jewish race - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Most important of all Philo makes reference to Jacob 'as a bad man' starting off with Yahweh but choosing Elohim as his god after the incident at Bethel.

In one of the most famous stories in the entire Bible, the Patriarch Jacob is wandering in Canaan when he comes across a heavenly vision.  He sees a ladder with angels of God 'ascending and descending' and the God of Israel at the top of the ladder speaking to him.  By the end of narrative Jacob makes a vow which Philo interprets as confirming as him 'switching allegiances' from one power to another:

Jacob, the practiser of virtue, asked at the end of his most holy prayers. For he said, "And the Lord shall be to me as God." Which is equivalent to: He will no longer display towards me the despotic power of his absolute authority, but rather the beneficent influence of his universally propitious and saving power, utterly removing the fear with which he is regarded as a master, and filling the soul with affection and benevolence as felt towards a benefactor.

Clement and his Alexandrian Church identified this same conception in what we might call a 'Marcionite sense.'  The switching from Yahweh to Elohim was at the core of the Christian redemption.

We read in Clement's now classic Stromata or 'Miscellanies' the clear understanding that the process by which Jacob came to be associated with Elohim is one and the same with the purpose of Christian baptism - viz 'freedom from slavery':

It is essential, certainly, that the providence which manages all, be both supreme and good. For it is the power of both that dispenses salvation -- the one correcting by punishment, as supreme, the other showing kindness in the exercise of beneficence, as a benefactor. It is in your power not to be a son of disobedience, but to pass from darkness to life, and lending your ear to wisdom, to be the legal slave of God, in the first instance, and then to become a faithful servant, fearing the Lord God. And if one ascend higher, he is enrolled among the sons. But when "charity covers the multitude of sins," by the consummation of the blessed hope, then may we welcome him as one who has been enriched in love, and received into the elect adoption, which is called the beloved of God, while he chants the prayer, saying, "Let the Lord be my God." [Clement Stromata 1.27.173] 

It is clearly this notion of the godhead being 'divided' into 'two powers' - one good, the other supreme, the one merciful, the other punishing - which is also reflected in Irenaeus's criticism of the Marcionite sect.

Clement didn't just 'make up' the notion of a god higher than the 'Jewish god.'  He didn't just 'invent' the notion of 'being enrolled' as a son of God through being acquainted with another god beside the Creator.  These things developed from a pre-existent understanding of the godhead which circulated among the Jews before the Common Era.  The real difference between Clement of the Alexandrian See of St Mark and the Marcionite heretics scattered all over the world was that Clement was careful to hide his true beliefs.  They 'pop out' as it were in the middle of his writings at important junctures.  But he was actively trying at the same time to adapt his well established tradition to the Christian world around him by accepting and reinterpreting new texts and traditions.

The classic 'Marcionite' however was an unrepentant heretic.  He had no interest in bowing his head down before other Christian traditions which might have gained ascendency in Rome.  As such members of this sect seem to have concentrated in the East, and especially at Osroene - a kingdom just beyond the eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire.  Here, outside the meddling interference of Roman Christians, Marcionites could continue to maintain the original beliefs of their tradition without fear of persecutions.  However given the fact that almost nothing survives from this culture we are forced to sift through references in the writings preserved by the hostile Church Fathers in order to gain an understanding of this fascinating and thoroughly Jewish sect.


Markus Vinzent's monograph is the beginning of a new interpretation of Marcionitism which is long overdue.  However the most important thing we can do to clear away a path for this transformation of our understanding of the earliest Christian sect is to stop perpetuating the lie that Jews of all ages only believed in a single all power divinity.  The actual evidence from the period Christianity was developing contradicts this notion.  It is better for us to say - with Allen Brent, another great scholar at the venerable King's College of London - that an obsession with what he calls 'monarchianism' took over in the period leading up to the so-called 'Crisis of the Third Century' which affected all the religions of the Empire, including Judaism and Christianity.

For whatever reason, Jews and Christians seemed to have been happy to reinforce the existence of many different divine powers - all of whom were part or associated with an all powerful god - up until the late second century.  The Marcionites were one example of this.  The Valentinians another.  We also find the same pattern within Judaism in the period leading up to the development of the Mishnah - a late second century collection of 'acceptable' legal interpretations and applications of the Pentateuch. 

In the early second century, a shadowy figure referenced in later literature as 'another' - i.e. Elisha ben Abuyah - was extremely influential with Judaism.  His dualism and 'antinomian' tendencies were viewed as a heretical by the standards of the later orthodoxy established by a certain rabbi named 'Judah the Prince.'  In the middle to late second century, one of his students who originally went by the name of 'Savior' and changed (or had his name posthumously changed) to Meir seems to have had an insincere conversion to the new orthodoxy (or his conversion was viewed with suspicion.

It wasn't as if the new orthodoxy in Judaism simply 'steamrolled' over the old interpretations of the 'heretics.'  Abuyah's views make their way into the Mishnah.  But it is clear that they were for the most part marginalized or dominated by the new found clout of Judah.  Where did Judah gain such power over the whole Jewish community?  The rabbinic tradition is quite clear.  He was intimate with the Emperor Antoninus.  Who this Antoninus was is much debated.  He may well have been a composite of a series of Emperors who bore this name (i.e. Antoninus Pius c. 138 - 161, Marcus Aurelius 161 - 180, Commodus 177 - 192 and the later 'Antonine' emperors who ruled until the dawn of the Crisis).

The important thing for us to see is that not only was Judah responsible for the transformation of 'what was acceptable' with respect to interpreting and applying Jewish Law, he is credited with introducing the monarchian formula which identified 'the Jewish god' in effect as a heavenly Caesar. 
The prayer says "Blessed are You, the Lord our God, king of the world."  This innovation has been traditionally been viewed as reflecting the influence of the Imperial cult associated with the Emperor.   The emphasis on the God of Israel as the king of the world also appears in a passage of the New Year Amidah which awaits the day when all humanity will proclaim: "The Lord, God of Israel, is king and His kingship rules over everything.”

It is difficult to accept the hypothesis that Judah's influence over the liturgy, his consolidating a single collection of 'acceptable' legal interpretations and his celebrated 'intimacy' with the Imperial government were all somehow unrelated.  Of course the rabbinic tradition makes it seem that the 'good Emperor' was effectively 'infatuated' with Judah - i.e. he helps him into bed, he waits on everyone of Judah's words and teachings eventually converting to Judaism!  But this seems to be only a way of making the actual historical situation seem palatable for Jews of subsequent generations.  Judaism was overtly influenced by an Imperial degree to 'streamline' its veneration of 'two powers' in heaven and reinforce only a single divine authority who bore an uncanny resemblance to Caesar.

The very same thing can be demonstrated to have taken place within Roman Christianity in the period.  The already repeatedly mentioned Irenaeus makes explicit his own intimacy with the Imperial court and credits it with ushering in nothing short of a period of extended favor for the 'true Church.'  The fourth century Church historian Eusebius in the middle of an account of the age of Irenaeus makes reference to the influence of the ruling classes on the Church -  "about the same time, in the reign of Commodus, our condition became more favorable, and through the grace of God the churches throughout the entire world enjoyed peace, and the word of salvation was leading every soul, from every race of man to the devout worship of the God of the universe. So that now at Rome many who were highly distinguished for wealth and family turned with all their household and relatives unto their salvation."

In a manner closely paralleled with the developments within Judaism, it is in this age that the Marcionite church and its authoritative interpretation of a much smaller canon (i.e. one limited to the writings of Paul) was dispossessed and our familiar collection of scriptures was instituted.  The person who clearly gave the marching orders for this turn of events was Irenaeus.  He is the first person to mention a fourfold gospel or the 'acceptability' of a specific canon of writings that had never been grouped together before.  He also detailed the proper way to worship God, how to believe, what to believe, how to interpret scripture - in short all aspects of the newly emergent Catholic tradition.

As an interesting counterpoint to these efforts it is useful to check the historical chronicles of the third (and often ignored) Palestinian monotheistic tradition - i.e. Samaritanism.  The Samaritans were the corresponding northern Israelite tradition to their southern brothers, the Jews.  Unlike the Jews, they recognized only the sanctity of the Law of Moses and held fast to the original holiness of Mount Gerizim, the mountain of God mentioned in various passages of the Pentateuch.  The name Samaritan means 'guardian' and it is clear that the tradition resisted the reform effort of the late Antonine Emperors.  In this manner they fill an important gap in our knowledge with respect to what must have happened to the original followers of Mark within Christianity who similarly rejected the new monarchian emphasis.

The Samaritan records lay out exactly how the wicked Emperor Commodus imposed his 'reform efforts' on to religions from the region.  We read:

After Eleazer, ‘Aqbun was High Priest for 23 years. ln the days of this ‘Aqbun, terrible hardships fell upon the Samaritans from Commodus the king — worse than anything that had befallen them from Hadrian. He forbade them to read the Torah; he closed the schools of learning and (forbade) all instruction in the Law. He bolted shut the Synagogues. The High Priests fled, The High Priests fled, as did the wise men, from the tyranny of Commodus the king on account of the great number whom he killed and crucified in every place. The reason for this (persecution) was a debate that took place in his presence between Levi and a man from his (Commodus') community called Alexander Aphridisias, from Aphridisias, concerning the coming-into-being of the world. Alexander said that its Substance and Prime Matter were eternal and that the Creator only provided the Form and Accidents. Levi replied that Substance and Matter need an originator, just as Form and Accidents do. To this, Alexander retorted, "This would lead to a situation where the world would not be possible and where God would have no power to bring it into being. . For, if he had the power from the first, then before that it cannot have been possible. And yet, if before that it were impossible, this would be a restriction, and there can be no restriction on his power." Levi said that the world was possible of existence ab aetemo and that no time could be conceived in which the coming-into-being of the world could not be conceived. "lf it were to be supposed that the world simply 'existed' without being created and it be tried to prove that this belongs to the realm of possibility, then this would be a figment of the imagination — an intellectual fiction — and the world would be insubstantial and immaterial. And if something were to exist such as Matter and Substance, then it would exist de se. This existence must be either possible or necessary. lf it were possible, then the argument would be as before. lf it were necessary, however, then it would share with the first Almighty One in eternal existence. And if it did thus share, it would not change either in toto or in paribus, for change is an effect and an effect presupposes an Agent. For the one thing cannot be both Matter and Agent under any aspect. The debate between them dragged on, with argument and polemic . The situation reached the stage where the possibility of the Creator's "Speaking" was denied. And the Mission of the Messengers is (implicitly) denied by whoever denies that the trustworthy Message has been uttered .( 690) Perhaps more of the discourse of this question ought to have been given here. But I have related it as I found it, and as much as I could cope with. The situation became such that Commodus took umbrage, and said, "These people have perverted our faith, and have maliciously watered down what our sect regards as traditional, and they have acted in a hostile manner towards us.” So, he stretched out his hands, and many of their wise men were burnt to death; and the eyes of some of them were put out with red-hot iron pokers. He wiped out a great number of people, taking the Books of Chronicles which they had, as well as the Hymns which used to be recited over the Offerings. In his day Galen the Physician had been an instructor of Commodus . Commodus ordered that the flesh of swine should be sold in every place and that it should be used with all that was eaten and drunk, so as to defile the Samaritans. He also forbade the Samaritans to open a Synagogue for themselves to pray or to read (the Torah) in. Many of the priests fled as from the sword. He took 100 elderly men from among the Chiefs of the Samaritans, and said to them, "Worship the idols". They refused, so he had them burnt to death. He captured 40 priests and dipped a bunch of grapes in pigs' fat and said to them, "Eat it !" They refused, so he heated iron pokers in a fire until they became red-hot and then put them in their eyes. Then he captured another 40 and said to them, "Eat this bunch (of grapes)". They refused, so he crushed them under the stones of the wine press. Then he took 40 of the High Priests "Eat this bunch (of grapes)". They refused, so he had them flung from the top of the fortress and no one dared bury them He crucified numbers of them, and (other) people he beheaded and the dogs ate their corpses. The Chiefs of the Empire said to him, "If you want all "these Samaritans to embrace our religion, and to bow down to images, then summon their High Priest ‘Aqbun, for he is their model. Compel him to bow down, and all the others will follow him". Now ‘Aqbun was an extremely wealthy man. They sought him, and out of fear he hid himself. They looked for him in the Mountains and in caves, but they did not succeed in finding him. So the king instructed his servants, "Confiscate his wealth and burn down his house.” This they did, and in burning down his house, they burnt in it the Prayers, the Songs of Praise and the Hymns which used to be recited on the Sabbath and Festivals and which had been handed down from the days of Divine Grace. And it was said to the High Priest 'Akbon: "All that is yours has been taken and your house is burnt down". And he answered and said "All is from God and it belongs to God, and if they have obtained mastery over me and my abode, I submit myself to affliction and destruction but I will not disavow God nor Moses, His prophet, nor His law." So they seized his two sons and the King said to them: "Worship idols." And they said: "We will die, but we will not worship other than God the Merciful." And they inserted sticks under their nails and they flayed them alive and they put them to death with all torture and they cast their corpses to the dogs; and they hanged on the walls of Nablus thirty-six priests and they did not take down their corpses until they fell of themselves. And in the days of this King Commodus (may God curse him) none taught his son the Torah, except one out of a thousand and two out of a myriad secretly. And Commodus ruled thirty-two years and he died (may God not have mercy on him)

There can be no doubt that this fourteenth century chronicle developed from an actual account of the persecutions imposed by Commodus on the Samaritan people.  The pagans mentioned in this account are real people who are well known to classical scholars.

The underlying 'gist' of this original document is that the Emperor Commodus - the very ruler who aided and abetted Irenaeus and Judah - took it upon himself to send out philosophers to demonstrate the 'correctness' of monarchianism.  The situation is strangely reminiscent of the interrogation that is recorded that the near contemporary Marcionite bishop Apelles endured while Callistus was an important figure in the Church.  In each case, any deviation from the belief that a single world ruler - not a duality of powers or a collection of powers - seems to have been associated with the severest of consequences.  The implication seems to have been that as the Empire began to crumble, the Emperors turned to religious reform to reinforce the loyalty of various subject people who might be tempted to aid and abet revolutionary activity.


Alexandria seems to have been the epicenter of the 'two powers' tradition.  Many of the Christians who lived there, who were not wiped out in early persecutions at the end of the second century followed the familiar path of hypocrisy to deal with the crisis.  This means that they paid lips service to the new ideas emerging out of Rome but secretly maintained their original beliefs.  In spite of these efforts the Christians of Egypt were viewed with suspicion throughout the third century and suffered persecutions whenever the Imperial had control of the region.  It should also be noted that Samaritans lived in great numbers in Alexandria into Islamic times.  These Samaritans were likely identified as 'Dositheans' - i.e. members of a sectarian group with close ties to Christianity.  Indeed the earliest Christians and specifically Christian heretics are inevitably identified as Samaritans or Dositheans specifically. 

It is not surprising that when the antinomian groups are identified in the rabbinic literature it is as Christians or Samaritans or Sadducees or even Epicureans (i.e. philosophers).  In other words, remnants of an influential mix of Hellenism and Israelite religion that seems to have taken hold in the Second Commonwealth period.  By the time Judah's reform efforts took hold at the beginning of the third century this 'other' tradition was increasingly marginalized - undoubtedly with no small help from the Imperial government.

From the late second century onward, the Samaritans - no less than the Marcionites and other remnants of the older tradition - had an extremely difficult time in the Empire.  While there are no significant reports of Jewish persecution by the Roman state in the period, the Samaritans and Christian report an almost unceasing hostility from the ruler of the world.  It is difficult not to attribute this situation to their differing attitudes toward the acceptance of the Imperial cult of the Emperor as 'ruler of the world.' 

By incorporating Imperial propaganda into the Jewish liturgy the Jewish leadership demonstrated that it recognized the authority of the Emperor and was willing to see him as a human reflection of their divine principle.  It is also worth noting that the very Emperor who influenced the 'monarchization' of the various Palestinian cults also shows up as a legal expert in the rabbinic literature. 'R Antoninus' is attested as a recognized Jewish scholar of the last tannaitic generation (second and third centuries). We are told that only two haggadot or the 'oral sayings' compiled at the time of Judah and one halakah or 'legal interpretation' have come down from this rabbi.  What is most interesting about this figure is that both the haggadot are centrally concerned, with the importance of kingship and the recognition of the Jewish god as 'king.'

In the first-mentioned passage R Antoninus is said to have explained the verse (Exodus 13:21): "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them by the way," etc., by a simile related to the physical ruler of the world - i.e. 'the king':

A king had held court till darkness set in, his sons all the while attending him. On leaving the tribunal, the king took up a torch and lighted the way for his sons; whereupon the courtiers said to him, 'We will take up the torch and carry the light before thy sons'; but the king replied, 'It is not because I have none to do it in my stead, but I wish to manifest my affection for my sons, that ye may honor them accordingly.' Thus did the Holy One, blessed be He, make known His love for the people of Israel that the world might learn to treat them with honor. But, alas! not only does the world not do so, but it decrees upon them one mode of death after the other, each one severer than the last.

We see here that "rabbi Antoninus" reinforces how the Jewish god is like the ruler of the world.  While the tradition is certain about the association with Antoninus we see importantly that in one source through a transposition of words, the same story is introduced by Judah telling something about Emperor Antoninus.

In other words, there can be no doubt that Antoninus is the Emperor of the same name (whoever that was).  While there are great efforts to recast the original understanding - i.e. by making Judah a mouthpiece for this expression of his 'friendship' with the ruler of the world - the original context for the dictum is clear.  It is an example of the ruler of the world telling the Jewish people that they should worship their god in his image.  Moreover it is hard not to escape the notion that the Samaritans were being severely punished for rejecting exactly the very same formulation.  Christians on the other hand seemed to have suffered in great numbers in the manner of the Samaritans.  Nevertheless, many others seemed to have at least superficially embraced the new reforms, if only to avoid the penalties associated with rejecting them. 

In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic revolt against the Roman state (c. 135 CE) the Jewish authorities like Judah seemed to have grown reluctant to annoy the authorities. In a famous story in Genesis Rabbah - an early rabbinic exegesis of the Book of Genesis - we hear the Judah once told R' Afess to write a letter in his name to “our lord, the emperor Antoninus.” Rabbi Afess wrote, “From Judah Hanasi to our lord, the emperor Antoninus.” Judah read the letter, tore it up, and wrote, “To our lord the emperor your servant Judah.” Rabbi Afess asked him, “Rabbi, why are you lowering your dignity?" Judah responded, “Am I better than my ancestor? Did he not declare (Gen. 32:5): 'Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob . . .'? The point is immediately clear. Judah Hanasi only appeared to be servile and ingratiating to the Emperor but in the end the nation of Israel would triumph over Rome.

Indeed the influential scholar of ancient Judaism Albert Baumgartner points to a much earlier version of the same saying which makes the same point even more explicitly:

And thus our rabbi used to write to Antoninus: Your servant Judah prays for your well being in order to give honor to the Empire.

As Baumgartner himself notes "I propose that some critics of R. Judah I and the story of Rabbi with the Romans originated of his cooperation that he really was Antoninus's inferior." Baumgartner goes on to add other examples of his closeness to Imperial cultural sentiment. "R. Judah I, we are told, bathed publicly in Sepphoris on the 17th of Tammuz (TJ Meg. 1, 1, 70b), his conviction that it was not a fast day." This thus demonstrating his conviction that it was not a fast day but also that being naked in the company with Gentiles was in no way problematic.

The very same view can be demonstrated to have been held by the Christian reformer Irenaeus and for undoubtedly the very same reason - i.e. both men had to encourage a new form of religion which was more compatible with the values and practices of their Imperial overlords.  Now it would of course be foolish to suggest that there hadn't been Jews before this period who flouted establish practices in order to partake in events and observances of the greater pagan culture.  Nevertheless it is important to recognize that the age in which Judah and Irenaeus lived offered opportunities for those who compromised their values and moreover severe consequences for those who resisted assimilation with the Emperor cult. 

Baumgartner points to one other significant example of Judah's 'reform' effort as illustrated by his bathing on an established fast day.  He asserts that Judah not only wanted to end the observance of the three minor fasts (one being mentioned above) but more importantly Judah "wanted to abolish the more stringent day of national mourning, the 9th of Ab." All these actions provoked opposition.  As Baumgartner notes "we are explicitly told that 'the sages' blocked the attempt to abolish the 9th of Ab.   All of which begs the question, - how could Judah have justified the complete abolition of established religious custom?

Baumgartner notes that many before him have both suggested that Judah "believed that his were days of prosperity, peace, and national restoration. Observance of these fasts was therefore no longer mandatory. Perhaps R. Judah I believed that he was living in the messianic age."   What makes this so interesting is that this absolutely echoes the justification given by Irenaeus for tampering with various established Christian conventions in the same era.  In rejecting the original understanding of the follower of Mark that the 'year of favor' (Isa 61:2) was associated with the particular year the Lord floated down from heaven, Irenaeus declares instead that it is to be identified with "this present time" i.e. the age Irenaeus was living.

Why so?  What made the 'present age' so much superior to the times when Jesus was actually present on the earth?  Irenaeus makes clear that it has everything to do with the Church of his day finding favor with Caesar.  He goes on to note that while the Marcionites "find fault" with his community they are really living the messianic age prophesied by the ancient Israelites during the Exodus. 

For if God had not accorded this in the typical exodus, no one could now be saved in our true exodus; that is, in the faith in which we have been established today, and by which we have been brought forth from among the number of the Gentiles. 

Irenaeus goes on to immediately note that those who have accepted the new doctrine have benefited financially by this arrangement with the Emperor, such as himself undoubtedly:

For in some cases there follows us a small, and in others a large amount of property, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness. For from what source do we derive the houses in which we dwell, the garments in which we are clothed, the vessels which we use, and everything else ministering to our every-day life, unless it be from those things which, when we were Gentiles, we acquired by avarice, or received them from our heathen parents, relations, or friends who unrighteously obtained them?--not to mention that even now we acquire such things when we are in the faith ... And as to those believing ones who are in the Imperial palace, do they not derive the utensils they employ from the property which belongs to Caesar; and to those who have not, does not each one of these [Christians] give according to his ability? The Egyptians were debtors to the [Jewish] people, not alone as to property, but as their very lives, because of the kindness of the patriarch Joseph in former times; but in what way are the heathen debtors to us, from whom we receive both gain and profit? Whatsoever they amass with labour, these things do we make use of without labour, although we are in the faith.

We have already seen the Church historian Eusebius confirm that Irenaeus was living in an unprecedented 'golden age' in terms of Imperial favor being granted to those who complied with the Emperor's wishes.  Now we have clear testimony from the man himself that he and others like him were living in the lap of luxury owing to their accommodation to the ruling authorities.

In order to understand the passage one has to be aware that the Marcionite New Testament had Paul declare that the Exodus was not typical of Christian salvation.  Irenaeus vehemently opposed this notion and actually changed the text in the Pauline epistle to read - "Now all these things happened unto them for examples (for us)." (1 Cor 10:11)  In other words, he changed the original the understanding away from the Marcionite notion that the original Israelite Exodus happened without 'tupos' to the notion we see here expressed here - namely that what happened to the Israelites foreshadowed the impending 'messianic age' that the period of accommodation with Commodus would bring.


Of course the natural question that develops from all of this is - what did the Marcionites mean by the idea that the Exodus happened 'without tupos'?  Here we find the key to make sense of the original understanding of Christianity.  A tupos or character is a legible imprint. It is a mark left by something else, which the mark now resembles as an image resembles an original.  A tupos is a copy or eikon of some original, which Philo calls an archetupos or paradigma.  Philo's system is permeated by the Platonic viewpoint in which the visible, perceptible world is the expression and copy of a transcendent world of ideas and this in turn influenced the development of Christianity which grew from the fertile soil of this synthesis.

In Genesis 1 Philo discovers that God first created an immaterial world which contains the ideas, the patterns, or archetypes of everything in this visible world.  Nothing in this world was created without an incorporeal pattern. The visible world is the image, radiance, and copy of that world. It can also be the type (tupos) of that world, because the world of ideas is designated as its seal.  The true man, the intellectual man, is a copy of that world. God willed that his creature should be able to know him, so he imprinted the features of his own mind on the human mind as he breathed his own breath into him.

Man was created in the image of God.  The image (eikon) of God, however, is the divine Logos. As God is the pattern and archetype for the Logos, so the Logos is the pattern and archetype for the rational soul in man, so that the soul of man is the third-hand copy (tritos tupos) of its Creator.  It is a genuine coinage that has been stamped (tupothen) with God's seal , whose imprint (character) is the divine Logos.

The original point of the statement in Marcionite text of 1 Corinthians then is that the Exodus is not typical of anything for the Church.  Christians should solely focus on the image of God who is ISU instead of the imperfect patterns that have been stamped here on earth.  While many Church Fathers make it seem that the Marcionite rejection of the Jewish religion, a careful examination of another passage closely related to Irenaeus only shows that it is arguing rather for Christianity as the realized fulfillment of the 'tupos' behind the imperfect redemption that manifest itself during the actual Exodus. 

In other words, Philo understood that Moses when standing on Mount Sinai saw with his mind the incorporeal patterns of the furnishings for the sanctuary.  This is because the human mind by virtue of its origin, is able to enter that heavenly world in order to perceive the mind of God which comprehends that entire world of ideas.  However as we see in the Exodus narrative it was - and is - very difficult to reproduce an exact copy of the perfection of the heavenly realm.  The Israelites rejected the initial revelation given by Moses and instead settled for something imperfect.  Most notably from the Christian perspective they ended up consuming animal meat and wine when 'the original plan' was for them to absorb the flesh and blood of the Heavenly Man. 

This becomes clear when we examine another passage closely related to the writings of Irenaeus which is now entirely preserved in Latin.  The Latin equivalent of tupos is figura.  In this polemic against Marcion we hear the original author (Irenaeus) make the case again that:

The law figurated Christ's passion. The bread received and distributed to His disciples, He made that body of His own (ilium suum), by saying,  this is my body, that is, figura of my body. But (Marcion) there would not have been a figura unless there would be a body of truth. But an empty thing, which is phantasm, cannot receive a figura. Or if He feigned that bread was His body, because He lacked verity of body, it would follow that He delivered up bread for us. But why does He call bread His body? Marcion understands this to have been the ancient figura of the body of Christ

The original point here seems very closely related to the passage we just examined previously.  The author argues that the Eucharist is a development of the Passover meal.  However the Marcionites clearly said no - it was the other way around.  The things of the law were imperfect reproductions of the things in the heavenly realm presumably witnessed by Moses on Sinai.

In other words, the Marcionites wanted to have nothing to do with the ancient cult proscribed by Moses in the Pentateuch.  Their Eucharistic bread was a 'type' of the Savior's body.  There was no intermediary needed with respect to an appeal to the cult of the Israelites as it imperfectly represented 'the Truth.'  Clearly then we are making progress with respect to the parallel concept of Iesu Nazarenon as meaning 'the true Man.'  At once we see that not only was Adam made again imperfectly after his image, this image was presumably understood to have been 'consecrated' - that is 'set aside' - for a future eschatological 'end time' that was fulfilled with his descent from heaven. 

The implication of this logic of course was that only the 'true thing' had any real value - i.e. the thing that was impressed (tupothen) by the image of God hidden in the highest heaven.  The Marcionites not only explicitly rejected the cultus established by Moses at the time of the Exodus because of its imperfect status, they certainly developed from a historical rejection of the temple cult as a further corruption of the original revelation on Sinai.  Further to this, it would have been impossible for them to accept the idea that the Emperor was somehow a living tupos of the heavenly 'Man of Truth.'  While neither Irenaeus or Judah are explicitly recorded as going that far with their respective reform initiatives, they agreed to acknowledge the idea that there was only one ruling power (monarchia) in the universe.  Such a conception would have been impossible for a Marcionite. 

For the Marcionite worldview necessarily develops from the idea that above the Lord of the world stands 'God' and His Man - i.e. the image of God described in Genesis 1:26 - 27.  This figure is implicitly identified as 'Man' (איש) in the surviving references to the first chapter of Genesis at Qumran.  The emergence of Yahweh only chapter 2 which describes the specific creation of Adam, the imperfect copy of the Heavenly Man was deeply significant to early Christians.  In the famously anti-monarchian treatise Against Praxeas - a text which has been identified as a work written against Irenaeus - it is noted again that not only are 'God' and 'Lord' two different beings but moreover that God stands above the Lord. 

The idea that Elohim was the superior divinity and Yahweh the inferior seems a complete overturning of 'Jewish values.'  Yet the same view is perpetuated by the Syrian Church according to famed translator George Lamsa.      Where did the notion that Yahweh, the Lord, the power which represented judgment and royal authority overcome the traditional devotion of Judaism and Christianity to Elohim, or God, Philo's merciful, good divinity?  The answer has to lie in a detailed examination of the paranoia associated with the Imperial rulers in the years leading up the great 'Crisis of the Third Century.'

We see for instance, in the writings of the pagan polemicist Celsus of Rome - a man active during the original years of the persecution of the Markan tradition (c 177 CE) - that the Christian claims about a merciful and kind god above the ruler of the world amounted to a call to revolution and insurrection.  We are told he reports about the contemporary Marcionites:

If you should tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God, but that, God is the Father of all, and that He alone: ought to be truly worshipped, they would not consent to discontinue their worship of him who is their leader in the sedition. For they call him Son of God, not out of any extreme reverence for God, but from an extreme desire to extol Jesus Christ.  

That I may give a true representation of their faith, I will use their own words, as given in what is called A Heavenly Dialogue:

'If the Son is mightier than God, and the Son of man is Lord over Him, who else than the Son can be Lord over that God who is the ruler over all things? How comes it, that while so many go about the well, no one goes down into it? Why art thou afraid when thou hast gone so far on the way? Answer: Thou art mistaken, for I lack neither courage nor weapons.'

Is it not evident, then, that their views are precisely such as I have described them to be? They suppose that another God, who is above the heavens, is the Father of him whom with one accord they honour, that they may honour this Son of man alone, whom they exalt under the form and name of the great God, and whom they assert to be stronger than God, who rules the world, and that he rules over Him. And hence that maxim of theirs, 'It is impossible to serve two masters,' is maintained for the purpose of keeping up the party who are on the side of this Lord.

Indeed that Catholic Christians from the later period don't continue to use this type of language in association with 'Jesus' is not an argument against Celsus's witness.  The Marcionites are repeatedly identified as representing their lord as a 'man (איש) of war' in later witnesses. 

The facts remain that Celsus is rather consistent in his understanding that the Christian rejection of things of this world are rooted in an underlying rejection of its ruler - i.e. Caesar.  This seems to anticipate the conditions which gave rise to Irenaeus and Judah on the one hand and let to the persecution of the Samaritans on the other.  Celsus goes on to say that that Christians "shrink from raising altars, statues, and temples" not because they are inspired by a Platonic or Pythagorean interest in the heavenly realm of ideas but because "they are a secret forbidden society" intent again on the overthrowing of the government. 

Celsus argues that they can't openly reveal why it is that they can't "give thanks and first-fruits and prayers to demons, who have been set over the things of this world" by the ruler of the world.  The real reason is that they secret 'hate' the Emperor.  While this sounds absurd at first, the argument is repeated throughout his treatise.  For instance, while acknowledging that Christians have taken an interest in Plato Celsus says again that they only did so posit their merciful God above the true ruler of the world.  There really isn't a 'god above god.'  This is something never actually uttered by Plato but shows why it is that Christians take such interest in the doctrine of the world of ideas - they want to invoke a power above the true authority who rules the universe who will ultimately assist them in overturning the natural order.  

To this end, Celsus says that the Christian have to punished for their refusal to sacrifice to demons because they are really mocking Caesar.  He immediately goes on to say that "the satrap of a Persian or Roman monarch, or ruler or general or governor, yea, even those who fill lower offices of trust or service in the state, would be able to do great injury to those who despised them; and will the satraps and ministers of earth and air be insulted with impunity?"  As such according to Celsus the Christians must be scourged if they refuse to partake in the greater offerings because these demons set up by Caesar's heavenly twin - the divine Father, the ruler of the world. 

Indeed every step along the way in this ancient treatise we finally uncover the original justification for the Imperial persecution against the Samaritans.  In a parallel manner to what we hear about the enlisting of Alexander of Aphrodisias, another philosopher seems to have been enlisted to demonstrate that the contemporary Christians refusal to acknowledge the divine monarchia is really a slight against their earthly monarch Caesar.  It is important to note that Celsus clearly has access to the writings of Irenaeus, knowledge of his canon and other early Church Fathers.  He has been supplied with these documents to make sure that only the right culprits are punished - i.e. those who refuse to only acknowledge one ruling power rather than a division or schism in the heavenly household.

To this end we see Celsus conclude his treatise with words which make clear that his entire effort here was to establish the subversive nature of Christian doctrine was really directed against the Emperor:

We must not disobey the ancient writer, who said long ago, 'Let one be king, whom the son of crafty Saturn appointed." If you set aside this maxim, you will deservedly suffer for it at the hands of the king. For if all were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent his being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians; and then there would no longer remain among men any of the glory of your religion or of the true wisdom.  You surely do not say that if the Romans were, in compliance with your wish, to neglect their customary duties to gods and men, and were to worship the Most High, or whatever you please to call him, that he will come down and fight for them, so that they shall need no other help than his. For this same God, as yourselves say, promised of old this and much more to those who served him, and see in what way he has helped them and you! They, in place of being masters of the whole world, are left with not so much as a patch of ground or a home; and as for you, if any of you transgresses even in secret, he is sought out and punished with death.

In no uncertain terms then we see that the Roman state took an increasingly active role in the punishment of Christians owing to arguments set forth in Celsus's writings.  It was exactly the same as what the Samaritans testify in the same period with respect to another philosopher - Alexander of Aphrodisias.

In short, the lesson from all this is is that by the continued belief in a 'kind, benevolent ruler' who existed above an ignorant 'ruler of the world' the Christians were exhibiting behavior that linked them to Jewish sectarian groups from the previous age.  The surviving Jewish and Christian traditions essentially agreed to make changes to their doctrines and practices.  The Samaritans and other sectarian groups who remained steadfast to the original truth were systematically brutalized until they either disappeared or conformed.  The belief in the 'true man' in heaven was clearly one such forbidden belief.  ISU was understood to be superior to Caesar and so he needed to be transformed away from the figure still witnessed by the voice of the gospel - 'Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!'

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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