Thursday, March 31, 2016

Where My Head Has Been At Lately ...

I have taken off time from blogging - mostly because life is quite busy at the moment.  When you are in the habit of always writing down your thoughts in a public way it doesn't seem at all strange.  It's just as natural as - well - biting your fingernails which is to say it really is a rather odd habit. Nevertheless since I have been just so overworked and I am trying to find a new bad habit I will let my readership (assuming it still exists) where my 'big thinking' is at now.

1. Mythicism - I can't shake to profound but ultimately contradictory thoughts namely that the gospel developed from a myth to a story about a historical man AND the absolute necessity that myths played in shaping 'good societies.'  So on the one hand I find myself less and less able to see beyond the stories in the gospel developing from scriptural passages at the very same time I feel uncomfortable about the zeal with which some people want to open Pandora's box.  I think the world would quite literally end in a generation if we completely abandoned cultural myths.  It's not just that human beings are basically selfish and selfishness leads to arrogance (the current election cycle in my mind is little more than the playing out of the death of religion) but that myths make the world beautiful.  Human creativity improves upon nature - that's the bottom line for me.

2. That the nomen sacrum  ΙΣ developed from the archaic Hebrew word for man אש - it's not that I want to create a new myth I simply find that scholars aren't a terribly creative lot.  Their attempts to find 'the Jewish roots of Christianity' suck.  Surely the place to start looking is the 'two powers' tradition made famous by Alan Segal.  This is where Christianity developed and nowhere else.  The idea that 'Jesus was a Jew' and so 'believed in the Torah' is so bloody stupid and misguided it is no wonder we never make any meaningful headway in this regard.  The obvious place to begin is the fact that the circle of R Ishmael used the Samaritan text of Exodus which clearly reinforces the 'idea' at the heart of the reports about the 'two power' tradition.  The 'bits of Deuteronomy' which are preserved in the original narrative make it explicit that there was one god on the mountain and another in heaven.  Everyone knew that and the god on the mountain was named  ΙΣ.  This was 'Jesus' for the earliest Christians or  ΙΣ.  It's really that simple.  This is where we should start looking for the 'Jewish roots' of Christianity rather than anything related to modern 'messianic Judaism.'  Yuck.

3. 'Jesus' and 'Christ' were two separate beings - this is explicit in Irenaeus's testimony about the earliest Christian users of the gospel of Mark who in turn represent the oldest known exegetical tradition related to the gospel (unless you count the Marcionite understanding of Paul).  I can't tell you how much difficulty this concept gives to me.  On the one hand it supports my theory that the original name of Jesus was 'Man' and that in turn 'fits' the oldest core gnostic understanding of the Demiurge looking up and seeing the perfect Man (presumably 'Christ' in the Christian tradition) and fashioning Adam (imperfectly) after his image. The obvious corollary of this (once you spend a year thinking about it) is that 'Jesus' - that is the second god of the traditional Jewish religion - failed at his creation of Adam and somehow and for some reason died on the Cross as some sort of repentance for this 'original sin.'  I 'get' that some heretical groups must have developed this understanding.  The Marcionite and Valentinian notion of the repentance of the Demiurge is rooted in this.  But there are obvious difficulties too.  If 'Jesus' came down from heaven at the beginning of the original gospel (viz. Marcion) when does 'Christ' appear?  Irenaeus only tells us the end of the original gospel of Mark - namely that 'Jesus' was crucified but that 'Christ' stood by impassably witnessing the testimony.  However it is difficult to see how any of this fits into the beginning of the gospel.  Yes there was no baptism of John narrative in the Marcionite gospel.  Fine.  But I find it difficult to reconcile the appearance of a second being 'Christ' in what survives of the original text.

4. the influence of Homer - I've started to read MacDonald's book and see it as deeply flawed.  Nevertheless after watching again the Odyssey because of my son's recent illness I can't get over the fact that the docetic understanding of Jesus was deeply influenced by Odysseus's disguise as a beggar.   The fact that there was a Christian sect of 'Ebionites' (from the Aramaic word for 'beggar') because Paul speaks of Jesus becoming a beggar to make us rich, because disguise is a necessary part of the gnostic understanding of the gospel - for all of these reasons I find it difficult not to see that Homer exhibited a deep influence on the heretical reading (and composition) of the gospel.  I think from my imperfect understanding of MacDonald that he was misled by an attempt to develop his argument with the surviving text of Mark.  The early heresies understand some sort of 'magic' taking place where 'the Jews' took the 'wrong Jesus' and crucified him on the Cross.  I think this understanding was built into the ur-gospel which is now lost.  Whether or not I can make the jump with MacDonald that just as Odysseus's name is rooted in the concept of suffering, a Jew ('Mark') developed a text loosely modeled on Odysseus's redemption for the second god of Israel is of course yet to be seen.  It is what I am 'working on' at the present moment.

5. Sinai - I tell my son that the theophany on Sinai is the clearest evidence that there were two powers in Judaism (we were having a discussion coming home from his soccer academy the other day).  One voice speaks from heaven, the other speaks from the mountain.  Akiba's solution to bend space and time to argue that heaven was on the mountaintop is just stupid.  In Christian terms then 'Jesus' gave the ten commandments but what about the god speaking from heaven?  I am not so sure and I suspect that the dispensation of the gospel with its solitary commandment to 'love one another' (or some variant) may well have been part of the 'recovery process' for the second god.  Clearly (I say clearly because I have thought about these things and you haven't) Christ must have 'loved' Jesus and this model becomes the beginning of Christian redemption through martyrdom.  Jesus has to 'die' on the Cross to become wholly reconciled with 'Christ.'  In that sense the Christian proclaiming of 'the Father' at the expense of the 'god of the Jews' in its original historical context (rather than the current reactionary Judaism which pretends the Torah was monotheistic) represents the first glimpse of monarchianism in the history of the tradition.  Of course it is unlikely the Roman authorities saw it that way especially given the low estimation that early Christians gave to the κοσμοκράτωρ.

6. the testimony of Abu'l Fath - the Samaritan chronicler uses a near contemporary Greek source to speak of massive persecutions in Samaria at the time of the Emperor Commodus over the question of 'monarchianism' or to what degree Israel venerated the world ruler.  His source names a prominent contemporary philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias as the protagonist in the ancient holocaust.  The Samaritans were issued an ultimatum - abandon your belief in two powers or die.  One can't help but think that Samaritanism wasn't the only Israelite sect to face martyrdom for its traditional beliefs.  Christianity was similarly challenged in the era as the stories of persecution in both Alexandria and Gaul indicate.  Could the refusal of Christians to adopt the kind of 'monarchian reforms' imposed on the Samaritans have resulted in martyrdom?  It is difficult to say.  But it does offer the explanation for why a wholly different form of Christianity arose from the ashes of the late second century at least theoretically.

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