Friday, April 1, 2016

An Example of What Happens When We Suppose that the Nomen Sacrum ΙΣ Derived from אש

It is one of the most problematic passages in the gospels.  The man in the synagogue sees Jesus and the demons within him declare "what have we to do with you, Jesus?"  The narrative is problematic on a number of grounds most notably with respect to the 'messianic secret' narrative that runs through the earliest gospel.  If Jesus wants to cultivate a shroud of secrecy around his person it is odd that the demons should immediately recognize him.  The demons are ultimate evil and Jesus is the ultimate good whose existence isn't well known or even ever grasped before his coming.

The implication then in one of the first narratives in the gospel is that demons 'recognize' Jesus as a god - and even more curiously know the existence of a god named 'Jesus' existing secretly in heaven.  Getting back to the 'gospel secret' thread, given the immediacy of this 'recognition' Jesus's deliberate cultivation of 'secrecy' is presumably directed against human beings rather than the demonic powers (otherwise God is portrayed as failing to maintain his disguise a minute into his earthly mission).  The details get stranger and stranger the further we go down this rabbit hole.  Did the Jews know about a god named 'Jesus'?  Of course not.  An angel named Jesus?  No certainly not.

'Jesus' presumably was the name of an earthly being.  Why then do the demons 'know' him as a god?  The solution is once again to assume - as most authorities on the nomina sacra do - that the strange Greek letters go back to something originally written in paleo-Hebrew.  We already have examples from the LXX where the name ΙΣ transposed the Hebrew name אש into Greek.  The god of Christianity was originally known as 'Man' and this corresponds with the earliest gnostic traditions preserved in Irenaeus and the Nag Hammadi texts - not to mention the earliest Jewish speculation about a second god.

Yet at its simplest the transposition solves the difficulty implicit in the demons seeming to know the name of 'Jesus.'  For, as the Marcionites originally knew, 'Jesus' was a stranger to everyone - even the demons.  Instead of 'recognizing' Jesus as a god or the god 'Man' they are rather speaking rather generically about this stranger claiming to have authority over them.  Note the parallel expression in Epictetus - "What have we to do with you, man? we are perishing and you come to mock us?"

τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, ἄνθρωπε Epictetus 2.19
τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, ΙΣ Mark 1:24 
The saying appears over and over again in various forms in the writings of the philosopher.  Rather than it denoting a 'recognition' on the part of the demons, it merely represents a common figure of speech reinforcing the 'alien' nature of the figure standing in front of them.

As noted above, the implication that the demons know Jesus is entirely at odds with Mark's 'secret' narrative and the identification of a stranger as 'man' figures elsewhere in the gospels.

Ἄνθρωπε ἀφέωνταί σοι - Luke 5:20
Ἄνθρωπε οὐκ εἰμί -  Luke 22:58
Ἄνθρωπε οὐκ οἶδα ὃ λέγεις - Luke 22:60 
I am sorry I just don't believe that the author had the Christian god fail a minute into his message to keep his identity secret from the world.  Even more unlikely is the idea that demons 'knew' that who 'Jesus' was.  The original religion of Israel recognize a second god named אש.  The gospel was written as a story of this god's repentance and crucifixion.

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