Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Finally Solved the Age Old Mystery of Why the Earliest Gospels Were Likened to the Pythagorean 'Diatessaron' (With the Help of the Letter to Theodore)

I was close before, but like any good scientific investigation part of the researcher's job is to continue to refine and polish his original insight. Everyone has always known that the diatessaron is a term from ancient Pythagorean-inspired music theory. The problem always was how to properly apply the terminology.   In any event, I was putting my son to sleep and for some reason my mind started to wander reading the Cat in the Hat and I started thinking about the coincidence that John is now called 'the fourth' gospel (this isn't the solution to the problem but it's part of the story).

I wondered to myself whether Irenaeus decided to construct the fourfold gospel as a means of obscuring the original meaning of the term 'diatessaron.' I reasoned to myself that Tatian must have made some kind of a reference to two gospels - one long and one short - and identified the harmony between them as a 'diatessaron.'

It was at that point that it finally dawned on me - the 'diatessaron' isn't just 'the fourth' note but the 'perfect' harmony that comes from the interval between two notes played together. This is the original harmony between 'the gospels' which Tatian must have written about. The paradigm must have been exactly what we read about in Clement's Letter to Theodore or perhaps earliest of all 1 Corinthians 2.1 - 9:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... We do, however, speak a wisdom among the we speak among the perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even a secret wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The point is that that there was almost from the very beginning two gospels established. The public gospel (= the short ending of Mark) ended with discovery of the empty tomb on 'the third day' (and is 'the fourth' owing to Mark's specific reference to it as 'after three days'). The 'secret wisdom' presumably concluded with Jesus actual 'full' revelation to the disciples on the eighth day (= octave).

While some of this may seem a little repetative, the new wrinkle that came to me is that the term 'diatessaron' must have developed from the two gospels 'being played together' - in other words 'compared.' When you look at all the stories of Pythagoras discovering the 'diatessaron,' 'diapente' and 'diapason' the context is always two notes being contrasted against one another or played at the same time.

From a single peg fixed to an angle between two walls, which he [Pythagoras] chose lest any differentiation should make itself felt on this account, or there should be any variation owing to the difference between particular pegs, he suspended four of the same material, of the same number of strands, of equal thickness, and of equal torsion. And from each string he hung one weight by attaching the weight at the bottom and making certain that all the strings had equal lengths. Then, striking groups of two strings alternately, he found the aforementioned concords sounded in the various combinations of strings.  He found that the string stretched by the greatest weight sounded together with that stretched by the greatest weight sounded together with that stretched by the smallest weight, produced an octave; the former string supported twelve weights and the latter six, so he determined that the octave was in duple proportion, as was shown, indeed by the weights themselves. And again, he showed that the string with the greatest weight when sounded together with the string with the next to least weight, that is, the string with eight weights, produces the consonance of the fifth; in doing so, he showed this consonance to consist of a proportion of 3:2, the same proportion in which the weights themselves stand in relation to each other; while, in combination with the string second greatest in weight, that consisting of nine weights, a fourth was produced, proportionately with the weights. And he found this string [with 9 weights] in a proportion of 4:3 with the greatest string; yet he found this same string to be in a natural proportion of 3:2 with the smallest string, for 9 stands in such a relationship with 6. (Nicom. Enchir 6 = Iambl. VPyth. 115— 8 in Christoph Riedweg Pythagoras p. 25 - 26)
The important thing here is to see that the diatesson was revealed by the playing of two strings at the same time. It is interesting Guthrie notes that "the interval 4 : 3 is called a perfect fourth. To the ancient Greek ear, the fourth is almost as pleasing as the fifth." (Guthrie 1988, 327-328)

For those who still aren't clear about it yet, here is what the diatessaron - the tonic note and the fourth played together - actually sounds like.

And for those of you who can't hear that there are two notes here is what a diatessaron looks like:

The bottom line here is that the diatessaron was from the beginning not a 'harmony of four' but rather - a harmony of two.

So I hope everyone gets it now.  The mystery that has eluded all scholars before us is now finally solved.  There was a 'short' and 'long' gospel as described in Clement's Letter to Theodore.  The harmony that existed between the two gospels is 'diatessaronic' - or if you will - one text ending on 'the fourth' (i.e. the third day) and the other on 'the octave' (i.e. the eighth day). 

What I am beginning to see emerge in the late second century reaction to the original understanding is a systematic attempt to re-define the context of the original terminology.  So for instance, by the fourth century the 'long gospel' is identified as 'the Diatessaron' rather than, as aforementioned, the harmony between the two texts.  One can argue of course that the misapplication of the terminology was accidental.  We have to note that at the same time (a) the third vision of the Shepherd of Hermas and its invoking of a gospel 'of four' as a dia tessaron and (b) Irenaeus establishing a fourfold gospel without being about to cite any historical precedent or witness to the conception (i.e. seemingly 'out of thin air') and thereby the Gospel of John- the gospel whose resurrection narrative most resembles 'the Diatessaron' becomes 'the fourth.'

The bottom line is that when we look at the canonical 'four' through the lens of the 'Diatessaron' it seems as if Irenaeus constructed the arrangement against the backdrop of the Alexandrian gospel paradigm referenced in to Theodore.  Instead of simply having what Clement witnesses viz:

 simple gospel
'more spiritual' gospel

where the gospels taken together reveal the 'harmony of the diatessaron,' Irenaeus has simply constructed a parallel arrangement of four gospels:

Matthew  Mark  Luke

In other words the 'fourfold' nature of the new canon is just a new way of framing again the context of concept of 'the fourth' and what a 'harmony of four' means. 

Of course, it has to be recognized that in the original Alexandrian paradigm its two gospels were undoubtedly primarily distinguished by their respective lengths - i.e. the 'public gospel' was necessarily shorter than 'secret Mark.'  By contrast the Gospel of John is not the longest gospel of the canonical four.  However this completely misses the point.  The Catholics, according to my conception, were deliberately re-defining the original terminology.

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