Monday, January 3, 2011

The Name 'Dia Tessaron' Can Not Mean a Gospel Made 'Through Four' Other Gospels

Many of you may not know this, but I was a musician in a former life.  Most Biblical scholars don't have that background so they look at words like 'dia tessaron' - the gospel narrative which the late second century Christian Tatian is alleged to have developed - and assume things that can't possibly work.  New Testament scholars want us to believe that Tatian called his gospel the 'dia tessaron' because it was made 'through four.'  It seems to make sense because around the same time Irenaeus was introducing four canonical gospels which together approximated the material contained in Tatian's text.  But there is a big problem here which Petersen does address in his book.  The 'dia tessaron' was a well established term which meant 'the fourth' note in an eight note scale (where the eighth note is the octave).

I don't know how to explain this to people who have no familiarity with musical theory but it is really quite simple.  If we look at the diagram below you will see a standard piano keyboard:

The diagram shows what is called 'C Major.'  The scale of C happens to have all the whole notes so it is considered 'perfect.'  The scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and then back to C which is the octave (i.e. all the white keys on a piano). 

The 'dia tessaron' or 'fourth' in C Major is F.  If you count down four whole tones from C that's were you end up.  The 'dia pente' or 'fifth' in C Major is G.  A piano is being used here because most of us have seen one and it is easy to 'see' the notes.  Yet the simplest way to create tones (and the manner in which ancients approached music) is to tie a string between two points on an instrument like a lyre or a guitar and then mark the places where your finger has to 'press down' to create the same intervals shown here.

The point here is that you can't simply divide a string in half.  That's an octave:

A 'dia tessaron' might represent 'the fourth' tone in an eight note scale but it does not lie at the midpoint of the string.  Pythagoras discovered that harmony had everything to do with establishing proper mathematical ratios between the strings.  First,  if the length of the two strings are in relation to each other 2:3, the difference in pitch is called a fifth:

...and if the length of the strings are in relation to each other 3:4, then the difference is called a fourth.

Thus the musical notation of the Greeks, which we have inherited can be expressed mathematically as 1:2:3:4

All this above can be summarised in the following.

It was apparently Pythagoras who found the intervals which created whole notes and deliberately avoided those intervals that produced dissonance. 

The thing that has always bothered me (and apparently a number of Diatessaronic scholars) is that the use of the term 'dia tessaron' to mean 'the fourth' note in an eight tone scale was so widespread in music, architecture, philosophy and natural science that it would be impossible to imagine that Tatian or whoever first identified his gospel as a 'dia tessaron' could not have meant that it was 'made up' of four other gospels.  He would have had to have meant that it was a shorter text which was still 'in harmony' with the 'root note.' 

I can't tell you how many nights I have thought about this.  I know I am right about this.  Tatian must have been referencing the existence of a 'short' and 'long' gospel concept like we see in the Letter to Theodore.  I just have struggled with the idea of explaining musical theory to people who have never played an instrument.

You see music was always something that I related to on an emotional level.  I can tell you that F is the 'dia tessaron' or fourth note in C Major, but there's more to it than that.  F sounds like C.  The only note that has a stronger agreement with C than F is G which is the 'dia pente' or 'fifth' note in the scale.  Well let me correct that - G is the only other note besides another C an octave removed or 'dia pason' from the original C that started the scale. 

When you hear two C's played together you can actually feel the waves of harmony in your soul.  When you hear a C and a G at the same time your first instinct is to think they are the same note and then a second later you know they are a 'fifth' removed.  This 'dia pente' is the basis to what we used to call 'the power chord' in the eighties.  The G backs up the C and makes it sound fuller and stronger.  But C and its 'dia tessaron' F, well that's a mystical interval. 

Why 'mystical'?  It is because if you turn things around C is the 'dia pente' or fifth note of F Major.  In other words, if C to F is a 'dia tessaron' then F to C (its inverse) is a 'dia pente':

This 'mystical' relation of 'dia tessaron' and 'dia pente' is used almost every song you know to change the key of the tune. 

Now it is important to note that while many ancient witnesses reference a 'dia tessaron' gospel, Victor of Capua (c. 545 CE) also references a 'dia pente.'  No one has ever been able to figure out what Victor is talking about.  Yet I wonder if the real distinction was between a 'dia pason' text (i.e. one which contained all the notes of the scale) and another text called 'dia tessaron' or possibly 'dia pente' which represented a shortening of that original.  In other words, that something like 'public' and 'secret' Mark was already known to Tatian and his 'Encratite' tradition.

And one more thing.  If we go back to the description of 'Secret Mark' in to Theodore there is an uncanny similarity to the musical theory I have just described.  Clement certainly describes two 'parts' to the whole gospel which was 'Secret Mark.'  The first of which is described as:

Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils (ibid I.22 - 26)

The second in what immediately follows:

But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. (ibid I.18 - 22)

No one can be so naive as to assume that the ratio of original material and newly added 'stuff' was fifty-fifty.  It probably corresponded to something like a 'dia tessaron' (a fourth) or a 'dia pente' (a fifth).  There are even seven veils (like seven notes) which separate the catechumen from the 'octave' or 'ogdoad' in the inner sanctum:

As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. (to Theodore I.15 - 18)

The bottom line is that if we really think of it, the standard way of identifying 'the Diatessaron of Tatian' or the 'Diapente' of Victor, just doesn't work.  The fact that the terminology was pre-existent suggests something like 'Secret Mark' was behind everything.

And then there are all the references to an 'Alexandrian Diatessaron.'  But that is for another time.  I've got to get some sleep ...

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