Monday, December 18, 2017

An Example of the Veneration of the Number Four in the Christian Tradition Before the Four Gospels Were Canonized

From the so-called Valentinian Exposition at Nag Hammadi:
I will speak my mystery to those who are mine and to those who will be mine. Moreover it is these who have known him who is, the Father, that is, the Root of the All, the Ineffable One who dwells in the Monad. He dwells alone in silence, and silence is tranquility since, after all, he was a Monad and no one was before him. He dwells in the Dyad and in the Pair, and his Pair is Silence. And he possessed the All dwelling within him. And as for Intention and Persistence, Love and Permanence, they are indeed unbegotten. God came forth: the Son, Mind of the All, that is, it is from the Root of the All that even his Thought stems, since he had this one (the Son) in Mind. For on behalf of the All, he received an alien Thought since there were nothing before him. From that place it is he who moved [...] a gushing spring. Now this is the Root of the All and Monad without any one before him. Now the second spring exists in silence and speaks with him alone. And the Fourth accordingly is he who restricted himself in the Fourth: while dwelling in the Three-hundred-sixtieth, he first brought himself (forth), and in the Second he revealed his will, and in the Fourth he spread himself out.

Is it Coincidence that the Gospel of John is Called 'the Spiritual Gospel'?

This is what Clement of Alexandria - the ultimate 'Platonist Christian' - tells us about the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel in the canon.  But was it placed 'fourth' in the arrangement of texts because it was designed to be this 'spiritual gospel'?  In other words, did the pre-existent Christian interest in the Tetrad determine not only the 'desirability' of having 'four gospels' but also arranging the first three to be more or less 'identical' in basic structure and then the 'fourth' - i.e. the gospel of John - as something different because it was the 'fourth' - i.e. that it was related to the veneration of the holy tetrad?

It is worth noting that Philo already sees the creation of the heavenly beings on the fourth day as related to the holiness of the tetrad. In his explanation of this part of Genesis, in particular the fourth day of creation, Philo explicitly lays bear the importance of the number four within the context of the Hellenic philosophical tradition, a tradition marked quite clearly:
But the heaven was afterwards duly decked in a perfect number, namely four. This number it would be no error to call the base and source of ten, the complete number; for what ten is actually, this, as is evident, ten is potentially; that is to say that, if the numbers from one to four be added together, they will produce ten, and this is the limit set to the otherwise unlimited succession of numbers; round this as a turning-point they wheel and retrace their steps. 
Philo describes the underlying perfection, or completeness, inherent in the number four.  The tetrad was a Pythagorean numerical understanding related to the number four (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10).  In Aristotelian terms the number four potentiality ten.

Philo also describes the sense of motion, or cyclical nature implied by this number four, which actuates to the number ten, as a “turning point” and “wheel”, alluding to the base ten that was used by the Greeks for counting and within which after the number ten one begins to “count again”, starting with eleven, twelve and so on. Philo also describes the number four as embedding within it three dimensional space, making it the perfect day (symbolically speaking of course) within which God should establish the foundations of the heavens within which the world of man was thought to be governed in antiquity, and speaking to the importance the field of geometry held to the ancients, a tradition that became the hallmark of the West.

Philo writes:
There is also another property of the number four very marvelous to state and to contemplate with the mind. For this number was the first to show the nature of the solid, the numbers before it referring to things without actual substance. For under the head of one what is called in geometry a point falls, under that of two a line. For if one extend itself, two is formed, and if a point extend itself, a line is formed: and a line is length without breadth; if breadth be added, there results a surface, which comes under the category of three: to bring it to a solid surface needs one thing, depth, and the addition of this to three produces four. The result of all this is that this number is a thing of vast importance. It was this number that has led us out of the realm of incorporeal existence patent only to the intellect, and has introduced us to the conception of a body of three dimensions, which by its nature first comes within the range of our senses. 
And lastly, in reference to the four elements, and four seasons upon which the ground and order of human existence ultimately rests, Philo concludes with the following summation:
There are several other powers of which four has the command, which we shall have to point out in fuller detail in the special treatise devoted to it. Suffice it to add just this, that four was made the starting-point of the creation of heaven and the world; for the four elements, out of which this universe was fashioned, issued, as it were from a fountain, from the numeral four; and, beside this, so also did the four seasons of the year, which are responsible for the coming into being of animals and plants, the year having a fourfold division into winter and spring and summer and autumn. 
The point of course is that it is unmistakable that the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel, is very different from the three that proceed it in the canon.  The other three have the same basic order and verbatim linguistic features shared in common.  John stands almost completely outside the other three.  Could it be that it was designed that way?  Could it be that as the fourth gospel it was designed with a specific 'spiritual' purpose in mind? 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How Dog Breeding is Like the Creation of the Four Canonical Gospels

That however, which is now investigated is the tetrad ... So far therefore as it is called animal itself, it is the monad of the nature of all animals, intellectual, vital, and corporeal; but so far as it comprehends at the same time the male and female nature, it is a duad; for these subsist in an appropriate manner in all the orders of animals, in one way in the gods, in another in daemons, and in another in mortals; but so far as from this duad, it gives subsistence to the four ideas of animals in itself, it is a tetrad; for the fourfold fabrication of things proceeds according to these ideas, and the first productive cause of wholes is the tetrad. Plato therefore teaching this tetradic power of the paradigm, and the most unical ideas of mundane natures, says, that they are four, comprehended in one animal itself. For there is one idea there, animal itself; and there is also a duad, viz. the female and the male ... [t]here is also a tetrad; and as far as to this, intelligible forms proceed into other productive principles according to a different number ... For there the tetrad subsists proceeding from the intelligible monad, and filling the demiurgic decad. For "divine number," according to the Pythagorean hymn upon it, "proceeds from the retreats of the undecaying monad, till it arrives at the divine tetrad, which produces the mother of all things, the universal recipient, venerable, placing a boundary about all things, undeviating and unwearied, which both immortal gods and earth-born men call the sacred decad." [Proclus on the Plato of Timaeus]
'Have you read the gospels?' It sounds on the surface like there are many witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ.  At least, that's what you think until you dig a little deeper.  Most scholars, people who have spent a long time studying these sources, have concluded that the gospels of Matthew and Luke derive their origins from the gospel of Mark.

Of course given the fact that scholars are a mostly reserved lot, they present this evidence in a humdrum manner.  They try and frame the situation as one of 'borrowing' rather than really what is or what it would be called if one of their students named 'Matthew' or 'Luke' submitted a paper which as many verbatim or near verbatim sounding passages from a paper they already submitted paper from another student named Mark - namely plagiarism.

Scholars tend to get caught up in the microcosmic relationship between these forgeries rather than what I take to be the much more fascinating situation in the 'big picture.'  Why were the two forgeries, the close-to-original source material and another gospel which bears very little resemblance to the other three, bundled together as the single true gospel of the Christian religion?  It is by far one of the most bizarre things that ever happened in the history of literature.

It makes sense that the Harry Potter series would be bundled as a 'one narrative.' The same holds true of any number of other authors who take a main character and tell his story in a chronological or near chronological series of books.  But why would Matthew, Mark and Luke have been bundled together given their obvious bond in forgery?

Perhaps the simple answer is that as forgeries they often record near verbatim accounts of the same incidents.  Having more than one record clearly helps reinforce that there is one underlying truth - even if this effect was accomplished through literary copying.  You see new mothers and infatuated lovers showing their friends picture after picture of the same person even if it was from the same camera taken at the same time and on the same day.

The Gospel of Luke quite clearly makes explicit that he has in his possession earlier literary reports that he used to manufacture his narrative.  Nevertheless it does seem odd that - at least to me - that we have ended up canonizing a bundled truth like our four canonical gospels.  We rarely end up with four winners standing together on a podium at the Olympics.  It would seem strange for a woman to profess her love for four men as 'her only' beloveds.

We have come to expect what we might call a 'monarchian' truth in the real world.

In most religions then it is - one God, one book and one individual who knows the truth and saves the world.  In Christianity you have the one God and the one savior but in the end what appears to be a secondary or derivative collection of witnesses to the greatness of that story.  Why wasn't Matthew satisfied with Mark's account?  Why did he feel free to add to his predecessor's story?  The standard answer is that Mark was too short and Matthew and Luke wanted to 'fill in the gaps' which they saw in his information.  I don't find that answer very satisfactory for a number of reasons, most obviously that they filled their books with a lot of rubbish.

The most obvious example of this tendency to add unreliable bits of information is the birth narrative.  Sure we want to know more about Jesus's background but he clearly wasn't born through a Virgin Birth.  Another plainly useless addition to the Markan narrative is the conclusion.  There never has a resurrection and the addition of plainly incredible stories like this to the original narrative only serves to question the reliability of the other less spectacular bits of information added to the derivative gospels.

On the one hand the fact Matthew and Luke wanted to add wholly nonsensical stories involving angels and other supernatural things makes it unlikely that any reasonable person should want to bundle them together with Mark.  Nevertheless the gospel of Mark on its own - with its rather sudden opening and closing narratives - hardly justifies the creation of a new religion.  To that end once you explain that who Jesus was and what happened to him when he died, you pave the way for a ritualized veneration of this remarkable individual.

Yet as satisfying as this explanation it doesn't completely explain why it took exactly four gospels to complete the Christian religion.  Why if the literary critics of the Church wanted a new beginning and ending didn't they simply expand Mark and canonize the longer new gospel?  Clearly early Christians used and liked so-called 'gospel harmonies.'  What about a canonical set of four often contradictory gospels as source material for a single 'patchwork' narrative seemed preferable to the Fathers of the Catholic Church?

It is only when you start thinking about the question of why four should be preferable to one that you end up in some rather unexpected places - answers that make you question traditional assumptions about why the canonical gospels were published as a set.  For while 'one' is a holy number - it is, as the modern song suggests, the loneliest number.  Ancient mystics noted that one was not a productive number.  Productivity begins with a binary pair and so one leads to two and two can lead either to three, by addition, and four by multiplication.  And since multiplication was understood to be embodiment of productivity, four was in many ways considered to be the most sacred of numbers.

Before I hear the uninformed moan about the 'useless' nature of such 'speculation' the facts are that we have to first acknowledge that the first individual to mention the sanctity of the canon of four gospels also report the pervasiveness of the veneration of the number four in pre-existent Christian communities.  Indeed Irenaeus, long before he unveils his 'holy four' collection goes out of his way to tell us that the 'heretics' imagine that there was a cosmic significance to the number four.  The Cosmic Four our sprang forth out of the Holy One after the speculation of the ancient philosopher Pythagoras.

Indeed it wasn't just the earliest Christians but the even earlier Jews of Alexandria and elsewhere likely who saw deep significance in numerology.  The Pentateuch was filled with numerological significance because the universe itself was coded with numbers.  There were numbers in heaven not merely in terms of the layers in heaven - seven - but also in the very fabric of creation.

So the question becomes is it a coincidence that Irenaeus, while reporting to us that all those who came before him understood a Cosmic Four or 'Tetrad' in heaven goes on to add that - oh by the way, the correct number of gospels is four too.  This question has never before been asked or at least examined in any sustained manner.  Nevertheless if you look carefully at his wording as he unveils his Literary Four or quarternion, he looks to the cosmos to justify its correctness.  There are four winds, four corners of the map, four beings around the chariot of the Creator - so should there be four gospels.

Indeed he goes one step further and uses the very Cosmic Four, the Tetrad, as an effective tool against those who believe in the 'hocus pocus' of the Cosmic Tetrad.  He speaks the language of the very gnostics he criticizes.  There are four types of heretics - the Ebionites, Adoptionists, Marcionites and Valentinians each of which 'miraculously' conform to the preordained correctness of the four canonical gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  This can't be coincidence, he declares, presumably alluding to the fact that God knew ahead of time that there would be four principal heresies which Irenaeus's dutifully collected in his tome Against the False Gnostics.

But if Irenaeus manufactured a treatise which recognized the correctness of the Four, what exactly is admonishing the 'false gnostics' for doing?  The overly simplistic answer that is sometimes current among scholars of early Christianity is that Irenaeus was suggesting that knowledge about God is absolutely impossible outside a rigidly defined creed.  This is not what Irenaeus believed.  Indeed there are numerous points in his book where Irenaeus 'lets out' that he is a mystic - for instance when he faults the gnostics for using the Greek name of Jesus to venerate the ogdoad.

The truth is that the name Jesus has to be preserved in Hebrew, he declares.  There is a mystery here in that each letter is an acronym for a phrase from the Pentateuch. Unfortunately for those of us trying to make sense of Irenaeus what he wrote after making this unusual point is now lost to us or better preserved in a fragmentary form - the scribes that came after him simply couldn't follow his argument because they didn't speak or write in Hebrew.  So we are left with a bunch of literary gibberish every time Irenaeus profess the superiority of Hebrew in the surviving Latin translation.

Yet the underlying distinction is made - even if it is rarely appreciated.  Irenaeus's isn't saying that it is heresy to speculate about numbers.  Irenaeus does this all the time and thinks it to be 'cool.'  His main beef is that the false gnostics engage in numerology based on the Greek text of the Bible which 'isn't cool' as Greek is not a holy language while the mother tongue of the ancient Israelites is.

To this end, it must be declared that when Irenaeus criticized the 'false gnostics' he was doing so on the basis that their speculations were modern inventions of individuals working in a profane language - Greek.  The first gospel was according him, the gospel of Matthew, it was originally written not surprisingly in Hebrew.  As such it should not at all be surprising that when he looks to the reason why the correct number of gospels was pre-ordained to be four, he mostly draws from examples four in the Hebrew scriptures.  Of course it was common 'scientific' knowledge at the time that the 'four elements,' the stoicheia as they were called in Greek - air, water, fire and earth - were the building blocks of all things.  So too was it with his four canonical gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In other words, it is not at all incredible to suggest that Irenaeus would have set out to create or build a canon of four gospels which together were 'the holy gospel' because of a pre-existent notion in Christianity that four was a sacred number.  At its most basic the followers of a 'false gnostic' named Mark simply said in the Jewish fashion that numbers were code to the universe and a Cosmic Four - the Tetrad - existed in heaven.  Yet there were Valentinians who argued that in fact there were two Tetrads that made a cosmic eight.  Irenaeus didn't like one group who emphasized the number eight so he spent time criticizing these men.  Similarly there was another group who argued that gospel told the story of the formation of Jesus Christ as a coming together of four elements after Jesus's baptism.  He didn't care too much for them either.

Yet the fact that there were so many groups and individuals who were obsessed with the number four before the unveiling of Irenaeus's gospel of four it makes it very difficult to argue against the idea that he conformed the shape of his canon to the very enemies he claimed to despised.  As such, it is a misrepresentation to argue that Catholicism, the tradition associated with Irenaeus was a complete break from the gnostic past.  Indeed it is was undeniable that when the Greek text of the Pentateuch describes Moses's encounter with the divinity they present him as a gnostic.  Irenaeus's emphasizing the existence of 'false gnostics' in the modern age necessarily assumed that there were also 'true gnostics' lurking in the past.  The world had just lost its way and were now following charlatans pretending to be heirs of a glorious past.

So then we arrive at a most preposterous conclusion about the formation of the Catholic canon.  Irenaeus presented Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as a kind of cosmic literary DNA - stoicheia if you will - the air, water, earth and fire - of all the other gospels which were floating around the world causing havoc in the Church.  The way Irenaeus speaks about these texts and their relation to the false gnostics before him makes it clear that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John hadn't yet been known to the world in their true, idealized form.  They were in the hands of individual heretics as individual texts, the Ebionites using a bastardized copy of Matthew, the Adoptionists a poor copy of Mark, the Marcionites Luke and so on.  But now at the dawn - or perhaps the close - of an extended period of glory for the Church, Irenaeus had isolated the pure isotope of each of the four textual stoicheia and presented it to the Christian community in its pure, idealized form.

I know this is difficult for people to wrap their heads around because - quite frankly - it is so artificial and so obtuse.  Nevertheless I think that the great minds of the study of early Christianity assume a 'natural' or innocent origin to the canonical set.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are still envisioned as having 'grown' in an idealized 'literary garden of Eden' where devoted and sincere Christians plucked them out of their native soil in Italy, Greece or wherever they imagine these texts to have been cultivated.

Irenaeus stood very much in the stream of Middle Platonism.  To argue that all the heretics were 'influenced by Plato' and Irenaeus wasn't is simply foolish.  The truth is much more complex than that.  I would argue that Irenaeus wasn't as much preserving for us 'natural' texts but breeding idealized ones for us in the manner of the Platonic guardians in the Republic.  Just as Plato knew that the horses were bred and the idealized horse was realized through breeding so too were the true texts of the gospel rescued through a similar literary process.  Plato thinks that the principles which are observed in breeding animals should also be observed in breeding human beings. Hence he applies the terminology of the former to the latter.  Irenaeus, I would argue, applied Platonism to rescuing the gospel from the 'false gnostics.' 

Irenaeus never speaks of any group that faithfully preserved the four canonical gospels before him.  He speaks of the Roman church faithfully preserving an apostolic succession list for their community and nothing more. There is no pedigree for this 'pure set' after initiating his discussion of modern Christianity with a portrait of a world in shambles.  The texts just appear - almost from his own imagination - and then the sudden appearance of the idealized texts are used to combat the individual reference to 'passages' within the set collection by the 'false gnostics' who preceded him.  Irenaeus shines a light into a dark world like Diogenes, but the newness of the lantern he holds is what makes his appearance revolutionary.

I get tired of naive assumptions of modern scholarship about the origins of the canonical gospels.  They imagine the Church Fathers to be the precursors of the modern academic mostly because of their own lack of imagination.  With the danger of sounding disrespectful I can only present a personal story to demonstrate a similar lack of understanding of my own.

I remember when I got my first dog - a white (of course) Bichon Frise - that I assumed that her ancestors were white because that color helped them survive in the snowy mountain tops which must have been their original home.  Stupid me, dog breeding is the practice of mating selected dogs with the intent to maintain or produce specific qualities and characteristics.  This breeding relies on the science of genetics, so the breeder with a knowledge of canine genetics, health, and the intended use for the dogs attempts to breed suitable dogs.  As such Bichons were white simply because they were intended characteristics on the part of the original breeders.

Yet the assumptions of scholars with the respect to the canonical gospels is similarly naive.  We assume but Irenaeus never says, that he 'found' the canonical four.  The reason it is assumed that he stumbled upon them is because this is how texts are discovered by modern academics.  But Irenaeus wasn't a modern academic.  There is absolutely no evidence that he discovered or faithfully preserved a pre-existent collection.  In fact all signs point the other way.  Justin Martyr, a man he clearly portrays himself as following, used a single long 'gospel harmony' and not the canonical four.  Irenaeus doesn't even try to explain - or 'correct' - the discrepancy.

To this end, there is no proof either way, how it was that the canonical gospels came into the world.  But since Christ came miraculously, the same possibility should be extended to canonical four.  It seems entirely plausible that Irenaeus bred them as a set of four because 'fourness' was deemed or perceived to be a desirable characteristic.  Irenaeus wasn't practicing philology but husbandry when he isolated Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Already we see him decry 'additions' and 'subtractions' made to what we might call the 'gene pool' of each of the four stoicheia.  There should be no surprise to find out that he just turned around the process of what we might call the 'mongrelization' of the gospels.  This is after all the true sense or meaning of 'adultery' in the Ten Commandments.

Selective breeding was certainly practiced by the Romans and ancient societies before them.  Indeed Plato must have known this when he spoke about the 'horseness' of horses and the like. Perfect horses weren't understood to spring up from the mud of creation.  Ideal horses were bred which is why the Republic describes the guardians actively involving themselves in selective breeding.

As an 11th century Persian treatise notes "[t]he agriculturist selects his corn, letting grow as much as he requires, and tearing out the remainder.  The forester leaves those branches which he perceives to be excellent, whilst he cuts away all others. The bees kill those of their kind who only eat, but do not work in their beehive." This is how one gets back to the idealized 'form' behind 'that which emerges from the mud.'  This is what husbandry entails, this is certainly how Irenaeus arrived as his primal Tetrad of the gospel.

Irenaeus's purposes have always been misunderstood and so the attempt to reconcile the synoptics with a natural 'source' (Q) or with themselves is so misguided.  Irenaeus wasn't engaged in philology as much as husbandry.  As a neo-Platonist he was attempting to isolate the cosmic stoicheia behind all the mongrel gospels that were in the hands of the 'false gnostics.'  He by nature must have claimed to be the true gnostic, guiding the lost sheep through the valley of darkness.  Since the consensus seemed to be that a Primal Four existed before the world and the gospel was created so Irenaeus supposed to isolate a canonical set of four - the ideal primordial four - by pattern established by Plato in the Republic.

How was this accomplished?  The general understanding is already preserved in Against the False Gnostics.  All we need to do is add water.  As Irenaeus supposed that the 'false gnostics' used the art of the popular 'Homeocentones' to breed their literary monstrosities his methodology must have simply been to reverse the uncontrolled breeding process. Why else does Irenaeus - and later Tertullian from Irenaeus - take pains to argue that the false gnostics mischievously 'rearranged' the proper order?  The same accusation is found in Papias. The gospel 'sayings' are like stones which can be rearranged in different contexts in order to different meanings.  All Irenaeus had to do was 'isolate' the individual stones and return them back to their original context of the 'great mosaic' intended by the Creator.

Of course this was an inexact science.  Of course we can't take this effort very seriously.  He stood in a long line of pseudo-scientists and so-called polymaths which continues down to this day.  But we can't allow ourselves to keep perpetuating the party line that we operate under the assumption that the gospels developed as a result of natural selection - nature here meaning 'naive' or innocent patterns of textual development.  All signs point to the fact that when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were bundled together it was a result of deliberate or 'unnatural' selection.  Someone - undoubtedly Irenaeus - wanted to find or isolate a tetrad of stoicheia behind the plethora of 'false gospels' ravaging the Christian world.  The result was the canonical four as a wholly unnatural, idealized literary typology.

The fourness of the canonical set was like the 'cuteness' of any modern breed - it was a desired rather than an unintentional consequence of the overall 'canonizational' effort.  The fourness was established from the outset and carried out to make a convincing end product.  The Christian world already believed in fourness and Irenaeus was going to give it to them.  It was the most natural outcome in the process of the commodification of Holy Writ.  Just as the gnostics like Valentinus expanded an incredible array of 'aeonic powers' in heaven from a primal 'Tetrad' and Mark words within words and sounds deriving from the same Cosmic Four, Irenaeus isolate our canonical gospels as a primal literary tetrad.

There is much we will never know about this possibility.  All that we know is that the pre-existent veneration of the holy 'fourness' must have assisted the reception of the fourfold gospel.  Why else was it 'fourfold'?  The apparent incompatibility of Irenaeus with such 'mystical mumbo jumbo' might  lead us to suspect that the entire construct was something of a literary Trojan Horse.  In other words, by dressing up his 'correction' of previous gospels in the adornment of 'fourness' the Church Father disguised his creation of new literary stoicheia.  It was the by a false 'fourness' that the naive and unsuspecting false gnostics were overcome as the new collection was designed to settle ongoing doctrinal disputes which had been ravaging the Church since the beginning.

But we should never forget, in order to attain eventual ecumenical union, Irenaeus still had to bow down before the altar of fourness.  Alongside the Tetrad of Valentinus and the Tetrad of Mark and a countless arrange of other 'false gnostics' was the 'true Tetrad' of the true gnostic Irenaeus.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Teachings of Jesus Christ as the Teachings of Don Juan Matus

It's impossible to know most things with any degree of certainty.  There is a lot of discussion on the internet about whether or not Jesus had a historical existence.  I think its convenient to assume that Jesus existed.  It allows us to get on to other things which useful and productive.  Being useful and productive is always seen as good things so we 'go with this' understanding.  But in the end, we can't know the truth about Jesus until we know we have the earliest Christian texts about it - and I don't think that's at all true.  So we have to be agnostic about Jesus's existence.

I know this answer isn't going to satisfy anyone.  We live in an age of instant answers and in the end I am not smart enough to match the speed required for giving an answer on this subject.  I guess if you want speed, go to someone else as your 'service provider.'  I am happy taking an agnostic position on the existence of Jesus.  Maybe he existed or maybe he didn't.

I am pretty certain the gospel was intended as something more than mere 'history.'  Whoever the original author was, he had the Pentateuch in its sights and the Pentateuch is more than a story - it's the Law.  I am not even sure the first Israelites who received this text thought it was 'God's word' but that's what it became. Over the course of time a book written by a Hebrew scribe at the beginning of the Persian period masquerading as Moses was taken to be a book written by God.  I bet Moses the magician would have been proud!

But the gospel, in my opinion, wanted to do one better.  Magicians love to outdo one another.  If the one guy can make a woman disappear, the next guy does the act with a jumbo jet.  That's how these guys work.  The Jews had the story of how their fathers were friendly with God; the Christians literally made God their father.  That's the story of the gospel.  Even though it's present as the story of Jesus it's really, secretly about the way Christians became God's chosen people. 

Of course, in the end you can read any story any way you want to. We don't live in an age where heresy is actively persecuted or identified.  The fact that on surface indeed the text resembles a history of some sort is part of the magicians craft.  But to take the story as essentially being a history, well that is another matter entirely.  As I said we live in a free world, we can do what ever we want. If you go one step further and take away any trace of symbolism or allegory from the text you read the gospel as if Jesus was giving advice on husbandry, marriage, child rearing, yard work and other inanities.  So in the end, any concerted obtuseness can transform the gospel into an ancient precursor of the Farmers Almanac.

But to say that the gospel doesn't develop from myth-making ignores some basic facts.  Jesus is portrayed as something of a mythopoet.  Why is that?  Was Jesus really a maker of parables or is Jesus's parable-making nothing more than a clue planted by the author to understand his literary purpose?   The portrait of Jesus the parable-maker might well be like looking at an image of ourselves in a mirror looking at ourselves in the mirror.  The gospel is Jesus is telling stories about people like Jesus in a story written by someone like Jesus.

In fact Jesus is a lot like the stick figures from his parables.  Jesus only tells us as much as we need to know about the man who buries a treasure just as the author offers us the barest of outlines about his Jesus.  Why doesn't he just remove Jesus from the dizzying vertigo of looking at ourselves looking into the mirror?  Jesus is portrayed as weaving riddles and allegories because he is nothing more than the double of the mythopoet who is the gospel writer.  Jesus is a walking stick man, a man who has no history or at least a man's whose history is unknown to the author.

Maybe the author heard about a crucified man and wanted to use him as the protagonist for his extended parable which is the gospel.  It's possible.  And that makes Jesus a historical figure.  Fine.  But if we learn something from the gospel it is from only what the gospel writer wants us to see, it is only from what the gospel writer knows from his own reality.  The Marcionites thought Paul wrote the original gospel and various texts tell us his only say Jesus in a vision.  Maybe there was a historical Jesus, but all we have now is a stolen copy of Paul's original dream of Jesus.  Good luck finding history in that! 

No wonder Jesus can only tell parables or act symbolically.  He's little more than a punchline in a gag.  He has no childhood reminiscences because he had no childhood.  He has no stories of lost loves, relationship problems, illnesses or any of the things you can't escape when you are forced to make your way through existence, because he never lived.  He's given a tabla rasa because he is a virgin, not only with respect to sexuality but with regards to this world.

Indeed it is impossible not to see the similarity between Jesus and one of the faceless, nameless figures from his own parables.  Go beyond the citation of Isaiah chapter 40 and the Gospel of Mark opens like a joke making the rounds at a bar - 'A rabbi walks into a bar ...'   That's why it is so strange to see Jesus depicted as a maker of parables.  He's the double of the gospel writer, the evangelist who tells the story of Jesus evangelizing.

The gospel on some level is a parallel universe to the author's own world.  What Jesus did, the author now does.  He tells the story of how he came to be, through an account of Jesus's becoming.  Yet the author doesn't go on to mention himself seeing, hearing or knowing this precursor, this literary doppleganger.   Jesus is the 'rabbi' of the original evangelist's extended parable.  A man walks into a synagogue and ended getting crucified.  You can hear it as a punchline over a couple of beers in its rough form or you can wait and see it stretched out to a written narrative.  The choice is yours.

Is Rodney Dangerfield's wife really that fat?  How fat is she?  Do any of the things that the comedian tells his audience happened to him the other day actually happen the way he tells it?  Did they happen at all?  We don't care.  They're all so funny because what he says is so true!  But what if they aren't true at all?  We don't care as long as he makes us laugh.

It's the same way with the gospel.  It's a story about hierophant as told by a mystagogue.  Copperfield on Houdini.  When one puts the other in the box, we shouldn't be surprised to find them switch places by the end of the 'act.'  Watching Jesus walk on the earth in the gospel narrative I am reminded of Casteneda's dream reality when Don Juan instructs him to look at his hand after he has fallen asleep and entered in another world.  Casteneda tells us that eventually he manages to summon enough power to do the impossible - he raises his hand in the dream and stares at his palm.  Don Juan promises that he can visit with people in the waking world and they will mistake him for his real self and he will have unlimited power.

The Teachings of Don Juan were written as history and Juan Matus is still believed by some to be a historical shaman.  Carlos Casteneda's books have a 'cult-like' following no less than the gospel did in its earliest years.  It is impossible to prove that the young UCLA professor did not in fact meet a Mexican shaman.  Juan Matus like Jesus occupies a midpoint between pure history and pure fiction.  I find it difficult to believe that any argument for the existence of Jesus can be made stronger than the case for the existence of Juan Matus - this in spite of the fact that we live within a few years of Casteneda's death.

As my grade 10 English teacher once said, 'even as fiction it's great stuff.'  So too the gospel ...

Monday, September 4, 2017

Were Clement and Origen Friends?

What evidence is there that Clement and Origen knew one another?  Very little direct evidence in fact.  As Morton Smith noted over forty years ago:
Apparently he [Origen] never mentioned Clement, since Eusebius, attempting to prove that Clement was Origen's teacher, is forced to argue by inference from their temporal proximity (HE VI. 6) and to quote a letter of Alexander of Jerusalem to Origen in which Alexander refers to Clement (then deceased) as formerly known to Origen and as one through whom he himself had made Origen's acquaintance (HE VI. I4.8f). But this only makes Origen's silence about Clement more significant. It would seem that the two were not close, and that if Clement ever was Origen's teacher, it was only for a short period when Origen was fifteen or sixteen. Consequently Origen's ignorance of the longer text [of Mark] is understandable. [Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark p. 285]
The fact that both are said to have been from Alexandria, the fact that both men shared a similar Platonic orientation, the fact that many of their core beliefs and assumptions about Jesus and the gospels are similar - all leads to the same conclusion that they must have known one another.

I am not as optimistic about the state of manuscripts for either man.  I think many of Clement's works have been heavily interpolated - most especially the Instructor.  I think Jerome and Rufinus seem to know something about Eusebius 'correcting' the writings of both men to avoid charges of heresy.  The fact that both Jerome and Rufinus are so willing to continue correcting the writings of Origen lends me to believe that it will be very difficult to explain why Clement never mentions Origen and Origen never Clement.

It is difficult to penetrate the wall of silence which surrounds early Alexandrian Christianity.  The one thing that we can determine with some degree of certainty is the fact that Clement's Quis Dives Salvetur (Can the Rich Man be Saved) seems to have been written with Origen's interpretation of the 'rich man' narrative (Mark 10:17 - 31 and equivalents) from his Commentary on Matthew in mind, and vice versa.  While they do not directly name or confront one another they spend a great deal of time 'correcting' the other's interpretation.

Clement famously does not believe that the gospel should be read as saying that the rich have to give up all their possessions to enter into the kingdom of God/heaven.  While it may seem a forced interpretation he has a text of the Gospel of Mark which seems to support his allegorical or 'spiritual' arguments.  On the other hand, despite bringing forward this particular gospel he spends most of the homily attacking arguments which develop from the words and terminology of our canonical gospel of Matthew.  His opponent or opponents claim that only a literal reading of Matthew makes sense - Jesus demanded that those who want to get into heaven sell all their property and join a monastery sharing the proceeds with their brothers.

In time there will be an Origenist monastic tradition.  The followers of Origen were so numerous and so despicable that much of the surviving literature from the fourth and fifth centuries deals with the problem of stamping our 'Origenists' from the Church.  Origenists like Jerome had to recant their association with his writings.  But who was Origen?  A castrated Christian teacher of some kind who was forced out of Alexandria into Palestine seems to be the consensus from antiquity.  But was Origen already living with a monastic order at that time?

While the question is never asked as far as I can tell I find the existence of some sort of proto-monastery at that time very appealing.  We know that the books of Origen were collected into a rich Christian believer's library in the port city of Caesarea.  Eusebius eventually presided over this collection.  Yet in Origen's time the great Christian library was located in Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem).  It was established by a shadowy figure named 'Alexander' who seemed to be close to Clement.

Eusebius recorded that he used the library, with its extensive archives, to write his The Ecclesiastical History He said: "Now there flourished at that time many learned churchmen, and the letters which they penned to one another are still extant and easily accessible. They have been preserved to our day in the library at Aelia, equipped by Alexander, then ruling the church there; from which also we have been able ourselves to gather together the material for our present work"  This library must have already existed in Origen's time; how odd again that we don't see Clement and Origen intersecting.

We know less than nothing about Clement.  Origen as noted seems to have been born in Alexandria but was eventually forced to flee.  We hear it repeatedly mentioned that he fell into some sort of dispute with the future Pope or bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius.  Indeed he seems to have shaken up the entire world as Jerome later remembers:
So you see, the labors of this one man [Origen] have surpassed those of all previous writers, Greek and Latin. Who has ever managed to read all that he has written? Yet what reward have his exertions brought him? He stands condemned by his bishop, Demetrius, only the bishops of Palestine, Arabia, Phoenecia, and Achaia dissenting. Imperial Rome consents to his condemnation, and even convenes a senate to censure him, not -- as the rabid hounds who now pursue him cry -- because of the novelty or heterodoxy of his doctrines, but because men could not tolerate the incomparable eloquence and knowledge which, when once he opened his lips, made others seem dumb.(Epistle 33)
What could have caused this upheaval?  Origen revealed a previously secret doctrine.  This has to be the bottom line.

Of course this conflict is framed in terms of Origen's 'innovation.'  Yet this is standard propaganda in early Christian literature.  The apostles were venerated to such a point that everything associated with them represented nothing short of a 'perfect golden age.'  This was the epoch when all Christians allegedly 'got along' on issues of doctrine.  But surely we can't believe these myths any longer.  The beginning of 'real history' in Christianity has to be timed to Origen's 'escape' from Alexandria.  Everything before that are just manuscripts divorced from any 'meta-relationships' with mainstream Roman history.

For whatever reasons we choose to develop, Origen revealed a previously unheard of doctrine which turned the world upside down.  His own bishop lined up against him.  In the aforementioned history of Jerome, the grouping of Palestine, Arabia and Phoenicia makes some sense - this is the 'Semitic' Church.  But Achaia seems the odd one out. 54) tells us that it was on account of heresies which were troubling the churches of Achaia (propter ecclesias Achaiae, quae pluribus haeresibus vexabantur). Photius (Cod. 118) reports that Origen went to Athens without the consent of Demetrius, but Demetrius's anger might well have been related to Origen's ordination in Achaia.

Eusebius tells us that Origen traveled through Palestine and ultimately made his way to Greece from certain letters of Alexander in the old Jerusalem library.  He is the same Alexander from whom we learn certain interesting tidbits about Clement.  But was this Clement of Alexander, Clement of Alexandria?  Many have doubted the association.  It is Eusebius who steers us in this direction because of his overall efforts to line up 'Clement' and 'Origen' as intimates because of their mutual association with Alexander of Jerusalem.

It is odd our evidence for their relationship should be so weak.  Epiphanius doesn't seem to know anything definitive about Clement other than what Eusebius tells us.  If we assume that Alexander's Clement was not the actual author of the Stromata the obvious question is - why would Eusebius have went to such lengths to pretend the two were friends?  The answer has to be that he was hiding or obscuring their acrimonious relationship.  Perhaps even the historical 'Clement' was actually Demetrius ...

Monday, August 28, 2017

Co-Authored Paper Published in Vigiliae Christianae

Quentin Quesnell’s Secret Mark Secret 
A Report on Quentin Quesnell’s 1983 trip to Jerusalem and his inspection of the Mar Saba Document
Authors: Stephan Hüller and Daniel N. Gullotta
Source: Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 71, Issue 4, pages 353 – 378 Publication Year : 2017
DOI: 10.1163/15700720-12341305 ISSN: 0042-6032 E-ISSN: 1570-0720
Document Type: Research Article Subjects: Biblical Studies Keywords: Mar Saba; papyrology; early Christian apocrypha; Quentin Quesnell; Morton Smith; Letter to Theodore; Secret Mark
Unbeknownst to most, in June of 1983, Quentin Quesnell made a visit to Jerusalem in order to personally inspect the Mar Saba document known as the Letter to Theodore. This is significant because it adds Quesnell to a small group of people who have testified to have seen the Letter to Theodore in person, and an even smaller group who have commented on its appearance and contents first-hand. Following Quesnell’s death in 2012 many of his personal belongings were acquired by Smith College (Northampton) and recently released to the public for viewing. Among Quesnell’s belongings was a journal full of notes, along with photos and letters to his wife Jean Higgins, all relating to Morton Smith’s discovery of the Letter to Theodore at Mar Saba and to Quesnell’s 1983 visit to Jerusalem. On the basis of these documents the following article offers a summary of Quesnell’s part in the debate over Smith’s discovery and a report of his inspection of the manuscript. 
I tell my son how important hard work and discipline are.  The fact that I only possess the former quickly led me to seek out someone who possessed the latter.  So it was that I brought Daniel into this project.  I had meticulously tracked down all the loose threads related to this story.  Daniel brought a few more, like interviewing Adela Yarbro Collins - the most important link in this bizarre chain.  In the end we produced a work which I believe is one of the few academic papers that is truly universal in its appeal.

There really is a fascinating story at the heart of this paper.  I think someone could even make a movie - admittedly an 'art house' film - about the situation described in Jerusalem in 1983.  Here you have three pivotal characters in scholarship - Morton Smith, Quentin Quesnel, Helmut Koester - engaged in what is perhaps the final chapter of the story of the Letter to Theodore.  Two of them on the outside of the real story; one on the inside holding back his secret - his great secret - about the very document the other two are struggling to understand.  They say that truth is stranger than fiction.  Here certainly is one such example of that saying.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.