THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: The many (Christian) faces of Berenice

The many (Christian) faces of Berenice

copyright 2008 Stephan Huller

Over the course of this book we shall discover that it is impossible to erase someone’s personal identity. They can wipe your name from the history books, they can obscure your greatest accomplishments from public view but they can never completely erase your memory. We saw that with Marcus Julius Agrippa, we witnessed it with the identity of his mother Salome and now we are going to witness the process again with regards to his sister Berenice. In many ways she is the most important figure of all those associated with the messiah – for she really more than anyone made the dream of establishing Marcus Julius Agrippa as the messiah come to life.

At the turn of the Antonine era (c. 140 A.D.) you could still see witness the greatness of the Herodian woman. Celsus is again the first historical figure to identify the real story of the previous era identifying not only the “Harpocratians of Salome” – i.e. the semi-pagan adherents to “little Mark” as the “divine child Horus” in Alexandria but also Berenice. He references the “virgin Prunicus” – a seeming contradicition again because most scholars see Prunicus as being derived from poneros or “lewd” in Greek – as part of his discussion of Christian sects in the age. As we shall see “Prunicus” is really a corruption of Berenice (via “Veronica”) and begins a journey to see many different sides of the one sister of the messiah.

We really know very little about the details of her life other than to assume that she was about the same age as her brother (the "flower of her youth” in 69 A.D. i.e. b. 29 A.D.). There is reason to believe that she died c. 82-83 A.D (cf. History of the Virgin, MS. A, fol. 157 b) a year after her lover Titus was killed by his brother Domitian. So we are left for the most part to figure out details of one of the most interesting women in the history of the world by basically dissecting the legends and myth which surivive down to this age.


Yet let’s start with the story of Protonike which survives in the early Syriac narrative of Abgar in Edessa. Once you hear Edessa you should always think Marqion. “Protonike” means “first victory” just as “Berenice” means “victory bringer.” I suspect that what it really contains is a reworking of material related to her mother’s efforts to secure Christianity for Marcus by means of a miracle related to her resurrection. “Protonike” is a way of distinguishing the “first” Mary from the second – i.e. Berenice.

The story begins with a deliberate effort to connect Protonike to the ruling Julio-Claudian line. Just as Berenice is connected with “Titus the son of Tiberius” in the Vengeance of the Savior tradition, we see “Protonike” identified as “the wife of Claudius the Emperor, whom Tiberius made the second man of his empire” in the Syriac tradition. Just as the original narrative of Vengeance is set during the Jewish War, the material in the Protonike narrative tells of that “at that time” Claudius “set out to make war on the Spaniards who had rebelled against him.”

As we shall see with the Clementine tradition, there is a strong effort to place Bernike/Protonike in the ruling house of Caesar. Indeed in a very similar manner to the Clementines we hear that Protonike encounters one of the disciples of Simon and is converted. The conversion sounds very much like the Edessan material we just saw where “Protonike” like Berenice is said to have seen “the signs and wonders and mighty acts he did in the name of Christ, and she foreswore the heathenism of her forefathers …[gave up her idols] … and believed in our master, Christ.”

Because of this life changing experience “Protonike” goes to Jerusalem with her two sons and one daughter in search of the tomb of Jesus. She wants to take over the religion of Christianity. We hear that “when she came to Jerusalem the whole town came out to meet her and they received her with great honor, as was due a queen … where she dwelt in the royal palace of king Herod.” There is thus still something of a remembrance of her being connected to the Herodians beneath the veil of her Romanness.

We read that when she discovers where the tomb of Jesus was located she seems dismayed to find that “it is under the stewardship of the Jews” – so in effect she wants to appropriate it and – in effect – bring it back to the Herodian castle where she is staying. Her object is to grab control of Christianity away from the Jews for, as one believer explains to her “[t]hey have taken possession of them and they do not permit us to go thither and worship before the Calvary and the tomb, [n]either will they give us the tree of the cross.”

This effort then to “discover” the sepulcher is as much an effort to “liberate it” from the control of Jews. When she hears that Christians are being persecuted by the Jews she demands that they hand over these things to the Church “in order that they may perform their service there, according to the customs of the service.” Nevertheless when she arrives she finds herself in need of performing a miracle of her own too.

She gets into the tomb and almost immediately “her daughter, a virgin, fell and died without pain and without sickness and without cause of death.” It is her son who comes forward (Marcus?) and announces that the death of his sister might be a good thing because he recommends that they put her body on each one of the crosses to discover which one belongs to Jesus and thus resurrect her to prove the greatness of their Lord.

We are reminded at once of the Coptic narratives of Marcus where the little boy has a revelation in Christ and coverts his father and uncle over to his understanding through the performance of a miracle. His father is made to declare “I am thy father who begat thee, Mark, my son; but today thou art my father, and my saviour and deliverer.” Once the members of the toyal family discover the true cross of Jesus and heal their sister by laying her on the wood the now “unnamed boy” of the Protonike story exclaims “Thou seest, my mistress, that if not this had happened today, then they would have left this cross of Christ, by which my sister was revived … behold we see and are glad, and Christ, who as done this, is glorified in her.”


The story of Protonike, like many of these narratives is ultimately of course, a stupid story. Nevertheless it illustrates the manner in which something of the original history of Christianity never died or went away – it just became deliberately obscured. In due course the whole “Protonike” tradition was developed by Constantine for the sake of the new state religion of Rome. Now Constantine stood in the place of Marcus and Constantine’s mother Helen replaced the original replaced the original mother in the narrative, Salome.

This effort to change names from the original material underscores the unspoken reality which we see in our next Berenice tradition - that of the so-called “Clementine Literature” a collection of texts coming out of Egypt in the second century A.D. In this tradition many of the names of the original Herodian family remain. “Berenice” is still the appellation of the “daughter” in the story. The mother can still be determined to have been named “Salome.” However we can begin to see what is the start of the ultimate absorption and redefinition of the family in this narrative as belonging now to the “house of Caesar” from that of the “house of Herod.”

For in the Clementia (i.e. books associated with Clement) our narrator or lead commentator now is not Marcus but “Clement” – the “son” of the mother figure. The editor, doing his best to “cleanse” his lead character of his Jewish roots, invents a scenario where “Clement” supposedly has two families. That of his biological mother and father who are from the “house of Caesar” on the one hand and another “adopted” mother and sister who interestingly remain fixed not only to the Palestinian soil but indeed a place in the gospel no less!

It is all so unnatural it would be hard to believe otherwise if it were not true. The author being forced to leave the original “family of the gospel” somewhat intact but now claiming that “Clement” being “really” Roman and “really” of the household of Caesar now claims that his parents “having changed our names [these Roman parents] sold us to a certain widow, a very honourable women, named Justa.” The story sounds strange from the get go – where we can easily see that the original material goes back to a connection for the lead character, back to another royal family that of the Herods.

For if we look closely the text as we have already noted this supposedly adopted mother “Justa” had a daughter named “Berenike.” Berenike? Yet let us now ask why, if this Berenike was our Berenike, is her mother called “Justa”? How do the two identities relate? If we look at the Latin word justa or justus one of its meanings as identified “proper, perfect or complete” (Lewis and Short). Salome comes from the Hebrew shalem which means “perfect, whole, fitting.”

So we have the makings of yet another Herodian citing – however there is even more here. The Clementine Literature which will in fact amaze us with regards to the underlying sense of its narrative. For the Justa/Salome figure isn’t just any mother but a mother who has a place in the gospel – and how many mothers are represented in this book anyway? We read in the Clementine Homilies she is identified as “Justa, a Syro-Phoenician, by race a Canaanite, whose daughter was oppressed with a grievous disease.” As many scholars have already determined before me - Salome must have been the woman in Matthew 15, Mark 7. The Clementine source again also says with absolute certainly that Berenice was her daughter which Jesus healed in the narrative.

This is of course of the absolute highest significance. It demonstrates most clearly the lateness and deliberate obscurity of our text and our tradition generally. Someone has come along and deliberately wiped out the memory of the presence of Mark’s mother and sister throughout the gospel. We can begin to see also that the order of the original narratives have also been changed where we no longer have the sense that one family is consistently throughout the narrative in the manner hinted at in the Coptic tradition.

For the Copts and indeed the early Roman tradition identify the idea that “little Mark” was a direct witness for all the scenes he put down in his narrative. His mother must be the unnamed “Samaritan” woman no less than the unnamed mother in the marriage at Cana (the Copts say as much) no less than a host of strangely unnamed mother and daughter figures in our work. The Church Father Tertullian for instance says that the gospel in the hands of the Marqionites identifies that it is Salome who says to Jesus “blessed are the breasts which gave you suck.” [ ] Now we see from the Clementines that Salome was the mother identified as the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter Berenice Jesus healed.

Indeed this is only the beginning of the significance for the discovery of the Herodian mother and daughter Salome at the heart of the material here. Theere is even more here if we look closely because in this very tradition we can begin to see the very context behind the “Syro-Phoenician woman” story in real history. For this extraordinarily wealthy woman is now understood to have fallen into such dire poverty because of an original incident which brings a host of new discoveries about Salome and her children.

For the text of the Clementine Homilies makes explicit that just before the “Syro-Phoenician woman” scene in the gospel that this woman had been “driven out from her home by her husband, whose sentiments were opposed to ours.” Driven out from her home by her husband? Isn’t this just another development of the Pantera story in Jewish and pagan lore? This is a very important legend – now attributed to Jesus – where enemies of Christianity identify the messiah of Christianity as a bastard son of Mary Magdala.

Celsus preserves the story as that of “a poor woman … who was turned out of doors by her husband … because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to … an illegitimate child” who was the messiah. There exist countless parallels in the literature of the Jews and even the Mandaeans which emphasize the same details – and always identifying the mother as “Mary” or “Mary Magdala.”

What I am suggesting now is that Jesus was never the illegitimate mamzer or “bastard” of the original tradition but indeed Marcus Julius Agrippa. The reason he is called by this name has less to do with being a “bastard” in the classic sense but rather Jewish religious purity issues which might have disqualified his recognition as the messiah because of his mother’s “unfaithfulness” or indeed her polluted status because of her relationship with more than one married brother.


Much of the emerging details from the Clementine tradition go beyond the present scope of our investigation. Nevertheless I want to make clear that throughout the Clementine tradition the home of “Bernike, the daughter of Justa the Canaanitess” is identified as an ancient Christian church who, in the words of one of the early disciples “received us most joyfully; and striving with much honour towards me, and with affection towards [us] … she treated us courteously, and hospitably urged us to take bodily refreshment.” Indeed Berenice’s authority as a leader in the Church becomes evident in what follows when she lectures the hearers to stay clear of the heresy which is engulfing the contemporary age.

Yet if we really want to begin to understand the importance of Berenike we need only look at the figure of “Prunike” in various early sources. The “Prunikus” myth now identifies her as a beautiful woman who enflamed the “powers of the world” in the age to fight over her and thereby found Christianity. Yet before we begin this investigation let us put forward the confirmation that Prunikus really is “Berenike.”

Once again it is Celsus the pagan critic writing in the first half of the second century A.D. that the Christians of his day “add still further matters; the sayings of prophets, and circles upon circles, and emanations of the earthly church and of circumcision, and the power emanating from a certain virgin Prunikos, and a living soul, and a Heaven slain that it may live, and earth slain with a sword, and many slain that they might live.” The text makes the connection between the figure of “Prunikos” and the earthly church here but more significantly the idea that of “many being slain” in her name “that they might live.”

Asll of this seems to fit all too neatly with the same description of Prunikus/Berenike which survives two generations later in the writings of Irenaeus. He mentions another sect which likens Prunikus/Berenike with Helen the woman whose beauty inspired the Trojan War. Yet first let’s confirm the Prunikos/Berenike connection from the Celsus account. Origen brings it up when, in his commentary against Celsus, the Church Father writes that the heretics “give the name of Prunikos to a certain kind of wisdom, of which they would have the woman afflicted with the twelve years' issue of blood to be the symbol.” There can be no doubt then that the woman who was healed of her blood flow is Berenike – the connection is made throughout the surviving literature.

Of course the Church Father writes that “Celsus, who confuses together all sorts of opinions-Greek, Barbarian, and Heretical-having heard of her, asserted that it was a power flowing forth from one Prunikos, a virgin.” However despite Origen’s protests I think that Celsus clearly knows a great deal more than the Church Father is willing to acknowledge. His information comes from an age before the Catholic Church where “Prunikos” the woman of who holds the garment of Christ encourage the slaughter of millions.

Isn’t this the essence of Berenike in the Vengeance of the Savior tradition? In that early Latin tradition a woman named Berenike is both the woman who was healed of her menstrual blood flow no less than being the one who was in possession of the garment which possesses the “image” or soul of Jesus. The story of the Venegeance goes something like this. Caesar is sick and needs to be healed by Jesus so he sends Titus to discover where the Savior is. He gathers up as many leads as possible until Veronika/Berenike comes out of the crowd and announces herself to be the one who was healed from touching Jesus garment and who confesses that she now possesses Jesus’ garment.

Once the Romans learn that Jesus has been killed by the Jews they decide to take vengeance on the Jews while Veronica is sent to Rome to heal the Emperor with her “garment of Jesus.” The story ends with the Roman authorities ordering “the woman Veronica to be taken down with him into the ship and concludes “and the sails being hoisted. they began to go in the vessel in the name of the Lord, and they sailed through the sea. But Titus, along with Vespasian, went up into Judaea, avenging all nations upon their land.” She is the whore who starts wars.

We hear the early gnostic figure of Prunikos described in exactly the same manner. She is intimately connected with the “war” and “slaughter” of the report in Celsus and now Irenaeus also speaks of the manner in which “Prunicus” after “displaying her beauty … drove them to frenzy, and on this account was she sent for the despoiling of the Rulers.” Indeed it further mentions the manner in which these “Rulers” themselves “went to war on her account; and while she experienced nothing, they set to work to mutually slaughter each other on account of the desire which she infused into them for herself.”

Indeed Berenice/Prunicus manifests her “eternal whore” persona in what follows where Irenaeus continues that after “constraining her so that she could not reaescend, each had intercourse with her in every body of womanly and female constitution--she reincarnating from female bodies into different bodies … in order that by means of their slaying and being slain, they might bring about a diminution of themselves through the shedding of blood, and that then she by collecting again the Power would be enabled to reaescend into heaven.” Does anyone doubt now that this story is based on “real life” historical events connected with the figure of Berenike?

Already I think everyone can see the manner in which the two earliest reports match up with one another. The “slain with a sword, and many slain that they might live” is the “slaying and being slain, they might bring about a diminution of themselves through the shedding of blood” of the other. Yet there is something more here also, something which goes to the heart of the whole notion of the sister being involved in a plot to fool the Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus “the Demiurge” as they attempt to “create” or “invent” a man – viz. her brother Marcus Julius Agrippa which we will investigate next.


Indeed in many ways we can argue that Marcus, like the the heavenly Father he represents has limited if indeed any contact with everyday reality. It is his “woman” – like the shekhinah or “divine presence” in the kabbalistic myths – who has all contact with the world for him, doing his bidding and interacting with the sons of man. In the very same way, I am about to report there are two more gnostic myths regarding “Prunikos” which might be significant for our readers to become familiar with to gain some insight into the person of Berenike and indeed her mother Salome as it relates to the “creation” of the Savior.

In the earliest sections of Against the False Gnostics the Church Father identifies a Valentinian myth which has come to be “the central myth” identified with the Gnostics among scholars. The problem of course is that Irenaeus’ report is simply baffling. If it were not for the fact that the people reading these narratives already suppose that the people and traditions involved are “lunatics” scholars would long ago have taken the material more seriously. If they had wanted to get to the bottom of matters here they would have begun to question whether this “gnostic fantasy” really is all “hocus pocus” or indeed really rooted in something entirely historical and only distorted so as to avert the eyes of the witness away from something dangerous and which centainly would warrant official punishment by the Roman authorities.

At the heart of this myth is a demonic figure named “Ialdabaoth” which I have long ago noted appears in the Aramaic New Testament as beldabaoth viz. “enmity.” The Pauline material says for instance that it was not Jesus who died on the cross but beldabaoth or “enmity.” The root of beldabaoth is bela or “master,” “lord” or even “husband.” So in one sense it is the “ruler of the world” – i.e. the Demiurge who was left dangling on the wood having been fooled by the God to end up there as a sign of his defeat by “Christ.”

What am I suggesting about the gnostic myth in Irenaeus? That “Ialdabaoth” is really the historical figure of Caesar who was fooled by Berenike/Prunikus. How do I claim this? And what does the Irenaeus story tell us about what this dysfunctional pair of “Ialdabaoth” and “prunikus’ was up to? Why don’t we take a look and see for ourselves?

Irenaeus says that this “master” or Lord” Ialdabaoth “becoming uplifted in spirit boasted himself over all those things that were below him, and exclaimed, "I am father, and God, and above me there is no one” as he set out to “build a man.” The exclamation is proof for the Gnostics that he was completely fooled by Prunikus into believing this – i.e. that he was the Father. But what could the original context have been if it was not the religion of Christianity where Berenice had told him that he was the Father and Titus the Son?

Not only does the gnostic myth of Irenaeus identify that there was a “hidden Father” which Vespasian/Ialdabaoth wasn’t aware of but indeed the very thing which he was creating – the new man – was about to have the soul of this hidden Father placed into him. How was this about to get accomplished? The story goes on to have Vespasian/Ialdabaoth exclaim "Come, let us make [the] man after our image." Whereupon the powers assisting him “upon hearing this, and their mother furnishing them with the idea of a man (in order that by means of him she might empty them of their original power), jointly formed a man.”

This “man” that they are depicted as creating isn’t really Adam as he appears in the Torah but indeed the “perfect man” of the Christian system – i.e. Marcus Julius Agrippa. So much of the narrative goes beyond anything which was ever in the narrative of Genesis that we should see immediately that in its lost original form it was really about something political which was in essence “being prophesized” by Moses and the Torah. Only this understanding of Christianity “fooling” the rulers of the world – i.e. Caesar – was viciously represent in the age of Antoninus when the significance of these otherwise completely silly myths got out into general circulation.

The creation is only complete when the assembled minions of Vespasian/Ialdabaoth “empty” him of power. So we read in Irenaeus that “he was secretly emptied of his power” and at once this newly created man – i.e. Marcus Julius Agrippa - “gave thanks to the first Man (i.e. the heavenly Father), forsaking those who had created him (i.e. the Lord of the world and his conspirators). The idea here is that this new man – i.e. Marcus - the brother of “Prunikos” is not going to affirm the Demiurge who fashioned him, but indeed the secret image of the Father who is behind all things.

Irenaeus identifies that the heretics celebrated “Prunicus” and her duping of the “rulers of the world” as they formed this man. We read that “when Prunikus perceived that the powers were thus baffled by their own creature, she greatly rejoiced, and again cried out, that since the father was incorruptible, he (Vespasian/Ialdabaoth) who formerly called himself the father was a liar; and that, while the man and the first woman (the Spirit) existed previously, this one sinned by committing adultery.”

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