copyright 2008 Stephan Huller
So what was the “true essence” of the gospel? It was undoubtedly developed from a kernel of historical truth in that “year of favor” in 37 CE. Mark was likely really arrested in Samaria. It probably happened on some part of Mount Gerizim. The central claim of the gospel was that, while he stood with his companions at its summit, a cloud came down from heaven which transformed his person. It is difficult to evaluate such a claim objectively. Nevertheless what immediately followed – Pilate’s assault on the gathering both on and off the mountain – and the amazing bloodshed which followed, Marcus Julius Agrippa’s imprisonment, release from bonds and ending up a ruler of the very kingdom he was once a fugitive in…! It is the stuff legends are made of.
Just as the Torah is an allegorical narrative built around the events of the Exodus, the gospel is rooted in the events of 37 CE just described. Whereas the Law ends with Moses preparing to die and establishing a religion built around an inanimate “testimony,” the gospel concludes with the Passion which is a mystical retelling of how God perfected Mark through baptizing him in his glory. In the language of the early Church Fathers there is a word for this final state – it is that of the “perfect work.” Whereas the Creator took six days to establish a “good” or even “very good” creation, the gospel tells the story of the allegorical “seventh day” when true perfection was established. In the second book of Origen’s influential De Principiis the Alexandrian explains the central mystery to the Markan tradition:
This matter of the body, then, which is now corruptible shall put on incorruption when a perfect soul, and one furnished with the marks of incorruption, shall have begun to inhabit it.
For Origen the perfected initiates “put on Jesus” at baptism as a kind of spiritual clothing as Mark first did. The “soul of Jesus” enters them as a cloud would a “tabernacle,” ultimately transforming his whole being. He speaks again in terms of:
the clothing of the [old] soul, so for a kind of reason sufficiently intelligible is the soul said to be the clothing of the body, seeing it is an ornament to it, covering and concealing its mortal nature. The expression, then, "This corruptible must put on incorruption," is as if the apostle had said, "This corruptible nature of the body must receive the clothing of incorruption-a soul possessing in itself incorruptibitity," because it has been clothed with [Jesus] who is the Wisdom and Word of God. But when this body … we shall possess in a more glorious state, shall have become a partaker of life.
All of this accomplished by the “glory” or “cloud” which we saw descend upon “the Son” at mount Gerizim in our restored gospel narrative.
This is the ultimate mystery behind the aforementioned “perfect work” continually mentioned by all the earliest Catholic Church Fathers from Irenaeus to Origen. The term apparently also made its rounds in Marcionite circles as well. Most of the Catholics end up defending the Creator from “attacks” of the heretics who say that it is impossible to believe that any of the things “Christ” established would be necessary if the first created state for man was perfect.
Mark/Marqeh/Marcion used his gospel to announce something “better than Moses” and “better than the God of Moses.” If there was nothing new being said in Christianity other than beliefs and traditions in the so-called “Old Testament,” what was there to get so excited about? Mark put himself forward as this new perfect work (Aramaic: tamym po’olo) and so it was that his Catholic name “Paulos” was established. For already in the traditions of Moses there is reference to this concept of the “perfect work.” It appears in the messianic “Great Song” of Deuteronomy chapter 32. If Mark was the tamym po’olo prophesied in that song, then the apostle was at once also perfect “Paul.”
I have so far maintained that everything about the gospel reflected a historical reinterpretation of the life of “little Mark.” Now I will offer the greatest proof that this figure was not only a Samaritan, but a towering figure whose vision of earthly perfection influenced not only the adherents in one ancient grouping called “Christianity” but indeed all the inhabitants of Palestine. The interest in the messianci expectation of a “perfect work” was by no means limited to Alexandrian followers of Mark. The Samaritans have a record of “writings of Mark” (Memar Marqeh) where this tamym po’olo concept takes centerstage. It appears throughout the early stages of the Fourth Book of his collected writings which offers a systematic (and often messianic) interpretation of Moses’ “Great Song.”
I propose that the core idea of that section is absolutely identical with the reconstructed Marcionite paradigm on Gerizim. The Samaritan Mark doesn’t develop these ideas in the mystery religion form he used in his gospel to appeal to converts from the Gentiles. As might be expected, given its intended audience, the Memar Marqeh is a midrash on various sections of the Torah. Nevertheless, while the approach is different, the interpretation of the Song of Songs is identical with the reconstructed Marcionite message from the gospel. The Samaritan Mark begins his exegesis with talk of a “new creation” at the end of the age (when presumably the “returning Moses will appear”). He takes special interest in the third and fourth verses of Deuteronomy 32: “I will proclaim the name of the LORD, [I will] praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock (tsur), his works are perfect, and all his ways are just,” to show that at the end of time humanity itself would become transformed by a power referred to in the Torah as “the glory.” We have already identified this “glory”: it is the cloud which descended upon Mark when he stood at the summit of Mount Gerizim. But what about the other power mentioned here, the Rock, or tsur, which is equated with the very concept of tamym po’olo mentioned just after it in the verse? The Samaritan reads the sentence as if “the Rock was the perfect work” of God. Our Apostle interestingly identifies his “Christ” in the same manner: “the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
The Acts of Archelaus links the two concepts, saying that Archelaus identified his devotion to Marcion in terms of “building up his own heart upon the rock that shall not be moved.” The text says again that “this most devout Marcion” was “found to be like the rock on which the house was built with the most solid foundations.” In other words, Mark was the rock, and (at least according to the Samaritan text) he was also the tamym po’olo.
The Samaritan Mark’s interpretation manages agree with Platonic mysticism owing to an Aramaic word play which we already encounter in Rabbinic texts of the period. Marqeh reads the Hebrew word tsur as it was read in Aramaic, as meaning “form” or “image.” He is saying that the Lord is making himself visible so as to be apprehended by Israel at the end of the age in order to perfect his community. Mark goes immediately to a later section of the “Great Song” (“the tsur that begot you,” Deut. 32:18) and says that God “began with the one and ended with the other.” The description which follows details the very transformation process outlines in literary allegory in the gospel.
He identifies “the beginning” as a “first word” likened to the garden or the original act of creation. It was however is not “perfect enough,” as Mark goes on to say that “in the end,” the “tsur which begot you” corrects all the original shortcomings of the first creation. He continues to make the case for God requiring the appearance of “another glory” in order to further “improve” Israel from the shortcomings of the original system set up by the first Moses. What is this “other glory”? We already know the answer – it is the angel Kavod, the column of light, the cloud which guided Israel during the Exodus when Moses, the “rock,” guarded the rear flank of the fleeing community.
We can go on reading our gospel as a story of Jesus which has meaning only for the sons and daughters of Europe, or we can go beyond our artificially developed Roman faith and approach the underlying (and hitherto unrecognized) Markan core. The Marcionites identified Jesus as an angel – even the angel of the Presence – who was always linked with the cloud and glory of Exodus. Mark’s gospel develops itself in such a way that for the whole text Jesus’ true nature as the glory of God is hidden, until, at its conclusion, he displays the glory which was hidden from all previous generations of mortals in order to perfect the original creation in the person of “little Mark.” The idea of the glory “perfecting” the original creation is consistent throughout the writings of the Samaritan Mark, too. Another section of the Memar Marqeh portrays the role of this angelic equivalent of the Marcionite “Jesus” in a form far easier to understand, more poetic.:
Divinity [Alahotah] appeared and established the covenant.
Glory appeared and magnified what was good.
The angels came to magnify what was glorious and they were all assembled for Adam.
Divinity formed him and the breath of life was breathed in him.
Glory made him complete with a great spirit; the two of them were clad in two crowns of great light.
Divinity put in him a perfect mind and Glory gave him powerful illumination.
Divinity also glorified him with speech and Glory glorified him with perfect knowledge.
The angels were witnesses to him of what he would do and they are all mentioned gathered in every place where God is mentioned in Truth.
Now that we are beginning to know the truth about the original Gospel of Mark let us ask, is there a more Christian expression of truth than these words written in Samaritan Aramaic?
copyright 2008 Stephan Huller